Super Massive! (20060826 Kerrang article)
Magazine Title: Kerrang
Date: 26th August 2006
Issue Number: 1122
Editor: Paul Brannigan
Muse Feature: Page 22 - "Super Massive!"
From filling stadiums in Japan to headlining Reading and Leeds, how Muse became...
Japan is rocked by around 1,000 earthquake tremors every year, so when the walls of Chiba Marine Stadium shudder gently as night falls upon Greater Tokyo on the evening of August 13, there is no panic, no shrieking, no sense of hysteria. Nothing, in fact, to match the reaction afforded the three young Englishmen who'd rocked the stadium just an hour previously.
'And tonight we can truly say, together we're invincible...'
It's during 'Invincible', the sixth track from Muse's 'Black Holes & Revelations' album and song number six on the set-lists taped to the floor of the huge stage facing the stadium's corporate boxes, that tonight's show becomes truly transcendent. Beams of white light are piercing the dry ice enveloping the stage as drummer Dom Howard opens up the martial beat. Matt Bellamy moves to the lip of the stage and leans back to deliver the song's solo - a solo memorably described in these pages previously as sounding like a Dalek having an orgasm - and the 50,000 people watching him erupt into spontaneous high pitched squeals of ecstasy. Walking back toward the drum riser, Bellamy catches Howard's eyes and the two exchange broad grins, the smiles of two teenage rock fans watching their dreams come true.
Afterwards, Bellamy will sum up his evening with commendable British restraint.
"I think," he says, "we're back in the game."
Right now Muse are on top of the world. Last month, their fourth studio album, 'Black Holes & Revelations' debuted at Number One on seven international charts - including the British, Irish and Australian charts. In America, it's become their first Top 10 album. In Japan, since its July 3rd release, 'Black Holes...' has sold twice as many copies as Muse's last album, 'Absolution' sold in two years.
The Teignmouth trio are here to play two shows as part of the prestigious Summer Sonic festival, the country's equivalent of the Carling Weekend. They've brought company - Bellamy's Italian girlfriend is here, as is Dom Howard's American girlfriend, his sister and his mother, brought on her first trip to Japan because her loving son was in Montreal playing show 10 on the band's recent sell-out 14-date tour of Canada and the USA when she was celebrating her 60th birthday.
In addition, the Muse tour party contains the band's new security guard, an extremely genial, but undoubtedly 'tasty', Eastender called Danny who has previously ensured that Oasis and The Strokes remained unmolested by over-zealous fans at the height of their respective careers: Danny's presence is a decent signifier of the band's current status.
Muse like Japan. In their time here they'll visit ancient tmples and shrines in Kyoto, rock out to Audioslave's 'Cochise' in the company of Lostprophets' Ian Watkins, Mike Lewis and Lee Gaze in Osaka's fabulous rock bar Rock Rock, introduce the WAGs to the joys of shabu shabu (a Japanese stew made by adding tofu, cabbage, shiitake mushrooms and thinly sliced beef to a boiling pot of water), conduct a slew or magazine, TV and radio interviews and pose patiently for countless mobile phone photographs outside hotels, train stations and restaurants with fans who seem to know the band's travel itinerary better than the trio themselves.
"Being here now feels quite normal," says Matt Bellamy, relaxing aboard a shinkansen ["bullet train" to Westerners] hurtling between the country's two biggest cities, Osaka and Tokyo. "When we first came here it was just shock and awe because everything was so different but now I'm able to relax with it, whereas I used to be a bag of nerves. #this way of life is a weird thing to get used to, but it's nice when you finally do get used to it... I never expected that would happen."
Some Matt Bellamy trivia. The 28-year-old singer lives on the edge of Lake Como in Italy: George Clooney tools around the neighbourhood between moves. He's a bit of a boy racer, owning two classic American cars, a 1966 Mustang Fastback and a 1962 T-Bird. He talks fast, punctuating his conversations with frequent high-pitched giggles. He found it "hilarious" that the band's US record company chose the galloping space age spaghetti western histrionics of 'Knights Of Cydonia' as the lead-off single in the US, but reckons "it's only America" so they might as well have a go and see what happens "for a laugh". Oh, and he thinks that we're "potentially months away" from the outbreak of World War Three.
YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE A ROCK STAR, BUT I'VE NOT SEEN YOU IN 'HEAT', HELLO' OR 'THE SUN' ONCE... "I think it's great. We don't get our personal lives exposed and plastered everywhere or have all the hassle that comes with being a 'rock star', but you get all the joys of what it is to be a good artist - big concerts, respect and the feeling from your fans that you're onto something. It's really nice to be at the level we are without all the crap that goes with being famous."
