Keane are riding high on a wave of album success that’s only been beaten by the Beatles. Andy Welch meets band members Richard Hughes and Jesse Quin to reflect on a remarkable year.
THE last time Keane played at V Festival they found themselves in the odd position of filling in for Oasis who, having performed at the festival’s Staffordshire site, didn’t make it to Essex to play a second night.
Liam Gallagher released a statement saying he was suffering with a throat infection, and while that might have been the case (Noel Gallagher has since stated his younger brother was hungover), in reality Oasis were in the process of splitting up.
“We were expecting a smaller crowd, but when we walked on stage we all just looked out and said ‘Wow!’,” says Keane’s bass player Jesse Quin.
Drummer Rich Hughes adds: “Then Tom (Chaplin) decided to cover Cast No Shadow.
“Although I thought the crowd were perhaps those that wouldn’t have gone to see Oasis anyway, it worked brilliantly. It’s another great Oasis song, and the whole field was singing.
“We might not be doing any covers this year, but V is going to be great. It’s one we always look forward to.
“British festivals are always fantastic. We did T In The Park in Scotland recently, and despite the horror show caused by the weather, the people were there in their tens of thousands to watch us, all singing along in the rain.”
Given Keane’s current status, it’s difficult to imagine their appearance at a festival eliciting any other kind of reaction.
Debut album Hopes And Fears was 2004’s second biggest-seller, after Scissor Sisters’s self-titled breakthrough, while the follow-up Under The Iron Sea, and third album Perfect Symmetry, only broadened their appeal.
While many bands of their 2004/2005 vintage struggled after the success of a huge-selling debut, Keane thrived with the increased attention.
Not even the blip of singer Tom Chaplin’s admission to rehab for cocaine addiction in 2006 could derail their ascent.
They might not have the music press kudos of Radiohead and Coldplay, but when Keane’s fifth album Strangeland went to No 1 in the album chart earlier this year, they equalled feats by the aforementioned bands. Only the Beatles have outdone the three groups on that front.
Their forthcoming European tour is their biggest yet, moving from Beirut to Lisbon to Helsinki, while they’re planning something big for the UK in December, having only played a handful of relatively-small shows earlier in the year prior to Strangeland’s release.
“Despite all that, I think it’s only now that I’m getting a handle on what we do,” says Hughes.
“Bands who make their second record the same as their first really struggle when it comes to making their third. We established with our second, Under The Iron Sea, that we weren’t going to make Hopes And Fears 2.
“Because of that, we were free to do whatever we wanted with what became Perfect Symmetry.”
When it comes to Perfect Symmetry, there is a slight pause in conversation. It’s not to say it was an unhappy record – Hughes and Quin’s eyes light up when they think back to recording sessions in Germany – but they do feel it was too dense-sounding, burying much of piano player and chief songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley’s hard work.
“We honestly thought it was going to sound like a hip-hop record,” says Hughes, “but really it sounds like a European pop record.
“There was a lot going on, and we really indulged in the fun side of making it – too much, maybe, which covered up whatever might have been lacking. It’s still a meaningful record. Tim’s songs are very deep.”
For Strangeland, Rice-Oxley had a bank of about 80 songs to choose from, and early sessions for the album involved the quartet playing and rehearsing the final 12 before going anywhere near a studio to record them.
The idea was for the album to be more stripped back than its predecessor, with no wasted words or musical interludes.
Disconnected, among the band’s best singles, and the song Strangeland – which incidentally didn’t make the final dozen songs on the album – set the tone for the recording, which Hughes says was engineered to let the songs be the stars of the show, not fancy production techniques.