There’s something rather strange about Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore as he walks into a small café in the Soho district of his legendary hometown, New York City. Maybe it’s his mopped hair, black-rim glasses, and gold cassette tape hanging from a chain around his neck. Then again, it could be the fact that he walked in by himself like a normal New Yorker looking for rather a good lunch. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the indescribable legend and unmatched historical influence that he carries around so effortlessly, but oh so effectively. Either way, he sits down quietly, says a quiet “Hello” and informs Clash of the quality food at the café. In fact, he goes so far as to order the same dish as us. Flattering? You don’t even know the half of it.

Considering how long Sonic Youth have been together, Thurston shows no signs of tour wear and tear. In fact, he looks strangely similar to any other twenty-something hipster wandering down the street outside the window next to us. With twenty-five years of no-wave noise under their belts you would expect to hear of some kind of celebration upon their return to New York. “No, we really haven’t thought about that,” he says with a flip of his shaggy head. “In a way, it might be kind of strange if we bought gifts for each other or something like that. We buy gifts for each other on holidays and stuff, but we’re definitely not a lovey-dovey band.”

When we first went to England we wore t-shirts with Bruce Springsteen and Madonna on them and people were fuckin’ weirded out by us doing that.

Regardless of their love for each other, the band has certainly done enough right in the “togetherness” department to put out sixteen full albums since 1982’s soundscaped noise drive, ‘Sonic Youth EP’. Sure, on the surface, their personalities may seem an odd combination: Kim Gordon’s punk attitude (and marriage to Thurston); Lee Ranaldo’s deceivingly grey haired demeanor; Steve Shelley’s reserved, but strong percussion; and Thurston’s ageless cool. It’s a marriage made in punk heaven, and only possible on the sweat-soaked streets of New York. This doesn’t mean they don’t need space despite their mutual respect. “Yeah, I mean when you’re touring and sleeping on bunks all summer long, you really don’t want to hang out so much,” adds Thurston with a rather distant grin. “We all have our own families. Kim and I have our own little family. Lee has his. And Steve, well, Steve lives in Hoboken, New Jersey – he’s like the mayor of Hoboken.”

With the recent release of ‘Rather Ripped’ (Geffen), it’s no surprise Thurston and company are back in New York after a quarter century of taking their CBGB roots and dipping them into every musical pot imaginable. This is where they began. This is where they started it all. This is where a quiet, bearded man named Hilly Kristal gave them a chance that would eventually change modern music. “Oh yeah, I love it here. I’ve seen [New York] really change. I lived here when it was the legendary ‘Wild West’ New York and you could live for like $100 a month,” he says as he looks out the window at the lemming-like villagers wandering by. “The New York City neighborhood is really special.” So special that when Clash asks about their playing the infamous CBGB’s on the same day as the ‘Rather Ripped’ release Thurston seems to launch into full nostalgia mode. “Back in the day it was a real slum on that street. The Bowery was like a blockhouse for bums, winos, and drug-addicts. Then there’s this club, like a cottage almost, with its white awning, creaky wooden door and little wooden windows – completely weirdo and arbitrary. One day Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell of Television were walking by and asked Hilly if they could play there. The next thing you know bands like Talking Heads, Blondie and The Ramones are playing there.”

The history doesn’t merely stop or begin with one venue though. Sonic Youth have progressed, regressed, twisted, tweaked and warped just about anything that can create sound. Whether it’s the post-wave punk trip of ‘Evol’ or the boundlessly sprawling ‘Daydream Nation’ or the pop-friendly ‘Rather Ripped’, their albums have continually found a way to not only break ground for hidden music venues, but also bands around the world. Thurston, of course, just takes it all with humble strides. “We never really sort of looked at ourselves as groundbreaking. As far as we were concerned we were working within a milieu of people who were really working in experimental music,” he says with a shrug and mouthful of steamed broccoli.

After a short time it’s easy to see how honest Thurston is with his band, those they’ve influenced, and those that have influenced them. In fact, he almost finds the initial reactions, especially here in the UK, to their influences as kind of funny. “When we first went to England we wore t-shirts with Bruce Springsteen and Madonna on them and people were fuckin’ weirded out by us doing that. We were like, you know, they’re making some really fucking good records that were as good as Swell Maps and the other underground bands we liked.” The cross-pond reactions of the past still remain a mystery to him. “People in England were just flipped out. It’s funny cos on one hand we’re supposed to be hardcore experimentalists, but at the same time we’re like, ‘we really do like popular music.’ We weren’t trying to take the piss out of it. We genuinely were like, ‘Prince is pretty fuckin’ good man. As good as, you know, The Slits.’”

For Thurston and his inspired honesty, he will be the first to tell you the attitude in the UK has changed. He, however, never saw a major political divide to begin with. “The “them” at the time was disco,” he says with a shrug. “Punk-rock here in New York was a real affront to disco culture more than anything else. Bruce Springsteen and Madonna were never really a nemesis – they were just corny.” With artists like the Boss and the Queen of Pop being name-dropped so much it’s like a shake back into punk reality when he gives credit to underground acts like The Pop Group, Public Image, The Slits, DNA, and Television. But, he is quick to clear up what started the whole no-wave idea: “The Sonic Youth was more of a Jamaican reference and connection to the underground reggae of artists like Big Youth. It was more about the sort of post-punk reggae vibe than anything else. In fact, the first song on our first album, ‘Burning Spear’, is named after a reggae artist.”

Talking to Thurston is like sitting in a lecture from the most brilliantly punk professor at the school of cool. Every answer is like a chapter out of the encyclopedia of rock and no-wave. The influences are often as obscure as the sounds and approaches to their albums. But with ‘Rather Ripped’ Thurston blatantly stepped away from the ambiance and expanse found on past releases. Why? “Because everyone else is doing it,” he adds as he sips his oh so punk glass of tap water. “We didn’t really feel we had to prove ourselves as a noise band; kind of more interesting to not do that. In fact, I was emailing my friends in noise bands and writing that our new record sounds like a fuckin’ Blondie record, and they would be like, ‘Cool!’” The idea of an avant-garde sound seems to be a thing of the past – well, at least for about 4 seconds. “The next record is gonna be like scream, noise annihilation,” he says with a playful laugh that you don’t know whether or not to take seriously.

We never really sort of looked at ourselves as groundbreaking.

Despite its overall lack of classic Sonic noise, the new album is not short of dark material amongst the extra poppy beats. Whether it’s the darkly danceable depth of Kim’s voice on ‘What A Waste’ or the simple guitar structures on ‘Jams Run Free’ or the haunting spoken word pounding from Thurston on ‘Helen Lundeberg’ ‘Rather Ripped’ maintains a classically recognizable voice that can only be placed on the shoulders of a band who has its strengths on lock-down and knows exactly what it wants out of a record. It’s simple, but potent, and Thurston’s uber-cool brain knows when to draw the line. “I kind of became aware of economy with lyrics. I’ve done wordy lyrics, but a big model for me is the first Ramones album, which I thought was completely brilliant. The whole thing is about economization in music and words.” Minimalistic patterns are obvious in his work, especially when he openly admits to Clash, “Poets like Allen Ginsberg wrote about that as well – making economy work for you.” Interestingly enough, the moment he says this the waiter quickly rushes our plates away as soon as the last bites leave them.

Amidst the simplicity and poppy sounds, the standout track on ‘Rather Ripped’ may indeed be the psuedo love song ‘Incinerate’. With its irresistible hook it’s hard not to take Thurston seriously when his throaty voice groans, “I ripped you heart out from your chest/ replaced it with a grenade blast.” Violent? Maybe. A love song? According to Thurston, yes. “You know, I wanted to sing a song that has a good hook, and I wanted it to be sort of like a love song, like when you’re in love with somebody and you set each other on fire – figuratively.” With a smile he leans in make the point clear: “All those references to fire and incineration, but in a very loving way, of course.”

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by Thurston and his band’s unmatchable history. He, however, helps keep everything grounded with quirky jokes and witticisms that only a member of Sonic Youth can get away with. Many have accused them of stepping too far away from their New York past, and that this album is too poppy. Some have even gone so far as to drop the term, “sell-out.” It’s nothing new to Thurston, though. After two-and-a-half decades he knows where he stands. “I think it’s all kind of bogus. Why does the music industry have to be so much more special? If you stay true to yourself you’re not selling out.” With a distant look out the window and an adjustment of his glasses he drives the nail home: “Real punk is never having to say you’re “punk.”

Someone once said that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Hopefully, for the sake of everyone in the music community, future artists not only learn from Thurston Moore and the twenty-five years of Sonic Youth sound, but also, in a gold-cassette-wearing-polite-water-drinking-kind-of-way repeat their immaculate history – doom has never been so fuckin cool.

Pigeonholes. Much loved by journalists and music fans alike to categorise and define music but prone to being used as restrictive shoehorns that encourage people to dismiss or overlook the subtle (or even huge and unmissable) differences between artists’ output. Bonobo, AKA Simon Green, found himself imprisoned by such narrow-minded tag-slinging when his debut outing ‘Animal Magic’ happened to get dragged along by the media-induced tidal wave that was Chill Out in 2001.

Simon now says of that time: “I kind of got annoyed by it but at the same time I was living in a freezing bedsit and then all these compilations came along like Ministry this and Ibiza that and I just kind of went with it. Ultimately when that wave crashed they tried to take everyone down with it as well but hopefully there was a bit more resonance with my stuff than like lounge bar music or whatever.”

Indeed there was. The follow-up, ‘Dial M For Monkey’, saw an evolution in sound to rely less on sample-based productions and incorporate more live instrumentation and forthcoming third album ‘Days To Come’, while still distinctly Bonobo, sees a further progression to an almost completely live approach.

It should see him shake off the chill out label for good. “I didn’t really want to do more of the same,” explains Simon. “What I was doing before was essentially just sample based, cut and paste instrumentals and I think I’d gone as far as I could go with that. It just wasn’t as exciting having been doing it for over five years. I guess I’ve been phasing out the whole sampling thing and the majority of the instrumentation is completely live on this album.”

Much of the instrumentation is provided by Simon himself including guitars, double bass, keys, percussion and drums with strings, horns and vocals the only elements supplied by other people. This has led to a new approach to working in the studio. “There are a lot of tracks on the album that I sketched out and got people in the studio and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it so I scrapped it and did it again. It’s a lot more hard work but ultimately it’s more rewarding because rather than trying to find a horn sound that’s going to fit and trawling through thousands of records to find it it’s just like, ‘Right, I’m gonna write this horn sound’.”

Working more with vocalists has also seen the Bonobo sound evolve but rather than being a complete departure this proves to be an organic strengthening and broadening of what went before. Whereas many artists draft in a different artist for every vocal track and risk fracturing their albums, Simon opted to use just one main vocalist in the form of Bajka to retain the album’s strength and cohesion. “I decided I definitely wanted to use a vocalist and I wanted to use one rather than a bunch and make the whole thing sound like a compilation,” he explains.

