Tom Chaplin from Keane Interviewed
Contactmusic caught up with Keane's lead vocalist Tom Chaplin to talk about their new album 'Under The Iron Sea'
Lots of UK bands have broken through over the past few years. Keane have outsold most. Did you have any inkling, when you initially recorded in France, so much success was just around the corner?
TOM: I think most aspiring bands think that success is 'just around the corner'. You have to have a blind faith in yourself that gets you through all the disappointments and setbacks. The fact that it DID actually happen for us is like winning the lottery – we're very lucky.
'Under the Iron Sea' as an album title seems to sit very well with your new sound. What is the iron sea……in your own opinion?
TOM: During last year, we began to stop caring about the two most important things in our lives – our music and our friendship. We stopped communicating our feelings (both good and bad) to each other. Although we were constantly together, we were living separate lives, disappearing into our own worlds whenever we could. Tim wanted to convey that feeling in the song Crystal Ball - there's a line that goes "I lost my heart, I buried it too deep under the iron sea". It really seemed to stand out as a description of the record as a whole. When you listen to the album, you're taken down into this suffocating, intense world where you confront all of our worst fears – all of the things that we weren't communicating to each other.
I get the feeling that some of the recording sessions for 'Under the Iron Sea' put strain on your friendships, due to you pushing yourselves artistically. Did the tensions in the studio take the record forward and without 'said' tensions would the record sound as radically different to 'Hopes & Fears'?
TOM: There was plenty of tension in the studio – some of it down to wanting to push ourselves musically and some of it down to personal, unresolved differences. I think that every great piece of art comes from some kind of tension. So although it wasn't always a pleasant process, it was certainly a creative one.
When 'Hopes & Fears' was written, I presume it's fair to say that, you weren't thinking about how to execute each song in front of 50,000 people. With a world tour under your belt, how important was it for you to construct an album that would work well live Or wasn't it an issue?
TOM: It's a huge issue for us. When we played the songs from Hopes & Fears live, they had more passion, verve and intensity than they had on the record. We played so many shows over the last few years that we knew we had to capture that energy on the new album. We adopted the attitude that it was more important to get an atmospheric, energised performance than a polished, polite one. All of us had so much to give the songs through our performances – I think this record sounds much more complete and cohesive as a result. Now we've started taking the songs out live, we have to work a lot harder (often all of us singing and playing instruments at the same time), but ultimately, the crowd seem to love it.
How does one deal with such a speedy rise to fame. What advice do you get from longer established artists such as Bono?
TOM: I think I dealt with it pretty badly. I stopped caring about people and things that had been there all my life. My attitude became very selfish. Unfortunately, you can't see all this in advance, you simply have to learn from your mistakes. Some bands implode and some survive that experience. We toured with Travis before Hopes and Fears even came out and they told us that we have to enjoy ourselves – I think we ignored that advice and spent the whole time moving on to the next show or the next city. In the end it meant that we never took the time to enjoy our success and fame. Nevertheless, we're still here and we've learnt to make much more time for each other.
Your songwriting has been recognized at the highest levels (Brits, Ivors, Grammys) did the recognition you received around 'Hopes and Fears' free you up, artistically, when sitting down to write 'Under the Iron Sea'?
TOM: Awards are a bonus but they should never distract you from making music that's a true, honest reflection of who you are. We make all our music without distractions and without the constraints of external expectation or recognition. That's how it is and will always be with Keane. Amen...
Do you write on the road? Or did you arrive at the studio with a completely blank canvas?
TOM: A combination of the two really. Although we had a lot of songs written, there was no cohesive idea or plan as to how we should record them. That's the really fun part of getting in a studio – it's a voyage of discovery.
Sanna Annukka created the artwork for both the single and album covers. What can you tell us about your working relationship with Sanna and did the music precede the art or vice versa?
TOM: We saw Sanna's artwork on the wall of a friend's house and immediately knew that it would work really well with the atmosphere of Under The Iron Sea. While her images can look outwardly beautiful, there's a much more sinister place underneath – I suppose we felt that way about our record as well. As opposed to working with a design company who've done a million album covers, Sanna is fresh out of college with a unique artistic style. We love the idea of working with artists who can add a new dimension to our music.
How did the collaboration with Irvin Welsh come about? What specifically attracted you to work with him on Atlantic?
TOM: For the same reasons as we wanted to work with Sanna. It's about trying to create something that is a piece of art in it's own right. We heard Irvine was interested in directing, so we invited him down to hear a few songs. I think his weird and wonderful imagination was spurred on by Atlantic.
Keane release 'Under The Iron Sea' on Monday June 12
Official Site -
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