Used record bins are flooded with albums from swaggering British lads whose bands have conquered England and have their eyes set on cracking the States.
Not too many of them can claim to have their music used in two of the most popular TV shows in the country before most Americans have ever heard of them, though.
The vaguely scary, beat-crazy sound you might have heard on recent episodes of “Desperate Housewives” and “CSI: Miami” comes courtesy of Kasabian, currently infecting American ears with the intense marriage of druggy beats and massive guitar riffs from their self-titled debut.
“We’re going to do arena dates when we get back home, but here we’re playing the kind of dirty clubs we were playing in England two years ago and it’s really exciting,” said 24-year-old bassist Chris Edwards, of the band’s first tour of the U.S. “I found out about ‘CSI’ when we got to our hotel room in New York and saw it on the telly. It’s was pretty cool because nobody really knows us here.”
The core members of the group, which hails from Leicester, England – hometown of cheesetastic crooner Engelbert Humperdinck – lived on the same block and met as pre-teens in the early ’90s, when they bonded over their love of soccer. But they didn’t officially come together as a band until 1998, with the addition of guitarist/keyboardist Christopher Karloff.
It was then that the band – named for Linda Kasabian, the former Charles Manson groupie who testified against Manson in his murder trial – began forming their signature sound: a mix of Oasis Brit-pop swagger, late ’80s Manchester dance and booming Chemical Brothers-worthy beats mixed with Primal Scream’s scuzzy electronic rock-meets-hippie-culture clash. Kasabian, which a fan informed the band means “butcher” in Armenian, ended up being an apt name, since Edwards said the British press has described their sound as trying to “chop up” rock and put it to a hip-hop beat.
They scored a record deal in 2002 and used their advance to rent rooms in a 17th century farm house on an 800-acre farm in rural Rutland, England. “This friend of ours owned this six-bedroom house, so we rented three bedrooms and wrote, recorded and rehearsed at the place,” Edwards said of his time living communally with Karloff, guitarist/lyricist Sergio Pizzorno and singer Tom Meighan.
Over the course of eight months, they pasted together a dense album of songs that borrow equally from hip-hop rhythms, experimental German music and the blissed-out dance rock of their heroes in the Stone Roses. Their first single, the driving “Club Foot,” is a quilt of relentless beats, hissing electronic noises, a buzzing guitar riff and Meighan’s breathless, menacing vocals.
Underneath all that grime, though, it’s basically a love song, though one that takes place in a time of conflict.
“It’s about love and life,” Edwards said. “At the time [in 2002], the war in Iraq had just kicked off and the lyrics aren’t about pushing you in one way or another, but just about what was going on at the time, what you’d read in the paper about soldiers being petrol bombed.” To fit lyrics such as, “I tell you I want you/ I’ll tell you I need you/… the blood ain’t on my face,” the band filmed the song’s gritty black-and-white video on an old Russian army base in Budapest, Hungary, full of shot-up buildings and abandoned tanks.
While they were recording, they also staged a pair of what Edwards dubbed “mini-Woodstock” festivals for 100 or so friends on the property, inviting other bands, comedians and random performers to join them. “Everyone brought tents and we all got pissed for two days,” Edwards said. Having established a reputation for odd gigs, the band followed up its freaky festival by recently playing a gig in Winston Churchill’s underground WWII bunker for a group of contest winners.
Adding to their outlaw mystique is the iconic logo Kasabian pinched from an old Russian avant-garde painting, a revolution-minded image of a shadowy figure hidden behind a bandana with only one wary eye peeking out. “We just thought it would be cool to have a logo to put on our gear,” Edwards explained. “Italian football fans have their own flags, so we wanted one. And if you see that face, you know we’re in town.” The band’s second English single, “Reason Is Treason,” came with a stencil so fans could affix the logo to their books, backpacks, or – not that he’s condoning it – sidewalks and walls around their favorite pubs.
Though they name check the Grateful Dead in “Processed Beats” and their shows tend to turn into spontaneous dance parties, the music on Kasabian is anything but hippy-dippy. “We’re kind of hippie hooligans,” Edwards joked. “Hooligans with hearts. That why we get 14-year-old kids, the football crowd and 40-year-old rockers in leather jackets at our shows. Some of the songs make you want to turn cars over and others make you feel euphoric and peaceful.”
Kasabian tour dates, according to their label:
- May 10, 2005 – Atlanta, GA – The Loft
- May 12, 2005 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
- May 13, 2005 – Philadelphia, PA – Theater of Living Arts
- May 14, 2005 – Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club – free WFNX show
- May 16, 2005 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
- May 17, 2005 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
- May 18, 2005 – Montreal, QC – Cabaret Music Hall
- May 20, 2005 – Toronto, ON – Kool Haus
- May 22, 2005 – Richmond, VA – 18th Street – Y101 Birthday Bash
- May 24, 2005 – Chicago, IL – Double Door
- May 25, 2005 – Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line Music Cafe
- May 27, 2005 – St. Louis, MO – Creepy Crawl
- May 28, 2005 – Lawrence, KS – Bottleneck
- May 29, 2005 – Omaha, NE – Sokol Underground
- May 31, 2005 – Salt Lake City, UT – Club Sound
- June 2, 2005 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
- June 3, 2005 – Vancouver, BC – Commodore Ballroom
- June 4, 2005 – Auburn, WA – White River Amp. – KNDD Endfest
- June 10, 2005 – Mountain View, CA – Shoreline Amp – Live 105 BFD
- June 18, 2005 – San Diego, CA – KBZT radio show