Keane reveal their Perfect return

'Perfect Symmetry' is their most ambitious album yet

While the hopes Sussex trio Keane spoke of on their debut album were realised swiftly – ‘Hopes And Fears’ topped the domestic albums chart upon its May 2004 release – the titular fears eventually took hold. Just as every bright light casts a shadow, soon after their tearaway success the band were dangerously close to falling off the rails. Corrective measures needed to be taken.

Vocalist Tom Chaplin became disillusioned with the touring lifestyle, with the slog of promoting the band’s second album, 2006’s ‘Under The Iron Sea’; come August he’d admitted himself into rehabilitation for problems relating to drinking and drugs. So far, so clichéd, but the difference is that Keane were never perceived as hedonistic sorts; their music was always safe, solid, dependable. Both albums were equally at home on the stereos of 12-year-old revolutionaries in waiting as they were those of 40something dockworkers and shift-sore nurses. Chaplin’s spell in rehab not only spawned amusing rumours of collaborations with fellow residents – namely Justin Hawkins and Pete Doherty – but also a sort of endearment amongst those who felt his band were impervious to wrong turns, to ill fortune whatever criticisms were levelled at them.

With perceptions permanently altered and Chaplin fighting fit, the band – completed by drummer Richard Hughes and pianist and key songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley – toured 2007 with mindsets altered: now they were battling against the industry machine and its many demands, rediscovering the joys of being in a band by focusing inwards. This spirit was fed into the making of album three, ‘Perfect Symmetry’, due for release on October 13.

“This was definitely the most enjoyable record to make”

Keane’s latest begins with a blind-sider, a lead track that showcases their renewed desire for forward movement and creative chance-taking. ‘Spiralling’ is a song you either love or hate; there is no middle ground opinion wise. It’s a perfect introduction to a parent record that follows suit, mixing relatively typical Keane arrangements with flourishes of their evident levels of enthusiasm and invigorated ambition.

Clash paid Chaplin and Hughes a visit to learn more about the gestation of ‘Perfect Symmetry’…

I guess the first thing to say about the new album is that it definitely captures a sense of momentum…

Richard Hughes: Nobody’s said that before, but it’s a cool way of looking at it.

What I mean, I suppose, is that it seems to exhibit a newly discovered inner confidence. Like you’ve laid the solid foundations with albums one and two, and now a greater creativity comes to the fore.

RH: Yeah, I think that’s right, and this album has certainly been the most collaborative one we’ve had so far. Everybody was chipping in ideas left, right and centre, whether it’s me doing vocals, backing vocals, or Tom coming up with ideas for drum parts – these things wouldn’t have happened on previous records as much. We produced most of it ourselves, too. We just had tonnes of ideas, and it definitely pushes into some new ground for Keane.

And the single, ‘Spiralling’, seems quite the statement of intent…

Tom Chaplin: I think a lot of the confidence, the sense of fun and purpose, has come from touring more than anything else. The last record feels like sort of a scary chapter in the Keane book, but I feel that chapter’s closed now. We’ve made touring fun again, and through that we have reconnected with enjoying music. That’s what you hear on this album, more than anything else: that spirit, and that sense of us having a laugh and perhaps not taking everything quite as seriously. Sonically, it’s a fun-sounding album.

RH: This was definitely the most enjoyable record to make. With the first we were basically playing what we’d been playing in pubs into microphones, and then it was released. Listening back now it sounds very naïve and polite, although we don’t remember it being like that. The first one bought us freedom to dictate what we do and when and where we do it, and nobody really tells us otherwise – they get to hear it when it’s done. So we’ve had a lot of freedom making this. Initially we thought we might have a lot of producers coming in on it, to almost give it a hip-hop feel…

Next thing you’ll be telling me is that you’ve guest rappers coming in…

RH: You might joke, but we have talked about it. There’s a song that didn’t end up on the record that has a gap left on it for a guest rapper, but we’ve not properly got into it yet. The weird thing is that we’ve established an attitude, while making this record, that nothing is too leftfield, or off limits. Nothing is too much of a left turn. There are elements of ‘Spiralling’ that we’d have said no to in the past, asking someone to take the sugar away from Tom, but I mean it genuinely when I say that this time there’s been no editing of ideas on principle. The only editing has come about after everything’s been tried, and certain things didn’t work.

TC: We’re still tied to our influences and instincts, and we’re restricted by our limitations as musicians, but it was nice to feel that there weren’t so many rules, and nor was there the establishment of a comfort zone. We approached the album without expectations. Well, we might have developed an expectation of what we should be, and other people have certainly got an expectation of what to expect from Keane and what Keane are, so it’s nice to have made an album that doesn’t fit with those ideas, that doesn’t fit into particular boxes. It’s an album that will jar with some people, but I kind of feel that’s a good thing. It’s good to make music that challenges you, otherwise you’re forever sat still. So many bands promise progress but stagnate, and that comes through a fear of doing it. Conquering that fear, and having the bravery to record a song like ‘Spiralling’, was the most exciting thing. When that song came together it did so very fast – it was very instinctive.

