Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman talks about the new album, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, working with Brian Eno and writing under hypnosis
Great album. It sounds like a lot of thought and effort went into it. Did you aim, as Chris said, to make “the greatest piece of music ever made”?
[Laughs] Well, you know, we always try to push ourselves as far as we can go and try to do something different. I think particularly this time around working with Brian Eno was a great decision because it spurred on a different thought process. I think we set out to do everything differently this time and to come up with something that people won’t perhaps expect.
Why did you chose Brian Eno? Were you drawn to his love of experimentation?
Well yeah, Brian is renowned for having lots of very profound ideas. We knew Brian a little bit from the last record. He spent a day with us when we were recording X&Y. More importantly for us, it was important to choose somebody that we got along with. We didn’t want to be in a situation where we chose a producer and then perhaps things didn’t work out because we didn’t want to waste time. So we were comfortable with Brian as a personality and we knew that we would probably work well together. So I’m pleased to say that everything went okay.
What was he like to work with? What did you learn from him?
The main thing we all learned was that if you have an idea, no matter how stupid it might seem to you, then say it and we’ll try it. Because sometimes it’s the silliest ideas that turn out to be the best things. And so we were quite fearless when it came to experimenting and everyone had suggestions. We gave everyone’s suggestions a good try. So I just think the freedom to express yourself was the most important thing that we learned.
Is it true that he changed your way of working, making you work office hours? Shorter hours but more intensely?
Brian is great believer of a 3- or a 4-day week rather than working too long because it’s important to have enough time away from what you’re working on to process everything and to understand what you’ve been doing. So that was his philosophy basically.
Was it his idea to try hypnosis to write songs?
Actually, I was trying to give up smoking. I suggested to Brian that I might try a hypnotherapist and Brian said “Oh well, I was at art college with this guy who’s now a hypnotherapist and I could give you his number.” I thought “OK, well maybe I’ll try that.” And then I suggested, “Why don’t we get him to come into the studio and hypnotise us all and see what happens.” Brian loved the idea and we tried it. Sorry to say that I still smoke and that we didn’t really achieve anything from the hypnosis process musically. But you know, if you don’t try things then you don’t know if they’re gonna work.
Did you actually play after he hypnotised you?
We did but it wasn’t really like “1,2,3, you’re under.” It was more a kind of relaxing hypnosis. We did, we went down and played. It was just a sort of long ambient piece that resulted. I’m not sure if it’ll ever see the light of day to be honest but it exists.
On this record you are experimenting with different sounds, beats, instrumentations. How did it feel to step out of your comfort zone?
It was very refreshing to work out in that way because it’s important to us that we’re enjoying working. I think if we just maintained the trajectory that we were on and recorded songs in the same way that we’d done before, it would be a bit boring for us and I think it’d be a bit boring for our fans. And so the fundamental rule that we had this time around was “let’s do things differently.”
Can you give me some examples of things you’ve done differently, techniques you’ve used that you had used before?
We’ve played around with different rhythms, from different influences: some Spanish rhythms and African rhythms. We played around with different instruments. Sometimes I’d go and sit on the drums, Johnny might play bass; so we kind of swapped our instruments around because everyone will come from a slightly different point of view. If Will plays the bass he’s gonna come up with something different to how I would do it. It was very important that we keep these ideas very fresh and kept the generation of music to a different tangent.
Was it a case of trying to find a balance between sounding a bit different, surprising, without losing the essence of Coldplay?
Yeah. We will always have songs and melody, that’s the most important thing. So sometimes the ideas that we had, we would take them too far away from the song or it’d be detracting or it wouldn’t be quite right. We would still keep those ideas but we would just reel them back in a little bit and get the balance right between what’s right for this song and what makes it sound different.
When I last interviewed Chris, he said that there are some things which you always wanted to keep, even though you wanna try new things. That’s to always have music that’s soulful and melodic and that is passionate. Do you think that encapsulates the essence of Coldplay?
Yeah, absolutely. You always have to have those elements. It’s just about how you dress those elements which makes it different and interesting.
On the song ‘Lost!’ you mix an organ with a hip hop beat. Did Chris’s connection to Jay-Z and the hip hop world influence him and the band to experiment with hip hop beats?
I think perhaps to a certain extent. We’ve used real drum kits an awful lot, we’ve made 3 records with real drum kits. So I think it was important to us to try experimenting with samples and different rhythms. I think it’s fair to say that there’s some great hip hop artists out there at the moment, Jay-Z and Kanye. We’d say that yeah, their influences crept into that song.