On the first single, “Violet Hill,” you sing about a fox becoming a god and a “carnival of idiots on show.” Was the song inspired by Fox News?
No one’s got that before, no one in the band, no one. The first line in that song is the first line of any song we ever wrote. Years ago, when Guy [Berryman, bassist] heard that first line and that first little melody – “It was a long and dark December” – he said, “OK, I’ll join the band.” But we just didn’t have the other 49 lines until last year. And then one day I was watching Bill O’Reilly, and I was like, “I know how to finish that song.”
My best friend, Tim, he’s a musician in a band called the High Wire, but he also has to work in a bar. He was having trouble with his boss, and it made me think that so many people spend their lives being told what to do by people that they just don’t like. So it was that idea, and watching Bill O’Reilly, and all these words just came out.
On “Death and All His Friends,” there’s this great topical line: “I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge.”
That’s Brian Eno’s line. I had this blank spot in the lyrics: “I don’t want to battle from beginning to end. Something, something, something. I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends.” So we were all having a sandwich, and it’s like. “I don’t want to watch too many episodes of Friends? No, that won’t do. I don’t want to listen to Radiohead‘s The Bends? No. I don’t want to eat any Jerry and Ben’s? No.” And then Brian came out with the line, and he was like, “I quite like that. You should use that.”
It does speak to the state of the world.
And it’s fucking true, man. You can see it everywhere. It’s like, when are we going to learn? We’re never going to learn, is the answer. It’s an ultimate bummer, and the last humans on Earth will really kick themselves. You and I are living in the time when revenge is the most dangerous thing, because the stakes are so high and the weaponry is so advanced.
Do you see any reason for hope?
As soon as Barack Obama becomes president, people will be a bit more optimistic. If Obama was to be president, it would immediately change the whole outside world’s opinion of America overnight. America’s public image at the moment is really bad. And it’s a bummer, because over half of Americans are the coolest people on the planet. But they’ve been so misrepresented.
Do you think he can win?
I do. But I think that, really, the fair thing would be, in electing the American president, to let everyone in the world vote, because it affects all of us. If there was a world vote, there’s no question who would win. No question. Of course, Barack Obama is human like the rest of us. He’s going to fuck up. But I’m just trying to look on the bright side. What’s the point of being negative? Where does that get us? It gets you your own radio chat show, but it doesn’t really do anything for the world.
You’ve taken heat for doing things like writing a symbol for fair trade on your hands.
One of our big conversations that we always have in this band is, we don’t see rock & roll as being about coke-taking, leather-trouser-wearing rebellion, because that to us is not rebellion anymore. The spirit of rock & roll is freedom. It’s about following what you believe in and not caring what anyone else says. And if that means writing something on your hand, then you’ve got to write something on your hand. It doesn’t matter if you don’t look as cool as the Ramones – you’re never going to, anyway. So I know that we’ll be ridiculed for this and look stupid for that. But as long as we believe in what we’re doing, we can’t apologize for it.
You grew up in a rural part of southwest England, in a pretty religious environment. How did that affect you?
I grew up with the prospect of heaven and hell looming ever large. What I grew up with was, if you even think about boobs, you’re going to hell. It was drilled in: These things are wrong. It was black and white, the way it still is for millions of right-wing Christians in the middle of America. I spent a year thinking I would be punished if I sang “Sympathy for the Devil,” by the Rolling Stones.
Punished as in go to hell?
Yeah. When I was about 14, the first band I was in wanted to play “Black Magic Woman.” And I was like, “I can’t sing that, because I will get bad karma.” As a kid, you don’t know any better. But then as you go on, the cracks begin to appear and you’re like, “I’m not sure about this hell thing. And I’m not sure whether it’s really wrong to be gay, and I’m not sure whether we’re right and they’re wrong.”