There weren’t so many difficulties, then?

TC: The second album was the difficult album.

RH: It feels strange saying that ‘Perfect Symmetry’ was an easy album to make, but comparatively it was. We had this notion at the start that we’d keep going ‘til we ran out of ideas, but we’ve still not run out of ideas. It was weird having to finish the record, and when we went back to the studio [in Berlin] afterwards for some promotional work all we wanted was for the journalists to leave so we could start recording again, so that we could start again and make another record. Rehearsing these songs for our tour has been fun, but I feel that we’re on a roll, and that’s a great way to be. This is the most fun we’ve had in this band, I think, and we’ve established this freedom and attitude of anything goes. We’ve now stamped down that touring has to be fun, not some long slog.

The slog aspect is something that comes with being a successful new band, though.

RH: It is, because you don’t want to turn anything down. We’re enjoying the process more this time.

“I’d get quite upset about what was written about us, and feel very insecure and paranoid”

TC: We’ve become more savvy, and more objective about the whole thing, and a lot of that enables us to enjoy it more. Thinking back, in the middle of 2006, I was not deriving any joy from playing songs and being on the road, and it’s amazing how that’s changed – through 2007 everything got better.

Are there any things you miss from way back when? I mean when you first started, around 1997… I often think the bigger a band gets, the more they lose a sort of camaraderie with peers, and with friends…

RH: I think that’s what we’ve recaptured, that gang mentality. On the first two records we went home after being at the studio every day, but for this one we stayed at the same hotel, and more often as not we’d go to this really cool bar nearby, that was open 24 hours. It was like when the three of us would drive to Middlesbrough for a gig, and come back through the night, getting to Sussex just as the sun was coming up… driving into this red ball and trying not to crash. Sitting on the train going to Berlin, it was an adventure. That’s what music should be like, and it’s great to be back like that.

A ‘Q’ magazine readers poll recently ranked your first two albums as among the 20 best UK albums of all time, alongside the Beatles and Radioheads of this world. How much of a headfuck was that?

RH: That was fucking cool, actually. You never know how these things happen. It’s fairly obvious we’ve never been critical darlings.

I’d say you split people…

TC: What was nicest about that poll is that is was voted for by members of the public, so it bypassed any critical filters. I’ve always thought… and this may sound contrived… that we’re a band of the people. We experience that every time we play live, as all sorts come: it can be some huge, balding Scouser crying his eyes out. There’s this incredible diversity of people who like our music and who come to our shows – perhaps the intensity and passion that they know about and we know about isn’t something sections of the media know about, or recognise. That connection with our audience is part of who we are, and something that keeps us motivated. There have been moments when it’s got us through periods of negativity.

And do you think these negatives make you stronger as a band, ultimately?

TC: I don’t know. I went through a stage where I’d get quite upset about what was written about us, and feel very insecure and paranoid. It can be quite insulting sometimes, actually.

Well, songwriting is a personal process…

TC: Exactly. Everything you do as a musician is laying yourself on the line, and I think the best music comes from that – it’s the most honest and heartfelt things that truly resonate. So you do put yourself out there, and as a result you leave yourself open to whatever people want to write, and that can hurt. One of the great things about the last year or so is that we’ve rediscovered the important things at the expense of the things that you can get caught up in. We’ve rediscovered the love of making music, and the love of being in a gang and travelling around together and kind of setting up camp and ignoring any external pressures. By rediscovering these things I now really don’t care what people think of us, which is a little ironic as I think this is the album that’ll attract us the most critical acclaim to date. But, that doesn’t really matter – we’ve reconnected with the vital things that make us tick, and the things we know and trust. We know and trust our music, each other and our families and friends; beyond those things, there’s no point in worrying about anything.

RH: You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t: that’s the situation most bands find themselves in after a couple of albums. People will moan if you do what you’ve been successful for, while others will moan if you don’t. So you might as well disengage from that process – in the same way as I don’t smoke and I don’t watch ‘Big Brother’, I don’t think about what people are going to write about this record.

Video: ‘Spiralling’ (fan video)

‘Perfect Symmetry’ is released via Island on October 13. Find the band on MySpace here. Tickets for their UK tour dates – listed below – can be yours by clicking here.


23 Belfast Odessey Arena

25 Dublin O2

27 Newcastle Arena

29 Glasgow SECC

31 Manchester MEN Arena


1 Nottingham Arena

3 Bournemouth BIC

4 Cardiff CIA

6 Sheffield Arena

7 Liverpool ACC

9 Plymouth Pavillion

10 Brighton Brighton Centre

12 London O2

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