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The evolution of Keane: ‘We’re quite a different outfit’

The dashing fellows of Keane. Photo: Alex Lake

The dashing fellows of Keane. Photos: Alex Lake

The last time Keane played Atlanta, there were only three members in the band, they were riding the success of their debut album, “Hopes and Fears” with the songs “Somewhere Only We Know” and “Everybody’s Changing,” and frontman Tom Chaplin was on the brink of entering rehab for drug abuse.

That was 2005, when the then-trio performed at Music Midtown and The Tabernacle.

Now, as they ready to return to The Tabernacle on Thursday (ticket info below), Keane is a quartet, they’re still touring behind last year’s excellent but mostly-ignored-in-the-U.S. “Strangeland” – their fourth album - and Chaplin is a content bloke, taking inspiration from Alice Cooper to swap golf for substance addictions.

“We’re quite a different outfit from then. We’ve become a well-oiled machine and know our craft a lot better. We feel we’re playing better than ever,” Chaplin said Wednesday morning, checking in before the band’s show that night at the Ryman in Nashville.

The genial Chaplin, 33, chatted easily about what the addition of bassist Jesse Quin has meant to Keane (which also includes Tim Rice-Oxley on piano/keys/guitar and Richard Hughes on drums), why America has been a bit of a challenge to conquer, how he feels about Keane making the list of the “weediest” (American translation: wimpiest) songs ever in a recent issue of leading U.K. music publication Q Magazine and why he wants to golf with Cooper.

Q. You’ve been touring behind this album for almost a year. Are you ready for this run to be over?

A. We finished in the U.K. in the beginning of December and did some big arenas and when we wound that up we thought, ‘Why are we going to America?’ since it was such a high point. But this tour [which began at the beginning of January] has been magical and so lovely. What has struck us is the dedication of the fans here and their love for our music. We don’t entertain being a huge stadium band in America, but there is a sense of a genuine love for what we do among the fans we do have here. So as a way for rounding this album off, I’m glad we decided to come over.

Q. What can you tell us about the show – are you playing mostly new material from “Strangeland,” or mixing it up?

A. We play for nearly two hours, so we try to give people their money’s worth. For me, I feel one of the things about our music is this strength and depth in the songs. I think people fall in love with Keane for whole albums as opposed to singles, so we carefully construct a set that we can draw on everything we’ve done. Just recently we’ve landed on a set we’re in love with; it takes you on a journey of Keane so far, but there’s obviously plenty of new stuff in there as well.

Q. You’ve sold more than 10 million albums worldwide, but why do you think America has been more of a challenge to conquer?

A. [Laughs] Oh, there are lots of reasons. The size of America is kind of daunting for a British band. You get around the entire U.K. in three weeks, but to do a comprehensive tour of America you have to be here for six months. There have been times as a band that we’ve thought, ‘Can we dedicate that much time to being there?’

America is the heartland of rock music and to bring something here that is going to be as big as the music you already have, that’s a hard thing. We know what we’re up against. And maybe it partly depends on the kind of music that you make. The first record had a more universal tone to it and appealed to people on a wider level. The second and third were darker and more experimental and more enigmatic and English in their peculiar ways, so maybe there is a disconnect.

But the fact that we get to come here in a chrome-plated tour bus is enough of a thrill. We played at First Avenue [club] in Minneapolis a few days ago and it was one of the best gigs we’ve done in a long time. There was just an energy in the room. It didn’t feel like there was any kind of slack and it was such a profound experience. As a performer you’re always seeking those kinds of moments.

Photo_Keane_300RGBQ. How has the dynamic changed with the full-time addition of Jesse?

A. He’s brought something great to the band. We always felt slightly inhibited about being a three piece. We were a four piece in the very beginning and then we had to change things – that’s why Tim moved to playing the piano and shaped the early sound of Keane. After awhile it became a bit inhibiting and we were tied to technology [for bass sounds]. Jesse came and played with us for a show in London and we had to perform Queen’s ‘Under Pressure,’ so you need a bass player for that! It felt like a really good fit, and we all thought, ‘This works really nicely.’ So he was gently shepherded into the world of Keane.

The other thing that is so important is someone’s personality, the laughs you have on the road. For a three piece it gets quite pressurized, there is nowhere to hide except going off on your own, which experience tells me isn’t a good idea.

Q. I also saw you made the list of the Q’s “weediest” songs ever. Do you take that classification as an insult?

A. [Laughs] There’s a funny attitude in the U.K. I never understood that about being ‘weedy’ or what they’re talking about! There is a snide-y attitude in the U.K. press. The refreshing thing about America is that doesn’t appear quite as much here, but it’s an integral part of the British media. I suppose it’s born out of a desire to sell magazines.

But I always think our music is always about leaving everything on the table. On an emotional level, nothing is held back and it sort of irks me that people think that is ‘weedy.’ If you’re willing to bare your soul in a song, that’s about the greatest thing that you can do.

Q. You guys typically take a couple of years between albums. Do you think that will be the case this time?

A. We’ve hit a point where it’s greatest hits time, so that’s something we have to do, which will probably happen toward the end of this year, and maybe some new material around that. But none of us is particularly keen about embarking on any big projects this year. You kind of need to reconnect with real life to find inspiration and freshness to find where you go next. This will be the first summer in a long time when I’ll be able to be at home, so it will be lovely to enjoy my garden and spend time with my wife. That stuff seems to get on hold.

Q. Do you live in London?

A. I do have a place in London, but I mainly live in a little cottage in the countryside. It’s a simple existence, which I love. I need contrast. I don’t think I could cope with coming off the road and dealing with [the chaos] of London.

Q. So how are you doing personally? Are you still playing golf?

A. I am, yes! People think it’s a peculiar thing that lots of singers play golf, but it’s as far away from the process of being a frontman as you can possibly get. There’s still the pursuit of massaging the ego, but being out there with nature, just battling yourself and not anything else…

I’m from the Alice Cooper school of frontmen. I always enjoyed golf, but I knew of when he came back from the brink he needed things to occupy his time and be a healthier obsession. I saw him at the Q Awards and I really wanted to go up to him and say thanks for allowing the possibility of rock singers to play golf, but I was too shy to do it. You know, if Alice Cooper says it’s OK, then it is. I’d love a game with him.

 Keane performs at 8 p.m. Thursday with Youngblood Hawke at The Tabernacle. Tickets are $29.50. Info: www.tabernacleatl.com, 1-800-745-3000.

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By Melissa Ruggieri, The Music Scene

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[...] Keane has never reached the stature in the U.S. that it has achieved internationally, Chaplin noted in an interview with the AJC earlier this week that the band is nonetheless thrilled with the loyal fan base it has culled [...]