Chris Martin x Nick Barili Ghost Stories Interview

Published: May 16, 2024
Chris Martin x Nick Barili Ghost Stories interview

To celebrate the 10 years anniversary of Coldplay’s album Ghost Stories, I wanted to share one of my favorite interviews I have ever done.  A little back story. Before Beats got bought out by Apple they had a series called Beat By Beat where they would talk to iconic artists about a whole album from start to finish. Beats would then include the audio from that in between tracks of the album so you could play the album all the way through with the commentary. Chris was not doing many interviews at the time because he was going through conscious uncoupling with Gwyneth Paltrow and the tabloids were running wild. I was actually in a relationship at the time myself where I loved the person dearly but knew that we would be better off as friends. I really wanted to understand if it was possible to transform the relationship with someone you have such an intense life connection from romantic to friendship and not fall victim to the anger and hate that can surface through the uncoupling. I did A LOT of research for this interview. Im talking about over a month of prep, from reading a lot of poems, stories, books from authors Chris had mentioned in past to watching every interview he had done to listening to Ghost Stories over a 100 times (literally) in every environment imaginable, driving, hiking, in headphones with lights on/off, you get the picture. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the whole process was very therapeutic and pushed me further on my journey of self discovery. Since the interview I often find myself referring to things Chris and I talked about from the Japanese art form of Kintsukuroi “to repair with gold”, to Rumi poems and Viktor Frankl theories. Lots of gems in this one!! Another thing that I often tell young artists including conversations with Logic about this interview is the way Chris carried himself. From the moment he walked in the studio he made it a point to say hi and shake hands with everyone from the receptionist to the production assistants, which made an impact on everyone there. At a vulnerable time he still found energy to give a bit of light to everyone in that studio. That speaks volumes in an industry where most people only show respect to those they think can do something for them. I can keep going on but let’s get to the interview:

Nick Barili: You described your last record as the idea of trying to find color in the darkness and depression. How would you describe Ghost Stories?

Chris Martin: “The way I would describe Ghost Stories is the journey of going through a challenge or an ordeal to come out a little bit stronger and happier at the end. Not as a toolkit for that but just as a way of accepting that something crazy is happening whether it’s a loss or a challenge or something in business, whatever it might be. Not letting it break you but letting it make you”. There’s this Japanese art form called Kintsukuroi where if you break a bowl, you fix it with gold and it’s more beautiful at the end than it was before and that’s what we were trying to sing about.”

Nick Barili: “How deep into the writing of the record did you come up with the title Ghost Stories?”

Chris Martin: “I felt like and I asked the rest of the band if it’s alright if we do something a little smaller and more intimate. That just seemed to be what was coming out. I don’t know where songs get sent from but they get sent from somewhere and the ones that were coming through were a bit more intimate and personal. The title Ghost Stories…I like to write a list of titles all the time and that just felt like that fits with a more mysterious vibe. I dunno, it’s hard for me to explain these things, they just feel right.”

Nick Barili: “You have said that you write music as a diary. To survive. To make sense of things. With Ghost Stories you are presenting yourself in a more raw and vulnerable manner than in previous albums. Was there any moment in recording the record or a song in particular where you questioned if you wanted to share it with the world?”

Chris Martin: “I made the decision around 12-14 years ago that because I don’t have the gift of Shakespeare with lyrical brilliance, I was like, well, I’ll just try and be honest, that’s all I can do so as time goes on, I’ll just try and do that. For this one in particular, I was going through stuff in my life and friends of mine were going through stuff and I just don’t wanna bulls**t with what I’m singing about and I know for some people it won’t resonate but maybe with other people it will so I just trust as I get older, as we get older, we’ll try and trust our gut instinct more and more. Obviously certain writers and critics are not gonna like this but that’s ok, they’re welcome to their opinion but I never question what I’m singing about because I need to sing to get through the day.”

Nick Barili: “Was the recording process cathartic?”

Chris Martin: “Well, music for me is one of my greatest friends, it’s how I make sense of every day. I like to work at night time and yes, complete catharsis. It’s wonderful, I love it more than ever!

