By Laura Ferreiro
Greatest hits albums are often associated with bands that are well into their careers, who have been around for decades, and/or possibly may be headed downhill. That's why it seems a bit strange for Keane to be releasing a greatest hits album while they're arguably in the prime of their career.
"A greatest hits (album) does feel a bit weird because I associate it with bands like the Rolling Stones," keyboardist and chief songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley says with a laugh. "I try to make myself feel better by thinking of it as a milestone rather than a headstone."
Although they've only been around a fraction of the time that the Stones have, the British band has repeatedly topped the charts in their native UK since releasing their first album in 2004 and have sold more than 11 million albums worldwide. Known for their piano-driven rock ballads and soaring anthems that conjure up bands like Coldplay and Travis, Keane had plenty of material to draw from for The Best of Keane.
"We tried to make it more of our own selection of our favorite songs rather than just choosing all the singles," Rice-Oxley says of the album, which comes out November 12 on the Cherrytree Records/Interscope imprint. "We're very proud of our albums as 11- or 12-song collections and stories in their own right. There are a lot of songs out there the casual listener may not have heard on the radio. But these are songs we're most proud of and best represent the past 20 odd years since we started writing songs together."
Childhood friends Rice-Oxley, lead singer Tom Chaplin, drummer Richard Hughes, and former guitarist Dominic Scott came together as young teenagers in East Sussex, England with grand ambitions of forming a successful band, despite the fact that they could hardly play their instruments and didn't know anyone else who was in a group.
"When we first started playing together, we were really young and naïve and not very good musicians," says Rice-Oxley. "We've always tried to push ourselves to get better and say something honest and meaningful and tell a story of where we were at as people. We wanted to express our observations about the world and ourselves that we hoped would be interesting and inspiring for other people."
Success didn't come quickly for the band, and lead guitarist Scott was losing faith. "We were struggling for many years to get a record deal or make any progress, and he gave up," Rice-Oxley explains. Although they were disappointed to lose their guitarist, it ended up being very fortuitous for the band. "I thought I could fill in the gap left by guitar by playing the piano," says Rice-Oxley, who had played that instrument as a kid. "That became a sound without us intending to, and it made us sound and look different from anyone else. It worked better with the songs. It was a weird stroke of fate."
The Best of Keane includes the hits "Somewhere Only We Know," "Bend and Break," and "Everybody's Changing" as well as two new tunes, "Won't Be Broken" and "Higher Than the Sun," which have never been previously released. "'Won't Be Broken' was recorded for our fourth album Strangeland," Rice-Oxley explains. "It's a poppy, very joyous, and uplifting song about pushing forward through life. It ties in very nicely with this record," he says.
"Higher Than the Sun" was also originally recorded for the 2012 album. "We felt it didn't thematically fit with that album so we left it off even though the record company thought it could be a single," he says of the tune. "It's a song about loving music and what music can do for your life, so we feel like it fits well in an album celebrating our music."
Despite their epic, uplifting anthems and great successes, Keane haven't always lived a charmed life. Frontman Chaplin has long battled addictions and substance abuse, and the band has felt the repercussions.
"Tom has his occasional moments where it all falls apart as seems to happen with people who have addictive personalities," says Rice-Oxley. "But the rest of the time he's very passionate about golf – he's very fit and spends a lot of time in the gym and playing football. Ninety-nine percent of the time he's really healthy – it’s actually very annoying for the rest of us," he says with a laugh. "But once in a while the wheels will fall off. It puts a huge strain on our band and friendship. At first it was hard to comprehend but now we understand it a bit better." At one point a few years ago, Chaplin abandoned their tour in Japan to check himself into rehab to overcome his addictions, and now he leans toward healthier pastimes and outlets.
Beyond a few shows in the UK and Europe, Keane doesn't have any immediate plans to tour behind The Best of Keane because the guys are ready for a break after crisscrossing continents all year touring in support of their last full-length record. That said, they have no intention of slowing down as a band, and they still marvel at how far they've come.
"When we were kids we grew up in this little town, there was no music scene," Rice-Oxley recalls. "Even going up to London was a big deal – it felt like visiting some exotic foreign country. The idea of starting a band – I never knew anyone in the first 18 years of my life who had ever done that. We started dreaming that dream and took it step by step. We sort of linked arms and took another step towards making it a reality – we really believed in ourselves and wanted it so much. We were passionate about music and worked really hard." It sounds like a good example for any aspiring musician.