From Rolling Stone Magazine Cover photograph by Anton Corbijn Photograph by Anton Corbijn Coldplay’s Quiet Storm Wild nights and sensitive moments with the nicest guys in rock By AUSTIN SCAGGS The morning after four bombs detonate in London, Chris Martin climbs aboard a Number Twenty-nine red double-decker bus and up its winding stairs. As we slowly putter south down Camden Road, Martin whips back the top of his hooded sweat shirt, smiles and says, “I haven’t done this in so long.” He’s not talking about riding public transportation but rather about a visit to his old neighborhood, where he and Coldplay first started writing, rehearsing and performing the songs that would shape the group’s rise to the top of the charts. Soon we are riding by the former Laurel Tree club, the site of Coldplay’s very first gig — a sold-out affair under the awful name Starfish — and where they scored their first paycheck, for 80 pounds (about $130), and split it four ways. Further on, past the Lord Stanley pub, home to early band meetings and more than a few drunken nights, we hop off the bus and stroll up to a dingy three-story house at 268 Camden Road. Martin looks up to the second-story flat, once the headquarters of a Clash fan club. But in 1997, it was the apartment he shared with future Coldplay guitarist Jonny Buckland and two of their mates. “That’s where we had our very first rehearsal,” he says, pointing to Buckland’s room. “We had drums and everything, and as long as we quit playing before midnight, no one complained. In no other house in London could you get away with that.” For a moment he stands quietly as his brain floods with memories. “It’s a dump, right?” he says, breaking the silence. “But we used to love it. I still love it with a passion. That’s where we wrote the songs that got us signed. Right in there.” Christopher Anthony John Martin was born 190 miles southwest of London. As a child growing up in the sheltered, white, Church of England-fearing town of Exeter, “I just didn’t know anything about the outside world,” he says. His mother was a teacher and his father an accountant, and one of Martin’s earliest memories is of his parents returning from holiday in Venice and presenting him with a child-size guitar. But soon it was gathering dust, and Martin had developed an attraction to the family piano. His musical world was flipped upside down at age eleven, when a new music teacher, Steven Tanner, arrived at his school with keyboards. “Before that, our music teacher was very classically based,” says Martin. “But Steven told us that music was for everybody, and just because you didn’t have classical training doesn’t mean you can’t play. Which was incredible. No one ever told us that was possible.” He quickly wrote his first instrumental piece, loosely based on the Beverly Hills Cop theme song, “Axel F,” but he wasn’t yet thinking of music as his calling. “When you’re born into a middle-class white family in the county of Devon, there are things that you feel like you’re not allowed to do,” he says. “Like be a pop star or grow your hair long.” But Martin was soon inching toward London, on to a stuffy British prep school called Sherborne. “My eye-opening years were between thirteen and seventeen,” he says. “I was so cushioned until that. But at [Sherborne], it was the first time I’d ever experienced somebody disliking me.” He pauses. “Well, I used to walk funny, and, to be quite honest, I was a bit of a knobhead — I wouldn’t have liked me either.” (This is Martin’s way — any self-revelation is instantly defused by a wisecrack. He spits out jokes all day, and he frequently worries that personal details are either “cheesy” or “irrelevant.”) Martin spent a lot of late nights at prep school in rehearsal rooms, bashing away at the piano. Martin’s spirituality also took a sharp turn. He was raised believing in a Christian God — not the same God, he’s quick to point out, as “those crazy American fundamentalists” like George W. Bush — and at an early age he felt the collective power of singing in church. “Everybody singing together is the best feeling in the world,” he says. At Sherborne, meeting kids of different colors and creeds, Martin found his beliefs had morphed into something more ecumenical. “I went through a weird patch, starting when I was about sixteen to twenty-two, of getting God and religion and superstition and judgment all confused,” he says. “I think a lot of our music comes out of that. I definitely believe in God. How can you look at anything and not be overwhelmed by the miraculousness of it? Everything from that carpet to your nose to my balls is amazing. In fact, my balls are a particular miracle.” (To set the record straight, there is no connection between my nose and Martin’s testicles.) Martin could no longer wrap his head around the idea of hell, particularly when it was linked to sexual morality — though that was hardly the only reason he wasn’t getting laid. “To be perfectly honest,” he says, “I didn’t know what I was doing. I wish somebody would have come to me when I was fourteen and explained how to give an orgasm. And it’s very strange being the world’s sexiest vegetarian” — as he was recently voted in an online poll by PETA, although it should be noted he does eat fish — “because eight years ago, if I’d invite someone over to my place for a tofu burger, they wouldn’t be interested.” As we walk from his old flat back to the bus stop, Martin’s mind turns to the London bombing. “Right now, forty families are grieving,” he says. “It’s fucked. I wish people would look further into the reason somebody would want to bomb London or New York rather than just how to catch them.” The morning of the attacks, Martin was with family in France before playing a gig in the Netherlands that night. After the gig, when Coldplay’s private jet landed in London, Martin briefly returned to his home in Belsize Park, only to go out to buy gas for his scooter. “What it must have looked like to see a guy in a hooded top walking along at two in the morning with a gas tank in his hand,” he says. “Like if you’re walking through the woods on your own at night and you’re terrified. Then you think, ‘God, if someone walks by and sees me, they’re going to be terrified of me.’ It’s an X and Y thing — how you can be two things at once.” X&Yis the name of Coldplay’s third album. The title conjures chromosomes and mathematical unknowns. “We’re always looking for answers to our questions,” says Buckland. “X and Y represents the answers that we can’t find.” Bassist Guy Berryman adds, “There’s a running theme through the album, a sense of duality — the idea that you can’t have light without dark, or yin without yang.” As it relates to Coldplay, it goes deeper than that. It’s what’s in their control vs. what’s out of their control. It’s their overwhelming commercial success — their first two albums, 2000’s Parachutes and 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head, have sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, and each won a Grammy for Best Alternative album — vs. the New York Times labeling them the “most insufferable band of the decade.” For Chris Martin, it’s being regarded as a serious songwriter vs. being referred to in tabloids as Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband. According to drummer Will Champion, X&Y refers to Martin as well. “He’s stunning and creative and incredible to be around,” says Champion. “But the flip side of that is he can sink low and moody. There’s not a lot of gray area in between the two.” In October 2003, after sixteen months on the road supporting Rush of Blood, Coldplay hurried back into the studio with a handful of quality songs. Bad idea. “We’d just done too much touring and we needed to see our families, our friends — just be normal,” says Champion. “It’s not like we hated each other — we just weren’t talking much, and things started to fall apart a bit.” Eight months into the process, they held a band-only meeting and decided to refocus on and rediscover the initial chemistry they felt playing as a foursome in a sweaty rehearsal room. “In some respects it was quite a quick record to make,” says Berryman about the year-and-a-half-long process. “It just took us a long time to figure out how to do it.” Many of the songs on X&Y were inspired by the band’s heroes. When I spoke with Martin earlier this summer, I was a little surprised when he told me that he considered Coldplay “incredibly good plagiarists.” But that’s not the whole story. As he did in childhood with his update on “Axel F,” Martin has an incredible ability to ingest someone else’s song, twirl it around in his brain and spit out a unique homage. (Strangely enough, Coldplay’s first single from X&Y, “Speed of Sound,” was topped on the British pop chart by a novelty song from Crazy Frog — a cover of “Axel F.”) “I remember an amazing article about Radiohead when I was first getting into them,” says Martin. “Jonny Greenwood said that every song on OK Computer was an attempt to do someone else’s song. And that’s how it happens sometimes for us.” In that tradition, “Talk” wouldn’t have been possible without Kraftwerk, and “The Hardest Part” is an ode to R.E.M. (Martin is careful to pay tribute to Michael Stipe: “I’ve lost all respect for fame, but I haven’t lost all respect for respect. So the one great thing about being famous is that I get to meet people who I respect. Our relationship is akin to a dog and its master. I’ll always look up to him.”) A highlight of Coldplay’s show is “White Shadows,” which was inspired by Tears for Fears’ “Mad World.” The title “White Shadows” was lifted from a Seventies TV series produced by Martin’s late father-in-law, Bruce Paltrow. Even though Martin never met the man, X&Y is dedicated to him — the CD sleeve reads, “For BWP.” “It’s meant to be subtle,” says Martin. “It just has a way of making sense of death.” What you won’t find in X&Y’s album sleeve are any of Martin’s lyrics, a bit odd for someone whose visions of abandonment, apprehension, fragility and love have resonated with so many fans. “Because I’m not a great lyricist,” says Martin with a laugh. “When you hear someone like Ian McCulloch or Bob Dylan…those are lyrics that should be printed. Mine are just a bunch of feelings.” He writes constantly, though, to hone his craft. “That’s my only way of making sense of the world,” he says. Still, he says he’s better at writing silly rhymes in birthday cards to his friends. X&Y debuted at Number One in more than twenty countries. “When the numbers started rolling in, it was brilliant,” says Champion. In the U.S., where it’s the year’s fastest-selling rock record, it notched more than 737,000 sales its first week, and in England it posted the second-highest sales figure in U.K. history, behind Oasis’ Be Here Now. The success of X&Y has wiped the bad taste of negative reviews out of Martin’s mouth. He has come to a realization — after admittedly being bummed out for a couple of weeks — that the polarity of opinion about Coldplay is totally healthy. “I find that exciting,” he says. “Some people are into bondage, and some people are into cross-dressing, and some people are into Coldplay — I don’t mind being a fetish. I don’t mind not being cool. I’ve never been cool in my whole life. Being voted the world’s sexiest vegetarian is about as cool as it gets.” (Excerpted from RS 981, Aug. 25, 2005) (Posted Aug 11, 2005)
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