That great blend of piano and drums with a soft yet powerful voice is what first propelled Keane into the spotlight when they released the first of their major hits, ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ back in 2004. It may not have been their first single, but it definitely put them on the map. Since then they have toured the world countless times and have also continued to consistently release chart-topping albums. Their latest work “Strangeland” marks the band’s fourth studio album milestone and was released back in May. To support that album, friends and band mates Tom, Tim, Richard and Jesse embarked on yet another tour which stopped by Montreal in mid-June at the beautiful venue that is L’Olympia. Right before doors opened that night, I had the chance to sit down with Tom Chaplin to learn more about the band and what’s been happening with them through the vocalist’s point of view.
The day before that show, the band had a day off from their crazy tour that had them do six non-stop dates in the States. Tom’s voice was exhausted by the end but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. As he elaborated on how nice it was to have a quiet day to wander around and just relax, I asked him if the guys had gone to eat poutine, a Quebec dish most bands and most people, have to try when they are here. He said he didn’t remember ever trying it but that maybe they would go and give it a shot that night. I recommended the Belle Province that was right next to the venue and we got down to a more serious topic: touring.
I’m always curious about where bands dream of playing and when I asked him if there was still a place in the world where the band hasn’t had the chance to play yet, he couldn’t seem to think of one. That is something not many people are lucky enough to say.
“There are probably remarkably few places we haven’t been to yet. We’re really lucky because we’ve found fans all over the world. It doesn’t seem to be sort of confined to one place, which is very nice, in a way, for us. So we’ve spent a lot of time in the UK, Europe and the States and up here. Latin America, we’re very popular there, which is great because the nice thing about it is you go to places that you would never have gone to before. We’ve probably seen more of North America than most North Americans. And in 2012 we did a tour across Canada from west to east, which is probably something not many bands do; probably not many Canadians even do.”
When I said I hadn’t been to many places in Canada myself, he told me about the beautiful scenery you find in throughout our country and how it’s nice to be able to immerse yourself in a a culture when you tour like that.
“A lot of places, you’re just flying in and out of. Our tours around South America or our tours around Asia, it’s pretty much just flying from one place to another. You never quite get a sense of traveling through them. So any tour where we can travel on a bus or a train from one destination to the next, it gives you that proper experience of actually traveling through different countryside and experiencing it properly.”
He also added that he doesn’t think human beings are designed to go on “bits of metal with lots of fuel in them” to fly. But then again, aren’t trains bits of metal with fuel in them too? This was what he had to say: “That’s true. But it’s on the ground and it’s kind of going a reasonably sensible speed.” So according to Tom, it doesn’t make sense for us to travel in metallic contraptions if they go over a certain threshold of speed!
All this talk about of touring and different countries led me to ask about the different types of fans across the world. Each country has its own culture and people are raised differently so you’d expect to see a certain difference in the response when you go from country to country right?
“Very much so, yeah! In [Latin America] particularly, the fans are quite flamboyant and open with their emotions so a gig is really an excuse to start a massive party. It’s that sort of fiesta spirit that you get in those places. Some places are more refined and crowds can be harder to work.”
“It can be the night of the week, the mood the people are in, the time of year. All of those things can affect how a show is. We’ve done several shows in Montreal for example and I remember, the first show we did here, the atmosphere was just electric; people were so up for the gig and it was just mind-blowing! And I remember the second time we came, it was a bit more muted and people were a bit more of a cooler crowd. So you never really quite know what you’re going to get. And I think that’s one of the nice adventures of our tour. Every night is different and every night is a surprise; not necessarily always a good one but I guess life is like that really.”
We then moved on to discuss “Strangeland”, in which the band wanted to go back to their roots after all these years of experimentation. Throughout the years, their sound has gone from a very simple sound of piano, voice and drums to something darker and more “foreboding and claustrophobic”. In their second album, they started to use effects to turn the piano into a guitar. The third album was a big step out of their comfort zone in which they had a lot of experimentation and instrumentation. This time around, they felt like it was time to go back to a warm sound that is kind of in-between their first two records.
“The songs on this album have a kind of positivity and they’re very emotional. There are songs about being a human being on a very emotional and feelings kind of level and also, the struggles of life and its ups and downs but trying to see those things in a positive way. And we thought the way to do that sonically was to do something that was warm and real so we just set up the four of us in a room and just played the songs like that without any sort of extra production and without adding stuff. It was just about the instruments we had and trying to bring the songs out.”
