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"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Entertainment Weekly JUNE 13, 2008 - by Shirley Halperin
COLDPLAY TALK 'VIVA LA VIDA'
With their new album out June 17, the English rockers chat with Entertainment Weekly about hypnosis, their new sound, and how it feels to be both loved AND hated.
Few bands are as polarising as Coldplay, who, for the better part of their career, have been both hailed and derided for their U2 leanings, clichéd lyrics, and snoozy sound. Meanwhile the British foursome managed to sell over thirty-million albums seemingly effortlessly in their decade together as a band, with their last release, X&Y, debuting at No. 1 in twenty-two countries. Indeed, back in 2005, Coldplay was certifiably the biggest band in the world, but how do you hold on to that title in today's dismal music-buying climate and do you even want to? The members of Coldplay are torn on this issue, but with their ambitious fourth album, Viva La Vida, due out June 17, they're giving world domination one more shot.
EW caught up with the band at their North London recording studio barely twenty-four hours after Violet Hill, Coldplay's first new song in three years, hit British airwaves, and found four anxious, adrenalised, and slightly apprehensive lads trying their hardest to look forward not back (except, strangely enough, when it comes to Limp Bizkit).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When Violet Hill first premiered on Britain's Radio 1, The Mirror reported that you were too nervous to stay in the studio and listen to it - is that true?
CHRIS MARTIN, vocalist/keyboards/guitar: Well, once we finish something, I can't really listen to it because all I hear are problems. And I mean the most nerdy, anal problems I can't even describe in an interview because it would look so terrible in print, but I'm talking EQs and sibilants and all that crazy stuff. Because most of the album ended up being [recorded] live, the whole record is just very well-organised mistakes.
JONNY BUCKLAND, guitarist: Yeah, we just had to find the right ones.
And you also hired a hypnotist during the sessions? What was that about?
BUCKLAND: [Producer] Brian Eno knew a hypnotist and we thought it might get some interesting results. We all went upstairs, sat down, and he walked around us. He got us into some strange kind of trance, and we came down and played some more.
MARTIN: Quite a long time, I think. It did work, actually. We came up with a lot of interesting noises, which we used. I think the whole process of getting our own place and working with Brian has been really liberating for us. Because it was starting to become a little difficult to be in Coldplay - there's so much opinion, expectation, and criticism. We wanted to be free from that for a bit, to try things and just be a little group, which Brian really spearheaded. So things like the hypnotism, all these little crazy experiments that he tried with us was just an effort to say, "It's OK. Not everybody hates you because you're in Coldplay. Just play some music and don't worry about it." After about a month of working with him, we literally forgot that we'd ever been on tour or had any other records out.
Speaking of getting flack for being in Coldplay, how did you guys feel being on the receiving end of jokes, like the classic "know how I know you're gay?" line from The 40-Year-Old Virgin?
MARTIN: I think that's kind of something to be proud of. I've never been anything but delighted by that.
GUY BERRYMAN, bassist: You've got to laugh. I don't particularly see it as derogatory, I thought it was funny.
Were you made aware of it ahead of time?
MARTIN: No, I was just watching [the movie] on a plane. Anything where we're the butt of the joke, no one tells us about it. [Laughs] But I think it's nice to be big enough to be unfashionable. It's a luxury problem.
Still, how do you reconcile the venom and praise that your music seems to inspire?
CHRIS MARTIN: I think like The 40-Year-Old Virgin thing, what always delighted us about the level of love-slash-hate that we get is the duality of it. I could be walking down the street one minute and get a handshake and then get spat on the next. I'm never sure whether to wear gloves or a helmet.
But you are, in a sense, breaking from the Coldplay handbook on Viva La Vida, which features more guitars, less piano, and a host of eastern instruments.
MARTIN: With Brian, he's not snobby about any kind of music. He'd say, "Listen to this Donna Summer track and then this Boyz II Men track." Then we'd listen to Rammstein, and I played him a Limp Bizkit song. It could be literally like that, so we were able to plagiarise from the most extraordinary places.
Which Limp Bizkit song?
MARTIN: Rollin, which is my favorite. I love Limp Bizkit. Just watch, in about ten years people will start saying, "You know what? They were great." Because you can't question their energy and enthusiasm and that's Brian's big thing - he doesn't care what the music sounds like, as long as it has life in it. It might be unfashionable to say it at the moment, but Limp Bizkit had a lot of life in them when they were at their best. I'm proud to say it right here, live and on the record.
