They’ve invented a new word for the title of their latest album, Chris Martin says he’s “nasty”, and they played with Christy Moore as a tribute to their drummer’s mum. Coldplay are easing into superstardom in style. Alan Corr meets the band in their London studio
The first time I see Chris Martin he is a breathless blur of vivid blues and red bounding down the stairs in Coldplay’s studio in Primrose Hill.
Martin is dressed in his “band uniform.” The new dress code is all dark-coloured heavy shirts and jackets and it follows Coldplay’s established rule of new album: new clobber. “I like to wear different clothes when I’m performing”, he says, “and doing interviews!”
He may look like he’s actually rushing off to 1989 to present a ‘zany’ yoof TV show but at 34, rock’s most sensitive star is a shockingly tanned and healthy specimen, a non-drinking, non-smoking macrobiotic pin-up, exuding the burnished health of the very rich. We are in The Bakery, Coldplay’s studio and HQ. All four band members live within two minutes of the place and they played their first ever gig as Coldplay just down the road in The Dublin Castle venue in February 1998.
“When you become successful as a band it can all become quite divisive and what’s great about The Bakery is that it’s the home of the band”, Martin says, leading me back up the stairs to the break-out area. “No one’s famous in here; no one reads anyone’s bad press. We’re just the same group of people we always have been. Nothing we’ve done outside means anything. It’s very calm.”
The Bakery is Coldplay’s inner sanctum, a bolthole from the madness of being in a huge band. It has the look of a school arts lab, with art books and DVDs (the complete sets of Sherlock Holmes, The West Wing and Get Smart) and a table overflowing with fan mail. “We look at the stuff that’s sent to us but it’s not like we have to deal with it”, says guitarist Jonny Buckland, also in band uniform except for a baseball cap and a friendly grin.
“Sometimes, when you sleep with a fan you think, ‘was that the right thing to do?’” adds Martin. “You know what? It probably was. That was a joke by the way.”
Martin is in good form and as usual he’s deflecting his image as a tortured soul with matey gags and self-effacing comments, but it could all be an act. “I’m actually terrified”, he says, folding his long frame into one of the beanbags/chairs that litter the room. “We have to hand in the new album cover on Friday, which is pretty terrifying so we’re trying to find things to do so we don’t have to hand it in.”
The album, the band’s fifth, is grandly titled Mylo Xyloto. That’s certainly a mouthful. In fact it sounds like a strain of virulent rabbit disease or the villain from a very bad sci-fi movie, but the name has three distinct inspirations – Coldplay wanted some words that didn’t already mean anything; they were very influenced by graffiti artists who coin their own nicknames; and, perhaps most importantly, they wanted loads of Os in it. “I’m fully aware that for a few months it will seem ridiculous”, says Martin. “It’s not acceptable on Scrabble yet and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
Coldplay on stage with Christy Moore at Oxegen
The new music lives up to that exotic name. Mylo Xyloto is a bejewelled, exotic-sounding thing. It’s lush and tribal sounding and full of the anthemic weepies that have made Coldplay cross-generational mega-sellers. Martin describes the album as a “musical”. “Or is it a concept album?” he wonders. (Read review here: http://www.rte.ie/ten/2011/1023/coldplay.html)
With its overriding themes of escape and surveillance, it might well be. “If this was 1976, we’d say yeah! It’s a concept album but because it’s 2011, we’ll deny it, but if you want to find a story from beginning to end on this album it would be easy to do. There’s definitely meant to be an Orwellian love story. To be perfectly honest with you, it is a story album.”
When I remark that Snow Patrol are releasing their new album shortly after Coldplay, Martin says, “A clash of the soft rockers. That’s what we are.” Both acts have certainly ushered in a new era of politeness in rock music and if ever a band knew they weren’t cool, it is Coldplay. Nice, yes. Cool, no. “It’s not something I’m particularly embarrassed by”, Martin says. “I don’t want to be known as a bastard. We all are, by the way, nasty people, but I don’t think there’s any need to show that side of myself to you.”
So you’ve never felt like chucking a flat screen out of hotel window? “Well, there are different degrees of rock, I can’t believe I said that! Hahaha!” he laughs, doubling up on the beanbag/couch. “We do let loose but we’re never going to be Megadeth except every Thursday at the local rock tribute night. We are nice guys, unless you say something highly offensive, in which case I’ll smack you about the chops. You can ask anything you want. I just may not answer it.”
So I ask the Gwyneth Paltrow question: what did he think of his wife’s recent turn on Glee? “Well, I love Glee. I think she’s great”, he says, and that’s the end of that. Unsurprisingly, he is much more talkative when it comes to Coldplay’s surprise guest at this year’s Oxegen Festival – Christy Moore. “Christy Moore is one of our heroes and being a commercial whore, I was trying to think of how to make our Oxegen performance special. It meant a lot to us because our drummer Will’s mum has passed away and she was a diehard Christy fan.”
Coldplay: let us spray
Their other Irish connection is their undying love of U2. When Coldplay supported them at Slane in 2001, Bono invited Martin and co. to lunch in his place the next day. “So we climbed into a taxi and said take us to Bono’s house!” he recalls. “And the driver did!” The last time he met Bono was at Glastonbury in June. “It was great. I was standing in the field watching them play. I felt like a U2 fan from all those years ago.” Did you give him any advice? “Isn’t that meant to be the other way round?”
Martin is the man who has swept away rock music’s right be obnoxious with a new era of trembling sincerity often mistaken by the X Factor generation as genuine emotion. “Should a band like us go on X Factor?” he wonders out loud. “Nah, our songs are too depressing.” However, after initial resistance and as “a commercial whore”, he relented and let Coldplay songs be demolished by the wrecking ball of Glee. Maybe Gwyneth had a say in that.
For the lead singer of such a massive act, he has also maintained an envious level of anonymity. “I’m famous for my marriage but I don’t get recognised that much”, he says. “I was in a cab the other day and the guy said, ‘oh you look like that singer, the guy from Coldplay’. And I said, yes I’m him. He just started laughing and said he lives around here. We don’t ever feel like superstars; we feel famous on stage. We don’t do red carpets. I’m fully aware that I’m better in small doses.”
Coldplay remain rock’s nice guys and Martin sees no conflict between the crass world of Glee and X Factor and striving for meaning like his heroes U2. Maybe it’s something to do with being the son of an accountant and a music teacher. They are also all family men with children. “Our kids have had passports since they were three weeks old so they’ve been everywhere”, says Jonny.
“My son’s basically been on tour since he was born”, Martin says. “He said to me yesterday, ‘dad I don’t really want to live in one place’. I like being a nomad. I don’t want to live in one place either. I like being from earth.”
As if on cue, both Martin and Buckland have to go now so they can put their children to bed. How Coldplay is that?
Mylo Xyloto is out now