Q Magazine (Q306) article transcript – Chris Martin invites Q to The Bakery for another chat
It seems that Q Magazine’s latest article on Coldplay is a hot topic at the moment, just look at all the sub-headlines that are sprouting up all over the internet because of its publication. Instead of reading those, we’ve transcribed the full interview for you, so read it in it’s entirity and make up your own headlines. Enjoy…!
The neutral observer of any big awards ceremony will notice that how late an artist arrives is directly proportional to their fame. On the Monday afternoon of the Q Awards 2011, Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland and Guy Berryman (Will Champion has a family emergency) materialise on the red carpet just 10 minutes before the ceremony begins. But before they enter the room containing the inner circle of photographers, Berryman is briefly detained so they have to wait in a small antechamber. Just as they’re about to make their entrance, the seas part and U2 walk past.
Bono doesn’t even notice Martin until he says, in a comically terrible Irish accent, “I loike your band. I do.” Bono smiles and sweeps a regal hand. “One day all this could be yours.” U2 greet the photographers first. Coldplay follow…
Bono’s response was a joke but, in truth, all this is already Coldplay’s. While U2 are in a period of self-doubt following No Line On The Horizon, Coldplay defy gravity with each album. Released the day of the awards, Mylo Xyloto will sell by the bucketload and top charts worldwide. And though U2 have just concluded a record-breaking world tour, it was Coldplay who won the cordial battle of the bands at Glastonbury this summer.
It’s often said that in an atomised culture pop music has no centre anymore but if there is a point where the Venn circles intersect then that’s where Coldplay reside. They might be the last of the communal rock bands. Who else is courted by Jay-Z and Kanye West and covered by the Pet Shop Boys? Who else praises Radiohead and Take That with equal enthusiasm? Who else would put a duet with Rihanna on the same album that samples both Sigur Ros and Brian May?
In the press suite after accepting their award for Best Act In The World Today, Martin thanks Brian May for the sample and discusses the etiquette of meeting other musicians. “You recognise someone but you don’t know their name,” frets May. (“There’s a funny heirarchy about who loiters for who,” Martin explains later. “I approach far more people than approach me.”)
Coldplay headline Lollapalooza 2011 on August 5, 2011 in Chicago. (Photo: Cambria Harkey)
Then there’s a three-way summit with Noel Gallagher and Bono followed by a brief meeting with Tinie Tempah about a possible collaboration. At the end of the ceremony Martin can be found deep in conversation with Wretch 32 and Example. But the most surprising encounter is with Tom Meighan from Kasabian who greets Martin with a cheerful holler: “I love your band!”
“Oh,” says a surprised Martin. “I thought you hated us.”
“Who said that?” says Meighan, aghast. “It’s a lie. I’ve always loved your fucking band. Straight, man.” He gives Martin a manful squeeze. “I love you. We all love you.”
“You’re catching me at quite an interesting time because I’m a bit confused today,” says Chris Martin, folding himself onto a sofa in the control room of Coldplay’s North London studio, The Bakery. He is tall and broad-shouldered in an expensive-looking black and white hoodie and blue combat trousers adorned with a poppy pin. His face is still boyish, lit up by a series of grins, ranging from nervously reflexive to genuinely delighted, but sometimes pulled in peculiar directions. He explains he has a pain in his right ear from the MTV European Music Awards in Belfast two nights ago. On the red carpet he saw two fans singing new single Paradise and hugged both of them, only for one to shriek directly into his ear: a very pop-star injury.
On the wall near his head hangs a whiteboard. Not so long ago it was a riot of song titles and potential album names. Now it’s blank but for the final running order of Mylo Xyloto and a sribbled reminder to “Sort our recycling policy in the studio.” Q visited Martin here over the summer to talk about his favourite records for the 25th anniversary issue and he seemed glad of the interruption. “This is fun,” he said. “I thought we were going to have to talk about our album and I’m not comfortable enough to do that yet.”
