Originally published in Alive (March 6, 2003)
Since the Beatles first landed in New York in 1964, bands from Britain have been making a go of it in America with varying consistently. Even after grunge seemingly sewed up our shores to those trying to cross the pond in the mid ’90s, the success of Radiohead and Oasis later in the decade re-opened the door for a number of like-minded artists.
While most of these British bands have met with mild commercial success in the U.S., Coldplay has surpassed initial expectations and now, after only two full-length releases, are a staple of FM radio and MTV.
Coldplay’s initial introduction to American audiences came via the rainy-day Brit-pop single “Yellow,” from debut disc Parachutes. The song—a mix of Jeff Buckley’s passion, Radiohead’s mature sound and Travis’ heartrending lyrics—exploded on the charts thanks to exposure in an ABC-TV ad campaign and heavy radio airplay. The band rode out the overwhelming success of “Yellow” and the follow-up single, “Trouble,” well into 2001 by undertaking large-scale tours of America.
In 2002, Coldplay returned with A Rush of Blood to the Head, an album of melancholic brilliance. Though not as instantly catchy as most of the material on Parachutes, the album is filled with stunning tracks like “In My Place” and “Clocks,” which is currently enjoying massive airplay. Grammy voters were also impressed with Coldplay’s 2002 effort and awarded the band statuettes for Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocals (for “In My Place”) and Best Alternative Album.
I caught up with bassist Guy Berryman, who was holed up at the Capitol Records offices in New York doing press prior to the start of Coldplay’s latest tour.
The members of the band all met in school?
Yeah, we met at University College in London. We shared a general love of music and we got along well. We didn’t get together because we liked the same music; we got together because we just liked music in general. I think where we crossed over was a love of a song, a good song. We all loved listening to—and we still do—people like Neil Young, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and all those old bands with classic songs. I don’t mind what genre of music I’m listening to. As long as it’s got a good song, I’m happy.
In the U.S., many are under the assumption that Coldplay formed on a Monday and had a hit record out by Tuesday. Was it really an overnight success thing or had you toiled away for a few years?
We had been together for about a year and a half of putting our guitars and amps into the back of a car and driving down to a pub, setting up ourselves, and getting our friends down to come watch us play. So we did a couple of years of the hard stuff.
Have you been at all surprised by the success you’ve achieved thus far in your young career?
We’ve obviously been working hard for quite a long time to get to where we are, but I don’t think we really expected to be doing so well so quickly, especially in America. But we have spent a lot of time in America doing what needs to be done—playing all the radio festivals and things like that. We’re doing what’s necessary to do well over here, I suppose, but you can never really tell in the States because it’s so much to do with radio.
Was it a planned campaign to get on the radio here? You were somehow able to break through with “Yellow” at a time when teen pop was dominating the charts.
You can’t really plan these things. I think it was really the nature of “Yellow” as a song which works in many different formats. It was kind of poppy, kind of rocky, but ultimately it was a catchy tune that people just seemed to like. If it wasn’t for that song we certainly wouldn’t be here now.
When ABC picked up “Yellow” for their campaign, how did you feel about it?
I think that was a good move on our part because we were relatively unknown. It was an easy way to make a name for ourselves over in the States without having to do a lot of hard work. I don’t think people saw it as us selling out because people didn’t know who we were. We are very cautious of things like that, as you have to be. We weren’t doing it because we were being paid money. We did it because we wanted to do well in America.
Have you had other offers to use your songs in commercials?
We’ve had loads and loads of offers to do commercials, but it’s not something we believe in. The only reason to do it is to be paid money, and we don’t need any more money. I think there is a danger of degrading the value of your music.