Heartbreak, Gratitude and Ariana Grande: Interview with Tim Rice-Oxley of Keane

 After spending last summer invigorating festival crowds across Europe and captivating fans in the US with a series of intimate shows, Keane released Cause and Effect, their fifth studio album and the first since 2013. The album hit Top 20 on the Billboard Albums chart and hit the UK charts at #2. Keane have finished a triumphant sold out UK and Latin American Tour and are now embarking on their North American headline tour kicking off March 2020. We spoke with songwriter and keyboardist, Tim Rice-Oxley, about Keane’s hiatus, new album and the band’s protean legacy.


It's been a full seven years since your last album, how  has it been being back on a full international tour like you're on right now?

Well, I think it's seven years since we did a proper tour of the States. So really excited about that, it's going to be fantastic. It's kind of the dream tour for a British band, getting on a bus and doing a sort of road trip around North America, so that's going to be cool. But I mean we were here, we were in the States a couple of times last year as well actually, just for little shows and we also did a big tour of South America] which was incredible. So we're in the swing of it and having a fantastic time.


Is Keane a band that likes to tour?

I love it, I think we all love it. I think more than ever actually we really enjoy being on the road together and really enjoy being on stage together. I think we're playing, play better than we ever have before. And we still really kind of value connecting with people when we get on stage and it's a really nice feeling. Especially after like 50 years, definitely don't take that for granted. So we're really happy to be here again, I think. But yeah, we have a great time, we love being tourists and getting to travel around the world and seeing new places. It's a really great life.


Are you able to write new music while you're on tour?

I mean I have done a lot over the years. I actually find it quite difficult so, yeah, I mean I find it hard to find the sort of space and get into the right head space when I'm on tour, but yeah, not so much lately. But then we also have quite a deep catalog now of kind of five and a half albums, there's a lot of stuff and there's a lot of songs to choose from. Just trying to mix up the set list every night is almost as much as our little brains can cope with.


You’ve previously stated that your new album, Cause And Effect, is actually a breakup album?

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean it's a very emotionally intense record. Hopefully all the best after all that, as you said, we had a very passionate response from people to the kind of depth of feeling and the sort of openness of the album. I think there's a kind of new level of connection with people, both on the record but also live it shows that we're really enjoying seeing the way people react so emotionally to some of the music. It's very validating and very satisfying for us creatively.


There are a few themes on Cause And Effect, that you can also hear on Hopes And Fears. What was the process in writing the new album?

Well, I mean all the time that we haven't been touring, been out for six years or so, I've been writing and composing, and I got into a real kind of rich seam, I guess, also to go on the roam phonetically probably two or three years ago. And then probably the set of songs that ended up becoming this record were probably written over about 18 months or so, and I think I was definitely in a ... We were obviously in a particular period of time, for sure. I was really sort of trying to articulate some of the stuff that had happened over those few years and sometimes it takes me a few years to kind of work out how to say that stuff.

So yeah, I reckon end of 2016 and most of 2017 I was just writing new songs, probably ended up with about 30 that were kind of ... that felt right for this album. Or at least create the tension for this album and then we kind of narrowed it down a lot based on the newer scene actually. Worked out which songs that told the story most basically and most powerfully I suppose.


Was there a lot of anxiety coming out with the new album and touring after all these years?

I think one of the things with taking some time off is that you're forced to think about why you're making music in the first place. I mean what constitutes success? And so I definitely did a lot of thinking about that and really the conclusion I came to was the only way I can judge something to be successful in my own head is if it feels totally authentic and I guess ideally connects with people in a very ... in a way that I see has an effect on their lives, I suppose.

As opposed to sort of worrying about numbers, essentially. Which I think we went from a place, having been a little band that was playing tiny venues in London and really being very excited just to have a record out, you're suddenly catapulted into a world where we had this sort of freak success with our first album. And I think consequently our expectations became totally distorted in a way that we never really intended, so it's nice to have a chance to step back from that and think, "Okay, well, actually what are our expectations? What are our desires from our music? What do we consider to be a creative success?"