SO YOU DON'T HAVE FANS TRACKING YOU DOWN AT HOME IN ITALY? "Well, I've had a few presents delivered and we had to change our phone number, but it hasn't been too invasive. Our fans tend to be obsessed less with who we are as people but rather obsessed with the music: the long, emotional letters we get are more 'your music saved my life', rather than 'I want to marry you'. There's no harm in that, I haven't really experienced the nightmare of having people take photos of you while you're on holiday with your girlfriend or whatever. I'd hate that. But I don't think that'll happen unless one of us does something that is very rock 'n' roll."
MAYBE YOU SHOULD GIVE KATE MOSS A CALL... (Laughs) "That's not very likely. But thanks for the advice".
YOU'VE JUST TOPPED THE CHARTS IN SEVEN COUNTRIES. DO CHART POSITIONS GET YOU EXCITED? "It's nice that we're still hanging in there. Haha. No, it's nice to know that you're doing okay simply because you can start to work out how much time you'll be spending on tour over the next year. Without sounding overly confident, we've yet to have a big failure, so I don't really know what that feels like. We've never had enormous success, but each album has done better than the one before so I haven't paid much attention: there are no major jumps forward or backwards so it's not something I need to spend time thinking about. Maybe the next one will get a terrible reception and I'll start looking at chart positions going 'Oh no...'."
MUSE ARE A WELL RESPECTED BAND NOW, BUT CRITICS STILL USE WORDS LIKE 'RIDICULOUS' TO DESCRIBE YOUR MUSIC: IS THAT FRUSTRATING? "It's just more evidence to me of how conservative the world is. I don't get frustrated because I don't think I'm a complete berserker. I'm able to see perspectives from the mainstream and see how we don't necessarily fit in, but if people like us can get labelled 'out there' or 'ridiculous' when our music really isn't that crazy at all, it just shows how narrow and boring some people's imagination is. Most bands are scared of ridicule - we embrace it, but some of the best ideas come from having the fearlessness to go with the silliest ideas."
This is the second time Muse have played the Summer Sonic Festival. On the first occasion, in the festival's inaugural year in 2000, the band opened up the main stage at 10:30am playing below Reed, national treasures The Mad Capsule Markets and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. This time around, the band are second from top on the bill, playing below headliners Linkin Park, but above Fall Out Boy, Lostprophets and My Chemical Romance. With typical modesty, bassist Christ Wolstenholme will shrug off the band's billing with the comment "I think people sometimes read too much into festival bill hierarchies".
"Festivals are just loose," adds Dom Howard, possibly the only Englishman alive who can carry off the canary yellow trousers he's sporting today. "You just throw yourself into it with fingers crossed."
As with the Carling Weekend Festival, Summer Sonic flips its bill between the sites in Osaka and Tokyo. Today Metallica, Deftones, Avenged Sevenfold and Taking Back Sunday are among the attractions in Tokyo. The Osaka leg of the Summer Sonic festival takes place a good 30 minute drive outside the city, the main stage constructed in the grandly titled WTC Open Air 'stadium - in reality, a dusty car park bordered by white plasterboard walls - with the festival's other stages set inside the neighbouring Intex Osaka complex.
The same building hosts the backstage area, a huge warehouse-style room blocked off into small dressing rooms by more white plasterboard. The vibe is low-key and casual - look around catering and you'll see members of AFI chatting with My Chemical Romance, Ian Watkins hanging out with Pete Wentz, Mike Shinoda exchanging high fives with crew members as he kills time before sets with both Linkin Park and his hip-hop side-project Fort Minor - but it's not exactly palitial, and, quite understandably, Muse don't show up on-site till just one hour before their scheduled 5:50 slot.
There's precious little time for socialising, even less time to check out other bands, though Howard pronounces My Chemical Romance's performance "pretty decent". Mostly the trio spend their time discussing stage set designs for their upcoming UK arena tour in November: It's hard to tell whether or not Bellamy is joking when he says that management have vetoed his plans to have a giant robot share their stage.
DO YOU FEEL AN ADDED COMPETITIVE EDGE BETWEEN BANDS AT FESTIVALS? "I don't get competitive because there are no other bands playing in the same vein as us, it's nice to see loads of bands that you wouldn't normally play with or see. Not that we have much time for that here."
AND IS THERE ANYONE OUT THERE NOW THAT YOU WATCH AND THINK, 'FUCK, I WISH WE WERE AS GOOD AS THEY ARE...'? (Giggles) "No."
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AT FESTIVALS, LESSON ONE... "Hahah. Well, the Chili Peppers are amazing musicians and amazing performers so I'd be happy if people saw us as good as them. The way they can improvise live in particular is something we still need to learn. We still have room for improvement."
