Xfm 2007-10-07 – Muse: The Making of Origin of Symmetry

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This documentary aired on the 7th of November 2007[1] and a recording can be found here.


Pompous, bombastic pretentious prog rock, with a Nina Simone cover thrown in. And yet, utterly brilliant and completely individual. Only one band could have got away with this: Muse. Origin of Symmetry. Brand new, all-exclusive interviews with the band, and the album's legendary producer John Leckie. We'll find out exactly how Muse's second, wildly ambitious album cemented their place in rock's big league by sounding like the future crash landing into today.

There's a common misconception that the 21st century started in the year 2000. In fact, as there was no year zero, the year 2000 is actually part of the 20th century, a century that witnessed the birth and evolution of popular music. From blues to rock n roll, from pop to soul, from reggae ska and funk to punk, rap, metal, indie and electronica. All created within one person's lifetime. But, in the last 10 years of that century, more and more music had started looking to the past for ideas, taking inspiration from the innovators that went before, perhaps scared to glimpse what lay ahead. The new millennium started on January 1st, 2001; the same year Muse released their second album Origin of symmetry, an album that sounded like the future.

I'm Matt Everett, you're listening to Xfm, and this is the making of Origin of Symmetry by Muse. Muse formed in Teignmouth, Devon, after vocalist and pianist Matt Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dom Howard met in college in their early teens and started playing together. After various line-up changes and band names the trio played their first gig under the name Muse in February 1994. They sounded quite unlike the britpop movement that was gathering pace around them, having more in common with Rage Against the Machine or Soundgarden than Oasis or Blur. But in 1997, having kept an eye on the young band for a couple of years Dennis Smith, who owned the Sawmills studio in Cornwall, offered them free recording time. This in turn led to a self-titled EP in January 1999 followed by a second named Muscle Museum and then their first album Showbiz, released on the Taste Media label set up by Dennis Smith and Safta Jaffery.

Showbiz was produced by John Leckie, the man responsible for producing The Bends by Radiohead, the Stone Roses' and the Verve's debut albums, as well as working for Pink Floyd and all the Beatles.

[John Leckie] I first met Muse because of the Sawmills studio, Dennis and John Cornfield down there, Dennis Smith who owns the Sawmills first came into contact with them when they, when Matt was 13, they'd seen this local band playing and in a way they probably haven't changed much since when they were 13 to when they are now. The same craziness, the same amazing playing and singing kind of thing. Chris was always Chris and looking tough y'know, and Matt was always y'know crazy and Dom was always encouraging I suppose, y'know, encouraging insanity I suppose.

[Matt Everett] The album sold slowly but well thanks to strong singles like Muscle Museum and Sunburn, and some near non-stop gigging. In 1999 they played an incredible 127 gigs, a year later they played 142; and it was during this intensive touring regime the band started thinking about their second album.

[Dom Howard] Over the touring period of Showbiz we were certainly changing as a live band and evolving and I think getting better and getting closer to some kind of Muse sound, trying to discover it in the studio.

[Matt Bellamy] Our ambition I suppose was to show the side of the band that had not been seen so far, but definitely a part of the band that was I suppose the more progressive elements, the harder rock elements and er, I suppose the slightly more eccentric elements as well.

[DH] The making of that album was always about pushing ourselves a lot further from what we did with Showbiz.

[MB] Just before we started Showbiz we had like, a whole load of stuff, like 50 or so songs or something that we kind of filtered out the more progressive stuff, and sort of just kind of ended up with things that had a more traditional song structure, so I think that when we came to do Origin, we kind of did the opposite of that, we wanted to bring back in the more fringe element, which we kind of removed on the 1st album.

[Chris Wolstenholme] I think the main goal was to try and make it sound a little bit more like when we were on stage. I think a lot of the songs are actually written on the road as well, songs like PIB and NB and Bliss were songs that we sort of written in soundchecks and things like that; those songs had already kind of come from the live side of things a little bit more so it was easy to get that energy across in the recordings.

