The last time we saw indie giants Keane was on their Perfect Symmetry world tour, a whopping 121 shows around the world. But we now find out that not only were they performing their album in 28 countries at the time, they were also recording new material at every spare moment. Contactmusic.com was able to have a chat to Tom and Tim from the band about their surprise at how their new EP, Night Train has taken on a life of its own and totally changed their plans for 2010.
It seemed a strange concept for the band to return to the limelight with an EP rather than another album, indeed for Keane it wasn't even a conscious decision. 'There wasn't any attempt at making a cohesive body of work, I think that's part of the charm of it really' explains Tim, 'lots of bands get trapped in this cycle where its big album after big album and now the album campaign has become a huge weight around peoples necks... doing something that didn't have the pressure of being the next 'proper' album was really liberating'. Unlike previous albums, which have seen the band spend hour after hour in the studio agonising over each song, the songs on the EP were all recorded on tour, completely changing the experience and making it much more spontaneous. 'This was much more of a musical train of thought and we thought we might as well go with it and it actually worked really well, so that's a lesson to us all!' says Tom. Each song was recorded in a different country, giving the EP a really multicoloured feel as Tim explains; 'Obviously we've been lucky enough to go all over the world and pick up lots of different cultural reference points, and we feel that we are always learning and absorbing new music all the time. It's very easy to stop doing that as a band, you get stuck in your ways, you feel that 'this is what we do' and we mustn't deviate from that, but we've always had the opposite of that'.
It's that constant development as a band and really pushing the boundaries that has produced this unusual record. And because it is a step away from what people expected, Tim and Tom are both really pleased about how well the EP has been received. 'It would be nice to be known for that' says Tom. 'It would be a nice bonus if people began to think of Keane as a band who are a bit more surprising than people would expect. I think we were definitely put in a kind of category when we first started out and people assumed that we would never deviate from that, we seem to have broken free of that and done things that are different and I'm glad it's been recognised'.
So how do you describe an EP with so many different influences and genres? 'It's a mess, a lovely mess!' laughs Tom. Tim agrees, 'it is a mess, but the idea behind the whole Night Train theme is that we felt that there was no constant thread in the music, the thing that holds it together is more the way it was made and the travelling and the sense of adventure and the sense of being very international and just following our musical curiosity wherever it led us. That in itself is the thing that defines the EP'. So it's no wonder then that they decided to name the EP after their favourite mode of transport whilst touring. 'Night trains are very romantic, aren't they?' says Tom 'You feel like you're in a novel from about 100 years ago! Travelling by plane is so sanitised and boring and there is something kind of adventurous about getting the train. I don't know, it's just a very apt description of the way the EP came about'.
That adventurous streak and curiosity led the band to explore different genres and collaborations on the record. The band worked with Somali rapper K'Naan on two of the tracks. 'We loved his music and he's very melodic for a hip hop artist' says Tom, 'so it was more closely allied to what we do than let's say if we had been working with say Snoop Dogg, there's that really soulful element to it. We heard he was a fan and he was really excited to come and do it'. The song, called Looking Back also samples the theme tune from Rocky and is a real stand out track on the album. 'It's one of those melodies that's really etched on your brain' says Tom 'although, not so etched on Tim's because he thought he'd written the actual riff!'. 'Yeah I can see I'm going to have to go through this humiliation at every interview now' laughs Tim. 'The sound of the original record is so great, it's got that real seventies soul vibe, I couldn't believe that nobody had done it before'.
It wasn't just the collaborations that were a change for the band. In order to save Tom's voice for that night's gig in Copenhagen, Tim recorded lead vocals on Your Love, the sixth song on the EP. 'It's another new thing that we've never done before' explains Tim. 'Bearing in mind that at the time we thought this was just going to be like a little thing for the fans on the website, it didn't seem so scary then!' 'Now you have to sing it live' laughs Tom. Tim took on production duties too. 'It was really a necessity because we were doing it round the world on days off. We couldn't take Rick Rubin around the world with us sadly to be at our beck and call, so we had to do it all ourselves and I tend to be the sort of geek when it comes to that sort of thing'. And although he's not keen to do it again, the collaboration with different artists have led them to give more control away on their next project as Tom explains 'It's inviting someone into the Keane dynamic who has quite a strong impact on what you do, i.e. you're handing over quite a bit of it to someone else. It would be quite good to work with a producer who has got their own signature or a strong idea of how they want to go about doing things next time.
Keane will be performing material from the EP at a series of shows in outdoor locations on their 'Tour Of The Forests' this summer. 'You make us sound like elves!' says Tim. But in keeping with the whole ethos of the EP, the band wanted to do something different. 'We wanted to do a few UK dates but not the big arena show that we've done on the last couple of albums. On the hopes and fears tour we did the Eden Project and that was a really magical night being out under the stars, a really hippyish vibe and it didn't really feel like a gig' explained Tim. The band are also playing a handful of more intimate club gigs, partly for the fans and partly for themselves! 'We've got to play loads of massive venues now, which is quite exciting but you still hanker for the days of sweaty rock clubs' says Tom.
So fans will be happy. A new EP, plenty of chances to see the band live and despite Night Train and all the work and promotion that has come with it taking up their precious studio time, the boys still hope to get into the studio later this year. With any luck, we'll see a new full length album in 2011 and if Night Train is anything to go by, we'll all be waiting with baited breath to see what Keane come up with next.