Music interview: Tom Chaplin

Tom Chaplin. Picture; Derek Hudson
Tom Chaplin. Picture; Derek Hudson
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Rumours that Keane singer Tom Chaplin was considering making a solo record have been circulating for several years. But it’s taken until now, with his chart-topping band in hiatus, for him to finally release that long talked of album.

Called The Wave, it’s out tomorrow and later this month he embarks on a tour of intimate venues, including Leeds City Varieties, to promote it.

“For a long time I didn’t have the courage or the wherewithal and the right sort of energy to do it, so it sort of remained this nebulous, far away dream,” the 37-year-old explains with refreshing frankness.

“In 2013, when we’d done our Best Of I said to the guys, ‘Can we put Keane on hold while I try to make this solo album?’ It was a strange period. I threw myself into the writing process. I thought ‘I have to do this all on my own’ and very quickly came up against a creative brick wall.

“It was difficult to adjust to. [Keyboard player] Tim [Rice-Oxley] has always written the songs for Keane. I had written songs over the years and used to do it a lot, so it was learning how to do it again – and learning how to write songs that were actually good enough I found very tough.”

Matters came to a head in 2014. What should have been a “really happy year” because of the birth of Chaplin’s daughter turned into a period where his well documented problems with alcohol resurfaced. “I went further and further off the rails and at that point my creative energy had completely evaporated, so it was a very tricky start to the process, but then things got better,” he says.

Tom Chaplin

Tom Chaplin

He puts his downward spiral in 2014 down to “a problem that I’d never really resolved”.

“I went to rehab in 2006 – and actually I did go again on various other occasions which weren’t talked about – but I think rehab and the formal addiction recovery processes wasn’t enough for me. It works for lots of people but for me it required going back to the root of the problem and that stuff has accumulated over years and years and probably goes a long way back in my childhood.”

At the end of that year, he says: “My problems got so bad that I was forced to find another way of doing things. I did that through a lot of very thorough psychoanalysis and I finally made peace with myself.

“I had never done that, I never felt comfortable in my own skin. Despite being this front man and appearing to be confident I was very shy and very reserved and it felt like dealing with my problems on my own was the best method and of course it never is.

“It required going right to the brink in order to figure out a new path – and thankfully I did.”

The Wave has its own narrative that travels from dark to light; Chaplin admits it shadows his own experiences over the past two years. “I suppose once I’d got well, and once I had access these dark parts of my soul and felt confident enough to express them, the songs really just started coming out of me very fast. I wanted to talk about the experience of being stuck in that place – songs like Still Waiting and Worthless Words and even Hardened Heart are about still being in a living hell.

“But during last year I was beginning to repair the relationships that I had to other people, so there are songs like Hold On To Our Love, Solid Gold and Quicksand which explore the relationship that I had with my wife and my daughter and my family.

“There are also songs about my relationship to myself, particularly The Wave and See It So Clear which are about looking at my past and the bits in between, the happy memories that we all cling onto, and going deep.

“I suppose the result of that is you end up with a load of songs that describe a kind of experience of transition, it was then the logical step that the album should reflect that transition from dark to light and I think it works really nicely in that respect.”

The process of making this record also helped Chaplin to lay to rest qualms he had with his own singing voice. “That sweet, angelic quality of my voice, I think people just saw me as this happy-go-lucky choirboy and of course that is one part of what my voice expresses but there’s always been a darkness lurking underneath it. Now that the songs are so personal, and inevitably because I’ve written them myself, they come from that place, I’ve been able to marry the two things up.

“Instead of my voice being something I have a love/hate relationship with I have huge respect for it now and a desire to kind of nurture it and look after it.”

The decade and a half that Chaplin spent in Keane were studded with awards and five number one albums in the UK. Regarding those years, he says: “I look back on them with great respect for what we achieved and lots of fond memories. But inevitably because I’d been battling myself for such a long time I have enormous regrets about the past.

“Someone asked me what my favourite Keane record was and I think I would opt for Hopes and Fears but with the caveat that I wish I could go back and do it differently. We had such a great record there and I just was not in the right place to truly enjoy it and realise quite what an amazing thing we had at that point.

“I think all of my experience with Keane is tinged with this self-sabotage that I foisted upon everything. So while there are lots of great memories there is always regret. That said, I am in a different place now. I’m not hung up on that regret. I get it if I look back but it doesn’t haunt me on a daily basis.”

Chaplin doesn’t discount the idea that Keane may reform at some point, or that he may be able to juggle both the band and his solo career. “Who knows? Keane is such an integral part of my life that it’s strange and hard to imagine that that wouldn’t be something that happened again, but I’m also very conscious of that this new venture has brought for me which is something for me at least profoundly exciting and that I really am just enjoying every minute of.

“I’m sure that could be the same with a Keane record but at the moment I just want to enjoy this process. When it comes to the end of it I am unsure how I will feel. Maybe I will want to keep going on this trajectory that I’m on right now or maybe it will indulge that part of me that needs indulging and I’ll want to just go back and do Keane stuff. I really don’t know.”

For now he says he’s excited “like you wouldn’t believe” about the prospect of touring with a group of “brilliant, young and enthusiastic” multi-instrumentalists.

“The fact that I’m here right now and that I have these songs, I’m happy and healthy and I now have the chance to take it out on the road is great,” he says. “The response to the record has been lovely, particularly the Keane fans, they’ve been really interested and positive. The tour starts a week after the record comes out so I hope people will have had a chance to really immerse themselves in the new songs and there will be that connection. From my experience of Keane, they throw themselves into the music so I’m hoping that they will do the same for my songs.”

The Wave is out tomorrow. Tom Chaplin plays at Leeds City Varieties on October 26. For details visit www.tomchaplinmusic.com

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