[ME] One of the first new songs written that the band had worked on live would become the first single off their as-yet untitled second album and would prove to be the band's biggest hit to date.

[DH] PIB was actually a really really old song, I think we were playing that definitely when we were touring Showbiz but not in its current form. It was more of a kind of, kind of long, drawn out build song. So it had been hanging around for a while, but it was never ready until Matt pulled the guitar riff out of the bag, and as soon as that was like applied to it then the whole thing changed and it definitely ended up being a really kind of quick process from er, y'know, listening to the riff, playing the song together, and then recording it. Something happening, but it seemed like it took a long time for that riff to finally come out.

[MB] There's definitely some relationship issues hanging around, around that period. [laughs] I think for obvious reasons I think there was erm, when you go on tour, and you're young, it's an eye-opening experience I think and er, I think that relationships we were in at the time were basically suffering as a consequence of that, and I think that there's definitely a few songs where there's just a bit of love-and-hate argument-type stuff going on, I think that was probably one.

I think the chorus is probably referring to erm, some kind of analogy of, sort of erm, the touring lifestyle and what it feels like to be on stage playing, whatever that might be, but kind of saying that really, I'm prepared to pretty much sacrifice everything in my personal life for the sake of playing music. There's some kind of vicious self-destructive element that was coming out, the kind of pleasure of it but also the pain of it y'know, of giving up your personal life or sacrificing it for the sake of wanting to get on the road for years and do what it is you love.

[ME] When PIB was eventually released on March 5th 2001, it reached number 11, taking the band to a whole new audience. The track was one of a handful of songs that emerged from a brief two-week recording session booked in between a Scandinavian and Australian tour in late 2000. After some brief demoing with John Leckie, the band had chosen producer Dave Bottrill, famous for his work with Tool.

[MB] And er, I remember going in with Dave Bottrill when we recorded New Born, Plug in Baby and Bliss. Probably in the middle of touring, we weren't that focused, but I think we captured the recordings really well, because we'd been playing those songs live, especially Plug in Baby and New Born, we'd been playing those songs live a few times. Weirdly enough I think Plug in Baby went out as a single, I think we were sort of happy with the mix that we did, I don't think we'd even made the album at this point, but we were so happy with the mix that I think that went out as a single, by which time we hadn't actually made the album yet.

[ME] The priority of the Dave Bottrill sessions, which took place in Ridge Farm Studios in Surrey, was to capture Muse's newly honed live performance on record.

[DH] We actually set up the whole band in the studio, with a like big PA, as if we were doing a gig, and miked up the PA y'know, so kind of amplified all the instruments around the room, and kind of y'know miked it all up as if it were a live situation, and just played straight, as if we were doing a gig, and er, I think you can really hear that.

[MB] We laid them down pretty quickly and I think we had like a week in the studio, we probably recorded in about a day or two, and we spent the rest of the time just sort of continuing I suppose with our touring life.

[DH] I think we did like four songs with him, that was NB, Bliss, PIB and Darkshines.

[ME] The band's gigging schedule was relentless, but according to John Leckie the non-stop playing was essential to their development.

[JL] They'd been out touring, doing the toilet tour, y'know, all around Britain and supporting stuff, and really when that 1st album came out, they went out onto europe and supported I think the Foo Fighters and maybe the Chili Peppers as well, I know they supported those two bands out in europe, and when they came back they were different men, they were just changed people. They were so overcoming with confidence y'know they just had craziness, they didn't care about how they - they had no fear. Y'know, really they came back from european tour with no fear, they were just ready for anything.

[ME] The track that would end up opening the album was also recorded with Dave Bottrill, and would be the second single released off the record, New Born.

[CW] I think that song actually came about when we were touring with the Chili Peppers, in early 2000. Matt was just playing this riff over and over again, and we were just jamming on it for ages and ages in soundchecks, and we kind of knew that there was like the base of a really good song there, this riff and I remember some of the guys from the Foo Fighters were hanging around and generally all the crew guys were just hanging around in these big arenas while we were playing this riff and everyone seemed to be really getting into it, and yeah we sort of knew it was probably one of those songs that would probably kick off live, just had to find a way of making it into a song.

