As the frontman of Keane, Tom Chaplin has been to the very top of the music business tree.
On its release in 2004 the trio’s debut album Hopes and Fears topped the charts and went on to sell 2.7m copies in the UK alone, making it one of the decade’s best sellers.
Their second album Under the Iron Sea was no slouch either, but the cracks were beginning to show – Tom had himself admitted to a clinic for drink and drugs problems in 2006.
The group put Keane on hold at the end of 2013, and things soon started to go very wrong for the singer. His addictions raged out of control and, as he admits, nearly killed him.
However the 38-year-old is now back, fit and healthy, and his debut solo album, The Wave, went top three and its accompanying singles have been getting plenty of radio airplay.
The Guide caught up with Tom, who was in upbeat mood: ‘If I’m honest, the last two years have been two of the very best years of my life, no question about it.
‘Once I got myself well from my problems and actually started to change as opposed to just putting a Band-Aid on it, so much good stuff has fallen into my orbit and I’ve been getting well and repairing the various broken relationships in my life.
‘But in terms of my work life, writing a record – which is something I’d wanted to do for a long time, getting a band together and everything that’s gone with it – it’s been really fantastic, If you’d asked me at the beginning of 2015, if you’d offered this to me, I wouldn’t have believed you because it seemed so unlikely.’
Addicts often talk of having to hit rock bottom before realising they need help. Was this the case for Tom?
‘I was putting myself through punishment after punishment after punishment.’
Intermittent use where ‘I would seem to have a hold on it’ soon became continuous use.
‘During 2014 it just spiralled completely. What had formerly been binges became one long event, it was just killing me mentally and physically.
‘People talk about a rock bottom or moment of clarity, I do understand that terminology, it does make sense to me, but my own interpretation was that I had had enough of this, I cannot do this any more.’
He thinks he had also used his role as a frontman to help cover for his problems during his years in Keane.
I’m definitely a solo artist for the time being and I’ve got lots more ideas I want to try outTom Chaplin
‘It’s strange, I often think the reason I wanted to be a in a band and be a frontman was that it was the ultimate way of telling the world I was OK. If I could stand up there and sing and looked like I believed in myself, then everyone else would.
‘While the person you see is confident and full of self-assurance, the actual motivation for doing it is crippling shyness and insecurity – the polar opposite,’ he laughs at the irony. ‘It’s very counter intuitive, but I think you find that with a lot of people in bands. They’re almost in it for the wrong reasons!’
The addiction peaked as Tom was attempting to write his solo album. In Keane most of the songwriting duties had been handled by multi-instrumentalist Tim Rice-Oxley.
‘It certainly stopped me from being creative and writing. Addiction for me is an emotional problem, it’s an inability to deal with reality, it’s a failing defence system for life, and that stuff comes from many different places.
‘I don’t really ever blame the pressure of making music or even the good things that come with it. I just think that it was a deep-rooted emotional thing that started many moons ago.’
How did he find the songwriting aspect?
‘That above all is probably the thing I cherish most about this path I’m on. I loved singing Tim’s songs and obviously he’s a fantastic songwriter and it’s been a privilege to sing them over the years. Nevertheless, there’s been a slight tinge of frustration of not feeling quite complete because I wasn’t truly articulating my own feelings and thoughts. Obviously there are some singers out there who always sing other people’s songs. But for me, I wanted to marry up the external voice and the internal voice and so now that I have an outlet for it, I’m loving and cherishing every minute of being a songwriter.’
He also worked with other songwriters for the first time.
‘One of my default settings, which has never been very healthy for me, is to isolate myself and thinking I can do everything on my own, so one of the things I wanted to do once I got well was to get out there and work with other people, because all I’ve ever known in music is Keane, I’ve never really worked outside of that comfort zone. I wanted to see how other people worked, have someone else in the room to bounce ideas off, that kind of thing.
‘It was really fascinating and I learned so much from working with them, and hopefully I’ll get to continue doing more of that in the future.’
As to Keane, do they have a future?
‘I’m definitely a solo artist for the time being and I’ve got lots more ideas I want to try out, so yeah, I’m still hungry to try and feed off the momentum. I’ve got all of this energy, and I want to keep working.’
‘Keane is part of the fabric of who I am, I’d be silly to say we’ll never get back together. There’s something about Keane, the story isn’t quite told yet.’
Tom Chaplin is at the O2 Guildhall in Southampton on Saturday, May 20, doors 7pm. Tickets cost £30. Go to o2guildhallsouthampton.co.uk