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Back from a touring hiatus, Coldplay pledges to make performances more sustainable

By Michel Martin
Coldplay (James Marcus Haney)

If you're a fan of live music, you already know your happy place is back. Many artists and bands are back on tour for the first time in more than two years, including Coldplay. The group's "Music of the Spheres" tour is Coldplay's first since 2016, but the band's hiatus from touring actually started before the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the release of 2019's Everyday Life, Coldplay decided not to tour, citing environmental concerns. But now the band is back and pledging to make this current tour "as sustainable and low carbon as possible."

Coldplay's lead singer Chris Martin and lead guitarist Jonny Buckland recently spoke with All Things Considered's Michel Martin about how the band plans on meeting this ambitious goal.

The following interview has been condensed and edited. To listen to the broadcast version of this story, use the audio player at the top of the page.

Michel Martin, All Things Considered: This is your eighth tour and it's your first tour in six years. You started rethinking touring and it wasn't because of COVID-19, it was because of your own concerns about sustainability. Start us off by [saying] how you started thinking about it in that way?

Chris Martin: We're blessed that we get to play in big buildings and stadiums, and that's an amazing thing in terms of the human connection. But when you're leaving or you're arriving... there's just so much energy around it, literally and figuratively. We were becoming aware on our last tour that it does have a big impact when you do an event in a city and everyone has to travel to get there. We're very fortunate being able to experiment with certain things. We should think about how next time we tour, we could do things in a slightly more thoughtful way environmentally.

Then we said that in an interview on the BBC and we thought that was kind of a silly thing to have said out loud. But what happened was that all these inventors and thinkers reached out to us and said, we built this and we've designed a floor that creates energy when you jump up and down and we've got these batteries. It's become sort of like an expo for new technology in terms of transport and in terms of powering an event. I would say we're still in the infancy, really, because it's a long way to go.

This is a massive undertaking. You're addressing every aspect of a tour, even calling on fans to use low carbon transportation to get to the show. I can see where it's exciting to try something new, but I'm wondering what some of the conversations were like among you?

Jonny Buckland: When Chris did this interview where he set our goal out in 2019, our initial reaction was like —

Martin: You idiot!

Buckland: Oh my god, is that even possible? But then so much information started coming in and you start to feel a bit more positive about the likelihood of being able to do it. But it's still extremely challenging. The fact that we still have to fly is a problem, and therefore we sort of try and source the most sustainable fuel we can for flying, but obviously it's not a perfect solution by any stretch.

This is a painful question, especially for your fans. But did you ever consider not touring at all anymore?

Martin: Of course we did. Ultimately the best thing we could all do for the environment is either disappear from the planet altogether or not go anywhere as humans. And so we have to acknowledge a certain — I don't know if you call it selfishness or placing a certain value on other elements of being a human, which is connection and music. Our critics could easily say that would be a much better option and preferable for them. But we decided we really want to tour and we want to show a different way of touring is possible, because even if we decided not to tour, lots of people still would be touring.

So you're hoping, in a way, to set an example?

Martin: We're just trying to show what might be possible and not just possible from a sort of philanthropic motive — we want to prove that it makes good business sense. We understand that not everyone might lean as left as we do. We want to make it make sense, even if you're a hardcore capitalist.

What are you most excited about?

Martin: We have a bunch of bicycles and then two areas of kinetic flooring, and those are the most fun because everyone can be involved. Every half an hour or so we play "Jump Around" by House of Pain and people create energy, and then during the show people are on the bikes. I think that's the most uplifting because you can really see the people power of it, just as our life as a band is powered by our audience. It's literally giving us the electricity we need, or at least part of it.

Buckland: SAP built an app for us which helps people plan their journeys more sustainably. Which sort of sounds a bit boring, but in a way could be easily the most effective thing, even if it's a tiny effect per person. There [are] so many people making these journeys, the effect could actually be enormous.

Martin: What I'm really excited about is who might be at the concert [and] sees something working and then implements it in their school or shopping mall, or is 9 years old and at the concert and then in 10 years is going to be running the City Council. You just don't know the ripple effect of these kinds of things.

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