It's understandable that people are bored by Oasis (20090904 Laut article)
"It's understandable that people are bored by Oasis"
By Jakob Rondthaler
Everyone who has seen Muse live knows about the bombast and the glamour inherent in their shows. On our interview date, the band does not present themselves more plain at all. The guys from England invite us into a luxury hotel whose cheapest room costs nearly 360 Euros – per night. Before the talk, we listen to the new album which – consistent with the ambience – is handed to us on an iPhone.
The hotel's patio offers a magnificent view on the city and the lake, but of course we are only interested in Matthew Bellamy, Dominic Howard and Christopher Wolstenholme who came there for the interview. In no way the three musicians appear to be out of place here because unlike a few years ago, they are wearing nifty shirts, expensive designer glasses and Rolex watches.
Despite all this, you can't call the band arrogant: they appear good-humored and talkative – despite the fact that our interview date is the last one on a long promo day.
We just listened to your new album, "The Resistance", and at first glance it seemed less bombastic and more versatile than its predecessors. Are there certain artists or records that influenced this new sound? Some of the choirs reminded us of Queen a lot.
Matt: I think that everytime someone records vocals on multiple tracks, it sounds like Queen (laughs). What we have in common with them is our interest in the same genres, especially Mercury's enthusiasm for classical music and opera. Brian May, on the other hand, loved classical sound: all of this is an important influence for Muse. The song "United States Of Eurasia" is a mixture of various Queen styles, of course.
Dom: So there are parallels, but I wouldn't really call it a direct influence.
Chris: Many people are reminded of Queen, and I love this band. I also think we were influenced by them, but not that much musically but rather in the way that Queen had the liberty to do what they wanted; how they expressed themselves and how they developed. But when we recorded the album, we listened to newer stuff more, such as R'n'B or songs on the radio.
R'n'B? Anything specific?
Yes, Timbaland, for example. For the song "Undisclosed Desires", we tried to combine very old stuff with very new stuff in order to create something original and new. After all, this is our objective for every new album. To create something that feels different than the one before. And that's what we do on every new album: trying to enter new territory.
So what are the differences between "The Resistance" and the first four albums?
Dom: I do agree that this work is more purged. Somehow, there is more room for almost everything on the album, there is greater scope for the sound. On the last one, many things were almost claustrophobic. This time, the songs have room to breathe. Many things are plainer, but some sound very ambitious, almost like a symphony.
Matt: The difference is that this time we didn't bring a producer "from the outside" into the studio. We did everything by ourselves, had greater freedom to express ourselves musically. The music is not edited. A producer would have definitely said at some parts: "You have to change this, you have to shorten that." But the way it is, you can hear the pure realization of our musical visions.
Chris: In my opinion, the main difference lies in the fact that the last album turned out to be a guitar album ultimately. There was hardly any piano. Musically, it was definitely a step forward, but regarding the instrumentation, it was more of a regression. I still like the album but take a song like "Supermassive Black Hole": it could have become a completely electronic song, but then we took the guitars and it turned out to become sort of a compromise. And on the song "Undisclosed Desires", we simply left the guitars out.
And another innovation on this song: you play slap bass.
Chris: Yes (laughs)!
Isn't it quite unorthodox for...
Chris: ...Yes, yes it is. It was something completely new. It also started out just as fun. Actually, slap bass is not that cool, and... it's always so technical. Anyway, we played the song, and at first I played the obvious things, stuff I'm playing all the time – and it just didn't fit. In the studio, I played a headless bass which I never use when playing live because it's so ugly (laughs). And someone said, "Try slapping," because the look of the bass reminded him of it. And it fit! It was uncommon to combine such a funk element with dark R'n'B elements, but it worked.
Speaking of fun. Do Muse have an ironic side? Many people think the band is so serious because you make emotional, often sad music. But songs like "Knights Of Cydonia" – with its video and the lyrics – can also seem very comical.
Chris: Yes, there is one. And I think this is one of the biggest misunderstandings regarding Muse. People believe we are serious, read books and talk about the end of the world all day. We do talk about such things – occasionally. But, especially this time, we had a lot of fun in the studio, it's really funny. The lyrics have become humorous as well.
"People are demonstrating in front of my house"
Due to the crisis or global political threats such as terrorism, the general mood is rather cool, even many things in the arts are very down-to-earth, often sarcastic. Do you find it rather difficult to make emotional music in such times or is there a kind of "renaissance" for this kind of emotion?
Matt: Everything that happened in the past few years in England had an influence on us. The very first song "Uprising" is directly influenced by the political events.
In my house in England there's a window from which you can directly see the American embassy. Almost each weekend I see demonstrations there. Not only during the Bush administration, but also now during the G-20 summit, against war and the financial crisis...
I think that the people are very frustrated. They feel they have no voice, no power. The parliamentary system is quaint, it dates back to the 16th century. We have Lords. We have a Prime Minister – who isn't even elected. And we have members of parliament who steal money. People in England are angry. "Uprising" is the desire for a change of the constitution.
You just talked about that song, "United States Of Eurasia". What's it all about? You twittered about it a lot. Is it a kind of concept for you? And what does Eurasia mean? For you, personally, not geographically.
Dom: Geographically, it is the huge continent that combines Europe and Asia. The song is a fantasy to reunite these continents. It addresses the positive side of such a reunification, but at the end of the song, it also points out the risks, it becomes more negative. The song is inspired by a book Matt has read. It's about an advisor to the US government. He describes how the government tries to prevent a potential unification in order to still be able to get oil cheaply. And it's about the dangers that the potential superpower would implicate.
