The Way I Feel: Clash Meets Keane's Tom Chaplin

The Way I Feel: Clash Meets Keane's Tom Chaplin

On loss, recovery, and their challenging new album...

Keane have always worn their hearts on their sleeves.

Sometimes that's been to their detriment - too open, too honest, perhaps - but it's certainly why fans connect with their music.

Not that there's been a lot to connect with of late, admittedly. The band stuttered to a halt in 2012, going their separate ways to accept separate challenges.

Somehow, though, they found each other again. New album 'Cause And Effect' is out on September 20th, with a reinvigorated Keane set to hit the road this Autumn for an enormous UK tour, featuring two nights at London's Royal Albert Hall.

But there's much more to this return than meets the eye. Singer Tom Chaplin gave up his successful solo career, deciding to voice Tim Rice-Oxley's songs about heartbreak, grief, divorce, and family, and in the process rediscovered one of his deepest and most lasting friendships.

Clash spoke to Tom about how it all went down.

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We should jump in with the ‘Cause…’ and discuss the first steps of putting Keane back together – no easy feat, it would seem?

In a way, it’s probably where it all began. I was pretty content doing my solo thing, and I felt like Keane was a very long way away from my thinking –creatively, and just personally I felt very fulfilled by doing my solo stuff.

The only thing that was niggling away at me was this thought that this pivotal relationship in my life with Tim had really drifted. I hadn’t seen him. And I felt like that didn’t sit very well with me. I got in touch with him a couple of Christmasses ago, just to re-connect more than anything else. It kind of snowballed out of that.

Basically… I knew his life had not been in such a great state. Obviously, his marriage had broken down. But I didn’t quite realise how much he’d been struggling. But the fact was he documented the whole thing in his writing, and inevitably when the conversation reached songs, he then sent me what he’d been writing. And I was very moved by it more than anything else. It was very bare, and vulnerable, and poignant. And because I know all the people involved I thought, well, I want to be the person who helps him to get those songs out there, which inevitably means making a Keane record.

Do you find that Keane works because ultimately the two of you are such fans of each other’s work?

I do. It’s interesting. I suppose that’s the heart of the band. It’s an enigmatic friendship, because not only do we have huge love and respect for what the other person can do, I think we also – probably - deep down massively envy each other for the bits that we can’t do.

I’m in no denial about that being part of the reason I wanted to do solo records, to say: well, I can do the writing bit as well! And in some ways I did prove that to myself, but in other ways I’m aware that when Tim writes his best work I just can’t get close to that. Personally. He’s a true craftsman and a very rare songwriter, in terms of the quality he can write.

The thing he probably sees in me is a more extrovert personality in terms of being able to share the songs, and of course my voice. It’s respect and envy. It’s a weird thing at the heart of it, but it’s a chemistry we’re very proud of. We know that when it works together it’s like nothing that we can really do when we’re on our own.

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The last time we spoke you clearly loved your solo work – was it a wrench to give that up?

I don’t really know. I suppose the way I feel – particularly since I got clean and started looking after myself – as a person and as an artist is to go where you feel there is this creative energy. ‘The Wave’ was such an outpouring for me – in a way it was my debut record.

It had that energy of pouring out all this stuff that had been trapped inside of me for so long. I think the Christmas album was continuing to ride on the momentum of that wave, but when I got to the end of it I thought: well, I don’t really know where I’m going next! I sat down and tried to write, and I was happy with a few things I was coming up with but I didn’t really know what it was that I wanted next.

And then Tim came over that Christmas, and suddenly I was presented with this incredible force of nature in the form of these songs he had written, and I was a bit like: well, that’s where it’s at! So go with it! Take this opportunity and don’t be in denial about it. I haven’t thought about where it leaves my solo thing, but obviously I might go back to it because it’s so fulfilling. But at the moment I’m really enjoying surfing this Keane wave!

You can be like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and have the best of both worlds…

Yeah. I really admire the way Radiohead do their stuff. When they draw back together it’s because – clearly – there’s a desire and a need for it. I really loved their last record. There was a lot of stuff on there about Thom Yorke’s marriage breaking down – which has taken an even sadder turn – but again, being drawn together by something very powerful, something you can articulate together. I think that would be the reason in the future to make more Keane records, only to do it if the energy was there.

Had Tim essentially written the entire record before you went into the studio?

Well, it was quite a relief in a way, having worked so hard on my solo stuff, and been involved in every single decision, to be one smaller part of a bigger machine. For me, I know what the dynamics of Keane are – which is really, my role is to sing, to take those songs out live, and to do them justice from the point of view of being a frontman. And to accept that, and really enjoy it, and revel in the role.

I think, in terms of the vocal performances, obviously when it comes to people judging the record that’s entirely up to them, but I certainly know from my own personal perspective I have never sung as well on a Keane record as I have on this one. I think that’s a by-product of having more experience under my belt, and getting better as a singer. And also sobriety – treating my voice with more respect over the last five years. I definitely feel as though I’ve committed the best vocal performances to a Keane record that I’ve ever done.

