Keane frontman Tom Chaplin joins Headliner for an in-depth chat about the making of his second solo album Midpoint, finding his voice as a songwriter, and the frightening realities of entering the middle stages of life…
A smiling Tom Chaplin appears before us over Zoom, as he joins us from the study of his rural Kent home. “It’s looking peculiarly arid in this part of the world,” he says with a laugh. “I was in London yesterday, and after the summer we’ve had there was something quite exotic about standing outside in the rain, which is an unusual thing to say as an Englishman.”
The Keane frontman is here to talk about his second solo album Midpoint, the follow-up to 2016’s The Wave. His warm, sunny disposition is befitting of the conditions outside, yet somewhat at odds with the subject matter of his new record.
As its title suggests, Midpoint is a concept record of sorts, charting the journey from youth into midlife and the fears, questions and crises that can so often accompany it. Which is not to say it’s a bleak listen. There is sufficient hope and light drifting through its minimalist musical corridors to offset the gentle melancholy and introspection of Chaplin’s lyrics. Notably, the voice that defined so many of Keane’s biggest and best loved songs appears not to have aged a day since the three-piece emerged almost 20 years ago.
“People may or may not know that the main songwriter in Keane is Tim (Rice-Oxley) who plays piano, and as the years went by, I had this growing desire to have my own outlet for writing,” Chaplin says, explaining his initial move into songwriting. “But that was always stymied because I was very envious about how good he was at writing and quite insecure about doing it myself. So, I put it on the back burner and didn’t really try that hard, and I was a great big drug addict for a long time, which is not really that conducive to writing songs.
“Keane then went on hiatus, and that was partly because I wanted to have the time and space to write my own music, but my addiction took a real turn for the worst and my life got into a proper crisis. But then I got sober, finally saw the light and there was a wave of creative energy that came out of me. I wrote tons of songs that comprised the record The Wave. That was a huge outpouring of energy and I got to the end of it and thought, what am I going to write about now?”
Bereft of inspiration, it wasn’t long before Keane returned to the studio and subsequently the road.
“We got out on the road and of course that envy and competitiveness started to bubble up in me,” he laughs. “Then Covid struck and I had the time and space to invest in that process again. I also had a lot of questions about this particular part of my life. The combination of wanting to write again and having quite a meaty subject to write about was the spark that began Midpoint.”
If The Wave burst the dam of arrested artistry built up by years of substance abuse, youthful excess, and pent-up frustration at being unable to tap into a creative flow within Keane, then Midpoint is the sound of Chaplin navigating waters that may appear calmer on the surface but are no less perilous beneath.
“I see people all around me, the same age, who have in various degrees gone into self-destruct mode, or have wanted to tear everything down and start again, or have become very depressed,” says Chaplin. “It really requires a lot of careful thought and processing to get through it without making a real mess. You know that at some point you are going to hit midlife, and there is probably a bit of denial about it when you are younger, like, that’ll never happen to me. But suddenly it veers around the corner and there it is. And a lot of the questions that came up were quite scary.
“I have been in psychoanalysis for over 10 years now and a lot of what I talk about with my therapist informs what I write about in the songs,” he continues. “I suppose I felt that I had arrived at a point where instead of relentlessly moving forwards and being in pursuit of goals and dreams and being young, I wasn’t in that space anymore. In some ways that is quite frightening, and you have to assess where you are at; whether you are happy with the decisions you have made and the life that you have.
“In terms of the writing, I had been doing a bit but didn’t feel like I had anything that set me alight, but then I wrote the song Midpoint and it almost came out fully formed. Even though it is quite an unusual structure and quite a journey of a song, it just came out and lyrically it was saying everything I wanted to say. After that I had this desire to get more written, and everything else flowed from that.”