UK’s Keane have toured the globe, sold out venues both home and abroad, won multiple music awards, and sold over 10 million records worldwide, but you wouldn’t realise any of it when speaking with the band’s frontman Tom Chaplin.
In fact, Chaplin seems so unaffected and genuinely grounded that it’s questionable whether he is even aware of all that Keane have accomplished.
Their latest record Strangeland, which was released in Australia on May 11, is the band’s fourth full-length studio album. It has already reached #1 in the UK, a feat that Keane has achieved with each one of their LPs so far.
Last month on April 21, better known as Record Store Day, Chaplin and Keane pianist Tim Rice-Oxley performed an acoustic set at Rough Trade East in London in the lead-up to Strangeland’s release. Playing amongst the pressed vinyl and CD cases, Chaplin was taken back to a time when being a music fan meant committing to a tangible piece of plastic.
“It really kind of reminded me of how important record stores have been for me over the years, especially growing up. We all lived in quite a small town sort of out in the middle of nowhere in England…and it was just lovely to have a couple of local record shops that you could go and kind of peruse and find out what was cool and what was interesting”, Chaplin reflects.
“It was a lovely thing to be part of. I remember one of the things I was saying onstage is that they should do a chart based on what people are buying in independent record stores as opposed to what people are buying online or what’s popular on MTV. It kind of seemed to me like it might be a better gauge of what good music is out there.”
The days of getting up off your couch to specifically head down to the local record store are all but extinct. There no longer exists the need to purposely explore the racks and flip through album after album, carefully selecting which band will occupy your stereo for the next few months. It’s a sub-cultural tradition that younger generations of music lovers will probably experience less and less.
“I think you are missing out if you don’t get that experience. I mean I’m quite a tactile person so I do love to have the proper artwork and be able to thumb through the inlay card; it’s part of my makeup as a music listener”, Chaplin accedes.
“I think it’s [the downloadable digitisation of music] probably sort of helped to create this culture of music becoming more throwaway. I go to parties and people put a song on for about a minute-and-a-half and then they what to skip on to the next track. It’s like attention spans are diminishing by the day, so it’s kind of a weird thing.”
Another consequence of music’s increased accessibility is the ease with which it can be acquired for free. Most music listeners wouldn’t have the inclination nor be brazen enough to shoplift a physical record from a store, but many will quite readily download a torrent free from repercussions.
For Chaplin this phenomenon is not so much an issue of commerce but rather a moral question about the value of art.
“I think it does boil down ultimately to a moral question because the fact is that once music is released digitally, it’s going to be available in different forms. One of those forms will be the original way it’s been sold as a record, which is the way it should be. Then there are going to be unscrupulous people who put that record up on the Internet for free.”
“The record companies have got a lot to answer for with the amount of money they were charging for CDs… I think people still feel a little bit cheated by the amount of money that they had to spend in the past on records. When it comes to that question of ‘shall I or shan’t I pay for it’, people are still kind of aware of having being ripped off in the past”, Chaplin suggests.
“But that said, I do think music is a fair price these days. It’s a realistic amount of money to pay for music, and then it allows bands to continue to get to studios to make new albums, to be able to afford the process of doing what they do, which is obviously vital to the state of the music industry.”
Of course the reality is that the average fan can only afford to spend so much of their income on music. There also exists the counter argument that bands may benefit from greater exposure due to fans being able to access records that are financially beyond their reach.
“I suppose it means that maybe you get more people coming to see you live and obviously the live element of being a band is definitely something that is more important these days than it used to be. You know I think it’s the kind of life blood of musicians now to get out on the road, and you have to be good at performing and you have to be able to play your music live.”
“If people get into your music having downloaded it for free, but they come and pay to see you live, I guess there’s some kind of recompense there. That saying, it’s still a bit murky.”
“Record companies’ budgets seem to get smaller and smaller each year… I think that’s really quite a worrying thing because at some point it’ll mean that it starts to affect the quality of the music that’s created because you simply can’t make music for free, I mean it’s just not possible”, Chaplin concedes.
Bands have repeatedly tried to combat the illegal downloading of their art form. Perhaps the most notable example was Radiohead, who in 2007 allowed their audience to decide on the monitory value of their seventh record, In Rainbows.
“It was really interesting a few years ago when Radiohead released that record [2007s In Rainbows] and they said, ‘You know we’ll let people pay whatever they want for it’.”
“It worked quite well as kind of a one-off marketing campaign, but I’ve got a feeling that if you did that now people would just say, ‘Well, I’ll just take it for free’, and fair enough”, Chaplin muses.
“Admittedly they [records] did get overpriced, but I did like that sense of there’s something I really had fallen in love with that I was saving up to go and buy, that it wasn’t just a freebie…that actually this was something that I would save my money up, I would go and buy it and I would really, really enjoy it as a result because I cherished it as a piece of art that was now mine.”
“That ideal I think has kind of begun to disappear, really, from the way people go about getting music these days.”
However fans decide to take ownership over Keane’s new record Strangeland, Chaplin is sincerely flattered that fans have once again responded so positively toward the band’s music.
“The reaction from the public has been just amazing. What people are putting up online about how they feel about the record and the feedback we’ve had through our website and stuff is just brilliant”, Chaplin beams.
Driven by the ‘classic dream’ of obtaining a record deal, creating an actual CD to be sold in a record store, and playing their music to people across the world, Keane continue to see their loftiest ambitions fulfilled.
For Strangeland, those ambitions included working with a multi-faceted producer on the rise, which they found in Dan Grech.
“Before making the album we said we wanted to find someone who was like a young up-and-coming producer who’s the Nigel Godrich of tomorrow. This is almost an impossible thing to do in a way, I mean it’s just pure potluck that you find someone like that.”
“He’s so versatile, he’s worked with one extreme The Vaccines and the other extreme Lana Del Rey, two very different sounding artists… Then knowing that he was a fan of the band was pretty important. I think you can’t really work with someone that doesn’t love your music.”
“It was just a really lovely experience. We’ve always kind of shied away from music producers and felt quite proud of doing it ourselves really, but with this record we were willing to let go of that little piece of us if it meant it was going to enrich the record”, Chaplin explains.
With the help of Grech and the veteran poise to patiently piece the record together, Keane feel that Strangeland is the band’s most definitive work to date.
“With (2008 record) Perfect Symmetry I think we kind of felt like there was a sense that we rushed some of the decisions and that artistically maybe some of that record had ultimately ended up becoming a bit compromised”, Chaplin admits.
“So with this album we really wanted to take our time and make sure that we didn’t have that feeling of loose ends. We tried to make songs kind of as short and concise as possible…proper kind of classic pop songs. We didn’t really want it to be a kind of overblown affair.”
Now that Strangeland is upon us, Keane are back on the road bringing their brand of piano-based pop to venues around the world. This leads us to the obvious question of when will Keane come back across the pond to Australia?
“We’re trying to work that out at the moment. I think it’ll be later in the year, but we’re not quite sure of exactly what we’re doing yet.”
“We had a lovely time last time we came to Australia, it was absolutely brilliant fun. We’ve obviously got our little niche audience there, which we’d like to grow, so we have every reason to come back and see you guys. It’s just a case of working out when that’s going to be.”
Keane – Strangeland – Out Now
Listen: Keane – Silenced By The Night
Watch: Keane – Strangeland Trailer