A few years ago, Coldplay's Chris Martin was feeling "depressed and overwhelmed." He was in the final stages of his 10-year marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow, and he felt increasingly insecure about the music he was making. "I wasn't looking at things in a healthy way," he says.
Then a friend gave him some books, including Man's Search for Meaning, a memoir by psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, and a volume by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. Martin says one poem, "The Guest House" — which suggests "inviting in" dark thoughts — helped him get through the period around his divorce. "It kind of changed my life," he says. "It says that everything that happens to you is OK. The idea is to accept what happens to you and not run away from anything — and trust that things will blossom and become colorful."
Martin features the poem in a psychedelic spoken-word section of Coldplay's seventh album, A Head Full of Dreams (due December 4th), which is all about his road back from anxiety and heartbreak. "It's all true," Martin says. "It's about love and acceptance and embracing what happens to you. It's quite a hippie album. All of our records were a journey to get to this one."
Martin says that Coldplay's last album, 2014's spare Ghost Stories, was a "smaller record" — deliberately. "It frees you up to do whatever you want next — just look at Bruce Springsteen's career." Instead of touring behind Ghost Stories, the band stayed in the studio. "I was being sent so many songs from the universe that I said, 'I've got to just keep recording,'" says Martin.
This time, Coldplay ratcheted up the ambition. They started work with Stargate, the Norwegian producers behind hits by Beyoncé and Rihanna. Nothing was off the table. "We wanted to marry all the music that we love, from Drake to Oasis," says Martin. "There was a feeling that we don't have anything to lose. We're very comfortable now with the fact that we're not for everybody."
The producers were demanding. They required demos for every song ("We felt unsigned again," says Martin), and the members had to unanimously agree on which songs to record. "For every song that made it, eight or nine didn't," Martin says.
Coldplay were encouraged to recruit outsiders; Noel Gallagher plays guitar on "Up & Up," and Beyoncé guests on two tracks, including the club stomper "Hymn for the Weekend." (Blue Ivy even gets a backing-vocal credit.) But the most surprising guest of all was Paltrow, who sings backup on the farewell ballad "Everglow." "We just did it in the studio one day," Martin says after a long pause. "It was just a friendly kind of thing."
Martin's favorite moment on the album sounds the least like Coldplay: "X Marks the Spot," where he spits rhymes through a vocoder over drum loops. "Most of the instruments on that song didn't exist when we made our first album," Martin says. "People who want us to be a rock band might be disappointed, but I don't think we really are a rock band."
Last year, Martin sent fans into a panic when he suggested Coldplay's next album would be their last. "I have no idea what's going to happen," he says now. "If one day we make another record, then that's wonderful." Then he clarifies: "We're definitely not splitting up."
The band will tour the U.S. next summer, before bringing its show around the world. "I think it will feature some jazz fusion for six or seven hours," Martin jokes. "I don't know if it's going to be wildly different from what you might imagine — [it will be] all our best songs with some awesome production. If you're a Coldplay fan, you'll love it. And if you don't like us? Don't worry about it. It's OK."