One of the most successful British rock exports of the past decade, Keane are proof that nice guys sometimes finish first.
British rock giants Keane are about to release their fifth album
One of the most successful British rock exports of the past decade, Keane are proof that nice guys sometimes finish first. In their homeland, they are both feted and berated for their posh backgrounds, their squeaky-clean image and their richly melodic, emotionally uplifting songs. As they prepare to launch their fifth album, Strangeland, this week, the band's chief songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley, singer Tom Chaplin and bass guitarist Jesse Quin here try to explain why millions of people are so keen on Keane.
What does the title of your new album signify?
Tom: "Strangeland is the place we find ourselves in at this time of our lives, I think that's what the album is trying to get out - how it's not ever quite what you expect it to be, it's not the dreamland it promises to be. I suppose all the songs are about the strangeness of life."
Tim: "It's about taking stock, more on a personal level. You get into your 30s and you start thinking about happiness, taking a more philosophical approach. You start having a sense of time not being limitless. I feel like it's the first great album we've made - or it's the closest yet."
Keane have sold more than 10 million albums and topped charts all over the world. Why has your music struck such a universal chord?
Tim: "My songwriting tends to be very melodic, and Tom's voice obviously is wonderful, but I don't think that is enough to connect with people long term. The fact that we're always trying to dig out something really raw emotionally is probably what makes a difference. I always assumed that was what everyone did, but I just don't think it is any more. As time goes on, I just don't think people give enough in songs."
When you were just starting Keane, Tim, you turned down an offer from Chris Martin to join Coldplay. Do you ever wonder what might have happened if you had said yes?
Tim: "Only in interviews. It's such a moot point. It was a possibility that was dangled to me in the course of one beer when I was 19 years old. It was probably just loose talk from Chris anyway, who knows?"
Like Coldplay, Keane are also renowned as polite, well-behaved, clean-living young men. Were you never attracted by the decadent extremes of the rock-star lifestyle?
Tim: "You rapidly learn there is very little glamorous about that stuff. Some of our best times were when we were drinking beer and making music together, but that's not the same as completely losing control and ending up dying in a bathtub, like Whitney Houston. There's nothing good about that, why does everyone want it to happen over and over again? It's horrible and tragic and lonely. I don't want that to happen to any of us."
Tom: "With the workload a band has these days, because there is so much emphasis around live shows and touring, you couldn't sustain that if you were just out partying every single night. It's impossible. I don't see how bands could do it. You've got to be dedicated to make sure you can put on a good show.
How do you feel when Keane are attacked for having fairly privileged backgrounds, especially by critics back home in Britain?
Jesse: "That is one thing I hate about this job. An Englishman can't support a fellow Englishman who is successful, he's got to find something to bring him down. Who cares what someone's background is, what their interests are? If they are good at something, that's all that matters. I don't see why someone from a good background should be any better or worse than somebody from a deprived background at expressing emotions or writing a melody."
Tom: "People think we were born with silver spoons in our mouths, but we weren't. If suffering means being brought up in a rat-infested slum and living a terrible existence as a kid, then OK - that's not something I've experienced, I accept that. But it's certainly been a real struggle to get our music out there. I would never look at that lightly. I think we've earned it."
Keane now regularly play to huge arenas and massive festival crowds. Does it feel terrifying, stepping out in front of so many people?
Tom: "Generally speaking, in the moment, it's glorious. I've always been a person of extremes, and that's been something that's helped and hindered me throughout my life. But onstage, for some reason, I can just feel comfortable with thousands of people. I can rush up and down and feel like I'm connected with every single person. That whole cliché of holding the audience in the palm of your hand - if you get it right, there is no greater buzz."