An Exclusive In-Depth Interview With Former Keane Front-Man, TOM CHAPLIN!
Posted On 24 Mar 2017
On January 13th, Tom Chaplin, front-man of the 2x Grammy Award Nominated British alt-rock outfit Keane, released his debut solo record, The Wave, in the U.S. via Arts & Crafts.
Tom assembled an incredible array of musicians, who are all multi-instrumentalists, able to switch what they play as the richly layered songs demand. His band features MD, drummer and programmer Sebastian Sternberg; Rosie Langley on violin, synths and guitar; classically trained pianist and violinist Tobie Tripp; and Beau Holland on guitar, synths and piano.
You may think you know Tom Chaplin. His soaring, emotional voice lay at the center of Keane, the anthemic, multi-million selling British band who scored 5 number one albums in the UK between 2004 and 2013 – including two that landed on the Billboard 200 (Strangeland, No. 17; Perfect Symmetry, No. 7), delivering such unforgettable hits as “Everybody’s Changing,” “Is It Any Wonder” and “Somewhere Only We Know.” But even at the height of his fame, there was a side to the singer hidden from the world. Now, after a three year journey to hell and back, Tom Chaplin returns with his extraordinary solo debut The Wave, a self-penned album revealing the real man behind the songs. It is a journey from utter despair to redemption, love and self-acceptance, told with enormous, emotional pop music. The voice is the same. The songs tell a whole new story.
The Wave is a powerful album of self-destruction and recovery. “I wanted there to be no wall between the truth of my experiences and the listener. I felt that was the place to be. No holds barred,” says Tom. “It is not a concept album but there is a narrative arc, from the depths of despair to a kind of resolution.” Yet it is far from a harrowing listening experience, glittering with the rich melody, anthemic drive and high production values that people have come to expect from Keane.
This is the first time Tom Chaplin has stepped outside of Keane. His unmistakable voice drives all eleven tracks with a range of emotions, never previously scaled.
The Wave features eleven incredibly honest and ultimately uplifting songs written by Tom, produced by Matt Hales (Aqualung, Lianne La Havas) and recorded in Pasadena, California and London.
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Learn more about Tom Chaplin in the following All Access interview:
So 2017 has already been such a big year for you with the release of The Wave! How is it all been going? How was the tour and everything?
Well, everything kind of exceeded my expectations you know, in a really great way. I think part of that is that I didn’t set my expectations wildly high. I was obviously really proud of the record once I finished it. But, I’m aware that this is stepping away from Keane and it’s a whole different sphere of doing things. Time has moved on, and I’m sort of returning to a different industry and a different world really.
I was sort of careful I think in my own head not to make my expectations too grand. For me personally, I’ve got this dangerous attitude anyway, because I think I’ve struggled in the past just from having this idea of a perfect world and then being distraught when it isn’t that way. There’s that side of things, but also the other aspect of it is just, there was also, the conflicting part of that sense is that you’re sort of in absolute terror that people were going to hate the record, Keane fans were going to turn on me and say, “You’ve deserted the band.”
So I had a weird mixture of feelings. But basically judging from the shows and the way that people have responded to the record, the questions that they’re asking me online and so on and so forth. I’ve just been really overwhelmed by how it seems to have touched people, and how they’ve turned out and sung along with the songs, and been so supportive. It’s yes, the short answer to all that is “Great.” Everything’s been actually great!
Was there one city or one venue that stuck out to you as a really emotional stop along the tour and just an incredible night for you?
Well there were… Yeah, there are two answers to that question, in a weird sort of way. Well, now I’ve got to pick favorites.
But, probably the most memorable show, there was just a real warmth about it, was the show we did in Dallas, which was just a little small theater and I think going into the deep south, it’s even more alien than playing New York or LA, for a guy from England, so not quite knowing what to expect.
And just being met with this incredible generosity of spirit and real excitement and I think when you feel that right from the start of a show you very often end up reacting to it in a very positive way, and then it makes you play better, makes you concentrate more, makes you just enjoy yourself, and it’s a self-perpetuating thing. So I think particularly that one, I would say.
But I would say also, I really found New York and LA really very surprising. There is a tendency sometimes, and I don’t want to put my foot in it by saying this, but those shows can sometimes be a little bit colder in terms of people’s emotional reactions, but there was none of that. I mean L.A., L.A. was crazy!
The crowd were just so warm and so positive and I talked to them all night and everyone sang along. So, as you can tell, I’ve just been buoyed along and there was really not a bad show on the whole tour, so it was absolutely lovely to come back and play some songs in America again.
One twitter follower wanted to know if there was one song that made you particularly emotional to play while out on this tour?
Well, I think the love songs off the record, the songs I wrote to my wife, I think those, like Solid Gold and Hold On To Our Love. They’re quiet songs, particularly Hold On To Our Love, it seems to capture the room, and as an egomaniac singer, that’s kind of what you’re hoping for. You play a few rockers and then you have this moment where you try and draw people in, and I think talking about that song as well, before playing it each night, and checking it in context and saying that a song was written at a time when I’d got myself sober but was still pretty sketchy and unsure in my relationships.
And so, the song is almost like a pleading, saying, “Let’s try and make a go of it.”
And I think, probably of all the emotions that still have a rawness for me two years further down the line, I think that probably above all is the one. The fact that I could have lost that.
And so, it’s always a very poignant thing, that song. And I also feel like it’s a song that probably a lot of couples would identify with.
Anyone who’s been in a long term relationship, you go through these ups and downs and things that challenge you and test you and I suppose the song is saying, you know, you’ve got to try and work through it and if you do that then good times lay ahead. So, I always feel like I’m connected with probably lots of men and women experiencing the same thing.