[DH] New Born was certainly huge, like the album, being the first track and it was kind of, it was the first kind of rock monster that we'd created, I think, the first big epic heavy over-the-top piece it seemed, so when we finished that, the whole thing was completed and like the intro was kind of put on after. The main part of the song, it just kind of just had this huge quality to it so y'know we were pretty chuffed with that. That was a good time, that was also a time of just like messing around, I think we liked to, y'know we were just like taking mushrooms and stuff and kind of just getting lost in the wilderness in Surrey really.

[MB] There happened to be a lot of mushrooms growing at the time and I remember taking all these mushrooms, and the rest of the recording experience was very much a blur. I never thought of coming in and out of the studio and just thinking everything was genius, y'know, I remember sort of listening to stuff and just going "oh that's just, that bass drum just sounds like, y'know, the most amazing thing I've ever heard." The first sort of day or two we recorded pretty much just as we played live, but then because we were taking the mushrooms or whatever and sort, we kind of lost the plot, by the end of it we were recording like, I remember the beginning of NB went from being a piano thing to me trying to do an impersonation of the piano with my voice, and I was sort of going [impersonates piano] and doing all this weird sort of silly voice at the beginning, it all just sounded, it all just went ridiculous.

It wasn't until we got home about a month later and listened to it that we realised that it was all crap. [laughs] And, it wasn't Dave Bottrill's fault, I think the actual, the source recordings were really good, the base for the recordings, the sort of backbone of it y'know, the main parts were good but the way it had been mixed and the way it had been finished off was really just kind of not quite right and it took us a long time to get over that, so I think that y'know you could say that the taking of hallucinogenics is good for exploring new territory but it certainly isn't good for finishing things off.

I went down to Sawmills in Devon with a guy called John Cornfield, who's a really good mixing engineer and I spent a few days with him just basically trying to fix the recordings that we'd made. We kind of discovered that the actual performances were really good y'know and the vibe was really good, it just took a lot of work to actually just cut away all of the outrageous overdubs that were put over the top towards the end of the recording, and just sort of filter it down to pretty much what it was that we just played on the first few days that we were in the studio.

[ME] Producer John Cornfield remembers the session.

[JC] Matt's a bit of a lunatic [laughs], but erm, you can see that. He is how he appears to be y'know, he's always, his mind's just running at 100mph all the time y'know and he's just got so much stuff coming out of him, it's hard to keep up with him and it's erm, you feel quite kind of pressured a lot of the time to sort of try and get it down as quickly as possible 'cause Matt's running on and he wants to get the next bit, and there's just so much coming out of him, y'know.

[ME] When NB was released on June 5th it nearly equalled its predecessors' success, and reached number 12. But more significantly, its creation would provide a template for the new record.

[MB] I think that there was what actually set the tone for what we wanted to do with the rest of the album, 'cause we sort of discovered that it was at its best when it was stripped down to being a three piece.

[ME] Having successfully captured the band's live power with Dave Bottrill, the next step, after yet more touring, was to realise their more extravagant musical ambitions, which meant re-enlisting the skills of John Leckie.

[JL] They were ready to go further than what they'd gone before, with Matt's guitar playing, the sound, the singing, the falsetto the high singing, y'know, they were kind of unashamed really.

[ME] Muse's brutal touring schedule had begun to pay off, as the band's fanbase grew steadily throughout 2000, with them finding - unusually for a British band - increasingly enthusiastic audiences in France, Italy and Japan. And another short gap between live commitments, the second phase of recording was started, with legendary producer John Leckie, though the preparations were brief and less than auspicious.

[JL] I went down to erm, Teignmouth, in this little church hall and they had about 5,6,7 tracks that they were bashing around with.