He discovered just the right person by complete chance and contacted Bajka (pronounced ‘biker’) after an exercise in degrees of separation. “I picked up this Jazzman 7”, it just said Bajka and it had these two tracks on it and I assumed in the Jazzman tradition it was something they kind of dug up from the Fifties,” relates Simon. “Then someone was talking about her saying that she lives in Berlin and I thought ‘Shit I’m going to try and get hold of her’. I tracked her down through Will Quantic who kind of knew a friend of hers and he managed to get her number.”

Hopefully there was a bit more resonance with my stuff than like lounge bar music or whatever.

The results are stunning. Title track ‘Days To Come’ is a hazy jazz number with a touch of the exotic, ‘Walk In The Sky’ is simultaneously calm and edgy with deep double bass meeting subtle horns while ‘Between The Lines’ has an uplifting sentiment and a moody yet upbeat atmosphere to it. It is ‘Nightlite’, however, that is the greatest of their quartet of collaborations. A driving beat carries the track while strings gradually seep in and build to provide the perfect vehicle for Bajka’s distinctive vocals. An instant classic if ever there was one. The only other vocal contribution is from Bonobo’s fellow Ninja Tune stablemate, Fink, who appears on the sweeping ‘If You Stayed Over’ where calm acoustic guitar meets forceful, melancholic strings and wind instruments.

For those who may object to a more song-based approach from the Brighton-based artist, half of ‘Days To Come’ is still instrumental but the overall sound has moved on. The drums are heavier, as evidenced by ‘On Your Marks’ and the tempo is not always down, just check ‘The Fever’ with its fast, almost Latin rhythm for proof. There is also the album centrepiece ‘Transmission94’ to contend with. Beginning with guitar and keys, sunny, ska-style horns then take over before the track opens out into a gorgeous jazz-flecked epic. “That track is hopefully a final nail in the coffin of that chill out thing!” laughs Simon.

‘Days To Come’ should garner the wider audience Bonobo deserves as it proves to be his most accomplished album to date. “Yeah, I hope so,” Simon says modestly at the idea. “It’s certainly the one I’m the most proud of anyway. Obviously ‘Animal Magic’ was quite crazy, having nothing and then having that thing but this is definitely the one I’ve felt the happiest with.”

Once you hear the consistently brilliant ‘Days To Come’ for yourself, you will understand exactly why.




Big Chill Festival 2010




Bonobo are performing at this year’s Big Chill festival. Join Clash on the road to the Big Chill Festival with news, interviews and features. Visit ClashMusic’s Big Chill hub for all the latest news on the festival HERE.



Buy tickets for the Big Chill Festival on ClashMusic.com




The cult of personality as a marketing tool is one of the music industry’s oldest tricks, but it is not one that impresses Cut Chemist. “Using a biography to sell something is ridiculous. I keep telling my people to take mine off MySpace,” he laughs.

In the past the DJ and producer’s own personality has blended in with the whole of his group, alternative rap heroes Jurassic 5. But now he has taken a break from the LA outfit to concentrate on his first solo album, ‘The Audience Is Listening’. Having signed a solo deal with major label Warners four years ago, he felt it was now time to produce the goods, even if that meant not featuring on the new Jurassic 5 record, also out this summer.

“I really had to buckle down on this album. They’ve been expecting a record for almost four years and I’ve never felt pressure like that before in my life.” Unusually most of this stress was self-enforced and didn’t come from the label. With a ready-made audience of Jurassic 5 fans he was never rushed or pressured into sounding a certain way. Besides, the digital age and the ease of illegal downloading means record companies have had to lower their expectations. ‘The Audience Is Listening’ isn’t expected to go triple platinum and instead the label will look to recoup their investment from legal downloads and licensing. However there was a time when Cut Chemist himself considered a more commercial sound. On Jurassic 5’s last album ‘Power In Numbers’ he produced a slick pop number ‘Thin Line’ that featured Canadian star Nelly Furtado, while later he produced tracks for a Welsh pop singer named Jem.

“After I did ‘Thin Line’ I became enamoured with that kind of structure and sound. I definitely wanted to do another female vocal, which is what pulled me into the Jem idea. We’re talking about working again.” It is typical of Cut Chemist that it was never the potential financial reward that interested him, just a different and interesting way of making music. He has an obsessive, acetic attitude towards it and hunting down records in shops and from private collectors is still his favourite part of the whole process. It allows him to temporarily shut out the artist in him and indulge the self-proclaimed “collector neurotic” side of his character. Yet the artist is never far away and his ever-expanding record collection is the source of his ideas, so it’s no surprise to hear he had written over 100 songs for ‘The Audience Is Listening’. Whittling them down to the 15 that appear on the album was made more difficult by the fact that he was working on his own for the first time.

“It was hard. There’s nobody to bounce ideas off, no one to do checks and balances with, so I have to make a decision on everything all the time. That’s the downside. The good side is I don’t have to compromise. The record is 100% me and if I like something and somebody else doesn’t, I don’t have to throw it away.”

The resulting album bears much of Cut Chemist’s trademark breakbeats and samples but also pulls away from the established Jurassic 5 old school hip-hop template. ‘Storm’, featuring the vocal talents of rock ‘n’ rapper Edan and The Perceptionists’ Mr Lif, is a buzzing electronic number, while ‘Metrorail Thru Space’ sounds like the psychedelic lounge of Stereolab beefed up with some big breaks.

“I wanted to do something different so it would be a little bit more progressive and challenging for me. I wanted to destroy everything I had done and create something new.”

One of the highlights is ‘The Garden’, a song 10 years in the making that flits from a smoky, cinematic atmosphere through some taut funk guitars, before heading to Brazil, where Cut Chemist travelled to record the percussion with a samba band. As the first single people are already assuming that ‘The Garden’ is representative of the whole record and ‘The Audience Is Listening’ has been referred to as Cut Chemist’s “world music hip-hop album”. He is slightly exasperated about this.

I wanted to destroy everything I had done and create something new.

“If ‘The Garden’ is the spokesperson for the campaign that’s fine, but it will definitely mislead people when they hear the record. ‘The Garden’ is obviously the biggest single; it’s pretty and not really offensive. Whereas every other song is offensive and tries to be abrasive and jagged.”

Rubbing people up the wrong way is something he is used to, having once been a member of Latin political-funk band Ozomatli, while Jurassic 5 have frequently tackled social issues in their rhymes.

“I believe in strong beliefs. I definitely supported everything Ozomatli stood for. We all met on this political stage in downtown LA, the Peace and Justice Centre, which was a refuge for young kids with political ideals. I felt it was what made the group interesting. Ozomatli was a fun party group, but one with something to say. A lot of people say that about J5 as well. Even on this record there are certain subtexts of politics and ideals stitched in. It’s not so overt, but it’s there.”

But ultimately he believes that music is about fun. “I want to create a fantasy world for people to go and live in for 45 minutes,” he states, adding that reality TV has blurred our notions of what is real and what is fiction. The slew of programmes that purport to portray reality using contrived situations actually present a distorted version of life and he draws comparisons with hip-hop’s own wannabes with their lurid tales of gangs, girls and guns that claim to represent a ghetto life they are now far removed from. For him it is important that ‘The Audience Is Listening’ is honest, yet still thrilling. “It’s like an amusement park of music,” he says. You can tell that Cut Chemist himself is enjoying the ride.

“You’re still glowin’, you’re still crowin’, you’re still goin’ strong.” This is a lyric from the Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! It is sung by the titular heroine to a group of acrobatic waiters as they lead her into their restaurant. It could just as happily apply to dance music veterans Basement Jaxx. I am on the set of the video for their new single ‘Hush Boy’, the kind of cheekily euphoric pop record with which their name has long been synonymous. The shoot is taking place in Marco Pierre White’s now defunct restaurant, Titanic. I walk down the stairs and in to a cluster of young men dressed to look like Dolly’s cartwheeling escorts- all greased side-partings, cropped red jackets and ludicrous facial hair. Elsewhere amongst the flapper girls and art-deco fixtures are Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe, the Jaxx, 12 years in the game and still going strong.

By any account last year was a triumph for Basement Jaxx. They sold 800,000 copies of their ‘Singles’ collection, headlined Glastonbury and won a Grammy. “What was funny was that we only made two songs, but had more success than ever,” explains Buxton, the band’s bearded and bespectacled livewire. After a big tour and a greatest hits package it is not unusual for successful bands, rich and running out of ideas, to call it a day. Basement Jaxx went straight back to the studio. “The ‘Singles’ album helped a lot of people realise that ‘Red Alert’ was by the same people who made ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ so we wanted to capitalise on that,” says Buxton. His partner, Ratcliffe, was less enthusiastic. “At the beginning of every album I always think that I don’t want to do another album. I think I want to be a shepherd in the Pyrenees or something,” he explains, “then things happen beyond my control and suddenly we’re making the album. Then I remember how much I enjoy doing it.” Ratcliffe is the tall one with the dry wit and, for today at least, a twirly moustache painted on to his upper lip. Despite the make-up he is, he admits, the band’s straight man. “Felix is the effusive one. I’m much more introverted and interested in fucking around.”

Their new album is called ‘Crazy Itch Radio’ and it begins as you would expect: brash, funky and just a little bit silly. “It’s a modern galaxy radio station,” explains Buxton. “We thought it would be a good way to make sense of all our different styles.” And the Crazy Itch? “It’s that something that motivates us. Like when you draw blood or get slapped in the face with a wet fish. The Crazy Itch taps into life, inspires us, makes us realise we’re alive.” The album also reveals a different side to Basement Jaxx, a more reflective, melancholic side, best captured on the haunting ‘Lights Go Down’ featuring UK soul legend Linda Lewis. The duo recorded 40 tracks in the last year and had intended for ‘Crazy Itch Radio’ to be a double album. “We wanted to make a disc of short pop hits and one that was an ambient soundscape,” Buxton reveals. Fast approaching deadlines forced them to make the album a single disc, but the soundscape idea is something that clearly interests them both. “The problem with us has always been that we love writing melodies and the traditions of songwriting, but we also like just fucking around and doing dark stuff and experimental ambient stuff,” explains an animated Ratcliffe. “In many ways it’s a lot more enjoyable to write music like that and we’re not short of ideas. There’s another song we recorded with Linda, a duet between her and Devendra Banhart that will definitely come out at some point.” “I think we’ll do the soundscape thing in the next six months or so,” says Buxton. “Just put it out on its own, no pressure.” This move would be typical of the pair. While they may enjoy chart success and arena tours, they also run club nights in Brixton and have a record label, Stop, that puts out “all kinds of fucked-up underground music.” Buxton recently compiled an album of Eastern European dance music, the sounds of which are channelled into ‘Hey You’, a track featuring Europoppet Robyn and a children’s choir. It’s this magpie approach to influences that has always made Basement Jaxx such an exciting band. From their early Latin-tinged house records, through the ragga-and-sirens mayhem of ‘Fly Life’ to the punk-garage of ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ they are a band in constant evolution. This may explain how they’ve managed to transcend the waning world of dance music and with it their contemporaries. “It does feel like the scene we’re from doesn’t really exist anymore,” says Buxton. Ratcliffe agrees. “At one point we felt we had people either side of us. It was healthy competition and exciting, too. We were bonded by what we were doing but we didn’t want them to beat us to an idea. Now we’re a bit more isolated, but maybe liberated as well.” Such is their success that their record label, XL Recordings, seem compelled to find their successors. Are new signings Bugz in the Attic, with their squelching basslines and broken beats, the new Basement Jaxx? Are Various, who create bastard hybrids from grime and rock and house and folk, their new competition? Only time will tell. For the time being Ratcliffe says they are content at the top of the pile. “I think we just feel really comfortable with what we’re doing now. We’re not embarrassed about the music we make. We love it. And if we ever stopped loving it we’d making something else instead.”

