Absolutely Supermassive (2006 Death and Taxes article)

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I'm scheduled to meet Muse at the Rivington Hotel, a Lower East Side rock star mainstay, but to my dismay the three are nowhere to be found. I briefly sweep the grounds, nibble on some Chex-Mix, and then begin to bug the concierge, who assures me the band is not staying here. So I ride the elevator up one flight to what appears to be yet another lobby with yet another concierge. Rather than have another ambiguous metro-sexual talk down to me ("Nope, I'm not seeing anything that says the are here...sure you got the right place?") I elect to stare out the gigantic, streak-free windows onto the rest of the streetm which, despite the hotel's luxuriousness, is still a gigantic shit-hole. I contemplate my predicament, for a journalist with a dead cell phone is no good to anybody.

I've given up, and taken the elevator back to the ground floor only to find to fantastically dreassed Brits relaxing in the lobby, drinking tea. Their publicist signals me over, apologizes for the delay, and asks if I wouldn't mind waiting for a moment. Holy shit: I'm interrupting teatime.

The boys banter back and forth in a dialect I swear is not the same as mine, while I mention to their exeptionally hot groomer that they look great. "Oh," she smiles. "They did most of it themselves."

A waiter comes to our side of the lobby and cleans up the depleted porcelain cups of tea and lemon. I've only listened to Black Holes And Revelations, a great record, three or four times before today, and while the boys are out and about having their photos takem I try to jog my memory for things to talk about.

Bassist Chris Wolstenhome and drummer Dominic Howard are sitting this interview out, agreeing to leave "press duties" up to guitarist, vocalist and bandleader Matthew Bellamy. I'm shocked that such a huge voice comes from this friendly little guy. From Devon, England, he's pale but exuberant, wearing only the slightest bit of mascara and foundation, residue I'm sure from all the photo shoots he's sat, stood and posed through today.

D+T: So, doin' good today?
Yep, fine.

You a fan of New York?

I love it. We started making Black Holes And Revelations in the South of France, a few weeks of writing songs and getting ideas together. But was actually did the majority of the recording here in Electric Lady Studios. It was good to get a chance to hang out and live a bit of the New York life for a couple of weeks.

How was the Electric Lady experience?

It was great, yeah-it was good to be around the ghosts of the good old days.

There is an unexpectedness to Black Holes that I wanted to talk to you about. You are known in the States for these powerful and haunting rock songs. The power and the haunt are still there, but it seems you've bridged out more to the ethereal. Billy Corgan [of Smashing Pumpkins] said of his last record, "No one has melded rock, classical and electronic the way I have." I think your record is better than his...

[Laughter] Did he really say that?

Indeed he did, very much so. You had the option of writing Absolution II but you chose to branch out.

We thougt it was time to branch out a little bit and explore some new levels-expose different sides of ourselves that we really didn't have the chance to on the last couple of albums. I think we managed to bring in some new edges to the songs. Some of those things, like you said, were the electronic stuff and some of the groove side of certain beats became more important to us.

You guys often refer to Muse as a drum n' bass project.

Well in the past we never paid much attention to that-the groove of the song. So certain songs we changed around a little bit, like "Starlight" and "Black Holes." They kind of have more of a groove base, a stronger rhythm section. And the three songs at the end of album are heavily influenced by South European folk music and flamenco guitar-Ennio Morricone, South Italian kind of music. So a little bit came from there, and I think some of the ethnic things we touched upon on previous albums we pushed further. The thing of this album was to not hold back and not have any fear about trying stuff, even if it was completely out of the ordinary and took you somewhere different. I think we managed to catch something different for the band on this one.

Were you aware of 2004 and 2005-the big success-while you were writing this record? You must have felt you needed to follow up on Absolution's success.

Well, I think that's the thing, I think that because we had the convenience of working independently for the first three albums, then going on to a major label-because of all we'd done on first three albums, we basically kept our independence. We've got our own imprint label and we maintain control over it. Part of the recording process was to keep a big distance, to keep the industry expectations of you, and the managers, away, because they just fuck it up basically. It's best to, when making an album, to try and tread some new ground.

While other people just want to hear what works.

