The photo shoot begins in ten minutes. If Kasabian are to make it back to their boutique hotel in Knightsbridge, they need to hurry. Right now though, just two obstacles stand between them and a punctual arrival – and they’re both parked outside The Victoria & Albert Museum. “Burger van or ice-cream van?” enquires singer Tom Meighan. “Ice-cream van,” says his guitar-playing sidekick Serge Pizzorno. “Whippy’s the fucking bollocks, mate. You can’t fuck with the Whippy.” Not for the first time this afternoon, they’re off into conversational overdrive – conferring their avowedly rock’n’roll outlook onto… well, in this case, ice-cream vans. Within ten seconds, Meighan shifts from uncertainty to militant conviction. “Fuck the scoop mate. Ban the scoop. When you pull a Whippy out and put a fucking 99 Flake in, Americans can’t come close to us, mate. It’s fucking filthy, ennit?”
“Fuck you, Ben & Jerry, Haagen Dazs,” echoes Pizzorno.
“British, mate! British ice-cream.” By now, they’ve, um, whipped each other into a mild frenzy. About ice-cream. “Me old man,” continues Meighan, “was going on about these shells you used to get. Do you remember?”
“No mate,” comes Pizzorno’s response, “But I tell you what I do remember.”
Meighan: “What’s that, mate?”
“Screwball! Filthy, mate! Fucking chew on that! It was shocking, mate, wasn’t it? Dirty. You don’t know how long that ice-cream has been in that fucking thing up there, whipped. But it’s better than anything!”
Finally, Serge attempts to land the conversation, much as a seasoned pilot might land a plane. “By far, mate. Whippy though, it’s the bollocks, by and large. It’s fucking empire.”
By the time singer and guitarist meet the rest of the band for the photo shoot, they have uttered 24 mates, 19 fucks, 11 filthys and eight empires. In the parallel universe fashioned over half a lifetime by Leicester schoolchums Meighan and Pizzorno, there’s no higher compliment than “empire”. “Empire” is, amongst other things, a 19th century painting of an army general festooned with medals and stripes, a recent gig in a disused Mexican supermarket in which the locals sang along to every song from their self-titled 2004 debut, and “those 10p crisps you get in corner shops”.
Most of all though, Empire is the name Kasabian have given to their second album. To say they’re proud of it, is an understatement on a par with “Houston, we have a problem.” Four months after applying the finishing touches to the record, Meighan and Pizzorno take palpable pleasure in telling each other about their favourite bits: the temples-throbbing amyl rock of Shoot The Runner; the dystopian Motown stomp of Me Plus One and Aponea – which sounds eerily like the theme to John Craven’s Newsround looped and remixed by an utter lunatic. Presumably not for the first time, Meighan congratulates Pizzorno on British Legion – the guitarist’s sole vocal on the album, and a song apparently recorded in one-take during the record’s month long-sessions. Pizzorno fulsomely bats the compliment back. “I’m not a frontman though. Look at Tom and ask yourself this. Where would you be without frontmen who are out of their fucking minds? He’ll do the business anywhere you like.”
If such grand claims have become Kasabian’s stock-in-trade, you can hardly blame them. Despite the lukewarm critical reception accorded to their eponymous debut, they made light work of shifting 8000 tickets for their prestigious Alexandra Palace show last year. Besides, says Meighan, they were making these sorts of declarations, as children, before they had even formed a band. “We always knew, didn’t we Serge? It’s not like we were even nervous about it, because in our heads, we were going to make brilliant records.” What some detractors have called arrogance is described by Pizzorno as self-belief.
For a while though, it was hard for him and Meighan to agree on what their band would sound like. In the early 90s the would-be singer was more of an aspirant rapper, delivering word-perfect Cypress Hill impersonations to any schoolfriends who cared to listen. Though he grew up listening to his father’s John Lee Hooker and Pretty Things albums, Pizzorno found himself increasingly interested in dance music. It was, says the guitarist, Oasis who gave them a common point of reference. Meighan says that during the four years he worked in a sheet metal factory, it was the sentiments expressed in Oasis’ Rock & Roll Star kept the dream intact. A recent support tour with the Gallaghers has done little to diminish their adoration. According to Pizzorno, “it was good for Tom and Liam to be together in the same place, because they both represent the random factor. They’re fearless.”
Perhaps that’s just as well, given the challenges that lie in wait for Kasabian this summer. As Mick Jagger and Keith Richards negotiate the transition from Glimmer Twins to, um, Zimmer twins, Kasabian’s imminent support slot will give the world a chance to see how the pretenders to their throne are shaping up. Given the fact that Meighan and Pizzorno’s famed aversion to humility, talking about these – their biggest shows to date – presents certain, shall we say, deference issues.
“What am I going to say when I meet Mick?” ponders Meighan. “Tell you what, mate – in my mind, it’s not really happening. At least, not until I get there and see him standing there wearing those shit socks that are too bright for him. What is there to possibly say?”
I offer a suggestion. How about something like, “Why don’t you make another album as good as Beggars Banquet or Let It Bleed?”
“You’re having a laugh, ain’t you? I ain’t got the fucking authority to, mate. I tell you what, though – I think Keith Richards will have a fucking fit when he sees Serge. He’ll be like a lost son.”
Meighan has a point – more so for the fact that Pizzorno appears to be wearing eyeliner. It turns out though, that this is no cosmetic homage. The band had to wear it for a video shoot the day before. Pizzorno is keen that this be made clear. “Make sure you mention it, will you?”
But surely if it’s ok for the Stones to wear eyeliner, then Kasabian have nothing to fear. After all, Jagger was caked in it for Performance.
“Yeah,” concedes Pizzorno, “but so does the geezer from Kaiser Chiefs, so that’s put a downer on things. You’ve got to be careful.”
At times, it hard to gauge whether or not Kasabian like any of their contemporaries, save for Oasis. The Kooks? “Byker Grove with leather jackets, mate.” Franz Ferdinand? “You should hear one of our songs coming out of a big PA, after one of their songs. I feel a bit sorry for them.” And the glut of bands coming through as a result of MySpace? “Fucking hell, mate. Fucking hell. All these internet things where everybody goes, ‘Hi it’s me. I know you.’ It’s doing my head in.” Meighan pauses for a second. “I mean, it’s fucking rubbish, isn’t it? As if we haven’t got enough of the internet. Why? Myspace? MySpace? Do you want any more space?”
Tom Meighan momentarily leans back in his chair, tuts and shakes his head. But this time around, militant conviction gives way to uncertainty. “So, um, what is MySpace again, exactly?”
Pizzorno erupts. “See what I mean? It’s the random factor. Fucking priceless.”