After five albums, piano-driven English rock band Keane decided to take some time off, which didn't go well for frontman Tom Chaplin. He found himself in a spiral of substance abuse, which threatened to ruin his career and tear apart his family. After coming out the other side, Chaplin began to write The Wave, his first solo album, which details his return to the land of the living and features themes of repairing relationships and looking towards a brighter future.
The album's been out in the UK for a few months, and is just now receiving its North American release, which coincides with a tour that kicks off in Atlanta on Saturday, followed by European dates. We talked with Chaplin about the album's frigid cover photo shoot, the fear of becoming a cliché, and learning to like the sound of your own voice.
AllMusic: The album has been available in the UK for a few months now, but it's just coming out here. Is it weird to go through the release cycle all over again?
Tom Chaplin: It’s exciting, this whole process, stepping away from Keane with this new journey. It’s given me a new lease on life, I suppose. It feels like the times back in the early days with Keane, where everything was fresh and new. In some ways, I suppose I’m more attached to this solo thing than I ever was to Keane, because it’s so personal, and because I’ve written all the songs, which also distinguishes it from my time with Keane.
AllMusic: Now that you've been playing these songs live, how have they started to evolve?
Chaplin: For me, it’s been the tone of the shows, that’s what I’ve been surprised by and really enjoyed. The album is about a very personal and difficult story, and I was concerned that maybe it wouldn’t resonate with audiences in the way that I’d hoped. What I’ve discovered is that the shows have been almost like an evening with, there’s been a lot of interaction, a lot of conversations, and me telling a very personal story in between songs, and talking with complete authority about the songs and where they came from and the stories behind them. After years of playing big stages with a more posturing rock show, it’s been nice to go to something that feels very conversational and direct, in the sense of talking about the songs and delivering them in an intimate way.
AllMusic: Were there shows you saw with that tone that you learned from?
Chaplin: Rufus Wainwright supported us many years ago, just after he put Want One out, which is a record with a similar background, in terms of how it came about; he’s also a guy who’s struggled with addiction and wrote about it very honestly. I remember he was very conversational and had a very warm approach onstage, sort of breaking down the fourth wall.
I was at Glastonbury this year, watching Adele, and that’s done to the Nth degree. She was playing to a hundred thousand people in a giant field, but she made it feel so down to earth and so real. The night before, Muse had performed in the same slot, and it had been very much a bombastic, posturing rock show, and it was interesting to see the two different extremes. For me, where I’m at at this point in time, my inclination is to go more towards that authentic, real version of things, and to make it feel like the crowd are included as part of the show as opposed to being there to adore you and cheer and all that.
AllMusic: Obviously, your voice is the most featured musical element on the record. We all tend to think our voices sound weird when they're played back to us on recordings. How did you get over that early on?
Chaplin: I’ve gotten used to the singing, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the talking. Whenever I hear myself back in interviews, I find it an almost unbearable cringe. But singing, that’s what I do, and I have a lot of experience. I’m trying to think of the last time I hated my own singing voice, and it was probably before the first Keane record, in those long years we spent making endless demos and listening back and trying to hone what we did. I think at that point, there were elements of my voice I didn’t like. But not only have I gotten used to it, but I can really appreciate this instrument that I have.
AllMusic: "Hold On To Our Love" is a standout on the record. When you were going in to record that one, did you feel any extra pressure to get it just right?
Chaplin: The record came in this wave of creative energy, which is one of the reasons I wanted to call the record that. I got myself clean and sober and I tapped into this pent-up energy that had been going towards sustaining this crazy addiction that I had, but now I was able to put it toward something healthy and positive, which was making a record and articulating my story.
That was the first song that came out of that process, early in 2015. At the time, I was trying to repair all the broken relationships in my life, first and foremost with my wife and daughter, and that song is about how I’ve let you down many times and things are in disarray, but if we can survive this onslaught that I’ve brought about on our relationship, then we can survive anything. So that idea is that if there’s a glimmer of hope, it’s worth clinging onto.
I really wanted it to feel like, for the first half of the song, it was like I was gently telling that story to my wife, almost whispering it in her ear. So it was very-stripped back, really so much about the delivery and poignancy of the vocal, and as the song progresses, it opens up and becomes more of a joyful, celebratory song. By the time I recorded it, things were going great, and it felt appropriate to finish it with this glorious, gospel-y ending. A lot of people seem to have chosen that as a favorite, and I can see why, it’s very emotionally charged.
AllMusic: How miserable was the album cover photo shoot?
Chaplin: We did a photo for each song, and the cover; we did them all in different locations near where I live, because we wanted to keep a sense of places and locations that were familiar to me. That particular shot was done in the very cold English Channel down on the south coast of England. I was up at four in the morning on a day back in June, which should be summertime, but we had a very cold June last year. It was practically freezing and very windy, gray and cold, and I had to get into the sea in a suit, which was kind of skin tight and not comfortable at all. I’m pleased with the way it turned out, but I wouldn’t want to go through the process again.
One of the things about the English Channel is that it’s generally quite a calm bit of sea, so we had to go scout a place where it would be a bit more choppy so we could get the shot of the wave that we needed. We went to a place called Birling Gap, which is about an hour from where I live, which is a bit more renowned for rougher sea. I was a bit scared, I had my back to the waves, and I didn’t know when I was going to get hit from behind by what were quite big waves, in the end. So it was scary, it was cold, but ultimately, it was worth it.
AllMusic: The main theme of the album is coming back from addiction and putting the pieces back together. Addicts often become clichés, and being a cliché sounds like one of the scariest things that can happen to an artist.
Chaplin: The further I go away from it, the more objectivity I have. It’s been two years. I don’t worry about it in a sense of cliché, but when I think of that time, I just think of how destructive it was for me personally, and for the people around me and how unpredictable I was as a human being, and the fact that it nearly killed me. If I’d carried on, I wouldn’t be here today. So I look at it and think that it feels scary, it’s a very scary, frightening place, and that’s a good thing. I don’t want to go back there again, and it’s strengthened my resolve. The farther you go, the more appealing it could become, but thus far, I feel less and less like going back to it.
Clichés are clichés for a reason, and we all live them on a daily basis. The one that I ended up in was the fallen, depressed, drug-addicted singer, and that’s been done many times. But for me, the more interesting part of it has been exploring the reasons why I became like that. Figuring that stuff out, I’ve understood myself a lot better and learned to like myself a lot more. Now I wake up each day and feel a sense of genuine positivity about what I can achieve in my life, which is not something I’ve really felt at all during my adult life, I think it has always been a struggle up until the last couple of years. Now I have a sense of wanting to make up for lost time and to achieve something, to keep learning about myself and the world around me. It was a cliché that took me to a horrible and desperate place, but it also enabled me to look at myself with a degree of detail that I never would have done if I hadn’t fallen into that trap, so it’s a blessing and a curse.
AllMusic: You've covered Oasis onstage before, and I recently saw the Supersonic documentary, so they've been on my mind. What's the key to pulling off a good Oasis cover?
Chaplin: They’re not difficult songs to cover. I remember doing “Cast No Shadow” live with Keane, we were at a festival in the UK and Oasis were due to play, but they pulled out, which may have been the beginning of the end for them, so we got bumped up a slot and we felt it was right and proper to cover them. I just did it very straightforward on an acoustic guitar with the crowd singing along, that’s as much advice as I could give. That’s one of Noel Gallagher’s great tricks, he makes those songs very simple, very accessible, and easy for every member of the crowd to sing along to. I think covering them is a fairly simple job.