As Will Champion explains: “One of the most important weapons in our armoury is worry.” Every album leaves Martin so creatively exhausted that he wonders if he’ll ever be able to do it again, hence the “Coldplay to quit?” news stories. “It really does always feel like that,” he says, blue eyes widening. “Each album is a statement about how I feel about life. I’m trying to work out everything in each album so by the time it’s finished I don’t have anything left.”
Their recent promo odyssey has been bewildering in a different way. At one point they visited four continents in six days, flying from Los Angeles to Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town to London. In each location, says Martin, he can bank on being asked the same three questions. The first is: what does Mylo Xyloto mean? “Between us we have about 17 answers. I have about 12 minutes every day where I think, That’s ridiculous. Why did you call an album that? Then the other 23 hours or so I’m like, Oh Yeah, I know why but I still can’t explain it.”
The next is about Gwyneth Paltrow. “They always leave it till the end. I just say what I always say, she’s incredible but I’m not very good at talking about it.” Finally, there’s the one about whether they consider themselves the biggest band in the world. That one’s easy: “No.”
“Ridiculous as it sounds, I still feel like we’re trying to make it,” he says. Equally strangely, he doesn’t feel famous. “I think being married to someone much more famous makes me feel not famous at all.” Anyway, he says, fame isn’t what it used to be. “When I first met Bono I thought, wow this is like an alien speaking to me. Whereas everyone’s been humanised now.”
Even though size has served Coldplay well – their songs never sound better than when they’re being sung by thousands of people at Glastonbury – he doesn’t see it as a worthwhile goal.
“Pfffrrt,” he sighs. “It matters to me whether we get some singalongs – I love that more than anything. But as popular as you are you’re also unpopular so it just levels out at nothing. If you’re going to respond to the people who think you’re special then you’re going to have to respond to the people who think you’re unspecial.”
When Q first met Martin, back in 2000, he was reeling from the realisation that some people hated, really hated, the band he had formed with three friends from university. The idea had never struck him before. “At that point we felt it’s music, it’s not a facist regime. I don’t know how angry you can get about it. We had to learn the hard way.”
Now he doesn’t care, or at least not as much as he did. “I’m so grateful for the people who do like us that I don’t really give a toss about the ones that don’t. Of course you get factions in music, but that’s such a luxury. If you can spend your day blogging about why Coldplay are shit then your life is amazing. you don’t have to worry about where your food is coming from or if someone’s going to bomb your house or if there’s a typhoon coming.”
In the early days, Martin was candid about being an accountant’s son from Devon who didn’t lose his virginity until he was 22. Such honesty was ultimately liberating because there is no pretence. Unlike some rock stars he doesn’t have a persona to present to the world, but then that’s because he would never describe himself as a rock star. “You can’t set yourself up as an otherworldly thing because everybody knows you’re not. We’ve never been cool, but we have some songs that some people really like and we wrote them and anyone who says we didn’t can fucking… lick my kneecaps. Because that’s bollocks.”
The threatened kneecap-licking is a reference to the plagiarism charges levelled at Viva la Vida three years ago. A judge dismissed Joe Satriani lawsuit but this, says Martin, is the only incident in Coldplay’s blessed career that really hurts. “I don’t care about the people who hate us or say we’ve ruined music. But if someone accuses you of something and you didn’t do it, I fucking hate that.”
It especially bothered him because he considers Viva la Vida possibly the best song he’s written. It also captures best the extremes of his worldview: a euphoric song about abject defeat. “Even at my most confident, that was taken away by people saying we didn’t write it. So I expect disaster at every moment. Every moment there isn’t a disaster I’m very happy.”
Are your emotions polarised? Everything’s either brilliant or calamatous?
“Yes, there’s only two switches.”
No middle ground where it’s just alright?
“No, I don’t do it’s alright.”
Have you always been like that?
“Yes. I either have best friends or no friends. I either eat shitloads of chocolate or no chocolate. I either write the best song or the worst song.”
What did people make of you at your boarding school, Sherbourne?
