They are the biggest-selling band in British rock today but also one of the most criticised. Have the slings and arrows stopped us from getting to know the real Coldplay? The Sunday Times joined Coldplay in Japan to find out - and we now have the full transcript of the article entitled "They've Got A Ticket To Stride" below - which is also over at WikiColdplay in protected archive format. Enjoy!
If you are going to mess up a song - and I mean really balls it up to the point where you have to stop - you ideally wouldn't do it in front of 100,000 people, with another 16m watching the TV coverage. And God knows how many more on YouTube. You'd rather do it in the privacy of your own studio. Or bedroom. Or anywhere other than the pyramid stage at this year's Glastonbury, at the festival's climax, on a balmy summer's night.
It happened midway through Us Against The World, one of Coldplay's new songs, a ballad. The culprit was the band's genial, bearded giant of a drummer, Will Champion. He sang "rainbow" at the same time as Chris Martin, the frontman, sang the correct lyric, "raindrop". This caused a fit of nervous giggles that the pair tried to sing through. It didn't work. Marting called a halt. Then he saved the day. "I'm sorry," he grinned sheepishly, as the camera's zoomed in on him, "I fucked up."
Then he restarted the song, and Coldplay went on to play a triumphant set. This tells us two things about Chris Martin. One, he leads from the front. Two, perhaps he's not so much of an egomaniac as some people think he is. Champion would later confirm that Chris "took one for the team" at Glastonbury. "He's brilliant like that. He just papered over it, had a laugh and started again." The confession came after I was invited to hang out with Coldplay for a few days in Japan, where they were playing two very different gigs - to a huge crowd and to a select audience - to see the band's democratic dynamic at close hand.
Despite Martin's higher profile, and the fact that he writes almost all the lyrics, the four bandmates split their royalties equally. According to the latest Sunday Times Rich List, Martin and his film-star wife Gwyneth Paltrow's combined worth is estimated to be £48m. Coldplay's "other three", Jonny Buckland, Guy Berryman and Will Champion, are worth £32m each. Yet I can't help thinking the three have the better deal: they get the buzz and trappings of being in one of the world's biggest bands, and none of the personal scrutiny. Champion tells me that in "real life" he can just "wander around and do the shopping" undisturbed by public or paparazzi.
Martin, on the other hand, cannot. At times he has had an evasive, fractious relationship with journalists. In Japan things get off to a frustrating start in the hotel's gym and spa. Martin and Paltrow are notorious for their macrobiotic-yoghurt eating, yoga-tastic lifestyles. But I can't really criticise - I'm afraid I do yoga too. I've popped into the gym for a quick downward dogs only to find, when I stand up again, that Martin is executing the exact same moves a few feet away. Awkward. He looks lost in concentration, so I carry on for a bit, but when I next look up he has slipped away.
When we finally get to talk, we're at opposite ends of an enormous L-shaped sofa in the tour manager's hotel room. Jonny Buckland sits to the side like a referee. He is another 6ft-plus giant, with a ready smile and a penchant for army caps. He doesn't say much, whereas Martin has a spiky intensity about him. Martin is unfailingly polite and self-assured, but there is also a jittery knee-jerk defensiveness. He fixes me with piercing blue eyes and I can see his brain tick-tick-ticking away: what's my angle? Which way is this going to go?
Martin is highly aware that Coldplay divides opinion. Coldplay-haters scorn the band for being an all-pervasive musical monolith that relentlessly squats in the middle of the road. One poison-ped piece sneered they were the "gold standard of average" and the "sonic equivalent of wilted spinach". Martin gets flak for everything from his lyrics (too oblique) to his background (too middle class), his clean-living lifestyle (not rock'n'roll), his advocacy of good causes (too preachy), even the names of his two children with Paltrow (Apple, 7 and Moses, 5).
Today Martin sniffs: "I don't feel we have to behave a certain way to be considered cool by people I don't think are that cool anyway. Rock'n'Roll is freedom to be yourself. If you want to wear a thong and dance to Abba, that, to me, is rock'n'roll. I don't want to have to pretend to be from the '60s, or from Manchester, if I'm not. And if you happen to be unfortunate enough to be a well-spoken public schoolboy from Devon, tough luck. If you're pretending to be something different, it's bullshit."
