Coldplay release their fifth album Mylo Xyloto on Monday (24 October). With the record already earning a host of acclaim for its mix of anthemic songwriting, collaborations - including one with Rihanna on Princess Of China - and cutting edge production, Q spoke to some of those involved in making the album to get a unique, behind the scenes perspective on its creation. Producers Markus Dravs, Rik Simpson and Daniel Green; sleeve designers Tappin & Gofto and the band's drummer Will Champion give us their eye witness account of the making of Mylo Xyloto.
Will Champion: "We're prone to saying things before we write an album that prove to be totally wrong. There came a point last summer when we realised we had different types of songs in various styles, so rather than make an album that's all stripped-down we decided to throw everything into the one basket. It's true we scrapped stuff, but a lot of those songs became antecedents of what you'll hear on the finished album. It's all part of our musical evolutionary process."
Rik Simpson: "The plan was always to make a forward thinking record, something that had never been heard before. I think more than any other Coldplay album Mylo Xyloto embraces a contemporary sonic world but still retains the feeling of a band at the top of their game playing together in a room."
Markus Dravs: "The album began for me when I turned up really because I was just finishing Arcade Fire's The Suburbs over in Canada. That went on a bit longer than anticipated, although to be honest we always knew it would be a bit late [laughs], so I turned up but the band had spent a fair bit of time with Brian [Eno], Rik [Simpson] and Dan [Green] - Dan is Coldplay's live engineer who helped out on the last record but more in a background role - so there wasn't really an official start to the record. They are always writing, whether in a soundcheck or a hotel. They're good, hard working musicians, they have an idea, they get together to write and as they've got their own studio there's less of a writing and recording schedule, Rik and Dan work for the band permanently and Brian comes along when his schedule permits or when they need him.
Rik Simpson: "We built our own studio in North London [The Bakery in Hampstead which was expanded to include rehearsal space The Beehive across the road for Mylo Xyloto] to give ourselves more breathing space to develop the bands music, consequently a lot of the songs grew out of a very organic process where the recordings really captured the essence of the songwriting as they developed together."
Will Champion: "[The Beehive] It's like an old village hall, a big space where we can play together. Often when you're making an album you can become alienated from one another in a studio environment. The Beehive was a deliberate move to get us playing together so we could get a feel of how the songs would sound as a live band as we were recording, instead of waiting until the record was done and then going out on the road. Thursday nights were our Beehive nights. We'd be in there playing, almost like a gig. It was, literally, a hive of activity. We were all worker bees."
Markus Dravs: "So when I finished Arcade Fire I slept for a week and then went down there and eased myself into the process. They had a lot of ideas, a lot of songs, some made it on the record, some didn't. We just went through the songs on one instrument with Chris [Martin] singing the lyrics or the melody because I wanted to keep the two words [songwriting and production] very much apart. I don't believe a song can purely rely on the production, the longevity of a song will really shine when you stripe it right down. The better the song in its raw form, the more flexible it is long term. You can almost push the boat out further in the production the better the song is. When you're sonically trying to push the boat out a bit, let's face it can go very wrong - the dangers are it can get dated or you could get tired of listening to it - but you'll remember a song more by its melody and its lyrics. It's difficult to whistle a 3D sound!"
Daniel Green: "The plan for Mylo Xyloto was to have an album that was full of colour and felt like a journey from start to finish. There were a few demos as starting points but it was when the band got together and started experimenting with the songs and sounds that it really came together. From the start of the project one of the main goals was to give each song it's own sound as if it comes from its own world. So the production and song writing were often created together."
Will Champion: "There are a handful of songs on the album about trying to express yourself in a bleak world. A lot of Chris' lyrics refer to people standing up for themselves, even though they're being oppressed."
Markus Dravs: "Because there are a few of us, Chris will sometimes work in one corner by himself, while Guy will be working with someone else on a soundscape, so it's no necessarily, step one, step two, step three. It's more Look what he's done, that's great! Obviously as the record gets more finished that changes, as everyone starts pulling on the same string a bit more, but the idea was to start a record and make a record without worrying about what Coldplay stands for, it really was an open good."
Daniel Green: "Chris and I always referenced Thriller as we loved the concise song structures and sparse but powerful instrumentation and production."
