Keane on battling addiction, competition with the Gallaghers and their first album in seven years

The East Sussex lads are back.

Keane are back after a six year break. Once the much loved darlings of British music, for a time the band didn’t have it easy. Between drug addiction, a bad marriage breakup and a drunk driving incident, they’re back and ready to march their way back to the top of the charts. With four consecutive number one albums to their name, the band are now hoping for a fifth as they prepare the release of ‘Cause and Effect’. The first single, ‘The Way I Feel’, sounds like a Killers’ record written by Keane – and that’s a good thing. Discussing the band’s return, overcoming addiction, going head to head with the Gallaghers and what fans can expect from the new album, Tom Chaplin and Richard Hughes talk to NME.

Did you ever think Keane would get back together?

Tom Chaplin: “I didn’t really expect it to happen. I was off doing my solo thing and pretty happy doing that. I think all of us probably thought that we weren’t ever going to come back and do anything. It’s funny how fast things can change though. We were drawn back together for the right reasons, it wasn’t like we needed to do a reunion tour to pay the bills, it was because of the music, the songs.”

Was there a particular moment that triggered the band reforming?

T: “I hadn’t seen Tim for a couple of years and you know, he’s been a pivotal part of my life and I felt a bit guilty that I hadn’t seen him and I wondered how he was. So I phoned him up and he came over one Christmas a couple of years back and we talked a lot and the subject of what he had been doing with his writing came up. He had this solo album that he’d written but he didn’t think it was going to see the light of day. So I said, ‘Send it to me and I’ll have a listen.’ And I just didn’t realise how deep the despair had been in his life. His marriage had broken down, and obviously that’s different to when you’re like 20 years old and you get your heart broken, there’s a lot more baggage that comes with being married for a long time and kids and all of that.

“The songs were very sad but very beautiful by virtue of being full of this experience and this sort of depth of feeling. And so it didn’t take me long to start thinking that I should be the one to be the voice for the songs and try and get them out of there. And obviously that means a Keane record, right? Then we all got together and talked about it and the rest is history.”

Do you believe you and Tim are better together than apart?

T: “Both Tim and I would accept that we are better together than apart. I’m very proud of my solo stuff but I know I’m never gonna be as good a songwriter as Tim – that’s just a fact. He’s an incredible songwriter and has written quite a few classic songs, so I’m in no doubt about that. I mean, I enjoyed writing songs, and I still do, it’s a great outlet for my creativity, but I think, yes, the combination of the two of us together, we’ve been able to do something we could never have achieved going down separate lines.”

Your new single, ‘The Way I Feel’, sounds like a Killers record. Was that intentional?

T: “I remember saying when I first heard the first demo that it was quite Killers-y. That’s a good energy to have, right?”

So you weren’t directly inspired by them?

R: “From a song point of view I would imagine not because Tim is quite instinctive when he writes. From a production point of view, we just went into the studio wanting to be pushed by our producer, David Kosten, and to not sound like you would expect the next Keane record to sound, or to not sit back and do the things we would have done before. So we’re huge Killers fans, and as Tom says, they have such a good energy in their music so it’s a good reference.”

What were you listening to while making the new album that might have influenced its creation?

T: “Well, personally I would say I wasn’t listening to much other than the demos and how they were evolving. Although I think there is quite a lot of pop influences in some of the new songs.”

R: “Someone asked Tim this on Instagram the other day and he said Dua Lipa was definitely one of the influences, along with The Flaming Lips. Tim’s brain is like a super computer so everything he’s ever heard gets stored and can become quite intricate.”

Is the new album a cohesive project with a story or a series of singles?

R: “It’s not a story in chronological order, like a full-on concept album, but it is cohesive. And when we were talking about the track-listing, when we were even talking about which songs to record out of the  30 or so that we had, Tom especially was absolutely categorical about certain songs that had to be on there because of the part they represented in what the record is about, it’s about a very complicated, horrible, dark situation that Tim’s life has ended up facing. So yeah, it absolutely is an album.”

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Tim Rice-Oxley and Tom Chaplin of Keane (Credit: Dave M. Benett/WireImage)

So the album is all about Tim’s life?

