From Nov. 3 in Detroit through Nov. 26 in Phoenix, El Paso’s own Sleepercar will be touring with one of the biggest bands in the world: Coldplay. While media and fans may not grasp any connection between the two, having either band talk about the other makes the situation perfectly clear. There’s a long history of love between Sleepercar founder Jim Ward and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion and Guy Berryman.
“I first met them on tour with At the Drive-In; we both played the KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas show in 2000,” Ward recalls. The event annually brings the best of the year’s new bands together with more renowned legends for a two-night extravaganza in Los Angeles. “And then we played Big Day Out in Australia, which we all refer to as Big Day Off because there’s so much time off in between.”
At the time, both Coldplay and At the Drive-In had solid core followings but were still considered relatively new bands among the mainstream. In fact, for the Acoustic Christmas they came first and second in the performance line-up, with the likes of Papa Roach and No Doubt claiming the headline slots. No doubt there was additional bonding over what it was like to be experiencing the limelight for the first time, which Ward and the members of Coldplay can certainly reference today to keep things in perspective.
“We end up spending a lot of time together and the big joke on that tour was that I just wanted to hang out with the pale guys since I was the only white guy [in the band],” Ward continues with a laugh. The friendships blossomed to hospitality, with Ward recalling that when At the Drive-In cancelled the last dates of their 2001 European tour, they stayed with members of Coldplay in England.
Shared musical sensibilities drew Ward and his Coldplay peers closer as time went on with each influencing the other via their tastes and experiences. “Guy was the one who turned me on to Gram Parsons, actually,” says Ward. “We always joked about starting a country band together. Obviously, they took off and that didn’t happen, but I’ve spent time with them over the years.”
In order to keep the musicians in contact over so much time and circumstance, there was a deeper connection between them that went beyond merely being in the same place at the same time. Almost a decade later and despite the slings and arrows of life in the music industry, the guys remain close. Most recently, Ward visited the band in London during the making of their latest album 'Viva la Vida.' And when he finished his Sleepercar record earlier this year, Ward was proud to share it with his Coldplay friends right off.
“When I finished this record and showed it to them, I said, ‘This will probably be the last band I ever start,’” Ward recalls. He’s quick to clarify that it wasn’t with any intention of touring or collaborating with Coldplay, adding, “But somehow it happened to work out. I mean, I was done for the year and everybody was basically deciding what else they were gonna do, and then this came out of the blue.”
There was never any doubt in Ward’s mind that Sleepercar belonged on tour with Coldplay. “At the very beginning when the record came out, I was telling Chris, ‘This is the first band I’ve been in that I feel could tour with you.’ We’ve been friends for so long and have tried to get shows worked out; with Sparta, we tried several times to be on tour with them, but one thing or another would happen. But this is the one that I felt just went with them a little bit more.”
For their part, Coldplay was eager to comment on the pairing with Sleepercar and sent this very enthusiastic endorsement from the middle of a European tour (Rotterdam, to be exact): "We are very thrilled to be closing for one of our favourite bands of the modern age: Sleepercar, a band that could not have existed were music in 2008 not such a diverse, free thinking and open minded kind of place. They are the link between the Ramones and the Carter family, between Rage and McGraw, between JC and ACDC, and above all their songs make you want to sing ‘em. We can’t wait to tour with Sleepercar. Love, Coldplay."
To Ward, Coldplay has a lot of meaning in return. “I’ve always looked up to not just the way they run the band. Obviously, they have a great songwriter, but I’ve always looked up to the way they’re really good at acknowledging each other’s strong points. And then as a whole, they really push themselves. They could easily just write 'Parachutes' over and over again and be masters forever.
But I remember Chris saying about this new record that it didn’t matter if half the crowd was alienated by it—like that was almost a positive thing. I just admire the fact that they still want to push themselves when they could very easily not. They’ve had huge
success, they’re the most successful band I’m friends with!”
From first-hand experience, Ward acknowledges that attaining such success often leads artists to be terrified to try anything different for fear of losing it.
“It’s sort of easier to take potshots at big bands. Chris has his own way of dealing with it, with his funny little self-deprecating quotes and things like that. But I really love their faith in the power of music. At the end of the day, I honestly think they’re really trying to push themselves and always do more.” It’s a quality Ward has always tried to cultivate in his own work and life. Having him around is sure to be a welcome reminder of that integrity for Coldplay.