British rockers Kasabian were a big deal when we talked with them way back in 2006, and in the nine years that have passed they’ve only become a bigger deal. They went on to release a string of stellar, critically acclaimed albums, including their most recent 48:13 in 2014. They racked up numerous awards such as Best Act in the World Today and Best Live Act at the Q Awards in 2014. And they wowed fans at countless live shows across the globe, including recent appearances at Glastonbury Festival, Lollapalooza Argentina, and Coachella. In this 2006 interview we talked with Kasabian’s drummer Ian Matthews about their sophomore album Empire – which debuted at #1 on the UK albums chart – their tour in support of the release, and tons more. Read on and if you’re in Europe be sure to catch the band at a handful of live shows there this summer.
Ticketmaster: Your new album Empire has been out in the UK for a few weeks now. The album just came out in the US a few days ago. Are you excited to have American fans finally hear these new songs?
Ian Matthews of Kasabian: We’re really excited about it actually. I hope the American fans that we’ve already picked up along the way from our touring so far are going to dig it. This is an album which we’ve been true to the heart with, and we went into the studio with no outside pressure and we just made music the way we felt. We’re very proud of that album.
TM: You’ve played a few shows in the US already. How’s the tour going so far?
IM: Brilliant. We’ve done Boston. We’ve done New York. Tonight we’re at the TLA (Theatre of Living Arts) in Philadelphia. All those shows are sold out, so that’s absolutely fantastic. We’re going to go to Baltimore in a couple days time for the Virgin Festival there. It’s really exciting. I think this is the fifth tour we’ve done of the States and I’m still excited. I love coming back here. I love traveling across the continent and seeing how—despite the fact that it’s all the US—people change and the cultures and the dialects change amongst you, though it’s all related. It’s fascinating. We’ve been treated really well by the fans who have come out to our shows and given us support. And in return, we’ll lay on a show, an absolutely stonking show.
TM: Are there any particular venues or cities you’re forward to playing?
IM: I’m kind of stoked by the lot basically. Looking forward to the California coast. We’ve got loads of support there—in San Diego and San Francisco especially. And in Los Angeles we’re playing the Henry Fonda Theater. Last time we were in Los Angeles we played the Hollywood Bowl with Oasis. That was quite an experience, quite a legendary thing to do. It’s really hard to weed anything out like that. Because at the same time we’re gonna go to this place called the Grog Shop in Ohio, I think. We’ve done that before. It’s a tiny gig, but the atmosphere buzzes in there massively. And there’s a really cool shop around the corner from the Grog Shop, which is like a vintage toy figures store where they have loads of Star Wars figures and stuff, so we always go bonkers there (laughs). Each city has its own little thing that we look forward to, you know.
TM: How did you get together with the other members of the band?
IM: Well, I’ve known them for years actually. I’m from Bristol. I am older than them. I’m ten years older than the boys. And I was earning my money as a musician in Bristol. And just before they were signed they came to a studio which belongs to a friend of mine. He wrote me up and said, “They’ve just lost there drummer. They need a drummer and it sounds like what they need is right up your street. Do you want to come and do a session for them?” So I turned up and the chemistry sparked off straight away to be honest. And then we had a long distance relationship. Leicester and Bristol—we were from different towns. They were like a good three or four hour drive from Bristol. And I had my own thing going in Bristol. So we had a long distance relationship. They got signed. They finished their album and I was doing other things. Then one day they gave me a call to get on the bus. That was two and a half years ago. And I toured with them for a year as a session player, as a hired hand. A year later they turned around and said, “Right, we’ll make you a band member. You deserve it. You’ve done your time.” And that’s when I became fully Kasabian. So that’s kind of the story in short.
TM: When did you first become interested in playing music?
IM: I was two years old and my uncle was a drummer. He used to come and teach me how to play on the pad with a pair of drumsticks. I can still remember it now. Still remember waiting around for him to bring his drumsticks. So my dad bought me a drum kit when I was five, despite wanting me to play the bloody piano, which I wouldn’t have. I remember watching on our black and white telly a drummer with a big head who was on a Silver Sparkle Ludwig kit, and the kit was rocking around on the stage and stuff, ‘cause in those days the metal that held the drums up was a bit ropey. I just remember seeing these long-haired guys with these drum kits that were rocking backwards and forwards. That was for me, you know. So I had lessons when I was about five—four and a half or five years old—from a guy around the corner. And I had my first drum kit which cost five pounds back in the day. And that was it. I did drum corps stuff, orchestral stuff. I had lessons, bits and pieces…I was earning money as a drummer even when I was at school doing club gigs and theater stuff. I had some shit jobs when I left school. I was not an academic at all really. My head was in music…I just studied playing and I did some teaching and stuff. All sorts of weird stuff, far too much to go into now. Some stuff was very cool and some stuff was just very uncool but you have to do to survive. Then I got a business up in Bristol and that kind of led me up to meeting the boys.