I think now it's much more it feels like we're into a different phase where we're much more interested in just doing what we think is the best possible thing we can do at a given time. Telling the story is what's important to us and hopefully also bringing something good into the world that means something to people.


For your personal preference, do you enjoy some of the more upbeat Keane songs or do you think the heartbreak songs are closer to who Keane is?

I don't mind whether they're kind of fast or slow, but I definitely prefer the ones that feel like they articulate something really meaningful and it's ... I don't even know how you get to that stuff, how you access it creatively. I wish I did, but sometimes it just happens and you know when it's good, and there's the other times your creative instincts can be slightly hindered or distorted by worry about what is going to sound good on the radio and what the record company wants or even just what the fans want or what your parents want. You get a whole load of different influences coming from outside and it can be very hard to block out that noise.

So for me the stuff that I love the most is the stuff that feels really pure and I just know in my heart that it is powerful, I suppose, because it still feels powerful for me, whatever, playing it. I can feel it in the band and performing it on stage you can feel a magic in it, in a song. Those are the songs I love the most and I think they speak to other people the most.


Are there any surreal moments where you've realized that you guys have created this catalog and what are some things that you now see that kind of just blow you away? Because you mentioned you guys came out of a small town and it had a very instant experience with success.

Yeah. Yeah, well, I think really a result of that initial success is we just got into a pattern, as bands do if they're lucky enough to have that success, where you're just pumped to be on a plane and the next tour, it's a TV show or it's a radio show or it's whatever it is. You're sort of rushing from one thing to the next and it rapidly becomes normal and so it's been great to step away from that and then go back, have a chance to go back to it and still have people wanting to see us.

So for me, I think for all of us, we've had moments in the last let's say six months or so where we've been ... Kind of you're in Buenos Aires or a lot of moments on our South American tour where you're kind of in a venue of like 15,000 people or something and you just think, "What are we doing here on the other side of the world? And how can it be that so many people ... how many of these people know our music and actually are paying their hard earned cash to come and see us play?" And I guess I don't know if that sounds like a cliché, but it really is when it hits you hard, it's mind blowing really because we all grew up together and really still think of ourselves as a pretty amateurish bunch of musicians. Definitely have a lot of kind of Imposter Syndrome and it's just very, very exciting, it's very, very thrilling and somewhat protecting to find yourself going on stage every night and people wanting to hear you play.

I find that happens a lot more and more now with the passing of the years. I think instead of taking it for granted, we actually are just sort of astounded by it more and more and I think it's a really nice place to be.


I feel like Keane's music has been timeless, to a certain respect you can still go back to Hopes And Fears and it plays beautifully and I think it still connects with people. But do you have any contemporary artist or artists that are out today that you personally are inspired by or that you're really into right now?

Yeah, I think it's a great time for music. I think there's definitely been a shift away from I guess what you'd call Guitar Bands or Hippy Bands, whatever at the moment. In the UK at least. I mean I'm a great lover of pop music anyway. I think the music I'm sort of most in awe of at the moment is ... I'm a huge fan of the last two Ariana Grande records and I love the songwriting, but also the production of them. It's just both records fill me with that feeling of, "I wish I could do that." Which is always kind of annoying but also very thrilling and inspiring and it makes me want to learn new ways of doing things. They have a lot of personality and quite interesting takes on familiar themes, I guess, as well as being very kind of danceable and feeling very contemporary. They're very spacious production-wise.

I don't know, there's a lot for me to learn from that stuff. So there's a lot of great music around. Beyond that, Bon Iver and Billie Eilish and I listen to a lot of old stuff as well, Springsteen and Crowded House and The Smiths. But, I don't know, I'm just trying to learn all the time, I feel like we've only just started really and still have so much to learn.


Interview by Lee Ackerley