Making a move to stay in the game: Keane talk ahead of Birmingham show
February 2019, and Keane are holed up in deepest Sussex, in a small studio which contains at least 17 keyboards, a rescue dog running in and out, and front man Tom Chaplin singing the haunting line, “You tell a lie, I’ll tell one too, it makes it easier to do,” from a new song with the deceptively innocent title, Put the Radio On.
The mood is upbeat, excited even, but when Tom sits down to talk, he reveals that it could all have been so very different.
In 2013, when the band bowed out with a Berlin show that appeared to be a finale, they didn’t know if they’d ever make music together again. “I didn’t know if I could do it anymore,” he admits. At that point, Keane had been together for nearly two decades; childhood best friends who formed a band at school. They had sold 13 million records worldwide, released four studio albums, an EP and a Best Of, won two BRIT awards and an Ivor Novello, and their debut, Hopes and Fears, had entered the list of the 40 best-selling albums in the UK of all time. The band had also toured 30 countries, performing everywhere from Rio de Janeiro to Taipei; from Wembley Stadium to Saturday Night Live.
Not only that, but the novelist Bret Easton Ellis had described Perfect Symmetry as “the perfect, orgasmic pop song” while Irvine Welsh had chosen to direct the video for Atlantic. Pharrell had invited the band to hang out at his studio and Lily Allen, a big Keane fan, had covered Somewhere Only We Know, a song which has since taken on a life of its own with a younger generation of fans.
Tom Chaplin, though, was ready to write his own music and make a solo album, which was his official reason for taking a hiatus from Keane, where he sang songs written by Tim Rice-Oxley. “Though I also needed to get away without sabotaging the band as I had done before,” he says now. He also got married and became a father himself, and one day found himself in therapy, thinking about Keane; and Tim. “I was wondering how I had come to let this very enigmatic and important relationship in my life drift,” he explains. So he reached out to Tim, and they made plans to meet up. Upon reuniting, Tim soon revealed that he had recorded a whole new collection of songs that he thought could make a solo album of his own. He played them to Tom, and then to Rich and Jesse, and the three of them were immediately drawn to them both sonically and lyrically.
Tim had always written emotional songs, but these were different, deeper; written from the gut and from heartbreak, telling a story of love and lust and messing it all up. But there was humour in there too, as well as pain. The guys had little idea of what had really been going on in their friend’s life, and how far things had come undone – but now they were starting to understand.
Bassist Jesse Quin says: “It took a little while for us to start to gravitate back to each other, musically, despite being good friends and seeing each other regularly. I guess at the start of last year, Tim had written some songs for a potential solo album that he wasn’t sure about. He asked us to give us our opinions. The songs were so great. He’d been through a rough patch and his marriage had broken down. The songs were more personal and direct than anything that he’d done in the past. We had to get them out into the world. We went for lunch in a pub in Richmond and hung out for the first time and we talked about how we might come back.”
The chemistry was there instantly.
Jesse adds: “It’s funny. The old in-jokes were there….. that must be horrible for our wives. But it felt in some ways as though nothing had changed, even though everything had.
“For starters, we’d all got kids. So everything was different but nothing was different. We’d built lives for ourselves outside of Keane so it felt like the pressure was off in terms of there being goals. Before, it was about building our audience or connecting with more people. This time we didn’t have that hanging over us.”
Tim explains: “Hopes and Fears was a break-up album too, but it was about a break-up when I was 19. It’s a bit different when you’re older and you’ve got kids – your whole little world shifts on its axis.”
It became obvious that what these songs were lacking was a certain vocalist. “I wasn’t even thinking about it in terms of a new Keane record,” explains Tom, “I just wanted to sing those songs for my friend, borne out of love.” The others were worried. “I remember listening and thinking, oh shit, some of this is gonna be tough,” Jesse admits. “I wrote a note on one of them,” adds Rich, “saying, I don’t know if we can put this out there, it’s too much.”
Tom, however, absolutely believed that they should. “I thought it was the most personal, most vulnerable set of songs that I’d ever heard – but I was very drawn to that, because that’s where the good stuff is,” he says, grinning.
“I had always been very frightened of exposing parts of my own personal life myself, and I think I got very burned by the first time I went into rehab for drugs, when that news got out. Not really feeling I could give my version of the truth. But my experience of the last few years, and of making my solo record, has shown me that the more open and vulnerable you are, the more interesting things get.”
And so the band reconvened, all four of them excited to realise they could make something powerful together, something new.
They feel closer than before, better equipped to deal with the challenges ahead.
Jesse adds: “We’re all much more comfortable about talking about things in the band. The younger mans’ way is to simmer.
“With the new record, the great thing was that Tim had actually written it before we got back together. So it wasn’t a case of having to write an album; he’d already got 30 or 40 really great demos. He’s a songwriter, that’s what he does. So we already felt like we were ahead of the game. We needed to find a producer, rather than self-produce, and we recorded it in London, which it was nice.”
