The importance of being Chris Martin

The main men behind Coldplay and Kinski share the same name but differ in degree of earnestness.

FOR TWO GUYS with the same name who each front increasingly successful bands, the leader of England's Coldplay and the leader of Seattle's Kinski have surprisingly different outlooks. But they're not twins, after all; they both just happen to be named Chris Martin.


Showbox, Friday, February 9

When I speak with Chris Martin of Coldplay during a tour stop in Melbourne, Australia, the sinewy-voiced singer sounds like he could use a good and well-deserved nap. Asked where he'd take a holiday given the chance, he replies, "I would stay here to be honest. What is there not to like? Apart from sharks and snakes, it's pretty much perfect."

It's a straight answer, although one with hints of metaphor. You might say Martin is besieged. His band became the United Kingdom's fastest rising rock outfit by mid-2000, earning adulation from fans and paparazzi-like scrutiny from the British press as Coldplay's quietly powerful full-length debut, Parachutes, topped the charts. (Tastemaker and Creation Records founder famously derided the band as playing "music for bed wetters.") Later in the year, North American label Nettwerk, a subsidiary of Capitol Records, released the disc in the United States and secured placement of the lead single, "Yellow," as the theme song for ABC's fall marketing campaign. They've now been tagged across the Western world as the next Radiohead, a distinction like being called the next Nirvana in 1992.

It's been a dizzyingly rapid climb for the four members of Coldplay—Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman, and drummer Will Champion—who met just a few years ago as students at University College London. Martin sounds worse for the wear. When I ask if he's sick of any of the specific inquiries he receives during his daily docket of interviews, he sighs. "No, I've developed immunity to certain questions."

Such smothering attention is a problem most musicians wouldn't mind confronting. It is, after all, the result of praise for Parachutes, an album with a slow-burning fuse, an album that catches listeners off guard. It's deceptively serene and misleadingly hopeful—"We live in a beautiful world," Martin sings at the emotional high point of the opening song, "Don't Panic"—but hidden in its twists are mildly ominous signs. Martin's creeping falsetto, teamed with chiming guitar riffs, has a lulling pull, nearly stopping otherwise surging songs like "Shiver" and "Trouble" dead until the rhythm refires.

Not so much music for bed wetters as music that sounds strikingly refreshing amid the tumult created by so many of Coldplay's peers. Now that they're sharing space on American radio playlists with the likes of Limp Bizkit, Korn, and relative upstarts like Mudvayne, this foursome of English guys in their early 20s have a rare chance to leave an imprint on the US. Considering this, Martin sounds less oppressed and suddenly wise beyond his age. "I sometimes feel as if we've been around for 20 years and as if we should play like we've been around for 20 years," he says. "A lot of people don't realize that we're only on our first record. We can't be all things to all people straightaway."

A lot of people are realizing that Coldplay are one of rock's sharpest new bands. Their upcoming first-ever Seattle appearance sold out the 1,000-capacity Showbox hours after tickets went on sale. Parachutes is edging toward becoming a major hit. At the moment, Chris Martin's band is selling more than 20,000 records a week in the US, enough to put Coldplay at 61 on the Top 100 Billboard chart.

ANOTHER CHRIS MARTIN'S band will be extremely lucky to sell more than 20,000 copies of their new album, period. Kinski's Be Gentle with the Warm Turtle is a mostly instrumental record that falls somewhat squarely into the psychedelic rock niche, a niche that doesn't generate as much hype as it does noise. When it's released later this month on the small but respected Seattle label Pacifico, the album should expose this band of beloved locals to a modest national audience, with radio airplay confined to college stations.

Nevertheless, this Chris Martin sounds content with his band's status. Formed three years ago when the guitarist and his bass-playing friend Lucy Atkinson discovered that Dave Weeks, their bartender at their favorite watering hole—the Pacific Inn in Wallingford—played drums, the trio followed a traditional path from practice room to playing live to recording.

"When we started, I didn't want to push it," Martin recalls. "We played for eight months in the [practice] space before we had a show, and all I did was call a couple of club people I knew to get some shows. We weren't working it or trying to make connections. It's been a nice, natural progression."

After Kinski self-released an assured, pulsating debut, Space Launch for Frenchie, the shows came quicker, and audiences began to connect with the guitar-led vicissitudes, from gentle swells to throbbing crescendos. The band added a second guitarist, Matthew Reid Schwartz, and signed their first label deal.

With an Eno-esque title and the type of atmospherics summoned regularly by more established peers like Bardo Pond and Sonic Youth, Be Gentle with the Warm Turtle is a remarkable accomplishment for a young band. Martin and Schwartz evoke an array of musical landscapes, from the genteel front-porch interplay of "Montgomery" to the searing sway and jolting hooks of "One Ear in the Sun."

Slated for a headlining record release show at the Crocodile on February 16 and an opening slot for moody Scottish rockers Mogwai in March, Kinski are entering their most frenzied period to date, though Martin hardly seems fazed.

"I think we've been super fortunate because we didn't expect anything. We didn't know if we would ever get beyond playing Tuesday nights at whatever club," he says, then adds a thought that could apply to either Chris Martin. "The music hasn't been easy, but the acceptance has been better than expected."

Kinski play their CD release show next Friday, February 16, at the Crocodile.

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