As part of Coldplaying's Erasmus boat trip excursion for Coldplay's Christmas Lights video last month, Coldplay roadies Matt McGinn and Miller, along with fifth member Phil Harvey were able to provide some excellent online Q&A to Coldplayers who were on the boat (and some who weren't). In the final installment of our Q&A session, last but not least to answer our questions is popular roadie Miller, who answers questions on soundchecks, online future of Coldplay, instrumentation and much more! You can discuss the Q&A here at the Coldplay forum. Read on for Miller's answers. [thanks Debs Wild]
Q. Miller once mentioned that he has a huge hard drive full of demo recordings. So is he the one responsible of archiving them? How many versions do usually exist of one song until its final version is made? What was the song that changed most from original idea to finished product? - Anna R...
A. I record all the soundchecks when the guys are on tour and keep an itunes library of anything that gets played that might end up as a new song - from Will playing a drum pattern that works with a funny slapback echo in the venue to the whole band playing through a song that’s been in the works for months. Similarly, in the studio, there is an iTunes library that contains all of the ideas and work in progress. The evolution of the songs is mainly a matter of the feel and the attitude changing. For example, Lost began as a very fragile sounding piano piece and ended up very swaggering and full - but the chords, words and melody remained almost completely intact. I have to say though (going off question a little) that my favourite recordings are the daft songs that the band do about the crew. They tend to get made up on the spot and are very very funny. I think almost all of of us have had one dedicated to us at one point over the years, my personal favourite being “Don’t go sailing with Brian Leitch”. This was dedicated to the band’s old lighting designer after hearing about an incident he had on his beloved yacht which ended with coast guard assistance...
Q. I really love all the multimedia contributions you do at Coldplay.com. Are you planning something special for the next era? - Angie Castille
A. Thanks Angie. The great thing about working online is the speed at which what’s possible changes. Each time we gear up for a new campaign, the whole online world is different. There’s some very exciting things being discussed that we couldn’t have even conceived of back at the start of VIVA or X&Y. Similarly, ideas we had then that seemed too ambitious now have very real ways of achieving them. Everyone seems very excited about making Coldplay.Com absolutely outstanding in the next few years and I can’t wait!
Q. Well I was curious if any of the guys keept their own personal tour diary? We get perspectives from Roadie 42, the oracle, and anchorman, but I wanted to know if they ever wrote down their own memories just for themselves not to be shared with the public. Do ya'll do the same? Maybe not necessarily a tour diary but when something momentous happens, do you write it down? Kimberly
A. Pretty much all of my thoughts find their way out on the website. I did think for a while about keeping a personal diary, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day really!
Q. Do you find it freaky that fans recognise you and want pictures of you as much as the band? Jen
A. Hmmn, well obviously, I have no idea what you mean. I do know though, that Roadie #42 is actually a very shy fella, which is partly why he chose to write under a pseudonym. He’s never really wanted to write about himself, just his observations of the band and the audience, so the blog isn’t really *about* him, as much as the world he sees around him each day. Sometimes he feels a little guilty when people are so friendly to him and he just dives off in the other direction, but maintaining the mystique is very important! ;-)
Q. My question is a bit selfish, but I was wondering if you'd be able to give any advice to someone looking to work in the music industry, particularly in the more administrative/managerial side of things, in the coming years. I'm just about to graduate university, and I'm deciding what steps to take next in order to get closer to my dream of working for a band much as you all do, and was wondering if you had any advice. Thanks! - Chelsea Gilchrist
A. I’ve never been involved in the managerial side of things, but I’m sure that it’s not that much different to the roadie world where nobody is born knowing what to do - you just have to get in there and get your hands dirty and learn on the job. Any chance you get to get involved with people who are doing the job you want to do you should take - even if you feel a bit nervous at first. There might be a venue near you that books bands, or maybe a radio station or a management company or booking agents. Just introduce yourself and ask if there’s anything you can do to help out. Always ask questions, always be enthusiastic and never think you’re above doing the more shitty jobs. Almost any experience is good experience as long as you learn from it. I wish I could say that you no longer need to be in big cities to get involved in the music industry. Unfortunately though, it still seems to be the case. I grew up in a tiny seaside town a long long way from London. I had a couple of friends who also wanted to do music and all we ever talked about was getting out and moving to London. I could have stayed there and still done something involving music, I’m sure, but if I’m honest, I don’t think I’d have got the opportunities that led me here.
