Jump to content

[Article] Coldplay approaches 'Mylo Xyloto' as a clean slate


Recommended Posts

If Coldplay frontman Chris Martin weren't one of the biggest rock stars in the world, he might be advised to consider a career in journalism.


Bouncing into a hotel suite to promote his band's new album, Mylo Xyloto, out Monday, Martin, 34, begins peppering a reporter with questions before she can start asking her own. "Who's been your favorite interview?" he asks brightly. When his subject demurs — she can't pick just one person — he presses on. "Give me two, then."


The singer/songwriter is a charming interrogator, fixing you with his cornflower-blue eyes and easy smile as if to say, "Enough about me, let's talk about you." Given Martin's well-known reluctance to discuss certain aspects of his own life — chiefly, his marriage to film star Gwyneth Paltrow— his eagerness could be at least in part strategic.


Of course, as the face and voice of Coldplay, Martin is obligated to speak about the group's latest effort. And he seems to genuinely enjoy the task. Mylo (more on that title shortly) marks the band's second collaboration with renowned sonic architect Brian Eno, who co-wrote and performed on most tracks.


With bandmates Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland and Will Champion, Martin crafted a song cycle tracing "a love story in a big, dark, scary city." First single Paradise currently tops USA TODAY's adult-alternative airplay chart, and is No. 10 on alternative and No. 22 on hot adult contemporary. It has sold more than 326,000 downloads.


Martin, the primary lyricist, "was reading about New York street writers in the '70s, and became interested in the idea of how the voices of the voiceless get heard. So you have a boy and a girl and a group of like-minded people in a sort of George Orwell-type or Kafkaesque world. But it's hopeful, because it's about people trying to transcend troubles."


The process behind Mylo might be described the same way. "After our last album, we went through some great experiences, and some not-so-great ones," Martin says. 2008's Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends sold 2.8 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan— fewer than 2005's X&Y (3.4 million) or 2002's A Rush of Blood to the Head (4.8 million), but proportionate with declining album sales, and certainly enough to reaffirm Coldplay's status as the most popular rock band of its generation.


The track Viva La Vida gave the group its first No. 1 single in both the USA and U.K., and earned the Grammy Award for song of the year.


The bad news: The tune sounded strangely familiar to several other artists, among them alt-rock band Creaky Boards, who accused Coldplay of plagiarism, and Yusuf Islam, the troubadour formerly known as Cat Stevens, who noted similarities between Vida and his 1973 song Foreigner Suite.


Guitarist Joe Satriani went so far as to file a copyright infringement suit, claiming that Viva featured substantial portions of his 2004 instrumental If I Could Fly. The case was eventually dismissed, with the parties settling out of court; the experience left Martin shaken but undaunted.


"No one likes to be told that they didn't do something or that they're lying," he says. "But we knew that wasn't true. Everyone told us, 'Just wait till you have a No. 1 song.' And sure enough, it happened like clockwork. It was a good, if painful, challenge."


Martin tries to take the same attitude regarding general criticism of Coldplay. Pop pundits have long been divided on the band's chiming tunes and earnest lyrics. "Certain artists move in the wake of other artists," says Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis. "U2 and Radiohead moved on from particular types of songs while Coldplay remained interested in those kinds of songs. That kind of thing can irritate certain critics, even if audiences love it."


Martin detected a new "wave of negativity" after Viva's success. The album had prominent champions; Spin gave it nine out of 10 stars, Stone a more qualified but respectable endorsement of three-and-a-half out of five. But less favorable notices got under Martin's skin. "If 50,000 people pay to see us in concert, I can still get distracted if some dude on Google who paid nothing, and probably didn't listen to the album, says something mean."


A thick skin needed


Luckily, naysaying also provided "a bonding experience. Any artist that's been around for six months needs to learn how to come under attack, creatively. If you're in a band — a functioning band — you're at least lucky enough to have each other. So out of that low point came this idea of, 'OK, let's write a record as if we have nothing to lose.'"


Even for Mylo's title, Martin says, "We wanted to have something that didn't mean anything else. We made up 'Xyloto.' When we Googled it, nothing came up. Mylo Xyloto doesn't bring any meaning with it, so in that sense we're beginning with a clean slate. Together, the words will mean what we make them mean with this music."


Martin describes the album as "an attempt to construct a framework — almost like a musical. We did three albums of first-person narrative, but I was reading about when The Beatles decided to switch from 'I love you' to She Loves You. You can really get a new lease on life by putting yourself in someone's head, even if it's just a way of dressing up your own feelings."


The Fab Four reference should surprise no one familiar with Martin's unabashed worship of older icons. "I saw Bruce (Springsteen) for the first time in concert two years ago, and that made me go to the gym more," he recalls. "I said, man, I thought I was giving everything in concert, but this guy's 60 and he's beating me. Then I watched Mick (Jagger) on a Stones DVD the other day and I thought, I've got to build a gym."


Coldplay's other members also confirm Martin's portrait of a band of brothers. "It's an important part of our history that we spent our first year knowing each other just as friends, not playing music together," bassist Berryman says. "We have this kind of four-way marriage, and it's gotten closer over the years — even though our lives are much different now than they were 10 years ago."


One key factor in that difference is that the musicians now have families of their own. Martin, who lives with Paltrow and their two young children in London and downtown New York, admits he is still "uncomfortable" addressing his personal life. "Maybe it's an English thing, but I prefer trying to keep quiet and out of the way. I'm happy for my wife to be the famous one. She's doing awesomely, and I'm very proud."


Indeed, Martin's practiced humility is never more apparent than when conversation turns to his Oscar-winning wife. "I wouldn't even have a girlfriend if I wasn't in this band," he says. "I'm so grateful for my job; it's given me everything I have."


He speaks just as warmly, and in greater specificity, about daughter Apple, 7, and son Moses, 5. Both are big music fans with "a broad spectrum" of interests, Martin notes proudly; their recent favorites include Katy Perry and the Jay-Z/Kanye West collaboration Watch the Throne. "I don't make them listen to Coldplay," he quips.


Fatherhood has also had an effect on Martin's creative process. "It's made me more focused on not wasting time on anything I don't think is worth wasting time on. That makes the editing process a bit more brutal, because you don't want to be gone for six months promoting something you think is terrible."


It would be inaccurate, however, to categorize Martin and his bandmates merely as classic-rock junkies. Drummer Champion says that Coldplay is influenced by a wide variety of music, from Martin's buddy Jay-Z to "Hungarian folk music and balalaika orchestras. We're constantly listening to music in the studio, to inspire and provoke and create perspective."


Fatherhood's perspective


More generally, the little Martins have driven home "the fact that the world will be around after you, so you obviously have more of a vested interested in its long-term health."


The singer remains a staunch supporter of President Obama: "I love him and trust his intelligence. He's having a difficult time because a lot of people are paid to give him a difficult time. His critics never mention that he was handed a clapped-out hanger of a car, and was expected to turn it into a NASCAR in two years."


Though Martin points out "what I think politically isn't important to anybody," those larger concerns have helped him put Coldplay's trials into perspective. "When you can apply that to your band on a tiny, insignificant scale — that you're never going to convince everyone to like your music — it frees you."


Martin insists, in fact, that he has no great expectations where Mylo's commercial prospects are concerned. Asked about Coldplay's future tour plans, he says, with a perfectly straight face, "It's a question of whether there's any demand. I just don't think you can take those things for granted — unless you're the Stones, or Bruce.


"If the album is a bomb," he says, just a hint of mischief emerging in his expression, "then we'll probably have to open a cake shop or something. We'll wait and see."



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...