- interview by Alan VAN BRACKEL and Hélène SANTI, with a LOT of help for translation : Sandrine “LILSAN”
Meeting Kasabian while they are on tour is always special. They are now done with “real” promotion for their latest album, Velociraptor!, a monster made up of very different songs. They are currently touring, this time coming to continental Europe for the second time since November, after a string of warm-up shows, a summer festival tour, a UK tour in December, a tour in Japan and one in Australia in January. No less. Except for occasional TV promotion or article in the press from time to time, their time and energy are now entirely devoted to performing. Therefore, we consider ourselves extremely lucky to be given the opportunity to meet the band.
Tonight, they play a large venue in Lille, Le Zénith, instead of the smaller-sized L’Aéronef as was initially planned. The meeting takes place backstage, in one of the band’s dressing rooms. Kasabian have just finished soundchecking when Sergio Pizzorno, aka the man behind the writing process, enters the room and greets us – in French - “Bonsoir ! Ca va ?“
For sure, Kasabian are a very close-knit band, a bit like a pack of four velociraptors, as they mischievously put it. The new logo examplifies it perfectly. But prior to each band member offering creative input to any new track, songwriting is Serge’s task. This is the reason why we are particularly pleased to interview him, since we have a lot of questions to ask him specifically.
He sits down in a yellow sofa and looks at us in a friendly way. The man is generally as shy as he is self-confident, but he is extremely kind when you meet him. Today is no exception. He is such an angel, fact. And a very, very patient one, on top of that.
We start off with a little chat about the present tour, while giving him a souvenir book, and then bring up the Concert Live issue : we heard that Kasabian did not know about the whole thing.
Serge confirms : “It was in Brighton and we were like ‘who are these people ?’. They were here to record the show but we didn’t know anything about it. And we learnt it was supposed to be every gig, so we were ‘what the fuck is going on ?’ The Power That Be… so we compromised to release something, one of the shows. Unfortunately it’s not each gig but we didn’t know, and at least there’s one of them… it was a bit of a fucked up situation. We’re really sorry but we couldn’t promise something we didn’t want to do, it’s crazy. We’re sorry. This is the kind of things that can still happen to a band.“
As we keep on talking about the Kasabian show recordings, the man shares among other things an interesting point of view about the memories one can make at a gig. He must be old-fashioned, he jokes, because in his opinion, a recording is not really useful as “you can have more incredible memories in your brain. I like to remember. It’s more romantic this way” Then, as we can clearly hear Tom sing and whistle joyfully somewhere not too far, we talk with Sergio about the writing process, as the band seem not to have changed their ways when it comes to electronic music. On stage, they have gradually added organic instruments such as a trumpet or strings, but they have certainly not forgotten their electronic side.
Alan : You use more organic instruments live, like a piano on La Fée verte but you seem to experiment with electronic instruments another way when writing, like for Switchblade Smiles…
Serge : “I don’t really know. I just take inspiration where I can get it. I don’t really have any rules such as ” You cannot use that”. We’re a rock band and we’ve always done that. ‘You’re a psychedelic band, you are not allowed to do that’. I don’t really care. Any way I can make a sound that I like to hear, on synths or on a pan… That’s the way I feel.“
Alan : You said before that you generally begin with just a guitar. I remember hearing snippets you have later used for Switchblade Smiles during the last tour, at the end of a song. So did you get the idea directly from these bits of electronic sound or did you stick them together afterwards?
Serge : You can start very small but I suppose on tour we use anything we hear along the way. Any particular sound, even a small one or a section, something that just goes : (he sings the nanananananana from Switchblade Smiles) : a very simple sample. Because I can write a song as well, I’ll pick a melody and top it with that sort of electronic tune. But any way I can get it, I really don’t care.
So pay close attention to even the most discreet loop during gigs because that might be what the next record sounds like… Sergio Pizzorno explains that he draws inspiration from anything he hears; but books or movies can be sources of ideas as well.
He is suddenly lost in thought, as he gazes into the distance : “I’m excited about the next record and I already think about it“, he whispers softly. Noticing our surprised expressions, he reveals he already has precise ideas about the fifth Kasabian album. He writes down ideas as they come to him, but thinks more of the project as a whole : “I tend not really to write that much on tour, more to form the idea of what I want it to sound like, what I want it to be.” Back in the corridor, Tom yells “WOOO-OOO” for some reason.