He went to posh Sherbourne boarding school in Dorset. Coldplay's Scottish bassist, Guy Berryman, is also privately educated. The other two, guitarist Jonny Buckland, who was born in London but grew up in Wales, and drummer Will Champion, from Southampton, both went to state schools. Of course not everybody cares how middle-class Coldplay are and whether this has any bearing on their authenticity - a lot of people simply like their music. The band's first four albums of melodic soft-rock have sold 48m copies, which makes them Britain's biggest current band, outselling Muse, Radiohead, even housewives' choice Take That.
Coldplay release their fifth studio album next month, but Martin is reluctant at first to tell me what it's called. "Once we start saying it, we have to start defending it," he groans. "The same thing happened with my daughter's name (Apple)..." He trails off, then pouts: "But fuck 'em." Another pause. "It's going to be hard to do this without sounding pretentious..." Come on, then, Chris, let's have it. "Mylo Xyloto. And the next inevitable question is, what the fuck's that?" He's interviewing himself. Buckland leans over and pours more coffee.
"We wanted it to be called something that doesn't mean anything yet, giving the album a chance to be totally it's own thing," Martin continues. "The word 'Coldplay' has too many opinions attached to it by people who don't like the music. This is like a fresh start, there's no ramifications." Is it a response to all the slings and arrows? "No, God, no," he insists. "We've attracted flak, but we've also done really okay." He sounds a little hurt momentarily, then rallies with: "We're the 15th best selling rock band this year!"
Funny guy. But he doesn't allay my suspicion that it is a response to their critics, on some level. He says that certain reviews have inspired him "to improve my lyrics - and so I have". Then comes the revelation that Mylo Xyloto is "our version of a concept album", a love story. "It came from looking at the news, and thinking about young people and whether two people could meet and escape from a place like Afghanistan or somewhere where there's darkness swirling around them. It could be someone from an alcoholic family meeting someone from a warzone - two people with problems who find salvation in each other."
Mylo and Xyloto? "If you want to, you can use it as the name of one of the characters," he says. "It's a mystery, but we like that. We just invented two words that you couldn't even Google. We tried it and got no results." There are now - just under 1.9m hits at the time of writing.
When I later watch the band being interviewed for Japanese TV, there is something in the open, sunny charm they project that's surprisingly reminiscent of the Beatles. Not that I'm saying that Coldplay are the new fab four. I'll leave that to the rapper Kanye West, rarely given to understatement, who said: "In 30 years, people will look back and say, "Those guys were more talented than the Beatles."
He went on to compare Martin to John Lennon. "I don't believe he said that," Martin snaps. Oh yes he did. "He might have meant we are underappreciated while its all happening, but I don't think it was. 'Coldplay are better than the Beatles.'"
Others have also made the comparison. Noel Gallagher said: "I listen to [Coldplay's song] Violet Hill and it's like the Beatles. I just think Chris Martin is a great songwriter." (Though he did add that Liam "fucking hates them"). Paul McCartney himself had called Coldplay a "good little band" - the exact words he once used to describe his own.
In one of our Tokyo hotel's many bars, on the gazillionth floor, which looks out onto a nouveauriche skyline - all skyscrapers and shopping malls - Champion reveals that the four of them haven't always got along so well. "In the early days it was much more difficult because we were so ambitious. We had a lot more creative tensions than we do now. We thrash it out until it's resolved. In the past there would be an argument and a storm-out."
According to reports of one notorious flare-up, while recording their debut album, Parachutes, Martin repeatedly lashed out at Champion for being "shit" if he drummed out of time. Then, in a fit of remorse, Martin felt he "had to pay" for his behaviour by going out and getting drunk. He was apparently later found incoherent and dribbling purple vomit - the result of drinking beer, vodka and ribena. He decided adstinence was the way forward after that. "It was pretty grim at times," Champion recalls. "But we knew Coldplay couldn't survive any of the people not being in it."
