Mt. Desolation Interview

Keane side-project Mt Desolation set for city’s Bodega

With a fourth album and a world tour out of the way, you might think it would be time for a rock star to relax and take some time off. Not so, says Keane songwriter and self-confessed ‘music obsessive’ Tim Rice-Oxley whose new band, Mt. Desolation, arrive in Nottingham this weekend. Nick Parkhouse spoke to him.

Mt DesolationCOLLABORATING with Keane bandmate Jesse Quin and assorted musician friends including the Killers’ Ronnie Vannucchi and Mumford and Sons’ Country Winston, Tim Rice-Oxley has come up with a distinctive, country-tinged record which, by his own admission, owes as much to Bruce Springsteen and The Band as it does to Dolly Parton.

Keane are a band who have never been afraid to try something new and so it is a little strange that Rice-Oxley felt that Mt. Desolation would work better as a separate project.

“I suppose it’s not just about the music,” he says.

“I guess Jesse and I felt that we wanted to do something together, while Keane were on a little break. We wanted to make music without the pressure of expectation that comes with a Keane record and also, a big part of the original idea of Mt. Desolation was collaboration and wanting to work with other people – friends that we had met along the way. It has actually been really educational – I’ve learnt a lot.”

Conceived on a drunken night in an Irish pub, the Mt. Desolation project has outgrown all expectations. Rice-Oxley confesses that it is “a miracle that we got as far as converting the original idea into an actual recording” and that an album and 15-date UK tour is “more than we set out to do”.

He says: “Everything that we have done has been done in the spirit of music and friendship and it’s hard to hold onto those simple concepts in the music business. As long as we hold onto that it’s going to be a brilliant thing.”

The keyboardist and songwriter is surprisingly self-deprecating considering his impressive CV. Despite four UK number one albums, an Ivor Novello award, four Q awards, two Brits and writing credits from artists from Gwen Stefani to Kylie Minogue, he refers to his role with Keane as “hiding at the back hoping no-one notices me” and admits that he “certainly doesn’t claim to be a great musician technically”.

Despite this apparent desire for anonymity, this project sees Rice-Oxley take on a new role – as the front man for the band.

“I just felt that it was ridiculous that I had got this far into my life claiming to be a half-decent musician but had never actually played a gig when I was a singer. I guess I felt like it was something that was missing from my very short list of abilities and it was something I always wanted to be able to do. I never had any aspirations to be a Bono-esque frontman but it would be nice to feel that I have actually done it a few times and held my own.”

The band arrives at Nottingham’s Bodega this weekend early in their UK tour. Considering that Keane played the Arena when they were in Nottingham last, this will be a much more intimate affair.

“I love touring with Keane but I do have a hankering to be back as just the three of us hiring a van and finding the venues ourselves. It is an amazing thing to do and you do lose a bit of that when the tour becomes a huge machine. I just wanted to get back to that closeness amongst ourselves and with the audience.”

With a new Keane record on the horizon, it may be Nottingham’s one and only chance to see this original and interesting project.

“I think it was probably intended as a one-off originally. However, if we can stick to the principles I mentioned – fun and just about getting together with a bunch of friends making music that you can be proud of – I hope we might make another record. Basically, I’ve got no idea what we’re doing.”

The gig promises to be a lively affair for both band and audience. Whilst Mt. Desolation can’t call on all their guest musicians for the tour, they have put together a tight six-piece band for these dates.

“We have a core touring band and we have been having a huge amount of fun. For me, it is a real privilege to play with such brilliant musicians. It’s so nice to play the songs live. It is very real and there is a lot of soul and a lot of excitement on the stage. I hope that it feels like that in the audience.”

The album, called Mt. Desolation, is released on October 18.

Nick Parkhouse

[Interview with Tim Rice-Oxley, 2 September 2010]