[MB] We actually went to rehearsals with him in, I think it was a garage round the back of my Mum's house, and it was where we had our gear stored. It was pretty cramped in there, and I remember we had an old knackered piano in there that no-one could hear, I was trying to explain to everyone that Space Dementia's piano gotta be really heavy but no-one could hear it at all 'cause Dom and Chris were so loud, that the only John Leckie could hear what I was doing was to put his head in the piano. [laughs] As we were playing, I remember playing Space Dementia with John Leckie's head in the piano.

[JL] The church hall was next to where Matt's mother lived, and er there was no toilet, so I go "where can you go for a piss?" "oh, you just go outside in the car park" so I'm standing outside next to my car having a piss and all of a sudden this woman stands next to me and goes "hello, you must be John!" [laughs] Shaking her hand, like excuse me. So that's the first time I met Matt's mum, anyway.

[ME] As planned, the real world sessions resulted in the even more ambitious and experimental songs than ever before.

[MB] We went to this place in Bath that was Peter Gabriel's studio. At that point, we saw NB, Bliss and PIB as kind of the backbone of the album in other words and we sort of felt we had three solid songs that would last a long time, which is actually true that those, out of all the songs on the album, those are probably the three that we still play live a lot. But we sort of felt that we had the basis of a good album and the rest of it we felt we could actually go off on one a little bit y'know, I think that gave us the freedom when we were with John Leckie to push certain things a little bit further.

[DH] We kind of left our era, and just kind of lost it with John Leckie, 'cause he was kind of like a very, y'know doing all sorts of crazy things, he's into a lot of experimentation y'know he came out of the 60s y'know, he's used to doing ridiculous things in the studios.

[JL] Then there's the piano playing, Matthew would just sit and play at the piano as soon as he walked in the studio. He would have to sit and play the piano for like an hour, you couldn't get him off the piano.

[MB] I started off playing the piano when I was young, when I was like maybe 10 or 11, like listening to Ray Charles stuff and sort of, mimicking that really. I never really had any lessons, I remember seeing Jimi Hendrix setting fire to his guitar on a TV show or something or whatever it was, and I thought well maybe I should play the guitar now, far more exciting, and I gave up the piano and it wasn't really until we were making the first album, that was the first time I played the piano really in a long time. We went out on tour doing the Showbiz stuff and in the background I started doing a lot of research and listening to a lot of piano composers and I came across people like Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov, immense piano players.

[JL] All that kind of Rachmaninov, show off kind of piano, we were gobsmacked. I mean the band hadn't seen him play like that y'know, it was like you're kidding y'know, you're not, you can't play like, you're showing off, it's a joke y'know, but no he just kept playing all these crazy up and down the keyboard pieces y'know, which became one of the tracks on the record.

[MB] The thing that struck me about it was how powerful the music was, how strong it was. I discovered actually sort of the darkest, heaviest music I've ever heard, the most powerful music I've ever heard is probably late romantic period, early modern, sort of end of the 19th century early 20th century. One of the ones that stood out was Rachmaninov, that definitely started to have an influence on the way I perceived music and melodies, chord structures and also the piano itself, and I suppose I thought on Space Dementia I was looking for a way of bringing piano into rock.

There is actually a middle section where you can hear a little sort of motif of Rachmaninov, a Rachmaninov piece called piano concerto number 2, it's like a little part where the synthesizer comes in where there's a little sort of little wink in Rachmaninov's direction but erm, a little knowing wink knowing that I'll never actually get to that level of piano playing, but I thought I'd have to put that in there, just so people would probably recognise where the influence is coming from.

[JL] All self-taught, can't read music or anything, but he would just sit at the piano and y'know it was like he was er, a virtuoso piano player y'know, like he, loads of notes, bang bang bang bang bang, so he amazed me. I've never seen anyone play piano like that.

[ME] Muse's second album, Origin of Symmetry, came out on June 18th 2001, and spurred on by TV appearances, the ongoing Napoleonic gigging campaign, and a media finally waking up to the idea of a neo-classical, prog-space-rock three-piece from Teignmouth, it charted at number 3 in the UK charts. In typical Muse style, the album's name, Origin of Symmetry, came from Matt's interest in the work of theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, and his book Hyperspace. Now pay attention, I'll be asking questions later.

