Serge Pizzorno’s shaggy shock of jet black hair, once instantly recognisable, is now sharp-fringed and shaved, a striking leopard print dyed into the back in a style worthy of Instagram dreams, should he be so inclined.
He’s not, really. While Kasabian and his new solo project, The S.L.P, have social media accounts, documenting every detail of his personal life, online is not for Pizzorno. It has to be about art, otherwise what’s the point, he says. So the hair (definitely a work of art) does feature on The S.L.P’s Instagram, along with his promotional shots, but these are about as close to a selfie as he gets.
Sitting in his publicist’s office in north London, the singer is softly spoken, considered, a different character to the man with the swagger you see on stage. He is discussing social media and dating apps, the idea of “presenting that perfect version of yourself” online.
“It’s to my detriment, because I probably overthink it, but I think there has to be an artistic voice to it or I’m not bothered,” he says. “I can’t just be, I don’t know… just normal photos. That’s not me. When other people do it, it’s fine because whatever, that’s their thing. It’s probably not the way you should use it if you want to get massive, but I don’t care.”
Basically, don’t expect to see eggs on toast breakfast snaps or “Friyay” glass-clinks on Pizzorno’s social media feeds any time soon.
“I just don’t care for that. My privacy is very important to me; my family and my home, my world, that’s sacred. Someone called it the fourth dimension, where we’ve opened a world where you can see into people’s lives in an insane way, where you’re literally letting the whole world see exactly everything you do. I don’t know about that for me. I like to keep that, that’s mine.”
This insane way is the inspiration behind Favourites, the first single from Pizzorno’s debut solo album as The S.L.P, which features Mercury Prize-nominated rapper Little Simz.
As a father to two young sons, is social media something he worries about? Pizzorno is confident we will come full circle.
“I think people will look back on this place and where we’ve got to, and go, ‘What were you thinking? What? You did what?’ I think there’ll definitely be a rebellion against it and it will go back to people having their own lives and thoughts to themselves.”
Pizzorno channels his own thoughts through music. When Kasabian decided to take a break after 2017’s For Crying Out Loud, their fifth consecutive number one album, sixth overall, the plan was to “just be quiet for a bit”. After more than 20 years together – stadiums around the world sold out, Brits, NME and Q awards in the bag, a Glastonbury headline slot ticked off – they felt they needed time off.
But Pizzorno has discovered he doesn’t do relaxation very well. Certainly not your fortnight-in-the-sun-type relaxation, anyway. Anyone who has ever been in the presence of his best mate and Kasabian frontman Tom Meighan, the hyperactive stream-of-consciousness yin to Pizzorno’s very chilled yang, will know he is a man who is always on the go; never able to sit still, or keep quiet, for long. But it turns out it was Pizzorno who needed something to keep his brain occupied during the break.
The Kasabian radio silence – temporary, he assures – brings us to The S.L.P. Starting out as some “spare music on a hard drive”, the project has transformed into an album, released at the end of August, and a tour in September.
“We realised we’ve, Kasabian, not had a summer off, ever,” says Pizzorno. “So we decided, let’s just take a year out. Just be quiet for a bit, with the band.
“I suddenly thought, I’m gonna go mad if I don’t do anything. So, I had this music in a hard drive…”
Fascinated by the idea of alter-egos and different personas, the album has a “meanwhile concept”, he says, excitedly. “It’s a sort of comic book thing where it’s like, ‘Meanwhile, in the Batcave’… and there’s Batman and there’s Bruce Wayne. There’s me in the band and meanwhile, I’ve got this as well. I love that world.
“I had these three bits of ‘meanwhile music’, I called them, and I thought, well, they’d make a great beginning, middle and end to an album. All I have to do is fill in the gaps… with, whatever I wanted really. It’s all come out of necessity, I suppose. The timing was right.”
The result is The S.L.P. album, an 11-track record book-ended by the tracks Meanwhile… In Genova, and Meanwhile… In The Silent Nowhere.
Recorded and produced by Pizzorno at his studio The Sergery, set up at his home in the Leicestershire countryside, the album comes from a mix of influences, everything from hip-hop to psychedelic-funk and trance.
In parts, it is unmistakably the Kasabian writer and guitarist’s work, but at other times completely different. While the Favourites opening riff would not sound out of place on the band’s third album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, second single Nobody Else sounds like it should be played as the sun comes up in Ibiza. Not bound by the ties that come with being one of the biggest UK bands of the 21st century, Pizzorno says he felt free “to just see what it could be”.
“I love making, I just like creating… If I’ve not had a day, if I’ve not made something in the day then I feel a bit… I don’t know, I just freak out a bit. I mean, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a song. Just, you know, an idea, or a drawing or a video. It’s at the forefront all the time and that’s kind of where I feel like, ‘yeah, I’m all right now’.”
The S.L.P. has “opened up another part of my brain”, he says. “I think that was the thing, it was the freedom of not having to consider 80,000 people in a field. It’s like, ‘Ah, this can be a different thing’.”
Inevitably, solo work has invited discussion about the end of Kasabian. But Pizzorno says his sideline has helped him see the band from “a new, fresh perspective… [and now] I’ll know exactly the kind of way we need to go with the next chapter.
“I’ve just gone down the rabbit hole and I’ve collected a few new treasures and I’ve bought them back, you know?”
Taking time out, being careful not to saturate, is important, he says. “I think it’s healthy. And every now and again there needs to be a storm in the harbour, man… It would be nice if people are going ‘what’s gonna happen?’ or, ‘Is that it, was that the last time I’m ever going to see them play?’
