15 Minutes with Chris Martin of Coldplay

It's always nice when the good ones cut through the dross. Case in point: the admirable ascension of London's Coldplay, which has built an appreciative following with its Gold-selling debut album, Parachutes (Nettwerk/Capitol). This disc has all the makings of a future classic as its songs swing from light balladry to intense jamming in the turn of a friendly chord. It's thrilling to hear how beautifully singer and chief songwriter Chris Martin's falsetto wavers during the quieter passages of songs like "Shiver" and the radio hit "Yellow" before he and his bandmates turn on the crunch.

Martin, 24, politely rebuffs any accolades, though: "I think our strength is not being sure if we're ever good enough, and so we're always trying to write a better song - or get a better suit." This interview was conducted via e-mail while Martin rested his voice between tour dates in Europe before Coldplay hit U.S. shores for a summer tour. (Happy landings, gents.) - Mike Mettler

Did you ever dream of having your record received so favorably in the U.S.? What does America represent to you? America is always the stuff of legend to British bands because it's just so massive. But I'm glad we can go [on tour there] since all of our favorite music comes from there, like Bob Dylan and the Pixies. I always imagined myself supporting Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden with Woody Allen on clarinet and Muhammad Ali handling security. Also, although it sounds cheesy, I just read On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and I can't wait [to go back to the States].

Speaking of Dylan, any perspective on his turning 60 in May? Well, Bob Dylan is king of the music world, and I can't go on about him enough. Age 60 is no problem; I don't think he'd worry about it, so I won't either. He's so good that I always sound like a tacky infomercial when I talk about him. But I used to think he was rubbish until I saw [the 1967 documentary] Don't Look Back, and then I realized I was a fool.

What makes good songs good? Songwriting is the crux, but the best records - from Radiohead and Björk to Tom Waits and Neil Young - are those where the sounds fit the song. There's no use putting amazing techno sounds on a song that just needs to be played on a blues harp; similarly, there's no point in having a nice oboe sound on a Nirvana record. But I'm not pretending to be an expert, because I sometimes hear our stuff and think, "Ecch."

What's your take on MP3? I think MP3 is great because you can hear stuff for yourself and then decide whether you want to buy it. I think Napster is great, too. People who want to buy records always will, anyway. I think there's a load of nonsense talked about it; cassettes have been around for ages, and nobody's been too damaged by [home-made cassette copies].

Has Coldplay been directly affected by downloading? I don't think we've done anything but gained by it; the only time I'd ever have a problem is if there was stuff on the Net that we hadn't wanted anybody to hear. That's the only bad thing about it.