“I always think that there’s a Japanese take on western culture. One where you can get a different eye looking at society. It’s a cartoonish way of looking at the world.”
A shaven leopard print fade, suede tiger print shirt and cheetah print jacket is not the typical get-up of someone who takes themselves too seriously. Kasabian’s creative force Sergio Pizzorno is just that - a character with a unique view of the world. As we sit down to chat in a London café, Pizzorno’s laid-back demeanour is somewhat at odds with his aggressively loud attire. Discussing his approach to song writing he reflects on a career that spans two decades riddled with no. 1 albums, and he stresses the importance of comedy and light-heartedness in a world that can often take itself too seriously.
“It’s all very visual and imagery is really important, I like to set little scenes in my lyrics, and humour as well. I think there has to be a little twist, or a little darkness, like in ‘Vlad the Impaler’. Calling a track that is ridiculous, so there’s a cartoonish nature to it as well. But ‘Underdog’ actually is about the love of the underdog and ‘Fire’ is about when you keep rolling sixes, when you just can’t miss. ‘Thick as Thieves’ and tracks like that are little stories. I think films and cinema are important, I feel like a lot of my ideas come from that world.”
With five no. 1 albums, a Glastonbury headline set and a wealth of worldwide tours behind him, Kasabian’s guitarist and songwriter meets me in the run up to a new challenge with the release of upcoming solo album, The S.L.P. Featuring Little Simz and Slowthai, he explains the reasons behind his solo venture. “I wanted to make an album where I can collaborate and it’s easier to do that when it’s with a different project. It was almost to create a world that you can visit every now and again. It gives you total freedom; you can be in the studio with anyone, see what happens and that’s really exciting.”
From his tongue-in-cheek dirgy, paleontological lyrics, zesty fashion sense, to the left-field tracks in his nine songs, it’s clear to see an eclectic pattern emerge; a comical twist on the everyday but also on life’s darker tangents. Catching a glimpse of the luminous socks peeking out of his shoes (which are emblazoned with a product available in Amsterdam coffee shops - you know the ones) I inwardly chuckle as I’m reminded that all too often we get caught up in cynicism, and think back to those infamous words from ‘Vlad the Impaler’ where Noel Fielding rigidly terrorises unassuming locals in ‘80’s horror movie fashion through barren fields. “Get loose, Get loose.”
“There’s a wicked film called Gummo, have you seen it? This song is on the soundtrack and it’s got that Sabbath thing going on, which we were looking for around our second album. The first album sort of blew up and we were quickly becoming quite big. We went in to record the second album with that in mind, we wanted to have heavy guitars for the live sound, that tone and that evilness, that heavy sort of drone in ‘Dragonaut’ - we just wanted to create some of that.
“It was a big contrast to what the first album was. It was becoming this band on this escapade, so we fell into that and life just got insane. We wanted to make a really heavy record to reflect that, the guitar was at the forefront because we played live every night, so we wanted to take that attitude and capture it in the studio.
“This track has that dirgy sound that I love, for me that will go to a lot of different areas but at the core, groove, flavour and flow is so, so important. We used to call it “The push” because if it pushes, it’s laid back behind the beat.
“It’s funny, because if you know that a musician has got it or a band has got it, it’s like you’re in that clique - ‘I know why you like that, because it’s got that flavour.’ You can listen to a hip-hop tune or a heavy metal tune and somehow get it. I think that was the appeal with making Empire, it was to retain that, ‘Okay, it’s going to be heavy and it’s going to be distorted, but we still need to retain that flavour and that push.’”
“I love their album Avant Hard, it’s way, way ahead of the game. It must have been the late ‘90s when I discovered it, around ‘98 or ‘99. I used to work in a clothes shop when I was about 18 or 19 and in the square where the shop was there was a record store. We got on with the guy there and he told me I’d love this record. So on the Monday, when the new records would come out, I put that on instantly and thought ‘What is going on here?’
“They were really ahead of the curve with ‘Revenge of the Black Regent’. Add N to (X) were using all these synths that I’d never heard of, that’s when I started to really research and get into the synth world and I became a complete synth nerd.