“Even at school I was probably quite divisive. Some people thought I was very talented and some people thought I was the biggest tosser on Earth. It’s funny because I thought once I left school I’d made it through that and then I realised it’s just a microcosm of life. It’s just like a big playground. It was good preparation.”
Can your mood change the energy in a room?
“you’ll have to ask everyone else.”
I asked Will and he said Yes.
“[Laughs] Well, there you go. But I’m trying nowadays to put everything into perspective. My brother is in Afghanistan. Since he joined the army I’m like, Well, anything ‘disastrous’ in a band is not the same as in other spheres so shut the fuck up.”
Success often gives people a dimmer view of the world because they start to distrust people’s motives. Has that happened to you?
“Do I have a dimmer view of the world? No, probably a broader view of the extremes. I’ve been in more places, seen more stuff. I feel like there’s a lot of great things and great people so I have a brighter view of them but I have a dimmer view of the arseholes, some of whom we’ve met.”
Is it true you see a therapist once before each album comes out?
“[Laughs] No, a bit more than that. I have a lot of trouble sleeping. It’s to do with that and what to take and what not to take.”
What happens in your dreams about Coldplay?
“I’ll give you a classic one I had last night. We were playing Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall on Letterman and I was playing in a different key to everyone else and David Letterman came on and said, Can you stop? This is not very good. Can you do the other song? And then we start doing the other one and my shoe falls off. It always goes a bit surreal after that but it always starts with playing a concert and there’s some insurmountable problem. I have many more nightmares than dreams: probably nine to one. Real life is much better.”
Chris Martin at Glastonbury Festival on June 25, 2011. (Photo: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage)
When he was at the MTV awards, Chris Martin realised he was older than he felt: “I still feel in pretty good shape but I also could have fathered Justin Beiber. Not actually, because girls weren’t interested in me at that time but biologically it would have been possible. But on the other hand Queen were playing. I could be Brian May’s son.”
Even before Coldplay’s first EP in 1998 they talked about how bands stayed together. “We dealt with the insecurities very early,” says Will Champion. “Decision-making and money: all the stuff that tends to pull back apart if you don’t get it right. It’s a four-way male relationship and it requires constant maintenance.”
Martin would argue that it’s a five-way relationship. His schoolfriend Phil Harvey is listed as a band member on every album except X&Y. That was the record where Harvey, suffering from stress, resigned as Coldplay’s manager and disappeared from the band’s circle before returning as informal creative advisor. It is also the record they like least, reinforcing a lesson they learned from studying U2 and Radiohead.
“Those are the two you can hold up and say, well, look at where they’ve got to and they’ve stayed the same five people [he’s counting U2 manager Paul McGuinness]. It’s as much admiration for that as for their music. A band is a magic thing. Nobody really. knows how it works but it does. None of us in our band have as much talent as Michael Jackson or Lady Gaga but we have this unique chemistry.”
Brian Eno is credited with strengthening that chemistry. Eno produced Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends. but his role this time is more nebulous according to Champion: “keyboard player, general noise-maker, encourager, agent provocateur – someone to keep us on our toes.” He encouraged Coldplay to sing in unison and play together in a circle. That’s how Mylo Xyloto began: as an intimate acoustic record. “If one of us is down about something generally it can be resolved by grabbing some guitars and playing a Smiths song,” says Champion. “That’s the reason we’re in a band because that’s where it all makes sense, It’s so easy to get lost in all of the stuff that surrounds it.”
But their decision to democracy can be hard-going. Every offer is debated at length. “Sometimes the things that you’re offered split the band and that always means you end up not doing them,” says Chris. “I think half of us would love to play The X Factor and half of us say that’s a very bad idea.”
Which half are you in?
“I can’t tell you that.” But then he says: “Me and Phil and Jonny would probably do anything.”
The same process applies to the songwriting where every song Martin brings in has to complete an obstacle course of different opinions: band members, producers, family, friends. Champion pooh-poohed Clocks when he first heard it. “But only for an hour,” says Martin. “He didn’t go on one of his long rants. He can be convinced whereas if Guys says he doesn’t like something he never will.”
