Source - Q Magazine
Date - 01-May-2004
Author - Michael Odell
Original article - not online (go here for www.q4music.com)


The Shore Thing

Almost overnight, Keane seem primed for global success. The reason? Exquisite piano-powered anthems and relentless bullying at public school - just like their student friends Coldplay. Tally-ho!

On a spring evening in Brighton a large crowd has gathered to see the band that represents Coldplay's worst nightmare. Boosted by the Number 3 success of their single Somewhere Only We Know, Keane are here to support Travis but the inference is clear: while Chris and Gwynnie paint the nursery and pick out curtains, an irresistible new force in epic sensitive rock is threatening to sweep all before them.
Based in Battle, just across East Sussex, Keane are effectively playing a hometown gig. The venue is packed for their 25-minute support slot and fans are already whooping the single as well as anthems-in-waiting Bedshaped and Sunshine.
On stage Keane look decidedly understaffed: drummer Richard Hughes, matinee idol Tim Rice-Oxley behind keyboards and singer Tom Chaplin, a tall guy with a baby's head glued to his shoulders. Notoriously, there is not a guitar in sight. In their place, a massive sound and polished performance of emotionally literate rock songs which, together, more than warrants their reputation as "the new Coldplay".

Afterwards in the dressing room, Keane's behaviour suggests that off-duty these are well mannered boys about to pummel the world into submission with niceness. Chaplin says hi, but then hurries away announcing, "I must really go and say hello to my mum." Rice-Oxley is reserved charm personified. Then there's Hughes, friendly via a slightly cracked old man's voice. He is deeply wrinkled around the eyes, like someone who has spent much of his life smiling or wincing from elaborate torture.
Like their friend Chris Martin before them, they are public schoolboys: choice manners, well educated, though nowhere near as snooty or gormless as you might imagine. This may be because they felt like outsiders at Tonbridge School, a @19,000-a-year establishment in Kent, founded in 1553, where pupils do sport every day.
It was a testing experience. At 25, Chaplin is the youngest member of the band. He was bullied at school and resented the rugger ethos.
"I found the first years very difficult," says Chaplin, who was more interested in developing his powerful falsetto and listening to U2, Michael Jackson and the Pet Shop Boys. "Getting bullied a lot and the attitude where everyone thinks they're a big shot and having to be good at sport, being top dog… That's how you were judged. I was never going to be a rugby type and being a bit of a singer into the bargain sort of made me a target."
Rice-Oxley, the quietest and most shy, was good at cricket, so managed to survive unscathed. "If things at school are good it's fine. But you're trapped there, so if things are bad it can be very lonely and shitty," he says.
"The idea of trying to form a band in that sort of environment is quite challenging," adds Hughes. "If there's no bat and ball involved, you're seen as borderline insane."

The day after the Brighton show the Keane/Q party ravel to Dungeness on the Kent coast to take pictures. Essentially it's a Dido album in topographical form: a bleak, featureless landscape with the odd shrub, a bit of scrubland and the shriek of gulls. The artist Derek Jarman lived in a shack there, reveling in the blustery nothingness. But if you don't put in the work it's easy to see it as a complete dump.
I make my feelings known. Hughes bows his head and jangles change in his pocket and says, "It's actually a place of considerable scientific interest," then holds forth in the slightly embarrassed way of someone who is 28 but knows they sound like a knowledgeable uncle.
But it's OK, Keane know they do not rock. Just as Chris Martin has said that the mere existence of a credible public school band like Radiohead gave him permission to pursue his dream, so Keane take comfort from the select clique of fees-paying rockers before them.
The trio went up to Tonbridge, having met at primary school in Battle some years before. They called their band The Lotus Eaters until they discovered the name was taken. Then, Cherry Keane. "She was a kind old lady who helped make tea for the kids at school," says Chaplin. "People are saying she was my nanny but that's not really accurate."
To his credit, he is pissing himself laughing while he says this, knowing full well this "rock crime" will remain on the file of the Credibility Police for some time to come.
After Tonbridge, Rice-Oxley went to University College London and got a first in Classics. Hughes read Geography there, while Chaplin managed a year of History of Art at Edinburgh. He abandoned the course once the band, now simply Keane, had decided to give it a year's serious effort in London.
But fate almost intervened to end their plans. In his second year Rice-Oxley got friendly with a wild-eyed fresher "with a big muff of wiry blonde hair". Chris Martin was doing a similar course, Ancient World Studies. They became and remain close after a study weekend in Virginia Water in Surrey. It was here that Rice-Oxley asked to hear Martin play one of his songs on the piano. Rice-Oxley was impressed, and the feeling was clearly mutual. Martin had struggled at his own school, Sherborne, where his early efforts in a band called The Rockin' Honkies were publicly ridiculed at school assembly. Martin clearly recognized a kindred spirit and asked Rice-Oxley to be the keyboard player in the fledgling Coldplay.
"I was seriously interested," says Rice-Oxley, "But Keane were already operational and Coldplay's keyboard player idea was dropped."
Still, they kept a close eye on each other's progress. When Coldplay's debut album Parachutes arrived to rave reviews, Rice-Oxley remembers reading with tears in his eyes.
"I won't say we weren't envious. But mostly I was overwhelmed because I thought, It really does happen. These friends of ours have made an album to blow everyone away."
Initially, Keane had a guitarist, Dominic Scott. However, after fruitless struggles to land a deal, Scott left. "There wasn't too much animosity," says Chaplin. "A brilliant guitarist but we were just layering everything in guitar because we thought, more is better."
Finally, one night in their Stoke Newtington flat they sat listening to The Smiths. Rice-Oxley felt that even Johnny Marr sometimes smothered great songs with guitar. He had found a keyboard, a Yamaha CP-70, which would make a sound bold enough to anchor the entire band. Chaplin ceased holding an acoustic and became a frontman. An Oasis-like rocker called Gingerbread and a track called Rubbernecking were jettisoned. They stopped jamming as a group and Rice-Oxley was given control of the writing process, constructing a set of tunes which were airier, sparser and tinged with more electronic flourishes than before. And so Keane were born.

