Following the release of his debut solo album The Wave in October, Keane frontman Tom Chaplin is embarking on a tour that will take him everywhere from New York City to Bexhill-on-Sea. In May, he’ll be stopping in Leicester to play De Montfort Hall. Chaplin took the time to speak to me before heading to Atlanta for the first show, affirming that he was in ‘rude health’, despite his concerns over potential weather-related travel disruptions.
After almost two decades of working together, Keane announced a hiatus in 2013, allowing the members a chance to take on fresh creative challenges. Over time, Chaplin’s bandmate Tim Rice-Oxley had become the group’s primary songwriter, so the process of writing a solo record hugely differed from anything he had done before.
“It was pretty much a new experience for me,” Chaplin says. “I’ve had the great privilege of singing Tim’s songs over the years, as he was the songwriter and did an enormous amount of the leg work. However, I’ve always written songs, so this has always been something that I wanted to do. In the early days of Keane, writing music is something that I would contribute to the band, but Tim got really, really good at it and had a strong drive to do it.
“In the band, everyone was hearing this external voice when I would sing, but actually they weren’t getting this other part of me, which is my own thoughts, feelings and experiences. I wanted to give a voice to what was inside.”
What was inside wasn’t always pretty for Chaplin. However, his struggles and the process of getting through them eventually served as a creative aid when writing his own music. “I had my problems with drug addiction that resurfaced in a major way and that completely destroyed me creatively for a period of time, but perversely, after recovery it became a huge source of inspiration for me. Once I became well, the songs came out, thick and fast.”
So thick and fast, in fact, that a mountain of new material was created that he needed to sift through in order to shape the album. Thirty to forty songs were written during the sessions and Chaplin believes that he took the most suitable approach possible.
“All I did was try and write the truth”
“I always feel that with writing, or with any artistic process, you’re trying to uncover something,” he explains. “When you start out, you’re not entirely sure what it is and the hope is that you can eventually release the final idea from within a complicated mess.
“Some of the songs that I wrote just didn’t feel right tonally or thematically. Although there were a lot of songs, it eventually became clear which tracks were the right ones to tell my story.”
Most records based on a singular narrative are labelled as ‘concept albums’, but that wasn’t necessarily Chaplin’s aim.
“Well, it’s strange because it certainly appears like that, but it was never my intention,” he stated. “The opening song Still Waiting is about finding yourself in a pit of despair, influenced by how I felt trapped by the mental health problems that I had at the time. Then the final two songs See It So Clear and The Wave are songs about learning to go through life with good grace. So, it’s a story about going from dark to light.”
The aforementioned story is a familiar and relatable one for people across the globe. The reaction that his work has received from fans has pleasantly surprised Chaplin, who seems proud that the music can provide a sense of solace for people that enjoy it.
“All I did was try and write the truth,” he explains. “I was trying to express where I was, where I had been and what I was going through. One of the by-products of that is that once you put it out there, people will use it to find their own truth in it. While it may not necessarily be due to addiction, everyone goes through times in which they feel trapped, but most of us also go through the process of getting through that, which means that my story has a universal resonance.”
“I’ve been really overwhelmed by the stories people have told in response to my record. Some people have told me that they are going through a hard time and my record has given them a sense that they can find a way out. That’s one of the things that I feel most proud of. Being open and vulnerable is actually very liberating, which found its way into the songs. So, people definitely honed in on that and I hope that it’s a positive thing for people out there.”
“Whilst my addiction was awful, it did force me to open up”
The now 37-year-old songwriter hasn’t always been willing to readily verbalise his issues. “For most of my life, I’ve been a very closed-off bottler of my emotions. I always thought that the best way to deal with my feelings was to deal with them on my own.”
“Whilst my addiction was awful, it did force me to open up,” he expresses candidly. “I couldn’t carry on the way I was. I had to start sharing my feelings, fears and all the dark parts of my experiences with another human being, which I mainly did through therapy.”
Due to the personal nature of the writing, Chaplin and his producer Matt Hales (Aqualung) decided to record in the most appropriate environment. They completed the album in Hales’ home in Los Angeles. “It was not the L.A. scene of big, fancy parties and living some kind of bling dream; it was very much the opposite.”
“Matt lives in Pasadena, where he has a little home studio in which we recorded. It had a very domestic vibe to it, with his kids running around in the garden playing basketball, we’d be able to pop in for a cup of tea when we wanted, so it didn’t feel like an alien place and it was much more down to earth. I think the record needed that because it’s a very real, normal bunch of songs.”
Keane enjoyed an incredible run of success, especially in the mid-00s. Their debut album ‘Hopes and Fears’ topped the UK album chart upon release and they have since made four further records that have taken them all over the world, to play in front of incomprehensibly large audiences. Very few people experience the kind of success in the industry that Chaplin has but the opportunity to create something by himself was one that he felt he needed to take, so he can’t confirm when Keane will make music again. “I’ve reached a stage in my life where I need to break off and be a bit more autonomous, which was one part of it.”
“I loved singing Keane songs, but I did feel frustration at not having my own creative outlet. I still feel as though I’ve got a lot of energy left as a songwriter and currently this is something that I want to keep pursuing. So, it doesn’t feel like now is the time to go back to doing more Keane stuff.
“I think I’ve got a fair bit more of the journey to go, before I think about doing more with Keane. It may be a frustration for them, but we spent a lot of time together as a band, we put a lot of energy into it and for that reason, I don’t feel particularly guilty or self-indulgent for pursuing all of this.”
The lack of new Keane music will be upsetting to many, but will be a relief to some. The band’s initial success propelled them into the limelight during a time in which British guitar music was experiencing something of a renaissance. The polarising act weren’t for everyone’s tastes and would sometimes even be met with vitriol because of their background, which Chaplin had become accustomed to.
“There will always be people who want to level stuff at you”
“One of the things that somebody said to me before making my solo record was that you have to have very thin skin in order to be authentically creative, then you have to have very thick skin when you take it out into the world. That’s especially true in this day and age, with social media and people’s reactions being at your fingertips. It’s very hard to make that change.
“In the past, I have felt wounded by people’s reactions, particularly in the early days of Keane. Back then, people would say some very nasty and pointless stuff that I wasn’t properly equipped to deal with at the time, but it comes with the territory.”
Although no longer touring with the band, Chaplin had his concerns about the way his solo music would be received, due to Keane’s divisive reputation.
“Honestly, I was worried with this new record, due to the nature of it. I thought that some people would think ‘you’re just a wealthy, lucky musician who has overdone it’, but the response that I’ve received has been one that I’m appreciative of.”
“There will always be people who want to level stuff at you, but you have to ask yourself if it’s something that you can control and the answer is no.”
Tom Chaplin will be performing at De Montfort Hall on 19th May as part of his ‘Carried By The Wave’ tour.