Kasabian on sacking their frontman: ‘It was like seeing your house burn down’

The band are back – with their first record since sacking Tom Meighan for assaulting his fiancee. Serge Pizzorno talks about that ‘heartbreaking’ decision – and why he finally decided to step up as singer

In the summer of 2020, a few weeks after firing their frontman Tom Meighan for assaulting his then-fiancee Vikki Ager, the two remaining founder members of Kasabian met up and asked themselves: “What now?” Radio stations had stopped playing their music. All the success of the past 17 years – during which the Leicester group became one of Britain’s biggest bands, with five No 1 albums, plus a debut that went three-times platinum – felt suddenly tainted. Winding things up seemed the next logical step, given they were now without their bolshie ringleader singer, whose ability to whip up a crowd had been crucial to their ascent. But Serge Pizzorno, Kasabian’s songwriter and leader, didn’t see it that way. “We can’t end the story like this,” he thought.

It’s a cold spring morning and, on a sleepy lane on the outskirts of Leicester, the gates to Pizzorno’s house creak open. He emerges from his front door, tall, wiry and smiling, much more gently mannered than the belligerent anthems he’s become famous for might suggest. Pizzorno, now 41, leads me down the side of his house, along the garden, past his kids’ climbing frames and through a gap in the hedge, where a jet-black two-storey building awaits. A Japanese-style lightbox sign sticking out from the side tells us where we are: The Sergery, Pizzorno’s home studio. “I love Japan so much,” he enthuses, pointing up at the sign. “There’s a mega bit in Tokyo called Omotesando. I wanted a sign that would look like it’s from a street there. Those little details are so important to me.”

This is where Kasabian recorded the bulk of their excellent new album, The Alchemist’s Euphoria, their first record since sacking Meighan, with Pizzorno stepping up to become the quartet’s vocalist and frontman. It plays up the adventurousness 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 film soundtracks comes to the fore.

Some songs burn with the urgency of a band desperate to map out a new future but there’s also a feeling of loss: even the heaviest moments contain diversions into minor-chord majesty, as on the sweeping mini-prog epic TUVE, and the spiked grooves of recent single Scriptvre. Pizzorno’s vocals sometimes resemble Meighan’s aggro delivery when the music is full pelt, but in the more mellow moments his soft croon is starkly different.

Community service … Tom Meighan leaves Leicester magistrates’ court in July 2020.
Community service … Tom Meighan leaves Leicester magistrates’ court in July 2020. Photograph: Jacob King/PA

Pizzorno never wanted to be a frontman: initially, the band wondered if they should get a new singer. The more Pizzorno thought about it, though, the more he became convinced he was the man for the job. “I know these songs,” he says, taking a seat by the mixing desk. “They’re ingrained in my soul. I know exactly where I was when I wrote every word. It would be difficult for me to convey that to someone new.”

After Meighan’s exit, getting back into the studio was therapy for Pizzorno. “We were all set up to play stadiums and make another record,” he says. “I had these amazing pieces of music, so I came in here and started to write for fun.” He says he is still coming to terms with the events surrounding the departure of Meighan, who was sentenced to community service three months after the assault.

Domestic abuse charities criticised the 200-hour order as insufficient, given it was revealed in court that Meighan had repeatedly struck Ager, held her by the throat and dragged her by the ankles. The couple have since married.

“The summer when Tom left was absolutely heartbreaking,” Pizzorno says. “It felt like leaving home and coming back and seeing it burnt down, walking round the ashes, seeing old pictures and artefacts and picking things up and sifting through the destruction. It was an intense time.” He pauses then continues: “Over the years, we’ve dealt with a lot. When it all came out, you’d see things being said and written that were hard to take because you’ve lived it – you know the true story.”

A highlight of the new record is a seething Prodigy-style banger called Rocket Fuel, which addresses the flak Pizzorno feels has come his way from fans aggrieved the group didn’t give Meighan a second chance. “It always amazes me how strong people’s opinions are when they don’t know anything about the actual truth,” he says. “There’s way more to it. Who in their right mind would sack a frontman if there wasn’t cause?”

He goes on: “Over the years, there have been some tough moments. I don’t want to go into them because I feel like that’s the band’s business.”

After apologising Meighan announced he was suffering from alcohol addiction, and had 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 when we were finally made aware of the incident, he’d crossed the line at that point.” The most hurtful thing you could level at him or the band, Pizzorno says, is that they weren’t there for Meighan, or didn’t try everything they could over the years. He chews over a question about whether he misses the singer, eventually saying: “I miss who Tom used to be.”

A few days later, speaking by phone, bass-player Chris Edwards adds: “I think part of Tom wanted to go solo but he didn’t have the heart to tell us. A couple of weeks after the incident, Tom said he was going to go solo and the band had split up. As soon as we heard this, me and Serge sat down and said, ‘Do you want to keep doing this?’ It’s all we know, so if we can do it and the fans still want it, let’s go for it.”

‘I miss who Tom used to be’ … the band perform in Austin, Texas, in 2005.
‘I miss who Tom used to be’ … the band perform in Austin, Texas, in 2005. Photograph: Getty Images

Meighan has since launched his solo career with a UK tour and is currently preparing his debut record. “All we ever wanted was for him to be happy,” says Pizzorno, who hasn’t spoken to Meighan since their post-trial meeting. “So if he’s happy doing that, then great.” Edwards hasn’t talked to him for over a year either but says he still cares for him. “The last time we spoke, I said, ‘Mate, if you need help, if you fall off the wagon, if you have problems with anything at home, you can come and stay at mine.’ That’s how we left it – with a hug and we said we loved each other. There’s no malice in the separation. It’s heartbreaking but it’s happened.”

There were some people in the band’s wider circle who questioned their decision to carry on. “They didn’t think I could do it,” says Pizzorno. “And they’re maybe the people I don’t speak to so much any more.” He felt vindicated when rehearsals began for the group’s first post-Meighan tour towards the end of 2021, a feeling heightened by finally going out on stage: “The weight of standing there, front and centre – I was in this incredible state.”

Way back at the beginning of lockdown, before all of this, Pizzorno took the time to look back over everything the band had achieved. “That’s the first time I’d ever stopped in my life,” he says. “I got a chance to sit in a deckchair and go, ‘What the fuck was that about?’” He thought about their wild early days and the time they stayed up all night worrying before their first Glastonbury gig, because they didn’t think anyone would turn up. “It was full – 20,000 people,” he laughs. From that moment on, they believed they could be huge. “We were the perfect cocktail. The mid-90s had a massive impact on our attitude towards success and being in a band. I started with dance music. But once Britpop happened, we were told, ‘Get as big as you can.’ I had that drive.”

That impulse remains, he says, although the ambitions are different. Size is no longer everything. “It’s about wanting to make the music as perfect as it can be, thinking about how I can make a show something where people go, ‘Did you see that?’” He studies his favourite artists– Tyler the Creator, Iggy Pop, Björk, PJ Harvey, plus Liams Howlett and Gallagher – and wants to incorporate a bit of each into who he is as a frontman.

One thing he loved about Kasabian’s return to live performance last year was how young the crowds were. “It needs that mosh in the centre, that bounce from the youth,” he says. “In the surrounding area were people who have been there from the start, but the core were just kids. Seeing them losing their minds, that’s when you know it’s worth carrying on. A whole new generation are getting into it.”

• The Alchemist’s Euphoria is released on 5 August on Sony Music Entertainment.

• In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. Other international helplines may be found via www.befrienders.org.


Niall Doherty

The GuardianTramp

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