The Band Who
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.
None of the members of Coldplay ever thought anyone would care about them, either. They were just four friends who met while attending university and set out to write good songs. Nothing more. They knew they had something different, something better, but they never really let themselves think about what might happen. Not really.
"I think maybe it was always in the back of our minds," Berryman says. "It's just something that--we didn't want to let those thoughts interfere with the actual process of creating the music. So, yeah, we kind of put those things to the back of our heads. It's just now that we're starting to realize those thoughts that we had tucked away, and it's just so exciting. From the beginning, we definitely thought we were doing something good and worthwhile. You know, we thought that, and we felt it should be exposed to people, but whether that happens or not isn't really up to us. That's more up to timing and fate, really."
Now that timing and fate have done their jobs, the boys of Coldplay are ready to get back to the business of writing songs and recording albums. Berryman says they've already worked seven new tunes into their set, and they're scheduled to start recording them in August, after the tour ends. The new songs, he says, are more upbeat and "just generally stronger." But that doesn't mean they're trying to do something different this time out. They've grown as musicians and men since Parachutes was recorded more than a year ago, and they just want the new material to reflect that.
"We don't wanna go off on a tangent just for the sake of doing it. We don't just wanna do something different just to kind of fool people. It's going to be Coldplay, just with our newer influences--musicians that we've been listening to and artists and stuff that we've gotten into since doing the first record. It's not radically different. I mean, I just think a lot of the stuff we're listening to now is a bit heavier. I'm listening to a lot of country music, and Chris is listening to some quite harder, rock-y sort of music. It's going to be, I think, some interesting blend of sounds, fusion of sounds, hopefully."
For now, Berryman says, the band will just keep doing what it's always done: Make music and let the rest take care of itself. It may seem as though Coldplay's success was sudden, but that's only if you consider five years of work sudden. That's only if you forget about all of the gigs it played to 50 people more concerned about what was in their pint glasses than anything onstage. Coldplay has been lucky, but the members of the group have earned every achievement, deserved every single record and ticket sold. You may not have heard of them until recently, but that doesn't mean they weren't always there. They were just waiting to be noticed.
"It's been a gradual evolution," Berryman says. "We've been working. For instance, the first tour we'd do, we'd go around and we'd play to 50 people. Then the next tour, 150, then 300, 500--so over the couple of years we've been going, it's just been sort of gradually picking up momentum. There's never been one point where I've thought, you know, 'Oh, it's all happening,' and stuff. It's just been going all the time." He drifts off before asking his own questions. "What the most interesting thing is, how far is it going to go? How far can we take it?"
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