We love writing melodies and the traditions of songwriting, but we also like just fucking around and doing dark stuff.

The Past, Present and The Future Sound Of London

Time slips through the fingers as easily as silk panties. Music connects time like the silky threads of a spider’s web. Up is the same as down if you’re travelling in the opposite direction and the past, if we turn it upside down, could very well be the future. Welcome to ‘Teachings From The Electronic Brain’, a retrospective audio-montage that maps out the complex labyrinth of time, space, motion and sound described by The Future Sound Of London. Two men, six years, twelve records. A whole bunch of past. Oodles of future…

The Past & The Future Sound Of Manchester…

At certain times and certain places, the past catches up with the present and the future reveals itself as cultural spasm. Mid-80’s Manchester was one such convulsion – or rather series of convulsions – industrial funk lurching into post-punk body-slamming Balearic goosing Madchester eating out indie rock bitch-slapping acid house in a kaleidoscopic frenzy coloured by sativa, blotters, white doves.

This stuff, electronic music, is not dead. It’s a process that is ongoing. We have to take hold of the past and go forward with it.

Garry Cobain and Brian Dougal were amongst the masses heaving to the sounds created by local heroes like The Smiths, New Order, The Chameleons and other influential bands like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. Back then they were just two students – electronics (Garry) and computer science (Brian) – with their own musical itch to scratch.

“It was Fabric [Records] that lured us both to Manchester,” recalls Garry, the loquacious, vivacious and – by his own admission – high maintenance – section of FSOL. “I loved bands like The Chameleons and The Smiths and wanted to get involved in music. I just knew something would happen if I went there and within four weeks I joined a band I heard rehearsing in a studio and stayed with them for a year. Shortly afterwards I met Brian.”

Their time in Manchester, formative as you like, passed in a blur of green suits, wild parties, funky diodes, cheap student digs, mesmerising studio equipment, hot knives and seminal dance records. In keeping with the times. The pair set about crafting short, intense tunes that catered to the nation’s burgeoning dancefloors. They recorded under names – Smart Systems, Art Science Technology, Mental Cube, Humanoid, Intelligent Communication, Yage, Semi-Real – that smelled of cleverness, artificiality and the future.

Their first major success – or rather Brian’s, since Humanoid was chiefly his project with Garry coming on board later – was 1992’s ‘Stakker Humanoid’ – a seething acid house record culled from an album Brian had created for a fractal video company. The tune, originally released in 1988, was re-released in ’92 and tickled the Top 20. By then the pair had renamed themselves as Future Sound Of London and dropped ‘Accelerator’, a debut album that pushed techno into new spheres of consciousness, one populated by pulsing rave waves, flickering ambient moods and giant dub squalls.

Lead single ‘Papa New Guinea’ – a psychedelic trip through dub, flutes, breaks and chants – scored them a second, even bigger hit.

The Past Sound Of The Future Sound Of London

Virgin snatched the duo up on the back of ‘Papua New Guinea’ and gave them free reign to create what they wanted. They moved to London, adopted a new moniker (Amorphous Androgynous) and sired the startlingly freeform, bravely free-floating ‘Tales Of Ephidrina’, an album unafraid to sample everything from Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack to The Last Temptation Of Christ to Predator; as FSOL they made the even more ambitious and ambient double CD ‘LifeForms’.

“When we did these albums, especially ‘LifeForms’, the journalists all trooped through saying, ‘ah, so you like Brian Eno?’” chuckles Garry. “We were actually a lot more punk than that. We didn’t like to take from the past and in fact were quite discourteous to it. Only later did we realise there is hidden mystery and knowledge buried there that has been lost in our race for the future.”

The duo’s forward-thinking vision was etched into the FSOL name but it was also inherent in their approach to production and performance. After ‘Accelerator’ they became increasingly detached from the bombastic/simplistic formulas of techno, retreating into abstraction and embracing all manner of innovative technologies from 2D/3D visual imagery to ISDN technology.

Under the name Far Out Son Of Lung the duo released – and quickly deleted – material culled from various digital broadcasts they had made to radio stations and art spaces. These recordings, and the subsequent ‘semi-live’ album ISDN – a slightly unhinged and quietly minatory exploration of Dadaist improvisation, jazz shapes and indulgent soundscapes – took them even more towards the peripheries of not just electronica, but music.

The next FSOL album, 1996’s ‘HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Cities_%28album%29″Dead Cities’, was an apocalyptic riff on urban decay that moved from terrible rage to ineffable beauty. With the mightily industrial dance track ‘We Have Explosives’ the album all but returned the pair to their roots. The band that had rejected the image-led excesses of rock for the egoless urgency of techno, the bombast of dance for the quietude of abstraction, now rejected the ethereal anonymity of electronica to return to the rage of human drama and cult of personality they had kicked out at from the beginning. They had turned and started running in the other direction. The future became the past; the circle closed around them; there were no exit signs.

“‘We Have Explosive’ was basically the end,” says Garry. “It was a protest song against the fact that I thought we were a much deeper band than others thought we were. We had started out as something unique, and had been loved as something more than just a dance band. But suddenly the record label was all pie charts and men in shiny shoes wanting to market us in a certain way. That record was us stepping up to the keyboard one afternoon and saying, ‘these people are fucking idiots, let’s see if the fuckers can digest this.’”

Shapeless & Sexless: The Rise of Amorphous Androgynous

‘We Have Explosive’ ironically became one of FSOL’s biggest hits. But Garry and Brian still felt they had to take time out. They made (separate) transformative pilgrimages to India. Garry’s trip in particular quickly became a voyage of physical and spiritual renewal after he discovered he had been being slowly poisoned to death for several years by mercury fillings in his teeth.

FSOL had always been a beautiful balance of technology, spirituality femininity, masculinity, light, dark melody and disharmony.

Re-assessing himself and the world around him, Garry returned to London a changed person. Music remained a tool for psychic exploration, but the trajectory was more cosmic and spiritual now, a healing tool as much as entertainment. After a lengthy spell apart, Garry teamed up with Brian again to embark on a different journey – one that, rather than being discourteous to the past, excavated its mysteries.

“FSOL had always been a beautiful balance of technology, spirituality femininity, masculinity, light, dark melody and disharmony – the fight eternal between Brian and me,” says Garry. “I represent most of the feminine things, the melody, the softness; and Brian, to oversimplify things dramatically, represents technology, machines and programming. He can be quite aggressive without me. Around 1997 we were way too cool. I felt hugely restricted because in many ways FSOL had always been Brian’s game in that he had always worked out the parameters of it while I threw my creativity at it, and gave it the balance it needed. But after ‘Dead Cities’ things changed. I needed to sing and bang and hit things. I wanted to be a silly and wear flares and let loose.”

If FSOL was Brian’s game, the reformed Amorphous Androgynous project was indubitably Garry’s. The latter learned the sitar, started to sing and prance around on stage, and took Brian – slightly reluctant but intrigued all the same – to a more rock-orientated place that referenced the heady, hippy philosophies of the 60s and 70s, but used some of the tricks and twists of FSOL to avoid any overtly sterile revisionism.

In 2002 they released ‘The Isness’, a ‘modern progtronic-rock opera’. Bloated and ballsy the LP deservedly received mixed reviews. Though unmistakeably an Amoprhous Androgynous project, the record label caused chronic confusion by releasing it as an FSOL in America – something Garry and Brian remain deeply unhappy about.

Last year’s ‘Alice In Ultraland’, in contrast, was a much tighter (though equally ‘out there’) project, featuring an impressive live band.

“I admit that part of Amorphous Androgynous was about me wanting to sing thirteen minute songs about gnome-loving set to a background of electronic noise,” deadpans Garry, “but really it’s more about the freedom of psychedelia; the ‘fuck you and your short pop songs’ spirit. The song form has just become too limited. And when I say ‘psychedelic’, it’s not a reference to 60s music but to the basic outlook of a child, which we all have. I think this is the only salvation now. Dance music taught us how to use the studio in a new way, but we have to now take that knowledge and move on with it. This stuff, electronic music, is not dead. It’s a process that is ongoing. We have to take hold of the past and go forward with it…”

The Future Sound Of The Future Sound Of London?

Has the past caught up with future? Or is the future catching up with the past? Things are different now, there’s no doubt about that. Garry has repaired to the “Lake District of France” with his partner, while Brian has immersed himself, his wife and two kids in an 800 acre forest in Somerset – in a church that stands at the intersection of nine leylines. Not bad for the half of FSOL who doesn’t claim to be a hippy.

Despite the recent emphasis on Amorphous Androgynous, FSOL never died. 2001 saw the release of the successful ‘Papa New Guinea: Translations’ album, and while ‘Teachings From The Electronic Brain’ will be regarded as a Best Of, it’s no funeral hymn, swansong, nor cheap, no-brainer comp, as might initially be supposed. In keeping with their idiosyncratic vision, Brian and Garry offer an album that includes key singles but emphatically ignores any anthological clichés.

Sure it begins with ‘Papa New Guinea’, but any chronological structure ends when track two begins with the delicate neo-classical strains of ‘Max’ – a track written by composer/pianist Max Richter (who also worked on ‘The Isness’) for ‘Dead Cities’. Other inclusions are ‘Everyone In The World Is Doing Something Without Me’, ‘Yage’, ‘Expander’ and ‘My Kingdom’; ‘Cascade’ and ‘LifeForms’ appear in their single (not LP) versions; and there are, bafflingly, even a couple of Amorphous Androgynous tracks – ‘Mountain Goat’ and ‘The Lovers’.

“We had hits,” says Garry, “but they weren’t conventional hits. What we wanted was more of a re-introduction to FSOL rather than a retrospective.”

“The label wanted to just put out a collection of tracks, but we freaked out,” says Brian, FSOL’s taciturn half, a man of many thoughts and few words. “We’ve always been pretty protective about our music and there was no way we were going to let them cast us off as some dinosaur dance act from the past. We took control, and it has been a very interesting project in that it has made us look at the FSOL archives again and see how we have changed. Amazingly, we found we had lost a lot of the tricks that we used to use all the time as FSOL and that has made us start to look at the project again…”

‘Teachings From The Electronic Brain’ is thus a signpost pointing in two directions at once. It reminds us of what was, while simultaneously directing us towards the future. In the sense that time, like the sun and the moon, is cyclical, ‘Teachings…’ is also both sunset and sunrise.

“It’s time to get back,” confirms Brian, who is also all set to re-release some of his early Zeebox recordings as well as some industrial noise recordings. “We disappeared into the Amorphous tunnel for a while but I have always felt that FSOL was important and that we should look at it more than one time. There are some drams we had but never managed to achieve and nowadays there are more possibilities and more money around for those kinds of things. I’ve rebuilt my studio down here in Somerset to emulate more or less exactly how it was during the FSOL days. It won’t be the same sound of course, but it will be the same spirit. The future, I think, has finally caught up with us…”

August 31, 1994. Oasis play their first and last show in North Wales at the Buckley Tivoli. ‘Definitely Maybe’ is fast becoming the most talked about album in years and a few hundred mad ferrit North Walians wanna know what all the fuss is about. Yet within minutes of entering this dark and dingy nightclub, the Manchester five-piece are momentarily forgotten about once word gets out that a certain Evan Dando has entered the building. Sure enough an hour later, The Lemonheads frontman arrives onstage to massive cheers and opens up for what later turns out to be the most legendary night this town has ever witnessed. Undoubtedly Oasis had everyone in the palm of their hand that evening but the night well and truly belonged to Dando. When he waltzed onstage with some random girl he’d picked up for the opening of ‘Live Forever’, it marked the first great moment in Britpop history.

“It was funny when I was dancing with that girl onstage, Noel was like nah nah do that somewhere else,” he laughs. “He was really pissed cos I stayed on the side of the stage while they carried on playing and I was like making out with this girl ha ha. Every once in while he’d look over at me and start shaking his head.” Two hours later, Dando was spotted necking with another girl on the backstage roof terrace while a group of fans below looked on in disbelief.

At the time The Lemonheads were massive worldwide and Dando’s face was splashed across countless magazine covers. Kurt Cobain had been dead for a mere four months and the press were already linking Dando with Cobain’s widow Courtney Love. “The whole thing with Courtney was weird. There was nothing ever going on with me and her,” he confesses. “She was just comforting herself with me after Kurt died. We took one joke picture and somebody stole it from my hotel room in New York. The next thing we knew, it was published all over the world. That was a pretty horrible experience and I was really pissed off. I paid for the development of that picture and all I wanted was my 15 bucks back. They made like 70 grand I figure from that shot alone.”

Turn the clock forward three years and Dando found himself entering the darkest period of his life. Close friends were dying around him and two years of hard partying on a diet of drink and drugs took him to breaking point. “1997 was probably the worst period,” he says with a hint of sadness. “It seemed like a lot of people were dying and I was just getting bored with the old routine of partying a lot. I just got burned out and I forgot why I’d gotten into music in the first place.” As a result, Dando split the band following their performance at Reading that summer. “I remember that time wasn’t a good period for real music,” he explains. “It was sort of the height of the Spice Girls and stuff and I just felt it was a good time to split for a while.”

Ten years on, a clean and now married Evan Dando is back with an all star Lemonheads line-up and a self-titled album which sees a massive return to form for the band. Songs like forthcoming single ‘Become The Enemy’ and the pulsating ‘Pittsburgh’ are three minute bursts of pure pop genius. “I think musicianship wise this is definitely one of the most dynamic Lemonheads albums I’ve ever made,” Dando enthuses. “I think both J Masics (Dinosaur Jr) and Garth Hudson (The Band) have added a lot to the album. On ‘No Backbone’ for instance, I do a couple of guitar solos before J comes in and totally nails it. I think he’s one of the best guitar players around.”

I just got burned out and I forgot why I’d gotten into music in the first place.

It may have been 10 years since the last Lemonheads album but Dando hasn’t been away for all that long. In 2003 he released his first solo LP ‘Baby I’m Bored’ and he’s been on the road ever since. “When I did the solo record that was me really getting back into music cos I hadn’t put anything out for a real long time,” he says. “I needed some inspiration which I found in my wife Elizabeth. She got me grounded and helped me to feel more balanced. Then I went down to Brazil in 2004 and they had this thing where all these Brazilian bands got together and did all these Lemonhead songs at a little festival. After seeing that I thought I might as well get the brand name out there again.”

At the wise old age of 39, Dando seems happier than ever these days. And he’s got every reason to be. With a series of UK dates lined up, talk of a slot at next year’s Glastonbury festival and an album just itching to invade your stereo, things could be a hell of a lot worse for The Lemonheads right now. “I have no complaints,” adds Dando. “I’m just glad to be able to still do it. I’ve never had to get a job since I was in college and I’ve managed to be a professional musician for about 17 years. That’s all I wanna do, be able to eat and live off my music.”

Classical music does little to calm the nerves. Even less so when the classical music in question is transposed onto a nervous and uncertain call-waiting line: the line you are waiting to call being that of someone hours behind you in New York. It would seem that Thursday was not London’s fate to talk to its Western brother. The receiver clicks and the wait begins. Five hours later: Lennon’s gone AWOL. Three days later, and the scene is set: a reassuring pitter-patter of a grey-lined rain shower is swapped for an equally reassuring pitter-patter of Sean Lennon’s soft voice on a fragile telephone line: quiet, thoughtful and thoroughly graceful to the ear.

Preconceptions can be an awkward cross to bear: none so imposing as the obsessive preconception of a revered icon. Labels can be laborious to peel off. Inevitably something will always stubbornly remain. “I definitely wasn’t one of those 18 year olds who really had it going on. I’m a slow learner, and at this point in my life, I’m finally just starting to find my stride.” When Sean Lennon speaks, the weight of experience is there. But the eye is new: after the acclaimed 1998 solo debut album ‘Into The Sun’, Sean is finally ready to make a record again. “Honestly, the experience of putting together the first album just made me really uncomfortable a lot of the time, and I didn’t know if I wanted to go through with it. There’s a lot of commercial stuff, and there’s a lot of attention that you get. The discrepancy between who people thought I was and who I really was, was so vast that it made me feel like shit.” The uncomfortable was felt swiftly by Lennon, facing an audience who believed they understood an abstract outline, not a living/breathing entity. “It’s not like I’m complaining about it,” Lennon whole-heartedly explains. “It’s just not the life that I wanted to lead. I’d say that I am living in that shadow, but I don’t care. I just don’t want to entertain peoples’… I don’t know how to explain this…” he trails off, before finding certainty in his path again. “I don’t want to be participating in peoples’ projections of me. The Beatles are big: that’s cool. It’s just not my daily experience: I get up in the morning, I read the paper, I write songs or check my emails, I go for a walk… my whole experience is not defined at every second by that.”

A new chapter in Sean Lennon’s experience will certainly be defined by second album ‘Friendly Fire’ released on Parlophone on October 2nd. It’s a beautifully melodic record of sweeping panoramic scope, which gives a uniquely stripped down understanding of the man behind the assumption. Produced by Sean himself, the record found its wings when he brought engineer Tom Biller, drummer Matt Chamberlain, Jon Brion, Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda and Harper Simon into the studio. The brief was simple: to create live session music in a spontaneous environment. “I had wanted to record a record with a live band: It was something that I’d always wanted to do, but I never really had enough people. I just had to co-ordinate getting them into the same room at the same time, which is really the hardest thing about it. Once that was done, we did the record in about two weeks.”

The intensity of that time spent creating music in a 70’s inspired wood-panelled studio shows track for track. First track ‘Dead Meat’ sets the benchmark for landscaped melodies, as a gentle and childlike fairground lullaby gives way to layers of orchestrated strings. It was a change of direction for Sean, but one that opened up the blank page for him. “I never recorded strings before. I was a bit scared that I was going to be bad at it, but it turned out really beautifully, and it kinda opened my mind and made me realise that it’s possible to pull that kind of thing off. I feel now that I have a more open palette of what I can do. I was nervous about strings before, but now I can imagine other things.” The imagination certainly runs free for the record as a whole: ‘Wait For Me’ is a lilting melody sparkled by vocals; ‘Tomorrow’ encapsulates and becomes a pining early 60’s ballad; ‘Headlights’ is a revolutionary rhythmic affair that is peppered with apt hand claps and gutsy guitars; and ‘Would I Be The One’ trickles spiralling downwards in a chromatic re-working of the obscure Marc Bolan hit, before giving way to electric guitars in a euphoric ending. Each track is worthy of comment, and every one reflects a live and improvised feel. One track in particular is ‘Friendly Fire’: “I was feeling a lot of things about what it’s like to be betrayed by people that you trust. And that’s what the whole ‘Friendly Fire’ metaphor is about. I came up with that really off the cuff, really quickly.”

As the album draws to a thoughtful close, it becomes evident that at the age of 31, Sean’s head is still turned: an eye to where he would like to be, and an eye back to where things began. Final track ‘Falling Out Of Love’ addresses this very pull towards a father who has always remained. As the cinematic and painful ballad fades out, the silence finally gives way to a song for this lost love. It is deeply profound and simply affecting: the image of a young Sean Lennon playing his piano up to the sky is a moving address to a billboard persona he has always tried to escape from. The weight of peoples’ preconceptions is not something that is carried, but it is definitely something that murmurs quietly from time to time. As Sean quietly explains, “If I’m on a TV show and I say, ‘I’ll talk about the music’, and they say, ‘Sure we’ll talk about the music’, and I say that I don’t want to do an interview about The Beatles, and they say, ‘Sure, we won’t do an interview about The Beatles’, and then I get out on live TV and there’s a huge 40 foot statue of my dad hovering behind me… a huge glowing picture hovering above my head. I definitely don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. It’s just, it’s my choice not to try and participate…”

The discrepancy between who people thought I was and who I really was, was so vast that it made me feel like shit.

Eight years on and Sean Lennon is wiser to the machinery of the music industry. He’s learnt to say no, and with a realisation that the choices are his, the decision to make a lusciously melodic album became less daunting. “I feel that I’m putting it out for a reason,” Lennon carefully concludes, “because I know that I want to: I’m proud of it.”

It’s summer 2003 and as the UK basks in the highest temperatures and finest sunshine in years, and The Rapture are dubbed the hottest band in the world after their stunning debut album ‘Echoes’ unites indie kids and electronic clubbers worldwide. Now, in summer 2006 the heatwave is back, even hotter and even brighter. Likewise The Rapture return with ‘Pieces Of The People We Love’, a hotter, brighter second album that’s ready to blaze a whole new trail of its own.