"We've gone the opposite way to most bands," says the bassist Guy Berryman, 33, the shortest bandmate at 5ft 10in. "Usually, everyone starts off being really chummy and ends up falling out. Here, all our fights were at the beginning and now we get on really well." These days the challenge is to keep it fresh. "It's progressively harder and harder to do something different with our music," Berryman says, adding that to truly break the mould they'd need to "go away [from each other] for a good amount of time and then come back with an album that is radically different. If you just keep on going, the mystery is kind of lost".
Coldplay have been on the go - writing, recording and touring - for 12 years. In fact, their entire adult lives have been spent as either students or rock stars. The signed to the EMI subsidiary Parlophone in 1999 before they had finished their degrees at University College London, where they first met (Berryman is the only non-graduate - he dropped out to work as a barman). They released Parachutes in July 2000 - it won them the Brit for Best British Album and sold 9.5m copies. There were no wilderness years skint and in the slow lane: Coldplay went from nought to ubiquity.
"About a month is the longest we've ever been not doing anything," says Champion, who is also 33. "We don't want to feel like we've wasted opportunities while we're still relatively young. I think one's capacity to work super-hard is obviously limited, I supposed in the same way as football players: you have a window when you're at your best."
I sometimes feel perhaps we should stop touring and just go and live for a little while," says Berryman wistfully, though he doesn't offer any suggestion as to how they might benefit from an extended break, beyond "just to get some new ideas before we start recording again." Later, after watching the band perform, I'll mistake Berryman for one of the crew. He wastes no time in recounting my faux pas to the rest of the band. Chris Martin relishes the opportunity for a laugh at my expense. "Pleased to meet you, I'm Chris Martin," he gurgles each time we meet thereafter.
The bandwagon rumbles on. Later that evening, Coldplay play a gig for a few hundred Japanese fans at a TV studio for the NHK network. It's a useful warm up for their much bigger gig two days later at the Fuji Rock festival, Japan's equivalent to Glastonbury. They perform five new songs alongside hits such as Yellow and Fix You. It's quickly apparent that the new stuff doesn't deviate wildly from the old: it retains the swirling atmospheries of 2008's slightly more experimental album, Viva la Vida, but the new songs are more compact and direct. The instant familiarity of each underscores Coldplay's status as a band at the peak of its powers.
For this new album they teamed up again with eccentric producer Brian Eno, of Roxy Music fame, with whom they first worked on Viva la Vida. This time, Eno didn't produce - he was involved much earlier, co-writing songs, singing, playing keyboards and other instruments and acting as a "creative consultant". " His favourite thing to do is to just play in a circle. He comes in like a feeding cow with his udders full and you've got to milk him and let him go," Martin tells me.
"After the last record, he wrote to us and said, 'I think we can do better.' So we asked him to write us the ten commandments for how to make a great album. Some were abstract like, 'Cook like an Italian', meaning use simple ingredients, don't overcomplicate stuff. Or he'll say, 'Don't use every colour in every painting', or, 'You must be fishers of men, not too proud to use simple hooks'. It's arty-farty stuff, but it works."
Does he still want to change the world? Like Bono, Martin is notorious for his political beliefs. Coldplay have a relationship with Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign. Emily Eavis, daughter of the Glastonbury founder, Michael Eavis, introduced the band to the charity. Oxfam subsequently took Martin to Haiti and to Ghana, so he could witness extreme poverty first hand. Martin, barely in his mid-twenties, was hugely affected by what he saw. Soon after, he began scrawling an "equals" sign on his hand before performing in concert. He was also photographed with "Make Trade Fair" inked on his arm.
Some things in life are guaranteed to raise people's hackles: being a campaigning multimillionaire rock star, however well intentioned, is one. At 34, Martin is now able to acknowledge this. Sort of. "The word 'campaigning' makes me uncomfortable," he says. "At the time I was writing on my hand, we definately were campaigning. Now, we like to do it more subtly. You can see who we support at a concert or on our website, but we don't like to be so shove-it-down-your-throat-y."
So you admit that you were?
"Um. Not... Er. I don't really know. Maybe. I only know I want to scale it back. I'd rather it's like, if you want to know what we think, then you can find it, rather than, 'Here's what I think!"