Nick Barili: “Reading Rumi and Viktor Frankl, which you mentioned in a previous interview, definitely helped me get a greater context for this album.” “One Rumi quote in particular that stood out to me is “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Chris Martin: “You’ve done your research huh?! (Laughs)”

Nick Barili: (Laughs) “What has drawn you to read Rumi and Frankl? How would you say they have influenced the making of Ghost Stories?”

Chris Martin: I have this amazing teacher who tells me books to read and told me of this poet from the 13th century called Rumi, who I’ve never really heard of, and I started reading that stuff and it really changed my life and how I looked at a lot of things. There’s a poem called The Guest House which is about imagining yourself as a house and every morning, a new thing knocks on your door like a challenge, or something great or something terrible and the gist of the poem is whatever comes to you, you welcome it. That was a completely fresh perspective on life for me, so that really changed everything and I just kept reading more and more of his stuff and I still am and it’s really about embracing all that happens to you and that was seeping into the music that was being written at that time.”

Nick Barili: If we were to treat the album like a movie, can you describe what you see in the opening scene as “Always in My Head” comes on.

Chris Martin: “When I think of the song, Always In My Head, I see it as an acceptance of, ok we’re going to go down this road of being very vulnerable to somebody. For a lot of us in life, it’s a real decision to like, am I gonna open myself up to somebody else or life itself and that track, every time we play it live, or every time we’re working on it, that just reminded me, ok, like the question you asked earlier, do you feel comfortable singing about this stuff. This song makes me feel, just do it! Be open to life and even if it’s a bit sad sometimes, it’s also going to be amazing. That song is like an acknowledgement – this is going to get personal.”

Nick Barili: “Did you know when you wrote that song that you wanted to start Ghost Stories with it?”

Chris Martin: “I always knew that we would start the album with a song called “Always In My Head”, but there were 12 other Always in My Heads that weren’t always in my head, they weren’t good enough. I was waiting for an Always in My Head that would always stay in my head.”

Nick Barili: “What was it about this particular version of “Always in My Head” that stuck with you?”

Chris Martin: “About 4 years ago, I went to see Leonard Cohen play in Los Angeles and he did 2 songs on a really cheap Yamaha keyboard like we all learned on and it sounded amazing so I got one and it’s the same one I had when I was a 11 and wondered if any songs would come through and that track, Always In My Head came through like that. It was like how I used to make music when I was 12. I felt really innocent and there’s a note on it that shouldn’t be in it and I like that one.

Nick Barili: Which note did you leave in there?

Chris Martin:You really want me to tell you which note?

Nick Barili: Yes! This is for music nerds like me.

Chris Martin: Oh god…..i’ll tell you which note ! It’s an A on a G minor chord haha!”

Nick Barili: Your daughter Apple makes an appearance on this track.

Chris Martin: And my son.

Nick Barili: And on the secret track that closes the album. Was it intentional to have them at the beginning and end of this album?

Chris Martin: “The reason why my kids are on the album is because they came to the studio one day after school and I couldn’t get this note and they were with one of their friends who is called Mabel and said is there way you guys will just try this and they were like, sure dad so they tried it for 3 minutes and they got bored but I thought it sounded so lovely. I thought it just felt right somehow.”

Nick Barili: For what I’ve heard you are the one to usually start the writing of songs but for Magic you got an assist from your bass player Guy. Can you walk us through how Magic came to be?

Chris Martin: “Well, the song Magic represents a big deal for me, which is that even if I’m talking to you on my own, we are very much a band and we always have been and we are more than ever. In our personal lives and our professional lives, there’s this thing that links us where we would do anything for the others and it’s a very powerful feeling, to go have gone through everything we’ve been through with the same group of people. We knew each other when we had nothing. I think the rest of the band, this was about 2 years ago, were like, oh something is up with Chris and I’ve been asking them for ages, please can someone please start a song and they were like, no, we like the system as it is. I like that system too but I came in one day and Guy said, oh, we’ve got something you may like to hear. They played me this loop and I thought it was just awesome and this song called Magic appeared in about 5 minutes and to be it represented them…I needed them as friends at that time and it delivered. They also provided our first single and that was handy!”

Nick Barili: Let’s talk about the video, which I love. I heard that you were a bit reluctant to act in it. Is that true? Did you have to learn some of the magician tricks too?

