'Radiohead are better than us' - Coldplay

By Scott Kara

As Coldplay prepare to bring their world tour to Auckland, Scott Kara catches up with guitarist Jonny Buckland to talk about life in one of the world's biggest bands.

Coldplay are coming to New Zealand for the first big show of the summer.  Photo / Supplied
Coldplay are coming to New Zealand for the first big show of the summer. Photo / Supplied

It's taken a few years to get used to it but Coldplay are now feeling entirely comfortable being one of the world's biggest bands.

"Generally, we're much more at ease with ourselves and with what we do than we ever have been," says guitarist Jonny Buckland on the phone from New York where they are about to play Radio City Music Hall as part of an extended global jaunt which brings them to New Zealand in November.

And, he adds with a satisfied and cheeky chuckle: "We're less likely to listen to the people who don't like us anymore."

These days there is no denying their pulling power as one of music's few stadium-sized drawcards. Not only are they playing bigger shows than ever, but they have collaborated with the likes of hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, and R&B superstar Rihanna features on Princess of China off latest album Mylo Xyloto.

They may have had humble musical beginnings, and grew out of the Britrock movement of the 90s, but Coldplay went on to supersede bands such as Radiohead, and become a global music phenomenon.

Still, ask Buckland who is the better band out of Radiohead and Coldplay he is adamant: "Radiohead. No, I mean really, they are. They are great."

Which is hardly surprising considering along with U2 and Scottish band Travis, the Thom Yorke-led group were a big influence on Coldplay around the time Buckland started the band with frontman Chris Martin in London in 1996.

The recently acquired confidence that he talks about also comes through on Mylo, which includes singles Every Teardrop is a Waterfall and Paradise, and is the backbone of the current stadium tour.

"The idea was to make the most visual album we'd ever made, to think of it visually, so every song had a place and almost filmic quality. So it is more of a sort of conceptual album, and all that sort of rubbish," he laughs.

And when it came time to take Mylo on the road the band wanted to make the shows as "interactive" as possible (see sidebar for concert details).

"'Interactive' is a horrible word," says Buckland, "but when you go to see it, it feels like you are part of something. You're not just going to look at four idiots up on stage, you really feel like you're stepping into something, like you're in something."

Coldplay return to New Zealand for their fourth visit - they were last here in March 2009 for two shows at Vector Arena - on November 10 for what is likely to be the biggest show of the summer.

They started touring in June last year and haven't let up since, with a constant stream of dates throughout this year.

"It does seem a little bit scary when you first look at it," says Buckland. "But once you start doing it it's great because we genuinely love touring, travelling, and playing - you know, it's a good life."

However, rewind to the mid-2000s and it was not as rosy as it is today.

As Coldplay became the new U2, Chris Martin became the new Bono - a rock star given to good causes and living a seemingly perfect life with his movie star missus and kids.

Also around this time, all was not well in the Coldplay ranks.

Though the polite London chaps were not exactly throwing instruments at each other in the recording studio, they were not having much fun making music.

Following 2002's second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, and songs such as In My Place and Clocks, they were contenders for the world's biggest band, but, come time to record follow-up X&Y, they were at a loss.

"It was the hardest album to make," remembers Buckland. "We didn't really enjoy being in the studio. We were really happy with some of the songs that came out of it, but we didn't really quite know what we wanted to be."

And X&Y was no match for their previous records. Still, with songs like the rousing Speed of Sound and the tenderness of Fix You, they survived the backlash and the album went on to sell more than 8 million copies - 75,000 of those in New Zealand.

However, the real turning point for the band came when they set up their own studio to record next album Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends.

"We hadn't had our own space since playing in my bedroom in 1996," laughs Buckland. This meant they could experiment more, which was something Coldplay had never done. It turned out that they were quite good at it, and the multi-part songs and lush sonic scope of Viva La Vida showed a very different side to the band.

Though it is their least successful record to date it is their most ambitious and intriguing.

"We found our love of music again when we made that record," Buckland says. "We'd just try stuff, not worry about how much it was costing, and enjoyed being in the band again."

Martin came out the other side too, and these days his boundless energy, endearing goofiness, distinct voice, and hunched piano-hammering make him one of music's best frontmen.

The concert at Mt Smart Stadium will be their biggest New Zealand concert to date (see sidebar for the band's past NZ shows).

Following in the footsteps of U2, who played two nights at Mt Smart in 2010, it also marks Coldplay's return to the same venue where they played a mid-afternoon slot at the 2001 Big Day Out following the release of their debut album Parachutes which featured breakthrough single Yellow.