DO CREATIVE DIFFERENCES INTENSIFY IN YOUR BAND AS YOU ALL GET OLDER MORE CONFIDENT? "Creative differences sounds quite big. Our differences are more petty about moments within songs, rather than 'That guitar sounds shit' or 'Why the fuck can't you play drums?'. It's not one person's band: I'm very non-specific about what I think this band stands for musically: I'd be completely happy to do an acoustic album or a full-on death metal album, I don't really mind what we do as long as I'm enjoying it."
Halfway through Muse's Osaka gig it becomes obvious that Matt Bellamy isn't enjoying himself onstage. His complicated guitar set-up isn't quite right and the guitar drops out at least once during the show. No band swears less than Muse - not once in two days with the band will we hear and expletive pass Bellamy, Howard or Wolstenholme's lips - but as he slides his metallic guitar across the floor of the stage to his techs, perfectionist Bellamy seems distracted and a little irritated.
His bandmates are quick to pick up on the vibe. 'Map Of The Problematique' gets dropped from the written set-list and the band quit the stage early. Afterwards, with the backstage area deserted and 90 percent of the other acts already Tokyo-bound, the mood in the camp is subdued as they board people carriers back to the hotel. On the bullet train to Tokyo the following day Bellamy is still brooding on the show, suggesting that it was as close to a bad Muse show as any they've played recently. He laughs when it's pointed out that perhaps, like practically everyone else on the bill he could have whipped up the crowd with a few 'Come on you motherfuckers!': that's so not Matt Bellamy.
"If I wasn't playing guitar I'd probably be giving it more 'Com on!' with my fists in the air, giving it all the rock star business," he insists with another giggle. "But I tend to be too busy and absorbed onstage to be able to operate without thought. We'd be compared even more to Queen if we had a guitar player because I'd be out there giving it the full Freddie Mercury..."
In a matter of hours, on the stage of the Chiba Marina Stadium, Muse will lay to rest the ghosts of last night's performance with a show even Queen in their heyday would have been hard-pressed to top for flamboyance, energy and sheer joyous spectacle. It's a set that Dom Howard's mother considers the best Muse show she's ever seen ("five Ks!" she rockons). But right now, on the world's most futuristic train, shooting past Mount Fuji at teeth-rattling speeds, Matt Bellamy's thoughts are, appropriately, all about the future.
Further down the carriage his bandmates and tour manager are discussing tentative plans to visit South East Asia properly next year - all are keen to play Indonesia, South Korea and the Philippines for the first time - and Bellamy is determined that his band with also tour South America for the first time next year. Before that, of course, there is the small matter of the band's headlining appearances at the Carling Weekend Festival, Reading and Leeds, to negotiate.
Earlier Dom Howard recalled Bellamy and himself watching Rage Against The Machine play Reading in 1995 "and somewhere in my mind I was thinking, 'We could do this'." Bellamy's eyes twinkle with boyish excitement and his mood brightens instantly when looking ahead to next weekend.
IS HEADLINING READING AND LEEDS A MUSE LANDMARK IN YOUR HEAD? "Definitely. 'There have been times in the past where Dom and I would be talking about our teenage dreams and I'd be like, 'I think we've made it, I think we're doing pretty well' and Dom would always say, 'Nah, not until we've headlined Reading'. We always had it in our heads that until you've headlined Reading you're not really a big rock band in England so this is a big deal."
YOU SEEMED A BIT PISSED OFF YESTERDAY: DO YOU GET SULKY IN THE STUDIO IF YOUR IDEAS GET TURNED DOWN BY DOM AND CHRIS? "Haha... maybe. There might be things that people say are a bit crap and after a while you see their point. I don't get sulky, I just get a bit... aggro."
SO WE CAN EXPECT THE FIRST MATT BELLAMY SOLO ALBUM IN WHAT, 2008? "Hahah, I don't think so. It's difficult to say but it would only happen if it was something that couldn't possibly exist within Muse and so far that hasn't happened. I mean a song like 'Take A Bow' is quite weird in that there's no riff and no chorus - there's no 'good bit' in the conventional sense - it's just a big build to a massive climax, it's a different concept of a song but we manage to make it happen. I have one or two things that are more abstract musically that we might not be able to use, but that'd be more for like scoring a film."
DO YOU SEE A FINITE SHELF LIFE TO MUSE?
"I think it depends on the band members and the fans, how open we and our fans are to musical exploration. We've pushed a bit forward with this album and I think band life can stretch on as long as you're not repeating yourself. We've tried to create a scope for the band rather than boffing our a bunch of 'Plug In Baby's to a pop-rock formula which is relatively easy to write. We'd need to be pushing the boundaries of what we can do to sustain our own interest. There are songs on every album which have a vibe and style that suggest directions that we could do an entire album on, so this band could easily stretch into infinity for me."
Words: Paul Brannigan