Coldplay of the cosmos
When Coldplay first formed, Chris Martin — the band's typically earnest and unassuming frontman — scoffed at the notion of one day working with the prolific pop-music producer Max Martin. "Like, 'We're never going to work with someone like that,'" the singer recalls on a recent afternoon in Malibu. "No way."
That seems a little hard to believe now, considering we're talking about a band that's performed at the Super Bowl, shipped over 100 million records worldwide, and is one of the few musical acts that can reliably sell out football stadiums from Seoul to Chicago. But there was a time, years before their runaway success, when Coldplay were just a few friends making what they called "indie soft rock" in mid-'90s London. Even in 2007, as a multiplatinum band, the thought of a Max collab still seemed far-fetched. "And then," Chris says, "I was gradually, like, I do really like [Katy Perry's] 'Hot N Cold.' I do like [Taylor Swift's] 'Shake It Off.' I just kept loving and noticing all of the songs he produced or co-wrote."
The Martins (no relation) would finally cross paths at a Rihanna show (the place all great relationships begin). "Of course, he was just the sweetest guy," Chris says of the meet-up — one that would lead to him asking Max to produce a track on Coldplay's 2019 Grammy-nominated album Everyday Life and, eventually, the entirety of Music of the Spheres, the band's ninth album (out Oct. 15). As drummer Will Champion notes in a separate interview, "All roads eventually lead to Max."
While Everyday Life was a stripped-down departure from the band's usual output of radio-friendly work, filled with dusty rhythms and left-field progressions, on Spheres, they broaden the scope. "The idea was to start imagining ourselves as other bands from across the universe," says Chris. Adds Champion: "We were trying to zoom out a little bit [and] use the universe and the cosmos as a metaphor for the difficulties and wonderfulness of life on Earth.... There's potentially an infinite amount of variations of life . And we thought, 'What would it be like if our music happened to evolve on a different planet?'"
Space may be the place on Spheres (literally, in fact: the band debuted single "Higher Power" on the International Space Station exclusively for French ESA astronaut/Coldplay fan Thomas Pesquet) but the stories are still in line with Everyday Life: finding joy, navigating heartbreak, falling in love. That includes the We Are King- and Jacob Collier-featuring "Human Heart," which explores being tethered to our emotions from both the male and female perspectives.
"I sent the demo to Jacob and he sent back 17 tracks and these amazing harmonies," says Chris. "I was like, 'Okay, it's ready to show to Will Champion,' our drummer and ultimate power. And he said, 'The first half of the song is great [but] I don't like the second half. Can we just repeat the first half and have it be the female perspective?'" (Champion calls the song the "beating heart" of Music of the Spheres.)
While the new music does have interstellar tinges, it remains grounded in the big-tent pop sound Max has cultivated for more than 25 years: bright chords, lush synthscapes, insanely catchy hooks. "We're definitely not trying to do a companion piece to 2001 or Star Wars," Chris says with a smirk, adding that the Swedish producer really made the band work for it. "I had to audition songs for him," he says. "Of course, even in skeletal form he makes the songs much better. He's just got that gift."
Max is just one of several pop stalwarts to appear on the album, with Coldplay recruiting both Selena Gomez and BTS for features.
"The message got to me, 'Oh, BTS were wondering if you might have a song for them,'" says Chris, who would travel to South Korea to work on the eventual chart-topping collaboration "My Universe." But the Coldplay frontman also admitted to initially having the same old knee-jerk reaction to working with the K-pop stars as he did Max. "The little indie side of me was like, 'No [working with] boy bands.' And then I was like, 'Yeah, but that's 1998 you speaking. Like, you really like this band. The K-pop thing is very different to what we're used to, and it's quite regimented. But within that, these seven boys are really friends and really a band just like we're a band. It's no different."
BTS wasn't the only pop conquerer to assist on Spheres; Beyoncé ended up having an indirect hand in the hard-charging "People of the Pride" after Chris saw her perform at the Global Citizen Festival — years after Chris failed in his attempt at an official collaboration (Bey called the song he sent over "awful"). "The opening of 'Pride' was Beyoncé's" originally, he says. "I was watching her show and was like, Oh my God, what song is she about to go into? And then she just stopped and went to another song. Afterward, I asked her, 'What was that piece of music?' She said, 'I don't know, just some interlude.'"
Like generations before him, Chris Martin let the stars guide his way.
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