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Simply Keane to be liked

There's something very polite about Keane. The self-effacing trio emerged in 2003 and, a year later, after a handful of now highly collectable limited-edition releases, put out their debut album Hopes And Fears. It very quietly went on to become the second biggest-selling album that year, outsold only by the camp juggernaut that was the first Scissor Sisters album.

Keane can now lay claim to being one of the biggest bands in the world. But as the band's singer Tom Chaplin and drummer Richard Hughes sit down, the pair don't give any hint that they know that.

"We're not really into posturing," says Tom, while Richard, when it's mentioned that the band's new EP, The Night Train, contains some of their best songs, simply leans forward and says: "Tell everyone you know, would you?" -- as though it might be too vulgar for the band to do it themselves.

Keane have received criticism over the years for their private-school background and perfect manners. In reality, however, the band's polite ways are simply endearing.

The Night Train EP, follows just 18 months after their last album proper, Perfect Symmetry, which, in today's world where artists generally take three or four years to follow up an album, is very fast.

Released in October 2008, their third album contained the soaring pop melodies and anthemic songs we had become accustomed to, but added more electronic sounds and danceable beats. It caught many by surprise, and even those critics who'd slammed the band were forced to admit the album was actually quite good.

"Perfect Symmetry was a very rhythmical album, and more exuberant," says Tom. "It was a step in a different direction for Keane, and introduced a lot of people who'd never heard of us to our music.

"It opened a few doors for us too, that last record. And now, this slightly illogical step . . ."

Unlike Keane's three albums which have all involved spending months in a studio -- for the last album, they decamped to Berlin for a few months -- The Night Train was recorded on tour.

"[It's] inspired by all parts of the world," says Richard. "South America, largely, but everywhere. The EP is the flipside of touring for a year, where each night we'd play a song that we'd had for years. Writing and recording on the road meant that we could be creative.

"You know, you go on the road and play your songs, and it's easy to trick yourself into thinking that you're doing something creative, but actually you're just playing through things you've done before. In reality you can go 18 months without writing a new note. We wanted to keep the creativity going and record new things, so visited studios around the world, and we found ourselves full of ideas," he says.

"We did days in studios in South America, Australia, Denmark, all over Germany, everywhere," adds Tom, both indicating the wide reach of Keane's last tour and the freedom afforded to the modern rock star.

Collaborations play a major part in the EP too, most notably the two tracks recorded with Somalian rapper K'Naan.

"The first time I'd heard of K'Naan was when we were doing an interview and Tom mentioned him in a Tracks of the Year-type list he was doing," says Richard.

"K'Naan then mentioned he liked Keane in an interview, so we thought we'd see what happened if we went into the studio together. Three songs came out in three days, and two of them are on the EP."

"It had to be a face-to-face thing, as well," says Tom. "We didn't want to just send each other the tracks.

"I like him because he's a hip-hop artist who isn't about posturing, and that cliche that's developed in hip-hop. He's very soulful and very philosophical, and that chimed with what we are as a band.

"It was great to have him around, he's a great singer, a great lyricist, and he really added a new dimension to what we do, in a way that we would never have imagined before. It was a really successful collaboration."

Successful it may have been, but that doesn't mean it was quick.

"One of the songs, Stop For A Minute was on a loop for ages and ages while he worked out the lyrics in his head," says Tom, laughing. "It was on for hours, driving us mad, but then he just walked up to the microphone and laid down his track."

"I must admit I'd retreated to the living room by that point," adds Richard, dryly.

"His and Tom's vocals really complement each other, and it really works them singing alternate verse and bridge. K'Naan brought some lyrics to us too, the second verse is his that he wrote in the studio. That's what a proper collaboration is about."

When the idea of a new full album is floated, the pair clam up, careful not to commit themselves to anything. There will, of course, be another album, they just don't know when.

"The earliest we would think about going into the studio is the summer," says Richard, vaguely.

"We're taking things very easy," he says, smiling. He says that, but following the release of this EP comes a 10-date tour.

"Trust me, that is taking it easy compared to if we'd released a full album," says Tom.

"We actually did more tracks that aren't on the EP. We didn't want to release a full album as we would have had to go on the road for 18 months to promote it. In a way, this EP is borne out of laziness.

"I think this will be enough for everyone for a while," he says, hopefully. "I think it'd be nice to have a break, completely.

"For a while, at least."

Keane release The Night Train EP on Monday May 10