Chris Martin: “Our videos are a funny thing and when you sign a record contract, it’s one of those other bits of the job you don’t really think of when you’re a kid, unless you’re Beyonce who’s just a born angel and genius in all departments. With videos, now, we just try to come up with something that…I don’t think of it as acting but expressing what’s within the song without just singing it to camera because that’s a bit boring sometimes. I do like dressing up sometimes but I don’t think of it as acting.

Nick Barili: In the video you play both the hero and the villain. Was there intended symbolism there that the battles are within yourself or am I reading too much into it?

Chris Martin: The idea of the video is most men are both nice and not so nice and it’s a question of which one you’re gonna let win. It was either a big metaphor or just a chance to fly around on wires! I saw Pink once flying on wires and thought, “I should start doing that!”

Nick Barili: How did the track “Ink” come to be?

Chris Martin:  “The track Ink came from…we had an old song called See You Soon which was written in about 1860, when we were first forming! and I was trying to remember how to play it and I forgot and sometimes, when I’m doing songs on guitar I do different, strange tunings so I was trying to find the old tune but I couldn’t remember it. But this other thing sounded nice and that song just arrived.”

Nick Barili: In “Ink” you say “I see the road begin to climb, I see your stars begin to shine, I see your colors and I’m dying of thirst”. Could you give us some insight as to what those lines mean to you?

Chris Martin: “Well, I know, this is not what you wanted to hear but I don’t know how to explain lyrics. They don’t mean the same thing for any two people I think. I don’t even know what that means really, it just came out like that, haha! I like to start off with a title and then see what happens.”

Nick Barili: Hard not to smile while watching the “True Love” video. How does the narrative of the video compliment the lyrics of the song?

Chris Martin: “The video for “True Love” and the song, I don’t even know if they do compliment each other. I was at the circus with my children a few years ago and I saw those fat suits and they were doing these amazing acrobatics and then we got in touch with that guy who was making them and said, please can you can make some for our video? and I don’t know, I just felt like it would be nice to have a story involving those things. Now that you’re making me think about that, now with videos, there’s a chance to try new activities haha…and try and write a story around that activity.” 

Nick Barili: Jonny is brilliant at the end with the guitar, it’s like he is talking back to you.

Chris Martin: “Ghost Stories, because of its nature, it sounds like it’s one person talking to one person so instead of thinking of, how will this sound to lots of people in a concert, it was more like, how would this sound to one other person? and the reason why our band started was because Jonny’s guitar playing….he does things musically which I don’t think of and he surprises me and it’s like a conversation in lots of our songs really where I would sing my melody then I never know what he’s gonna come up and most of the time, like the song. He (Jonny) just has a way of writing melodies that is perfect….I just love his playing so much. And in that song, we are always saying go and do a solo one day and he’s like, ‘I don’t do solo’s’ and we sort of got him to do….and that’s his standing on a mountain / moment. That’s why being in a band is the best job in the world because your best friends bring in bits of music that you wouldn’t of thought of and you piece it all together and you get Optimus Prime!!” 

Nick Barili: The track featured bass drum from Timbaland. How did he come into the equation?

Chris Martin: “Well, I met Timbaland a long ago over a bowl of fruit, which he devoured at about 4 o’clock in the morning and we wrote a song for Nelly Furtado and I was like, I like this person and he was playing with Jay Z last year, on tour and they were at the studio with us in London on a Sunday and I think we all had the same hobby which is, music! So, on everyone’s day off, we all went to the studio and he’s so fun to work with, like Tim (Avicii), because he just feels it, it’s pure feeling and it’s very inspiring to be around him and that day, I said oh, we have this song and there was something not quite right about it and he (Timbaland) said, oh let me have a go and he just helped Will with one bass drum sound. The rest of the beat was already there from Will but he brought this bounce in.” 

Nick Barili: “Midnight” has a more electronic experimental feel both on the production and the vocal distortions, how does that fit into the journey at the middle of the album?

