Exclusive Interview: Arjan Chats with Keane (Part 2 of 2)
Keane's excellent new EP "Night Train" was directly inspired by the trio's extensive world tour that took them to all the corners of the world in 2008 and 2009.
While on the road performing headlining show in 28 countries, the group wrote, recorded and produced the entire album. As a result, "Night Train" is a musical compilation of their global adventures, much like a musical souvenir, featuring a diverse set of songs and sonic flavors with unexpected collaborators.
In the second and final part of my interview with Keane's lead songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley, we chatted extensively about life on the road and about his favorites places to visit and perform. We also talked about what fans can expect from Keane musically in the not so distant future.
"Night Train" is a reflection of your life on the road during 2008 and 2009. From all the different places you visited, what city or country defied your expectations upon your first visit, in a good or bad way?
Well, they all do really. Both Singapore and South Korea were pretty amazing in that we didn't expect to have that many fans there given that we hadn't visited before. But the gigs were massive and people were incredibly enthusiastic and welcoming. It felt like a quite a big deal that we were in town, which is always a really amazing feeling and gives you a big boost.
It must be pretty challenging to live out of a suitcase for such a long period of time. What is an item you can absolutely not travel without?
My laptop is without a doubt the best thing I've ever bought. It means I can spend the many, many long journeys either working on music or watching movies. And then there's the whole world of being able to do video chats with the family, which is really a big, big help when you're away from home so much.
You've been to many different places and performed in many different cities. Looking back, do you have a favorite venue to perform in?
Hmm. I think for sheer sense of occasion it would have to be the O2 Arena in London. It's just so massive, and because it goes up so high it has a real feeling of being in a cauldron, with people as far as the eye can see. And of course, it's the home crowd and always a very big moment on any tour. I'm very proud that we've been able to play there a few times.
What is your tour rider like? Is there something that you absolutely need or want to have backstage or in a green room to get ready for your gig? Champagne? Crackers and cheese? Bottles of fancy mineral water? What gets Keane going?
We have all sorts of crap that none of us remember asking for but keeps turning up all the same. Mountains of fruit and various kinds of drinks, those weird health bars. It's like a traveling grocery store that gets restocked every day. It's pretty vulgar the amount of food that gets wasted in dressing rooms, so we're really trying to cut it right down now. There's nothing I feel I can't live without backstage. Although a reasonably clean toilet is always a bonus! Ah, the glamour! Ha!
Let's chat for a moment about the future of Keane. "Night Train" is labeled as an EP and it seems to be a record that you guys had to get out of your system after the extensive Perfect Symmetry tour. Many fans are curious about the musical direction of your future efforts. Is there a sound, genre or style you're interested in exploring more?
There's so much to learn. I can't work out whether I'd like to make an entirely electronic record or something more acoustic. We were pretty inspired by doing more acoustic stuff - for example our show at Largo in LA - this time round, and I think we might like to bring some of that into our recorded music. Jon Brion was pointing out after the Largo show that doing things in that stripped-back way really focuses people on the songs, so they listen to the lyrics and really engage with the meaning rather than being swept up by it. We'll see what happens!
Exclusive Interview: Arjan Chats with Keane (Part 1 of 2)
Following the worldwide success of their first three albums, the members of Keane will be treating us to a very special EP release on May 11. Titled "Night Train," this new effort features a collection of songs that were all written and recorded during the band’s extensive Perfect Symmetry world tour in 2008 and 2009.
The result of their global escapades and performing shows in 28 countries is a very diverse album that is flavored with with a variety of musical styles, global rhythms and exciting new soundscapes - ranging from '80s flavored electro-pop to energetic acoustic rock to their signature pop balladry that I still melt for every time.
Last month, I caught up with Keane's massively talented and super nice Tim Rice-Oxley (pictured left) to chat about "Night Train," traveling around the world and the future of Keane. Read on for the first part of our interview. Part 2 will be featured on the blog tomorrow. (A very special thanks to all the amazing Keane fans that submitted their questions for the interview on Facebook.)
Arjan: Congratulations with the release of of "Night Train." This new effort is such a joyous, fun album with a lot of sonic diversity. Did you intend to include the flavor of each locale while on tour?
Tim: Thanks! Well, the whole joy of this record for us is that it's a complete mish-mash. "House Lights" is the "walk-on" music that played as the lights went down at the start of every gig we played on the Perfect Symmetry tour. So that one really transports us back to all the places we played, and to that incredible feeling of nerves and excitement you get just before going on stage, so it really serves as the perfect scene-setter for the rest of the EP.