[MB] I read this book called Hyperspace, I think probably around the time we were recording the album, and I think in it there's a reference to the origin of species, which was talking about how evolution took place and all that kind of thing, but this whole book was putting forward this new sort of super string theory which is sort of some kind of new, a new way of combining quantum physics with Einstein's theory of relativity, that's the kind of the holy grail of physics if you like, trying to combine these two things together in one new, paradigm shift, one sort of new complete overall all-encompassing theory that, kind of y'know sounded good at the time! It was just one of those things that you just read and go "man, wow, what's going on", and yeah it just sort of spun me out and I'm sure there's a few other things that were spinning me out at the time.

But in the book it references the origin of species as being like a really important science regarding evolutional theory and it says the next major book that should be written should be called 'Origin of Symmetry' because it was talking about how, if these things turned out to be right, the big question will be 'what is the origin of symmetry?' If it's right, it will turn out that all of the, all of the universe is in some kind of perfect balance and it's perfectly holding itself together and the question is 'what is causing that?', 'what is the origin of symmetry?' It was just a sort of term that stuck with me as being a sort of more scientific way of saying 'what's the meaning of life?' I think erm, in this process of making cheesy riffs and twiddling some synth knobs and smashing a piano, I thought I might come close to it.

[ME] The next single off the album was Bliss, taken from the Bottrill sessions. It reached number 22 in August 2001 and remains a live favourite of the band to this day.

[DH] Actually before, way before, that song started with just a keyboard. The first early live versions of that song were actually just me and Chris on the bass and drums and Matt messing around with his keyboard, and y'know singing over the top. But then when we got to the studio, it gradually turned into something that was a bit more, I guess, rock of some kind. That whole song was about trying to find, trying to incorporate some kind of disco feel of some kind into like a pretty heavy song. It's also probably one of the first tracks that we really incorporated all the arpeggio stuff that we've consistently done over the years now, it's really been become part of the band, all that stuff.

[ME] As intended, the John Leckie recording sessions saw the band trying new and weird recording techniques, instrumentation and arrangements. Nothing was out of bounds.

[DH] Going into a studio is always like a, it's a time for experimentation, you often don't know what you're going to do until you get in there, that seems to be always the way that we've approached it, which is a good thing to do y'know, 'cause you work with different producers and they have ideas, and you just discover new things together, and then y'know when you find something that's, that you think is right for the song it all suddenly clicks into place. It's a very kind of organic process.

[CW] Even if you go into the studio with a definite idea of what you want to do it's always good to try other things anyway. And I think we've always had quite an open mind for things like that, with every album we've done, but erm with Origin in particular that was the first album where we really went in and just got loads of instruments and synths and stuff like that and just messed around with all sorts for hours.

[DH] I'm really fond of the weirder stuff we did on that album as well, like y'know Screenager, Megalomania, they've always been pretty close to me and I'm very fond of those songs just 'cause we kind of went so weird with them.

[CW] I remember John Leckie brought in loads of weird old instruments and he kind of looked like he'd gone and raided like an old school music room cupboard, and come out with all these really old netted double basses and a real sort of typical old school beaten up drum kit, which we used on quite a few tracks actually, some of the mellower tracks.

[DH] Definitely tried to get a bit of a Tom Waits influence into the album, particularly like with the percussion, doing all kinds of weird things, hitting animal bones and shaking llama's toenails around and using all like african percussion and bellaphons [?] and things like that, to try and create this kind of warm, organic kind of sound.

[ME] Muse's live reputation had already secured them the status of being one of the best live bands around, something reflected in the various NME and Kerrang awards nominations, but the release of Origin of Symmetry established them as a creative musical force to be reckoned with. However, despite the success of the album, there still seemed some reluctance by a large proportion of the media to recognise their popularity.

