By Kelly Dearmore
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Guy Berryman has just returned from Thailand, where he's been on holiday for the past few weeks. That is where you go when you've seen almost all there is to see, when you're in a band that has taken you to Italy, France, Spain, Australia, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Japan, North America and every square inch of the United Kingdom, and all in less than three years. You go to Thailand.
"It was a bit of an eye-opener, really," he says about his brief stay in Bangkok, a short vacation before Coldplay, the band for which he plays bass, takes him back out on tour. "I know a lot of people that have been traveling there, and they say it's amazing. It's one of the few places that the band hasn't taken me on our travels, so I just decided to go there. I haven't come across a bad place yet."
Coldplay is one of the few British bands that can say so, thanks to one album (last year's debut, Parachutes) and one song (the undeniable "Yellow"). They are unlikely heroes, a band from overseas that figured out how to make American audiences pay attention without having to dumb itself down (see: Blur) or rely on tabloid antics (see: Oasis). Last year, "Yellow" crossed over to the American pop charts and brought the band with it; the song is on the sixth and latest volume of the popular Now That's What I Call Music! albums, alongside songs by a rogue's gallery of pop music, including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, though it couldn't sound less like them if it was recorded in Russian. When the band members finally came to America for a short tour late last year, they didn't have to worry about huddling together in a van, driving from one disappointing show to the next, trying to win over a crowd that wasn't there. They had already conquered the States before their passports were even stamped.
"We never really thought we'd try and do America, because we didn't think anyone would really be interested whatsoever," Berryman admits. "And the prospect of doing these little van tours for months on end just didn't really appeal to us. But we didn't like having to think like that, because it was obviously a place where we'd love to come and be big in, you know? I was just absolutely overwhelmed by the crowds that were there already waiting for us, you know, because we hadn't really played there before. Still playing in venues the same size as we do over here. A lot of bands have put in a lot of hard work to sort of get to the level we seem to already be at in America. So, we're very privileged. And surprised."
It makes sense that Berryman and his bandmates are humble. Breaking into America is something other British acts such as Stereophonics, Ash, Pulp, Manic Street Preachers and Supergrass have never been able to do; they've all come across the same bad place on their travels. You could also add Catatonia, Kula Shaker, Sleeper, Embrace, Dodgy, Mansun, The Bluetones, even Suede and Charlatans UK to the list. They're all bands that were or are big in the U.K. and just this side of irrelevant in the U.S. of A., groups that play to thousands overseas and handfuls over here. They weren't necessarily going to be the Beatles or the Stones, or even Oasis or Blur, but they were supposed to matter, to make something happen, to make people listen. After all, they had the songs and the swagger and everything else they needed. It could have happened. It should have happened.
Look at Travis: The Scottish band has been one of the biggest groups in the U.K. for the past few years, but in America, the title of its new album, The Invisible Band, is all too appropriate. Sure, "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?"--from last year's The Man Who--was a fixture on more than a few radio playlists, but most people couldn't name the band the song belonged to if you spotted them all of the consonants and one of the vowels. Being successful in England, it seems, is only slightly better than being successful in Indiana when it comes to selling records in America.
So you don't have to tell Berryman that he is lucky, that Coldplay--which also includes singer-guitarist Chris Martin, guitarist Will Champion and drummer Jon Buckland--is lucky. You can, sure, but that would just be a waste of time, like asking Oliver Stone if he thinks Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. The band knows its name could be on the list of British groups that never made a dent in America no matter how many times they rammed into it, that maybe it should be. Success in America, unlike some of those other groups, wasn't something that was expected, wasn't something Coldplay felt entitled to. It was just there.
In fact, the band didn't even anticipate the success it has achieved in England, where Parachutes was a No. 1 album and a handful of singles from the record made their way into the upper reaches of the charts. And the album deserved all that and more: Parachutes is too self-assured to be a debut, yet too wide-eyed to be anything else, a disc that appeals to anyone and everyone because it's full of feelings that no one can deny. Martin sings about love found and lost, and you can tell by what he's saying ("For you I bleed myself dry") and how he says it that it's probably the first time he's ever experienced it. Former Creation Records boss Alan McGee (the man who brought you Oasis, among others) called Coldplay's songs "bedwetter's music" in NME, but that's mainly because his latest discovery, January, does pretty much the same thing, and no one cares.