Mr Rice-Oxley faces your ‘Ask Keane’ queries
Yes, we’re taking a day off from the YouTube videos to bring you something even more exciting than a man strumming ‘Crystal Ball’ at the seaside. Tim has very kindly taken a break from working on the third Keane album to respond to the latest batch of questions which you folks sent in via the website. Thanks to everyone for sending in questions and to Tim for answering them.
“My question is this: There’re some bands that have a clear objective (like does Bono with U2 for example)…With your music, in general do you have an aim? Why do you do music?”
JiMe from Argentina
Tim replies: That’s a big question. I love writing songs because it enables me to express thoughts and ideas and feelings that I seem to be incapable of expressing in any other way. I think the same is true of the band as a whole – when we play together we seem to be able to say something more powerful than any of us could say as individuals. It’s a magical thing about being in a band. So that in itself is enough really. However, we’ve always admired people who consciously use their music to deliver a message of some sort. There are many great examples, from the protest songs of the 60s to the rave music of the 90s. Over the last few years we’ve become better at deliberately articulating specific ideas in our songs – ‘Is It Any Wonder?’ for example, or ‘A Bad Dream’, or even something like ‘Atlantic’. That’s really exciting for us. You have to be careful not to let the process become too contrived, or you’ll lose the soul of the music. But for me probably the best thing about being in a band is hearing that one of our songs has had some kind of profound impact on someone, especially when it’s someone on the other side of the world who speaks a different language and has a completely different experience of life. I can’t explain how that works, but it’s an incredible feeling and I suppose that’s why we “do music”.
“In your songs, you talk a lot about getting older. Is there a reason for the similar topic among the songs, or does it just happen that this is?”
Tim replies: I constantly have the feeling that I’m trying to catch up, that I’m running late for something very important in my life. I think that’s partly because it took us so long to get any recognition as a band. We made a lot of sacrifices in our twenties in order to keep the band together, and so now we have the opportunities we have I constantly feel that I need to do as much as possible to make up for lost time, and that time is always moving too fast for me. I’m sure it’s a pretty common sensation. Plus I feel very youthful and I live in fear of settling in some kind of resigned lethargy as I get older. I hope I’ll be one of those mischievous old people who always acts like a teenager, and my kids will dread bringing their kids to see me because I teach them rude words and make them listen to old fuddy-duddy music (Aphex Twin, Radiohead, etc) at deafening volumes.
“Who is James Sanger? How did he get a writing credit on such songs as ‘Bedshaped’ and ‘This is the Last Time’?”
Tim replies: It’s a long story, and judging from the current discussion on the forum, one that’s long overdue to be cleared up! James is what’s known as a programmer – someone who specialises in adding interesting parts of one sort or another (usually beats and synth parts) to a recording. Back in 2000, before we had a record deal, we worked on some songs with a producer called Mark Wallis. If I remember rightly Mark was working on another project at the time, and had asked James to help out on that project.
Anyway, a few months later James came down to see us while we were doing our weekly rehearsal at Backstreet Studios on Holloway Road. He had recently bought a farmhouse in France with a view to building a studio there, and he asked us if we wanted to spend some time there recording. We were feeling pretty desperate at the time so it was a really exciting offer. We had agreed all this with him when we were a four piece guitar band, but a few days before we went out to France, Dominic (our guitarist) decided to leave the band. I remember we were very nervous about telling James because we thought he might change his mind about working with us, but we persuaded him
that it would be really fun to make a more electronic album, which was more his area of expertise anyway.
James knew we didn’t have any money to pay for his time or the use of his studio so we cut a deal with him whereby we agreed to give him a percentage of the publishing royalties from any resulting recordings if they were released commercially. He would also receive a reduced royalty if the songs we worked on were released in a different form – ie not the versions we recorded with him in France. At the time we’d never made a single penny from any royalties, so it all seemed like a pretty good deal! Publishing royalties are the royalties paid to the writers of a song, and if you get a cut of the royalty it means you get credited as a songwriter. We worked on four of the ‘Hope And Fears’ songs at James’s place in France, hence he is credited as a songwriter on those songs, even though they were all already completely written before we worked with him, and even though the versions on the record are massively different from the versions we did with him.