But also David Kastin produced the record, and he brings that more left field, indie touch. He’s relentless in his pursuit of finding the very best way of capturing something. Those high standards are in every corner of the record – he pushed us in a way that I don’t think we’ve been pushed before.

In the old world of Keane it was often: how can we get a producer to polish up the demos? Whereas David was very much: let’s tear it all down and start again. He had this saying, which was: that sounds a bit slippers. As in, pipe and slippers! He kept making sure we were pushing ourselves.

We’re all 40 odd now, so you’ve got to be really careful if you want to make something that’s current and alive that you don’t slip into doing things the way you feel comfortable doing. It’s a very vital record for a band of our more mature years.

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What was the atmosphere like in the studio?

I think amongst ourselves we’re definitely more respectful of each other than we used to be. You take a break from something, and it allows you to step back and appreciate how much you put into it, and how much you love it. And also the hunger from fans to hear it all again.

The way I see it, it’s a thing of rediscovery – rediscovering the old music, rediscovering our friendships, but doing it from the point of view of respecting it all a lot more. Our last record in 2012 was on the back of doing it year-in and year-out, and inevitably you start to take it for granted, building up these weird little resentments, things that are unspoken… and I guess that’s not that healthy. Mostly it has been really convivial.

The main friction came from the process of recording with David, as he didn’t want to let us settle for things that were comfortable and easy. There were signs of stress and friction at times, and difficulty in the studio, but personally that can be a really positive, good thing when you’re making music because it means that you don’t just churn it out or make something because it’s simple and easy.

That must be the risk of coming back to something – falling into routine, or just muscle memory – but instead you’ve made something with a lot of grief and heartbreak in it.

I’m glad that comes across! It’s not like we’re coming back in order to pay the bills… I mean, it obviously helps, but it’s not a necessity to make a Keane record, to sustain us – we’ve definitely come back to it purely from the point of view of making something with artistic integrity. Something made for the right reasons.

You’ve been through dark periods in your life – as you’ve been open about – but do you think those experiences have helped you supply real empathy towards Tim?

I think that’s true, yes. Completely. It’s Tim story – his marriage breaking down, and all of the repercussions from that. But the two of us were going through a similar kind of journey at the same time, just the context was slightly different.

Mine was an addiction and going to a place where I felt like I was presented with this awful realisation that I had destroyed pretty much everything in my life, and then the journey out of that, and trying to find meaning from it, and muddling through, to coming to terms with it, making peace with myself and the people around me. It’s a very similar journey with a lot of the same resonances as the one that he’s been through.

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Another thing to point out is the scale of change in the industry – seven years ago streaming wasn’t a major conversation for labels to be having, now it’s central. Is it gratifying to find that there still might actually be a place for Keane?

The whole landscape of the industry – and the kind of music being made – has completely changed. When we started out it was at a time when it felt as though there was a revival of indie bands being a mainstream thing – us, Franz Ferdinand, Kasabian… just loads of bands! And at the moment it seems like there’s less of that. There’s a lot of pop, urban pop, and a lot of collaborative stuff going on, and Spotify has really taken off while we’ve been away, so it’s about playlists, and keeping stuff rolling out all of the time. Whereas we are very much a traditional albums band.

Obviously, we were worried about how we fit into that scheme of things, but I think the reason that the album is such a successful format is because it allows you this fairly wide platform to explore all these ideas and themes but still do it in a fairly concise way. I think that’s very much alive, just because the format has been such a successful one.

I think if you want to present something that has real artistic merit it still has to be in the longer form. I think frothy pop songs, and things that get in playlists, that serves a purpose, and you can be a success with that, but with us, we always want to go deeper, and we’ve got a lot to say. The album format allows us to do that, and I’m glad there’s still a hunger out there in the world, and still a niche left for us to fit into where we’ll allowed to be that kind of artist.

What was the emotional response to making an album like this? Is it cathartic, in that sense?

Well, I suppose it always is, music. That’s the reason for making it in the first place, isn’t it? Fundamentally, that’s what it is – it’s an expression of who you are, it’s a way of documenting your life, and the place and the time and the emotional world that you find yourself in.

But with a band, I equate it to the way people treat their football team – there’s this safe space in which you can express yourself and tell your burly mates how much you love them, all in the context of this vehicle… which is football or music. We all have our ways of doing it, and for us it’s always been music.

We’re better at communicating with each other these days, and talk about what the songs are about, and talking about our feelings with each other, but we still find – ultimately – that the best way of communicating with each other is the songs, it’s the performances. It’s a heady feeling to be able to do that.

There’s a magical power to music, and so to have that amongst us as a little group of friends is very fundamental to who we are as people. It’s a very powerful thing for us.

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'Cause And Effect' is out on September 20th. Catch Keane at the following shows:

24 Birmingham Symphony Hall
25 Leicester De Montfort Hall
26 Manchester O2 Apollo
28 London Royal Albert Hall
29 London Royal Albert Hall

1 Newcastle O2 City Hall
2 Edinburgh Usher Hall
4 Nottingham Royal Concert Hall
5 Brighton Brighton Centre
7 Belfast Waterfront
8 Dublin Olympia

Photo Credit: Alex Lake

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