After touring’s "ying" of constant motion, noisy crowds and repetition, studio work’s "yang" brings stillness, quiet isolation and a torrent of creativity. I’ve been in the corner of the control room at the Bakery for the past couple of weeks watching the first foundations being dug for the next batch of songs.
Regular readers will remember that whilst we were in Miami a couple of months ago, Chris spent some time in a studio putting down new song ideas. Well, for the past couple of weeks, the fellas and Brian Eno have been working their way through these sketches.
When I say "the fellas", there is one person notably absent from these sessions. Chris has been banned from the studio for these first two weeks. Now, before the rumour mill cranks its way excitedly into life, this does not indicate any kind of split in the camp. This is an experiment of Brian’s (a phrase I feel I may have a hard time not over-using as the project progresses). Rather than have Chris’s demo recordings come in fully-formed, leading the songs in a particular direction, Will, Guy and Jonny are constructing their own musical underpinning with little idea of what Chris had in mind. For many of the tracks, they hear nothing but the vocal track.
The fact that this is such a crazy way of going about things seems to encourage them to go off in deliberately strange and adventurous directions. Often, they come in first thing in the morning and listen to Chris’s idea once, before going out into the live room and working up something based purely on how the song "felt" to them on first listen, paying little heed to what chords he chose or how the melody sat.
The absence of the immediately recognisable piano and voice makes the sounds coming through the speakers seem very fresh, new and exciting. When Brian makes the move to his laptop and brings Chris’s voice back in, the familiar Coldplay melodies and emotions are loud and clear, but the canvas they are set against has become wider, more vivid and even more daring.
Will, ever the multi-instrumentalist is all over the studio. He spends a good deal of time at his laptop (indeed, one of my favourite tracks from these sessions comes from a drum loop he brings into the studio early on. It’s like the backing track from Lost! has been struck down with a very heavy fever and has taken off on safari through a surrealist painting). He’s also on the pianos and Chris’s guitar for much of the time. Occasionally, he’ll even have a go on the drums.
Guy too, is clearly loving the creative playground that the studio offers. As bass players often do, he seems to have a great overall view of the songs from the inside out. His innate sense of what might work or what might be required allows him to contribute a huge amount by way of ideas for directions to head off in. Jonny has dug up the old Moog synth that Guy used to play on the X&Y tour and has hooked it up to his guitar rig. The sounds he coaxes range from the bizarre and the ugly to the most downright gorgeous things that you’ll ever hear.
Everyone is away from their assigned roles and it’s as though playing the "wrong" instruments has given them the freedom to play fearlessly like kids – like a new band that’s just got together. The results are quite astounding.
So what of Mr Martin in all of this? Somewhat predictably, he’s not slouched on a sofa in front of daytime television. He’s up the road at another studio pouring out songs in a writing project with another artist.
As if to underline the point that despite being apart, the band vibe is as strong as ever, a phone call comes towards the end of the first week. Chris has a song that’s not quite coming together and what he really needs is a kick-ass rhythm section. The fellas decide that Friday afternoon shall be a field trip and they all troop off up there for a nosey at what he’s up to.
This little section of recording marks the first time I’ve been around whilst the chaps are working with Brian Eno. Watching things progress is most interesting. I remember on the first day, looking through the glass from the control room as they all played in the live room. Here are four guys, one of whom first became known in the seventies, yet looking around the room we have Jonny at a Moog synth, Will playing a Fender Telecaster and Guy on a vintage Bass. Brian is sat at a fold down table with a laptop and a tiny keyboard looking for all the world like some hip laptop DJ – whilst the others could be from any band in the last thirty-odd years.
As things progress though, it becomes clear that the laptop is merely a convenient tool. Brian’s instrument it seems, is upon his shoulders. His ears and his brain are the things which resonate most strongly when the music begins. He can listen to a short section which shows promise and cut directly to what needs doing to untangle the mess and allow the ideas to shine.
The role of a producer can be a little unclear to those outside the studio. Watching them work though, it’s clear that he’s not pushing or pulling them in any one direction – he seems far more interested in encouraging maximum exploration. He seems though, to be in some kind of helicopter that allows him to make some very erudite suggestions as to when it might be best to plot an alternative route around an obstacle, or when pressing on is going to lead to somewhere quite extraordinary.
Oh yes – and singing. He loves the singing. They’ve been singing up a storm in here. Four part harmonies stacked upon each other over and over. Standing five foot from four voices harmonising with such joy and skill is quite simply a treat.
I’ve no doubt that there will be vast amounts of work done between what I’m hearing right now and what is released as the finished product, whenever that may happen. What I do know is that there is enough fuel here to make it one hell of a ride.