This summer will, for many, be remembered as The Summer of Keane. When three boys from Battle leapt into the mainstream with cautious bravado and beautiful melodies. They never intended to set alight the genre boundaries of modern music, but nevertheless their debut, 'Hopes And Fears', sold several hundred thousand copies its first month, and Keane quickly filled the void left by Coldplay’s vacation to the studio. It’s a record that grows with every listen, and more importantly, it’s a record of songs - the kind you can play round a campfire (if you have a portable piano). Given that, Keane’s stay looks like being a lengthy and welcome one and it probably won’t be long until they’re higher up the bill for the big summer events. In the lead up to their V Festival slot, we catch up with the band and try to uncover their own hope and fears.
After your tremendous mid-afternoon Glasto set, anything else must seem like a Barfly gig?
Tom: At some gigs, you’re much more nervous and it’s not due to the amount of people or whatever, it’s just difficult to explain. Glastonbury is one of the biggest gigs that a band can play in their entire career, so we were incredibly nervous before that, but having done it, it gives you the confidence coming into something like this, that you’ve already experienced something like that. I guess that helps us out.
In a kind of complimentary way the band hasn’t changed much since you were playing Dublin castle gigs.. How does the reality of that compare to what you thought it would be?
Tim: It is pretty surreal what’s happened but, at the same time I can’t say we’re really disillusioned with it all; that it hasn’t been as good as we expected and we were expecting it to be all very bling.
Are you afraid?
Tim: I think what we have on our side is that our music relates and kind of reaches out to people, and as long as it keeps doing that we remain honest and true to ourselves
What happens when you run out of fucked up relationships? You run out of songs then don’t you?
Tim: I love bands that write music that are a bit older (30-40), whatever it is, and they’re still writing about ‘you know what its like snogging a girl the first time’ and I always find that a bit weird, and it’s nice that bands develop the things they write about. When we get to make another album I'm sure there’s going to be plenty of songs about fucked up relationships ‘cause you know unfortunately they’re always around. I hope we can write about other stuff as well, it would be crazy to think there isn’t stuff to write about. Life is so full of weird stuff you only have to look around you to find inspiration.
Coldplay make a whole profession out of trading off their charity work and Elbow came on stage this weekend with a big anti-mine flag. Where do you stand? Politics is politics, music is music?
Tom: That’s the way I feel about it (politics is politics, music is music) and I don’t really know very much about politics. I really don’t think we feel, as a band there’s a place for politics just because we don’t really know what we’re talking about if we’re going on. At the same time it is admirable when people stand up for things that they believe in.
Do you get recognised at all?
Tim: Very occasionally, but we’re not really bothered about all of that stuff. I don’t think doing charity related stuff can ever be a bad thing, I’m sure every once in a while you get someone that thinks that if I start talking about this charity it will be good for record sales but I think it would be very cynical to think that everyone does that. I think there are a lot of people out there who are passionate about things that they see around them and, personally, I think people get into writing songs and making music because they have something to say or something to give. And sometimes it might be crap but, regardless, they’re into that whole side of life and suddenly you get someone who finds they’re in a relatively prominent position in the world that people never have. If you get someone with a good heart they might actually think 'I can do something as well'. I think that’s always a good thing.
What would you say if you were stuck in a lift with Morrissey?
Tim: I think we’d probably start dribbling, trying to tell him what big fans we are, then feel very embarrassed. But also try to convince him that 'Southpaw Grammar' is a great album. Even though he slags it off, I think it’s one of the most influential.
And the new record?
Tim: I like it. It’s just one of those things. He’s been away for a while and now this album’s the one that’s great; but he’s done loads of great stuff, even since The Smiths. It’s just a shame that stuff gets ignored. This album is great as well, it’s nice to have him back and performing and just being his usual kind of difficult self.
Is it not a problem that one of the biggest stars of new music is still a 44-year-old guy from two decades ago?
Tom: I think the problem is that the whole culture of music and music related media is obsessed with the youth culture of it all. Or the youthfulness of it. So it always has to be about young people. That’s good, but if you get someone who’s a bit older and is still making music that's relevant or interesting then that’s great. People like, Paul Simon, who's obviously a legend anyway, but he’s not still writing songs about teenage love, he’s writing songs about being grown up and dealing with the many more complicated issues that you face as you go through your life. It’s great when people do that but unfortunately only one in a million have the guts to do that because its not very cool and it’s not gonna get you in the spotlight.
You're going back out to the US in September where you’ve now sold over 75,000 albums, which is pretty amazing. English accents sell records then…?
Tim: Well, we don’t put on anything, just clothes, but it’s nice to go over there because, over here, we've got some kind of ridiculous handicap because we’re from the south and we’re perceived as being posh and god knows what else. It's nice to have a chance to be judged, fairly on the music. If people think we’re crap that’s their right, but to say that you're rubbish because of the way that you talk...
Tom: While we were out there we knew the album was number one in the UK and, at the same time, we were playing these little, tiny intimate club gigs which reminded us of this time last year and that’s great for us as a band because it keeps us on our toes. It reminds you about who you are really. You have to impress people and you have to challenge them and give them something to enjoy and experience. I think that was the great thing about being in America. Great moments when you just try to get out and say 'hello' to people and anything you want signed or whatever, and you bump into an English person who’s saying ‘I can’t believe I saw you in such a small venue and I'm on holiday and I just walked past the club and it said Keane and I cant believe my luck!’.
Looking back on the darker times then, what’s been the most challenging point of your career?
Tim: The first few years of it, we reached an absolute low point in a typical poetic style just before things picked up for us, which is like the end of 2002, and we’d been going going going and we had a false start when we were offered a record deal that fell through, and we got to the point that we thought that, any day now, we’re going to have to admit that no one is interested in us and our songs. It’s a horribly depressing thought. You feel so personally about your music and that was probably the worst thing, but thankfully, literally weeks later we were playing a gig in London and Simon Williams from Fierce Panda turned up. Then everything happened. The man should be gold-plated or whatever it is they do to people that are good. Give him a gold disk!
A golden gun, maybe. Despite the chart success of many new bands, there aren’t that many that have songs that really grab people…
Tim: It’s weird, because we’ve been listening to Rufus Wainwright and were blown away with how amazing a record that is. I really like the Delays record. You know, there are great songs out there.
What are you looking forward to doing on your next LP?
Tim: We don’t know. This album only came out a few weeks ago. We’ve got some new songs but we’ve been so busy trying to play as many gigs as we can that…
Tom: Its not something we’re going to rush. We’re going to make a really special, amazing album. We’ve got this ridiculous dream of making an album that people really treasure for years and years to come.
What would you have written on your gravestone?
Tom: I did actually send an email to Tim once, it was an obituary of myself and it did actually end up saying, the last line was, ‘He died the loneliest man in England, perhaps the world.’ It was hard times! But maybe it’s prophetic!
Keane release new single ‘Bedshaped’ today, and play the V Festival in Chelmsford and Stafford this weekend.