Share Tom Chaplin, known to hundreds of thousands of fans as the frontman of British alt-rockers Keane, has a thoughtful, pleasantly proper cadence to his speech — peppered with chuckles here and there as he relates the story behind his first solo album, The Wave. The chuckles may come as a bit of a surprise, given the deeply personal and deeply dark subject of his work: Chaplin has a well-documented history of relapsing addiction which nearly brought him to death more than once. His stunningly raw and lovely album takes a look at his journey into eventual — and, he says, now permanent — sobriety, with a lens on both his own actions and the damages done to loved ones along the way.
Yahoo Music sat down with Chaplin to find out his methods of approaching such a monumental and undeniably successful work. Needless to say, the album is an extremely personal project. When approaching the task of telling your story, is it possible for you to pinpoint where you began? It kind of had two starting points I suppose, one of which ended up being aborted.
The other part, that got aborted, I was working away on all this solo adventure — and I found it quite difficult actually, I think a lot of the songs were observational, more outward-looking. I found myself kind of creatively drying up by the middle of that year. And, at the same time, my daughter was born, and at the same time my problems with drug addictions returned in the worst way I had done in my life. The end of was a complete mess. That first initial effort to write a record had completely evaporated.
Because I was so exhausted — and, I suppose, too void of feeling. So it took me a few months before I could get back in the studio and get writing. I ended up writing with other people as well, which was quite liberating for me.
I hit my stride and wrote about 30 songs over the course of the spring and summer. I felt like I tapped into this incredible energy for writing and creating. And, I think there were two obvious elements to that. The other thing, it gave me something really cohesive and clear to write about, which was my experience over the last two years. Many artists have chronicled their journeys through addiction and sobriety.
Did you ever consider how your story would fit into this lexicon of other and sometimes very famous similar ones? And, repairing the relationship to myself — trying to like myself again and learn more about who I am, and understand myself.
Quite a few of the songs reflect that. Obviously things finally felt like they were going in the right direction in my life. And I wanted to capture that process — the hope around that. I was lost in the real genuine excitement and pleasure of making music again. Did you ever consider attempting to tell your story using the support or framework of your band, rather than take it on as a solo project?
One of things about Keane is our roles in the band became defined very early on. I was more of the singer, and Tim played piano and was always the songwriter. Those roles became quite firmly set. That, at times, gave me a sense of frustration, because I felt I had all this stuff inside me that I wanted to articulate and get out. So to me the process of doing this, and needing to take it into the realm of a solo project, was to kind of marry up these two things.
You collaborated with co-writers on the album. Did you enjoy that process, or find it difficult given you were working with such personal material? Writing an album is a very painstaking process. I think I wrote 40 songs overall by the end of this record, to choose from.
One of the reasons I was cautious or anxious about working with other people, was that somehow I was going to lose that voice. But I think that was actually part of the process. What was the hardest part of writing the album for you?
In terms of the lyrics, it was like a very confusing puzzle, I was trying to juggle so many ideas. You always have to have the whole song up in front of you in your head, and be able to work on different things at the same time.
One of the ways I did that, I did a lot of that while I was driving. But I found when I was driving in my car, part of my mind was focused on the road and the process of driving in a straight line just allowed my mind to wander. When your mind can wander, and your main concentration is elsewhere, great inspiration can happen.
Were some songs easier than others to develop and form? That one came pretty quickly. I would say pretty much everything else was a bit of a struggle.
Have your bandmates in Keane heard the record, and if so, what do they think? I think maybe they were quite surprised that it actually ever got made. Certainly not when my problems with addiction had come back. They seemed very eager to hear it. Is there a particular song your wife likes best on this album?
It keeps me from wanting to go back to that awful dark place. I now have the confidence to continue. This first record was really just figuring out whether I could actually do it.
Now I know that, I want to push on.