The band acknowledge there have been struggles that have been difficult to endure. Relationship breakdowns, fall-outs, drug habits... the usual.
Jesse says: “I think everyone deals with things differently. For Tom, he became instantly recognisable everywhere he went. That was a challenge for him and he had drug problems and went through personal struggles. But I think our parents all did a decent enough job that we’re grounded individuals. I run a little arts centre called Old Jet. So whenever I’m not doing Keane I’m changing the toilet rolls or restocking the hand soap. No matter what happens there’s plenty to keep us grounded. Quite often, we get asked if we’re going to make a second album.”
Second album? That’s funny. Lest we forget, Keane’s debut album, Hopes and Fears, was a number one hit that sold 2.8 million copies in the UK and secured nine platinum discs while also breaking into the top 50 in the USA. The follow-up, Under The Iron Sea, sold three million worldwide, reached number four in the USA and number one in UK, where it achieved three platinum discs.
Their third record, Perfect Symmetry, enjoyed the same chart success in the UK and USA, also going platinum. 2012’s fourth album, Strangeland, maintained their number-one-every-time record as it also went to the top of the UK chart. No pressure on Cause and Effect then, guys.
Cause and Effect will be released on September 20 on Island Records, featuring eleven new songs recorded in London and Sussex. The band have played festivals this summer for the first time since 2013, including Isle of Wight, BST Hyde Park with Robbie Williams, Cornbury, and Glastonbury. They are now preparing to embark on a UK tour in September.
“I think we realised that we’re more than the sum of our parts,” says drummer Richard Hughes. “We’re not the kind of band that broke up 20 years ago and is getting back together for one last tour, or for the money – we’re not some heritage act,” says Tim. “We’ve got a lot of great music in us.”
Jesse adds: “The time is right. After we released the best of in 2013, I think we all felt like we were a bit tired of being away from home all the time and being in that cyclical life of album-tour, album-tour and it was time for a rest.
“But we’re all creative guys and it’s important to remain relevant and make new music. At the heart of it, there’s strong emotional bond between the four of us. The shared experience is important to us all. We’ve been through a lot together.
“We feel as though you’re a separate unit because we didn’t just come and go willy nilly. We were always a great team. We had a great duty to each other and to have each other’s backs and work on our friendships. Sometimes it’s tiring when you’re sleeping 2ft apart on a tour bus and are together all day every day. We’ve all got strong live and let live mentalities. We’re quite good at not irritating each other. We see each other as people and just let each other get on with it.”
The band have been encouraged by the response they’ve received since announcing their return. A handful of live gigs have gone well and it’s been reassuring and rewarding that they’ve nailed it when playing live.
Jesse says: “It doesn’t feel like we’ve forgotten our craft. It’s great to have a new energy for songs that we’ve played hundreds and hundreds of times. When we play the songs it’s with gusto and energy because we’ve not played them for so long. Things have changed. We’ve always been determined to put on a great live show and give fans a break from their life. The interesting thing about the first time is that the stuff you feel you should relish often passes you by. I remember playing Radio 50 in New York and feeling like it was just another gig, rather than a big deal. But sitting having a beer on the Lower East Side of Manhattan felt like a big deal. I think it’s important to have moments that are genuine. I think if you look at whatever your job is and focus on the big things, you take away the joy.
“It’s really nice to still have a genuine enthusiasm and support from our record label, Island, because they are big guns and they have a lot of great, successful artists. For them to still be 100% behind us – and our management company – those feel like the key to the whole thing. With them, we can keep doing what we are doing. I guess we haven’t looked too far into the future. But coming back properly was important to us.”
Their comeback single is The Way I Feel. Like the other ten tracks on Cause and Effect, it is an emotional and remarkable slice of life, and reminiscent of the very best of Keane. It’s an exciting period for one of the country’s best bands and a very welcome return. As Tim Rice-Oxley says, “We’re not some heritage act. We’ve got a lot of great music in us.”
Their first tour in eons is eagerly anticipated – by fans and the band. Not that they expect there to be any rock’n’roll hi-jinks. Jesse adds: “When we’re on the road these days, it’s all about making sure there’s good wifi connection – it’s hard to balance family and touring because when you’re away you miss the ones you love. Your imagine runs wild if you can’t get hold of people. I worry about my wife and kids. Relationships only ever feel as good as your last phone call, so there’s an emotional toll and that side is hard. You have to keep communication open and make sure people are happy.”
And that’s something that applies equally to the band. They’ve been away, they’ve taken time out, they’ve regrouped and they’re coming back stronger. It’s time to dust off the cobwebs and enjoy a brave new future.
l Keane’s new album ‘Cause and Effect’ is released September 20 on Island Records. They open their UK tour on September 24 at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall.