Shortly after the UK alt-rock band Keane went on hiatus in 2013, frontman Tom Chaplin started writing songs for a solo album. A drug habit would get in the way of any real progress, but after hitting rock bottom, Chaplin would kick his habit, and the songs would just pour out.
Now, Chaplin, who released his debut solo album, The Wave
, earlier this year, has embarked on his first solo tour of the States. He plays House of Blues Cambridge Room on Wednesday.
So far, he says the solo tour has been a great success.
“[The tour has] basically been absolutely wonderful,” he says via phone from a New York stop. “I’ve had a very, I suppose, quite emotional time, actually. I suppose that would be a way to describe it. I think first and foremost, it’s been a while since I was last out singing in America, and then I was obviously with Keane. There’s been a sense of expectation and excitement, and the fans have been just so warm and so generous each night so far. I couldn’t fault a moment of it so far. It’s been brilliant.”
With Keane on hiatus so that members can pursue solo projects, fans of the UK band would have good reason to give Chaplin the cold shoulder. But he says that hasn’t been the case.
“Well, I was very anxious about how Keane fans would react to [my solo tour] because, firstly, I’m stepping away from the band, and I guess that means that the band is on hiatus while I’m doing that, so there’s reasons for resentment there, possibly,” he admits. “And also, there’s the nature of what I’m doing. Tim [Rice-Oxley] was obviously the songwriter in Keane, so these songs are from a different angle, and it’s a big challenge to live up to his songwriting skills. So on both those counts, I was kind of anxious about how my music would be received. But I can’t remember seeing any negative stuff. I think maybe it’s just in the nature of Keane fans, that they’re very positive and receptive to hearing what any of us are up to.”
The songs for The Wave
initially started to come together around the end of 2013 when Keane released a best-of out. At that point, Chaplin says the tunes were “quite outward looking.” During 2014, the creativity dried up, and his problems with drug addiction returned. By the end of that year, he says those problems became “crippling.”
“I stopped doing nearly anything creative, and my only real motivation in life was to run away and get high,” he says. “So everything sort of ground to a halt. But it is a story with a happy ending, and in the beginning of 2015, I kind of hit my rock bottom, and started to turn my life around. After a couple of months of just trying to get back on an even keel emotionally and physically, this incredible ball of energy that I guess had been storing up inside me was just released, and I wrote 30 or 40 songs in the space of four or five months. Obviously, I had a lot to write about. It was all suddenly very personal and about my journey into the depths and out of them.”
He met with producer by Matt Hales (Aqualung, Lianne La Havas) and recorded some of the songs at Hales’ home studio in Pasadena.
“We made the album at his family home,” Chaplin says. “And that felt like a very appropriate vibe and environment for making the record, with it being so personal. We called a lot of favors in, and worked with all the musicians that both Matt and I know. It was a very warm, and not an easy process, but I think we had so many songs to choose from and such a strong idea of how we wanted it to work that there weren’t too many bumps in the road in terms of getting it done. It was another wonderful part of the story for me. Obviously, in Keane, I was singing someone else’s songs, and I’ve had a huge amount of pleasure over the years doing that. Inevitably, they are someone else’s thoughts and feelings. Almost on a more innate level, they are melodies that are coming out of someone else. When you write your own stuff, and it’s your own internal voice, I think it’s always going to fit your voice even better, and I definitely felt that way when it came to recording the vocals.”
The album boasts a far amount of musical diversity. Opener “Still Waiting” features orchestral flourishes and falsetto vocals, and the piano ballad “Worthless Words” makes use of fluttering electronics that give it a Radiohead feel.
“With ‘Worthless Words,’ I wanted to write a kind of timeline of the very last destructive drug binge that I went on,” he says. “I was trying to channel Bends
-era Radiohead – you know, that ‘Bulletproof’ song — which has a kind of atmospheric quality to it, without ever being overly epic. I think it summed up the emotional part of where I was at the time.”
A song like “I Remember You,” which features a snarling baritone sax, comes off as more of a classic driving rock song.
“I think the War On Drugs were definitely an influence for that song,” Chaplin says. “It’s hard to pinpoint where these things come from stylistically, but I think that’s the lovely thing I’ve learned about making a record, particularly a solo record. You can draw on so many different influences, and the thing that glues it together is you and your voice and your approach to making the music. I think it’s important in sustaining 45 minutes of music, that you take people on that journey.”
The iTunes version of the disc includes five bonus tracks, many of which sound as solid as the album’s 11 tunes.
“I actually really enjoyed that process because we were on quite a deadline, and I worked with a guy called Max McElligott, someone I’ve done some writing with,” says Chaplin. “He’s a very fast mover in terms of production, so he felt like the right guy. We did most of it my little home demo studio in the southeast of England. But there’s something about doing that where you don’t feel as under pressure as you do with the main record. You can just have fun doing it and not feel too precious about it. You can also introduce some elements or stylistic flourishes you might not have used on the record. In fact, the song ‘Better Way’ is definitely a big fan favorite from playing shows so far. That might be the only song I regret not putting on the full record, but, you know, at least it’s there in the end.”
Chaplin imagines he’ll make one more solo album before he considers reconvening with Keane. He admits the process of making his solo debut has taught him some valuable lessons.
“I certainly learned how much effort and elbow grease is required for writing a full record and everything that goes with it, so hats off to Tim for doing it all these years,” he says. “For me, I think there’s definitely more of the journey to go on, and more ideas to explore with the solo stuff, and I’d like to do it for at least another record, I think. The other thing for me is that I’m reluctant to make big firm plans for the future because I’ve sort of learned that where I’m being pushed by the tides of life is usually more interesting. I’m also kind in the dark about exactly what I’m going to be doing. My attitude is that if ideas come up, and people get in touch, and it seems like something fun to do, then I’ll just go with it. The truth is, I’m not really very sure what the next step will be.”
Tom Chaplin, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $25, houseofblues.com.