Chris Martin:   “Well, the track “Midnight” is similar to track Magic in that the original music didn’t come from me so that was a track by this guy called Jon Hopkins, who is a talented man who makes his own albums and I said to him one day while he was in the studios helping us out with this other song…I said oh, have you got any bits and pieces that I could sing on and he said, well, I got this one thing….and we stole it! When I say stole, we agreed on a very lucrative contract between the two of us and give him the due credit! I see Midnight as being, well it’s a bit like “Always In My Head”. It’s a reminder of…it’s ok, we’re here at the moment. You don’t need to do a banging rock track right now. This is how we’re feeling and embrace it. It was fun to work on. I like anything where you’re singing and then you can make it sound weird. I was looking for new ways of changing voices and that’s really the only one where we’ve tried that’s actually worked. Most of them actually sound really funny.

Nick Barili: To be honest I had to look up the lyrics because some of them had such heavy distortion that I couldn’t make out all the words. Once I read the full lyrics it was pretty poetic stuff.

Chris Martin:  On the track, I’m really talking about how I feel about Harry Potter! Not really! It is hard to decipher, I agree but I am singing real lyrics and they’re not the worst of lyrics either. 

Nick Barili: What does “leaving the light on” represent to you? Was that inspired by Rumi? He has a quote that states “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” 

Chris Martin:  The phrase, ‘leave a light on’. That’s probably to yourself to say to keep going and yes, that is a Rumi quote : ‘The wound is a place where the light enters you’ and also, the first place I ever heard that was in a Leonard Cohen song as well called Anthem. There’s a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in. It’s such a great idea!”

“I mean, in England, where I was growing up, we are very much a culture of keeping your feelings down and suppressing them and not admitting if you were broken or going through something and that was great. That was how they were doing it then but I like the other way of, you admit that you are fallible or broken or you need….you know because it brings all these blessings with it because you say how you’re actually feeling. The truth is, it is probably an album about heartbreak but it’s not saying that somethings broken so you should just give up. It’s saying, something is broken so let’s work out how to fix it and make it better than it was before because that’s what all the great poets and great teachers seem to say is that if you stick and go through something, the blessing will reveal itself. I mean, there’s stuff going on in the world right now which you can’t imagine why is this happening, it’s crazy. I don’t know what it is but if you didn’t have faith in the universe that somehow, something great will emerge at the end, then we would all give up and that would be a waste of everyone’s time! That would be terrible! So that’s why the record has to get to a record called A Sky Full Of Stars because it has to end on a ‘well ok something got broken but hey, what you’re gonna do? you’re not gonna give up, you’re never gonna give up. That’s the best thing my Dad ever taught me.” 

Nick Barili: “Another’s Arms” features a little extra magic from Mike Dean on the keys (known for his work with Kanye). How do you go about picking whom to bring in to work on certain tracks?

Chris Martin: “Mike Dean is a guy who works with Kayne and does amazing stuff. There’s a guy called Steve Stout who was in the Rockerfella camp for a long time or Defjam, one of them but anyway…. he said ‘oh, you should work with this guy called Mike Dean’ on another track,so we called him up and asked if he would help out and he said, well, ‘i’m free until 5, I’ll do some bass!’ That tends to be how it is. Well, like I said, we’re very very lucky we get to work with people like that and what I think is good about dipping into more of the hip hop world is that they are used to doing track by track stuff, so no one’s worried about, this is just one song or one bit. You look at the credits on a Kayne record and each song has like 9,000 people on it!” 

Nick Barili: It’s such a seamless transition into the song. Who is the woman whose voice we hear at the beginning and throughout “Another’s Arms”? She sounds Angelic yet haunting.

Chris Martin:  “Thank you for saying it seems seamless. At the time, it seems really unseamless so it’s only at the end, when you tie it all together. The woman at the beginning of Another’s Arms is Oprah Winfrey! No, it’s not Oprah Winfrey, she said no…..we didn’t ask, i’m making it up! It’s uhhh uhhh, I don’t know who it is, it’s a sample…it came from a synthesizer, that’s called Denise!” 

Nick Barili: If Ghost Stories were a movie, “Oceans” to me is the part where the protagonist has to make a decision and take a particular path. That gut wrenching moment of truth. Do you see it as the turning point in the journey of the album?

