Music Interviews

Kasabian: “There is a euphoric, hold your hands up quality, saying we’re gonna have it massive!” – Interview



Kasabian‘s eponymous 2004 debut shifted 700,000 copies in the UK alone. Now the swaggering Leicester boys return with the sequel Empire, one of the most anticipated albums of the autumn.

When we caught up with drummer Ian Matthews for a chat about all things imperial, the excitement in his voice is palpable. Kasabian have finished their second album, their single Empire is just dropping and the band is getting the live momentum going once again. So much so that my call finds them on the tour bus, picking them up somewhere near Dover.

“We’ve been on this bus for almost 20 hours!” he says, not a hint of tiredness in his voice, “and we’re on our way to Italy for a gig.” Our talk however inevitably switches quickly to the new album, and it’s clear Matthews can’t wait to talk about it.

“It’s a big mix. There’s much more in the way of variety on it, we’ve pushed out further with our ideas. There’s Empire, of course, which is a marching stomp, I think, a kind of bouncing glam. There’s a track called Last Trip (In Flight) which is a dirty, filthy tune that swings. Then there’s Stuntman, which is very rhythmic, and then the record chills out a bit. There’s a very powerful track called British Legion near the end, and an acoustic track (assumed to be Doberman) where Serge just went in the studio and sat there, with his acoustic guitar and just played it, and the song came out, just like that. There’s a very cheeky mariachi trumpet soloon the end, from Martin Smith, who used to play with the Super Furry Animals. The album goes on a real journey, not just going through the motions.”

Ian feels the band retain the edgy approach that characterised the first album. “We’re different, we didn’t go out of our way to try and be different but we’re not stuck on one musical style. We all love different music and we’re all eclectic, rather than just listening to the Clash or the Jam. We’re versatile, and we’re not scared of bringing different modes in or using different drum sounds.”

“Scottish audience shave always been good to Kasabian – actually, all northern audiences are in particular…” – Kasabian’s Ian Matthews bigs up the band’s northern appreciators…

A prime example of this is the album’s first single, Empire. “We banged it out but it became obvious there was a gaping hole in the middle. We’d heard these Moroccan string players in Paris, and we had the idea of getting them to play the bit in the middle just in their style. It’s really distinctive, with a kind of a slide in it that works really well.”

With attention turning to their vocalist, Ian feels he too is moving to another level. “Tom’s voice has definitely developed as it’s gone on.There’s a new track called Sun/Rise/Light/Flies, the fifth track on the album, where he has to sing so high, right at the top of his range, and it sounds absolutely amazing. I think touring has definitely matured his voice.”

Kasabian, it seems, are permanently on tour, but they’re still loving it. Tom speaks with something approaching fervour when he says, “we’re still finding something new every night, even after about two hundred gigs in the last 18 months! It still feels good playing the music, every night is incredible.”

The band played this year’s T in the Park festival, a slot taken on at relatively short notice. “We only heard about it a month before, it was so unexpected. When we do a festival like V one of the reasons we go there is to have a good time, so we’re gonna give them, the audience, such a good time, and give them Club Foot, Processed Beats, L.S.F. and stuff like that. This time it was great cos we could just go up there and say “right, this is our new stuff, see if you like it.” And they did! Scottish audience shave always been good to Kasabian – actually, all northern audiences are in particular.”

“We’re right on the edge ofthat cliff – and just about to jump off!” – Kasabian’s Ian Matthews on the band’s mood in advance of their second album hitting the shops…

The video for Empire has proved unexpectedly topical, with war as its central subject. “Right from the storyboard we realised this was big, a hair brained scheme! It was amazing, shooting it with cannons, soldiers, ditches, and all of us wearing uniform. We looked kind of pissed off throughout it though, we’re meant to be normal working soldiers but we’ve stayed in that trench overnight, we’re fucked off, and yet the call comes for us again to go over into the action. We’re not being cowards, but we’ve had enough! Tom makes it through to the end though; he gets to look the leader in the face right at the end.”

It’s a pretty far cry from a year and a half ago, such has been Kasabian’s relentless surge forward. Ian offers his view on the secret behind their success, saying. “I think we’ve been committed to the cause and to our fans. We know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and that touring is hard work. When you’re down it’s not so glamorous, but we love it most of the time. I’m being honest when I say not a day goes by without me thinking I’m blessed. I think another reason behind our success is that when we say we’re gonna do a show we actually turn up, unlike some other people we might mention! We always deliver.”

Recently the band’s profile in the US has also been raised, due largely to a tour supporting Oasis. “It was really good. Clearly we’re at square one over there, and we had to work really hard – I mean, it’s such a massive place, and you’ve got to take the time to do it. We got a really good reception in California in particular, and also Austin.”

As drummer, Ian recognises the importance of his role in the band’s strongly rhythm-based sound. “Absolutely, with the big drum tracks like Processed Beats or Club Foot. Processed Beats was one of the early ones, when the guys picked me up in Bristol – we had a long-distance relationship in those days, and it carried on for a few years.”

“Club Foot ain’t no baggy tune, but people do come andget big with it!” – Kasabian’s Ian Matthews on the band’s best-known hit to date

With that track in mind, he considers the possibility of a Hacienda influence. “It’s an interesting question, but it’s definitely not a baggy revivalist thing – Club Foot ain’t no baggy tune, but people do come and get big with it! The track Stuntman on the new album is possibly one that takes from that era, it’s quite housey.”

We go on to talk about Kasabian’s powerfully inspirational music, as typified by Club Foot, and Ian’s enthusiasm is infectious. “You should feel what it’s like to play that every night! There is a euphoric, hold your hands up quality, saying we’re gonna have it massive!”

So what now for the band? “We’ve got another video to do, for Shoot The Runner, a bit of a surprise there so I’m not going to say anything to spoil the story. We’re probably going to do some British dates later in the year” (now confirmed on the band’s website). And summing up the mood in the camp, he says, “We’re absolutely buzzing right now, we’re right on the edge of that cliff – and just about to jump off.”

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