“What’s interesting is what people can hear compared to what you’re actually listening to. Say with our first album, when people said it sounded like Primal Scream or Happy Mondays and all this, we were actually listening to Add N to (X), that’s where we were getting that sound you can hear on the first record. It’s almost like they didn’t dig deep enough to realise what we were into, and where we were getting our inspiration from.
“‘Revenge of the Black Regent’ is really minimal, there’s hardly any layers and the girl’s voice is amazing; ethereal and floaty, it’s so good. The synths are amazing and the flavour’s there again that I love. There’s a horror to it as well, a darkness to it. It celebrates that feeling of discomfort or like you’re feeling a little on edge. It looks like there’s a thread to these tunes!”
“That’s going back! For me, the lyrics from Gift of Gab - who’s part of Blackalicious - have such an amazing wittiness and humour about them. Blackalicious are so good at that, combining cleverness and wittiness with that melody and production on the track.
“My friend used to DJ in Leicester as a hip-hop DJ and he used to get me all of these albums. He played that out to me one time, it was that wordplay and the artistry in connecting words and meaning that grabbed me, and the flow on ‘A to G’ blew my mind.
“There’s humour in the song and I feel that’s also important. At the forefront I think humour plays a big part of my taste; there’s humour in all these tracks - even in ‘Revenge of the Black Regent’ and ‘Dragonaut’. I find something quite absurd about them, but I think if you’re writing something that’s a bit weird and wacky it’s really important for people to be in on the joke.
“We actually managed to work with Blackalicious and get a remix done of ‘Take Aim’ by them. We’re going to get that on YouTube at some point, which is amazing. That was great.”
“I came late to the game with grunge. At the time I was a bit young, the rave scene had a massive effect on me and grunge was so far from what I was into. I think back in the day you didn’t tend to like everything, you’d say you were more into grunge, or into hip-hop, or a certain scene; it was very tribal.
"So I couldn’t really connect the dots to Nirvana and grunge, and at the time I missed the wave of grunge. But then when I got into guitar music later on - maybe in the late 90s - I found Nirvana. I heard Kurt talk about Meat Puppets, I think they covered them on MTV’s Unplugged?
“Again, it’s the vocal on this track - “And an illustrated book about birds” - you can’t not smirk at that, it’s so far off. It’s the brittleness of the sound, it feels like at any point it’s going to fall to pieces - and I just love that, I like broken stuff. In the studio I play with guitars that are really old and have got one string on them, so I feel like I really connect with this ramshackle, rustic sound and I just want to be in that band. I want to be in the Meat Puppets - I feel like they operate in a whole other world.”
“I’ve spoken about ‘Organ Donor’ quite a lot, but with this track I think the words are really powerful, especially with everything that’s going on at the moment. He talks about “Tomorrow never knows until it’s too late.” It’s a very powerful message and it’s where the world is right now.
“DJ Shadow has always been a massive inspiration and I cite him as the reason that I make music now, because of how big an impact that first album Endtroducing..... had on me and how it made me look at music. He combines a sort of psych/folk with a beat with more of an electronic focus.
“As long as there’s people willing to experiment with synths and electronic influence in rock music - and I like to think there is - I think it will stay popular. Those waveforms must do something to some people’s ears. It’s funny when you hear people getting synths really wrong though, because it’s very obvious. I think you should have to have a licence. There’s certain synths that I hear on records that are so bad, it’s ‘Put that away! Please stay away from pre-sets and do some research if you want to get involved in experimenting with synths. Don’t just pull out a keyboard and start to make music.’ You’ve really got to do your research.”
“The flow on this song and this album rhythmically is amazing, and in terms of that I don’t know a better record. It still feels brand new, I still play it to people that have never heard it and it shocks people, the album is from 1968 and that’s just insane. Simeon Coxe made his own synths, he took a basic electronic course and created his own. To this day Silver Apples sounds just as fresh as anything else.
