25th May 2012 6:48am | By Tom Sturrock
Keane’s lead songwriter talks about their new album, culling songs, his struggles with guitars, writing with Kylie and how he nearly became a member of Coldplay
So what’s the new album like?
I think it’s a very accessible album and we thought a lot about what kind of songs we wanted to play live. They’re also songs that we hope will grab people straight away, get them excited the first time they hear them. There was a real focus on that, so hopefully some of them are pretty catchy but still melodic and emotional.
It’s four years since your last album – what have you been doing?
I don’t really understand what happened – or where that time went. We toured the last album for a long time and then put out a little EP which did quite well so we toured on the back of that. And then I did a little side project along the way. And I guess we spent a long time writing the songs for this album – we had about 80 at one point so it took a bit longer than I’d have liked.
How hard is it to select songs? Does it annoy you to have to cull them?
It can be hard. Some songs, you instinctively know they’re missing some magical element – there were others that I loved but couldn’t get the rest of the band excited about. And as the list gets shorter and shorter, the discussion becomes even harder. But it’s a good problem to have – having too many songs is not as bad as staring at a blank sheet of paper, and I’ve been there as well.
You’ve been known as ‘the band with no guitars’ – is that strictly true?
We don’t really mind. The first album had no guitars but the third album had quite a lot. It means it’s always a challenge – I’m not a great guitar player at all – so if we haven’t got that, how do we create the same effect or that big solo moment? We have to find other ways.
Is it true that, in your early days, you were invited to join Coldplay?
It’s funny – it was a fairly light-hearted conversation between me and Chris Martin while we were at university. I think I would have ended up quite frustrated as a songwriter but it might have been quite nice to just show up and be their keyboard player.
Coldplay get a hard time for being too earnest – is that a bullshit criticism?
It’s a very British thing – we don’t seem to value good music that way, especially when it’s made by British acts. It’s a real shame. Coldplay have done so well internationally and are a great songwriting band. In any other country, they would be really celebrated but in Britain we always look for the negatives. And we’ve suffered from that in the press as well but after
a few years you just stop caring. You read some of the reviews and just think ‘what album were you listening to?’
Despite being the main songwriter, you share the credits with your bandmates – that’s very generous of you, isn’t it?
It’s a strange way that you make money in a band – it’s a complicated combination of royalties and radio rights, so you basically end up getting paid directly for some of the work. And because people’s roles are vague and ever-changing, you have to find a way to assess them, so splitting the song-writing credits is probably the easy way. It’s hard to quantify how everyone contributes but everyone does.
And you’ve worked with Kylie Minogue and Gwen Stefani – what was that like?
It was brilliant working with those people and I’ve been very lucky to work with people at the top of the industry. Both were very talented and more creative than I think they’re given credit for. They’re both very good writers and singers and they both work so hard, just grafting the whole time. Honing those pop sensibilities through writing with them was good fun.
As a songwriter, what do you think of the rash of televised talent shows?
It’s good that there’s so much focus on music and they get some incredibly talented people and it shows how many there are. What’s sad, though, is the business side where it’s all tied into packages and all the contestants have records out a week later – they flood the charts and that pushes out everything else. There’s not much room for bands that write and play their own songs. It’s a bit of a machine – they’ve got so much money and it’s just slick and irresistible. It seems like everything floating around has come out from one of those shows, which makes it a bit homogenous.
Keane’s new album, Strangeland, is out now keanemusic.com