Mr Rice-Oxley on working with Ms Stefani
On Monday, pop superstar Gwen Stefani released her brand new album, ‘Sweet Escape’. On it, there’s a track called ‘Early Winter’, which was written by Keane’s very own Tim Rice-Oxley. Keanemusic.com called Tim up to find out how it came about…
Hey Tim. So is this the very first time you’ve written a song for someone else apart from Keane?
Yes. So it’s a pretty good way to start.
How did you get involved?
Well we met Gwen at the Grammys in February. Before that, we’d read lots of things where she was being very nice about our music. So that gave us the courage to go over and introduce ourselves and she was very lovely. A few weeks after that, we started talking about writing a song together. I spoke to her on the phone and she was just throwing some ideas out there. I asked if she knew what kind of thing she was after and she was talking about a few influences that she was using as reference points, things like Cyndi Lauper and a song by Billy Idol called ‘Eyes Without A Face’, which I hadn’t heard at that point of time, but which I’ve since listened to. So then we met up in LA a couple of weeks after that, at the beginning of August.
And even at that stage, could it have come to nothing?
Definitely. I would guess that she must have written 30 or 40 songs for this album. She’s worked with a lot of people and a lot of them are the biggest conceivable names in pop music, like Pharrell, Akon and Dr Dre.
You’re in the company of some urban heroes!
Yeah, it’s good. There’s some very exciting things going on in that area of music. I don’t feel that the same eagerness to experiment is quite so prevalent in what you’d call indie music. So it’s nice to have worked with people who are so enthusiastic about trying new ideas and making fantastic pop music.
Did you and Gwen click in the studio quite quickly?
Very much so. I think it’s one of those things where you’ve got nowhere to hide; it doesn’t matter how famous you are, if you get in a room with someone and you have to try and write a song, you feel very naked and exposed in a way, because you just have to try and create something out of nothing. So it could’ve gone either way, but I’m happy to say it went amazingly well from the start.
It must be quite hard with someone you don’t know very well; for example if they come up with an idea that you’re not so keen on.
Yeah, I think it can be very difficult. You just have to feel your way. But with Gwen I guess she’s very experienced at writing with people, which helps. Plus, she’s a real enthusiast and she’s very creative and not at all precious or arrogant. I have to say she was very self-effacing and almost quite shy about what she was doing. So it was a real creative back and forth.
Did the song came together quite quickly?
Absolutely. Gwen was a really hard worker. I was very impressed by how much she wanted to finish the song. We worked a long, hard day on the first day and she said, “Right I’m going to go away and finish the lyrics”, whilst sort of holding the baby in the other hand! Then she came back the next morning with the finished lyrics. I was pretty impressed by that, because there are a lot of flaky people in the music business. To see someone who sits down, makes things happen and loves what they’re doing is quite inspiring.
She seems like a proper pop star – in the best sense.
Well, yeah. I think pop music is the most powerful art form there is because it reaches so many people. But it’s so often done badly or it’s about following trends and cashing in. But with Gwen and the people she’s been working with, it’s about genuinely creating the best pop music in the world. There’s nothing half arsed about it. I love that attitude. That seems to be where it’s at in very high quality American pop. I think Britain is languishing in a bit of a rut as far as really exciting pop music goes. America’s leading the way at the moment. Pharrell is a classic example of someone who’ll take influences from absolutely anywhere and do whatever it takes to make it a really world beating pop song. There’s no snobbery or pre-conceptions. It’s pretty exciting to be around that sort of thing.
So, have you been out and bought the album?
Yes, I’ve downloaded a copy from iTunes.
Did you get the whole thing or just your one song?
I just wanted my song.
No! I got the whole album. It’s very good. I had heard pretty much all of it in the studio, but I’d never sat down and listened to the whole thing.
And did you feel a warm glow of pride as you realised your song was among the highlights?
I did. Very much so.
It would’ve been awful if you’d listened and thought everything sounded better than your song.
Ha! Exactly. But, no, I felt that ‘Early Winter’ holds its own among all the big stars, so I’m very happy.
What track number is your song?
Would you have felt a little insecure if it was 12 or 13?
Probably, yeah! It is nice that it’s right up there in the forefront, cos it shows they’re very confident in it.
Is there a chance of it being a single?
Er, I believe there’s a chance, but I really don’t know yet.
And do you actually play on the song?
Yeah, I played the piano on it and there’s a kind of ghostly strings sound which runs through it, which was something I did on my original demo of the song, which is still on there.
So, is this a springboard for Tim Rice-Oxley? Are you going to quit Keane and become a songwriter for hire?
Er, no, I don’t think so! I have been asked to do a lot of things on the heels of this and I may do one or two. But I don’t want to lose focus and I really want to be concentrating on Keane. Going into a new year, we’re all feeling very excited about making new music together. I definitely wouldn’t want to distract from that too much.