Keane singer Tom Chaplin's Christmas LP: 'It's a bit like breaking into Fort Knox'
Fresh off his first solo venture, Keane frontman Tom Chaplin is attempting to break the Christmas market. He talks to Joe Nerssessian about the album, his drug addiction, and Christmas as a child
IF YOU type "why are there no new Christmas songs?" into your search engine, you'll be greeted with dozens of people seeking to answer your query.
Breaking the festive music market is a near impossible task. The holiday is based around tradition and people often want to hear the same music each year. So what we're left with is an increasing number of covers, from Dylan's Must Be Santa to Sam Smith's version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.
Even Mr Christmas himself, Michael Buble, knows this trick.
But Keane frontman Tom Chaplin hasn't been put off. After releasing his debut solo record last year, the singer-songwriter decided to follow it up with a festive collection.
"It's a bit like breaking into Fort Knox," Chaplin jokes as he pretends to plead with Santa for just one of his songs to be played in December.
The singer's round, baby-face remains unscathed by his 38 years, though it is decorated with a day's worth of stubble. The long blond curls have been gone for a while, replaced by a greying, flicked quiff.
We're in the front room of his London apartment. It's the beginning of November and, fittingly for what we are here to discuss, a fire burns behind Tom's chair, spitting and snapping over the next half an hour.
This is not where he normally resides. The home he shares with wife Natalie and their daughter Freya is in in Kent. Around Christmas each year, Chaplin performs at a nearby pub in Tunbridge Wells – a festive tradition which inspired this album, he says.
He's always loved Christmas and still recalls the sense of magic his parents would create when his father would run around the garden in his pyjamas ringing a bell on Christmas Eve.
"I've got a terrible memory. I have obliterated vast swathes of my brain. But I do remember a lot of things from Christmas as a kid and they're mostly very happy memories."
He was also motivated by the fear of not working. After last year's release of The Wave, and with his addiction problems still lingering in the back of his mind, he was keen to keep busy.
"I didn't really want to stand still," he says. "The Wave was such a release of energy I enjoyed every aspect of it, more than anything I've enjoyed before. I didn't want to tread water for months on end so it was good to have another project to sink my teeth into."
It's four years since Keane went on a hiatus and, quizzed on the band's future, Chaplin remains as ambiguous as ever.
"It just doesn't quite feel like the right thing to be doing but then again it's part of the fabric of who I am and I would never say never," he says. "I feel like I'm just on this amazing trajectory of solo adventure and I don't really know how going back to doing another Keane record fits into that."
Currently, that solo adventure is Twelve Tales Of Christmas. And while it is an individual conquest, it isn't a case of chasing money, he says.
"There are a lot of cheesy Christmas albums. It's a way of making a quick buck but that wasn't my motivation at all. I wanted to make something that had a little originality about it."
If it's originality he wanted, perhaps opening the album with Walking In The Air may be ill-advised. But, like he did for Keane, Chaplin's melancholic approach adds a different dimension to the track famed for its choirboy connotations.
There is a thread of hope throughout the record, however, argues Chaplin. Although when he tries to suggest an example of a positive track, and opts for one of his own, Follow Your Heart, he quickly falls back into his chair mid-way through the answer.
"Well, maybe it's not entirely positive. It's a song about how life can feel very overwhelming."
It's a love song, though. Written for his wife and one of six original tracks on the record.
There were supposed to be more covers, Chaplin reveals, but he found writing around the festive themes easier than expected. It meant his choice of covers was limited and he thinks he ended up with the six he did because of their dark undertones. Subconsciously they connected to him, he says.
A haunting, intense rendition of Stay Another Day was originally penned by Tony Mortimer following the suicide of his brother, while the Pretenders' 2000 Miles was written by Chrissie Hynde after the group's guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott, died.
"Very often I feel most connected to life itself and other people in moments and times of real sadness," he says.
Happiness is "fleeting and frothy", he adds. "It's not as real a connection as with someone in that deeper, more moving way."
Chaplin will be three years clean in January. He first entered rehab in 2006 with a drug addiction which spiralled out of control off the back of Keane's big-selling debut, Hopes And Fears. His life was "off the rails" as recently as Christmas 2014, he says.
"I was exhausted because I had just been on a succession of crazy benders. And so I was lost, I was really unhappy. My daughter was about nine months old then and I felt like I was really slipping away from everyone. Even though I was physically with my family, emotionally and mentally I was miles away."
Life's been good since he kept busy, however. And it may explain his desire to throw himself back into work.
"It's not something I've thought about," he says, but one suspects he has. "During my dark times, I felt like I couldn't be creative. It just killed me creatively," he adds eventually, finding the right words after a series of false starts.
"It's an odd paradox because not being creative and not having that outlet was also feeding the addiction," he continues. "So once I got myself well and now I have this new lease of life, writing is absolutely central to what I do.
"I hope that my life never exists without the writing process again because if that part of me is not being mined and tapped then I'll be in trouble, put it that way."
:: Tom Chaplin's Twelve Tales Of Christmas is out now.