The last two-and-a-half years have yielded some of singer Tom Chaplin’s most fulfilling personal revelations and career achievements. The poignant frontman for Britpop band Keane just unveiled his debut solo effort The Wave stateside this past Friday, January 13th. Produced alongside Matt Hales (a.k.a. Aqualung), Chaplin’s 11-track concept album released via Arts & Crafts is an intimate portrait into his battles with self-doubt, fame, success and a near-fatal addiction to cocaine and alcohol.
The Wave’s sequence inevitably morphs into the compelling performer passionately belting out a more optimistic, empowering outlook on life. “So much of my life has been surfing against the tide and exhausting myself,” the Hastings, East Sussex native born Thomas Oliver Chaplin says metaphorically with his ripe yet delightful British accent. “What I’ve learned is to follow where it takes me. I do sense this feeling that something miraculous has happened in my life.”
Appearing significantly leaner these days and no longer pudgy-faced, Chaplin’s musical reincarnation dates back to 2013. He mentioned to his bandmates his plans to take a sabbatical to record his own material. Keane’s melodic, multimillion-selling, Grammy Award-nominated sound heard on the albums Hopes and Fears (2004), Under the Iron Sea (2006), Perfect Symmetry (2008) and Strangeland (2012) was penned solely by the group’s central songwriter, keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley. Chaplin reiterates a few times that he adores and is loyal to Keane, but the transparent lead vocalist says he began to feel stifled by the songs written from another musician’s point of view.
Making matters worse, Chaplin’s life was spiraling out of control again. He last checked into the Priory clinic to treat substance abuse in 2006. “At the end of 2014, I was playing Russian roulette,” he recalls periodically taking deep breaths resulting from jet lag following a 10-hour flight from the U.K. “I was going on four, five-day long drug binges. I’d have one or two days to rest, only to be back at it.”
Underneath a soundscape that evenly transitions between lush arrangements, minimalist backbeats, folk-inspired acoustics and majestic overtones, The Wave features Chaplin unapologetically displaying his insecurities (“Still Waiting” and “Hardened Heart”), revisiting his relapse (“Worthless Words” and “I Remember You”), attempting to repair broken relationships (“Hold On To Our Love” and “Solid Gold”), confronting his demons (“Bring The Rain,” “See It So Clear” and “Quicksand”) and seeking redemption (the title track).
The main challenge for the tall, 37-year-old performer in creating The Wave was determining how to craft a seamless full-length project with songs resembling his plight. “I just needed a new challenge in my life,” a relaxed Chaplin proclaims seated in a plush red chair in the lobby of Atlanta’s Buckhead Theatre pre-soundcheck. “I didn’t know who I was. I wasn’t connected to life and the beautiful things that it has.”
The heartfelt entertainer who once dealt with ongoing anxiety and panic attacks further describes The Wave as “a story of going from a place of fighting everything, being angry, alone and sad to finding happiness.” Actively using hand mannerisms to illustrate the shape of a sphere paired with voice diminuendos, Chaplin continues: “There are two voices married together for the first time. When I got myself well and decided to open up, it all came out.”
At first, creating The Wave was a daunting task. Coming up with melodies and song structure in the studio was second nature to Chaplin. Writing lyrics wasn’t as easy, nor as fluid. Driving on the road became Chaplin’s way of fueling his creative process. Once perceiving his methodology as idiosyncratic, the former art history major at the University of Edinburgh points out how being seated behind the wheel sharpened his focus and allowed his mind to drift.
Chaplin further validates his creative approach to The Wave by quoting stanzas from the late Irish, Nobel Prize winning poet laureate Seamus Heaney. The Wave’s honest tone and songwriting, Chaplin later reveals, mimic John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’s candid 1970 self-titled debut LP.
“You realize you’re not alone,” Chaplin says rubbing his knees as he firmly grips his platinum-colored vape pen. “What you say is more important. Human beings are just as frail, vulnerable and capable of doing stupid stuff as you are. I wanted to emulate that.”
Regular therapy sessions also began to filter into Chaplin’s recording sessions. Going to counseling initially made Chaplin hesitant to share his innermost thoughts. He originally started seeing a therapist, he says, because it was his last resort.
Chaplin’s wife had given up on attempting to help him following his relapse. “My problems with drugs were so bad, I didn’t have anywhere else to turn,” he explains. “Either I was gonna die or had to start talking to someone. It was liberating. I felt lighter, not being weighed down by emotional baggage anymore.”
Vowing to totally swear off cigarettes, hard substances and alcohol, Chaplin emerges more proud and grateful of himself. The Wave, he declares, marks the first time he could use his own voice and penmanship to reflect how he truly feels. His crisp vocals sound more rejuvenated and filled with conviction. There was a time when Chaplin would’ve taken his musical gifts for granted.
He repeats how lucky and blessed he is to continue to have such a distinct tone despite indulgences and excess. “I’ve given it some real abuse over the years,” he acknowledges, “Almost nearly tried to destroy it. Now, I’m being good to myself. If I’m gonna have any type of longevity with my voice, now is the time to keep looking after it.”
Chaplin felt incredible launching his 15-city North American tour in Atlanta. He last played in the city four years ago. The musician assembled a new collective of touring and studio musicians during the summer of 2016. It continues to blow Chaplin’s mind how he was fully able to commit himself to writing, recording, releasing a project, touring, and organizing his band.
After nearly sabotaging his life and successful career, Chaplin’s life has new meaning. He’s continuing to repair his relationships with his wife and young daughter. It’s tough for Chaplin to think about the future at the moment. He knows he would like to collaborate with other artists spanning genres.
The biggest accomplishment, Chaplin declares, is being able to demonstrate his musical autonomy. “I’ve done this on my own,” he says. “Obviously, I’ve required help. I needed it, but I do feel like that change and willingness to do it at the heart of it comes from me. I have my family back and a life again.”