‘It’s always been all or nothing’: Serge on new album Happenings and 20 years of Kasabian

On July 5, Kasabian release their eighth album Happenings, a short, sharp explosion of electro-driven psych pop that sees the band shred all but the bare essentials to create their most melodic record yet. Headliner caught up with songwriter and frontman Serge Pizzorno to discuss the laws he laid down for himself in producing the record, how he feels about embarking on his second outing as frontman, and why the fire that fuelled the band’s debut album, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, continues to burn brighter than ever…

“We’re doing The One Show tonight, which is sort of hilarious,” a smiling Serge Pizzorno laughs as he joins Headliner via Zoom. He’s filling us in on what he’s been up to in the run up to the release of Kasabian’s adrenaline rush of an eighth studio album Happenings, which is out on July 5. Our conversation takes place one week to the day ahead of the release, and, we soon discover, 24 hours in advance of a storming secret show at Glastonbury.

“We played in Italy last weekend, which was incredible,” he continues. “It’s such a special vibe there. The connection with Italy from the start has always been amazing. There is a romance there. It’s beautiful and it put us on a really good vibe. Then we played in Denmark the weekend before, which was old school winning people over. Back to the trenches, like, these people have no idea who we are, which is really fucking good for you. It means you have to call upon all those tools you’ve learnt over the years on how to entertain people who have no idea who you are. It keeps you in check. Because if you can’t be arsed and are pissed off that no one knows who you are… fuck that! If you’re like that you’re in trouble. You need to be, [rubbing hands together] ‘let’s go, these people need to understand!”

Right from the off, Pizzorno is in fine form. He sits before us, the embodiment of the unfiltered confidence and self-assuredness that infuses all things Kasabian, in front of what looks like a large fireplace, staring straight down the camera. He’s wearing a bright yellow t-shirt and sporting a thick beard. A large eyeball with wings is emblazoned on a black and white striped wall behind him, while the mantlepiece is adorned with candelabras holding large pink and white candlesticks. It’s a suitably vibrant setting for an artist on the precipice of unveiling one of their brightest and boldest pieces of work to date.

He's an intriguing presence. His demeanour, at times intense and impassioned, is offset by a surprisingly gentle tone of voice. And it becomes apparent very quickly that Happenings is not only an album he’s profoundly proud of, but one that he’s impatient to share with the masses.

The record is Kasabian’s second with Pizzorno serving as de facto frontman, following the departure of original frontman Tom Meighan, who was fired from the band after being convicted of assaulting his fiancée Vikki Ager in 2020. Despite having always been the band’s chief songwriter and occasional lead vocalist, Pizzorno’s transition to the band’s focal point was always going to be a significant one. It’s a role he has taken on not just with ease, but with relish. Onstage he has untethered himself from his guitar, for the most part at least, adopting a kinetic, frenetic performance style, as opposed to simply shuffling a few yards left to centre stage and resuming business as usual.

It’s good to be brutal with yourself. I like the conflict within my own head. Serge Pizzorno

His first outing in this capacity came in the form of 2022’s The Alchemist’s Euphoria, an album that fused Kasabian’s electronic and traditional rock roots to create one of the band’s most compelling records. Featuring collaborations with award-winning producer Fraser T Smith (“a close friend, confidante, and brilliant man”) it also instilled a sense of certainty that the band could not only survive in its new form but thrive. It is from this spirit that Happenings was born.

“This album started a year into the campaign for the last album,” says Pizzorno, explaining the origins of the record. “It was straight back into the studio; the energy of those big shows and wanting to capture that on tape and get it out as quickly as possible so we could play them live. These songs were designed to be played in big fields, with people on each other’s shoulders, singing their hearts out, hitting them with no verses, just pure choruses and hooks for the whole thing. It’s a joyous explosion. Really simple.

“The idea of ‘happenings’ comes from getting art out of the art gallery,” he continues, elaborating on the album’s title. “I always loved that concept of bringing it out to the people - art is trapped in this building but it should be out on the streets. It’s like, there were the late ‘60s psychedelic happenings, then there were rave happenings, and now it’s like, let’s have some Kasabian happenings! It’s bringing people together and entertaining them.”

A “joyous explosion” is certainly a fitting description for Happenings, as are the opening lines of latest single Algorithms: We’re not here for a long time, we’re just here for a good time’. Its 10 songs clock in at just 26 minutes and are the result of a very specific blueprint laid down by Pizzorno to ensure zero self-indulgence and total commitment to the song.

“That was always the plan,” he states. “Everything has been about cutting away anything we don’t need. Do we need that? No? Cut it. Don’t be precious about third verses or double choruses. This album is not about that. The box was made, and if it didn’t fit, it didn’t go in. I had strong laws on the whole record. And I find it exciting when an idea has to be a certain way. It eases the process when it has to be something. When it can be anything… that’s when it can get a bit crazy [laughs].”

It is such self-imposed limitations and parameters, Pizzorno insists, that have kept things interesting for him with each album.

These songs are for big fields, with people on their shoulders, singing their hearts out. Serge Pizzorno

“I’ve written eight albums with Kasabian and the way I write has never changed,” he explains. “But I need different angles, different ways of attacking it to keep me inspired and to keep everyone second guessing and on their toes. So, when you get to eight albums, it’s really important that you change and are curious and make new shit for people to listen to.

