60 Minutes Overtime looks back at Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights” Unplugged (includes unseen footage)
Two years ago this week, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, gave “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft a tour of the band’s recording studio in London. In a new video aired this week, Kroft revisits the scene with Ann Silvio, editor of “60 Minutes Overtime,” recalling how Chris scribbled the name of a new song, called “Christmas Lights,” on his piano. You can watch the new video at the Coldplay forum now (and it includes previously unseen footage).
Chris Martin had only written the song the night before and was still working on the lyrics. Seeming almost giddy, he played the beginnings of “Christmas Lights,” for Steve, who left the studio humming the melody. That was December 2008 and, finally, this month, the song was released. In the spirit of the holiday, “60 Minutes Overtime” brings you “Christmas Lights – Unplugged.”
(CBS) The following story was first published on February 8, 2009. It was updated on August 13, 2009.
The small, exclusive club of rock musicians that can legitimately claim to be among the very best in the world got four new members this past year – the British rock quartet Coldplay, led by singer Chris Martin, writes CBS News in a recap of February’s 60 Minutes interview with Coldplay. If you haven’t yet seen Coldplay’s ’60 Minutes’ slot that aired just before February’s Grammy Awards, you can see it again via YouTube in two parts at the Coldplay forum here [thanks Christa1 & NiteOwl51762]
In the midst of a recession, in a music industry fighting for survival, the group’s fourth straight multi-platinum album “Viva La Vida” has sold an astounding eight and a half million copies and the bands current world tour is virtually sold out, as 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft first reported in February after following the band from Orlando and Chicago to London and Belfast.
London just before Christmas – the soaring melodies, the thumping beat of the music, and the quirky charisma of lead singer Chris Martin had the crowd on its feet. “We rely more on enthusiasm than actual skill,” he told Kroft. “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically and people will like it more. I can’t dance like Usher. I can’t sing like Beyonce. I can’t write songs like Elton John,” he said. “But, we can do the best we can with what we’ve got. …. And so that’s what we do. We just go for it.”
They’re all barely 30, but they have already been together for 12 years; Martin and guitarist Jonny Buckland, bass player Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion. By the time this tour ends they will have played before three million people, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to them. When Kroft first met Martin and Buckland at a pub in northwest London, which served as their first office, we found them modest and self-effacing. “Look, you guys are one of the biggest groups in the world right now. How did that happen?” Kroft asked. “There’s a lot of people asking the same question,” Martin said. “All we do is, we try really, really hard,” Buckland said, laughing. “And the other reason why we do well is because U2 is still on holiday. So…they’re back in March. So, you know, as soon as they come back, we drop down the ladder a bit,” Martin joked. “So, we’re in our last week of substitute teaching.”
The band’s life still revolves around the neighborhood where they first met. Four middle class college boys, all sons of teachers, who shared a love of music and a $100 a week flat on Camden Road. They signed a record deal upon graduation, and most of the songs written there ended up on their debut album, which shot to number one on the British charts. “Your very first album…you had a world wide hit, in ‘Yellow,'” Kroft noted. “What’s it about? F… knows,” Martin replied. “I’ve got no idea. I still think about that every day. I love playing it. I love the tune. I love the chords. I love the balloons that we use live. But I still can’t quite work out what it’s about,” he said, laughing. “Even if I don’t really feel like playing it, those guys have paid their ticket money. They wanted to see us play ‘Yellow,’ so we’ll play it,” he said.
“You wanta give ’em what they came for,” Kroft said. “And something extra, because when we look from the stage, you can’t really see people so much, but you can see the light of the doorway of all the exits so the way to tell at the beginning of a tour, which songs are working, and which ones aren’t, is if you see people it – people’s silhouettes in the exits, then it means you’re probably not playin’ the right song, ’cause a lot of people are goin’ to get a hot dog, or whatever. So I know we’re doing okay, when all the exits are clear. That’s my way of judge it. The silhouette factor,” Martin said.
There was certainly no one leaving after the first few notes of “Clocks,” their Grammy winning record of the year for 2003 and one of the hits off their second album. All exceptional musicians, their distinctive, alternative rock sound has found a huge mainstream audience that spans several generations of fans. Not even Chris Martin quite knows how to classify the music, the band or himself as we found out. “And you decided to be a rock star, when?” Kroft asked. “Well, I don’t like the word ‘rock star,’ the two words, ‘rock star.’ Not even ‘soft rock star,'” Martin replied, laughing. “Not even limestone star. I don’t like those words.”
Asked why, Martin told Kroft, “Because I don’t wear the right pants for that. You gotta wear the right trousers if you’re gonna be a rock star.”
You won’t catch the band in tight leather pants or snorting drugs of the back of a stripper. The British press often rags on them for being too earnest and boring. They are extremely conscientious, dedicated to their music and leave a small carbon footprint. They all share equally in the profits and Will Champion and Guy Berryman are thrilled that Chris Martin gets all the attention. “I couldn’t imagine coming out of my house and there being photographers out there. I wouldn’t be able to just walk away from that,” Berryman explained. “It’s a blessing to be in this band and to not be the singer,” Champion added.