It's important to stay away from people around you who are looking for the commercial aspects. You need to get away from it and not really worry too much, really. It takes a few months of being off the road and going back to a normal way of life because you start to forget the life you've had on the road. And what the success feels like. After a few months you're back to where you were before it all happened. This is the biggest break we've had between albums, and the longest period we've had between recording, so I think really our mind frame is quite far away from any pressures, if you like, or any of the expectations. I managed to find a relative freedom away from it.

Finding that relative freedom gets hard harder...

[Laughs] Right, right.

So when you're dealing with other people's expectations, how do you manage to meet your own? Did you?

I think so. Our main intention was to not repeat ourselves; not do the same thing again.

I got into your band before Absolution became big in the States because you took out a band called Cave In...

Oh yeah, yeah.

They were a next big thing indie band that never happened...

Hmmm.

Interestingly enough, here in the US, the hip kids who shun radio initially found out about you guys through the radio, and then dug into Muse. Not really something that happens, just like finding success in Brit pop and American mainstream, which you have.

In regard bands that are quite traditional in British rock music to be the ones that do something outside the norm. Whether it be bands like Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Queen-I think historically English bands have always been looking to do something outside the norm. I think things got a bit weird in Brit pop because the music started to try to sound like something typically British-sounding.

And that defeats the purpose?

Well to me, the typical British sound is nothing like that. To me, the typical British sound is something very out there and unusual-on the frings, if you like. Whereas the whole Oasis thing went down a more nationalist type sound, which is not something I really relate to. I've always been into music outside of England and English culture as much English cuture influences us. I think it's interesting: There are two big festivals. We'd headlined the Glastonbury festival, which is more the eclectic music taste festival. Then this year we're headlining the Reading, which is the big rock festival. It's quite unusual to do both, in England anyway. Normall the bands that headline Reading would never do Glanstonbury, because Glastonbury is more like REM thing-the softer bands. It's interesting to have gotten to a point where we can work with both audiences.

The other thing I find remarkable is that you guys became a big American band, musically. (Which, by the way, shouldn't be remarkable.) There aren't and the other British bands-well I guess Bloc Party are still together, and pete Dougherty has a new group-but definitely bands like The Libertines and The Test Icicles became more famous for the press.

[Laughs] Right.

I kind of forget you guys are British sometimes because you are not on the cover of NME like, They did all this crazy shit! Is that something you want to get away from, the way the British press handles things?

Like I was saying, there is this strange movement in England over the past ten years, this Brit pop thing, that started in the mid-90s, died down a little bit, and now has come back again. They try to incorporate the culture into the lyrics and the music, and it's very nationalist way of doing things. We've never really been that way, and that's how we've managed to avoid it. But when Muse started, we had the nu-metal thing coming in, then we had Coldplay, the The Libertines and The Strokes. Throughout the years we've seen a lot of fashions, and fashion it seems has changed quite radically. And we've never necessarily fit in with any of it.

It seems like you guys are from someplace else. Like the band Wolfmother, a lot of people confuse them as Londoners, but they're from Australia. I interviewed them once, and they said they could've have only made it in Sydney because no one cares what's cool there.

[Laughs] Substance over style has always been my sort of thing.

Although I really like your jacket. It's very red.

[Laughter] Well I'm not against wearing some decent clothes or whatever, but I don't think we necessarily blend in. When you listen to music I don't think it has to make you think of a particular bar or a particular situation. I think there is a lot of music that takes you outside of reality-we'll hope that it can. I'm more into an unusual state of imagination rather than making you think of something in your everyday life.

Imagination has been on the backmurner for quite a while. But what I wanted to touch on before we wrapped up-You did come off of a record that had four hit singles. It's usually three, and that's hard to follow up. What are your expectations for the music? Right now mostly people are saying you guys have this new song that sounds like Prince...

[Laughs] Well success-I've never really had the patience for success. I never got into this really for that. I think the journey musically took us outside of the genre. I think I got into this mainly for another reason, and in order to sustain that you have to stay free. You can't go strictly in one style. It would be nice, I suppose, if people started getting into stuff on this album with more of the unusual bits and pieces. It would be nice to see the reaction to "Knights of Cydonia" which is quite different then what we've done in the past. It would be nice to see that reaction, but mainly it's given us the opportunity to go anywhere we want in the future.


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