What you saw on the Internet was a kind of treasure hunt for our fans. There are various keys and riddles they have to solve. They are taken to multiple places in Eurasia: Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong... Whoever solves the riddle, gets the song.
Matt, you just told us about the English's political discontentedness. Is this an influence of your home country on you as well? Recently, I saw an interview of you done by Mike Skinner. His origins are very obvious, his accent, what he talks about. To what extent have you been influenced by England? Or, to what extent do you represent this country?
Matt: I believe there's a strong musical relation between England and us: Led Zeppelin, Queen, even somewhat The Beatles, music from the 80's, bands like Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys as well... all those are bands that have had an influence on us. Britpop has created a stereotype of Englishmen we haven't to do that much with.
Weren't even the beginnings of Muse a rebellion against Britpop?
Well, we wanted to bring to mind that there was a wide spectrum of music in England, rather than just Blur and Oasis. Back then, they weren't that important in Europe and America, many people thought they were boring – and I do understand why. But there are also good artists, such as David Bowie. Of course that's just my opinion, though.
How does the process of song-writing work in your band? Is it very democratic? Or is there a main writer? From the outside, you get the impression that Matt has the greatest influence on those things.
Chris: Matthew brings in the most ideas. He brings melodies and chord structures, but he doesn't have an idea how a song evolves. It's not like he has the finished song in mind. We play the songs infinite times, waiting and seeing what happens. Song-writing is not like a dictatorship, it is very democratic.
Matt, you play both the guitar and the piano – live as well. I once read an interview with a German singer who said that in general she prefers playing the piano, but on stage prefers the guitar because she thinks that the piano poses a barrier to the audience at concerts. Do you agree with that? And: do you prefer any instrument?
Matt: The guitar is definitely the proper instrument for rock shows, simply because you can move better when playing it. Musically as well, because riffs are more aggressive. This is why we always play only three or four piano songs at concerts. We don't want the people to get bored and to doze off, after all. But it's definitely a nice variation in the middle of a show.
Will you bring additional musicians to your concerts in order to be able to play "The Resistance" live?
Matt: Yes, since "Black Holes And Revelations", we've had a fourth man who plays keyboards, synthesizers, effects and stuff like that...
Mad fans, the best cooks, and families at Muse concerts
We just talked about that the new albums sounds somewhat less bombastic than "Black Holes And Revelations". Did you downgrade for fear of your music becoming too kitschy?
Chris: I think it's about finding a good mixture. The beginning of this album is very "catchy", not really a musical challenge. Challenges are fine, but some day you only make music which only other musicians can enjoy. Music for the purpose of impressing others. We also wanted songs which every "average" listener can enjoy, which are danceable. So it starts out very catchy and gets more challenging towards the end.
Catchy, danceable songs: Here in Germany, "Starlight" was on heavy rotation on mainstream radio stations – would you actually call Muse an indie band?
Dom: Hm... I don't know. I would call us musically independent – from the very first. We've always had exclusive influence on our music. Anyone who wants can listen to our music, no matter who and where, and that's fine. Our first three album were even released on indie labels. Though now the label has changed, but not our approach. We virtually lock ourselves away in the studio and present our output when it's done. Nobody has an influence, except for the producer, but we didn't have one this time.
By now, though, it may happen that people go wild for songs like "Starlight", but stay calm during the old hits – because they don't know them.
Dom: This is no problem, the gigs are still great. I haven't noticed such things either. I see the hardcore fans in the front row: they know each song. I do think we attract more people by now. But I don't think that this is due to the radio but rather to word-of-mouth influence. And there are many different people from many different genres coming to our concerts. Not only rock and indie kids – but also families.
Now that Michael Jackson is dead – do you think the time of big pop idols is over? Is the field of indie bands getting more important anyway?
Dom: It did change in the last days, definitely. Music is available anytime and anywhere. There is so much music. When Michael Jackson was successful... back in the 80's, many of the genres we have today have not even existed. And The Beatles, Elvis Presley... I think it is impossible for things like that to happen again. People know so much about music, they have listened to so much.
When and how did you find out about the death of the King of Pop?
Dom: We were in New York in order to master the album, so we were already done actually. We had a meeting with MTV because we will play at the Music Awards in September. So we confered with the director of the show, and towards the end we found out about the news. We all just thought: "Holy shit!"
The situation was so surreal, we had a good and relaxed talk, and then that. It was really tragic. Almost everyone who loves music has been a fan of Michael Jackson at some point in their lives.
He hasn't directly influenced Muse, though?
He probably has. (thinks) For example "Time Is Running Out", the groovy beat, the bassline at the beginning, that's exactly Billy Jean.
Dom: I once played for him at a charity gig. He is quite a good friend of mine. This was when he was still with Razorlight, though. I heard they are pretty successful in Germany, is that true? He left the band recently, but he has been working on his own songs for quite some time.
And when he goes into the studio for recording a solo album, I will probably play the drums for a few songs, but not before next year. I can tell you what Andy is going to do next, though: He moved with his wife and his child to New York and will join We Are Scientists. Do you know them? Well, at least he will go into the studio with them in order to play the songs, and will join them on some of their concerts.
Finally, a totally unrelated question to you, Matt: Many a time, you are voted the "sexiest rockstar" by readers of Rolling Stone. Do you feel flattered or do you think it's a contempt of your music?
Matt: It doesn't bother me, but I don't really care either (laughs). Those are our mad fans who vote anytime there is a poll on MTV or so. Probably one could ask for the best cook – they would vote for us despite never having eaten anything we have cooked. I think we have a large fan base among Internet users, and whenever there's a poll, we're at the forefront... I don't take that really serious but it's nice to know there are such fans...
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