Billboard 1999-08

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This transcription may be inaccurate as we have not seen an original copy.

Need more proof that the UK and the US are nations divided by two A&R communities? Take a look at British three piece rock band Muse, from the seaside English town of Teignmouth, Devon

The act was hotly chased by several labels in the US, according to its management, and eventually pacted with Maverick for North America. Maverick will put out the debut album, 'Showbiz', on Sept 28; elsewhere, Muse has deals with three other labels for key territories. The band's story underlines the divergence in approaches and tastes of the two different A&R communities, which results in some UK-bred bands such as Bush, or more recently, Spacehog getting sales and attention in the US while keeping a low key following at home.

Despite garnering attention as a finalist in the best-unsigned-band competition at the UK's In The City convention last year, Muse was initially overlooked by British labels. Muse's management and production company, Taste Media, is a joint venture between Safta Jaffery at SJP Producer Management and Dennis Smith at Sawmills Studio in Cornwall, where part of the album was produced.

Jaffery, who also manages the album's producer, John Leckie, says, "This kind of act didn't get a good reception at the time here, as guitar music was not seen very favourably". An appearance at a US music industry convention in November aroused interest in the band, and Maverick was quickest off the mark, says singer/songwriter Matt Bellamy. 'They were able to do the deal there and then. All the others had to see people higher up.' Guy Oseary, head of A&R and a partner at Maverick, says he was impressed by the quality of the demo, and when he discovered the band was in LA, he went to see it. "They were showcasing for another label, and after the second song I stopped them and said. 'You don't need to play any more,' he says. "It was extremely powerful and beautiful."

With a sound that brings to mind earlier Radiohead-with Bellamy's vocals evoking those of Jeff Buckley- Muse has already impressed live audiences in the US with a tour that included the Woodstock 99 festival in early August. Says Bellamy, "Our sound is very English, but our live show is American."

Outside the US, Taste Media retains the rights and has struck separate licensing deals for the album. So far, it has pacted with Naive in France; with Mushroom for the UK, Ireland and Australasia; and with Motor/Universal for Germany, Switzerland and Austria (GSA) and the Eastern Europe regions.

"We only sent one package to Germany, and that was to [Universal Music president] Tim Renner and [Motor Music managing director] Petra Husemann" says Jaffery. Husemann says, 'When I heard [the tracks] I thought, 'Wow that's even better than Radiohead-great, emotional, pathetic, teenage depression stuff...just great pop music like I want it to be, and the kind of thing that German youth can identify with.' But the label wanted to be sure that it had a 'real performing act'' adds Husemann. 'I was convinced after a showcase in Hamburg', and, says Husemann, 'We signed the deal that night, and we were just sad that we could only get the rights for the GSA and the Eastern Bloc region'.

Deals are under discussion for Scandinavia and Japan; outside of these markets, Taste Media is considering direct sales via the Internet. Maverick's Oseary says having the band signed to several different labels isn't a problem. 'We share the Prodigy around the world,' he says. 'We have Richard Russell [managing director of the Prodigy's signing label, XL] who keeps everything in check, and I think Safta will do the same.'

Mushroom Records UK managing director Korda Marshall says he had his eye on Bellamy from Muse and his previous bands for several years. Mushroom was among the labels that passed on the band the first time around, but, notes Marshall wryly '...A&R's a wonderful thing with 20/20 hindsight.' Marshall believes it is possible for Muse to 'avoid the Bush effect' and have a career running on the twin track of being successful in the US while also keeping other markets - especially the UK - interested. 'England is their home, and it's very important that they are successful here', Marshall says. 'It's important that they have the support among the grass-roots media and build a fan base here'.

The album comes out Sept 20 in Germany, Sept 6 in France and October 4 in the UK The first single in France, Germany and the US will be the towering 'Muscle Museum'; the UK will go with 'Cave' an edgy rhythmic track, on September 6.

Having separate deals rather than a single, worldwide deal benefits the band, says manager Jaffery. 'Each of these labels has worked on the act as if it was a domestic signing,' Jaffery says. Working with an American company rather than signing to the British arm of a major has also worked in the band's favour, Jaffery adds. 'If you look at the number of British bands who have done it that way around, very few have made it. [US labels] are not as impressed by the British acts anymore; there isn't the feeling of importance.' Adds bassist Dominic Howard [sic] 'We got a chance to tour the States and build up a following. For a lot of acts that do well here, it can be quite a knockback when they don't do well there.' Maverick's Oseary says he signed Muse with no baggage about its origins, and especially not about its being passed on by British labels.

'That's the least of my concerns,' he says. 'I didn't know that, and I don't care about it. They are just a really great band.' Having success in the US before getting noticed at home can often hamper an acts career, says Mushroom's Marshall. The small group [of media] need to feel they discovered it themselves.' He points, however, to acts such as Ash and Garbage that have managed to retain the credibility of their UK fan bases while selling albums in the US. Muse has British live commitments pending - including several gigs and an appearance at Reading Festival on Aug 27 - which take the band to Sept 4. After that, Muse returns to the States for a 12-city tour.

Dominic Pride

See also

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