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No regrets: Kasabian is in the past, I'm looking to the future ; The big interview Chris Karloff was a songwriting guitarist in Kasabian who left in...

August 17, 2013

YellowBrix

No regrets: Kasabian is in the past, I'm looking to the future ; The big interview Chris Karloff was a songwriting guitarist in Kasabian who left in mysterious circumstances during the recording of the band's second album. Seven years later, Chris is back with a new band, trying to answer some old questions. Gemma Peplow reports

It's 11am in Queens, the second biggest borough in New York city. Outside Chris Karloff's apartment window it's a brilliant, bright blue Big Apple morning. It's all a long way from Blaby, LE8, Chris's home town, and yet one thing remains reassuringly unchanged - the accent, the clipped vowels and unmistakable burr of Chris's speech.

He's been in New York for eight years now, but you wouldn't know it. You can take the man out of Leicester, but not, it seems, the Leicester from the man.

Yeah, I'm good, thanks, he says, after introducing himself. Thanks very much for doing this. I appreciate it.

The name Chris Karloff may well ring a bell, it may not. Whether you know his name or not, you'll almost certainly know the name of his former band.

Kasabian: the band from Leicester that have done, as you know, pretty well. Now one of the UK's biggest musical exports, they're about to record their fifth album (no mean feat nowadays), for which platinum sales, number one albums and sell-out arena tours across the world are par for the course.

Chris, who started Kasabian with his schoolmates Tom Meighan, Serge Pizzorno and Chris Edwards, played guitar and co-wrote their criticallyacclaimed eponymous debut with Serge.

He left during the recording of their second album, Empire. Kasabian were about to become huge.

Little was said about his departure at the time, with the age- old adage of creative differences cited. He left and that was it. Not much has been heard of him since.

That's about to change, though, as Chris is getting ready to release his debut album, Desensitized, with new music project Black Onassis.

Like Kasabian, their sound can be described as electro-rock, but lumping it into a specific genre is where the similarity ends. For a start, there's no lead singer.

Chris plays guitar and synth, bandmate Nick Forde is on bass and guest vocalists - including Liela Moss (The Duke Spirit), Morgan Kibby (M83/White Sea) and Ben Gautrey (The Cooper Temple Clause) - have been brought in for some tracks. The rest of the album is instrumental.

Chris and Nick are busy promoting the album ahead of its release next month.

With Chris, interview questions inevitably lead to Kasabian. Which isn't surprising.

It's an intriguing story, isn't it, the man who could have been in one of the biggest bands in the country? Although it's obvious Chris would rather be talking about his new band, his life now, he deals with it well.

He wishes the boys all the best, he says.

It was basically what was said at the time - creative differences, really. It sounds like a cliche but that was it. It was a lot to do with attitudes changing. It's unfortunate, but you move on. Despite the success Kasabian have gone on to achieve, Chris says he has no regrets.

Things happen for a reason, you know. I was basically asked to leave. I don't have any regrets about things I'm powerless over. It's something I don't really think about much. You just focus on what you do.

We don't really communicate now but I obviously wish them all the best. I don't hold grudges. They're doing what they're doing and I'm doing what I'm doing.

They were good days, though, he says, those early days when they were just starting out, hidden away on a farm in the Leicestershire countryside preparing to release their debut album.

I think, you know, not meaning to sound arrogant or anything like that, but the belief was always there when we were making that record.

We were isolated from everyone and we didn't have the distractions and the bullshit of what the surrounding world could have brought to a situation like that.

It allowed us to really focus on getting to know ourselves as musicians and writers and gave us that time to focus. We all sort of knew (it would do well) or we wouldn't have bothered.

It was very much an all or nothing kind of attitude. Some bands will say they're doing it for fun and that's totally cool, but we weren't like that. We had the attitude of do or die.

It was intense, there's no doubt about that and it did happen quite fast.

You work for years and then you put it out and suddenly it's out there and the response was unbelievable.

It came about in that boom, just before the industry started to really change. We weren't part of the Twitter and the Facebook thing because it wasn't really around then. We were like one of the last in an era in that way. It's very different now.

Chris admits he hasn't listened to much of the later Kasabian albums.

Well, you don't really get exposed to as much over here. They don't really have the same presence in America... I've not really listened to them, to be honest with you. I can't really give an opinion on something I don't know about.

We get the feeling that that's it, subject closed. Which is fair enough.

Chris wants to look to the future, not the past. And his future is Black Onassis.

He says moving to New York, exploring a different part of the world, was always the plan.

I did move out here after that time but it was something I was planning to do anyway, it wasn't anything to do with the separation. I'd always wanted to try somewhere else in the world to live.

After I moved here I spent a lot of time writing, exploring and learning a lot of new things musically. I started playing with musicians and making friends. The shape of what Black Onassis is now came about a few years ago.

We enjoy doing it, that's the main thing. We're really excited about releasing the album.

Chris, who grew up in Blaby, just round the corner from Tom, listened to all sorts of music when he was young - from Kraftwerk to Nirvana, The Prodigy to Nine Inch Nails. Music was always a big influence.