Nearly all the songs were recorded on days off between gigs - in Berlin, Brisbane, Copenhagen and Washington DC - while "My Shadow" is slightly older, but was recorded in Paris and Berlin. "Back In Time" was made in London - that was the last thing we did for the record - and Tigarah's vocals were done in LA.
So it really is a record that charts our journeys around the planet. We definitely get inspired by each place we go to. That was part of our mentality while we were making "Perfect Symmetry," so we were really just continuing the momentum in that way of working. It's also really exciting to keep making new music while you're on tour, rather than just getting into a rhythm of playing older songs and spending your days off sitting in the pub or watching TV. We had such a great time on tour in 2008 and 2009, and I hope you can feel that excitement in this music. This record holds so many happy memories for me.
You contributed vocals to the fantastic "Your Love." Why did you decide to step behind the mic? Why did you feel that now was the right time?
We've really learned recently to just go with whatever feels right and not worry at all about what other people's preconceptions - or even our own preconceptions - of Keane might be. "Your Love" was one of those songs that just felt complete as it was. Tom tried to do a vocal for it while we in Copenhagen, but his voice was starting to go and we were worried about the show that night. So we left it for a bit and ended up feeling that it was great as it was, and that an EP like this is a good opportunity to try some things that are new for us - such as me singing a lead vocal. As much as anything, it brings variety. And, of course, there no better way to remind everyone what an amazing singer Tom is. Ha!
Keane has never shied away from stepping outside of the box and try new things to surprise fans and keep things interesting for yourself. The collaboration with Stuart Price, and now K'Naan and MC Tigarah are good examples of that. Very fresh stuff. What other collaborations are on your wish list for Keane?
Man, there are so many. Kanye is well up there - we've done a bit of work together but I'd still like to do more. At the other end of the musical spectrum, my ultimate songwriting hero is Paul Simon and I would truly love to do something with him one day. But I fear that might just be a pipe dream.
You've got to look to the new bands too - Vampire Weekend have just made a phenomenal record as we all know, full of really exciting production as well as great songs. We could learn a lot from those guys I'm sure. The Beach House record is filling me with ideas at the moment. There's always great stuff to learn from, and of course the dream is that you get to work with some of those people at some point. We're very lucky that we've already made music with some brilliant people - Rufus, K'naan, Tigarah, Lily Allen, Brendan Benson....it's pretty amazing really.
As you guys have been touring so much for the past years, I'm sure your frantic life of planes, trains and automobiles has created plenty of great memories and stories. What is the most memorable moment you've had during the last tour?
I can think of many. I often savour the quiet moments when it's just a handful of us hanging out. The great night train journeys themselves are some of my happiest memories - from London to Berlin, and St Petersburg to Moscow. Just drinking beer all night and chewing the fat, watching the towns fly by. Sitting on a rooftop in Santiago watching the sun come up and singing Beatles songs. Coming on stage in Buenos Aires and seeing 20,000 people jumping around and singing with us on a gorgeous balmy night. Karaoke in Brisbane. And the second night at the O2 in London, when we were inches away from cancelling because Tom's voice was so shredded - he gave it everything he had that night and the crowd gave us all the love and encouragement we needed. You can tell it's hard to narrow it down to just one moment. It was a really amazing tour throughout.
(Part 2 of my interview with Tim will appear on Friday, April 30.)
Keane "Night Train" Track by Track Album Review
Keane's "Night Train" sounds like a record the British trio had to make to get some musical urges out of their system. Listening to this album, it seems that after producing some of pop's most gorgeous ballads ever, the group wanted to let loose, let their hair down and have some fun with it.
The result is a very diverse pop record that is a classy, accomplished blend of musical styles, global rhythms and exciting new soundscapes - ranging from '80s flavored electro-pop to energetic acoustic rock to their signature pop balladry. Following the excellent "Perfect Symmetry," this new effort demonstrates once again that Tom Chaplin, Tim Rice Oxley and Richard Hughes are able to keep their new music fresh and invigorated while always presenting a sound that is undeniable their own.
