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
On ”˜Viva La Vida’ you’ve gone for the full orchestral treatment. Were you deliriously happy when you wrote that song ”˜cause it’s a very joyous song?
Actually, that was quite a problematic song for a long time because we had lots of different versions of it. For a long time, it didn’t have any strings on there but it just wasn’t working, it was very flat dynamically. We spent a long time with a violin player called David Rossi. He plays live with Goldfrapp, who we were on tour with once. He did all those strings himself. All the strings you hear on the record are just done by one person which is quite nice because I think we’re all a little bit uncomfortable with the idea of recording with a full orchestra. There’s something a bit grand and over the top about that. So he created all those string parts and the arrangement. Yeah, we were very happy with the way it came out.
To me it sounds like an album of contrasts, with quiet, sometimes ambient moods, alternating with very joyous and upbeat moments, sometimes within the same track. And it all seems tied up around the themes of life and death. It sounds more like a concept album than a collection of songs. Do you see it like that as well?
I think so. There’s definitely a theme that runs throughout the record lyrically, as you say, instead of being a collection of wildly different songs, which is important to us because when we make records we really design them to be listened to from beginning to end. And that’s why it was important that we didn’t make this record too long, I think it’s just over 40 minutes long. There is a lyrical theme there and it was designed very specifically.
Lyrically, it sounds like a celebration of life and death. When Chris sings on ”˜42’ “those who are dead, they are not dead, they’re just living in my head” and “I don’t wanna follow death and all his friends” on the eponymous song, is he saying that death is OK, it’s not the end, but until then I will enjoy my life to the full?
I think so, I think that’s exactly right. You’ve kind of answered your own question! Lots of people come to points in their life where they’re questioning death. Take Damian Hirst for example. His work for the last 5 years has really been playing with the concept of dying and trying to come to terms with what it’s all about and why we’re here and what we’re supposed to do. It’s obviously something that everyone can relate to given the inevitable demise of human beings.
Is there any particular reason why you’re taking on these big themes on this album?
I don’t see the point in taking on small themes. We don’t like to do things by halves. You need to get across some sort of message. We didn’t want it to be an album which was just about aesthetics or stylistics. We always endeavour to always have some sort of message. The lyrics are very important to us.
All this thinking about life and death, is it due to personal experiences within the band?
It’s hard to say really. You can listen to a song at a very face value level and enjoy it for the melody or the music or you can read into the meaning of everything. I’d say most of the time when people write lyrics they flow, they’re not overthought. I think that’s when the best lyrics come from, when they just kind of come out. And then other people decide what it means and everyone will interpret it in different ways. Of course they’re important but we also want to write songs that people will jump around to as well, just for the rhythms and the melodies.
Will said many tracks on the album share a theme: trying to remember what’s important in life rather than being carried away by the trappings of other things. Can you elaborate on that?
You probably be best ask him what he meant by that. I guess there are things that are real and important. A lot of things people get bugged down with and get worried about things that aren’t important like what they’re gonna watch on TV that night. I’m not quite sure what he was getting at.
Do you feel that fame, success make you lose track of what’s important?
They can do. Some people”¦ I think you gotta be careful. We’re in a fantastically privileged situation, we’re all extremely lucky to be where we are and sometimes you’ve gotta tell yourself that. I’m so blessed to come to work every day and just make music. I don’t have to wear a suit and tie which obviously millions of people around the world have to. I’m fully aware that I’m in a privileged position. But you gotta think about it and make sure that you’re always aware of how lucky you are.
You all seem to have managed to stay quite grounded.
I like to think so.
Do you think that’s down to your upbringing?
Who knows? I don’t know.
We talked about hypnosis before, writing music in an altered state. You tried it briefly. Some famous bands in the past have tried to achieve that by taking drugs for example. That’s a no-no for the band, right?
I always think if you’ve been taking acid and make music, then that music will only make sense when you’re on acid. Quite often if you get stoned and write something, or if you get drunk and write something, the chances are you’re not gonna enjoy it so much when you wake up in the morning and you’re not in an altered state. So sometimes that music only makes sense when you’re in that state. People talk a lot about the Beatles writing music and using LSD but in actual fact I think the Beatles obviously did take LSD but whether they actually wrote and recorded the songs whilst they were in that altered state I don’t know. I think they probably took their experiences from it and wrote it into the music when they were actually not high, if you see what I mean.