T: “It’s different perspectives on his breakup. I think there are so many different angles. As I was saying, with all that kind of baggage that comes with a long term marriage, there’s a couple of songs about his kids not living in the family house anymore. There’s a song about when he got busted for drink driving. There are many facets to it. And I’m not wishing to paint it as an unremittingly bleak and dark album, because I think the other thing that is probably true about Tim’s life is that it has become a more and more positive place over the last couple of years. So there are songs that are more hopeful – and obviously there’s another side to a breakup – which I guess is that there’s a new world beyond it that lies undiscovered and I think that there are certain songs that explore that part of the story. But I feel like our job was just to tell that story in the best way possible.”

R: “I’ve genuinely known Tim my whole life so for me it’s different because you sort of have a confidence that your friends are good people, but there are bad things that happen and sometimes you cause those bad things. But does that make you a bad person? Or can you be a good person who did something bad? Or perhaps life has thrown something at you that makes you feel like a bad person even though you always thought you were a good person. Like there’s such a grey middle area in this sort of situation, but I think Tim really has struggled with… it’s not just about writing songs, this is the life he’s lived over the last few years. So it’s not fiction that it’s grounded in, it’s grounded in reality and depth.”

T: “I think I’ve enjoyed articulating these songs more than any other Keane record we’ve ever made, partly because I think my voice is much better than it’s ever been because of my own sobriety.”

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Keane performing at this year’s Isle of Wight Festival (Credit: Jennifer McCord/Isle of Wight Festival)

Do you think you can relate to Tim’s struggles more having recently gone through your own with battle drug addiction?

T: “It’s not a dissimilar journey, that’s for sure.”

How are you with it now?

T: “For years I was like many of those people who bottle it up – I didn’t really want to talk. I used to be worried about things like… not just like the simple stuff, like what everyone thought, but I used to be worried about things like, ‘Oh, I won’t get into America if I talk about having problems with addiction.’

Basically I was in fear of people knowing that stuff about me, but actually I was forced to get well because otherwise the only route was impending death from where I was. So I had to make changes and I spent a lot of time in therapy and realised that when you talk about this stuff to someone else, that kind of dark stuff loses power, because you’ve placed it somewhere else in the context of something relational, you talk to someone about it. So then translating that into talking about your problems with a journalist or in the media, it didn’t feel scary anymore it just felt like that’s who I am and those are the problems I’ve had. So I don’t really mind who I talk to about it. Of course there are certain details I don’t want to talk about, but for the large part, I found it liberating, really.”

Do you think being back in the band has helped you?

T: “I feel more confident in the band these days. I don’t know whether that’s related or not really, but I’m probably happier.”

Do you feel any pressure to get to number one, as all your previous albums have?

R: “We made this record for ourselves really and I don’t think we thought it was going to happen two years ago and here we are. So, it doesn’t really matter, does it?”

T: “It would be nice and we’ll probably feel a bit like, ‘aww’ if it doesn’t because it’ll break the streak, but really it doesn’t matter.”

Noel and Liam Gallagher

“Why is it we’re always up against the Gallaghers?” – Tom Chaplin, Keane (Credit: Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

You know it comes out on the same day as Liam Gallagher’s, right?

T: “Why is it we’re always up against the Gallaghers? No doubt he’ll be slagging us off. Actually that’s normally Noel, isn’t it? Noel’s normally the one who slags people off in the lead up to an album coming out. I think Liam is probably a bit more generous.”

R: “The guy who we made ‘Strangeland’ with us, Dan Grech, he made a record with Liam and said he couldn’t have been more down to earth, and also funnier. So, if it does come to verbal assaults I just hope they’re as funny as he’s said to be.”

You’re back together after all this time, but where do you see it going?

T: “I always wanted from the start just to see how making one record felt and I think we’re still in that place. I think it’s much harder these days because we have all got kids and it is more strain on your life. That’s why I think unless you live in a kind of perpetual state of being a teenager; it’s very hard to make it work – that’s why bands go their separate ways, because people get married and have kids. So there is that pressure. But having said that, so far it’s been really good.”

R: “It’s been really fun. We’ve not said we’re making another record after this, we’ll just see what happens.”

T:Radiohead make records at a good pace these days, don’t they? They take their time, but they still make something really good each time. But you can tell that their priorities are changing. I mean when you start out, you’re like, ‘We just wanna be Number One and we just want to go places.’ Obviously, life is different when you’re older, there are more important things ultimately.”

Keane’s new album ‘Cause and Effect’ arrives September 20. Tickets for their BST Hyde Park show with Robbie Williams and Black Eyed Peas on July 14 are on sale here.