Early August 2006 also brought the biggest heatwave in a decade to the streets of New York City. Afraid to brave the 120-degree subway stations, Clash stutter their way downtown in a yellow cab badly in need of some better air-con. As temperatures nudge 39o C (102oF), we pass kids, dogs and even adults, playing and showering in burst fire hydrants reminiscent of ‘Do The Right Thing’, Spike Lee’s depiction of the hottest summer in history. Office workers dodge in and out of air-conditioned tower blocks trying to stay fresh for that meeting downtown. Ice-cream vendors stand with towels on their heads, umbrellas are evident everywhere yet there is no chance of rain, and people cue to be anywhere near a fan or swimming pool as hundreds of official cooling centres overflow with restless natives. A normally bustling Manhattan is stifled, the pace slower, stunted, oppressively challenged.

We eventually pull up to the Lower East Side address of The Rapture’s recording studio. Standing outside smoking is Mattie Safer, who greets us wiping a hand across his face. “Hey, a bit hot isn’t it?” smiles the young vocalist and bassist. Safer welcomes us into their studio, a musky, dark, old Yiddish theatre with a towering ceiling, ancient woodwork and old furniture throughout. It’s typically strewn with instruments, bottles, cans and overflowing ashtrays. The rest of the band are emerging from their downstairs recording room happy with a rehearsal two days ahead of a forthcoming gig in Japan.

The concept of doing what we’re doing now was completely alien to me when I was 17.

Walking with me out of the sauna-like studio into the blinding heat of the street is band founder and drummer, Vito Roccoforte, supposedly the leader and spokesperson of a group clearly free of autocracy. I’m informed it’s his voice that counts above all others in studio decisions. He introduces me to fellow-founder Luke Jenner, who I’ve been misinformed as the ‘moody’ one. He is initially the most talkative and immediately laughs about the erstwhile frontman tag he has worn till now, adopted through his majority share on vocal and guitar duties. Cheekily swaggering alongside is Mattie, 7 years the junior of the others, and now propelled into a pivotal role. He is clearly a young man full of confidence who represents the band on all levels, including being their club DJ at the frequent hipster shows they are asked to play on the worldwide club circuit. The last person I’m introduced to is synth, sax and percussionist Gabe Andruzzi, the quietest of the bunch, intense in his looks and considered in his thoughts. He is the one with the driest humour, offering the least words, the one who will contradict when he thinks the chat is too safe. Immediately you see The Rapture as a group, a mix of personalities, not a bunch of individuals. They happily pose for photos as we eat hot dogs and ice-cream in searing heat on the world famous Delancey St before ushering me eagerly into a cool fan-filled diner round the corner to recount their story and their hotly anticipated second album ‘Pieces Of The People We Love.’

The Rapture, named after a song written by Helios Creed of influential San Francisco band Chrome, were formed initially by Vito and Luke, long term best friends, “born in a shitty suburb of San Diego, where there was fuck all to do,” explains Roccoforte. Vito took up college in San Francisco and Luke followed, his reasons slightly less directional, “I only went to San Francisco because he was going and I didn’t know what else to do. I had the same best friend since the age of ten, so him leaving was the end of life as I knew it. We started to play instruments together a little bit in San Diego, so I had to go with him. We started to play a lot more in San Francisco.” Thus The Rapture was born. Would heaven, as the name suggests, truly await them?

If it was to come, it wasn’t to come easy. The Rapture embarked on a whirlwind period of evolution starting in San Francisco and ending up in New York 18 months later. Decisions like ‘let’s just lose this band member’ or ‘let’s get the fuck out of here to a new city’ became commonplace in a spell Vito describes as “pretty fucking hectic, man”. Their former bass player’s house was burnt down by drug dealers, forcing him to suggest a move out of San Francisco as he “had better music contacts in Seattle anyway”. They agreed to go but things didn’t work out entirely as intended. “It fucking sucked,” Vito says of that time. “It rained every day for 3 months. All we did was drink and we didn’t write songs. We were there for 5 months between January and May ’99. We got to New York as fast as we could.” Things weren’t all bad, Luke protests. “We’d figured we’d get the kind of support that we didn’t have in San Fran, and did sign to Sub Pop as our first label.” However he agreed the band needed to get to New York. “I remember sitting in a café on another miserable Seattle day saying, ‘right, we’re moving’, but we still wanted to put a record out, and did. The label had given us half the money to buy a van, so we chucked all our stuff in it and just went. We slept in that van under a bridge in New York for a while.”

A pivotal point came with their introduction to Mattie and his cousin Gabe, who’d complete the quartet we have before us now. Until now Vito described The Rapture as “a fuckin’ mess. Really driven, but really chaotic. We had all this energy but would constantly sabotage ourselves, making random decisions. It was only when we got to New York and got our shit together that things began to happen.” Luke agreed that meeting Mattie was a signal that they had indeed got their shit together. “There were 5 people in the band before Matt in the space of just over a year. He was the first person that was actually good. He was musically way better than us and brought a lot of stability. Listening to him for the first time made me think that I actually had better learn to play my own instrument.” Gabe gave the band its natural completion but modestly describes himself as “initially Mr sax-man and Mr cowbell man”.

The next crucial shift in their success was another meeting, one that happened just as a new musical movement was brewing. The Rapture’s introduction to James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy of the DFA production team and record label would coincide with the dawning of a new era in club music. The turn of the millennium had drawn to a close one of the worst 5-year periods for music as a whole, particularly dance music, where over-paid under-talented egotists ruled. DJs were paid inordinate amounts of money to travel the world playing uninspiring music-by-numbers, and apathetic crowds started to shift back to the live scene. By 2003 this shift was nearly complete and The Rapture, having collaborated with the DFA on their rough demo EP, ‘Mirror’, soon launched the ultimate crossover anthem of the decade to effectively re-generate a genre.

‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ triggered the tipping point of a new wave of New York dancefloor bands including, most notably, LCD Soundsystem, !!! and Radio 4 amongst others. The whole world was now looking Stateside to see where they’d lead this musical future. In the UK their music was called punk-funk and in the US dance-rock, both inaccurate names, but what was obvious was that dance fans had found a sound led by visually more appealing bands, and rock fans had found music that made you want to shake your ass rather than pogo. “I was really proud to be able to straddle the electronic and indie divide so well,” says Vito. “It’s a really fucking hard thing to do, a fine line to tread, and to do it well and get credit as one of the first was amazing.” For more than a year this NY scene co-led by The Rapture ruled the world. Their 2003 debut album ‘Echoes’ was cited by many top critics worldwide as the stand out of the year.

‘Echoes’ had taken a long time to put out. And despite the success of the results it wasn’t a recording process without tension. The band and the DFA spent expensive studio time working out where they’d take initial edits and demos as studio time ticked away. It was hard to get everyone to agree on ideas, and working with such a focused production team meant stronger opinions were poured into the mix. That said, nobody could argue with the energy and individuality of the raw funk they produced across 11 tracks of the freshest music to emerge from New York in years. The band then set off on an excruciating worldwide touring schedule only finishing in September 2004. It was enough to make the major labels of the world take notice.

A lot had been achieved and learned but a break was needed. Vito, Luke, Gabe and Matty took a few months off before regrouping full ideas to launch and improve their second offering, which was now gonna appear on major label Mercury Records. Things were to develop and things were to change.

One of the primary switches was the production team behind this album. The Rapture and the DFA parted ways in a professional sense. The band are at pains to state that this was simply a practical decision based on the fact that the DFA are now, like themselves, part of a major label operation, EMI Records, with individual commitments to fulfil. “We are all still great friends,” Vito stresses. “I last saw James Murphy and the guys from !!! last night. There’s no bad blood.”

There is still an element of tension, self-doubt and argument amongst everybody. Nothing is ever perfect.

On ‘Pieces Of The People We Love’, to be released in September, the DFA are succeeded by respected British producers Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Futureheads) and Ewan Pearson (mixer for Chemical Brothers, Depeche Mode and Gwen Stefani) who assume production duties on 80% of the music with Mr hip-producer-2006 Dangermouse completing the formation. They made some noticeable, quick improvements with this new team. “Fundamentally we all didn’t really like all of the songs on the last album,” says Luke, “and it would take someone in the studio to push certain songs that we weren’t agreeing on. It didn’t make for a good recording experience because at the end we still didn’t all agree that all the songs were there. This time around we agreed we were all gonna like every song before stepping into the studio.”

I ask if on the last album the producers had too much influence on certain songs to which Vito offers, “Yeah maybe at times, but we all did sometimes, and that could work both ways, some tracks would improve as a result [of the DFA’s input]. This time we had 30 songs demoed before we went into the studio and knew what we thought was crap and knew the songs we all agreed on.” Luke interjects: “Take the song ‘The Devil’; I may not have loved that, but Dangermouse would, he’d get really excited. So he’d push us along to complete it in a way we’d all like. With ‘Whoo! Alright-Yeah…Uh Huh’ I think we all completely agreed on that one, and Paul would be really excited so he’d push it along. The studio was vibrant, and different people’s excitements and perspectives helped bring things to life.”

‘Pieces Of The People We Love’ is the sound of a band evidently comfortable with their sound and surroundings, more settled within themselves and those around them. “We’ve definitely got better at interacting and at being focused on what we want to do,” says Mattie, with Vito agreeing. “I think we’ve all grown up a lot. We’ve all learned from earlier mistakes. The whole process was nice. Everybody was able to get into their role, and this came across in the songs.” Gabe typically offers an alternative. “I think we were all more comfortable than ever but there is still an element of tension, self-doubt and argument amongst everybody. Nothing is ever perfect and those weaknesses have always been a characteristic of our music.”

Where ‘Echoes’ was raw, agitated and rough, ‘Pieces…’ is more composed, subtly self-assured, and less obvious in its production. But in no way does it lack the punk ethic and heart or the loose low-slung funk structure of ‘Echoes’. It’s just more complete, a progression learned from playing the same tracks over and over and knowing exactly how to improve your next attempt. The band also stated early on that they wanted to make this a party album, and that it is. Mattie’s disco punk basslines sit alongside Gabe’s electro synths and ska-flecked sax, all of which reverberate under Luke’s unmistakeable searing neo-falsetto vocals or Mattie’s slightly lower tones, with Vito’s hugely tightened funky drumming rapidly driving the whole show along. You can instantly hear the freedom and celebration in ‘Pieces…’. On this album The Rapture make it sound easy to enjoy playing music.

Lead single ‘Get Myself Into It’, written by Luke about nothing in particular other than that it reminds him of “burned red Brits on holiday in Ibiza”, is a Zane Lowe rubber-stamped summer ska-funk anthem. It sports a superb rollerskating video you may have seen all over MTV, with the awful body-double dubbing of Mattie having a skate-off surely a deliberate comedy ploy. Another highlight is ‘The Devil’, again written by Luke, about “the stupid stuff you have done and seen the past, or things you’re friends have done, and not wanting to become that”. It’s Daft Punk let loose in a New York basement, doing a skanking cover of later years Clash. The title track takes on the perfect modern dance structure, borrowing the sexy German Schaffel beat, shuffling its way across a dancefloor under a smoke-machine mist of the most haunting, brooding electro bass, a trait which is taken up a level on ‘First Gear’. The bass this time oscillating and intensifying as its pitch rises through the repetitive vocals of Mattie and his female harmonisers rejoicing their super-sexy Mustang Ford.

