“The only way Keane was going to happen again was with something new to work on…” - Tom Chaplin talks coming back together with hmv.com
When singer Tom Chaplin, pianist and key-songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley, drummer Richard Hughes and bassist Jesse Quin decided that they’d had enough of being Keane at the tail end of 2013, there were no fireworks. No statement was issued, no interviews were offered up with the members explaining the decision, they just drifted apart. But, in reality, the band that had sold 13 million records and four Top 10 hits was over.
Chaplin went solo and recorded two LPs, while Rice-Oxley and Quin continued their alt-country side project Mt. Desolation. In interviews, they both said there were no plans for Keane to carry on, but then, at the end of 2017, something changed. Chaplin and Rice-Oxley began talking again, and, in no time at all, the band was coming back to life.
The result is new album Cause and Effect, which arrives in-store today. We spoke to Chaplin about what brought the band back together and their new start...
Keane never formally broke up, but it really seemed like it was all over. When did you start to reconnect?
“We were technically on a hiatus, but, in truth, none of us expected to be making Keane records again. I was off doing my solo stuff and it was very rewarding for me and the idea of a Keane record seemed so far away.”
What changed that?
“Something was irking me, increasingly. I hadn’t seen Tim. He’d been a really fundamental person in my life and he was conspicuous by his absence. That was worrying me. At the end of 2017, I’d done my Christmas album and I had some time and I gave him a call, I was hoping we might be able to meet up over Christmas.”
“He came round to my house with his kids and we had a bit of lunch and a catch-up. We ended up sitting by the fire and talking a lot, we went through everything, including where we were at musically. He told he’d written all these songs and he didn’t feel all that confident about them. I think he was frustrated and he didn’t have an outlet for them without Keane. I just said ‘Send them to me’.”
Were you nervous about listening to them?
“There was a part of me that was quite resistant to it. I didn’t listen straightaway. I was happy with where I was at in my life creatively. But I did and they brought back so many memories and reminded me how much I loved his writing and how special it is to sing his songs.”
What were the songs like?
“They were very, very sad. They were mostly about his marriage breaking down and the fallout from that. I felt a real compulsion to go and sing them. That was the seed for the Keane comeback.”
Were you nervous about firing up Keane again? It’s a big machine once it gets going…
“The mechanics didn’t make me nervous. We did it for years. It is a big operation and a lot of people, but, for me, the anxiety was about coming back as people. I didn’t know if we’d get on and if it would have a positive atmosphere. But all of those were excited and came back with real fresh energy.”
Your instincts were to go straight into the studio. Lots of bands when they reunite tour first and play their ‘Greatest Hits’, but you wanted to come back with a record…
“I wouldn’t have been interested in a tour like that. I’ve felt so creative over the last few years and that’s where my solo work has come in. It had to feel fresh and exciting. Our manager did ask if we wanted to do the 15th anniversary of Hope and Fears, maybe a tour or a reissue of the record and I just wasn’t interested. The only way Keane was going to happen again was with fresh impetus and something new to work on. I have to say though, after a long break, I am really enjoying re-visiting old songs.”
You’ve made two solo records now, did that new experience you’ve gained change the dynamic in the studio or rehearsal room?
“Not really. The dynamics of Keane were set in stone a long time ago and that’s what makes the band work, we all know our roles. In the past, that was a real source of frustration for me, but that’s why I did my solo work. I felt like the most important thing was to enjoy it and enjoy being back with the other guys, reconnecting on a personal level. I focused on delivering the best vocal performance.”
Did you do anything differently?
“I’ve got five years of sobriety under my belt and I don’t think I’ve ever sung better on a Keane record. I’ve been able to give it my all emotionally and physically. I’ve listened back to old Keane records so get ready to go on tour and I was taken aback. I could hear in my voice how much my addiction problems were affecting me. I really wanted to do better and get the vocals right.”
You did the record with David Kosten, which is a first for a Keane record, what did he bring to the process?
“We’ve known him for years and we worked together on a song for War Child a while back. We really respect him and everything he’s worked on. He’d done my Christmas album and we got close making that, so discussions about how we’d make this record came up, I suggested him.”
You’ve self-produced, or, at least, co-produced, in the past?
“It’s sometimes just a case of taking the demos and elevating them. But this time there was a feeling that the demos were good, but they weren’t selling the songs as well as we hoped. We needed a producer who would prod us and push us out of our comfort zone. It was exciting. It would have been very straightforward to come back and just make a record that felt easy, as if that were a good thing. It’s good to be pushed and not work by numbers.”
How was recording?
“It was tense at times, but it’s made for a much more textured and more interesting record. Sometimes it was hard and sometimes it was fantastic, but I feel like we’ve really found new parts to our music palette. We’re really happy with it.”
Where did that tension come from? Was it just because David was trying to push you?
“We’re all quite stubborn in Keane. When you’ve had success during something and a sound that has developed over the years, naturally you’re going to be protective of it. So when someone comes in and tells you to change things or that they don’t like something, that’s going to cause clashes.”
“One of the big frustrations for me in the past with Keane was that we were such an island, totally off in our own world. We weren’t very good at letting other people into that. I think that was to the detriment to the band. Now I’ve done solo stuff and worked with loads of different people, which I loved and found so rewarding. I wanted that to be part of the process with Keane. We need to be more open, less insular and David was the guinea pig for that.”
You said earlier that Tim had written a lot of songs. There are 12 on the standard, 13 on the deluxe, how much cutting down did you have to do to get the final tracklisting?
“Tim is incredibly prolific and works so hard. I don’t know how many don’t make it to the rest of us, a lot I bet. I heard the first set, the ones that lured me back in, that was about 12. He then revealed to me he had a Dropbox of others, easily 20, 25. All polished demos.”
“Choosing the final number was about trying to craft a record that felt cohesive, telling a clear story. It’s Tim’s world, the wife and family and home he’d built, it all coming crashing down and being stuck in that place. Then emerging from it and moving away from that dark period. We needed to find songs that told that story but with balance and a real tempo. Tim described each song as a little vignette about that crisis, telling the story from different angles.”
When did you decide on the title? Did you kick around many others?
“Every part of the process with Keane is painstaking, it all goes through the mill. I think we had a Whatsapp group dedicated to album titles. Cause and Effect was always there and it became clearer and clearer as we worked on the tracklisting. Album titles are a nightmare, summing up a body of work in a word or a few words. But this is as good at getting the message across as we could find.”
How’s your live schedule looking? Is 2020 already filling up?
“Pretty busy. In the time apart we’ve had our families have all grown and we’ve all got real domestic structure to work around. We don’t want to mess with that too much. Tim will tell you the effect of being stuck in a teenage dream, which is basically what a band is, and the pressure that puts on you at home. We’ll be careful with where we go and for how long. It won’t be like the old days when you got on a tour bus when the album comes out and get off a year and a half later.”
You’ll be keen to play the new songs, but you’ve got a hefty back catalogue too. How will you balance the two in the set?
“With real difficulty. We did a few festivals over the summer and we’re playing well again. I do want to play a lot of new stuff. But we’re all in good shape now and I think we could play for quite a long time, so maybe that’s the way to do it.”
Finally, you’re back with Keane now, but are you in the habit of filing away songs for your solo career?
“After I did my Christmas album, those two years of writing and recording and touring, it was like the early days of Keane. I had all this creativity and it came spilling out. After that, I didn’t feel that inspired, it was so much. But getting back with Keane has given me a new lease of life and I am writing again. I’m not happy with anything yet, but once we wind down from Keane next year I’ll have a chance to explore it. If it’s any good, then I’ll probably make another solo record…”