To be released in the U.S. on May 11, the album also includes Somali rapper K'Naan and Japanese baile funk emcee Tigarah who add a distinct global flavor to "Night Train." Pretty fitting as most of this record was written and recorded while the group was touring across the globe last year. Here a quick run-down of the album's 8 tracks that make up Keane's fourth studio album:
A throbbing, mid-tempo '80s flavored synth-pop gem that features the rare lead vocals of Tim Rice-Oxley. At first his voice took me off guard as his style and vocal inflection is very similar to Tom Chaplin's, but his vocals are smoother, slicker. Reminiscent of A-ha's Morten Harket. Gorgeous, sparkly chorus and an epic middle eight that sent chills up my spine. Very good and a track that clearly echoes the melodic sentiments of "Hopes & Fears." This is one of my favorite tracks on "Night Train" and will certainly be a fan favorite as well.
Stop For Minute
This celebratory track features the much-anticipated collaboration with Somali rapper K'Naan. The song is unmistakable a Keane production though with its instantly catchy piano-driven melody. K'Naan duets with Tom in the verses and chorus of the song, and lays down some rhymes during the bridge towards the end of the song. "Stop For Minute" packs a powerful, positive message and has a great singalong chorus.
Third track on the album is a signature Keane ballad that primarily relies on Tim's pacing piano work and Tom's angelic vocals. A great reminder of why Keane is a world-class band. So beautiful. "Shine a light on me and you will see my shadow on every wall," Tom sings.
Fun, brassy tune with a stomping horn section. Has a bit of bossa nova flavor to it. Would not be surprised if the guys wrote this during their South American tour dates. K'Naan adds a few of his raps, which is unexpected but totally works.
Ishin Denshin (You've Got To Help Yourself)
A very joyous electro-pop cover of the Yellow Magic Orchestra song that features Japanese baile funk MC Tigarah. This song was a truly international endeavor. Tim worked on the original idea on a plane, Richard recorded the drums in D.C., Tom did his vocals in Copenhagen, Tigarah did hers in L.A. and the group finished it off on a tour bus. I must say that the result feels a little disjointed - Tigarah's vocals don't gel all that well with Tom's.
Brief atmospheric interlude without vocals. Has a great cinematic quality to it.
This song features Keane like you rarely hear them. Song starts off acoustically with handclaps, guitars and Tom's vocals, which gradually build to the chorus when drums, bass and xylophone are added. This is a really fun experimentation with different instruments that works well and continues to grow on me the more I hear it. You can hear how bands like Radiohead and Blur inspired this track.
Back In Time
The tracks opens with frantic, jagged synths much like the opening of "Is It Any Wonder" that is repeated in the chorus. "Back In Time" is how Keane does rock and roll.
Keane To Release "Night Train" in May
Here's something to really look forward to.
Keane is arguably one of the most gifted pop bands of the last decade. Tim Rice-Oxley's heartfelt songwriting and Tom Chaplin's instantly recognizable vocals are a powerful combination that has led to memorable songs like "Somewhere Only We Know," "Crystal Ball" and "Nothing In My Way" to name just a few.
But what I truly appreciate about Keane is that they are not to afraid to break out of their comfort zone and try something new and different. Whether that is recording totally fun covers like their remake of Destiny Child's "Bootylicious" or teaming up with dance producer Stuart Price to record the incredibly "Perfect Symmetry," which is one of the most underrated records over the last 5 years.
On their forthcoming new album, titled "Night Train," the group once again ventures into new territory, going beyond the sweet balladry they are mostly know for.
"Night Train features eight powerful new tracks and includes genre-busting collaborations with Somali rapper K'naan and Japanese rapped MC Tigarah (remember this?). For the first time, Tim Rice-Oxley also contributes vocals to the album. Songs for this new record were written and recorded during the band’s "Perfect Symmetry" world tour that saw them playing to arenas in 28 countries.The album takes its title from the band's favourite mode of transportation during the tour.
"Night Train" is to be released on Cherrytree/Interscope Records in the U.S. on May 11. The band who has had three consecutive #1 albums in their native UK andhave played sold out shows throughout the US will also soon announce tour dates in North America for this coming spring.
UPDATE: Listen to a brand-new track the group recorded for a Haiti Relief compilation. The band goes French.
Keane and Raphael Saadiq Duet on "Everyday People"
This is simply amazing. Keane and GRAMMY nominated soul crooner Raphael Saadiq teamed for a one-off duet of the classic "Everyday People" on a French culture show this weekend. It's so surprising, magnificent and intensely soulful. Interscope should rush to get this out as an iTunes single pronto. Some of the best things come when you least expect them. It might even give Keane's "Perfect Symmetry" another (well-deserved) shot in the U.S.