Serge tends to “gather information“. “A clue, a clue for everyone is the preliminary research, expeditions into the spirit world. That’s the clue. When we start to think about the next record, when we are going to put it out, the sound of the record is going to be something else. I’m really excited. Because I have caught out these ideas. It’s very ambitious but I really want to explore it.“
Hélène : And do you intend to do it right after?
Serge : “We are probably going to tour until the end of the year and I feel like it would be nice to put the album out not too quickly. Wait to the point when I know where I really want to go. Not straight away but not too far. Just the right time before everyone goes itching ‘oh what’s going on ?’“
After talking about the experimental tracks recorded during the tour, let’s come back to specifics.
Alan : About electro, again… I’m not sure, but I think I have seen the VCS3 on stage, during Julie & The Moth Man, on the last tour.
Serge : “Yeah, that’s true, you have very well spotted. My favourite, used by Pink Floyd.“
Alan : And what do you use on I.D.? Because we cannot really see…
Serge : “Ben has got an old Delay/Echo pedal on his synths : it’s just a manner of overdriving the delay, making it more trippy basically. I like doing that thing on stage, that more ‘engineering’ thing. I will do more of that. The next record is going to have more of that.“
Hélène : More electronic then.
Serge (laughs) : “You’re clever, alright. Maybe, maybe…“
Hélène : I saw a movie [ndlr : Sergio’s music is featured in two movies : Blitz by Elliot Lester, and London Boulevard, directed by William Monahan], and was very surprised to hear one of your songs and see your name in the credits. So what’s your story with this particular movie ?
Serge : “Hmm, it was Julie & The Moth Man, wasn’t it ?“
Hélène : Yeah.
Serge : “Well, they just rang up, saying ‘do you have any songs ?’ and we went ‘yeah, we just have that one. We’ve just written it, so you have that one’ “
Hélène : Because that’s funny : there are two films with your music in it, and both are based on two books written by the same author, Ken Bruen.
Serge : “Oh really ?“
Hélène : You didn’t know?
Serge : “No, I had no idea, that’s amazing.“
Hélène : I wanted to know if you liked him as a writer?
Serge : “Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I didn’t know he had done Blitz as well, that’s great.“
Hélène : And I wanted to know about your taste in litterature in general…
Serge : “At the moment?“
Hélène : At the moment, and in general? What you’re reading now…
Serge : “Reading now : a book by Stewart Lee, an English Comedian (–> How I Escaped My Certain Fate) it’s been released some time ago but I just got into it. It’s a book, basically, about the deconstruction of a show, just incredible – layer after layer he picks up why we laugh – stunning, stunning, and he etc. etc.“
Hélène : In general : in a bookshop what do you pick up?
Serge : “I don’t know… I read on recommendations. For example, Aitor told me about Kafka, who I don’t know anything about. But it’s intriguing, he gave me a box, five books yeah.”
Hélène : Oh, his complete works?
Serge : “Yes, maybe, do you know him ?“
Hélène : Well, he’s very popular here [ndlr : in France, then].
Serge : “Oh, really ? I had never heard about him. And Aitor said there are similarities between his works and mine so I’m intrigued. I usually work on recommendations.”
And if he likes a book he has been recommended, he reads others from the same author.
Alan : I’ve read some years ago that you like French cinema, so who is your favourite director?
Serge : “I’m not sure of the pronunciation but it’s Gaspar Noé. He’s someone whose films keep blowing my mind, I mean they’re intense. His films are hard to watch but… as well as the music in his films… I wouldn’t say that I am an expert, but you watch his films and they stay with you forever. He’s an incredible director. I suppose I’d pick him over anyone else. I also really like Vincent Cassel much.“
Alan : During the last UK tour, the lights were particular, and there were two moments when it was really great for the entire crowd… there was a moment when the light was down, and you asked the people to… provide light…
Serge : “Oh yeah…“
Alan : …and there was another moment, on Fire, when you asked people to sit down, and the light was really bright. These were two intense moments, where the light was of utmost importance, and it was very powerful, like a black celebration…
Serge : “Yes, definitely. We were in Liverpool and before La Fée verte the whole electric system went down, there was a moment of panic and I could see our people running around. I was thinking ‘What can I do?’. So I just asked people to help us. And it looked so beautiful, it kind of carried on. If that had not happened, I wouldn’t have done it because it almost feels a bit cheesy, a bit. But because it happened naturally, that these lights went down, it kind of felt right to carry on.
