Despite being the adored, much analyzed and fantasized-about lead singer of one of the planet's biggest rock bands, Chris Martin of Coldplay is practical, even humble about his role. Sitting on the floor of a rented house in Los Angeles, enjoying the California sunshine and the taste of the strawberry he's just finished, Martin is deliberately and charmingly low-key.
writes The Sacramento Bee. Full discussion on this show is at the Winnipeg thread here in the Coldplay Live forum.
"It just comes from pure gratitude at being given this job, particularly in a period of time when music is hard to be employed by," Martin says of the free CDs that Coldplay is giving to concertgoers on its U.S. tour. (The tour stops in Sacramento on Tuesday; it started in May in West Palm Beach, Fla.)
"We wanted to give something to the people who have paid money to come see us or buy the album," he adds, referring to "Viva La Vida," the best-selling album in the world in 2008. "It's like a reward system in a grocery store."
Material sustenance is not what most fans think of when it comes to Coldplay's music or its live shows, which are known for the passionate connection Martin makes with audiences. The free CD, "LeftRightLeftRightLeft," with nine live songs culled from the band's last tour, is partly an attempt to capture that link.
"It is like a snapshot of where we're at at the moment as a band," Martin says. "Hopefully nine little morsels of where we are at the moment. It's supposed to give an overview of how we sound now and mostly how our audience is with that."
Given that Coldplay is returning to the United States so soon after finishing another North American tour last November, audiences seem to like whatever the band does. The combination of Martin's charisma and emotionally introspective, obliquely poetic lyrics, and Coldplay's darkly anthemic, lushly melodic music has proved potent. The group has grown steadily in stature and sales since debuting in 2000 with "Parachutes," quickly shooting from indie darlings to the top of the U.S. and global charts. Its third album, 2005's "X&Y," sold 8 million copies in the first year while "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends" sold 6.7 million physical and downloaded copies – stellar figures in an age of free downloads and splintering audiences.
The press, however, has been divided on Coldplay and on Martin himself. The band's music has been criticized as indulgent and repetitive while Martin, who is married to actress Gwyneth Paltrow (the couple have two children, Apple, 5 and Moses, 3) is sometimes faulted as being arrogant, a vegetarian, righteously well-behaved and generally avoiding the classically entertaining rock star behavior of excessive drugs, drinking and screwing around. (Although he has been known to wrestle with paparazzi and appear in comedies like the movie "Shaun of the Dead.")
Martin is, in fact, unabashedly middle class. The oldest son of five children of an accountant father and a music-teacher mother, he met his Coldplay bandmates in 1996 while all were earning degrees at London University (they refused to tour or release their first record until they'd taken final exams, and vowed to kick out anyone who used hard drugs). He has campaigned on issues of fair trade and global poverty, and has spoken out against the Iraq war. While social themes don't inspire Coldplay's songs, Martin says he feels a responsibility to try to affect the world in a positive way.
"It appeases the guilt I sometimes feel for being given such an incredible job," he says. "I think when you are contributing to or talking about something that you know is important on an activist level, it somehow feels better than if you're just sitting back taking coke."
Activism also assuages his own anxieties. "I don't really like to stop and feel comfortable," Martin says. "So I guess social activism is part of that."
But he is realistic about how much effect he can have on the world, beyond making people feel better for the length of a song or a show. "If I'm a bit down and worried about something, then if I listen to 'I'm on Fire' by Bruce Springsteen, I feel better," Martin says. "We can only influence our little world in our little bubble."
Coldplay at Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, IA (12th June 2009):
Pictures: Metromix Des Moines