IIn the summer of 2020, just weeks after their frontman Tom Meighan was fired for assaulting his then-fiancée Vikki Ager, the two remaining founding members of Kasabian met and wondered, “Now what?” Radio stations had stopped playing their music. All of the success of the last 17 years – during which the Leicester group went on to become one of the UK’s biggest bands with five No1 albums and a debut that went three times platinum – suddenly felt tainted. It seemed the next logical step to bring things to an end now that they were without their bolshy ringleader singer, whose ability to whip up a crowd was crucial to their rise. But Serge Pizzorno, the songwriter and leader of Kasabian, saw it differently. “We can’t end the story like this,” he thought.
It’s a cold spring morning and the gates of Pizzorno’s house creak open in a sleepy lane on the outskirts of Leicester. He emerges from his front door, tall, wiry, and smiling, much gentler than the martial hymns for which he has become famous would suggest. Pizzorno, now 41, leads me down the side of his house, along the garden, past his children’s jungle gyms and through a gap in the hedge where a pitch-black two-story building awaits. A Japanese-style sign sticking out on the side tells us where we are: The Sergery, Pizzorno’s home studio. “I love Japan so much,” he enthuses, pointing to the sign. “There is a mega play in Tokyo called Omotesando. I wanted a sign that looked like it came from a street there. Those little details are so important to me.”
It was here that Kasabian recorded the bulk of their excellent new album The Alchemist’s Euphoria, their first record since Meighan’s sacking, with Pizzorno rising to lead the quartet as lead singer and frontman. It plays on the spirit of adventure that has defined the band’s music away from their big indie rock anthems, where Pizzorno’s love of hip-hop, electro, psychedelic off-roading and Italian movie soundtracks come to the fore.
Some songs burn with the urgency of a band desperate to plan a new future, but there’s also a sense of loss: even the heaviest moments contain distractions into majestic minor chords, as in the stirring mini-prog epic TUVE, and the spiky grooves of the last single Scriptvre. Pizzorno’s vocals sometimes resemble Meighan’s aggressive delivery when the music is packed, but in the softer moments, his mellow vocals are entirely different.
Pizzorno never wanted to be a frontman: initially the band considered getting a new singer. However, the more Pizzorno thought about it, the more convinced he was that he was the man for the job. “I know these songs,” he says, taking a seat at the mixer. “They are ingrained in my soul. I know exactly where I was writing every word. It would be difficult for me to convey that to someone new.”
After Meighan’s exit, returning to the studio was therapy for Pizzorno. “We were all set to play stadiums and make another record,” he says. “I had these amazing pieces of music, so I came here and started writing for fun.” He says he’s still processing the events surrounding the departure of Meighan, who was sentenced to community service three months after the attack.
Domestic violence charities have criticized the 200-hour order as insufficient, as it was revealed in court that Meighan repeatedly punched, held Ager by the neck and pulled his ankles. The couple has since married.
“The summer Tom left was absolutely heartbreaking,” says Pizzorno. “It felt like leaving your home and coming back and seeing it burn down, walking around the ashes, seeing old pictures and artifacts and picking things up and sifting through the destruction. It was an intense time.” He pauses and then continues: “We’ve experienced a lot over the years. When it all came out, things were said and written that were hard to take because you experienced it — you know the real story.”
A highlight of the new album is a sizzling, Prodigy-style banger called Rocket Fuel, which deals with the flak Pizzorno received from fans who were upset that the group hadn’t given Meighan a second chance. “It never ceases to amaze me how strong people’s opinions are when they don’t know the actual truth,” he says. “There’s a lot more to it than that. Who in their right mind would fire a frontman if there was no reason to?
He continues: “There have been some difficult moments over the years. I don’t want to go into that because I feel like that’s the band’s thing.”
After apologizing, Meighan revealed that he suffers from alcohol addiction and has been diagnosed with ADHD. “With Tom, all we ever tried was love and support. There were times when we needed professional help – that was all taken care of. But by the time we finally became aware of the incident, he had crossed the line at that point.” The worst thing one could fault him or the band for, says Pizzorno, is that they haven’t been there for Meighan, or not everything over the years tried what they could. Chewing over a question about whether he misses the singer, he finally says, “I miss who Tom used to be.”
A few days later, bassist Chris Edwards adds over the phone: “I think part of Tom wanted to go solo, but he didn’t have the heart to tell us. A few weeks after the incident, Tom said he was going solo and the band had split up. As soon as we heard that, me and Serge sat down and said, ‘Do you want to continue like this?’ That’s all we know, so if we can do it and the fans still want it, let’s do it.”
Meighan has since launched his solo career with a UK tour and is currently preparing his debut album. “All we ever wanted was for him to be happy,” says Pizzorno, who hasn’t spoken to Meighan since they met after the trial. “So if he’s happy with that, then great.” Edwards hasn’t spoken to him in over a year either, but says he still cares about him. “The last time we spoke I said, ‘Dude, if you need help, if you fall off the car, if you’re having trouble with anything at home, you can come and stay with me.’ We left it like that – with a hug and we said we love each other. There is no malice in separation. It’s heartbreaking, but it happened.”
There were some people in the wider circle of the band who questioned their decision to continue. “They didn’t think I could do it,” says Pizzorno. “And maybe those are the people I don’t talk to as much anymore.” As rehearsals began for the group’s first post-Meighan tour in late 2021, he felt vindicated, a feeling that grew, when he finally walked on stage: “The weight of standing there, front and center – I was in this incredible state.”
A long time ago, at the start of lockdown, before all of this, Pizzorno took the time to look back at everything the band had accomplished. “This is the first time in my life that I’ve quit,” he says. “I had a chance to sit in a deck chair and be like, ‘What the hell was that?'” He thought of their wild early days and the time they stayed up all night before their first gig in Glastonbury and worried because they didn’t think anyone would show up. “It was packed – 20,000 people,” he laughs. From that moment on, they believed they could be huge. “We were the perfect cocktail. The mid 90’s had a massive impact on our attitude towards success and being in a band. I started dance music. But when Britpop happened, we were told, ‘Get as big as you can.’ I had that drive.”
This impulse remains, he says, although the ambitions differ. Size isn’t everything anymore. “It’s about making the music as perfect as possible and thinking about how I can make a show into something where people are like, ‘Did you see that?'” He studies his favorite artists – Tyler the Creator, Iggy Pop, Björk , PJ Harvey, plus Liams Howlett and Gallagher – and wants to channel a little bit of each of who they are as a frontman.
One thing he loved about Kasabian’s return to live performances last year was how young the crowd was. “It takes that mosh in the middle, that leap from youth,” he says. “There were people around who were there from the start, but the core was just kids. When you see them going insane, you know it’s worth moving on. A whole new generation is stepping in.”
The Alchemist’s Euphoria is out August 5th on Sony Music Entertainment.