And the Fire thing… I’ve seen it in a dance show, a dance festival. I always go to dance festivals after our gigs in Europe because they are always late on… and I noticed there was a break in a song, when everyone got down, and I was like “what is this ? what’s going on, everyone is down”. And when it kicked back in, everyone got up. I thought that was pretty amazing. We played in Switzerland, I believe, and I noticed a few people doing it, so I thought “Well, I’ll ask them to do it”. And they did. And no one had ever done it in England… So we thought we’d give it a go and see what happened.
It does something really interesting to the crowd because it makes you forget you’re in a gig, you forget you’re in this building. When everyone is down, it kind of brings everyone together, somehow. Obviously, everyone gets mental when they’re jumping, but it definitely does something to the people, it’s really quite special. I mean, we won’t necessarily do it every time. Some days it feels right and some days, you feel you don’t want that kind of thing. I’m sure eventually people will probably just do it everywhere.“
Alan : And what about the lights? They’re very different compared to a few years ago…
Serge : “Aitor… Aitor Throup has directed the artwork on the album. Well, West Ryder was a different thing, it was a more theatrical event. We tried to create an asylum, basically, on stage. Velociraptor! is a more futuristic sort of thing. Again, rock music should not be retro, it should be forward-thinking. It should embrace what we have, take people’s mind to another dimension, our way. And I think we did that. It’s a shame we can’t, I mean it’s a shame we don’t play venues the size we do in England, just because it would be so nice to play this show in France or in Italy… It’s not that we complain in the way of “Oh, we wanna play these huge shows”, but we put so much time into this thing that it’s a shame only one place gets to see it, because it’s quite special. You never know, one day…“
The next subject under discussion is the interaction between the crowd and the musicians, and between group members. We mention unity, sense of power and mutual understanding. Serge : “I agree, I think it’s important. When it becomes a power thing, you feel that to the persons all around, you become Axl Rose, you fucking arrive an hour late for the show, you don’t sing in tune, and you don’t give the people out an incredible night. That’s when the power becomes an ego trip, you know. But, asking people to do things like that, I think it’s a way of bringing everyone together, because we are down as well. We’re down and we are saying ‘come on with us’. So yeah, I know what you say, and I believe it’s special.“
Then, the conversation moves onto the topic of performing, about the way it now looks like he’s having fun during shows. We could see it from an outsider’s point of view, but are we imagining things ? Serge admits this has changed, confiding in a sweet voice : “I do feel differently now… this album, this record… I do feel differently on stage… I’ve learnt to enjoy it, because… I have always had a good time but there’s always been something else… I’ve always been more of a studio sort of person. But then you just wake up one day and you go : ‘wow, don’t let this pass you by, because you can, not in a bad way, but you can forget to enjoy it’. I really enjoy it now. More so than I have ever have. And having fun instantly makes you feel great. More relaxed. And if you feel relaxed, everyone else goes ‘Oh, phhhhew…’ Emotions communicate better. It’s interesting you bring it up because I do feel the same. Definitely.“
Meanwhile, Tom enters the room, looks around and goes out. Fans have sent us a lot of questions, so on with the questioning.. Here are some extracts. Answers to some queries, as well as to song requests (all were submitted ) have already been directly passed on to the people who had asked them in the first place. We have printed everything and hand Sergio the bundle.
We got a question from Iris.
Serge : “Iris, beautiful name.“
*note to self : I agree, that was also the name of my cat* She’s 7.
Serge : “Wow.“
… and she would like to know if you have any pets (she’s written her question on a paper, so so cute)
Serge : “Any pets ? (he smiles) No, I’ve never had pets. Tom used to have a Jack Russel called Tardis. Chris had a cat called Scamper (?). No one else had anything, I think. I think Ian had a rabbit, but I don’t know how it’s called.“
Someone asked about Pistols At Dawn.
