The Hustler talks with Keane lead singer Tom Chaplin


Precious Kato

For Tom Chaplin independence has been long awaited. The lead singer of English band, Keane, is now championing his own project. He welcomed 2017 by releasing his debut solo album The Wave this January. City Winery is hosting his second intimate show of the tour this Sunday evening. The Hustler got a chance to hang out with Chaplin before the show discussing his own struggle with addiction, personal joys, and of course his new album.

How did you initially start the writing process of the The Wave?

Well at the end of 2013 I said to the guys in Keane I’m going to do this solo thing. In the group Tim [Rice-Oxley] wrote all the songs. And as time went on I decided I wanted to have an outlet for my own creativity. So I said I’m going to do this. I locked myself in my little studio on the countryside. I started writing songs that were very outward looking. They weren’t about me, they were sort of about friends’ crumbling relationships, or about my parents generation. Great stuff but very observational and not cohesive. Now at the same time my daughter was born which was lovely and exciting. But it also coincided with my personal life going into an awful freefall. My problems with drugs came back and I started using very heavily. By the end of 2014 I was lost and imprisoned in my own mad world. I knew I was losing everything and didn’t have a relationship to anyone especially my wife and daughter. I was more interested in chasing a high and I was losing a relationship with myself. At the beginning of 2015 I went on a huge binge. I thought I was going to die. And I thought in that moment, if I wake up tomorrow morning, everything is going to change. But actually when I got up there was a change. And the whole of 2015/2016 it was as if there was a ball of energy trapped inside me that was released. I wrote so many songs with all this energy I had I guess been splurging on a ridiculous drug habit. And I had all this stuff I wanted to write about.

What was the goal of this album/were you trying to achieve anything?

I wanted to sort of document the story of where I had been but also the story that came out of it. Finding redemption. Repairing the things I had broken. Eventually it became about wanting to document the story of going from what was the worst place in my life to probably the best place I could ever imagine being.

What was your greatest challenge making music independently?

(Laughs) Figuring out how to write enough songs.

What in the world!?

No! I mean Tim had always done that for the band. Now I knew how to write songs but I don’t think I was aware of how much work it was going to require. [Writing] is like a muscle you have to exercise. But it wasn’t arduous, I did enjoy it. It was a good challenge. The other thing I’ve noticed is that whilst it’s lovely to wake up and be the master of my own destiny, in a band you’re more of a committee. So that can be liberating, however, the thing about being in a band is that if you’re under attack you’ve got each other. When you’re on your own, it is just you. Although there hasn’t been much criticism, it feels very much like an attack on me. Whereas in Keane I could hide behind for example, that I didn’t write the song. But now I’m alone. It’s all me. I have to take responsibility for everything. The most incredible thing someone’s told me about this process was that you need an incredibly thin skin to write the songs, but very quickly you need to grow an incredibly thick skin to take them out into the world. You put a song out there and everyone has it so quickly. That’s scary. Then it’s in most people’s nature to go seek the negative thing. There can be so many positive statements and the one negative thing sticks out so much, and we gravitate towards that. So learning to cope with those things. I mean I think I’m much better at it now than before, but it’s still tough.

Why did you choose now as the time to share your story with The Wave?

Well it was released in the UK in October. But I wanted to save the album a little bit for American so I could come over to here and have a proper go at it. The album is called The Wave which sort of reflects this attitude I have now. It is the sense of being carried along by the ball of energy that’s inside me. I feel for the last two years I’ve been pushed along by this unstoppable force. And also being here in America, the fact that people are coming to the shows. There’s something about being here and immersing yourself in this culture. There’s a generosity of spirit here. British people are quite cynical and that’s one way of being. But in America there’s a positive spirit that I can feed off of.

I find it extremely admirable how you’ve laid your personal issues and triumphs out there for the public. That’s not a typical thing for many people. Did you find sharing your story via the album at all therapeutic?

Yeah I do because it’s a very powerful form of expression. But that said I think a lot of the songs I wrote on this album were kind of like an extension of what I’ve been talking about in my therapy sessions. So I had kind of already done the therapy and then documented that. But inevitably it does have a therapeutic element to it. There are times where if I feel restless or that kind of “Nameless Dread”- that feeling where it’s like Ugh, I can’t quite put my finger on it but I’ve got to get out of this frame of mind. I do find that sitting down to write could get me out of

What do you like to do outside of music that contribute to your musicality? Or do you even have time now because you have a little girl?

The things I do outside of music are actually the total opposite of making music! I go fishing. And I play golf. There’s a part of me that’s quite obsessive, so I need things I can obsess over in a generally positive way. What I love about those things is they put you out in the natural world. You’re at the mercy of the elements. There’s also a sense of personal struggle. I mean in fishing there’s times where I’ll sit on the bank and just not catch anything, and I’m like why? But actually that’s the struggle and I like that you’re not really in control of it. Also it’s the time for mediation. I find it in those places I can just forget myself and just be.

Very true, but golf can sometimes get antagonizing!

Going to the driving range is great for me. When I get on the golf course it’s a bit of a fight with myself. But I’ve learned to be more calm about things because I used to get super upset. It doesn’t get you anywhere. Tiger Woods has a great rule called the “30 Yards Rule”. When he hits a bad shot he’s got 30 yards as he’s walking to the next shot to be angry with himself, but that’s it. Clear the mind. Maybe the “30 Yards Rule” could be applied to everything.

Do you ever think of what your life would look like if you weren’t a musician?

I can’t imagine… What would I have done?! All I know is that there was one job other than making music that I really enjoyed. I worked in residential homes of people with learning disabilities in my gap year and a few years after that. And I just loved the people. They were so fun and warm and it was a joy the whole time. These people had a simple but joyful approach to life. Sometimes I feel like my life (and many others) get super complicated. We lose sight of prioritizing the simple good things. I found in that job we’d spend hours making really crap art. But it would give the people I was working with and me huge amounts of pleasure. Even now I sit with my daughter and we’re coloring and I’m thinking, I really enjoy this! So doing something creative even if it’s something simple and with people, I can see myself doing that.

Photo provided by Tom Chaplin.