The album’s dancefloor anthem is ‘Whoo! Alright-Yeah…Uh Huh’, written by Mattie to describe “lame revivalist 80’s culture, the vapid subculture of New York.” With the second verse turning on himself to say, “fuck you, who are you to criticise other shit like some rock and roll poet?” This track is a perfect example of Mattie’s equality with Luke as songwriter and vocalist. Luke is happy with this as he searches to lose the frontman tag. “I feel ripped off by that because it’s not how it is; on this album the songwriting is 50/50. Every time we do photo shoots it’s like, ‘ok we’ve done these shots, can you now step out in the front’. That doesn’t interest me. I think the best bands aren’t just a frontman. What’s gonna have to happen is Mattie is gonna have a song, a big single that gets shown on MTV a lot so people recognise that he is our singer too.” I think they may just have found that song.

The Rapture have come a long way since the streets of San Francisco, and they’ve done all the things a band should to earn that place in musical heaven. As Luke puts it, “We are real do-it-yourself. We’ve all been in bands, lived in vans, slept on strangers’ floors and played basement shows.” And when they see the new want-it-all-now MySpace generation have it easy, Gabe puts it simply: “Nothing makes me hotter under the collar man,” before Mattie jumps in. “People starting a band now are dreaming of a much wider and higher success than I ever thought when we started out. The concept of doing what we’re doing now was completely alien to me when I was 17. But yeah, we’d use those channels too if we were that age now.”

Vito agrees that nothing has come easy, but with this album, clearly one of the best and most individual in a year of plodding indie-rock, things have seemed so much better to him. “Nothing’s ever perfect you know, but I’ve felt happier being in this band working on this album than ever before. I mean being in a band is like being in a relationship with 4 girlfriends… it’s hard.” Sounds like he can almost see heaven approaching.

There’s something beautifully bizarre about Tori Amos. Cult goddess, independent icon and fairy flower child – she’s all these women and more. With a career of fifteen years plus, cult following, and with over 12 million sales, she’s still burning with artistic energy. Now, her offbeat output is about to turn a page – with the release of her official bootleg box set titled simply ‘Piano’.

A collection of 86 songs remastered and unreleased, selected by the lady herself from her nine studio albums, ‘Piano’ is retrospective on a career that redefined the singer songstress. The 43-year-old’s confronted both female sexuality, personal trauma, forgotten mythology and identity, while constantly disregarding creative confines – only she could rework Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’ as a post-coital gasp for air, as seen on covers collection ‘Strange Little Girls’.

Married to English sound engineer Mark Hawley, with a five-year-old daughter Natashya, the once unhinged part Native American icon is firmly settled – spending September to April in Florida, and the other in her Cornwall home, complete with studio. Via phone call from the south west, Amos may have just got up, but she’s open, lucid and warm, gushing about mother hood, music biz battles, touring and a political new direction.

So, why did you decide to release ‘Piano’?

In my life I’ve really enjoyed certain box sets, especially Led Zeppelin’s. So when Rhino Records approached me, I decided here was a chance – before I get too old and senile – to make a collection of my songs, add some unreleased tracks and remaster everything, but still hold true to the original recordings.

How did you choose those songs? Nine albums is a lot to choose from…

I tried to pick what I thought was still holding up after all this time, including the original ‘Little Earthquakes’, which was rejected in 1991. They said that I had to take all the pianos off and put guitars on, because piano players weren’t ‘happening’. So, a battle started between those in power and myself – and I continue to war with them now. But their faces change: they get their golden handshake, they leave the company and someone else comes in.

How did you fight back?

You have to do more than stay confident because they can really fuck you up. They can withhold promotion money, bury your record. You have to play this chess game and understand that there are consequences to everything. Sometimes I’ve gotten it right, like with my debut record in 1988, and sometimes I’ve pushed it too far. But I was always fighting for the music and the right reasons.

Is this easier now you’re older and wiser?

That’s a trick question, but a good one, because you can’t leverage. When I tour I take no money – I have no tour support – but that’s so the label can’t make any demands on the music, the band or me. Sometimes I feel like I’m in Easy Rider – a road dog mama (laughs). I do have this autonomy because I’ve been touring for fifteen years, but I still have to communicate with people; if you alienate everyone there is no upside.

Is it hard balancing being a mother and a solo artist?

Music isn’t a nine to five job – it’s something that is in you, a state of being. Before I was a Mom, I was a musician first, a woman second and a girlfriend third. Then I became a Mom. You can’t stop the fluidity of the creative muse, but I have to be present with whatever she’s doing – forget my agenda to just be there and listen. Before I had a child I didn’t do that. Musicians can be very selfish; you have to fuel the fire, find inspiration and research. Being a mum is the biggest change I’ve ever faced in my life.

Would you have any more kids?

I was always fighting for the music and the right reasons.

No way. It isn’t in me. It has to be ok for women to realise that they are not a career Mom – for some women having kids becomes their job. I have a lot of respect for those women but it’s not easy and you have to have a certain personality to do that. Women who don’t are made to feel guilty; they want to have a child but they also want more. Sometimes you have to say if I don’t work I’m going to wither and die – which I refused to do.

How do you manage touring?

Bringing a kid on the road is a very different thing to leaving your kid back with the spouse or the grandparents. It’s an adventure and not something that I would change. When you’re just breaking as an artist there is a romance that the public have with you and you have with the world. But once you’ve travelled the world for fifteen years many times over you have to find new ways of enjoying it, make it fresh – not be a cliche of yourself.

How has touring changed for you?

You can get a good crowd in any country but you can also get a dead one. It depends on what is happening in the world – events surrounding an audience can really affect them. You have to learn how to gauge that.

Have you noticed this recently?

Definitely – I played Rome the night of the bombs in London, and even though it didn’t happen there you could sense a change. I was in Manhattan on 9/11 – when you’re there you have an understanding that the outside world, whose interpretation is from the media, can’t have. In Rome, on stage in this festival, I played ‘Imagine’ and the crowd raised their voices to sing all the words. When you have 50,000 people singing with lighters aloft, there was a solidarity – towards London. When you play enough concerts when these tragic events happen, you realise being around others can be almost healing.

When will you tour again?

In 2007 we’ll tour again with the new record that we’re working on now. The box set is the end of an era – it’s very much about pulling everything together over the last fifteen years before I jump ship. You have to sense what is going on in the world – it’s a really disturbing place right now. A few years ago I had more confidence that people would make the right choices for our leaders in America and they didn’t. So therefore it’s time to take the gloves off.

Where is the line between self-belief and delusion, confidence and arrogance? Where do you have to ban borderline banter and chatty becomes simply catty?

On Ibiza, the once white isle of paradise, now corrupt and tainted through excess, Kasabian are not holding back in their assault of the world as they hold the music industry up to their scrutiny.

Coiled on the musical eve of the release of their second album, confidently entitled ‘Empire’, they are wrought with nervous energy. But whereas most bands would be simply excited about the dormant possibilities which lie waiting on their coming tour Kasabian, a band of excess in both statement and action, are thrilled at the potential mayhem possible in the coming DECADES. Such is their belief in their own ability to continue to climb the slippery ladder of rock ‘n’ roll fame and eventually piss all over their rivals from a nausea-inducing height.

Serge Pizzorno, the band’s towering catwalk guitarist and principal songwriter describes the band’s attitude to swiping their peers out of their path in his typically quotable manner. “Although Muhammad Ali would go into the ring and abuse his opponents you could still see the love in his eyes for his opponents. We are the same.”

Kasabian (despite claiming to hate whingeing bands) have a history of demanding other bands square up musically with them. Serge admits this has got the band into trouble in the past. He concedes that they are “gobby as fuck” and shifts some of the blame onto his boxing hero of Ali.

“All the bands that we say anything about – I dig them,” confesses Serge. “I don’t hate them but at the same time I want them to be better. It’s the same way that Muhammad Ali man took the piss out of George Foreman: ‘We are going to have to get in the ring together and I want you to be the best you can possibly ever be’. That’s entertainment. That’s entertainment. That’s the circus and that’s the music that will get the people through the door – Welcome to the Coliseum of Music!”

Welcome also to an evening with Kasabian.

Join us and step inside their melodic arena for a night of gladiatorial hyperbole and endless possibility as we take a verbal journey with what could be the most seductively deluded band in Britain.

While the world’s leaders are fucking everything up it’s music’s job to keep the people’s spirits up and our job to give all the people a really fucking good night out.

Naturally, as Serge talks of Rome’s Coliseum, the title of the band’s new album, ‘Empire’, seems to make perfect sense. Regular listeners to Kasabian’s high velocity chit-chat may simply mistake it for yet more bravado, you may assume that they have labelled it ‘Empire’ as they presume to invade the sonic territory of lesser bands. The world right over.

To a degree this is true, however there is also a more personal reason for this grandiose moniker to exist, as singer Tom Meighan explains. “‘Empire’ is something which I have been saying for a few years, it’s just like saying ‘that dude is dapper’ – it’s a slang word. Empire – it just means a good thing. I don’t know where the hell I got it from; it’s just a word I use.”

Clash discovers that before the band recorded this, their second LP, they became obsessed with recording a “classic British rock album”. This is a point which they are heavily fixated upon. Tom lays down his gauntlet: “Our new record is a classic from one to eleven. An absolute classic. I think our fans expected us to better our first record. I think we have come back with something more stronger, more sweeter, more rounder.”

“With our first LP – recording it on the farm and being these pot-smoking haze psychedelic punk electronic band – and us being on the road for three years and doing nearly 300 gigs, we have captured more of a heartbeat. You can hear us breathe a bit more on this LP, we have a bit more flesh on us. It’s more human than the other one.”

His sidekick Serge is equally forthright. “We set out to make a classic British album, where everything fits together, like by Led Zeppelin or The Who – we wanted to go into that alongside those people. Our favourite bands have always released albums that have all been very different – we were never going to recreate ‘Kasabian’. Our first album was amazing, in its own right; it’s a perfect debut album. As for the second record we decided to move on, we wanted to change and we will change on the third album. You’ve always got to be moving on otherwise you’ll get nowhere.”

Over the next few hours Kasabian claim a lot of things. They claim no-one of earth makes music like them. They claim to have made an album that will destroy all their peers. They claim that their latest effort will propel them to immortality. But just don’t call them ‘baggy’.

So? I hear you ask. Are they defiantly correct or just deluded?

Is this new recording going to carry them to into the pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll or merely just round the Earth for one long final debauched dance?

Well… a bit of both to be honest.