Q. Some of the instruments used in Viva La Vida sound distorted, or a combination of instruments that the band don't always play. The piano throughout the song sounds either treated or an earlier version of the instrument, and the extended instrumental section between the chorus and verse (1:38 onwards) sounds like a combination of electric guitar with distortion pedal, steel guitar or distorted/treated harpsichord? What instruments were used / treated for Viva La Vida? Phil Stewart
A. I’m pretty sure that the sound you’re talking about is the ‘Tack Piano’. Rather than being a piano sound distorted or processed by studio equipment, this is actually a real instrument that lives in the Bakery. Rik Simpson, who engineered and co-produced Viva, told me that Chris first used a tack piano at a studio in New York called The Magic Shop, where he fell in love with the sound. Its unique tone and attack comes from the wooden hammers that hit the piano strings actually having metal tacks (or ‘drawing pins’ in UK language) pushed into them. This is what gives it the very bright, brittle sound (as you say, a little like a harpsichord). When the band got back to London, they bought a cheap piano and a box of drawing pins and made their own tack piano. It’s also on the main riff of Lovers In Japan. In order to get this sound on tour, Rik actually recorded every single key of the Bakery tack piano and made a sampler instrument that is played from the little keyboards near Jonny on stage.
Q. Hi, I'm a big fan of the lovely photographs that you take for the website and blog, did you train in photography and video production specifically in the past, and have you worked on any other big projects in the past? – Kara Thomas
A. Thank you very much Kara, you’re very kind! I haven’t done any formal training in photography or video. I’ve always taken photos, as my dad was a keen photographer who explained a lot to me about how the technical side worked. I’ve also got video footage I shot of friends bands from back when I was at school. (you used to be able to rent video cameras from a shop on the high street if you gave them your parent’s passport as security!). I did train in audio production, which led me into the Coldplay job in the first place. I did find when I started fiddling with photos and video more, that a lot of the techniques you use making music have similarities on the visual side of things. For example, fiddling with EQ to make an instrument sound less muddy and more crisp is very similar to fiddling with the colour balance or contrast of a photograph or video clip to make it more pleasing. Once you’ve got into the habit of sitting in front of the laptop playing around with sliders until you like the result, you’re pretty much on the way with whatever you decide to attempt... Now that everyone can have a recording studio, a photographic darkroom and an video editing suite in their laptops means that everyone can do everything. I don’t think that people will think in terms of “photographer” or “recording engineer” so much in the long term future - people will just be media producers. I’ve done a few things for other bands since doing Coldplay, but to be honest, they keep me busy enough that they’ve been nearly all that’s passed through my laptop since 2002!
Q. What is your most memorable experience working with Coldplay so far? – Deshani
A. This is actually quite a difficult question to answer, as we’re still in the midst of what I’ll undoubtedly look back on as an amazing period in my life. I think the most vivid and exciting period was my first US tour with them in 2002, when I’d first been given the job. I’d never toured America before and every week or so, we’d do a show that was bigger than the previous “biggest show I’d ever done”. It was pretty clear that they were going to be something special (after years of working for bands who never quite “got there”). It was incredible to be around people who wanted to work that hard and who were being as warmly and enthusiastically accepted wherever they went. It also didn’t hurt that it was such a lovely bunch of people to be sharing the experience with!
Q. What would you like for christmas? - emily parker
A. Well, I’m answering this on December 29th, so it’s kind of been and gone. The run up to Christmas was unusually chaotic this year with the song coming out and all the madness of making videos, TV and radio shows, getting ready for gigs and so on that goes along with it. I was looking forward to getting home and collapsing in a heap for a few days - and that’s exactly what I did!
[thanks to Coldplay roadie Miller for answering our questions!]
Voting is closed but you can keep track of the countdown to your favourite albums of 2010: