Just a few weeks after our interview with Tom Chaplin from Keane, the band released a statement saying that the frontman would be entering rehab and the band’s tour would be canceled. When we spoke, he had just arrived in L.A. and was preparing for the tour and promoting the band’s latest album Under the Iron Sea. Our feature on the band, written after the news broke, appears in the current issue of RELEVANT.
What would you say was the most difficult part about becoming so successful so fast with the debut album?
Well, on the surface, there’s nothing at all to complain about in terms of the chances and opportunities and the privilege it is to be in a successful band. It’s great to travel the world and to have fans and to make records and to have your record in the shop and to hear yourself on the radio. I mean, those are the things that every kid aspires to be able to do. So in that sense there is nothing to complain about being in a band. But inevitably human beings are kind of all the same really. We fight, and we have our deficiencies of characters, and I think was happened with us in terms of the band and being under so much pressure and doing so much was that we began to allow those kind of bad characteristics and bad things about us to grow.
I heard you say that with Under the Iron Sea, you were trying to create a darker album. Would you say that you write with more spiritual undertones or do you see it just as a reflection of your emotions at the time?
It’s totally the latter really. I think it’s a complete reflection of the way we were all feeling. That’s what our music has always been and always will be. You have to write completely honestly and personally about what you’re feeling, and the performances on the record are the same. The way you sing or the way you create a sound or the part that you play. You know they all have something to do with what’s inside you and the way you’re interpreting the feeling of the song. We didn’t say, “We need to make a darker record. It needs to sound dark.” We were just in a dark place, and that’s what came out.
You probably get this question a lot. The video for “Atlantic,” is there any kind of meaning behind that, or is that just Irvine Welsh’s vision?
It was totally his vision. It’s one of those things [where] you really just leave your music in someone’s hands—especially someone with such a vivid imagination like Irvine. You just allow them to get on with their own creation and come up with their own thing—to create a piece of art that really challenges the audience and does something that’s a new dimension to the song. And Irvine really took that to the max. I love the idea … I see it as this kind of Jesus figure coming out to the ocean, and instead of being accepted and talked to, he’s shunned by everyone that he meets, and in the end, he meets the grim reaper and travels off with these people on kind of a weird journey.
I guess the song itself is very much about loneliness and fear of ending up alone and dying alone and all the things that the prospect of the band breaking up brought about in our heads, in our minds. All of those things are kind of explored in that piece of work that Irvine did. We just love the idea that he created a video that was inspired by our piece of music and is, in its own right, an amazingly weird piece of art.
Did you guys help with the conceptualization of it or was it kind of like just let him run with it?
No, we let him run with it. We just said do whatever you want and create something that has no input particularly from us, apart from it being a real piece of art. He said he needed the song to be longer, and we worked with him in that sense. But really in terms of the creation, we wanted it to be his own thing. I think that’s one thing we’ve learned in the last few years is that it’s great to let artistic people be inspired by what you do.
I know it’s been received really well. The fans really enjoy the downloadable aspect. Do you have plans for more projects like that or even collaborations with different types of artists?
Well, yeah, the idea of doing that is something that really excites us. Another example of that would be the actual artwork on the album itself. We were a bit worried about going down the route of finding your plastic album artwork person whose been doing it for 30 years or a design company and getting them to churn out something that vaguely reflected the kind of vibe of the record. Instead we wanted to find again an artist in their own right—someone with their own vivid imagination.
It just so happened that we saw at a friend’s house this amazing artwork by this girl who’s just out of college, and she’s been brought up on Scandinavian art. She’s half-Finnish. We thought it was a great idea; she does these beautiful pieces of art, but then if you scratch below the surface, they have a very dark, weird quality to them. And we felt that really reflected the album in a kind of weird way. So again we just said to her, “Come up with your own idea.” And she created this inlay cover. Obviously you’ve got the front cover, which is waves and horses, but then instead of being a classic inlay card where you open it like a booklet, it kind of moves downward. So you go from this ocean surface and descend into this weird and wonderful world that she created with all these elements that were inspired by the songs themselves. So that in itself is again something we are incredibly proud of.
I know that you are good friends with Coldplay and Chris Martin. Is it true that your band was originally named Coldplay?
That’s not true, no. We know where that weird idea originated. It’s from an article in the Irish Times. It was an interview with Tim. And I think that they got it confused partly, because the history that we have with Coldplay and the fact that we did know them right back when they just started out. But no, it wasn’t us. Chris did have a friend called Tim, but not the Tim in our band. He had another friend called Tim, who was in a band called The Coldplay. And they changed their name to another name, and Chris said, “Oh, can we steal your band’s name?” But it wasn’t from us; we’ve been called Keane for years and years, so they didn’t take it from us. But I think someone at a certain newspaper in Ireland researched their article really bad, and unfortunately that’s where the rumor has originated from.
Well, hopefully we can help to dispel the rumor.
As an artist and a songwriter, what inspires you to continually create new art?
Well, I think it’s born out of necessity really. One of the things that we are very bad at—I suppose it’s partly being English and being blokes—we’re not very good at expressing ourselves, or confronting our fears and our worries. We’re not very good at talking about things. Probably being the case for millions of years, men kind of grunt and grumble and get on with it. But for some reason, we find with music that we’re able to talk about those kinds of worries and issues and confront a lot of dark stuff through our music. So it’s almost become a complete necessity. Well, it has become a complete necessity in our lives to be able to talk about those things in our songs. And that’s probably what keeps us going and what provides us with continual inspiration.
What other bands inspire you guys … not just current bands, but even when you were developing as a group?
I suppose one of the huge advantages of being a band at this point in time is this kind of 30- to 40-year catalogue of rock ’n roll music to inspire you. I feel like Revolver by The Beatles is just as current as an album that came out the last few years or something. You are able to draw on those influences, and they still seem kind of relevant and contemporary now. U2 and Radiohead and bands like that would be the bigger, more obvious influences. Then other bands like Depeche Mode and weirder stuff like Kraftwerk and bands like The Smiths.