Brian Eno is MORE DARK THAN SHARK
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INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno

The Australian FEBRUARY 12, 2009 - by Iain Shedden

UNCOOL HAS FEWER CHILLS FOR COLDPLAY

It's standing room only for egos at the Grammy Awards, the shindig that celebrates music's great, good and middle of the road in the US.

That is, of course, if you show up, which two of this year's event's biggest stars, Chris Brown and his squeeze Rihanna, failed to do, even though they were scheduled to perform to millions of television viewers and to the large, star-studded audience at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Front and centre on Monday, however, was Coldplay, collecting three Grammys from seven nominations, including song of the year for Viva La Vida, but showing little consideration for bling, excess, or outrageous behaviour.

Apologising on stage to Paul McCartney for blatantly recycling the Sgt. Pepper uniforms with their stage attire was about as bloated and risque as the foursome got.

The Grammys success is another landmark in Coldplay's trophy-laden career, as is the album that took them there, Viva La Vida. The band is also nominated four times for the BRIT Awards, which will be presented in London next Wednesday.

As the band members prepare for their Australian tour, beginning later this month, they stand alongside two of their greatest inspirations (and co-performers at this year's Grammys), U2 and Radiohead, as one of the great modern-day rock'n'roll success stories. "A bit like parents and child" is how Coldplay's guitarist Jonny Buckland describes, somewhat mischievously, their relationship with Bono and co.

This latest Grammy success (they had three in the cabinet before this week) underlines Coldplay's consistency in the upper echelons of rock stardom ten years after the band's first album.

Since releasing its first EP in 1998, Coldplay has sold thirty-eight million albums worldwide. That figure includes six million copies of the latest CD, which is approaching sales of three hundred thousand (4 X platinum) in Australia.

Yet while fame gathers apace on the strength of Viva La Vida, Coldplay's fourth album, with it has come a fervent backlash that was brewing at the time of the band's previous, less successful, album X&Y. Music that was considered fresh and innovative during Coldplay's early reign with the albums Parachutes and is now seen by some critics as predictable and boring.

This was particularly apparent when American guitarist Joe Satriani filed a lawsuit against the band in December last year, claiming that Viva La Vida plagiarised one of his songs, If I Could Fly. The volume of Coldplay-related blogging on the internet that followed suggested more than ever that, if you're a music fan, you either love 'em or hate 'em.

Buckland, mild-mannered and level-headed, is aware of the hostility towards the band but, as with fame, he's happy to ignore it. In London last week, he typified the foursome's unaffected approach to fame and fortune as well as the critics. They have never really stopped to consider what they have achieved, he admits.

"We said the other day that we never actually say to each other: 'Oh, well done.' And that's true, we never do. I don't really feel famous at all," he says. "I can very easily distance myself from it."

Indeed all four members have been able to maintain the kind of mateship they had when they were students at the University of London in the late 1990s, even if their friendships now come with families attached. For that reason the touring schedules have become less gruelling, although their plans for the rest of 2009 include visits to South America, the US and Europe.

"Having families has changed all of our lives for the better," Buckland says, "so you don't want to be away for the entire year."

Today all four members - Buckland, singer Chris Martin, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion - live within three kilometres of each other in north London, within walking distance of the studio in Kentish Town that they built before Viva La Vida, which now serves as the band's headquarters or bunker, depending on their state of mind.

The four musicians have been working there for the past few weeks - albeit tentatively - on their next album.

It's unlikely we'll hear the results until next year, but it's a sign that the band members remain totally immersed in the monster they have created. "We have to continue to develop," says Buckland. "There's a lot of avenues to pursue. We've been experimenting with that in the past few weeks, trying different ways to come up with songs, therefore ending up with different kinds of songs.

"We're working out different ways to generate chord structures, really nerdy musical stuff, just to see what happens, and we're trying to go back to absolute basics, to see if changing just one thing changes everything."

As he talks more about these latest developments, there's an eagerness in his voice, like a boy with a new toy. This is in stark contrast to the group's fragile status before they recorded Viva La Vida.

"The feeling now is a bit different to how it was at the end of the X&Y tour, when we were burned out," he says.

"After a very intense tour of eighteen months, we needed a break from each other and from Coldplay," he goes on. "This time it's only been six months and it's still fresh and exciting and we're still happy to be making music together."

Tension was acute when they first attempted to record Viva La Vida in October 2006. Burned out, as he says, the group aborted recording to tour South America, before starting anew with producer Brian Eno and working through most of 2007.

Whatever grief they went through at the time, the result has proved worth it, although there was no sense of relief among the band when critics and fans lauded Viva La Vida.

"We're pretty happy with how it went," Buckland says, modestly. "I suppose it couldn't really have gone too much better. It's never a relief, though, because as soon as it's done you start thinking about the next one. There's no respite, really. The interesting bit is the grief, actually. It's the bit where you're trying to make something work."

The studio time in January has been used for experimentation, Buckland says, or "early steps" in building something new. "Rather than thinking about what we want to do, we're just doing some things spontaneously and seeing where it leads us," he says.

They hope to work again with Eno, who brought fresh ears and musical vision to Viva La Vida, as he has done with U2's soon-to-be-released No Line On The Horizon.

"He's an incredible person to be around," says Buckland, "so if we could find an excuse just to hang around with him for five or six weeks, that would be good. He's an inspirational character. He wants to try new things, new ways of doing things.

"He makes you want to try and impress him and that makes you fearless."

While Champion and Berryman enjoy equal anonymity with Buckland, the story has been somewhat different for Martin, whose marriage to actor Gwyneth Paltrow has only enhanced the tabloids' appetite for Coldplay-related tittle-tattle.

"Even if you're not famous, someone is going to knock you down," Buckland says. "You just have to grow up and accept it and not worry about it. The process of making this record changed us quite a bit.

"I think we're less constricted by convention than maybe we were before, and less afraid of being really uncool."

This last statement makes him laugh. "I think that's a positive," he adds. "It makes everything more enjoyable."

Coldplay will begin its Australian tour in Perth on February 27 before travelling to Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.


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