Break-ups are tough – even if you’re the lead singer of a huge band. This much is true, and it was made even more clear during BBC Radio One host Zane Lowe’s interview with Coldplay Chris Martin. It was an interview that was, at times funny, deeply personal, and – yes, I’m going to say it – very moving.
Most of the stories coming out of the interview have focussed on the singer taking responsibility for the break-up of his marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow – those stories were already making the rounds in as part of promo ahead of the interview, which aired on BBC Radio One on Monday night. But just coming away with that would be to lose out on the gems of insight we learned about one of this generation’s most well-known voices.
Yes, Martin did – more than once – allude to him being the reason his ten-year relationship faulted. This tidbit should be a lot to satiate those curious gossips out there – especially the ones who laid the blame on Gwyneth and her idiosyncratic ways. But the interview was more than just his acknowledgement, publicly, of the role he played in the split.
It humanized him – frontman, father, creator of ballads and stadium-anthems alike.
There’s no way us common folk could ever know what it’s like to command a crowd of thousands upon a stage, or what it’s like to be married to a gorgeous actress, or be best friends with Jay-Z and Beyonce. Not that Martin wants us to feel sorry for, or pity, him (because, let’s face it, no one does). But, in testimony to the kind of warm and inviting interviewer Lowe is, Martin revealed more about himself than ever heard before.
“I think, in life, everyone needs to be broken in some way,” he told Lowe. “I think everyone in their life goes through challenges, whether it’s love or money, kids, or illness…You have to really not run away from that stuff. Life throws these colourful challenges at you.” That, Martin explains, is what he and the band decided to explore on Ghost Stories, and being honest about that experience.
“I wanted to look at the idea of ghosts; how do you let the things that have happened to you in the past, not affect your present?” he said. It’s a subject other singers have tackled, and no doubt more still will, but right now, for this time and in this place, it was comforting to listen to Martin talk about something I know I battle to deal with all the time – the balance between failure and potential, defeat and hope. Strip it all away, and that’s what you’re left with, right?
He told Zane a sufi (a Muslim ascetic) told him that he should sit with the particular troubling experience and it will ‘alchemize’. “I didn’t know what it meant, but I trusted him,” Martin said. The album, the sixth one he and his three other bandmates have created, is his sitting with the experience of life as it currently is.
“It’s like going to the gym and knowing you have to do an hour on the treadmill, and you’re looking for any excuse not to,” Martin explained further. “But once you’ve done it and that hour is up, you’re so glad you did it. That’s what the album is – it’s basically 42 minutes on an emotional treadmill.”
But of course, the interview wasn’t entirely like listening to just another guy with a broken heart. It’s Chris Martin after all – a man just as much loved as he is hated (mostly for the sake of hating). There’s a lot within the interview about his shortcomings: particularly his inability to let go of his insecurities – despite selling millions of albums, winning dozens of awards, playing to sold-out shows around the world – that affected his family life, and he says, his ability to love back.
Without being too specific, Martin was just personal enough. “What changed for me was – I don’t want to go through life being scared of it, being scared of love, being scared of rejection, being scared of failure,” he said. “Ever since our band came out, we have been a very polarising group because we do a certain thing very well.”
Going back to the band’s early days, I think of 2001, as Coldplay’s debut album Parachutes started to gain traction, and a friend at UCT Radio was going off to Australia to see them perform at Big Day Out. A fan of Trouble and Yellow (I remember my 18-year-old self writing in my diary that I liked how Chris Martin’s voice “soared, almost like a girl’s but not”), I jokingly asked her to please get me their autograph, thinking she’d not be able to get anywhere near to a band about to be on the verge of world super-stardom. But she did, and she brought back a piece of A4 foolscap paper that said: “Dear Nadia – with all our love, Coldplay,” and below it were four individual signatures.
Now sure, you could be a cynic and say the autographs weren’t real, but I have no reason to be in this regard. Similarly, you could take a cynical view of the interview, and believe that it’s all about selling albums. All I know is my world is a little more easier to deal with thanks to the magic of Magic, the first single off Ghost Stories. And although I’m not the fan I used to be, I’m looking forward to the album’s release next month, because, dammit, going through a break-up is hard – whether you’re the lead singer of Coldplay or a girl who is just looking for a place to pick herself back up again.
Listen to the part one of the interview here:
Ghost Stories releases May 19th.