Chris Martin:   “Oceans, I’ve always had this image of the pier in Brighton, in the south of England. So, there’s a pier on this pebble beach and the image I had in my head of that is, being through this thing like in like lots of books and films, someone goes on a journey and then I just felt like on a certain point, you just wanna wake up on a beach and everything seems ok and everything makes sense. So that song, always, to me, the end of its particularity, just felt like you completely give in to life and say ok, I trust whatever is happening. It’s a song about trust”. 

Nick Barili: You have mentioned before that songs come to you through the universe. How did you tap into that for Sky Full Of Stars?

Chris Martin:“I know that this song, at this point in the album, A Sky Full Of Stars, needs to be about unconditional love and accepting whatever is happening to you as being what’s supposed to be happening to you as difficult as that might be. Also, I want it to be a song where you let loose and if you can jump up and down to it, all the better. That song, really, ended up being inspired by EDM, which some people turn their nose up at but then you go and see an EDM thing and people are so together and having the best time so I was like, f**k it! I love that stuff so I want us to have a song that comes from that world but to also to have it be about something that means so much to me, so it isn’t throwaway at all, it’s the most important song we’ve ever had, lyrically because everytime I sing it, i’m like yeah, that’s how I wanna live my life and it took me a long time to be able to write that song or receive that song to say yeah, whatever’s happening, I embrace it, even if someone thinks my band is the worst band on earth, it must be how its supposed to be and as it turns out, there’s a few of them, so there must be many blessings.”

“I love that song, I know it sounds bad to say that in music but I love that it’s come out of this dark place and it was the last song to be written and you know, I was asking for it for a long time, like please send me this song, that’s like, it’s ok, everything’s ok because we’ve got all these others songs going through this journey and we need this like door opening to the sunrise.” 

Nick Barili: At what time of the day did you write “Sky Full Of Stars’?

Chris Martin:  “A Sky Full Of Stars came out around 11.30pm at night and it took….it came out in about 7 minutes. 

Nick Barili: What about that time of the day helps songs come to you?

Chris Martin:   Well, I think there’s a freedom at around 11 o’clock at night where you feel like you’re not bothering anybody, you know…no one else needs you or there’s nothing else you should be doing. It might come from the tradition of just reading about your heroes, whether it’s Quincy Jones or whoever, all these people who like to work at night-time. There is something just calm and you feel a bit more connected to the outer reaches of things. You have to not be worried about anyone else not hearing it because there’s a certain switch you have to flick to say i’m gonna follow it wherever it goes and sometimes it goes down a dead end and doesn’t sound really good or you’re singing nonsense or you have to really let yourself go free. 

Nick Barili: Did you do anything in particular to set the mood?

Chris Martin:   Well, i’ll tell you the truth….I was listening to a lot of Katy Perry, that she does with Doctor Luke and a lot of her songs have the same chord sequence the whole time. Your body feels comfortable with them and the melodies changing. There’s like a groove you really get into and also you’re kept interested by and that’s an amazing way of doing songs, then I realized all these other people who have done that. Nirvana being a classic example. Smell’s Like Teen Spirit is the same chord sequence basically, the whole time, or Wild Thing, it goes way back, so there was a simplicity to that so I just need to find a sequence I can play for ages, ages and ages, so I was just looking for that for a long time and then one just came out. So I’m just going to keep playing that sequence and see what comes on top of it.” 

Nick Barili: Take me through what was going through your mind before you approached Avicii. Did you feel the album was missing something?

Chris Martin: “So this probably happened on a Wednesday and I was in Los Angeles and the rest of the band were in London and we weren’t supposed to see each other for a week or so but when the song came out, I was desperate to record it and put it as a demo and the next day, I was in a studio called The Village and I think I just called them up and said, there are certain parts of this we don’t really know what we are doing in terms of, I would really like to jump up and down to this you know but we’re not always experts on that so let’s call Tim (Avicii) and he’s such a sweet man.

Nick Barili: What was the conversation like when you sat down with Avicii? Did he start building from what you had on the spot or did he sit with it for a while?

Chris Martin: I showed him the song and said please can you help? and he said, with his backwards baseball cap, yeah, that will be $12 million, hahaha! No he didn’t say that! I was with him for the first bit of the Avicii version but then he goes into like the bat cave of Avicii. You’re not allowed in there! I don’t know what he’s up to but he did an Avicii version and then we did a full Coldplay version and then we spent weeks like, weaving it all together, essentially playing tetris or something, you know what I mean? For f**king hours, hahaha! That’s why it took so long. Like we’ll try this with this or this with this. That’s where really the time is spent, cooking the bit. 

