May 18, 2010

An Interview with Tom Chaplin of Keane

Among the most successful British bands of the past decade with over ten million albums sold, Keane have now added to their success, topping the UK Album Chart for the fourth time in as many releases with their latest, Night Train

Diverse and genre defying, the collection reflects a bold creative shift for the trio—vocalist Tom Chaplin, pianist Tim Rice-Oxley, and drummer Richard Hughes—which is only magnified by Somali rapper K'naan and Japanese MC Tigarah making select appearances.

Despite it currently being the Number One album in the UK, at eight tracks Night Train is considered by the band as an EP. However, as Chaplin seems to suggest, in the course of broadening their sound, Keane may have unwittingly surpassed that intention.

Other than having eight songs instead of twelve or thirteen, what prevents Night Train from being Keane's fourth LP?

The way that we went about recording it wasn't really done in the conventional fashion. We started it with the intention of it just being a curiosity. We did a couple of songs with K’naan, and that was really all it was going to be. But we felt kind of buoyed up by that experience and, while we were on the road last year, we carried on. We had a mixture of different styles and different songs. It was something we just compiled as we went along in various different cities around the world. So it had this looseness in terms of the way it was made. And it turned from being what would've been sort of a single for the benefit of our hardcore fans to being something bigger. I don't think it ever felt like a full-album project. And I suppose conceptually we don't see it like that, but the way it's been received has almost kind of changed our outlook on it.

Perhaps people are responding to how eclectic it is, that you're exploring different avenues that maybe you hadn't as fully before.

It gave us a sense of real freedom. When you make an album, there's a conventional way of doing things—You get ensconced in a studio for several months. You make a record. You spend a few months promoting it. You go out on the road and tour it for a year. Then you go back in the studio. [Laughs]—that is cyclical. The nice thing about it was that it just came along and it was very loose and spontaneous. We didn't feel constrained by any kind of pressures or any desire to make it a proper album. Reversely, it really created this eclectic mix and that sense of total freedom. And so we’ve got a song like “Your Love,” which is Tim singing and very electro/poppy against a song like “My Shadow,” which is much more classic Keane, against a cover of a Yellow Magic Orchestra song [“Ishin Denshin (You've Got To Help Yourself)”]; and then there’s the stuff we did with K’naan. I don’t think we’d ever have considered that that was possible on an album, but kind of by accident we’ve ended up doing that.

Do you think it opens up a wider platform and more opportunities for Keane going forward to make LPs in this vein, where an album could be this eclectic?

The fact that this was such a kind of left turn has definitely been really informative and inspiring. I think it does give us the scope and the platform to do whatever we feel like. That’s pretty exciting to be in that position.

As on a song like “Stop For A Minute,” combining hip/hop with some of the sounds you’re known for making creates a whole new dynamic.

Absolutely. And I’m really glad about that. Some of our biggest heroes musically are people who aren’t afraid to jump from genre to genre. David Bowie is our spiritual hero in that respect. He is never afraid to try his hand at new things and different styles. That’s a great principle for working, not to feel like you’re confined by anything. There are plenty of British bands who come up with one way of doing things and never deviate from that path. We’d get bored if we ended up like that.

You’re still such a relatively young band to have had so much success. Going forward, to maintain your creative conviction and just your creative curiosity seems like a daunting proposition.

Yeah, which is why we embarked on a crazy project like Night Train. I think it’s good to remind yourselves of how different you can do things. We don’t want to stand still. It’s not in our vocabulary as a band. We just keep switching up and doing things different each time. I’m sure that the next record that we make will sound pretty different to the last one. There’s no great market plan with it. We just write songs in a certain way that seem to reach out to a lot of people. At the same time, we’re conscious of wanting to always progress and move in different directions.

Keane is touring the States toward the end of July. How do you regard the band’s reception here?

We’ve got a very dedicated fan base in America. We almost see our fan base in America like a family. It’s a very personal thing. We always try to take the opportunity to get outside and meet our fans after shows when we’re in the States. It just seems the right thing to do. I feel like our music is highly respected by our American fans and it’s not something we’d ever treat lightly; it’s something we’re very proud of and humbled by. I’ve got very fond memories of all the different cities that we’re getting to play on this coming tour. So it’ll be lovely to get back to each and every one of them.

For more information on Keane, including tour dates and locations, please visit the band's official website.

(First published as An Interview with Tom Chaplin of Keane on Blogcritics.)