[DH] Well, it seems that our band's always been on the fringe of things y'know, certainly musically we've always been on the fringe of what is happening currently in any one country or particularly the UK, and it's always felt like that with our perception of who we are y'know, and our persona in some kind of way. But around that time, I mean it did feel underground, in some ways it still feels kind of underground now. But certainly back then, it definitely felt underground and alternative but it kind of made the whole experience much better 'cause it felt like, the people who were coming to the gigs, the gigs were definitely bigger, it still had this kind of feeling of discovery, obviously for ourselves traveling around and playing in new places, the crowds coming to see us play, it had this kind of feeling that you could tell when you were playing to people that it's their first time seeing you, it had this kind of really exciting electricity in the air it seems at all these shows.

[ME] In August 2001 in an audacious move, the band headlined the 12,000 capacity London Docklands arena, a venue that the more fated bands of the day would never even attempt to play.

[DH] It worked for us y'know, 'cause we loved touring, so as long as our gigs were getting bigger and the crowds were expanding we were just over the moon with that.

[ME] However, illustrating Muse's international appeal and their lack of concern about a sometimes reluctant UK media, when they chose to release their first live DVD, Hullabaloo, in early 2002, they would showcase a Parisian gig; not that Chris remembers.

[CW] I don't remember a great deal to be honest. [laughs] I remember it being very big at the time, probably one of the biggest shows we'd done, especially outside England, and it was probably the first time we'd done anything of that type on two nights as well. I mean when we filmed that show obviously it was partly to do with the fact that there was two nights to film so if we fucked everything up on the first night we'd have something from the second night, but also I think Paris was just one of those places that kind of took to the band really quickly.

[ME] The DVD and live CD set, as well as providing a score of extra features, was incredibly advanced in terms of presentation, and used something like 40 cameras on stage. I would also highlight the close relationship the band had with France in general.

[CW] I think we were always confident that we were a good band, and that we could be successful, but I don't think we ever expected what happened outside of England. France was always one of those places where early on, the crowd reaction was pretty full on so we thought in terms of filming the DVD we couldn't really think of anywhere better to do it.

[ME] As the recording sessions with John Leckie progressed, rather than just rely on the strength of Bliss, PIB and NB and let those songs' distinctive style dictate the rest of the record, Muse ploughed headlong into even stranger waters.

[JL] It was always, 'let's see how big and tough and over the top we can make it,' and we were trying to make it sound as big and as powerful and as over the top as we could, y'know.

[MB] John Leckie's approach was still looking for the more fringe elements, and I think that the songs we recorded with John Leckie were the more unusual ones, songs like Space Dementia and Micro Cuts and Screenager, and those kinds of songs, and I think it was good to work with someone like him, who had a lot of experience with working with artists that don't always do things straight, in a straightforward way.

[DH] It's also, it's kind of a real transitional time for us at that point y'know, we really wanted to just find a different sound and experiment a lot and try lots of ideas but also ultimately try and get the kind of energy we had when we did our live shows onto the album, which was always quite a hard thing to do for many bands, but we certainly went for it.

[ME] But the experimentation wasn't just indulged in for its own sakes. For Matt Bellamy, it was essentially providing the inspiration for the new songs' lyrics, something he's never been comfortable discussing.

[MB] It's not easy to talk about writing lyrics, I know that much, writing lyrics, it's easy when the music inspires you, it's very easy I think. If you're struggling to write lyrics it means I think the music is not really good enough, or it certainly isn't good enough to bring anything out of you. I think if you just sat down with an acoustic guitar and do a few chords, anyone can do that, but for me I can't write lyrics over that, I need to hear something more than just a few chords, I think that's why the band has explored some quite diverse musical sounds within every album, because I've had to sort of go there if you like in order to find inspiration in order to say something.

Songs like Micro Cuts, Screenager, a lot of them really, just the sort of sound of it, the fact that it was so unusual and the kind of chord structures immediately sort of conjure up things out of you which, er, which would not normally come out I suppose, and I think I've always found that really. But if music is interesting enough, then it will automatically pull something out of you, yeah.