James helped us out immensely by giving us the use of his studio and equipment, and also by teaching us how to record music using a computer. The latter has been especially useful over the years, enabling us to record demos at home. We never released any of the recordings we made in France, but the four songs from H&F did include some parts that we wrote and recorded while at James’ studio. They also include a few bits of programming that James actually did himself – eg the great drum loop that’s tucked in under Richard’s drums in ‘Sunshine’, that big fat kick drum on ‘She Has No Time’, and the cool bass sound in the middle eight of ‘This Is The Last Time’.
Sadly James does tend to pop up on TV every few months claiming to have written lots of songs for us, invented the Keane sound, kicked Dom out of the band, or whatever, but I think that’s just something you have to put up with when you have a bit of success! He helped us out when we needed a boost, and we’ll always be grateful for that.
I told you it was a long story!
“Dear Tim. Can you tell me who is that person talking at the end of the song ‘The Iron Sea’ and what is he saying??”
Tim replies: Er, I’m pretty sure it’s me. I remember listening to the individual track when I edited together the Magic Shop version of ‘The Iron Sea’, but I don’t think you can really hear what I’m saying. At one point you can hear me singing a little Mellotron line from the end of ‘Airbag’ by Radiohead though…..there’s a geeky piece of trivia if ever there was one!
“Tim – I’ve watched so many live videos of you guys and you get so into playing. It’s like you lose yourself in the music. How does that feel?”
Tim replies: It feels deeply surreal. I think maybe I have to lose myself in the music because I’d be too terrified to play otherwise. If I ever thought about the fact that there are thousands of people watching me play, I’d probably freak out completely.
“Hi. There’s a song of your last album that i like very much Atlantic. Everyday i saw the video clip of this music but i can’t understand it very well. I really wanna know what’s the true message you guys want to pass for us. Could you solve this problem for me? Thank you.”
Tim replies: You’d really need to ask Irvine Welsh, as he wrote and directed the video. I felt that he was picking up on the “fear of dying alone” aspect of the song. For me, the video is about mortality, about clinging on to worldly things even as the shadow of death creeps towards us. So a jolly little number…. but then you wouldn’t expect anything else from Irvine. The man’s a genius.
“Tim, why do you never talk on stage? Even Brendan Benson had to introduce himself and YOU although you were the host at the War Child gig in London.”
Tim replies: I don’t like the sound of my voice.
“Hi Tim! I recently noticed that when you played ‘We Might As Well Be Strangers’ live, which is one of my favourite songs, you played it half a tone higher than on ‘Hopes & Fears’. Is there any particular reason why you do it this way for gigs?”
Tim replies: The verses of the song are quite low for Tom’s vocal range. On the record that gives them a nice intimacy, but when we came to play it live it felt like the verses were getting lost. Putting the song up a key meant Tom could project the melody a bit more, which is pretty crucial when you’re trying to fill a big venue with delicate emotions.
“Hi Tim. Do you like the cover of your song ‘Everybody’s Changing’ by Lily Allen?”
Tim replies: I love it. I find it very flattering when anyone covers one of our songs, but I particularly like Lily’s cover. It’s full of energy and really gives a new slant to the song. We played it in that sort of reggae/bluebeat style when we played it with her at the War Child show in November, and we all really enjoyed playing in a different style. It was quite refreshing for us as musicians just to do something different.
“Tim, in your opinion, which is the best song that you composed?”
Gabriela Kozakievich, from Argentina
Tim replies: I think probably ‘Atlantic’. Or possibly ‘Leaving So Soon?’ Tom’s convinced that the new songs we’re working on are better than anything we’ve done before, so hopefully one of those is the best I’ve ever written…..I’ll let you be the judge of that…!
“Have you ever felt like composing harder music and dressing up like KISS??”
Tim replies: I wouldn’t mind up a bit more dressing up I must admit. Putting on any sort of mask, real or imaginary, is a good way of freeing yourself up to do new things that you wouldn’t normally do. As far as harder music goes, I always feel like I’m the only person on the planet who didn’t go through some sort of hard rock/heavy metal phase as a teenager. I feel kind of embarrassed about it actually, as I feel I should be able to enthuse about Iron Maiden and Kiss an so on. I do like a good rock song, but I can’t be doing with those interminable guitar solos where the notes get faster and faster and higher and higher. It’s hard to take most rock music seriously once you’ve watched This Is Spinal Tap.