‘Empire’ as an album is undoubtedly a progression from their first. It has moved the band from making tracks to forging songs. It possesses intricacies of a live band with ideas, some of which however are lost to the causal listener of their new CD. It witnesses a wider range of instruments with Moroccan strings, Mariachi brass and even the security railings of their studio being thrashed. It sees the scale of the whole band’s sound spectrum scream open. But whether it has the ‘shape’ or the subtlety of a classic British Rock album is heavily debatable.

Produced by Jim Abbiss, of recent Arctic Monkeys fame and who co-produced the band’s first LP, it was recorded very quickly for a classic British rock album; just five weeks. A telling fact of the band’s spontaneity is that around half the album had been written before the recording whilst the other half was cooked up actually in the studio during the time set aside for recording. This includes the album’s epic finale, ‘The Doberman’, which Serge described as a perfect death march and a song he’d like to get buried to.

During this same period the band shed an original member, Chris Karloff, who had been with the band since its hazy farmhouse inception. There’s no scandal or gossip here though. Tom explains it as a gradual separation of two distinct paths. Serge described it as feeling like a slow break up with a girlfriend as touring conflicted with Chris’ engagement: life on the road at odds with his love for his fiancé. Bassist Chris Edwards revealed that Chris only made it to four days of the five weeks of recording, which continued at the usual velocity of Kasabian mayhem; with each day’s labours getting turned up to 11 whilst the band went mental to the soundtrack of the day just spent: trying out the party tunes with an instant party.

As an album it certainly has a momentum and a solid variety of sounds. It even features Serge singing in the style of Dylan to gently plucked strings (in the token slow bit.) It is 11 tracks of dismembered rock ‘n’ roll which may grab some listeners by the balls whereas others may yearn for a lot more of the brief subtleties such as the lovely guitar break midway through ‘By My Side’ or their much hyped tempo change of second single ‘Shoot The Runner’, which is almost guaranteed to be a smash thanks to its irrepressible vocal melody.

And so down to the business of separating the verbal wheat from the chaff…

In a recent interview, Serge called your debut LP “sketchy nonsense” yet when you released your debut Tom told Clash that it was “going to put a hole in rock ‘n’ roll”. Do you worry that with your relentless hype of your own sound you could, on each successive album, smack of the boys that cried wolf?

Serge: Every time you make a new album you have to have a belief in it. You’ve got to improve on the last or try to make it more interesting than the last. So no I don’t worry about that.

Tom: I think writing songs is like life and you get better at it as you age and you get better as a human being and as a person and you can look back into the past and say: ‘that was great but what I am doing now is better’ – that’s what I think, it’s always changing, like science and things you know?

Serge: You have to sell the tickets somehow haven’t you?

You also said that you’ve “left that crazy E-popping rock ‘n’ roll behind and gone for a more classic approach” – was that your deliberate angle of the first LP or just the result of who you were as people at the time of recording your debut LP?

Tom: You can tell on the first record that it’s mashed up and it’s punk and it is electronic and it funky. It’s wiry. You can smell the pot off it.

How would you describe your ‘era’ now?

Chris: This one is us trying to make a dent. The first album gets you on the scene and the second one you’ve got to make a dent haven’t you? Cement what we have already.

Serge: I’d say we are in our 1971 phase.

Tom: ’71 or ’72

Serge: Yeah! ’71 and shitting in people’s handbags with John Bonham.

Have you been doing that?

Tom: I wouldn’t.

Serge: Not yet.

Whose handbag would you shit in?

Serge: Paris Hilton’s.

Tom: Madonna’s. A big fucking steaming turd. Then I’d get an AK47 like Entwistle and fly all her records off the wall and machine-gun them in the air. Everything she has ever done. All that 80’s crap stuff. Destroy it all. Horrible.

You are not a Madonna fan then?

Tom: No. I don’t understand why all the skin is hanging off her body. She’s supposed to be toned and fit but its all hanging. I think it’s a desperate nanny.

Does that mean you are going to call it a day on your rock career when you start to lose your physique?

Tom: When I know I am fake I will let go.

Serge: It’s a difficult question because if it’s born in you to do it… music is something that you can’t just practice. Bob Dylan will never stop touring because it’s born into him and he can’t stop. You can say what you like about the Stones but it’s born into them as well.

Tom: Madonna is different though because she is just an idiot.

Serge: (Laughs) Yeah, but if you are Maradonna who was, in my opinion, the best footballer who ever lived, but at a certain age he has to stop playing. Now I don’t know how that must feel because if someone said to me when I get to 35 you no longer can stand in front of these people and play your guitar. I don’t what that would do to me. It would send me mental.

In March 2004, Tom said: “We are trying to edge something out, something a bit raw, something you could get down to. That’s what sets us apart from the same old five leather jackets. We are trying to put a hole in rock ‘n’ roll instead of going back 25 years”. With your desire to make a “classic British album” are you not simply aiming to be these same five old leather jackets?

Serge: When you have tracks on the new LP like ‘Stuntman’ and ‘By My Side’ then that never really worries me. And I certainly would not be wearing five leather jackets.

Tom: No. No. Because there is a difference between us as a band. I don’t want to sound weird but when I look at Serge and I look at [drummer] Ian Matthews, Chris and myself and [guitarist] Jay Mehler and there is something that separates us and those five leather coats. It’s just there (points to an imaginary level).

He continues after a pause.

“We are different – we’d be the FUR coats. A rock ‘n’ roll star should have a drug habit at least once in their career, they should have a Rolls Royce, should smash the fucker up, should have a big house, should get off his head and THAT is a rock ‘n’ roll legacy. Fucking John Entwistle, the Gallaghers – we are not the leather coats. Calling me a rock ‘n’ roll star in my own mind is bollocks but to other people I am perceived as a rock ‘n’ roll star but all I have ever wanted to do is sing and so obviously I must be a rock ‘n’ roll star. With our new single ‘Empire’, I don’t know a band who have made music quite like that on this PLANET. Especially when the breakdown happens, when we go all electronic with the John Bonham drums and shit, then with all the strings. It’s just pure Kasabian signature.”

Can you not see the similarities between yourselves and other bands who’ve consistently mixed rock and roll and electronics – the main example being Primal Scream?

Tom: Oh definitely, but they are more prog electronic than us aren’t they? The thing is with Primal Scream and us is that we are two separate bands really. Like completely really. I buzz off Primal Scream and their new album is incredible.

Specifically though, two albums ago. Have you heard much of ‘XTRMNTR’ and ‘White Heat’? There are massive similarities with them and your tracks such as ‘Apnoea’.

Tom: Yeah! ‘XTRMNTR’, the great thing about that was ‘Kill All Hippies’ and that was what got us into the electronic side of rock ‘n’ roll. But Primal Scream wouldn’t write ‘Empire’, or ‘Shoot The Runner’ or ‘Doberman’. They would never write ‘Empire’; they couldn’t write ‘Empire’ because it’s not Kasabian.

How will you feel if the press turn up their nose at ‘Empire’?

Tom: (Sighs) I’ll just get on with it like I normally do. There is not a lot that I can do about that.

Chris: I love it so it wouldn’t piss me off. We love it. Everyone that comes to see us loves it – so if one journalist turns his nose up then it doesn’t matter. They are probably being controlled by a suit upstairs anyway.

Serge: We all believe in this music which we have made and that is all we have. It’s the only thing we have.

How concerned are you about your legacy and being included in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame once you are gone?

Serge: Not really… (Pauses for a while) Actually, that is a good question. I’d like to ask myself the same question some day. In fact, fuck it! I DO wanna be that fucking black and white photo next to Keith Richards or next to Pete Townshend, next to Liam, next to fucking Bobby Gillespie. I wanna be that black and white photo, man, why not?

We are a forward thinking band. We are adventurous. We don’t just sit back.

Tom: The legacy stands now. As long as we keep making good records and keeping people interested in us then we’ll make a few more albums. I’m only 25 mate. I’m only on my second record; there is a lot more to be learned and there is a long way to go in this crazy thing which we are doing which is music.

Chris: Getting that legacy is massive. Everyone wants to do it and no-one has done it for a very long time. The bands who have been out in the last five years haven’t done much. Franz Ferdinand had a little grasp on it but the second album has done nothing. Bands coming through but no one has grabbed it yet.

I think there have been a few bands in the last few years that’ve pushed things – what about the Arctic Monkeys for example?

Chris: Yeah I like the Monkeys. They have put a quick dent into things. I like what they do because they put it [their album] down live and it was done as quickly as ours; in fact I think they did it all in a month. They put a small dent into it but whether it will stay remains to be seen.

Your talk of this album as being up there with ‘Definitely Maybe’ – what do you think makes an album pass over a certain line into absolute and undisputed greatness?

Tom: I said that I want it to rank alongside ‘Definitely Maybe’. I said I want it to grab people’s attention with stories and be successful like ‘Urban Hymns’. We HAD to write this record and better the first and in my opinion we have done that.

I will never forget when Serge sat down and started tapping his foot and he was doing the chorus to ‘British Legion’. I thought, ‘I have just witnessed something here. I have just witnessed a bit of the history of modern rock ‘n’ roll in 2006 – right in front of me. I know my band is alright when I hear those chords. That’s when I know it’s game over. When he started playing I just knew it was game over, a new step. I think that our album will make history and I think it should do. Like I said we are Modernists. We are a forward thinking band. ‘By My Side’, the chopping and changes in it are just… There’s no-one else doing that shit. We are adventurous. We don’t just sit back.

Chris: We have pushed the boat out and done things that no one else has done. I think it’s going to stick out. I think its going to pop out of all the mundane jangly shit that is out there. It will shine through.

With all this talk of equalling ‘Definitely Maybe’, one of Britain’s best rock albums in the last twenty years, are you worried that overstatement might shoot you in the foot?

Chris: No. ‘Definitely Maybe’ sold something around 3 million in its ‘time’, on the first cycle. I mean it’s obviously sold a lot more now but we sold 1 million on our first and the way the music industry has gone it is pretty much comparable, because back then the Internet wasn’t swamping everything, through sales. I don’t think it’s overstated. We aren’t messing.

Why are you so convinced that ‘Empire’ can take you over this line?

Serge: I think that having songs like ‘Me Plus One’, ‘Empire’ and ‘Stuntman’ and ‘By My Side’… In the same way that the Stones took from blues but made it sound like Rolling Stones’ blues, in the same way we have taken elements from the past that we adore and made it Kasabian’s take on it all. With tunes like ‘British Legion’ and ‘Doberman’ you play these songs after all the greats and it doesn’t sound out of place. You don’t think, ‘fucking hell this album isn’t even close to that shit’; I really truly believe that. I think we have done it.

Tom: Certain albums stand out like ‘Meat Is Murder’ or ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’, and us calling our new album ‘Empire’ is cheeky but it’s funny. It is one of those names that stands out like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath albums do. I just want it on the shelf when the kids are growing up. I just want it on the shelf. Legacy is important to us and it’s going to happen to us. I believe that.