Are you always writing melodies in your head?
“Yes. All the time. That’s my way of making sense of the day and the world. Between here and home I tend to get lots. Everybody does, don’t they?”
No, Chris, I don’t think they do.
“Well, there you go,” he says, as if it has never occurred to him before. “It’s just something I’ve been given, I guess.”
When you’re having a bad day do the others know how to help?
“Yes, they do. They’re very good friends to me because they know that as the singer, especially because I’m married to Gwyneth, I get eight times as much media time as them. They know how much I need them. I just couldn’t do it on my own.”
Would you like to be a solo artist?
“I’d just be terrible. I don’t think I could even get a gig in Butlin’s and I’ve been to Butlin’s. I think me and my keyboard would be outside Woolworth’s most days, getting shouted at.”
Bono calls Martin as good a melodist as Paul McCartney. Although his tastes are broad, the songs he raves about, from Somewhere Over The Rainbow to Someone Like You, are instant and effortless, as if they have been plucked out of the air rather than composed. “My memory has always been shit except for music,” he says. “I read a book and if there’s words I like I’ll write them down but I can’t remember what happened in it. It’s the same with stuff I learned at school.But I have a very good memory for melodies. Which comes in handy.”
The lyrics he struggles with (many, he says, are stream-of-consciousness) but the tunes just come to him. All of his favourite songs, whether The Scientist or Fix You or Viva La Vida, have emerged almost fully-formed though it doesn’t always work. A few years ago a song arrived in a dream and he excitedly took it to David Bowie. “He said, [laughs] I’m really sorry but it’s not your best. He was very kind about it. I was like, You know what? You’re probably right. It might have been written by sleeping pills so I wasn’t too personally offended.”
Jay-Z, Chris Martin, and Kanye West perform in Las Vegas on December 31, 2010. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
Martin’s mother works as a music therapist with disabled children and though he winces at the comparison he has similar faith in the power of a melody – beyond the words or the production or what the singer is wearing – to affect all. He was never tribal about music at school and he respects that lack of factionalism in others, like Jay-Z. “When Jay first said, I like your band I was like, What the fuck are you talking about? No, you don’t. Then I realised he doesn’t bring any baggage to it. I like your songs – it was as simple as that.”
The friendship between the middle-class Englishman and the Brooklyn rap mogul is one of the stranger bonds in pop. “Yes, it is hilarious,” Martin admits. “What’s the common denominator? Well, underneath he probably feels a bit like me and I probably feel a bit like him.”
There’s a noise in the rehearsal room next door and Martin excuses himself. A moment later he shouts over, “Come and say hi!” Q pops in and there they are: the hard-to-talk-about Gwyneth Paltrow and the couple’s two children, Apple and Moses, both blond and ebullient with transatlantic accents. “He was asking me how me and Jay could be friends when he’s so confident and I’m not,” says Martin, hoisting Apple onto his shoulder. “They balance each other out,” says the unflappable Paltrow. “Chris and I are like Jay and Beyonce: two paranoid ironists and two calm, grounded people.”
After a quick catch-up (“I met Taio Cruz,” he tells Apple. “I told him you liked Dynamite”), the family departs and Chris bounds back to the couch. “There you go,” he says, beaming. ” You’ve got your answer. We balance each other out.”
Read also: Scans of Coldplay article as featured in Q Magazine (edition Q306) released on 29th November 2011 [thanks Mimixxx]
Kit yourself up for the forthcoming MX tour and get spotted with Coldplaying’s new range of merchandise! [click on the items for the full shop]
The new range of Coldplaying merchanise (unofficial of course to the official shop) has hit our stores, with our biggest range of goods so far. Prices are as low as they can be for a Cafepress shop so more people will be able to afford them. We don’t take any profits for the sale of the merchandise as a result. Take a browse in one of the online stores nearest to you: UK | US | Canada | Australia | European (shipping is worldwide, but you can choose what currency to pay in) – simply alter the country dropdown menu at the top of the shop page. [thanks to TracieMorgan and zzz]