Last June, Keane were summoned to Interscope, home to all that matters in US music. Dr Dre, Eminem, Limp Bizkit, 50 Cent, Marilyn Manson and U2 help make up a roster which dominates American music and far beyond. Head of the label is Jimmy Iovine, formerly a producer of U2 and Simple Minds, who started the once independent label in 1989. Keane were invited to attend what is known as "the Jimmy meeting".
In Iovine's Manhattan office sat John Lennon's mellotron, as played on Strawberry Fields Forever. Iovine invited Rice-Oxley to play it. Then he signed the band and has taken personal responsibility for their assault on America this year.
"I think the Americans like that our music reflects exactly who we are," says Rice-Oxley. "Some people won't like that we're not rock'n'roll. We're not like Oasis who possibly know which buttons to push, and provide it."
Rice-Oxley writes both the music and the lyrics to all Keane's material. He takes me back to the farmhouse in Battle where he grew up (he has since left the family home for Tunbridge Wells). The wooden-beamed practice room overlooks the field where the battle of Hastings was fought. The room itself is where Everybody's Changing and Bedshaped were recorded and Keane's clash of cultures is everywhere in evidence. Nestling together are a crate of lager and a grandfather clock, bongos and portraits of fierce-looking family ancestors in gilt frames.
When we arrive, his father, Dr Rice-Oxley, is in the rose garden with a golf club. He seems to have been practicing his swing. He puts it away and makes us a cup of tea. Both Rice-Oxley's parents are doctors: his mother plays an important quality control role with Chaplin's singing, telling him when his voice sounds crap.
The mordant tinge to Keane's world springs from a very anti-rock perspective. When Coldplay succeeded and Keane were struggling, Tim Rice-Oxley felt he and his friends were being judged on their lack of progress, on the fact they hadn't left the small town or their dreams behind.
"Somewhere Only We Know and Bedshaped are all about this feeling that if you haven't been off to build mud huts in Ghana then you're not a worthwhile person. I felt we were being judged for not doing those things or starting a career or living a trendy life in Shoreditch. And even now that we are going places, I still feel like I want to be back where I know."

Two weeks later Keane are in Paris. Following the UK and American excitement, European interest means they must launch a sudden and decisive continental campaign. In the afternoon they play an acoustic set at Paris's Oui FM. There is an interview in which the DJ compares them to Coldplay (wry smiles) and The Beautiful South (curled lips).
Later, on a boat moored on the Seine, they await the arrival of French media who are a picture of gorgeousness in polo necks. They will play a full live set, almost a year to the night since Keane played a similar show to British A&R personnel.
Although they're nervous, it doesn't show. Rice-Oxley shuts his eyes and rides his piano stool like a bolting pony. Chaplin has got his Bono leaps and crouches down pat. By the end his ruddy cheeks make him look like a young farmer after an afternoon of sleeves-rolled agro with an angry bullock. But all in all, it's a great performance.
Afterwards, in the bar of the swaying ship, Rice-Oxley is as ever slightly diffident about success. He returns to the need to filter the experience of success through a small-town sensibility. "I don't want to get lost in it," he says. "It's just as important to me that I can go home to Tunbridge Wells and meet someone in the street I know."
Chaplin agrees and raves about the old timers in his Battle local. However, he admits he spent his last week off in New York with his girlfriend.
"I can listen to The Strokes, The Vines, Oasis or whoever and appreciate them," says Rice-Oxley. "But my life is not like that, and so my songs aren't like that. Whatever happens to us, whatever we experience, I don't see my worldview changing dramatically. It'll always be pretty simple - life is full of pathos."

 


Hooked On Classics!

Murder, volcanos and interior design: Classics scholar Tim Rice-Oxley talks us through the ancient world's literary giants.

Ovid
Roman politician turned author of erotic poems.
Why he rocks: "He wrote a long long poem called Metamorphoses, combining all the myths. A lot of nymphs bathing in a woodland glade, which makes it very readable. Like a rap video but with poetry."

Theocritus
Greek poet specializing in idylls about country life.
Why he rocks: "He wrote about the little dramas and passions of ordinary rural people in ancient Greece as opposed to Alexandria and exciting cosmopolitan stuff. There's a bit of that attitude in Keane."

Homer
Pre-eminent Greek poet and father of Western literature.
Why he rocks: "In the Illiad, Achilles is a very dignified character. But his great rival Hector has killed Achilles' 'special friend'. Achilles loses it and drags Hector's body parts around Troy. It's the fall of a man into original monkeydom."

Pliny the Younger
Roman nobleman who escaped from Vesuvius before it erupted.
Why he rocks: "In his letters he writes really well about the enormous amounts of ashy death after the volcano blew up. He gives a clear picture of what it was like in ancient Rome. And he wrote a lot about doing up his house, which isn't so great."

Aeschylus
Athenian playwright. Had first-hand soldiering experience.
Why he rocks: "There's this mad woman called Cassandra in his play Agamemnon, who has visions of who will get murdered next. It's Minority Report with togas and less gadgets and product placement."