Keane’s Tom Chaplin and Tim Rice-Oxley look back: ‘Long friendships are like a marriage. You have to adapt to each other’s madness’

Keane’s Tom Chaplin and Tim Rice-Oxley look back: ‘Long friendships are like a marriage. You have to adapt to each other’s madness’

Tom Chaplin and Tim Rice-Oxley are childhood friends and founding members of Keane, a group from Battle, East Sussex. The band formed in 1995 and released their debut album, Hopes and Fears, in 2004. It won them a Brit award, and became one of the bestselling albums in UK chart history. The band took a hiatus in 2013, with Chaplin releasing a solo album and Rice-Oxley forming side project Mt Desolation. To celebrate 20 years of Hopes and Fears, the band tour the UK this spring and summer.

Tom Chaplin

This photo was taken in the grounds of Vinehall school in the village of Robertsbridge, which my mum and dad ran. I was nine, so there’s a slight sense of bashfulness on my face; the sort of awkward feelings I’ve since had years of therapy to deal with. But it would have been a fun summer’s evening. It was pretty idyllic, our wild and free childhood, charging around the woods on our bikes or building dens.

Tim has always been my hero. As far back as I can remember, he was cool and intriguing. He was my best friend’s older brother, and he had a sticker on his bed that said: “Don’t cry, girls. I’ll be back.” I think that was the last time Tim had proper balls-out confidence.

When this was taken, Tim already had a little world of songs and I really wanted to join him. Our first official Keane gig was at the Hope & Anchor in London in 1998. The audience was just our friends, including Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland from Coldplay. Tim was studying classics with Chris at University College London, so we did a few gigs with them over the years. Seeing Chris’s confidence and how polished they were as a band made me realise we’d have to take things a bit more seriously if we wanted to make it.

I’ve had a lot of pinch-me moments in Keane, but Christmas Eve 2004 stands out. It was the end of a pretty amazing year, and I’d had a few beers and was doing some last-minute shopping. Paul McCartney lived nearby in Sussex, and I spotted him coming out of a health food shop. I approached him and said: “I’m Tom, I’m in a local band called Keane.” He was very gracious and said: “Oh, great, I’ll go and buy your record from Woolworths.” The next time I saw him was at Live Aid. It turned out he and Heather Mills had fallen in love to our record. He was there, side of the stage, singing along to our songs. To have that impact on a Beatle was incredible.

It’s easy to lose sight of who you are within the lifestyle of a band – the money and the fame. Mine and Tim’s friendship meant that even if we drifted away from the people we once were, there was a shared history that kept us connected, especially as I encountered my addictions [Tom struggled with drug and alcohol addiction while in Keane and is now sober]. Our egos could run out of control, and we had a solid foundation to return to. I’m very grateful to Tim because he’s put up with a lot of my shit over the years, but he kept the faith in me.

I’ve always looked up to Tim. He’s driven and creative, but also kind – probably even kinder as he’s got older. He’s intelligent too, and that manifests in the songwriting. He can articulate something obvious, but no one else has quite said it like that before. That skill still fills me with a sense of wonder. His songs have given me a life and an opportunity to convey something that means a lot, not just me, but to the rest of the world.

Tim Rice-Oxley

I can tell by the way I’m leaning on the log that I was still in my Top Gun era – Tom Cruise, topless volleyball and high fives, that sort of thing. It was definitely the last time I thought I was remotely cool. Shortly afterwards, it was bashed out of me by life.

This image has always stuck in my head. I wasn’t sure which “fallen tree” I was referring to when we wrote Somewhere Only We Know, but it would have been an amalgamation of trees, including this one, that had fallen in the 1987 storm.

Although I was three years older, Tom and I spent a lot of time together as teenagers. He would come over on a Saturday, and there would be a point when his mum would come to pick him up and we’d have a debate about whether he could stay the night. Part of the fun was in the tussle with our parents, knowing if we pulled it off we’d have a whole night of watching The Goonies, eating choc ices and listening to OK Computer. We spent many long nights poring over Radiohead lyrics and thinking about their significance. It became a musical obsession.

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Tom is very energised and up for anything. When we were kids, he had a gift for finding the best in a really boring day, and could always come up with a stupid game to play. As you go through life, that positivity becomes much more important. I am easily discouraged. We had a lot of nearly moments when we were starting out. There was a point in 2002 when we’d written lots of good songs and were trying to get signed. Labels would come to Battle to hear us play, but it would come to nothing. That went on for a long time. My spirits were flagging, but Tom was always encouraging. When I’m writing sometimes, I think: I should probably give up now, I’m too uncool, I’m too old. But I know that if I sit at the piano, I have at least two days of writing total shit before I get to anything half decent. Tom’s always very generous in supporting my creativity throughout those hard bits. It has made a huge difference to me because I don’t really have anyone else who does that, and I really respect his opinion.

We came up in the era when to make it you had to play in pubs around Camden. Every week there would be another new group posing and trying to look cool. We were lost in a swamp of musicians all on the same mission to get signed, and it became clear that we had to get our shit together to make an impression, and Tom’s quiet determination came in very useful then.

The first time we did Glastonbury was a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. It was a realisation that things weren’t normal. Hopes and Fears had come out in the UK and we were at No 1, but we’d been travelling across the States and playing small venues, so we hadn’t acknowledged its popularity. To see it manifest in a 20,000-strong audience at Worthy Farm was incredible. An adrenaline rush that was indescribably weird. I came off stage shaking.

In some ways, lifelong friendships are like a marriage. You have to permit each other to change over time, and adapt to each other’s madnesses and mutations. Tastes are fickle and bands break up, so I am very appreciative of the friendship and music we’ve made together. What’s important is to adapt and enjoy the newness. That’s been a massive breakthrough for us – but try us again in another 20 years.