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The Keane Interview
By Alexander Laurence

Some bands come from nowhere and go against everything that is presently cool and hip. Keane is one of those bands. They are not from New York City, they don't wear black clothes and sunglasses, and they don't even have a guitar in the band. Tom Chaplin (vocals), Richard Hughes (drums), and Tim Oxley-Rice (piano) are childhood friends from the posh town of Battle, East Sussex, in England. Keane are a band who get along really well and are well behaved. They were formed in 1997 while still in college, and initially started out as a cover band. They liked songs that were anthems and focused on songwriting. They played Oasis, U2 and Beatles songs for years to get their chops. Keane are named after some old lady they knew, not the football player.

Tom Chaplin left Edinburgh University in the dust and moved to London to join the rest of his mates. They got rid of their guitarist and things started to happen. They began writing and recording almost immediately. This is when Keane really started to find itself. They all still look like they are in college. Tom Chaplin still looks like a teenager. They had confidence although labels weren't really biting at Keane's rich, piano-driven rock & roll. They were still under the spell of bands like The Strokes and White Stripes. In December 2002, Keane finally got a break. A fan in the audience one night turned out to be a record label boss. Fierce Panda's Simon Williams was so impressed by the band's performance, that Williams offered to issue the band's next single, "Everything's Changing." Keane signed to Island UK and to Interscope in America and released their fourth single, "This Is The Last Time." The band's album, Hopes and Fears, is finally released in America in May 2004. They played some shows in the States to sold out crowd. I got to speak to the architect of Keane's sound, Tim Oxley-Rice. He was polite and cheerful.

AL: How is the tour going?

Tim: We are having fun. It's good. A lot of shows were sold out.

AL: You are from the South of England?

Tim: Yeah. In that neck of the woods. In Sussex, slightly east of Brighton. It's a small town called Battle. We have known each other since we were very young. I have known Tom since he was born. He is a few years younger than the rest of us, me and Richard. Tom was born at the same time and the same hospital as my brother.

AL: It's a small town?

Tim: Exactly. You meet people like that and it's nice.

AL: What is Battle known for?

Tim: The Battle of Hastings took place in that area. The town is known for tourism basically. It's a nice place. There is a castle that was built to commemorate the Battle of Hastings. That is a tourist attraction. Not much happens there. It's one of those sleepy town were you grow up.

AL: Do you go to school there too?

Tim: Yeah. In that general area. A few miles from Battle. We all went to a local school, and then another which was a half and hour drive away.

AL: Did you go to a University?

Tim: I went to University of London. So did Richard. I studied the Classics. I read a lot of books in Greek and Latin. It's doesn't really help you in an immediate way. It doesn't help you find a job. But it's good for the soul and it's good for the brain. It helps you think about arty things. Not everything is black and white. There is often a grey area that is interesting to think about. I suppose that you can use that as a background when you are writing music.

AL: Did any of your families have a musical background? Did you parents encourage a musical career?

Tim: It wasn't a big family thing. My dad plays piano. My parents aren't really musical. It wasn't a very normal thing for us to do music. It wasn't encouraged. It was a weird thing for us to do. You know how it is when you are a teenager: you are worried about becoming a lawyer or a banker. Being young and having fun is what making music is about.

AL: Did your parents turn you on to any music?

Tim: Yeah. My parents were into music in the 1960s. They were Beatles fans. They liked Simon and Garfunkel, Buddy Holly, and The Mamas and The Papas. That sort of thing. All those records were very exotic. It's great how the Beatles are still handed down from generation to generation. They are a great songwriting band. I remember that sound going around all the time. It's great to have that songwriting ability as a basis. We have that as a starting point for our band.

AL: You write all the songs in Keane?

Tim: Yeah.

AL: There was a different version of "Everybody Changes" on Fierce Panda?

Tim: Yeah. It's slightly different. We re-recorded for the album to get it a little bit more chunky and live band sounding. The first recording was a demo and it sound tinny. It's like a bedroom recording. That's cool.

AL: You wrote most of the songs in the past two years?

Tim: No. There is loads of other stuff. I have been writing all the time. That gives you the freedom to choose only the best songs. There isn't much other stuff that we haven't recorded for the album and b-sides. There is some stuff on a Dictaphone or in my head.

AL: How does a song start for you? You start with a riff or some lyrics?