“They seem perfectly happy to let you have…the spotlight,” Kroft noted. “I know, and that annoys me. My dream is that Will suddenly says, ‘I’m gonna be a flamboyant, homosexual, drummer, wear outrageous clothes, and say outrageous things,'” Martin said. “I would love nothing more, partly just to see how it looked, but also, because, you know, sometimes, you want a bit of help.”
Someone wrote that Chris Martin “is like watching an unsteady trapeze act” – one moment brimming with self confidence, anxious and angst ridden the next. We saw some of it at the band’s Camden recording studio, where he was both structured and random, a bundle of kinetic energy always on the move. “One of the things that surprises me, you’re out on tour. You’re not even finished with this tour, and you’re already workin’ on the next album?” Kroft asked. “Take a break?”
“No. Take a break when I’m 40, or 35,” Martin said. “Not now. I’ve gotta keep writin’ songs as long as I’ve got hair, ’cause once it goes, then I won’t be able to go on stage.”
He is a compulsive worrier and list-maker. He sends himself electronic messages, and scrawls notes on scraps of paper, on his hands, and anything else that’s available, lest he forget some brilliant idea. “And you have notes written on the piano,” Kroft pointed out. “Yeah a little, but this is just the beginning, so, in six months, this will all be covered, I think,” Martin explained. “Then you have to repaint the piano?” Kroft asked. “Yeah. So when we finish something, we repaint, you know?” Martin said.
Like many artists, he is openly, gloriously neurotic. “Then we have all our rules here. We’ve got our rules, so you can’t have more than 42 minutes. These are just things you just have to remind yourselves of all the time. The rules are important,” Martin told Kroft, showing him a list of rules pinned on a wall. “See, look at rule number six, not many interviews. That’s a rule.”
“Always keep mystery,” Kroft read from rule number six. “Always, always keep mystery,” Martin said, laughing. “This is private stuff.”
With the band in the middle of a tour, most of the new music is being worked on during sound checks before concerts. It is a collaborative effort with Martin and Jonny Buckland leading the way, but everyone has a say. “The song Viva la Vida, the one we just did last year. I said, listen man, I got this and it goes something like that, I always say something like that… and it drives him crazy,” Martin said, playing the piano and singing. “And Jonny says what?” Kroft asked. “And if Jonny says he likes it then I have to show it to Will, which is one of the things I fear most in my life,” Martin said. “So this is like the UN Security Council, one veto and its…,” Kroft said. “One veto and it goes on your solo,” Martin explained.
Given their professed history with Viva La Vida and their past track record writing songs, the band was stunned when not one but two different artists claimed that Coldplay had plagiarized part of the melody. The band says any similarities are a coincidence and they have refused to settle out of court. “I think that the way to deal with these things, if you know it’s not true then you just have to say, ‘I’m really sorry, but it isn’t true.’ That’s it,” Martin told Kroft. “The other alternative is give like a seven hour rant about why it isn’t true, and how it’s just not possible. And I think for the purposes of this interview its best to say we would never do that.”
Martin is used to some unwanted attention. Besides being rich and famous, he is also married to one of the most beautiful women in the world, Academy Award winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow. It has made them prey for the paparazzi, with whom Martin has frequently clashed, and fodder for the tabloids, which regularly run stories that the marriage and the band are on the verge of breaking up. Asked what it’s like living in a tabloid world, Martin said, “One week you’re divorced, the next week your band’s broken up. It’s terrible.”
“That’s what they’re sayin’ now,” Kroft pointed out. “I’m glad I’m not me,” Martin said, laughing. “That, by the way, is a Bob Dylan quote, in case you thought I thought it up”. “Right. And we shouldn’t we shouldn’t take these articles about the band breaking up and you and your wife breaking up,” Kroft said. “All I can tell you is, I mean it’s news to me,” Martin replied, laughing.
The couple seemed perfectly happy when we were around at this concert in London, but they don’t like cameras present when they are together, refuse to sit for joint interviews and insist on keeping their careers separate and their private lives private. Asked why their public lives are completely separate, Martin said, “Well, it’s just the way it feels best.” “Is this the one thing that you hate talking about the most?” Kroft asked. “Well, you can see from my body language that it makes me really uncomfortable,” Martin acknowledged. “Okay, we’ll stop now,” Kroft said. “This is the bit which in an outtakes where people storm out. I’m not storming out, Steve,” Martin said, laughing. “I like you very much. But, I don’t know how to talk about this stuff, to be honest. I don’t know how to deal with it.”
As they head out on the next leg of the tour, there is no road weariness or talk of exhaustion. In fact they have been thinking about a song for next Christmas. They are all still young enough to find this fun, enthusiastic about what lies ahead, and confident that they are not yet as good as they are going to be. Martin sang a bit of a Christmas tune. “The goal is to try and make the perfect song. Which of course will never happen,” Martin acknowledged. He had written the tune the day before. “That’s gonna be good, though. …I can feel it.”
Pictures of Coldplay filming Christmas Lights on 25th November 2010 (courtesy of Daily Mail article)