I don't even know how to respond to that...
MARTIN: I also think that their version of Behind Blue Eyes is better than The Who's. Call me sacrilege.
People very well might. Moving on, with the recent executive shake-ups at Capitol Records, and continued declining sales across the music industry, do you feel that pressure to, essentially, keep your record label afloat?
MARTIN: No. We kind of went through this last time, and it was worse. The record business is really changing - sadly for some people and happily for others - and one band's album is not going to stand any tides. All that kind of business stuff, it doesn't mean anything to us. The only person I give a shit about is that sixteen-year-old kid on his way home from school - the person that actually might listen to it.
MARTIN: Maximalist? Well, that was then, and now we're trying to do everything kind of new and different. Our whole idea for this album was kind of breaking into the palace, tearing down and ruining all of the paintings. I don't know if you could stretch that to be a metaphor for us trying to revolutionise our own career. It's a slightly angry restart. Or not angry, just passionate.
GUY BERRYMAN: It's the kind of recognisable image that's beautiful but also quite brutal as well. From very early on, we had this painting in mind to show a slightly badly organised revolution - with everything a bit homemade and scrappy - just running into a place and ransacking it. I don't know why it was such a strong image to us. We spent a bit of time in South America looking at a lot of graffiti and wall art. Everything's an explosion of color there so we wanted to use that theme.
The album clocks in at just under forty-five minutes and has several interludes and tricky segues, was it a challenge to sequence?
CHRIS MARTIN: We got the sequence right on our first record, and on our second, we got it pretty wrong. But for this one, if there is an award for best sequencing, I would at least like to be considered. I've spent more hours on Ambien working on the sequence of this record than is probably healthy from a doctor's point of view. Every night I would get into bed at like, three, take Ambien to try and get some sleep and then basically get a bit woozy and start thinking about the sequence. So I have probably twelve-hundred little bits of paper with notes, which when the Ambien really starts to kick in, don't really make much sense. Say what you like about prescription drugs, but they do help when you're sequencing a record.
WILL CHAMPION, drummer: We wanted to make a record that you could put on and listen to from beginning to end without feeling the need to skip through tracks, and after many discussions, we felt that it should be able to fit on the side of one cassette tape so the ideal length was somewhere between forty and forty-five minutes. We felt the last record was slightly too long and wanted to make this one concise, but also very colourful and dynamic.
Another ambitious task must have been the three-act track, 42. What's the significance of that number?
MARTIN: It's a little bit of a nod to U2, who have a song called 40, and also to Smashing Pumpkins, who have a song called 1979. I don't think you can try and be the best band in the world without having a song that's a number. Radiohead have 2+2=5, Jay-Z's got 99 Problems, R.E.M. have Driver 8. It was the last song we wrote, which came in three bits. Jonny said, "Let's put them all in one song," and we did. Once we recorded it, we were like, "OK, we can hand the album in."
CHAMPION: We always wanted to write a song like Bohemian Rhapsody, with weird sections that shouldn't necessarily flow or work when they go into each other, but somehow they do. And this was the first one that ever worked. If you think it does, that is.
What about Violet Hill? Is it a real place?
MARTIN: It's a street next to Abbey Road, so the song is subtly our little nod to the Beatles because we stole some great Beatles rhythms for it. It's also our first attempt at a protest song and the first song we can have on Guitar Hero. Because, funnily enough, it's not so much about the singing and the piano shit, it's got good guitars on it! There was talk of working with Timbaland on this record, what happened to that idea?
GUY BERRYMAN: When we started this project, he was everywhere, and we considered it for a moment, but we knew that it probably would not quite work out. If we worked with somebody like Timbaland, there probably wouldn't be that much for any of us to do.
When the last album came out, Coldplay was the subject of a highly critical piece in the New York Times which called into question Chris' songwriting skills, did that have an impact?
MARTIN: I think that may be the most pivotal thing in my life. I really do. We were the biggest band in the world at that point, but we'd always get a lot of negativity, and I think there was something about the timing of that and the real hardcore-ness of it that made me think, "OK, I'm in the biggest band in the world, but I need to get better." That's what I took from it. I was like, "Alright, I'll fucking try then." As hard as it is for me to talk about it, you can sit and complain about it or you could think: I accept. I need to improve. I feel very at peace with that whole thing and when the next massive criticism happens, I hope we'll be able to draw the positive from that too, because that's what life's about - finding the positive in the negative.