We’re impressed by your buff new physique.
Well, in your 30s you can’t let nature take its course.
You’re grappling with your mortality, or you’re grappling with putting on weight?
Not putting on weight. It’s just there’s something about the Born in the USA–period Bruce where he hit the gym and looked hungry again. That’s how we feel.
Both you and Lady Gaga have referenced Springsteen as inspiration for your new records. We wouldn’t have seen that coming.
No. Bruce in the past 10 years has turned a whole new generation on to him. And it’s great in your 30s to discover a new favorite band, and at the same time, in the same decade, discover so much about Jay-Z and Kanye. It’s been a nice two avenues of inspiration.
So how did the Rihanna collaboration on Mylo Xyloto, “Princess of China,” come about? Because you’ve name-checked Beyoncé so many times in the past, we would have expected her to turn up on the album.
Well, I did write a song for Beyoncé, but it got rejected by her A&R people. And the one I wrote for Rihanna didn’t get rejected. It was when she was doing Rated R, but it took so long—there’s still this tribalism in music where we’re rock and you’re pop and you’re hip-hop, and it sometimes takes a while to get across those barriers. Whereas a 14-year-old doesn’t even see those barriers. So once we started thinking like that, it was, “Who cares if we used to be shelved in different places in Tower Records?” She’s fucking rad, and I love listening to her. It’s my favorite real singing on the album, ’cause it isn’t me.
It’s great to hear her sing straight, without Auto-Tune, but you really go for it on this record as well.
Ah, you’re being worryingly nice. I’m a very suspicious man these days.
On our last record we had very high highs and very low lows, becoming more successful in lots of places and coming under attack from new kinds of enemies. Being sued and all that kind of thing. And it was all bollocks. So we’re very driven to sort of prove ourselves all over again. It’s given us a tougher gang mentality.
Do you think of your band as a gang or a family?
It’s one and the same, especially if it’s an Italian gang. But I could never be in a van with my real brother; he would kill me in the first three days. My younger brother, Al, is a metalhead. He got me into AC/DC and Pantera, but he doesn’t want to go anywhere near a piano.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
I’m lucky I’ve had so much great advice from my heroes…starting with my dad saying never give up. [Producer] Brian Eno told us don’t worry so much. Will [Champion, Coldplay’s drummer] got me to cut my hair for the last album, because he said I looked like Art Garfunkel’s ugly cousin. He said if I came out with massive curls no one would take it seriously. I said, “They won’t take it seriously anyways.”
Do you have any scars that tell a story?
I have a big scar on my neck, a Harry Potter lightning bolt. I had surgery when I was 11—I had a lump removed—but it was in the west of England, where surgery was like a pitchfork and some bailing twine. When I came back, my dad was like, “Fuck, what have they done?” I love it, though. I have a lot of scars on my eyebrows from microphone stands, and I have one on my knuckle from punching a desk.
What did the desk do to you?
I was in a fight when I was about 12, and I was trying to punch someone’s head, but they moved out of the way. That was when I learned I was not too good of a fighter. I was like, “This is no way to impress girls. I’m going to start writing ballads.”
What’s the strangest place you’ve ever woken up?
I woke up once somewhere south of Chicago in a children’s playground at about five in the morning. I have a lot of trouble sleeping, and this is when we used to fight as a band, and I definitely remember taking too many Ambien, but I can’t quite work out how I got there. I think I must’ve done that thing where you take Ambien and you start wandering around but then you just fall asleep somewhere. I woke up in this playground, but it was really quite near our hotel. That’s not really a strange place.
That is strange, but if you’ve got a Brazilian supermodel story, we’ll take that as well.
Well, I woke up next to an Oscar winner one time, and we got married. But the first time, that was pretty strange.