"The first album was a chaotic process, this time we want to craft things" - Mt Desolation talk new album When The Night Calls and the future of Keane
When Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quin were on tour with Keane back in 2009, they had a casual conservation about recording a country album. That conversation led to songs and eventually an album under the name of Mt. Desolation.
Recorded quickly between tours, the album featured the likes of Noah & The Whale, The Killers, The Long Winters, The Staves and Mumford & Sons, it got good reviews and allowed the duo to head out on a short tour. Then the day job came calling and they returned to Keane.
When Keane went on hiatus in 2014, the pair’s focus shifted back to Mt. Desolation, but a combination of factors, life, families, other projects, have made it slow going for a second record.
Eventually, they got round to it, drummer Fimbo, fiddle player Phil Renna and multi-instrumentalist Philip Scott-Ilsoe, who helped them on the first album, are back. There are three new faces too, backing vocalist Tamsin Topolski, violinist Lisken Jellings and a special new addition with Rice-Oxley's daughter Lilac on omnichord.
As the album, which is titled When The Night Calls, arrives on shelves, we spoke to Rice-Oxley about the making of the LP, why it took so long to get the songs together and the future of Keane…
It’s eight years since you last had a record out, can you talk me through the time in between?
“Well, our first album came out in 2010 and then we did a bit of touring, had a great time, then after that we went back into Keane mode. We did Strangeland and then a Greatest Hits, that was three years by the time it was all done. We’ve actually been working on this album for the last four years, but it’s been dribs and drabs, working when time allows, families, kids, they slow things down. We’ve been through a lot of songs in search of a direction that felt right for a second phase of the band.”
Having spent all that time on it, did you rake up a lot of songs?
“We did, especially in the demoing stage, we must have had 40 songs. Jesse and I are quite tough on each other. If we send over 20 demos chances are we’d like three or four, it’s very brutal. That’s how you get the best songs and we have so much respect for each other. Finding a sound and a style for the album was quite tricky initially, but also hugely pleasurable, finding a groove that rang true for both of us.”
How does writing work? Do you work completely separately? Or do you meet up sporadically?
“We write separately, partly because I live down in Sussex and Jesse lives over in Suffolk, you can’t get together every day, but you can send ideas to each other, which we do constantly. Some of the most important bits of the process were me going to Suffolk for a couple of days at a time and working together, switching songs around. He’s very good at pushing me to try things in a different way.”
At what point do you involve other players? Just for recording?
“That’s been the way we worked so far. Part of the pleasure of Mt. Desolation for us is keeping it simple and keeping it fun, making it more about friendship. Jesse and I write the songs and lead the process and then the players come in and we enjoy playing together. We’re trying to avoid decisions by committee. We’ve had a lot of fun so far and managed to stay friends.”
How did the lyrics come together for this album? Did you and Jesse write them together?
“Mostly on this album, we wrote our lyrics separately, the first album was a more chaotic process, this time we want to craft things, to be more artistic. The first album had a pastiche feel, which lends itself to writing quite quickly and instantly. We wanted to make this more emotional and true, to have some fear and to articulate ourselves properly.”
How are lyrics for you? Are you writing things down all the time? Or do you need a melody to work to?
“I tend to be led by the melody, but I am writing things down all the time. The tricking thing is connecting these random snatches with a working melody, that’s very rare. I write best when things are more instinctive when I’ve got something going and I find a phrase that fits. Those are the best songs, the ones that fall together naturally.”
When did you settle on what the record was going to be called?
“Pretty late on. It took us a while to pick the songs that would make the record and there were a lot of different incarnations of the album. Half the record is very dark and very nuanced, not very pop at all, it’s the album of a couple of guys who are bit older and see life in a less simple manner. I think we’ve captured that really well. One of those songs is called ‘When The Night Calls’ and it’s a great phrase of Jesse’s, ‘When the night calls, you always answer’, something is always trying to lure you away in life, whether that’s from a place or a person, there’s always something tempting you away…”
What are your live plans for the album?
“Not a huge amount. We’ve got a tour coming up in June and hopefully, some festivals will come along. We’re not aggressively ambitious, we don’t want to counter the world. Our goal with Mt. Desolation was for everything to be led by music and friendship, that’s more important to us then spending six months touring America or taking every TV show we can. We’re excited about playing live, but not concerned about trying to be huge. I’m looking forward to recording again, the chance to do more.”
Finally, we spoke to your old bandmate Tom Chaplin just before Christmas about what was going on with Keane and he told us it was very quiet, is that still the case?
“Things have moved on from there. I can’t say too much, but things are good and we’re all in contact all the time. We’re still friends and share a lot of the same passion when it comes to music. I don’t think we’ve finished telling that story…”