Serge : “We play it tonight.” We thank him profusely, trying to express as well as we can that the gift is very, very much appreciated. He grins broadly.”Yeah, that’s interesting, we always play first times in France, don’t we?“
Another one, from Tom : could you please cover Gimme Shelter?
[At that moment, Serge might assume we are talking about Tom Meighan] : “You know when sometimes you love something so much… doing a cover…” [But that's not the case, it's from another Tom]. Serge reckons “Well, that’s difficult when you really enjoy the song. If you think you can add something to it, you do it. I don’t know if I could, because it’s like… I like it too much… I’m afraid I can’t, it’s so perfect.”
Next, we talk about other cover requests (Depeche Mode), song requests, random questions, NYE and so on. Serge mentions his side project Luxury Comedy with “one of his best friends, Noel” and we hand him a card from Elise.
Serge : “Amazing.” He reads the questions out loud.
Do you think that one day you will produce an album by yourselves, or do you need people “from the outside” to get a second opinion…
Serge : “Well, in a way I produced the albums by myself, but I think it’s nice to have someone else… I don’t really need it but it’s nice. For the vocals… It’s hard for me to be hard on Tom, you know, so that can’t be me. That’s that kind of things. Without that, I would do it.“
In Star Wars, on which side would you be?
Serge : “The Rebels, of course ! Well, thank you, it’s a beautiful card, that’s very sweet of her.“
Do you have, maybe not producers, but artists you’d like to work with?
Serge : “Huh… Jack White, Daft Punk…“
And on a visual aspect?
Serge : “Well, I think with Aitor we have worked closely for this album so we will continue. We have been researching and for the next record we will work closely on every aspect. Next time, it’s going to be unbelievable. He’s a real artist, you know, he has this thing in him, something really wild.“
How did you meet him?
Serge : “He designed the Umbro shirt for England. He’s a designer. Well, he’s not really a designer, I don’t know what he is, he’s kind of an artist, he does a lot of things. He’s kind of… We’ve got kind of a spiritual connection. That sounds sort of hippy, but that really is… That’s quite special, really, really special. So that’s great we found him on the way.“
A lot of people wonder if we’ll ever hear all the Saracuse songs.
Serge begins to troll with his usual troll face : “You know what ? I don’t know where they are.“
Oh, come on!
Serge grins : “I don’t have them. You know what? It’s like looking at a photo of when you were six years old, you know.“
But that’s sweet !
Serge : “They’re really sweet and beautiful, but I’m the wrong man to ask.“
He then smirks and jokes about it, making fun of us a bit.
Have you ever considered recording an acoustic album?
Serge : “Huh… I think it’s really beautiful when we do interpret songs acoustically live. And it’s really nice, because you realize, they sound different… That’s beautiful but I can’t really see… maybe in the future… but.. I think it’s nice the way we do it.“
What’s the kind of questions you’d like to be asked?
Serge : “What’s the kind of questions you’d like to be asked?”
And while doing promotion, what was the weirdest thing you were asked?
Serge : “In Japan, someone asked me what would I do if I woke up a morning and I was a 15 year old girl.“
You often talk about artists… bands… from the 70s or the 90s, or 00s. What about the 80s?
Serge : “Erm… (he laughs because that’s almost a joke, in France we have not exactly the same appreciation of all those bands anyway) I like electro, but I’m not a fan of that, you know.“
There is Kraftwerk…
Serge : “Yeah, but you know… It’s not a great time… Electronic music is fantastic, you know, but rock music could have killed people. So I’ve got compilations, electro. As for the bands… Wire, they’re pretty good. I don’t know… It’s hard…“
Finally, we move onto The Clash and Mick Jones, allude to the ultimate “guitar hero“, Keith Richards, and thank Sergio A LOT for his patience, his time, his patience, his kindness. And, erm, his patience. We finally greet the elusive Tom, and soon leave. We have almost forgotten that a gig is taking place here, tonight.
here are the pictures taken during the interview with Serge :