Back then, Coldplay were a quaint little band who struggled to make themselves heard at the rowdy Auckland festival.

"We've done an awful lot since then," ponders Buckland. "All our lives have changed completely. But the one constant is that we have each other and our relationship is still kind of the same really."

Buckland and Martin met each other and formed a band at University College in London, bass player Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion came on board a little later, and over the last 15 years they have grown up together.

"It's great because when ever things are bad there is always someone to pick you up. And whenever you get too full of yourself there is someone to bring you down. We just rely on each other."

The band's popularity took off with Yellow, and Parachutes was an enchanting and quietly uplifting album.

"We wanted to make, I suppose, very simple music in a way," says Buckland. "And with lots of space, and like Neil Young on Harvest, or something like that."

Then came Rush of Blood, the band's most popular record and arguably their best which set in stone the classic Coldplay sound. "We had been out on tour and realised we needed some louder songs," laughs Buckland. "So after touring, part of A Rush of Blood came from wanting to play the guitars a bit harder and hit the drums a bit harder."

And they did, with songs like Clocks, an anthem that escalates and spirals beautifully.

But possibly the album's most memorable moment is still ebbing, plaintive ballad The Scientist.

Fast forward to Mylo, and though they still sounded like Coldplay, Buckland says with producer and ambient music master Brian Eno on board again, they wanted to take their music even further.

"We thought we'd got somewhere with Viva where we thought 'it's good but we can push this further' and we went straight to work after we'd finished it on Mylo.

"We really enjoyed experimenting, spending weeks and weeks playing music without any expectation of finishing songs. Just trying new sounds, and listening to different stuff; we kind of felt free to go anywhere we wanted with it."

See the light with Coldplay

It may not be as large in scale as U2's last shows at Mt Smart Stadium, with the 360-degree staging and audience configuration, but Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto stage show will be a grand affair, with lights galore.

And you, the fans, will be a key part of the show. Every member of the audience is given a special LCD wristband on entry. The wristbands feature a plastic box with the Coldplay logo, which lights up during the concert to complete the show's state-of-art lighting display.

"We met this inventor last year who invented these lights that everyone can wear," says guitarist Jonny Buckland. "So the light show goes everywhere and we just want the show to be this very involving thing."

Judging by accounts from overseas shows, the band perform a number of tracks on a catwalk adjacent to the main stage and, similar to the Viva La Vida tour from 2009, they also play on a pop-up stage at the back of each venue.

Rihanna also makes a guest appearance for her duet with Chris Martin on Princess of China, but don't get too excited, because she's beamed into the venue via video screen.

And the set-list - though it may change once they get to New Zealand in November - is generally around 20 songs, consisting of a mix of their best-known tracks and a handful off Mylo Xyloto, including a finale of Every Teardrop is a Waterfall from that album.

Past Coldplay shows in New Zealand

January 19, 2001
Intimate gig the night before Big Day Out at small Auckland venue Galatos.

January 20, 2001
Mid-afternoon set at the Big Day Out. "Pleasant though Coldplay were, the act was not one to make you go home and play their splendid album again," is how Herald reviewers described it.

August 11, 2001
St James, Auckland
"By the time they got to the multiple encores ... Coldplay left the clear impression that they are a far better, far more confident and exciting band than the one-album-wonder their earlier visit might have suggested."

July 24, 2003
Auckland Showgrounds
"Frontman Chris Martin seemed genuinely ecstatic to be here, flinging himself around the stage like a skittish puppet, and later hunching so low over the piano he almost disappeared into it. At one point he hammered the keys so passionately he had to have his hand bandaged."

March 18 and 19, 2009
Vector Arena
The band ran from the main stage to the back of the arena and into the grandstand - where they played songs including a cover of the Monkees' I'm A Believer - the sell-out audience beamed as the band showed they weren't too cool to get among them. "You can't come all the way to NZ without coming to the back of the room," said Martin. "After a 97-hour flight, you want to meet everyone."

Who: Coldplay
Where and when: Mt Smart Stadium, November 10
Ticket info: Advance tickets will be available to all Visa credit, debit and prepaid cardholders from noon today until 5pm, Saturday May 19, or until presale tickets sell out at visaentertainment.co.nz. General tickets on sale from 9am Friday, May 25, from $99 via ticketmaster.co.nz
Listen to: Parachutes (2000); A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002); X&Y (2005); Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008); Mylo Xyloto (2011)

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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