Kasabian’s eponymous debut album was recorded and co-produced by themselves on a farm in Leicester where they all lived in one bedroom and rehearsed and recorded in another room. Kinda like the Waltons on Acid.

I spoke to them in February 2004 in the first article I wrote for Clash in our first ever edition. Even then they were lippy, full of swagger and ready to take on the world with, as Tom proclaimed at the time, just “a broken down computer – doing wicked tunes with a good vibe to them”.

Without generalising too heavily, the press largely turned their nose up at the band’s first album. A fusion of baggy influences with a Madchester groove over their own post-Prodigy and (literally) processed beats rang hollow for an older generation. The band however were slowly vindicated by a younger public who embraced their well-honed live shows, the nostalgic gleam of their melodies and their attitude, which could and has often matched that of their rock ‘n’ roll idols such as the Gallaghers.

Using the word “baggy” however in relation to Tom Meighan’s band induces a wild reaction, which suggests he has had it up to his floppy hat with journalists insinuating his band is following in the footsteps of his childhood heroes. He rants: “Fucking ‘baggy’ is the wrong word to use about our band. It’s just fucking, just fucking, the wrong word to say! What? Because we cut up drum loops and using funk – is that fucking baggy is it? Baggy music is fucking keyboard dance music in the early 90s. You’d think anyone in their right minds would have got that right.”

Serge, not for the last time, backs up his boyhood pal. “It’s mad when you listen to the first LP, on songs like ‘U-Boat’ the keys are straight from Krautrock, and it’s more indebted to Can or Tangerine Dream – far more than it’s coming from the Mondays.”

Tom: “I get it when people say we give off the feel of The Stone Roses live, I think we give off that spiritual vibe. I get this feeling you give people, but I was nine when they put that album out; I was listening to Michael Jackson. But I suppose they have to put a pin in it and now with this new record we have shaped it and moulded it, back then it was more about a vibe.”

Despite all Kasabian’s swagger, mouthing off about taking most of the other bands to the cleaners they did admit that, as far as the press was concerned, they felt they had something to prove with their new recording.

As Serge succinctly summates: “I would say that we went into this as underdogs where the media is concerned. We got where we did from fans buying our records and buying tickets. We weren’t a fashionable band. It wasn’t about the clothes we wore or the reviews that got written of us. It was the fans coming to see us that got us where we did. I can imagine we were underestimated going into the studio as people will think that were going to maker another baggy album. It’s nice to prove people wrong. The people who ‘got’ our first album got it properly and they know who they are.”

When Kasabian burst, ecstatically wide-eyed, onto the scene in 2004 with ‘Club Foot’, their EP came obsessively stencilled with a militaristic feel. Their logo depicts a masked raider, a desert bandit. Their early singles also came complete with a spray stencil of this image for their fans to go out and cause some local visual carnage; meanwhile their lyrics often referenced the violent foreign policy of the British Government abroad.

Their new album however has a more political feel to it, not only for its territorial title of ‘Empire’ but for other song names such as ‘Seek & Destroy’, ‘British Legion’ and ‘The Doberman’. So what message is Serge trying to deliver on the new album?

“This album is about very simple things,” the guitarist muses. “It’s about your best mates and your missus. It’s about your own little life and your own circle – it’s not about changing the world; it’s about your own little fucking life you’ve got. It’s about the stuff which became massively important when all the shit was kicking off, about the people that really mattered and about having a fucking good time with your mates.”

Chris agrees, but admits they have been influenced by the world around them. “Having a political feel definitely wasn’t deliberate. The first LP had military imagery because we were writing it as shit was happening abroad with the army. You’d go down the shops and see ‘THE TROOPS ARE ON FIRE’ in the paper and Serge wrote the lyrics and took influence from this. We weren’t for it or against. We just wrote about what was going on. Unless you are going to put yourself literally on the frontline or go out and protest then generally we sit back. If you thought about it too much then it would fry your brain.”

In your video for ‘Empire’ you are about to go ‘over the top’ of the trenches in a war scenario but refuse your general’s orders – what were you trying to say with this?

Serge: ‘Empire’ is about disobeying orders; it’s about the middle finger to the machine. We are in a rock ‘n’ roll band; we are outlaws – we are bandits and we are pirates. We earn a living from being musicians – now that to me is amazing and now ‘Empire’ – we used this as a metaphor in war to disobey the generals when the order was given and the lads said: ‘You know what? ‘Fuck ’em, I’m not doing what you say anymore’ and ‘The Doberman’ is like Kill Bill, Morricone style, A Fist Full of Dollars. I just thought ‘The Doberman’ would make a great cowboy film. And that’s why it’s called ‘Doberman’.”

So the whole of ‘Empire’ is about doing your own thing?

Tom: And the video was based on Shaft and Butch Cassidy.

Serge: (Laughs) … Shaft?

Do you think it’s important to leave your listeners something other than singing about monsters?

Serge: It’s a hard one to call because as long as the tune is good then you could be singing about walruses and it’s still a good song – so whatever is right at the time that’s what you should write about.

If some kids read deeply into your album and says ‘I am going to do my own thing’ then takes radical action in their life, does that power worry you or make you more contemplative?

Serge: Not really, the kids will make of it what they will.

Tom: As long as we make other people happy then I am not really bothered. That’s all music really is. It’s a force of communication so people can escape. Even with people like Buddy Holly or Elvis or The Beatles or the Stones and if I want to pursue a career into politics in later life then I will – but I never will do that.

Serge: I think that it’s an important point, that while the world’s leaders are fucking everything up it’s music’s job to keep the people’s spirits up and our job to give all the people a really fucking good night out. Give them a night out in the middle of all the horrible shit that’s going on and they come to a gig and for that hour and a half they are like, ‘Fuck it! I am alive; it’s great to feel like this’. Look at all the poorer countries, that’s where all the best music gets made, like in Cuba, on every street there’s a guy playing a guitar because they have nothing else.

Tom: I love the fact our band makes people happy, as long as we are happy in what we are doing. That’s all I have been put on this Earth to do is just to stand there and be with the people and that’s why I think he (Serge) was put on this earth as well. Or I could be a pineapple tree or something. [Clash noticed out later there was a pineapple tree behind our table]

Claiming to make everyone happy may not be strictly true. What makes Serge so quotable and Tom a darling of the press (i.e. their stunning overstatement) also rattles a lot of cages.

Infuriatingly in July, Serge was quoted as saying: “Dance music was on its arse before we came along”, whilst Tom chimed in: “And we turned it round and made it our own.” During our chat Serge impressed on me that in fact he didn’t exactly say those words and claims his words were slightly twisted, but having spent an afternoon with them you would not put such crass overstatement past the two of them nor ignore Serge’s cheeky glint whilst defending his patch.

Equally they have been quoted as hating whinging bands before going on to slag off a whole host of peers such as the Test Icicles, The Kooks (whom they feel sorry for) and Bloc Party to name but a few. When challenged for being hypocritical Tom Meighan is delightfully honest: “Well the Test Icicles deserve to get slagged off though don’t they? I do worry about sounding hypocritical about that but I AM hypocritical. Everyone is. Elvis was. John Lennon was. Sid Vicious was. EVERYBODY in the world is hypocritical. The NME was asking us about the bands and we were giving our honest opinions.”

“I bet journalists everywhere are drying up in the desert interviewing bands who they can’t get anywhere with and they can’t anything from. Your job is to get something from me and if you get a good quote from me then you’ve done a good job – you are not waiting in the desert to die with me are you? You are not looking at mirages and dying of thirst? You are not waiting for birds to come and peck your skull? I just feel sorry for journalists having to interview dire and poor, non enthusiastic bands.”

“And you must know what I mean. It must be horrible. That was what I was trying to say. We just speak our mind and we are not going out there and killing another band, to me anyone who writes music and plays it onstage is incredible. All we are doing is playing around in the playground.”

Serge: “A lot of times we get asked about our opinion of another band. Nine times out of ten when we can be bothered to answer the question we tell the truth and this always gets us into trouble. It’s just pub chat. At the same time though I am glad we get people’s backs up. It’s like the kid at school who is told not to touch the fire alarm and he does because he wants to see everyone panic – there’s something quite nice about that.”

It’s this seam of mischief which perhaps explains why the boys have been so comprehensively adopted by Oasis, adeptly fulfilling US support slots whilst Noel caused some degree of disturbance dropping into the Ibiza gig and is regularly found tipping his hat in their direction in the press.

Tom recalls their tour together and the Gallaghers’ company in the highest of orders. “We just get on. We toured in America and it was the best six weeks you could imagine. It was like a pirate ship that tour bus. Us, Jet and Oasis together; we’d hit a town, cause carnage then leave in your ship. It was mental. We just got on. That’s the only way I can describe it. It’s rare to meet people that are as honest as them; it’s real. It’s rare to meet people in this job who are that honest and real as fuck.”

On an equally epic level Kasabian recently toured as the support act to The Rolling Stones. Apart from making all their fathers the proudest in the land, not surprisingly it was something of a watershed for the band. Not least to be playing with the world’s most famous rock ‘n’ roll band. However Keith Richards’ brief few words with Serge sealed what he knew deep down and is perhaps at the crux of Kasabian as an honest band. “The show was incredible. I met Keith and he said “It’s always nice to meet working musicians” and that will stick with me forever. That’s what STILL matters to him and that was our common ground, although it was just a few words that he said to me it was a nod to us saying, ‘All that it’s about is playing your fucking guitar mate.’ ”

When you catch Kasabian play live, you can see how they have achieved their position through hard graft and an obsession with their craft. One could argue that perhaps they could have popped into more nightclubs along their formative path. This may have helped them move past the mainstream influence of chart dance acts such as their well-heeled influence of The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers. However these lads have worked their plectrums down to nothing, both on the farm for years and on the road playing nearly 300 shows in the last two years – and the results are vividly evident during their concerts.

The obvious gripes remain. Their over-hyped boasts, their winding up of other bands, their stupid claims to have saved dance music and “made it their own”, their bizarre inability to recognise any of the heritage of electronic rock bands such New Order, Primal Scream, Depeche Mode, The Rapture, Fad Gadget, Throbbing Gristle and more latterly the diversity of Hot Chip or the DFA to name only a fraction of their successful peers. However despite these minor quibbles, Kasabian remain a significant live band whose fervour on the road and ecstatic live performances have deeply affected audiences and consequently instilled a playful delusion into the talkative musicians that comprise Kasabian.

Yet never one to lie down, Tom Meighan rounds off on the above comments in typical and refreshingly honest fashion.

“What? Kasabian infuriate people? It’s our job innit? We have had some very stale garage bands in Britain recently and we put the beat back into rock ‘n’ roll. People see these statements and get really upset. I am (adopts child of a petulant kid) REALLY SORRY. I am so sorry if I have ruined your year. Its rock ‘n’ roll, man! We HAVE to annoy people!”