British band Coldplay talks about being the ‘world’s worst, but most enthusiastic plagiarists...’ and more.
When did you start the process of what was to become Viva la Vida?
We started writing the day that we finished the last album, X and Y, because we felt immediately that we had something to prove. We felt hungry again so after concerts we would write, through the night. Something about when you come off stage you have a four-hour period of adrenaline so most nights we wrote songs, you know.
Jonny: We had hundreds of hours of sound check recordings of new things when we finally got to the recording studio to go through. Chris: I don’t think we’re embarrassed to say that we jammed a bit. (Laughs) We can use that word. We’ve been around long enough. We had a jam, so what? Sue us. (Laughs) <b1>
Is it true that you took some inspiration from Blur in the making of this CD?
Chris: Sound a bit like Lost. We’re one of the world’s worst, but most enthusiastic plagiarists, as a band. We’ll try and copy anything but tend to fail so we come up with something that sounds like us, only through trying to sound like somebody else. I think what the key rule for this record was, we couldn’t do anything that we felt comfortable with before, like threw out the old tricks and make sure that each track had its own colour.
Jonny: The more things you’ve done, the more things you’ve recorded, the bigger the danger of plagiarising yourself is, I think, and so we really wanted to avoid doing that.
Chris: The key rule was that we could steal from anybody except ourselves.
How important is the CD’s running order?
Guy: Well, the sequence of songs on the record is very important because as well as the actual selections of songs the order in which they run can give the overall feeling of the album, whether it’s up or down and as we’ve experienced in the past, if you get that wrong, you can give entirely the wrong perception of what it’s all about so we place quite a lot of importance on getting the order of the songs right.
Will: You know, it really changes the perception, so it has to be a coherent journey but you also have to really think very hard about the… I think the beginning and the end are so important, and if you get the tone of them wrong it really changes the record. Chris always has a very strong idea of where he wants things in his head but then we all have to agree. There were certain things that were fairly unanimous and then it was just, we have these movable pieces of paper that you kind of switch around. We each wrote a potential list and then a potential order and then we just kind of work it out. <b2>
Tell us about the artwork and album title
Jonny: Well, the artwork, the painting’s a picture by Eugene Delacroix of the French Revolution, Liberty and the French Revolution.
Chris: And then we painted on it.
Jonny: Yeah. So it was basically the idea of the song Viva la Vida whereby the revolutionaries are knocking on the door of the palace, you know.
Chris: And then spray all the paintings with slogans and ruin all the artwork. There was that looting, wasn’t there, in Iraq? Maybe it came from there. Also in Wind in the Willows, just to take it, when the weasels take over Toad Hall so it’s about Iraq and also Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.
The title of the album, which is Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends is an odd one and none of us is quite sure why it is called that except that’s just what it has to be called, right?
Jonny: Yea. Viva la Vida was a Frida Kahlo painting and the sort of choice element is like the film Dr Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Caring and Learned to Love the Bomb, so that was its inspiration.
Chris: We liked the idea that you can listen to it or not listen to it and then decide what it’s called, a bit like those books where you can choose the ending. We wanted people to be a bit more free with our music, too, that’s why there are about three different ways you can end the album, depending on which tracks you select and fast-forward to, and there’s two different titles so if you want to make it a sad album you can call it Death and All His Friends and skip certain songs and if you want it to be a very uplifting album you don’t skip certain songs and you call it Viva la Vida and then we don’t get any blame for it being too uplifting or too sombre.
Looking ahead to live work, you now have a wealth of material from which to choose — or not choose...
Will: I think that the way that the live show will go, I think the more songs you have and the more material you have to choose from, the harder it is to be ruthless and to keep your quality control very high. It’s very easy to go, ‘Oh, we’ll just do that, you know, slip in the big whatever, you know, the big song off the first one, big song off the second one.’
I think it makes it harder but I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a great decision when you decide what songs you can afford not to play. It makes you feel good about the songs that you have and I like, I’m looking forward to, you know, choosing the songs that we refuse to play on this next record. (Laughs)
Chris: That’s a Will answer.
Will: But it’s good though.
Chris: So the way we’ll put our set together is by Will writing a not set, a list of what he doesn’t want to play and we’ll be left with about four songs.