The world might know Simon Pegg as the star of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Star Trek and Mission Impossible III, but we know him as an honorary member of Coldplay. With his terrific new autobiography, Nerd Do Well, just released, we thought now was a good time to ask him some questions. Happily, he was kind enough to answer them.
Hello Simon, how are you?
Very well, thank you. A little frazzled but still smiling.
It’s just over ten years since you met Coldplay. What do you remember about that night at London’s Millennium Dome?
I didn’t want to go. My wife was looking after the band Toploader for Sony and I wasn’t really a fan. In the end I decided to tag along just to see Chris and the boys having watched them play the NME stage at V2000. I had no idea that a year later I’d be playing alongside them on the main stage. Chris came up to me after the Dome show and said he was a fan of the sketch show Big Train which saved me having to go up to him to say I was a fan of Yellow. Eight years later I played with them on a slightly bigger stage at the same venue.
Simon performs with Coldplay at London’s O2 in December 2008
And you’ve been friends with them ever since?
Yeah, he introduced me to the band and the rest is history. It was immediately apparent that they were destined for greatness. Not just because they stole the show but because they seemed possessed of this quiet determination. The sort of concentrated professionalism you see in older, more successful bands, the band they were to become. They had it from the beginning. This wasn’t a game or a doss or a way to meet girls for them. You could tell they were serious. They’ve never lost that. It’s why they’re still around whilst everyone else on that bill has disappeared and why they will still be around 10 years from now.
Did you always think they’d reach the heights that they have?
I had faith in them, but it’s hard to have faith in the industry because it’s so fickle. It was clear they had what it takes though. There was passion and an almost studious resolve not to rest on their laurels. Chris has always had this tendency towards self effacement. He was apologising for Yellow back in 2000 because he was worried they’d played it too much. Ten years later people still go crazy when they hear those first few chords. I don’t think he’s stopped apologising for it though.
Of course, you’ve gone on to become a floating member of the band. Is it fun being in Coldplay?
I love it. Chris will ring up and say, ‘Come and play tonight’ and I will get nervous and tetchy and insist on some rehearsal which we’ll do at the sound check. The boys will be incredibly amiable and laid back as though playing in front of tens of thousands of people is an everyday thing. Of course for them, it is. I am always amazed at how in the zone they are before the show. They never seem nervous and yet they are anything but laid back on stage. They seem perpetually at 100%. That makes me even more nervous when I blow into that harmonica. I have a lot to live up to.
Have you ever introduced yourself to a stranger by telling them you’re in Coldplay?
All the time. If I don’t get recognised for my own work and get asked about what I do for a living, I say I’m in Coldplay. It’s always good to have something to fall back on.
You’ve appeared live with the band quite a few times over the years – at the Astoria, the O2, V Festival and even Wembley Stadium. Which was your best gig?
I loved doing the O2 Arena. It was a huge venue but still managed to be intimate, particularly as I appeared on the C stage for the ‘up close and personal’ section. I played the middle eight on Green Eyes and then we did Jingle Bells and wore silly hats because it was Christmas. I got my own Viva La Vida outfit and really felt like an honorary member. They’ve had a sense of looking like a band for a long time, the first time I played with them, at V2001, they asked me to wear a black shirt to remain in keeping with the band aesthetic. On the third night at the O2, I announced my decision to leave the band to the crowd and mentioned there was a helpline for anyone who found my actions distressing.
And what’s the best Coldplay show you’ve ever watched from the crowd?
I have seen so many. I’ve lost count of the times I have seen them live. I guess my favourite would have to be when they did a gig in the corner of my local pub to raise money for the Whittington Hospital baby unit. Guy was poorly that night so it was just Chris, Jonny and Will, all on guitars. It was post Rush of Blood so they were already a global phenomenon. To see them banging out an acoustic version of Livin’ on a Prayer in the corner of a little North London boozer was a real treat.
You’ve also appeared on a Coldplay recording – supplying backing vocals to Scientist B-side 1′ 36". How did that come about? And are you proud of it?
I think I was just hanging out at the studio and Chris roped me in to shout ‘YEAH!’ at the end of the song. I am inordinately proud of it.
Legend has it you also came up with the name for another B-side, I Bloom Blaum? If so, please explain.
No, the song already existed and was named by Chris. The title is Icelandic for ‘the blue people’. It was something Chris would sing when he picked up the guitar he keeps at my house. He played it one night and I fell in love with it straight away, so that on subsequent occasions I would insist he play it. When the band were putting the Rush of Blood singles together I suggested they include I Bloom Blaum as a B-side somewhere. Lo and behold, they did.
And you’ve even written songs with Chris. Is A+E a lost Coldplay classic?
In my opinion it’s their best song ever. It’s a sort of public information song about the benefits of going to the casualty department when you have an accident. The genius of it is that it is written entirely in the keys A and E.
Chris also made you Godfather to his first child. Speaking from several years of experience, what makes a good Godparent?
Chris is a great godfather to my daughter. It’s about being a good influence and a fun presence. I conferred those duties upon Chris because I thought he would be inspirational as a person and a musician. He bought her a beautiful vintage 1968 Epiphone guitar for her first Christmas. He’s doing well so far.
With the band currently locked away in the studio, can you give us any clues about how album #5 is sounding?
I haven’t heard anything yet and I as much as I’d love to, I respect the creative process they have developed over the years. When Rush of Blood and X&Y was being recorded I heard a lot of stuff as it was being written. Me and Ian McCulloch were the first people outside the band to hear Clocks and I will never forget Chris bouncing around his living room to Politik, the first time he played it to my wife and I. Nowadays the process is less communal, they hole up in the Bakery and keep their cards close to their chest. I’m sure if I asked Chris he’d play me something, but I figure when he’s ready he’ll turn up at my house with a CD and his jazz shoes. I actually have a bunch of rare stuff he gave me in the early days. Live performances, demos and early versions of well known songs. I’m hanging onto those.
Meanwhile, your new autobiography, Nerd Do Well, has just been published. Are you pleased with it?
Yes, I think it turned out great. Chris was one of the first people to read it, actually. He features in it so I thought it was only fair. It also features a fiction story which has me as a rugged, sexually adventurous superhero, just in case my real life gets boring.
And what else are you busy with?
John Landis’s Burke & Hare is in cinemas now. I’m playing Reepicheep the mouse in the new Narnia film which comes out in December and on Feb 18th, 2011, prepare to meet Paul, written by myself and Nick Frost and starring Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver and Chris’s mother-in-law, Blythe Danner.
Finally, we always ask our interviewees what their favourite Coldplay song is. What’s yours?
That’s a really tough one. It changes all the time. At the moment I love Glass of Water from the Prospekt’s March EP because it’s banging.
Simon’s autobiography, Nerd Do Well, is out now. Click here to buy it from Amazon.