Nine years after their debut album, Hopes and Fears, British rockers Keane have reached a career milestone – the greatest hits collection. The Best of Keane, featuring 18 songs from their previous studio efforts and two new tracks, “Higher Than the Sun” and “Won’t Be Broken,” will hit stores November 12th.
To comemmorate the occasion the band is going all-out, with a deluxe edition featuring their many B-sides over the years. A super-deluxe edition will combine both CDs and a live DVD featuring the band performing several acoustic songs, which fans will have the chance to choose on the band’s website.
Lead vocalist Tom Chaplin spoke with Rolling Stone earlier this week about what it means to reach this benchmark, as well as the greatest hits collections that he recalls as a child, spinning off for some solo work and which great English frontman he still dreams of being.
Did you ever think you would get to the point of releasing a Best Of?
[Laughs] It’s a funny old thing – I was thinking about this the other day, and it struck me that when I was a kid I sort of had this very single-minded belief that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in a band, sing, tour the world and be like my heroes. And I started to really think about it. When I was a kid, I used to wander around sort of interviewing myself as like we’d done a whole collection of great albums. I suppose as I got a bit older, like most teenagers and when you’re in your early twenties, you start to get a bit more of a reality check. Those dreams, for most people, they fade away, and life gets in the way. But for us, although we had a kind of a stuttering start, we’ve been very lucky, and we got to do the things we felt very passionate about as kids. So I suppose in a roundabout way I’m very surprised and weirded out by the whole thing. But also I think there’s a part of me that was always striving towards this, so it’s been a kind of extraordinary life that’s been handed to me.
Was there a point where your childhood dreams started to emerge again and you realized that even if this wasn’t the most practical thing, you were going to make it happen?
Sure, there were loads of times I felt like that. With Keane, the perception that people have is you come out of school and you get in a band, or you’re already in a band, and you put a few demos together and you’ve got a record deal. But actually, it did take a long time. I don’t think we signed our record deal and made the first record until I was about 24, so there was quite a long period of time when we were just playing shows around London, and I’d left my university course to join the others in London and try and make something of the band. So there were a lot of reality checks, and a lot of pretty big feelings of failure and rejection, before we had any kind of success. But I suppose, somewhere buried in all of that stuff, was a kind of feeling that we’ve got to keep carrying on, because this is the dream, this is what we’ve all wanted, and we’re all kind of pulling in that direction. I suppose also the longer we kept going on for, the more we had to lose, because the more we put at stake, the more we put any other kind of life that we might have had on hold. So, yes, there were definitely some doubtful times.
Greatest hits collections are a milestone. Were there collections you remember listening to as a kid that stood out for you?
Actually, bizarrely, the first one I have any recollection of would’ve been the ABBA greatest hits. My mom and dad weren’t massively into pop music, so there weren’t a lot of records lying about the house when I was a kid and I had to go searching myself. But I remember particularly there was a tape cassette of ABBA Gold back then. And if you want a compilation of absolutely mind-blowingly brilliant pop singles, then I don’t think you can really do much better than that. So there was that one. That was certainly one that I recall, but I think the one that had probably the biggest impact on me certainly growing up was Queen. There was the Beatles‘ “Red” (1962 –1966) and “Blue” (1967 -1970) greatest hits, but the Queen 1 and 2, the first and second half of the Queen output, those were very influential for me as a kid. I basically for many, many years just wanted to be Freddie Mercury – probably still do in many respects. I think it does reflect having put something kind of special together. You actually think back to the bands that were around when we released our first record in 2004. If I think about any of those other bands now there aren’t any that spring to mind that are putting together a kind of best-of or greatest hits. So I think we feel we’ve put in a lot of time and effort and we’ve definitely come up with a body of work that we’re all really proud of.
If you think of the three bands you just mentioned, Queen, ABBA and the Beatles . . .
I guess it’s nice to think about it that way. I suppose you only get the chance to do what we’re doing if you’ve actually stuck around for a bit and made an impression on people. I won’t suggest for one moment that we can really stack up to those particular choices, but it’s definitely something that is a kind of benchmark, a certain kind of impact in the world of music, and that’s a lovely feeling to come away with.
Were there older songs that really stood out for you in putting together this compilation?
You don’t listen to the old stuff much. I can’t say I’ve listened to either Hopes and Fears or Under the Iron Sea since we put them out there. The second record, I feel like it’s the darkest record that we made, but probably the best-sounding one. So I think anything off there I’m very proud of, but actually, funny enough, the title track from Perfect Symmetry I always felt, for me, that was the best song Tim [Rice-Oxley] ever wrote and the best song we ever came up with as a band. And unfortunately, I suppose, partly because of the nature of radio these days, it’s a five-minute song, and we could never crush it to fit into a single edit for the radio. We tried and we put it out there, but you couldn’t really tell the story in three and a half minutes. I always felt it was a bit of a shame that song didn’t get the kind of exposure it deserved. And hearing it again, I still feel very much the same way about that song. I think it’s a bold statement. I have a sense that out in the big wide world people don’t necessarily see Keane as a band with anything to say on a political or social level in that respect. And that song is very much about religion and the effect it has on people, and people kind of committing terrorist acts in the name of religion, and questioning our reasons or motivations behind our beliefs. I really think that was a very powerful song, and it did strike me again that I feel it’s one of the best things we’ve come up with.
I’m sure then you’re hoping that makes the cut for the DVD. Explain a little bit about what that process is for putting together the songs for the DVD.
What we’re doing is, our fans are very kind of obsessive and there’s a lot of material out there, as you’ll be able to see from all the B-sides we’re gonna put out there. There’s a lot of extra material out there. We’ve always felt very strongly it’s worth having great B-sides. So we’ve always done that. We have fans who are quite obsessive and certainly – this is pure speculation – they’re going to vote for the songs on the website they want us to play at this little acoustic session, and I’ve got a feeling there could be one or two of the more obscure numbers. We’re gonna put it to the vote, and whatever they decide they want us to play, whatever gets the highest number of votes, we’re gonna play. I really hope some of the more obscure, weirder numbers can come out, because, A., I think it’ll show another side to what we’re doing. B., it’ll be fun trying to learn them, because half of them probably all of us have forgot how they go. So it should be a really fun thing to do.
What two or three songs would you like to see sneak into the performance?
The one or two B-sides, there was one called “Let It Slide,” which I thought was a great song. There’s another B-side, which was quite recent, called “Myth,” which is a lovely ditty. There are so many – there’s a song called “You Don’t See Me.” I’d be stuck. If you asked me to vote, I’d have no idea.
Will you be touring at all for the Best Of?
I think we might do some shows around the Best Of, and as, you say, there’s some new material that is coming with it. Beyond that there’s nothing coherent, there’s not a plan. I’m personally working on some solo stuff, so in terms of clearing the palette and starting fresh, that’s actually something I’m really excited about. It feels to me with everything we’ve done, and the pace we’ve worked at the last 10 years, it’s time for us to take a bit of time out and take stock. So that’s kind of what we’re planning to do, if that is a plan. But the lovely thing, I suppose, about being a musician and having chosen the life that we have, it’s a complete surprise. You could wake up tomorrow with a whole new set of ideas about what to do. But currently I don’t think we really have any kind of great plan for what we’re going to do next.
Is there a timeline for when people will hear solo stuff?
When I’m left to my own devices, things can move at a rather unpredictable pace, although if any of it’s predictable it’s generally quite slow. But I am working as fast as I can, so I’m kind of hoping there could be something towards the second half of next year. I’ve got a few bits I’m really excited about.