[CW] I think the songwriting probably took quite a big step up from there as well, I think probably the lyrics as well, I don't think Matt's ever been particularly comfortable with lyrics or anything like that. I think with the lyrical content he's tried to change a lot from Showbiz, Showbiz was much more about y'know, probably where we came from, y'know, growing up, teenage years, frustration and trying to get out, all that kind of stuff. Actually I think Origin was probably the first album where he was singing things on a more global scale.

[ME] The last single to be released from Origin of Symmetry was a double A-side of Hyper Music and a cover of the song Feeling Good, a track popularised by Nina Simone. The track, which reached number 24 when it was released in November, had been a live favourite of the band for a while, but the reasons for its inclusion on the album are both musical and personal to Matt.

[MB] It was actually my ex-girlfriend, it was probably my favourite song actually, the one that I was with or the one I was splitting up with around the time of making this album. For that reason, it just stuck in my mind. Also, it was the song that again was using the piano and it was a song that didn't need the guitar, y'know, you could just stick a Wurlitzer electric piano or something, stick it through an amp and distort it and it just sounded really quite cool.

I think it was a culmination of things, one that it was a piano-based song, and two because it was a song that had personal meaning to me, reminded me of something good about the relationship I was in at the time, but also I think lyrically that song was probably the kind of lyrics that I would never be able to write at the time, y'know, I'm hoping to try to get into that now, but I think at the time writing lyrics that were very optimistic, very uplifting y'know with a slightly dark twist, it was just a kind of area that I was not familiar with lyrically and I think I wanted to bring it into the band, point to a future direction maybe.

[ME] If you're one of the people that heard this track on a coffee commercial at the time, don't think for a minute the band were anything to do with it.

[DH] Nescafe wanted to use Feeling Good for their adverts, to advertise their coffee, which we said no to, because we, you get asked for people to use your music all the time to advertise things, film, god knows what you get requests all the time which a lot of them you turn down. But we'd always drawn the line with supermarket products. And then, obviously they went and did it without our permission and like advertised it for something like a week or so on TV, so we kind of got all heavy about it and threatened them with legal action. Got pretty deep into, then they ended up giving us a load of money which we ended up obviously donated to Oxfam, who are working for like, fair trade in all these countries around the world that are producing coffee, so it was a bit of a fuck off to them really.

[ME] The final track on the album, Megalomania, is perhaps the most sonically arresting piece of music on the album, not least because of the instruments used.

[DH] Megalomania, that was one where we went to some church, y'know we wanted a church organ sound, so we thought anyway to get in, to go to some church, rent out a church and y'know fire a massive pipe organ.

[JL] Matt always wanted a real church organ on the track. I thought well that's no problem, we just find a church. But because we were at Real World studios which is in Bath, we actually jumped in the car, managed to get an introduction to the choir master at Wells Cathedral, and went in there while it was choir practice, spoke to the guy and like, all we wanted to do was use the organ as an overdub, and of course the guy thought we were going to be recording some classical music, some Bach, or something, and who was going to play it, and Matt of course says "well I am," and he sort of looks at him and says "oh yeah, sure" y'know, so it was all of the vibe was all a bit strange and we got in the car, drove back a little bit depressed because it was too awesome, too overpowering the idea of recording this massive organ, and as we drove back through Bath, Matthew's saying "there must be a church with an organ - look, there's a church! let's stop there, I'll bet they've got an organ." So we drew into this church about 7 o'clock one evening, walked straight into the church and there was a guy playing the organ. Matthew went straight up to him and said, "can I have a go?" And the guy says certainly. Matthew sat down and started playing this huge church organ, in St Mary's church in Bath, right in the centre of Bath.

[DH] It sounded unbelievable, and it was kind of a weird thing to do, we had the vicar coming in, and disapproving of some skanky rock band that was in his church, roaming about playing the keyboard, but I think in the end he was quite impressed with Matt's playing, so he was fine with us.

