He was the singer in the hugely successful musical trio Keane, who hail from Battle in East Sussex, a decade ago until drugs got the better of him. Now, free of those dark demons, Tom Chaplin is back and about to play at one of his favourite venues The Forum on Friday December 16. Eileen Leahy caught up with the star to find out all about his solo career and what he’s up to for Christmas
So Tom, you’ve been off the scene for a few years, how does it feel to be back making music?
Well it’s been a long road. Initially I said to the guys in Keane in 2013 that I wanted to take some time away to focus on this solo project which I’ve dreamt about for a long time. I threw myself into it all guns blazing for a while but my problems with drug addiction resurfaced in 2014. By the end of that year I wasn’t making any music at all. The idea of getting near to writing or completing a solo record seemed very far away…
How did you end up recording and releasing your new album The Wave then?
Well a miraculous turnaround happened and I finally got myself together. During the last year I wrote a lot of songs and tonnes of stuff came out. It was a real outpouring but to be honest I’ve loved every second of it and have enjoyed making music over the last two years more than any other time in my whole life. It all came good in the end.
In Keane you just sang but you’ve written all the songs on your solo album. Did you find that relatively easy?
Well I’ve always written but it was always a minimal output. Feeling better about myself and all the self-exploration I did in therapy and opening up to people was inspirational and gave me a real sense of drive and motivation.
Didn’t it bother you to publicly expose all your personal issues?
It was obviously relatively dark and difficult but then I think that quite often the best music comes from that place. I found it was so richly creative to write about something like that but now I’m a pretty happy person I do worry what’s on the cards for the next record. You can’t really write as much about being happy can you?
Are you purely focused on your own career now?
At the moment I’m very much immersed in what I’m doing and really enjoying it. One of the things I’ve learnt is to really cherish the moment. So much good stuff happened in Keane over the years and I didn’t recognise or appreciate a lot of it and I do regret that. I often think I’d love to go back and relive some it – particularly the early days. These days I’m focused on what’s going on right now and to be honest I don’t really know what the future holds for me. Keane is part of the fabric of my life and it’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t happen again but having said that I feel like I’ve started something really exciting and I want to see it through.
What’s the biggest difference about being a solo artist?
Well part of it is that I’m articulating my own story this time and that was one of the things I was very conscious of wanting to do. As much as I have loved singing [fellow Keane member] Tim Oxley Rice’s songs over the years they are fundamentally his thoughts and feelings. I guess that now I’m singing my own lyrics I’m doing it with more authority and that feels really great. Having made music for the past 20 years as a band it’s nice to do something different and work with other musicians and see how they operate and interpret your songs.
Tell us a little bit about your upcoming gig at The Forum?
Well when I played there last December it was the first show I’d done as a solo artist. I was very nervous about how it would turn out but in fact it was very celebratory and had a real Christmassy vibe. I immediately thought after it had finished ‘we should make this an annual thing.’ So I’d like to make it a bit of a tradition, it’s a good way of getting people in a Christmas mood. There might just be a few festive tracks thrown in!
What do you like about playing there?
In the early days of Keane we played a lot of small clubs in London but we went quite fast to playing bigger venues so in fact we never played The Forum – although we always thought we would! The more provincial venues always feel more intimate and have a great energy to them – particularly The Forum because it’s so well run and it sounds great in there. It’s just a lovely atmosphere and it’s it’s got that homecoming vibe for me.
Do you have any favourite tracks on your new album?
They’re all like my babies. I’m so attached to all of them and one of the things I’ve discovered over the past few months of playing live is that different songs seem to resonate in different ways, depending where you are. But I think my favourite song – and the one that seems to be the biggest crowd pleaser so far – is See It So Clear. It’s celebratory and people have got to know it now so they sing along. It’s been a great moment wherever we’ve played it and seems to bring everyone together.
Will you be doing any Keane numbers on Friday night?
Yes and I’ve been playing a few of them on this tour because people love hearing them but I do want to try and introduce some other, less well-known Keane songs instead of always whacking out Everybody’s Changing.
Which artists do you currently admire?
I dip in and out of a lot of things but I’m listening to quite a lot of pop music at the moment. I like Sia and The Weeknd (sic) and I’m also into artists like Bruno Mars. I did a bespoke version of his current hit 24 Carat Magic on Chris Evans’s radio 2 show recently. I think pop music is inspiring at the moment and I’ve actually learnt that my voice is quite well-suited to it. There’s a little part of me that thinks making a record that’s a little bit glossier and poppy and challenging myself in that way may just be the route to go down for the next record . . .
How will you spend Christmas?
I live in Kent, not far from the East Sussex border. Early in the morning I’ll be opening stockings with my wife, Natalie, and daughter Freya and then we’ll visit my parents for lunch. I was often the prodigal son and spent a lot of time away but nowadays I’m very much migrating back towards family life and can’t wait for Christmas – it’s one of my favourite times of the year.
Tom Chaplin plays The Forum on Friday December 16 at 8pm. Tickets cost £25 and can be bought at www.twforum.co.uk. Tom’s album The Wave is out now and he will be playing the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill May 24 2017. For further details visit: www.tomchaplinmusic.com