Tom Chaplin: Keane divided opinion, but those who loved us really loved us
Cause And Effect, Keane's first album since 2012 is just out. Ahead of their gigs in Belfast and Dublin next month, Lucy Mapstone talks to frontman Tom Chaplin about how the LP was influenced by the personal struggles he and bandmate Tim Rice-Oxley have faced – and why the four-time chart toppers have grown out of being considered 'divisive'
KEANE frontman Tom Chaplin is chuckling over the "irony" at the past perception of the band as a bunch of clean-cut soft rockers. The alternative rock group from East Sussex, who rose to fame with their chart-topping debut album Hopes and Fears in 2004, were widely loved from the moment they hit the mainstream.
But they were also widely panned, particularly by critics and less forgiving music aficionados, some suggesting they were a watered-down version of Coldplay, or "posh boys" without edge thanks to baby-faced Chaplin.
The years of success and number one albums (all four of their previous LPs topped the charts) go above and beyond any critique they may have faced, and Chaplin looks back at that time with a tolerant and somewhat amused eye.
"All the time that people had that view of us as a band and saw me as an angelic choir boy, my personal life was pretty horrendous," he laughs. "I was a massive drug addict – and I was for years. Funnily enough, in a way, I was living that very rock and roll lifestyle.
"But it wasn't really, for me, something that should ever be celebrated or seen as a positive because it was so destructive, so there's an irony there."
The Brit Award-winning band are back after a seven-year hiatus with new album Cause And Effect, following a period of great difficulty for both Chaplin and the band's keyboardist and songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley.
Chaplin's abuse issues have been highly publicised since 2006 when the band were forced to cancel their North American tour while he was being treated for drug and alcohol addiction.
After getting clean, he had a relapse in 2013 and he has talked openly about returning to drugs in a "major way", followed by the moment of clarity in early 2015 that finally prompted him to sort himself out.
He has now been sober for more than three years and is feeling like a "much more robust human being".
Rice-Oxley – responsible for the majority of the band's biggest hits including Everybody's Changing, Somewhere Only We Know, Is It Any Wonder? and Spiralling – went through a personal hell of his own when his marriage fell apart.
He split from his wife of seven years Jayne, the mother of his two children, and was also left dealing with the impact of no longer working with Keane.
However, from the ashes of his personal life he penned a collection of songs which, after reuniting with his old bandmates Chaplin, Richard Hughes and Jesse Quin, formed the birth of their long-awaited reunion.
Having released two successful solo records of his own during Keane's break, Chaplin was not sure the band would ever join forces again.
He explains: "The thing that drew me back to wanting to make the record was the fact that Tim had written this bunch of songs that were so vulnerable, they were so sad, they were songs that were really just about his whole life and the whole world that he'd built over the years coming crashing down.
"Suddenly he went from living this very successful and what seemed like a permanent existence, to sitting alone at home and not really feeling like he had anything, and he expressed that in the songs, as he always does, in a very beautiful way."
Chaplin says his bandmate's songs started in a "very bleak place" but, over time, started to introduce themes of hope and looking forward to the future.
"It's also interesting for me because I was going through a similar experience in my own life, at more or less the same time," he adds.
"It was different because for me it was the culmination of my addiction and for me hitting my own rock bottom and nearly losing everything that was dear to me, and being in a really rough place and growing out of that."
Having spent several years not really being in touch after Keane took a break, Chaplin is keen to make it clear there was no "big fall out" between them.
"We did see each other a few times here and there – I don't want to characterise it as we'd completely fallen out and that we didn't want to speak to each other, it really wasn't like that at all," he insists.
"It was more that we had spent so long in each others' pockets. We began trying to make a serious go of Keane in the late 1990s, so it was a labour of love for a long time and, inevitably, you create a lot of good memories, but also there are tensions in that dynamic that grow and fester over time.
"I certainly felt like I needed a break from it and to do something completely different," he admits.
"I suppose it was more that we became estranged really, opposed to there being some big fall out – we just didn't really see each other."
Chaplin says the band are not too nervous about coming back after such a long time away, thanks to their recent string of gigs across the summer and the positive response he had to his solo records in 2016 and 2017.
"As a band, I know that we divided opinion but the people that really loved us and had a very deep connection to the songs emotionally, and so I always felt fairly confident they would still be there," he says.
Despite not landing mainstream success for nearly 10 years following the band's formation in 1995, and despite having toiled on the circuit for years and putting out independent records, Chaplin says that opinions changed when they made it big with Hopes And Fears in 2004.
"Suddenly we became much less popular with the cooler publications and all of that, and that spread," he notes.
"Quite often that's the price you pay for having mainstream success; you just have to accept that you can't be the cool kids on the block any more, so we did divide opinion and we probably didn't help that with our own self-deprecation and all of that."
Smiling, he continues: "At the same time, looking back, I'm proud that we didn't try and change ourselves too much to try and pander to anyone or anything.
"We just did our own thing and maybe that's what people who loved us respected us for."
:: Keane play the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, on October 7 and Dublin's Olympia Theatre on October 8 (ticketmaster.ie). Cause And Effect is out now.