The fact that the songs are less produced and processed also makes it easier for the band to recreate the album’s vibe live. Tom said it was a “total headache trying to get the songs right for live” when it came to songs from their third album. That was partly why they wanted to tone it down a little this time around and go for something simpler and more natural.They also incorporated an interesting and sort of limiting concept to the album.
“One of the things we thought was we’d like every song to be 3:30 minutes long. We tried to stick to that principle, which we more or less did! That’s the length of a great pop song! What you can’t say in 3:30 minutes, it’s probably not a good enough song! That was the theory we were banding around at the time and it’s probably nonsense but it felt like that was the way we wanted to do things; keep the songs really concise.”
When I asked which song he thinks describes the album as a whole, after a moment of hesitation, he said it had to be ‘Sovereign Light Café’. The title stems from a café in Bexhill-on-Sea, a town near where the guys all grew up. It’s a song that really seems to stand out when they play it live and also happens to be the first song they wrote for this album.
“It’s quite piano-driven and quite sympathetic. It’s about looking back at how things were like when we first started out as a bunch of kids with this simple dream of being in a band. So effectively kind of looking at the journey we made in life and bringing it right up to today. That story could describe a lot of people’s lives but it happens to describe ours. It’s about how we set out with these simple dreams, as most people do and then life kind of takes lots of weird twists and turns but you sort of end up where you are and that’s where you are!”
He also added that it’s the song that people have caught onto the most and in a way it became the centerpiece of the record, which is probably why they decided to make a single out of it.
“I think just by having the record out there and hearing people’s reactions to us playing the songs live and kind of vibing on what seems to be coming across best live, that song particularly just seemed to really poke out. I think a lot of people relate to it emotionally and I think it’s a lovely melody; a beautiful and soaring sweet melody.”
A single with such a lovely melody has to have a lovely music video to go along with it right? Tom was a little nervous at first as to how it was going to turn out but in the end after many in-depth talks on the phone with Lindy Hayman, the producer of the clip, they were all very happy with it and it has even become one of his favorite Keane music videos. The band tries to be very involved in the creative process of their music videos these days, even if schedules and distance sometimes limits it to phone calls. Hethen explained the concept Lindy came up with and he also described Bexhill, which made me want to add it to my list of places to visit.
“[She] thought it would be great to get lots of local interest groups, lots of interesting people from all walks of life and sort of gather them all around in Bexhill. And it’s set on me making this journey from the beach to the Sovereign Light Café while passing through all these different groups of interests. And at Bexhill itself, the promenade is quite an interesting place. It’s a classic English seaside town and it’s got that sense of slightly faded grandeur about it. In a bygone age, it was probably a bit more of a striking place but it’s still very evocative as a place. There are a lot of beautiful images and stuff, which is the perfect place to shoot.”
He also told me about the other music videos that have been released for songs off this album because the band seems to be happier with them.
“‘Silenced by the Night’ was just a good plain and simple sort of American-style video with us in the desert and with a love story. Then the ‘Disconnected’ video, which will probably be the next single after this one, that was made by Juan Antonio Bayona who directed a film called “The Orphanage”. That is an absolutely amazing video and he sort of completely went to town and he probably spent some of his own money on it. It’s basically like a 6-minute horror film! It’s absolutely fantastic! So we’re really proud of that.”
He also added that these days it’s much cheaper to make good quality music videos. He said back when they started they would end up spending a fortune without knowing if the end result would end up looking good. Nowadays, they also put less emphasis on the importance of it looking good to focus on what makes them happy. He said it’s more about making something creative and interesting and that he thinks they’ve managed to achieve that over the years.
On the subject of creativity I brought up, what is usually my last question. This question in particular requires a little more than the usual effort an artist puts into an interview. I asked him to draw something that represents himself.
“I doodle a lot and I draw mad and strange faces. I wish I could draw properly. I don’t even know who this person is but they have a very big nose. It represents me because it’s a doodle and I do a lot of it.”
As I contemplated his drawing, I finished off by asking him what his most memorable moment has been with the band thus far. He thought about it for a bit and answered with great sincerity in his voice.
“I think probably the first time one of our songs played on the radio. That was pretty amazing. There’s a magic to it and it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before, when you hear your own music cross the airwaves. You think ‘this is us, we’ve created this and here it is being broadcasted’. It’s great.”
To learn more about Keane, check out these sites:
Official site: http://www.keanemusic.com/