“Tim’s been in a bit of a messy place,” Keane frontman Tom Chaplin says with a laugh of his band mate Tim Rice-Oxley, who’s also sitting on a couch in the Billboard offices during a recent visit to New York City. “He’d written a lot of great songs that documented that dark time through it.”
As Chaplin explains and his longtime group mate confirms, Rice-Oxley’s personal issues — including a well-publicized divorce — is ultimately what brought the best-selling British alt-rock band back together after an extended break following its 2012 album Strangeland. Keane will release Cause and Effect, its first project in seven years, on Sept. 20.
“I think we’d reached a point where a break was really natural — it was healthy to stop and do our own things for a bit,” says Rice-Oxley, who adds that he had a feeling that the band ultimately had more to say. “We make such great music together, I would’ve been really sad if we never followed that through again.”
“I was off doing solo things, and I felt like I hadn’t seen Tim in ages,” Chaplin adds. “He’s an important person in my life, so I felt like I needed to see how he was.”
Keane’s return stems from the moment the other members — Chaplin, bassist Jesse Quin and drummer Richard Hughes — heard Rice-Oxley’s new material, which focused on looking at the same romantic struggles from different perspectives. They then discussed coming back for the right reasons, and making sure the group dynamic stayed positive, fun and creative.
The title of the new album comes from Rice-Oxley’s “marital breakup and various romantic disasters” — a phrase that has the rest of the group laughing. “When you’re 40 years old, a breakup is a big change in direction in your life,” Rice-Oxley explains.
“So much of pop music is quite simple, isn’t it?” Hughes jumps in. Since the album is driven by complex emotion, the initial goal for the regrouped band was to find something that would help condense it.
The band’s 2004 debut album, Hopes and Fears, was also a break-up album, but the members were all in their twenties when it was released, quickly becoming stars thanks to the smash single “Somewhere Only We Know.” A decade and a half later, Rice-Oxley is trying to convey a different type of woundedness on Cause and Effect.
“The reality is, you move on and your whole life is still ahead of you,” Rice-Oxley says of the band’s earlier break-up songs. “Not to say [Hopes and Fears] doesn’t matter — it was a very passionate album and it meant the world to us at the time. But that [feeling] is not so much the case when you’re 36. It is more complicated. To us, Cause and Effect is a much more articulate and thought-provoking version of that.”
According to Rice-Oxley, the album’s lead single, “The Way I Feel,” is a series of questions without any answers; lyrics like “And it’s the voices in your head now/ Saying there’s something wrong about the way I feel/ A broken link, a missing part, a punctured wheel,” reflect on feelings of depression. The song offers no real solutions, instead focusing on that hurt and letting the listener know that they’re not alone. “It’s normal to feel that way,” Rice-Oxley says.
“In the U.K., it feels like there’s more of a sense of people wanting to deal with an increasing crisis in mental health,” Chaplins adds.
“There’s a sort of vulnerability to admitting you don’t have any of the answers, isn’t there? It’s not a very modern thing,” Hughes chimes in. “Everyone wants to feel like they’ve got a handle on whatever they’ve got going on — when most of the time, we don’t.”
It was also crucial for Rice-Oxley to choose every word with meticulous care. There were some lyrics he mulled over for months, wanting to get each emotion across accurately, and “The Way I Feel” resulted from an especially long writing process. The lyrics in the title were the only lyrics he had, along with a melody, and at first, he didn’t like either. Months after sitting on those parked lyrics, he revisited it with the realization that he could look at the concept from a different angle. Since the song’s June release, Keane has performed the single, as well as the new track “Love Too Much,” live at various European festivals and a handful of U.S. underplay shows.
Naturally, “Somewhere Only We Know” comes up when talking about performing certain songs live. “Along with some of our other older songs, I feel l’ve taken that one for granted,” Rice-Oxley admits of the group’s soaring debut single and signature hit, which cracked the Hot 100 chart and has been covered by Lily Allen, Kacey Musgraves and David Archuleta, among many others.
“Going back to when we were much younger, and when we were trying to get somewhere as a band, there was a great feeling of frustration,” Rice-Oxley explains. “It was written around a time when we weren’t getting anywhere and we had to move back in with our parents. We were living it up in London, and that dream felt like it was on the cusp of disappearing. That song definitely came from a place of needing sanctuary. Life can be hard and everybody needs a haven sometimes.”
“It is amazing that it’s still cherished so fondly by so many people. It feels very special,” Hughes adds.
“People usually see it as a love song too, right? Because of the ‘we,’” Chaplin says. “There’s a sense of the sanctuary of love and having relationships in a world that feels lonely.”
Quin adds, “People love to find something really simple, too. You know, the song ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,’ what can be more simple than that? … ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ is like that. People can put their own imprint on it.”
“So yeah, ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ is our version of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,’” Hughes concludes as the whole group chuckles.
The band is gearing up for the album release, as well as embarking on a tour that will take them through next year, but they’re trying to take things slow, savor every moment and continue with intent.
“When you’re younger, everything’s about moving forward and finding what’s next, purely driven by ambition,” Chaplin says. “I think if the time we’ve had teaches anything, it’s being able to reflect.”