[JL] The vicar wanted the lyrics to the song, he phoned me up the next day and said "it's very important for us to understand that we don't want any deflammatory lyrics or any negative lyrics" or something, and of course Matt he never had any lyrics, so he scribbled out these words that were very positive, they weren't Jesus things or anything, just positive nice sort of lyrics, and we submitted them, and the vicar said "oh that's fine then," and of course when it came out the track was completely different.

[ME] From a lyrical point of view it's also one of the darkest songs the band have ever recorded.

[MB] If i told you why I wrote that it might take the edge off. Weirdly enough, I was on holiday in the Maldives, and erm, learning to dive, learning to scuba dive, and it was right in the middle of all the touring and album making chaos, we'd got a little window of two weeks off, and obviously went away with her, and for some reason possibly the darkest track I've ever written came out of me while I was out there, not sure what that means. I don't know what it was, I think sometimes it's not until you really take a break and slow down and relax or especially get away from everything that you look on things objectively y'know, I think that song was a pretty dark take on the duality that was forming in my life, and also the sort of pessimism of that relationship I was in. Pretty dark tune, that one. [laughs]

[ME] The album Origin of Symmetry was a massive achievement for Muse, and saw the band realising the potential that had only been hinted at on their debut. In it, you can clearly see the first steps which would lay the foundation for their leap into becoming one of the biggest, most successful bands in the world.

[MB] It's a really sort of jagged, spiky piece, y'know, it's not a smooth pill, y'know, it's definitely an uncomfortable swallow for me. It's a little bit edgy, but there's definitely a few things in it which are really, which I'm really happy we did and had a massive impact on where we are now.

[CW] The thing for me is that it's kind of random, it doesn't too thought-out and it doesn't sound too planned or anything like that, I think there's quite a lot of spontaneity in that album.

[DH] Origin definitely I think, it really adds perception of a band pushing all their boundaries. It seems to really represent obviously ourselves, the band that's really striving to move on and try and evolve and try out many different ideas, and really move away from where they were on their first album.

[ME] At the time of its release, both the Strokes and the White Stripes were revitalising the music scene with incredibly important and brilliant albums. But both records were hugely indebted to the music of the past, be it blues or new wave. Origin of Symmetry however, sounded like nothing that had ever come before, and set its sights on the future.

[JL] I've always seen them as a 21st century band in the 20th century. They were totally modern, they were the first modern band that were un-retro, that were trying not to be like a band that had been before, y'know they kind of had no reference points to other bands that had gone before.

[ME] Yes, it is without doubt, a very glorious, overblown hysterical piece of work. But its virtuosity, ambition and imagination make it one of the decade's most forward-thinking and original rock albums.

[CW] Yeah, musically it doesn't really have any theme or anything like that, y'know every song is quite different and there's a lot of experimentation on there, and it just to me sounds like quite a natural album, it doesn't sound like we tried too hard, it doesn't sound like we planned anything too much, it just kind of feels like we've just gone with it, just see what happens you know.

[DH] Sometimes it's so easy for bands to find the formula and stay with it, but unfortunately that gets really boring very quickly. It really felt so radically different from Showbiz our first album that it kind of, it had this huge ambition attached to it, and I think maybe that's something that people respected in some kind of way, and probably generated more interest because of it.

[MB] I think it definitely captures me going from being 19 or 20 to being 23, that sort of, that time period is chaotic for a lot of people, you're realising you're on your own out there and you don't really know where you're going in life and an expression of that period I suppose, I suppose a lot of people relate to that, people who I suppose are just sort of getting over all the craziness, all the fun or all the boredom or whatever they've experienced when they were at university or wherever they were. You're going out into the world and going "hold on a minute, I'm all alone here, this could be brilliant or this could be a nightmare but let's just go for it, y'know."

[ME] I'm Matt Everett, you're listening to Xfm, and that was the making of Origin of Symmetry by Muse.

References

  1. Zeppelin01/Pitchfork. (2007-09-20). Origin of Symmetry Documentary on Xfm. Muselive. Retrieved 2007-10-10 from www.muselive.com.


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