Markus Dravs: "Making the album isn't about the number of producers or how many people are in the band, it's about appreciating each others' ideas. The best idea goes forward, it's an organic process. Everyone explores their own ideas, so if you have eight people - including the band - contributing it's not done on a schedule: Producer #2 is on between 14:00 and 15:00 today. It's more, Oh you stayed late last night and did that? I'll work on that other song today. Or the band will have come up with another song in the meantime. If something is going great, why change it in that process. Having done the last record with this team, you understand each other a bit more and how to get the best out of them."
Daniel Green: "Many of the little interesting sounds and atmospheres were created from the band and Brian Eno experimenting with sounds and instruments then Chris and I would listen though and take the great little bits of magic then sequence and layer these over the songs to add an extra dimension to the songs sonically."
Will Champion: "For this album Brian was more of a collaborative writer than a producer. He was with us more in the early stages when the songs were being created, though his influence is everywhere. He's omnipresent, even when he's not in the building he leaves his aura around for inspiration. Brian is a great sewer of seeds whereas Markus is the farmer. He has amazing powers of concentration, way beyond ours."
Markus Dravs: "To me the album works, as Chris said, as a record and I'll be interested to hear what people make of it, because I think it makes a lot of sense. I still enjoy listening to it now and I've heard it... quite a few times! [laughs] The way the record flows and the where the energy goes is really nice. I don't think we've been self-indulgent in any of the songs. We've pushed it enough yet each of those songs can be played on a single instrument so I think they stand up. And I'm very happy with the vehicle turned out to be for the songs. Can I pick a favourite track? I love all my children!
Daniel Green: "Can I pick a favourite? Us Against The World. I think the vocal performance and lyrics capture a real mood and emotion. I love the way the atmosphere evolves throughout the song."
Rik Simpson: "I don't really have one favourite. I see the album as one body of work rather than separate songs. I do feel this record has a strength and potential for longevity that becomes more apparent the more you immerse yourself in it."
Tappin & Gofto: "The main source of inspiration for the artwork was effectively discovered through conversation with the band. They're very passionate about their artwork and always have an idea for the kind of thing they want. It's kind of down to us to help try and bring this into reality and work through ideas with them until a direction is agreed upon collectively. We worked with the band on and off for a period of approximately five months before we reached the final direction for the artwork. When we had agreed the final art direction it then became more about how we got the very best out of the idea and about the details of the design for the album cover and associated artwork parts like the booklet, the label, the typography, etc. It was great, because even at that stage the band really like to be involved, you really have to work thoroughly though all your ideas."
Markus Dravs: "I knew Rihanna [on Princess Of China] had been talked about for a while. The process didn't really have anything to do with me. All I can say, the song suits her and in my opinion she was asked as a musician rather than a popstar. No one can deny how great her pipes her, so why not?"
Tappin & Gofto: "How much did the title influence the artwork? A pretty big factor this time, obviously the cover consists of a logo type that is effectively an abbreviated form of the title itself. But aside from that, subconsciously it influences the feel of the artwork, you always refer back to it in everything you do. We focus solely on the album front cover first and foremost, that has to be the drive for the artwork. It's what everything else relates to and what all other material is developed out from. Ultimately if it's a strong, dynamic, interesting image, it should work on any level."
Will Champion: "Erm, it does look a bit Clash, doesn't it? [the graffiti look]. When I saw the press shots the first thing I noticed was how much Chris looked like Joe Strummer."
Markus Dravs: "So how long did it all take? I think it was a year on and off. There were long gaps like summer holidays and winter holidays. With a band like this they can't tour and play some new songs to see what they sound like and then go back in and record them, so I was there witnessing the writing, which I love as you get to see the ideas at a very early stage, so if you include the mixing I would say I was on there for about a year - I only work on one record at a time so it that was a year in the life of Dravs! It might sound shocking to some, but I had a very nice year and listening to the record I think it was worth it."
Read Q's track by track guide to Mylo Xyloto now, plus follow the Q Awards live on Monday (24 October) to see how the band do in the Best Act In The World Today presented by First Drinks Brand category.
Head to Coldplay.com for more on Mylo Xyloto.
11:06 AM | 21/10/2011
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