TM: Let’s talk about Empire. How does it compare to the first Kasabian album?
IM: The first Kasabian album is a very dark album in many ways. It’s very electro. It’s much more held back than this one. Kasaibian’s first album is a fantastic album, and this one is as well. But this one’s different. It’s grown up a bit. The songwriting’s grown up a little bit. And the electro has been shared out more with real-life band takes, whereas the last record was made with a lot more loops and stuff. I remember we did “Processed Beats” —which I can relate to ‘cause I played on that tune—and the middle section is just one take, but for the verse and chorus they’ve used the drum loop to give you that slightly robotic feel, which really works. Now for this album, there are some tunes which we’ve done that to, because the tunes screamed out for it, and there are other tunes where we sat in a room together and just played the thing without even a click. The sound has been expanded. Also, because of the songwriting, because of the fact that the band’s been together playing so many gigs and we’ve all grown together as musicians and as a unit, it’s given us much more leeway with our sound. We’ve had Jim Abiss join us as well, who’s really helped us through the minefield of finding sounds. We’ve had vintage guitar amps, vintage guitars, vintage keyboards, weird things I’ve never seen before. God knows how they work. You need a white lab coat to work them (laughs). And I had several drum kits. I had my old Ludwig stuff and my Pearl kits. We also had two studio rooms…This album itself is a bit of a journey. I was asked the other day, “Which track defines the album?” I don’t think there is a track that defines the album. I think what you’ve got is the album defines itself, because it’s like a suite. You start at the top and work your way through. It’s kind of a ride.
TM: Do you prefer recording in the studio or playing live for an audience?
IM: Well, I’m a bit of a Gemini so you’re kind of talking to two people here (laughs). There’s a side to me that clearly loves being in the studio. It does feel like a musical laboratory where you’re trying stuff out and going for takes and getting excited ‘cause you’re going to find a new sound or you’ve got some great effects. When you’re in the studio you can watch a song from conception. You watch it grow. You really watch a song grow and be built and that’s really exciting. My head space was just never right by the time we got to the studio—to be there and stop touring and sit down in one place. And after five weeks the album was done, and as much fun as I had it was great to kind of be done. And then I looked forward to getting back out doing shows again…That’s the other side of me. I love connecting with people. And as a drummer, I love sitting there being the beat master for a room of people and getting behind Tom and watching him reach out to the people. It’s an amazing feeling. There’s another question there: what do you prefer—small rooms or big festivals and stadiums? Again, I can even say the same thing. They all come with their own charm…we were in Paris last week, or the week before last actually, with 400 people and they were climbing on each other, It was incredible. The feeling I got, the adrenaline rush that I got was comparable to playing for 45,000 people at Glastonbury who again were going bonkers and stood up to their knees in mud. They were mad for it. And that’s amazing. It’s all amazing. So is being in the studio at 2 o’clock in the morning with the speakers on full…going bonkers to the album track. It’s all amazing, but it’s all different.
TM: Does your live sound differ greatly from the recorded music on the album?
IM: I think it’s probably bigger than the album. It’s a bit like comparing the book and the film really. Of course we’re playing the tunes and we have lifted sounds off of the album and put them into the live shows. If you come to the live show, you’ll still hear the electro thing going on and things that are key to the sounds of those tunes. But at the same time we’re playing out. As a player, I put more into it. I play around with some of the lines and stuff. Put a bit of excitement in. Yeah, it’s a live thing and there’s an element of improv in there as well in places. We find different corners in the music every night. You come to a show and you will hear what you hear on the album, but it will be larger than life. And it will hopefully get your ass moving and your eyebrows going at the same time (laughs).
TM: What’s been your most memorable onstage experience?
IM: A very recent one. Noel Gallagher from Oasis came on and played with us the other day. We’ve got friendships going on now and it’s really cool. He got to do this special gig for NME with us in London. I’ve watched him for many years. I know all about the Gallaghers and stuff. And he just absolutely lost the plot on stage. It was amazing. He headbutted the headstock of his guitar and gave himself a bloody nose. And then when we came to the end of “Club Foot” he launched himself up onto my drum riser and basically was yelling “Come on, you bastard!” at me (laughs). I’ve never seen him do that. I was like, “What’s got into him?” So having Noel Gallagher having eyeballs with me over my crash cymbals at the end of “Club Foot” was a very memorable thing. With blood coming out of his nose. Brilliant! (laughs)
TM: What do you consider a successful live performance?
IM: The thing with a live show is when a band gets on the stage it is their responsibility to entertain the audience. But it’s like a house of cards. You know, everything in place or the whole thing falls down. The crowd needs to be in there as well. They are a part of the show really. When the room vibes, that’s the show. If a note is dropped here or there or there’s a squeak from feedback or whatever, yeah, that’s cool. That’s playing live. That’s being human. But when the room vibes and when the audience and the band connect in the middle, that to me is a great gig.
This article was originally published in September 2006.