We used our voice on Make Trade Fair, which we still believe in, but if we were to suddenly say...!"
"And now, the rainforests!" chortles Buckland. "Yeah!" Martin continues. "If we changed causes as often as we changed clothes, it would start to be a bit hollow. The list of things we care about gets longer as we get older, but it just wouldn't work to go: Make Trade Fair! Save the rainforests! Be carbon neutral! Er... listen to Radiohead!"
He is wearing a Radiohead t-shirt. "I'm a big fan. I'm friendly with a couple of Radiohead, but only by text. They've always been very sweet to us. It's nice that there's a camaraderie among bands, especially as there's not many left. Everyone wants to be better than everyone else, of course, but they're friendly about it."
Coldplay are still driven to want to be the best; they are obsessive about their craft. Even though they are on tour, and their days are filled with promotional engagements, they are also still tinkering with Mylo Xyloto, a process that began nearly two years ago, working Monday to Friday in their Hampstead recording studio, The Bakery, and the nearby studio and rehearsal space, The Beehive. For every song that ends up on the album, there are "probably 12 that were rejected", Martin says. As we talk he reveals that they still haven't decided which 10 songs to go with. They have narrowed it down to 16.
This may be a rock tour, but, as you may have gathered by now, there isn't much rock'n'roll excess. And when they're not working, they're at home being parents; the four bandmates all have young children, though Berryman has separated amicably from the mother of his.
Paltrow commented recently on the false rumours that her marriage to Martin was on the skids: "Sometimes it's hard being with someone for a long time. We all go through periods that aren't all rosy. If, God forbid, we were ever not going to be together, I respect his so much as the father of my children. Like, I made such a good choice. He's such a good dad. You can never be relaxed or smug." She went on to say a wife should keep herself on her toes. Whether Martin also keeps her on her toes, or vice versa, we can only guess at. He has walked out of an interview in the past when pressed on their relationship. She, in turn, is happy to make excuses for his refusal to speak about her, telling Elle magazine recently that he was "a musical genius. It's like living with Picasso. He makes music for his fans, and he doesn't want people to conjure a lame famous couple when they're getting into his music. I get it."
I tell Martin how much I enjoyed Paltrow's performance as a fading country-music superstar in the film Country Strong. Did she draw on his experience as a performer? "I think a bit of mine and a lot of other friends," he fidgets. I persevere. Which bits did she draw on? "Nothing specific. Look, you know I'm not comfortable discussing this." End of conversation. Though Paltrow is less uptight about it. Around the same time as Martin was giving me short shrift in Tokyo, the actress tweeted: "Who do I have to bang to get an advance copy of the new Coldplay album?"
Martin is more forthcoming about his unlikely friendship with the ghetto-fabulous rapper Jay-Z and his wife, Beyonce Knowles, whom he helped persuade to perform at Glastonbury this year (Beyonce was worried that her high-maintenance R&B would not be well received at the rock dominated mudfest). They met at a charity event in 2003; Jay-Z said: "We clicked right away and it was like we were instant best friends."
"When you're lucky enough to spend time with Jay, you just learn a lot from his calmness in dealing with a problem," Martin says. "That's what I really love about him: if there's a problem, you just fix it. He doesn't worry in a neurotic way."
Are you a worrier? "I'm a complete neurotic! But I think I'm learning to worry about what you can do rather than what you can't."
Do any of the band need to be reined away from the various temptations freely available to rock stars? Champion - Coldplay's most outgoing personality after Martin - says not. "Obviously, with the trappings of what we do, it's very easy to fall into those kind of behaviours," he admits. "Playing live, and a lot of stuff that surrounds being in a band, is super-real - it's hyper-real. It's very difficult to not come off stage and think, 'Well actually, what do I do now? How do I sustain that feeling? So it's easy to see why people chase it. But we get our fix from playing hundreds of concerts every year. We don't need that other stuff."
Not that they're saints. The morning after their TV performance and late-night recording session, Champion and Buckland ended up on the lash with members of the rock band Arctic Monkeys, who are staying in the same hotel. The pair have eyes the colour of house bricks. Fortunately, their make-up people have eyedrops to fix that. It is the day before Fuji Rock, and the band will spend the afternoon being interviewed in yet another vast hotel room by a procession of Japanese TV crews.