It was a big thing for me, growing up. Music and football, really, typical boy things. I didn't get into playing until I was in my teens, though.

Now, he can't imagine doing anything else. With Black Onassis, Chris and Nick write the music, then send the tracks that need it to the vocalists to contribute lyrics.

Luckily for us, everything we've had back has been amazing. We do bounce ideas, melodies and things like that, but we very much focus on the music side of things. I love electronic music, the diversity of the sounds through different songs. That's something that's very important to me when I'm writing. It can get very... you can get stuck on one thing, if someone says this is going to be a rock record or an electronic record specifically. I just write depending on how I'm feeling at the time. I grew up as a young kid in the 1980s and all these sounds were on the TV, on the radio, in films, everywhere. There's a certain warmth to it and soulfulness. There's something about the sounds and how they affect your mind. I think it's the way you can manipulate it as well, the possibilities are endless.

I never write for long periods of time. I like to write for a bit, go away and come back and keep doing it like that. I think you come up with something a lot more interesting that way, it doesn't get stale. There's so much going on it's overstimulation sometimes, but you can really write some cool stuff if you channel it. Rather than posing a problem, the lack of an obvious frontman has given Chris the chance to explore the visual side of the live show and the band have teamed up with filmmakers and visual artists to put together digital presentations tailor-made for each song. You could certainly never accuse of him of not putting in enough effort. The visual side is always something I've been interested in and really wanted to do, he says. One thing that's inspired me a lot to write music is movies and not just watching them, but listening to the music in them as well.

That's been a massive influence for me, even back in the Kasabian days. From classic John Williams stuff to Ennio Morricone. A lot of that was in my head, especially for that first album (with Kasabian), and that's carried through. I want things to be visually interesting as well as sonically good. It's a strong possibility that some of the collaborators will perform live, although it's something that's very reliant on schedules. It would be fantastic to get them on stage.

It's fun to play with your friends. The comparisons with Kasabian have already started and will inevitably increase when it comes to the album release date and the reviews. It isn't a million miles away from that first album, to be fair, but neither is it Kasabian 2.0. It's more electronic, more trance, with a nod to his rock roots. Chris is not naive to the situation. I think it's natural for people to compare things, I think now more than ever, he says. It's natural people are going to compare it to Kasabian because it was a big part of my musical life and I still have a big musical footprint on their past. But I believe both bands are very different in their own right. Let people make comparisons. We'll just see what happens. The reaction to the live shows and the few songs the band have put out so far has been positive. NME have described Chris as a sonical mastermind, and the comments from fans on Twitter and Facebook have been amazing, he says, proudly.

It's good that people are into our tunes. That's a lot of the reason why I do it, something for someone to listen to when the've had a bad day, maybe, or to get someone's blood pumping. To get a reaction. Social networking is an amazing tool. I think you're getting a lot more bands now who are saying 'Screw this, we'll do it ourselves'. There are so many platforms for people to get their music out there now. It's so different, in a very good way. It's exciting to think about what it might be like in another 10 years. Twitter has really opened it up around the globe. You get messages from people in places a long way away, where it would be hard for them to come and see you. South Africa, South America, Asia. For us, to interact in that way is really important.

I've had some extremely kind messages from people back in Leicester as well, some great support, and I'm excited to get back and play there. We're planning to try to get back to the UK as soon as we can and Leicester obviously is a place that has to be played. He misses home, he says. But he's happy in New York and has no plans to book his ticket back anytime soon. It's strange, when you remove yourself from somewhere you see it in a completely different light. I always think about Leicester fondly and going back is something I look forward to. I especially miss Blaby. My family still live in Leicester, they've lived there all their lives. It's an amazing city, I don't care what anyone says. It's a bit of a biased view but I'm massively proud to come from Leicester and when people ask me here where I'm from and they say they've never heard of it, I always tell them about it.

Chris is fiercely proud of his home town, his roots, his accent. There's no chance of him talking closets, sidewalks or cups of caw- fee any time soon. I live in another country but I'm still English, I'm still from Leicester, I'll never lose this accent, he says. It's staying with me. It's something I'm immensely proud of. Ideally it would be nice to live parts of the year in both Leicester and New York. I don't have any plans to move back, although I would like to spend more time back in the UK because I miss it a lot. I think the people in Leicester are some of the best people in the world. It's very much the small things; going to the park, picking up the newspaper. Those are the things I miss.

I even miss the weather, you know? Out here in the summer it's blazing. I know back home I'd be comfortable because it's probably chucking it down. I support Leicester City as well and I struggle to get the games out here because the football channels only show Premiership games. I'm praying they get promoted so I can watch them at home rather than having to find some little bar in the middle of a strange neighbourhood somewhere I've never heard of. It's totally the little things. I was just reading about the guy who started Pukka Pies dying, which is sad. It's a very Leicester thing and I grew up eating them. You can't get Pukka Pies here. ?M: info: Desensitized is released on September 23, through Black Onassis' own label, Minus Man Records. w w w.black Onassis.com

'It was basically what was said at the time - creative differences, really. It sounds like a cliche but that was it. ''

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