When Keane formed in East Sussex, England in 1997, the plan was to perform as a basic four-piece, with a classic guitar-piano-drums-singer configuration. Then the guitarist left.

Rather than recruit a stranger to fill in on the axe, the group decided to soldier on as a piano-based trio. And that non-move has paid off handsomely.

Keane’s major label debut, Hopes and Fears, was the U.K.’s second-best selling record of 2004, edged out only by the Scissor Sisters with a razor-thin margin.

By barnstorming relentlessly in the U.S., they’ve taken the States by storm as well, selling out such venues as New York City’s Irving Plaza, Avalon clubs in Boston and Los Angeles, the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and the Fillmore in San Francisco.

Pollstar caught up with Keane and pianist/songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley in December by phone from a Seattle airport, en route to Los Angeles for tastemaking KROQ’s “Almost Acoustic Christmas” annual holiday radio fest.

“We’ve done very well in Britain and now we’re trying to make that connection over here,” Rice-Oxley told Pollstar. “People have been really incredible and very open with their enthusiasm and opinions, which is great.

“People here are very vocal, which you really want as a performer, because you get up there when you’re in a strange country and you really don’t know what people are thinking.”

What people seem to be thinking is that Keane may be the biggest thing to traverse the Pond since Coldplay. But what Rice-Oxley, drummer Richard Hughes and vocalist Tom Chaplin had in mind was something a little more ambitious.

“We wanted to be The Beatles but didn’t really have the wherewithal with the instruments, you know?” Rice-Oxley said, laughing. “We had the will but not the talent.”

They learned to play the good old-fashioned way – by copying their rock heroes.

“I can remember playing Oasis songs and Beatles songs; R.E.M. and U2, just trying to learn our craft that way – first, to play our instruments and, second, to learn to write a good song by imitating our heroes,” he explained.

“That’s the way a lot of young bands start out, I think. We never wanted to be a cover band; we wanted to write and play our own songs.”

No look at Keane’s early days is complete without including another member of Rice-Oxley’s circle of school chums – Adam Tudhope, now the band’s manager.


“Adam was an old friend of mine,” he said. “We met at university in London in about 1995, and we just became great friends. I’d been playing stuff with the other guys and we wanted to take things more seriously and play gigs around London.

“I guess we were all quite nervous people and didn’t really know how to go about calling people up. We were quite fussy about being put on the bill in these little clubs. Adam is a little more inclined that way and volunteered himself,” Rice-Oxley continued.

“So, we decided to make a go of it and here we are, six years later. I guess he’s kind of learned along with us and we share the same history and have made a lot of mistakes together. We have a great bond.”

Those clubs that made Keane so “nervous” back in the day may have seated less than 100, but Rice-Oxley insists those early sellouts were just as meaningful as playing in front of tens of thousands of fans at the 2004 Glastonbury Festival, the U.K.’s most prestigious.

Most recently, Keane played before 60,000 fans at London’s Tsunami Aid concert at Millenium Stadium with Eric Clapton, Jools Holland and Manic Street Preachers.

Equally important was that first independent record pressing, back on a tiny label called Fierce Panda, long before Interscope and the gold record certification with Keane’s name on it.

“Signing our first indie label in England was a huge thing for us, because it meant we would get a CD out,” Rice-Oxley said. “It was a very short run, about 500 copies. But it meant that we got on the radio. Everything happened from there.

“Then we went to Island, in Britain, and had a No. 3 record there. That’s probably when we entered the public’s consciousness a bit more forcefully.”

It also earned Keane the notice of the American music business, followed by deals with Interscope and an agency signing with Pinnacle Entertainment, where the band is repped by Scott Sokol.

Those efforts have pushed that consciousness into the stratosphere. At the time of the interview, Hopes and Fears had already gone gold in the U.S. and sold more than 2.3 million copies worldwide. The band criss-crossed the States three times in 2004, and plans at least two more North American treks this year.

Keane still has some promotional work to do on that album, Rice-Oxley said, and feels no great rush to get another record in the can. But he acknowledges that on breaks from the road, he’s been recording new material that should hit the racks in a year or so.

“We can’t keep away; we’re so excited about making music and doing what we do. I’m looking forward to making music in the studio instead of in the back of a tour bus,” Rice-Oxley said. “It’s definitely not easy to do because we’ve got such a crazy schedule, but I try to write whenever I can.”

After a short break for holiday back in England, Keane is currently on yet another North American leg through February, then hits Europe in March and April.