But also, the other song is Quicksand, and I think that when I’m away on tour, that’s obviously a song I wrote for my daughter, it really regulated me because it made me sort of, remind me of her, every word that I sing.
I’m curious to know what it was like transitioning from a group atmosphere of Keane to a solo artist? Was that an easy transition for you or was it challenging at times?
Well, I think for me, it was a transition I needed to make, I just felt like I’d got to a point in my life where I needed a change and a different challenge. The thing about Keane was there was quite a lot of baggage with us and certainly a lot of negative stuff that I contributed to the band over the years. Obviously as well there’s lots incredibly positive and brilliant stuff that we’ve all done together. So there was that, the sense of wanting a bit of a fresh start for this stage in my life. I think also, Tim wrote the songs for Keane, so there was this ever-glowing fire inside me that I needed to let out, and creatively I just needed to explore myself a bit, and obviously doing a solo record was the best way of doing that.
So, I don’t know whether it’s any harder or easier, but it’s just presented me with more challenges, and challenges that I feel excited about. I think after 20 years of being in the same band inevitably there’s maybe a sense of complacency or things being more, not stuck in a rut, but having a regular quality to them.
And whilst that’s something I’m sure it would be nice to go back to at some point, I just felt, a man in his mid-thirties needs a different challenge and I need to explore that now while I’ve got the time.
I’d love to know more about the musicians that on The Wave, I’ve heard they’re all multi-instrumentalists that can switch between all these instruments. How did you go about selecting those musicians for this record?
Well, the record itself actually, the performances on that were not done by the guys who are playing with me live.
So the thing was, I think one of the actual liberating things about making a solo record is that you’re not confined to what your band does and what they know how to do, and your own specific roles that you’ve developed over the years. It felt to me like I could just throw anything at the solo record, and that’s the reason there are horn sections and string quartets and gospel choirs, saxophone, lots of guitar. That freedom was something I really enjoyed. The biggest problem is then you end up with a record that’s got lots of weird and wonderful textures on it and you realize that when you’re going to go and play it live you can’t take 40 people on the road with you.
You’ve got to find four of five musicians who can turn their hand to different things, so that was one of the great, well, research projects of last summer; putting a band together. And it was a case of trying to find people who did lots of different stuff. So, Seb plays the drums and although he does arrangements and some of the computer wizardry, that’s basically him and he sticks to that. But everyone else, Rosie who plays, well she plays violin, she plays keyboards, she plays guitar. And then Tobie plays violin, he plays piano and he also plays guitar. Yeah, he can do guitars and piano. And then of course they all need to be able to sing.
Is there anyone that you would still love to work with, like a duet perhaps, on a future album?
Well, I’m definitely more amenable to collaborative stuff these days. In the days of Keane we were a bit of an island and we definitely did things our own way and we didn’t really collaborate that much, maybe a bit more as time went on. But I think also for me personally, I used to have this quite closed off attitude, quite cynical, and often I think probably a bit narrow-minded. And therefore, I think my default setting as a person was always, kind of, isolating and not wanting to muck in and get involved and work with other people.
And I think one of the things about me getting well from my problems has been that I’ve had to force myself to become more relational and work with people, and be more open to that process, and even though I struggle with it I always find that as soon as I work with other people I get so much out of it and I feel so much more content and connected to life.
So, yes, absolutely I’m up for working with other people. I’ve worked with lots of people in terms of writing and production already, and obviously lots of new musicians. I’m just about to release a duet actually, that we did to coincide with Valentine’s Day, which is called “Solid Gold”, which is a song off the record. But we… There’s this fantastic singer called JONES, who’s a young artist, who’s just released her first record and I just always felt that song, while it has a bit of a moment of a duet in the middle on the record, could be turned into more of a duet in full.
Tom describes ‘Solid Gold’ as a love letter to his wife. “I wanted to articulate how my view of our relationship had changed once I got myself clean. It’s one of the most poignant moments on the record.”
So I reworked it a little bit and got JONES in and we worked out this great little duet, which we performed a couple of times together and now we’re going to release.
That kind of thing is really great. In terms of further down the line, I really want to work in all sorts of different mediums. I feel like I’m an indie kid at heart really, but I know my voice lends itself to different styles and I’d love to work with some pop artists, and people from different worlds musically.
To see how I could fit in to that. So, that’s part of my M.O for the next stage of writing and working with people, is just to push the boundaries and see what it’s like. Not to say that that’s going to be the end result but just to explore working with people from very different spheres of the musical world.
My last question, because I know I’m about out of time here, is; at the end of the day what do you hope is the message of your music, and this collection in particular, what do you hope people take away from your songs and leave your shows feeling?
Well, it’s interesting, one of the things I had to do in order to get well and become a normally functioning human being-
And not constantly self-medicating and running away from reality, one of the things I had to do was become very vulnerable and open up, I did a lot of, and still do, a lot of therapy and so I think my whole outlook in terms of being honest and being emotionally candid has changed, and instead of being a very closed off person, I’ve bared my soul on this album and everything that goes with it; interviews, and what I say when I’m on stage and when I’m talking to the people after shows. I think that the world needs more vulnerability.
It needs people to be more open and more emotional, because I think it’s the route to happiness or at least surviving life without feeling miserable or resentful or angry or whatever. And I hope in my own small way, by making a record like this I will have encouraged people to maybe adopt the same attitude.
That seems to be my impression from meeting people and hearing from people online in total is that it resonates with the story of them coming through a difficult time or it’s helping them actually when they are still stuck in a difficult place. And I think that for me is my proudest moment in terms of this record; when I feel like it’s resonating with people and helping to improve their lives. And I’m so overwhelmed and happy if that’s the case, and it does seem to be the case, so I hope that’s what people take from the record overall.
You can also LISTEN to the full interview on Soundcloud here: