“I think we said we were going on hiatus,” recalls Richard Hughes of Keane’s departure from the music business at the close of 2013, “which is just a bullshit way of pretending we weren’t breaking up.” They went with ‘hiatus’, the drummer resumes, but “didn’t have any plans to ever do anything again”. Two years before the split, frontman Tom Chaplin told his bandmates he wanted to go solo, “so we knew that was in the offing for a long time.” Their final gig, for music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins, did not see them finish on a high. “The charity’s wonderful but the show was awful. There were just a load of pissed people who didn’t give a flying fuck about the music – we were like a karaoke machine in the corner. This really drunk lady clambered up onstage and started dancing with Tom, it was just woeful. Then we walked off stage and literally away from each other. That was it, and honestly, I thought we were done.” Chaplin left the venue before he got the chance to say goodbye to him, and the pair didn’t speak for two years, in which time Hughes also didn’t pick up a pair of sticks.
But Keane are back together, recording their fifth studio album 15 years after their Brit Award-winning debut Hopes and Fears, the second bestselling British album of 2004. “The jokes are the same but somehow the laughs are bigger – we needed time to realise that we love each other’s company.” The recording process is enjoyable, he says, and comes with no pressure to do another album afterwards and ending up on “the album, tour, album, tour treadmill”.
Their hopes and fears are different now. “It’s like you’re balancing what you used to be with what you are now.” The four members have six kids between them and “bigger fish to fry”. They were once “so neurotic about every little call, whatever the issue was – a video, artwork or what colour the fucking backdrop should be at a gig. We’re a little more chilled out now, a little more relaxed about some of that stuff, and have a little bit more perspective. I guess we’re just a bit older.”
“Hopes and Fears came out at the tail end of people buying physical albums,” he says when we discuss how the industry has changed. “Napster and everything came along, the first file sharing experiments where everything went a bit crazy, and I think the record industry panicked.” He tells me an American tour on the back of second album Under the Iron Sea saw them sell more tickets than they had albums – “People were just sharing music.” Nowadays, he points out, number one is decided by more – YouTube plays and streams. “When we were first out it was just how many singles people bought at HMV, Our Price, WHSmith and Woolworths. Things like that sound like ancient history now. I walked past the shuttered storefront of HMV on Oxford Street the other day and it was like a tragedy.”
Communication with followers is different too, of course. “Look at Ariana Grande’s Instagram account: straight from her brain, and wherever she is, to the fans. Bonkers… and brilliant.” I often think to myself that I should do better on social media, be more ‘all over it’, like others seem to be. “Instagram is like the greatest hits of people’s lives,” he reasons, “it’s all the cool shit, and there’s always somebody doing something more fun than what you’re doing right then, or more glamourous or exclusive or whatever. It takes a bit of perspective and effort to remember that it’s not real life, and that if you’re sitting at home with a takeaway watching whatever happens to be on telly, that’s ok too.”
This year, Keane will return to Cornbury Music Festival, headlining the Saturday. “We’re doing quite a few festivals around Europe this summer, dipping our toe back into that.” Discussion has taken place as to what songs they’ll do at Great Tew in 2019 and “there’s a long list of candidates now.” Will the latest record feature? “We’re hoping we’ll be able to play one or two new songs; festivals are a chance for a big singalong so I don’t think we want to overdo the unfamiliar. Hopefully by that point there might be something on the radio, or at least available – that’s how old-fashioned I am, that’s how long it’s been, thinking something has to be on the radio for you to hear it.”
It’s not really my place to welcome them back, but I do so anyway. “So far you’re the first person I’ve spoken to about it,” he says, “so thank you.” Quite fitting to a degree – Hopes and Fears was one of the first albums I bought.
Keane headline Cornbury Music Festival on Saturday 6 July cornburyfestival.com