Wednesday, June 15, 2005

An interview with Coldplay

With the release of their new album X+Y, Coldplay were looking for a bit of publicity. They found some time to tell me all about the new record.


I remember watching the Glastonbury festival on TV one overcast Saturday afternoon in the early summer of 2000. Numerous long since forgotten bands cranked out their one-hit-wonders, but there was a different group who said “This song's called Yellow. We hope that a year from now you'll all be singing along” And you know what? We were. That band was, of course, Coldplay. Five years and two albums later, Coldplay are about to headline the same festival, and with their new record X&Y, they hope to conquer the world.

Coldplay have become a household name, the benchmark to which new indie bands are compared. Bono from U2 said that 'I think we own a sound now, that people can say is a U2 sound.' So do Coldplay. It's a sound that evolves from one record to the next but remains distinctive; keyboard led with intelligent guitar guided by Chris Martin's falsetto.

Their second album, the 10 million selling, A rush of blood to the head confirmed their place in the major league. Now expectation rests heavy on the London foursome. They managed to find some time to tell Alternative Ulster what it's like to be almost the biggest band in the world.

It's a daunting task to have cracked America, won multiple awards, and then try to make an even better record. How do you go about it? Lead guitarist Jon Buckland says “With lots of keyboards! It doesn't matter where it goes, as long as it's good.” Chris and Jon started the record immediately after the tour in 2003 but had numerous false starts. “It also sounded flat. There was no atmosphere, tension or dynamics,” says bass player Guy Berryman. “We hadn't played the songs together. We recorded individually so the result sounded like crap session players”. They left in their wake “enough discarded songs to go to Birmingham and back!”. Chris adds, “The album was meant to be done for Christmas, but it just wasn't good enough.” To regain some perspective they left the studio and Chris decided the album needed one last song. Inspiration came when he least expected. “I woke up in the middle of the night with a something in my head, went downstairs totally naked and wrote the final song, A Message,in four minutes. We went back and re-recorded it all in three months in London playing together like we were in Jonny's bedroom again.”

The new record was given the “three pronged title” of X&Y. “I'm fascinated by algebra,” explains Chris,“you see X is like an answer, but it's not an answer at all. Everything has an X&Y, a good and bad, a dark and light and X&Y is also like man and woman.”

The songs on the new record tread along similar emotional themes. They dabbled with the idea of ironic or political songs but instead focused on “the things we were thinking about.” X&Y is an album “about love and loss and death and excitement and fascination with the unknown.” Success and Chris' involvement with the Make Trade Fair campaign allowed him to meet many powerful people. “It amazed me that they're all humans just like you and me. You know Leonardo Da Vinci was just a man. We're told we can't, but everyone can do it. Everyone is good enough.”

The first single, Speed of Sound unfortunately wasn't good enough to beat a certain crazy frog to the number one spot in the charts. The formula used is the same as the world-beating Clocks. It opens with sythn-keyboards and a piano riff before Chris' vocals and Wills tribal beats enter. Guy says “we felt it was a good first single, like a bridge between the last record and this one.” Its melodic but still represents a progression. “It was written in Chris' house in 2004 while listening to Kate Bush and trying to play guitar like Nick McCabe.” As a new father, Chris found that suddenly he was in awe of everything he had previously taken for granted. “The song is about recognising miracles which are all around you every day. It's about letting your self enjoy or be terrified by miracles and tragedies.” Will was unconvinced, originally hating the song, but then admits “I hated Clocks too, the first time I heard it.”

The centre-piece of the album is the tumultuous, Pixies inspired, Fix You. Starting with a Sigur Ros-like organ, and ending with a Jimmy Cliff style choir it is the song that “was the anchor around what everything else had to fit”. Lyrically it breaks new ground for Chris; “Quite a few people close to me have lost people” he confesses, “and it's a subject I've never addressed before. Everybody has to do it but nobody talks about it.”

About the first song, Square One, Chris says “Like all the best Coldplay songs I have no idea where it came from but I'm very grateful to have received it.” As the writer of so many hits, he compares his art to fishing. “You can have all the write equipment and know what you're doing but you have no control over the size of the fish or when it bites. Our best songs just arrive and all I have to do is reel them in. They just fall from the sky”

Talk is the only song written around a riff rather than the other way around. The riff is Kraftwork's Computer Love. “It was one of those moments when you hear a song and think, I wish I wrote that. But you can't, so the next best thing is to nick it.” Having been properly brought up, Chris sat down to write a begging letter in German. “All I knew to write was a pen-pal style letter I learned in school at 13. It went 'Liber Ralf, Ich bin ein Coldplayer'. And they said we could use their riff, so we freaked out and scrapped it!” At the last minute they saw sense and put it on the back on the record.

The album closes with a hidden tribute to Jonny Cash, Till Kingdom Come. It was recorded live in one take for Jonny Cash's fifth American Recording series with Rick Ruben. Chris sent Rick the song who liked it and recorded it but unfortunately Cash passed away before he could add his vocals. “It felt like the perfect song to close on.”

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