“There’s always going to be, ‘why doesn’t it sound like the old stuff?’ and, ‘it’s not different enough’. You can’t win if you go down that road. It’s over. You look at the greats and you don’t get to make music for three decades by making the same album over and over again. We all know what that sounds like. Plus, as an artist, it’s just boring. I signed up to this to be excited every day, and to be challenged, and be like, wow, what’s this new thing I’ve found? It just makes life so much more exciting.

“You know, I love a 90-minute film,” he continues after a pause. “Films are three and half hours now, and it’s a slog [laughs]. There are some great three-hour films, but this is just where my head was at. But I didn’t want to keep the structures simple - there’s still a lot going on in the songs - but it felt like an interesting way to be brutal. It’s good to be brutal with yourself. I like the conflict within my own head going, ‘musically it needs this’. But it was like, ‘shut your mouth, that’s gone, I’m moving on to the next one’.”

As our conversation edges further towards Pizzorno’s methods, he explains that he views every new idea through the prism of a producer as well as a writer.

“I was a producer the same day I became a writer, as I got a sampler as my first bit of kit,” he remembers. “In terms of my songwriting process, I’m looking for loops, drumbeats, riffs, or if I’m not doing tha,t it’s more traditional, just at the piano or with a guitar. I’ve been doing it like that for 20 years, and I feel like I’ve gotten better at it, but ultimately, it’s the same thing. As a human being I’m at different stages of my life, and each album is a different snapshot. Which is nice for my boys; if they need to know what their dad was like at 28, that’s a good indication. There are some clues in there.”

In January of this year, Kasabian’s self-titled debut album celebrated its 20th anniversary. Spawning a string of classic singles that remain tightly woven into the fabric of 21st century UK indie rock, including the likes of Club Foot, LSF, and Processed Beats, it earmarked Pizzorno and co as natural heirs to the Gallaghers’ throne. The band, as remains the case, were never short of a choice quote and never shy in asserting why they were the best band in the world.

They backed up their claims by garnering a reputation as an incendiary live act, while the pressure that can often cause bands to buckle after releasing such a hyped and acclaimed debut only seemed to fuel their ambitions for world domination.

These albums consume every part of my soul. Serge Pizzorno

Today, Pizzorno is philosophical about Kasabian and the path it set them on when pondering its anniversary.

“If you’d have asked me at the time, I’d have been happy with that one album,” he states. “If no one liked it and that was all we did, that would have been enough for me. Genuinely. That’s all I ever wanted to do, to see a physical copy of an album I made in my hands. Then, as the albums pass, you get addicted to the feeling and the process and the art, and albums become my life. They consume every part of my soul. I commit so heavily and deeply into them that they become huge chunks of my life, which is incredible.

“In terms of 20 years, the only way this band can celebrate an anniversary is to make another record. It’s never been about nostalgia. It’s never been that. If you look at each of our albums there is not a lot of respect for where we’d been before. So, I thought the best way to celebrate the anniversary was to make a new album. And a really fucking good one!”

When asked about his memories of the years preceding the release of Kasabian and the buzz that had been building around the band from their earliest days performing the pubs and bars circuit in their hometown of Leicester, Pizzorno is emphatic in his response.

“We were just fearless and driven,” he says with palpable passion in his voice. “It was all or nothing. I was so desperate to do it and not be an also ran. That mentality is powerful. If you are like, we don’t give a fuck, get out the way… there is an arrogance to it, but if you don’t have that attitude, you don’t get out of Leicester. You don’t get out of the pub gigs. You have to have a sense of…” he trails off, considering his next words. “You know, you do let the bullies knock you down. You do hear the local fuckwits go ‘you’re never gonna do anything, look at your long hair, you’re shit’, and you have to be strong and stand up to that.

“So, when you embark on this journey, you have that fucking anger in your brain,” he says, his voice rising, his fists clenching as he becomes increasingly animated. “That’s how you have the motivation to get out and prove everyone wrong. And that doesn’t end. When you’re on that stage, you’re ripping the place to pieces because you have to; because if we don’t, we’re back, and we’re getting dropped, and it's over. That mentality has stuck with me today, to the point where I feel every note when I’m recording. I feel every note when we’re playing live. And it’s tiring because it’s a lot to take on, but that’s just how I’ve done it, and it’s testament to why we're still around.”

Though the spirit he speaks of remains a constant in his life, he does note, on reflection, that he has found different ways to channel it.

“I think over the years it’s been a fuel that I’ve needed, and it’s got me to where I need to get,” he says thoughtfully. “And there are times when I even manifest it myself because it’s a powerful energy. Over the years I have learned to get there in a different way. Artistry has become more important. When you become a dad, you have to set a good example for your kids, and just being good at your job is enough motivation: being a good songwriter, being respected, coming offstage and feeling like you’ve entertained the people who have paid money to come and see you play. That is as powerful an energy as telling everyone to fuck off [laughs]. And probably a much nicer way of getting there.”

Two decades into his career, he now considers it a duty to impart that energy to others, whether inspiring new artists to take on the world, or simply providing listeners with a moment of escapism.

“I want to empower people,” he says. “I want them to hear the music and feel that anything is possible. I love music that motivates you to dream of something new; something better. And if a kid who is having the worst time listens to one of our tunes and it brings them out of it, then I’ve done my job. To me, that’s everything.”