“So then, the story begins again, which I think is a good place to be, to keep everyone on their toes – including the band, I mean me included, everyone.”
Formed with Meighan and their mates Chris Edwards and Chris Karloff (who left the band during the recording of second album Empire) while they were still at school in Leicester in the 1990s, Kasabian rose to fame with the release of their self-titled debut album in 2004. Fifteen years later, they are one of just a handful of those early-noughties indie bands left standing, undoubtedly one of the biggest British bands of their era.
It is no mean feat, and yet it is easy for the successes to become normalised, says Pizzorno.
“Being together for so long it’s amazing how the achievements are expected,” he says. “Oh, sold out the O2 again – I mean that’s a massive thing; two, three nights. Or headlining Glastonbury, five number one albums.
“There’s these mad facts that you don’t… process [at the time]. But when you think, you go, f***, that’s massive… It’s an incredible place to be but…”
It comes with certain pressures?
“Kind of. Yes and no. I mean… because we got where we got I think it sort of doesn’t really matter now. It would have been more pressure if we’d not achieved what we wanted to.
“We just sort of… rolled with it, really. It’s all about new ideas, and new things and new albums. Changing. We’ve been afforded the luxury of being able to experiment and people going with it. So yes, it’s been quite a ride, I’ve got to say.”
Kasabian, he reassures once again, is “safe and sound” and his band mates have all been supportive of The S.L.P. “They’ve been so sound about it all. I’ve been blessed.”
With the album finished, now all he has to do is think about performing live.
On stage with Kasabian he is the guitarist and backing vocalist, taking the frontman reigns only occasionally for the odd song. The S.L.P. live show will be quite different.
“In my head I have an idea of what I want the show to be but converting it, that’s going to be an interesting thing. I know for sure that I don’t want it to be anything like… it’s going to be a completely different show to a Kasabian show.”
He pauses: “I want the outcome to be the same in terms of… euphoric connection. A place for everyone to come to lose their minds. But I want to get there in a whole different way. I’m coming at it from a different angle. It’s a different sport.”
The album features the collaboration with Little Simz, who was “so good; it was a real honour to work with her”, and slowthai, another rapper and 2019 Mercury Prize nominee.
“These [are] young, British artists that I think are at the forefront of music and to get them on the album was amazing,” he says. “Moving forward I’d like to do that more. I think those two especially because I’m just a big fan of what they do.”
I ask about his life in Leicester. Or more specifically, his recent appearance alongside pal Mark Ronson on Gogglebox, and why viewers were taken to a sofa in east London rather than his Leicestershire home. (Full disclosure here: I too am from Leicester, and it’s not often we get to see the city on the telly.)
“Maybe next time,” he laughs. “It’s a very proud city, isn’t it? We are very proud of our city. It’s weird, isn’t it? That home thing, that Leicester thing.”
I last spoke to Pizzorno back in 2016, for the city’s local paper, as Kasabian were heading out to play their beloved Leicester City’s stadium, the King Power, for the first time; a lifetime’s dream fulfilled to celebrate the club’s 5,000-1 Premier League win.
Pizzorno, Meighan and Edwards have all remained rooted in Leicestershire, never swayed by the lure of celebrity, and always do their best to champion the city and put on special gigs for their fans there.
“I think [being in Leicester] has only helped us,” says Pizzorno. “It’s nice to be on the fringes, on the outside, and still be outsiders. I think it’s important for artists to be on the outside.
“It’s a mad old place. But I love it… I just feel like I learn more being there than I would anywhere else. I think you get more of a sense of the world. It can be a bit of a bubble anywhere else. I’ve got a lot of my friends who I grew up with and they always make me laugh, fascinate me, and their stories are amazing. I feel more connected there than I would anywhere else.”
Kasabian want to inspire children from Leicester, from other less recognised towns and cities, he says.
“I feel like we were kids from a little place outside of the centre, and we had these dreams and we had this intent to try and communicate this message with the world and bring as many people together as possible. I want to show that you can do some mad stuff… I think it’s important to show the next generation of kids coming up. Especially in our home town.”
I ask how Tom is. He grins. “Tom’s Tom, you know. There’s only one. He’s an amazing man. You can only be that good at something if… well, he’s just Tom.
“We don’t occupy the same orbit… we’re not smashing into each other. If you had two Toms…” He makes a whooshing sound. “That’s why it works. And it’s been like that since 1997. I mean, like any family, there’s arguments and there’s fights and there’s shouting. But that’s a very small percentage of the best time ever. You know, like any normal Christmas Day. We’ve all got madness in our families. But we’ve got mad love as well.”
After more than 20 years together, a seventh album in the pipeline, now all fathers, a bit wiser, definitely more grown-up, it would seem Kasabian have overcome any hurdles that might cause a band to split. Is this it forever now?
“Yeah, I’d like to think so. You know, bar anything major. You never know what’s round the corner, but we do feel like we’ve come too far now.
“There’s not many bands that have been sort of big in two decades. You know, that’s always the thing, if you can move into the next decade and still be around… if we’re making relevant music and the live shows stand up and have still got that energy and bring that carnival like no one else can, we’ll be around for a long time.”
- Serge Pizzorno’s debut album, The S.L.P, is out on 30 August. The S.L.P tour starts in Glasgow on 5 September and finishes in Paris on 17 September, and includes two dates in London.