Nick Barili: What was the band’s reaction when you brought back Sky Full of Stars to them after working with Avcii?

Chris Martin: I think it had to be contextualized because Will said to me, I thought we were making a very personal Ghost Stories record? and this is great but how does it fit? so that’s when we were really putting the structures together and I said well, in the end where you just say yes and you wanna let get go and in a concert, if we’re playing this whole album, there would be a point where I would be like, ok, I’ve got that out of my system, now let’s go dance! Once I said that to Will, he’s like, ok, got it. Once they [The rest of the band] knew what we were doing it for, then they could see how it fit.

Nick Barili: How do you feel when you perform it?

Chris Martin: “Well, I gotta be honest with you, it’s really fun performing that song. I think when you start out, especially as a songwriter or a singer, there’s an element of you that’s looking for approval for whatever reason. I think actors, a lot of people who want attention so there’s the song writing craft which is one discipline, then there is the need to perform or the need to get approval which, if you’re lucky, dissipates as you get on with it as that’s not gonna make me happy but what does make you happy is if you are playing a piece of music and everyone looks into it and so far, when we’ve played that in the few concerts we’ve done, there’s just such a collective feeling.” 

Nick Barili: The last track on the album version is probably my favorite track, what can you tell me about how the song “Fly On” came to be?

Chris Martin:  “Well the last track is called “O” and it’s also a song called “Fly On”, so there’s two songs really and the final one is a segment of the song from my kids, essentially saying, don’t ever let go. I just think its a nice thing to be told. In the same way of having the rest of the band on the song makes you feel alive and part of something else. I dunno if its just the sound of kids singing or particularity my kids singing but it just makes me feel reassured and embraced somehow. There’s a certain warmth to it and the song that precedes it, is another song about trying to get to a place where you are happy for the people around you. As long as they’re happy and whatever it is they choose. I guess it’s about unconditional love I think. That’s talking about birds and I don’t mean to be mean but i’m not a big fan of people putting birds in cages because to me, that thing can fly, how can you do that? its crazy. So, it’s that feeling of, do your thing.

Nick Barili: Are those birds chirping?

Chris Martin:  No, no, there’s no birds chirping! That’s Jonny being a bird on his guitar. Say what you like about him, he does incredible guitar animal impressions that will ultimately be what we fall back on! Hahaha!

Nick Barili: What’s the meaning behind the title O? The actual word looks like a full circle*

Chris Martin:  First of all, thank you for getting the album so well. It feels so good when someone is like, does this mean this? and I’m like yes. That comes from a book by Shel Silverstein called The Missing Piece and it’s the idea that nobody is our missing piece, we shouldn’t have a missing piece, we’re all whole and ermmm……he wrote this beautiful cartoon book about that where, at the end, two O’s roll off together. I thought that was a nice way of looking at things. Whether you’re 15 or you are 55 or 80, it’s like, well I’m whole, I don’t have a missing piece, you’ve just got to find that wholeness within. Does that make any sense? I’m trying to think of a movie equivalent but I can’t.

Nick Barili: Bookwise it reminds me a little bit of the Alchemist.

Chris Martin:  That’s a great book and that was an influence also. The Alchemist, in fact one of the titles for the album was Alchemy, before we decided on Ghost Stories and that book is amazing but that’s what it is. That’s what “O” is. What you need is there, it’s in you. You just had to have the right people to help you get it out.

Nick Barili: Thank you for taking us on a journey through Ghost Stories with you. It’s rare we get to see artists being this vulnerable in conversation and also share some of their spiritual inspirations.

Chris Martin:  I need to say this on camera but even I feel nervous to talk about this spiritual element of the music but I really firmly believe in it and it’s really helped me in my whole life so I wanna talk about it so whether it’s not really what you do, as a frontman, I shouldn’t be talking about it but also, I want to so I have, now it’s too late since I’ve done it but i’m proud I’ve done it haha!”

Chris Martin x Nick Barili

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