Martin, team leader, is usually first to reply. Despite the yoga, he remains a tightly wound ball of nervous energy. Whenever there is a pause, he'll turn the tables on the interviewer. Are Japanese paintbrushes made of bamboo, he asks, after the band is invited to try their hand at calligraphy (Berryman obliges). Do children here learn calligraphy in school? Next they are presented with traditional fans. Martin can't resist the obvious joke. "Hey! at least we have four fans in Japan!"
Coldplay have a relaxed chemistry on camera. The interviews last all afternoon; the band flags only at the end, messing up the words and getting the giggles. Inevitably, Martin takes control. "Right! Let's do that again!" he barks. Yet they never lapse into arrogance, never once giggle at their Japanese hosts' mispronunciation of "Coldpray". Things turn serious when, out of the blue, Martin is asked if he has a message for Japan in the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami. "You want me to address the nation?" he asks, incredulously. No pressure. But he conjures a gracious reply, concluding: "If there's one place on Earth that can deal with this, it's Japan."
Next day, the band and a small entourage take the bullet train from Tokyo station to Naeba, home to Fuji Rock. It's a humid, grey, damp afternoon. There is little conversation; the four withdraw into their own private worlds, each wearing chunky headphones. Their two security guards constantly shepherd fans away from them as we wait on the platform. To preserve his singing voice, Martin, who keeps his hood up, doesn't speak - he communicates by writing notes on his iPad, which makes him seem oddly childlike. Or a bit special-needs. What's that, Chris? Oh, you want some water? Here you are, then...
While the other bands at Fuji Rock festival are crammed into tiny dressing rooms not much bigger than garden sheds, Coldplay has a mini-village. There is a dressing room, a "quiet" room, offices, a cramped practice room full of instruments. Not that this feels in any way glamourous. It's draughty, pouring with rain, and the roof leaks. "We're English," shrugs a crew member, "we're used to it."
There's less than two hours to showtime, but no time for slacking. Or boozing. Or lording it. Or getting scared. Or anything other than work, work, work. Once Coldplay have changed and eaten, there is another round of TV interviews, leaving only a few minutes for the briefest of jams in the practice room before being whisked to the side of the stage. A crowd of around 50,000 awaits. Ready for action, Chris? "More than ever," he says, as calmly as if he's just spent the past hour performing sun salutations. It's strange, this is by far the most relaxed I've seen him. "You can tell that from our collective weight - we've never weighed in so light. Fighting weight, that's what it feels like. But also, for anyone that likes you, you want to make them feel validated."
Backstage, adrenaline coursing through them, the band limber up wordlessly like athletes preparing for a race, and then it's time. They bound out to the theme tune from Back To The Future, Martin's favourite film, to huge roars.
it's a spectacular show. Martin whirls around the stage with his acoustic guitar, somehow managing not to trip over all the cables, before taking to his graffiti-covered piano. Buckland masterfully alternates between chunky guitar riffs and the addictive melodies that are Coldplay's trademark; Berryman's bass rhythms are immaculately funky; Champion thrashes his drums with the force of a rampant silverback.
Twice the teeter on Glastonbury-style howlers - first when Martin, either by mistake or because he feels like it, suddenly changes the running order of the songs. The audience are oblivious, but backstage there is pandemonium, as the crew frantically try to work out which instruments to bring on next (Buckland alone has an arsenal of 12 guitars). Then, during a lighting blackout between songs, a roadie rushes on to hand Martin a microphone but drops it. Martin springs across the stage to grab it and still finds time to mouth "it's okay" to the poor chap before whirling to face the crowd as the lights go up. Is Chris Martin an egomaniac? Not on this showing.
Coldplay's soaring, enveloping, palliative anthems are tailor-made for occasions like this. There are swathes of coloured light, laser beams, confetti explosions, popping fireworks, Japanese girls in the front row wave Union Jacks, a reminder to battered, cynical old Blighty that in Coldplay we have an export that is celebrated around the world. And we could do with more of that.