“During West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum I was bang into Silver Apples. Previously, I was using a lot of loops and electronic drums, but with the Silver Apples album it was way more tape-based. The way something sounds like a sample but it’s actually someone playing it, I was amazed that you can still get that machine-like feel but it was actually played.
“After hearing this I started pitch-bending. This was just through watching YouTube videos, I didn’t do a course or anything, I was opening up old toys. For example, say you get an old piano, if you disconnect certain wires you can reconnect them or tap them and get a weird electronic noise. That experimenting was based on how he got his sound in this track. Pitch bending was quite a big thing and that noise has such an atmosphere.”
“If I’m writing, usually I’ll use imagery. I’m very visual the way I write and I tend to use stories. I get that same sense from Young Fathers, I love this band, they’re piecing together things in song writing in a really interesting way.
“They’re really melodic but then if you hear what’s making up the actual music, it’s a lot of different noises and beeps. There’s a real rawness to it that feels spontaneous. It feels like they’re performance art almost, It feels like an art installation and to back it up they’ve got the beautiful melody and hook that draws you in, it’s really good to run to. Meditate with this on, it’s great.
“They’ve got incredible backing vocals and chants and it’s such a powerful weapon when you backdrop it to digital distortion and powerful music. There’s something so impressive about good harmonies. When you hear or see live those Beach Boys or Eagles melodies, there’s something really beautiful and mystifying about the soaring human voice, but when you juxtapose these with something so rough, it becomes really special.
“When you hear music that makes you want to go in the studio straight away, that’s so important and I’m always looking for that and listening to ‘Rain or Shine’ I was desperate to get back in the studio. What I like is that Young Fathers commit to an idea; they commit to a loop or a little synth that’s maybe out of tune. It’s those little details, and that band make you want to get back to song writing - that’s what everyone is looking for.”
“Honestly, ‘Guillotine’ frightens the hell out of me, and I feel like there’s humour in that. Death Grips had a gig where they brought on a TV screen, didn’t turn up and everyone just went. They’re pure performance art.
“When I first heard it I was so excited, because I’d never heard anything like it before. I thought ‘Fucking hell man, this is the real deal.’ What I love is how soft everything feels after it, or you feel like you’re not pushing it far enough. They’re phenomenal.
“This weird, Berlin techno, grime, hip-hop, distortion, doom rock, it’s absolutely petrifying. I always use this one in the dressing room to clear out the indie-schmindie crowd. They wander through the door wanting to have a drink and I get the speakers out, put this fucker on and see if anyone stays. Usually there’s only one kid, who thinks it’s crazy and is ‘What’s this?’ And the rest of them are out of there, who just don’t understand this and are off to listen to some indie rubbish. I love that, it’s a test for me.
“The Money Store is fucking unbelievable. Their song writing, beat making and their structure; it’s hot, it’s the real deal. In a live arena that energy and that industrial power has a connection. With their ear-bending synth drops, we connect on a live thing for sure.”
“These guys are probably my new favourite band at the moment. I mean, they’re not new anymore but if someone asks me to recommend them anything it would have to be this band. I think Geoff Barrow is an incredible artist and to have this project, where he can just drop tunes now and again and they’re constantly making stuff, is phenomenal.
“It just talks to me, this is how you use synths, you know what I mean? That’s a knowledge. I think that’s why it makes me relax so much, because every choice is perfection and with every sound, I need to know what it is. I geek out on that. It’s minimal, it’s weird ‘80s horror music, it’s kraut-rock and into early electro - it’s all the things I like and by a band that play live. It’s the perfect band.
“I think I might have just read an interview when I discovered them, he mentioned that he was making other music, so I was interested from that. ‘Mono’ was one of the first things they’d put out, they were talking about a specific synth, that’s like a mystical thing that no-one’s got, and they were using that to get their sound. So if you want to learn the synths, listen to this track.
“You can get some incredible shit on your IPhone, it’s not about what it is, it’s about the noise that’s being made. It’s not a snobbery of ‘It’s got to be from the late ‘70’s’, please, it’s not like that - it’s just knowing the tone and sound of oscillations. Listen to me, I’m just sounding like some mad old synth wizard.”