For Serge Pizzorno – Kasabian’s guitarist and main creative force – the year 2019 was originally intended to be a quiet one. Having wrapped up a massive world tour last September, the Leicester-based indie-rock giants had scheduled a year-long hiatus to enjoy some much-needed R&R. However, Pizzorno, ever the workaholic, couldn’t help but get back to his familiar routines.
“I could have easily been sat on a deckchair somewhere, glass of rum in my hand, getting a tan,” he laughs. “But that’s not in my nature. I do get restless pretty easily. Within a few days of finishing that tour, I was back in the studio working on stuff.”
However, when Pizzorno finally emerged from the studio earlier this summer, he wasn’t clutching a new Kasabian record. Instead, to everyone’s surprise, the 38-year-old musician was unveiling a new solo project, named The S.L.P (the initials of his full name, ‘Sergio Lorenzo Pizzorno’). Now, after two impressive single releases, this next month sees Pizzorno embracing the full scrutinizing glare of the spotlight. Today marks the release of The S.L.P’s debut album, while his first UK solo tour officially kicks off next week – including a visit to Manchester’s Albert Hall.
For hardcore Britrock disciples, the sight of Serge Pizzorno performing solo will seem a most unusual one. After all, ever since we’ve known him, the Leicester-raised musician has invariably been pictured alongside Tom Meighan, the childhood friend and singer with whom he has led Kasabian for the past 20 years.
(Image: Neil Bedford)
During that period, of course, the band have firmly cemented their place within British rock’s top tier, scoring five No.1 albums, 13 Top 40 singles, numerous industry awards and, back in 2014, performing a memorable headline set on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage.
Kasabian’s impact, however, is clearly something that should be measured beyond commercial factors. In the absence of Oasis, the Leicester four-piece have – alongside Catfish & The Bottlemen and Manchester’s very own Courteeners – maintained that proud British music tradition of ‘last gang in town’ rock’n’roll braggadocio.
Intriguingly, it was the pressures of that responsibility – of being British rock flag-bearers – that led to Pizzorno first wanting to launch a solo career. Although Kasabian are still very much an ongoing concern (don’t worry fans: their next record is currently being written), Pizzorno wanted to inhabit a very different creative headspace when the band’s touring commitments concluded last year.
“Writing a new Kasabian album,” he explains, “I always approach it with the attitude of ‘let’s make guitar music relevant again’. You have to gee yourself up like you’re going into battle. After that last tour, though, I didn’t feel like I had it in me to occupy that headspace. Musically, I felt like I needed to go down some rabbit holes, find some weird little treasures. Get that all out of my system before I made another Kasabian record.”
Emerging from that ‘rabbit hole’, Serge Pizzorno has produced an album which will surprise as much as it delights listeners. Channelling a myriad of influences, from hip-hop to psychedelic funk to new wave, and featuring various special guests (including rapper Little Simz and grime-punk upstart slowthai), it’s a world away from Kasabian’s stadium-ready indie-rock anthems. Which is exactly how Pizzorno conceived it.
“I wouldn’t even try to compete in the same way I’ve done with Kasabian,” he says. “This feels like a whole different world. It’s more like a boutique thing. S.L.P is like this mad little shop down a back alley, and you end up going in and having a good poke around. On a creative level, I’ve loved making this record. It’s allowed me to go to places I would never have done with Kasabian.”
Serge and Tom Meighan with Kasabian
Speaking of Kasabian, it’s also a record which has received full blessing from Pizzorno’s bandmates.
“That’s testament to the strength of our friendships,” he says proudly. “The lads have been great; they totally understood where my head was at, and they really encouraged me to explore and experiment. They knew how important it was for me to do this.”
Pizzorno’s live shows, similarly, will find him exploring terrain beyond his comfort zone. Although exact details are being kept under wraps, an S.L.P live show will deliver, he says, “a totally different vibe” to a Kasabian gig. For starters, he won’t be playing any of those well-known hits from his main band.
Recent gig reviews from the M.E.N.
“People will be surprised,” he declares. “The first few songs at my gigs, people will be like ‘woah, what’s going on here?’. It’s a whole different set-up to how I perform in Kasabian – I won’t even be playing the guitar on stage.”
Manchester will receive its first taste of The S.L.P live experience when Pizzorno brings his debut UK solo tour to the Albert Hall next Friday. Although Manchester has become one of Pizzorno’s favourite places to visit – as proven by the euphoric scenes at Kasabian’s sold-out show at the Arena in 2017 – his very first time in the city, some 15 years ago, was a much more daunting affair.
“The first time we came up to Manchester we were bricking it,” he laughs. “Because we were making guitar music with beats, the music press had really hyped us up as this Manchester-sounding band. So the first time we played there, we were feeling the pressure. The Manchester crowds couldn’t have been nicer, though. They embraced us from the very start. The last Manchester Arena show we did, two years ago, that was one of the best shows we’ve ever done. So Manchester’s always been like a second home for us.”
Serge Pizzorno plays the Albert Hall on Friday September 6. His debut solo album, The S.L.P, is out now via Columbia Records.
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