Tim: It's exactly like that. Sometimes I can piece things together. I think it is best when I can write things straight through. Those are the ones that have turned out the best. It's a funny type of process. I do that thing where I will be driving in my car and I will get a tune in my head and I will have to phone my own answering machine. I'll sing a little of the tune and a little bit of the bass so I know what chord I am suppose to be singing over. It sounds horrible. But it is annoying if you can't remember things. If you can get these tunes recorded down somewhere, you can make a demo, and present that to the band. If it works out, then that will be a song for the album.

AL: Do you sing on the demos?

Tim: Yeah. We know that. The guys are used to my terrible singing. We can pick out a song from my wobbly vocals. We have an instinct how to make a good song. We have known each other for so long that we have an instinctual relationship and chemistry where we can take a terrible sounding demo and make a great recording out of it.

AL: Were there other people in the band before?

Tim: I play the bass guitar too. I played on the record too. We used to have a guitarist for three years. He left. He decided he had enough. It's the humiliation of never getting anywhere.

AL: What were the songs like in the early days?

Tim: It was still melodic. The songs were not as good. We weren't there yet. We were probably rambling on. We were still a guitar band. People thought we were too much like Radiohead.

AL: The voice in Keane is the lead instrument.

Tim: The song really is the main feature. Tom's voice is so good at expressing the emotion of the songs. You can write a melody that has a lot of width and range and jumps around a bit. It's expressively exciting. It takes the band to get out all that passion and emotion across. It's good that the way we play, without loads of distorted guitar, you have space for the melodies to come out and the words to be heard. All that matters is the songs getting across.

AL: What are your songs about?

Tim: I am not so much a storyteller. All the songs are incredibly personal songs. All our songs are honest and exposing our hearts to the elements. We are saying what we feel and not holding anything back. That is important. If you are not being honest, how do you expect people to respond? The songs are about people I guess. They are about us primarily. They are all about how people communicate or fail to communicate.

AL: Do you take any chemicals or alcohol to get inspired?

Tim: To get that loved up feeling? No. We are all partial to wine and beer. With us, when you get a great song going, and you get the hairs standing up on your neck, that is an incredible feeling.

AL: When did you get that feeling that the songs were more than just songs?

Tim: Definitely when we started being a three-piece things got better. In the last six month when we have played "Bedshaped" for me it has been electrifying. I love all the songs.

AL: Do the songs change the more you play them?

Tim: A little bit. Since we have done the album we have been playing for the best part of a year. We have refined them live on the road and in rehearsal. We knew what we wanted to do and we recorded the songs quickly. We are very happy where they are now.

AL: I was reading some articles about you in various magazines. Most of them compare you to other bands. What bands do you think are legitimate influences? What are some bands that you are compared to but have no relevance you feel?

Tim: There have been the lazy comparisons of Coldplay and Travis. I think that comparison can be made for any British band with a piano. Those are good bands but we don't listen to them very often. If I think of what really influenced the record I would generally think of people like U2, and Oasis probably. I remember listening to a lot of The Smiths when I was writing the songs. There is Sigur Ros. I love those dreamy vocals. I listen to a lot of their first album. There are direct influences like The Smiths and even the Chemical Brothers.

AL: Did you record this record in live takes?

Tim: Yeah. I played bass guitar and piano, not at the same time. We would play together live and then I would add the other parts later. I have an analog synth that I play. All the string sounds is that. Everything on the record is organic.

AL: Are there any other bands that you like?

Tim: I like this band The Delays. They are cool. We have played two gigs with them. We have played so many small gigs that some of the bands we never see them again.

AL: Have you read any books?

Tim: The last thing I read was An Ice Cream War by William Boyd.

AL: People are lining up already for the show tonight. You can see them outside the window. You fans are 90% girls.

Tim: It's nice. We are happy that any people have a relationship to the music. We don't care about only attracting a cool crowd. We don't care about that stuff. The music is the important thing.

AL: What do you think of "emo?"

Tim: It's hard to follow movements. In Europe, they talk about "emo" as being something different as what they talk about and mean over here. They called us "emo." I get confused with all these names. It depends on how you want to articulate it. The way we want to articulate it may be different from a heavier punky band. I think that if you get up there and actually say what you feel and you are honest about it, and people like it, that's great. There is room for different types of bands. If everyone was the same it would get boring.

AL: What are you going to do the rest of the year?

Tim: We are going to play a lot of festivals. We are going over to Japan and Australia. We will be back in America in September 2004. We are going to make some noise and have some fun.

Website: www.keaneband.com


--Alexander Laurence


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