"These things that seem to be quite worrying," says singer Chris Martin (center), "within a couple of weeks we're blessed that we've managed to see the positives in them."
Front man Chris Martin talks about Woody and Kanye, angst and doubt, and those "six notes" that led to a lawsuit.
Chris Martin is the most well-mannered of rock stars.
When the Coldplay front man calls from Los Angeles because his band is playing the Philadelphia area for the third time since last June's release of Viva La Vida, he's like a job candidate intent on asking as many questions as he's asked.
The leader of the world's biggest soft-rock band (and husband to actress Gwyneth Paltrow) was eager to talk about Kanye West and Woody Allen, as well as to defend himself from allegations he plagiarized parts of Coldplay's No. 1 hit, "Viva La Vida." (The band Creaky Boards, singer Cat Stevens - now known as Yusuf Islam - and guitarist Joe Satriani have all claimed similarities between the song and their own work; Satriani has sued in Los Angeles.)
Tonight, Martin will perform with band mates Jonny Buckland, Guy Berryman, and Will Champion at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, and on Tuesday the foursome will be at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden. What follows is a Q&A with the 32-year-old English songwriter and musician, with some A's and Q's reversed.
Answer (Martin): So what's the news in Philadelphia?
Question (DeLuca): Well, I saw Leonard Cohen last night.
A: Wasn't it amazing? I saw it in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago. I mean, kind of phenomenal.
Q: Did you desperately care about him growing up?
A: Yeah, very much so. There's something about him that we're sometimes seen to suffer from - taking yourself too seriously. I always thought that Leonard Cohen was Mr. Serious. Or Mr. Miserable. But I love his music. Then I saw him in concert, and I thought: This guy's like a stand-up comedian.
It's funny, because my favorite comedians, like Woody Allen, actually turn out to be miserable. So it's nice to know that misery and comedy go so well together.
Q: Are there funny jokes in Coldplay songs people just aren't getting?
A: They're coming. We're not as lyrically mature as all that yet. We're still dealing with teenage angst. We're working our way up to witticisms.
Q: Speaking of Woody Allen, you did a Rolling Stone interview last year, and the writer brought up a review Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times savaging your album X&Y. But when you were supposed to say, "All critics are scum," you agreed with a lot of his accusations. Aren't you taking the Woody Allen self-deprecation too far?
A: I was just thinking that with each album, a challenge arises which makes the fire burn even hotter to write good music. So in some respects these big challenges turn out to be huge blessings, because it stops me ever becoming complacent or lazy.
The last album, X&Y, it was the New York Times thing which made me say, "OK, I've got to work harder and get better." This album, it's that we're being sued, and wrongly. We're being accused of not writing our own music. So it's like, "Well, I'll just write better music." So these things that seem to be quite worrying, within a couple of weeks we're blessed that we've managed to see the positives in them.
Q: People are coming out of the woodwork to sue you, or at least to accuse you of stealing.
A: I know. And all for the same six notes. . . . We've never had a hit that big before. So I don't know if it's to do with it's the only song that's been that famous. Or that there's a musical phrase within it that does pop up in a lot of other things, we've now heard. But on my grandfather's life, I promise that I didn't mean to do anything wrong.
. . . If there was any basis in truth, I wouldn't be offended at all. But on this one, it just makes me feel, "OK, I'll have to prove that it's not true by writing better songs."
Q: Back in October, when you came through Philadelphia for the second time on this tour . . .
A: We can't stay away. . . .
Q: So it seems.
A: The second show was a lot better, by the way.
Q: I missed that one. But during that show, you held up a copy of what I think was this newspaper, and said words to the effect of: "It says here that the best place in the world to live is Philadelphia."
A: I believe it was The Philadelphia Inquirer. It was the day after you won the . . . what's it called?
Q: The World Series.
A: Right, thank you very much. It was the day after the World Series.
As a front man, you dream of those things happening. You dream of being told, "You're playing Philadelphia tonight, and they just won the World Series." You're like, well, that's enough fodder for the whole concert.
You guys are getting a lot of attention. I just saw Marley & Me on the flight. I was going to ask you: Is that really true, that you go straight to the mansion when you get a job there?
Q: The rock-star route is a little more reliable. . . . Viva La Vida came out last June. You guys have been out on the road for a while. . . .
A: Which means that we're extremely - [pause] - good. This concert has gotten to the point where we can really just enjoy it.
Q: Do you ever get tired of playing the same songs?
A: No. Never. That's why we try to make sure we like the songs when we do them. And anyway, the adrenaline buzz is so addictive on stage that it's hard to stop.
Q: Bands used to spend a lot more time creating, less time touring. Ever feel you've got the balance wrong?
A: Well, we spend an awful lot of time creating. . . . Maybe it's because we're about to turn 33, but I just feel hungry to write all the time. I think at the end of this tour, we may not tour for a while. We may put out a record without quite so much fanfare. I think the next one will be quite stripped down and based upon this story idea which I can't talk about because it might be bad. . . . Ever watch The Wire?
Q: Yes. Why?
A: 'Cause they're always popping up to Philadelphia. The main thing I do on tour is write, and then go watch The Wire.
Q: How do you write on the road? Do you keep a keyboard with you?
A: There has to be some spark that takes you by surprise. . . . Some word will just send your mind going. Like falafel. That hasn't happened yet. But then I would probably go to the guitar, and since it's falafel, I would probably start with an F chord, and then I probably would try to link it to the breakdown of a relationship.
Q: Naturally. That's always a safe place to go, isn't it?
A: Yes, it is. . . . It's hard to create something out of thin air these days. All of us envy the Beatles. They were the first people to use the mellotron, or the backwards guitar. So when you do find something out of thin air, it's extra magical.
Q: Fifty years of rock has preceded you.
A: So we're trying to work out, "OK, what can we do that's good?" That's what I really admire about Kanye. Because for all the flak he gets, I feel so inspired by his confidence. He knows that there's been all this history of music, but he still believes he can do something that no one else has done. That, for me, is a liberating idea.
Q: Along with the self-deprecation, you've obviously got your share of self confidence.
A: There's a lot of self-doubt. Between 12 and 2, I'm very confident. Then I sink into a depression. . . . You got me at a good point. But whoever I'm talking to next is going to have a hell of a time.
Q: What have you been listening to?
A: Basically, the Kanye record, and the first R.E.M. album, Murmur. I'm really fascinated by the chemistry of bands, and what makes a great band as opposed to a good band. There's some magical combination of people you couldn't create. Look at the Clash, or U2, or R.E.M., or Fleetwood Mac. For some reason, that group of people does something. If you take one person away, they don't do it anymore.
Q: What's special about the Coldplay chemistry?
A: All I know is we don't want to mess with it. 'Cause I think if you keep that chemistry, you get better.
Q: So no Chris Martin solo record?
A: Hell would have to not only freeze over, but be skated over and completely closed up. The pope would have to declare that it didn't even exist. I can't think of anything worse. And I'm sure most of your readers would agree.
Q: So if there is a Chris Martin solo album, I can really call you a liar.
A: It would probably mean that I've been dumped by my wife and I desperately need the money.
If You Go
Coldplay performs tonight with Pete Yorn and Howlin' Bells at Hersheypark Stadium. Tickets: $97.50-$30. Phone: 717-534-3911.
With Pete Yorn at the Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets: $97.50-$35. Phone: 856-365-1300 or www.livenation.com