Muse of the World (200006 NME article)
This transcription may be inaccurate as we have not seen an original copy.
Muse of the World
Universe-conquering gigs, a secret rock-star heritage and tales of witchcraft in Devon - and you thought Muse were just pale Radiohead imitators, you fools!
The moment Muse stride onstage at Berlin's Columbia Fritz, the argument about whether they're just another indie band crashes comprehensively to its knees. preceded by resounding choral chants and illuminated by three radioactive white cones, they spend the next 60 minutes overwhelming their German audience with waves of serrated noise and Spinal Tap atmospherics.
Arabic scales, Hendrix Experience burnouts white noise, cascading melodies and singer Matt Bellamy's bone-china falsetto all merge into one epic cacophony that's part Queen, part Vatican mass. By the end, bassist Chris Wolstenholme is being carried around the auditorium on his back, while Bellamy stands high on a speaker stack with his guitar behind his head. Finally, he kicks the amp to the floor and hurts himself into Dominic Howard's drumkit. Centre stage, one girl, already waving her arms furiously above her head, starts to scream.
Muse have been doing this for a year - slogging from territory to territory, playing gig after gig and gradually constructing this gonzoid rock alter ego. Bar the odd flash of random destruction (they recently demolished a Munich dressing room at a cost of ?3000), it's been a seamless rise. their debut album, 'Showbiz', has already sold over 250,000 copies worldwide (a respectable 70,000 in Blighty), and their next single, 'Unintended', is expected to be their first Top Ten hit.
Muse differentiate themselves from their peers by thinking big. they're the only new group to want it badly enough to flog themselves around every venue in Europe. And then do it all again. This summer they're due to undertake trench warfare at over 40 festivals. They have nothing in common with Embrace or Idlewild or an of the other indie foot soldiers you might care to mention, they're on a different plain entirely. Even their tourbus looks like it was designed by NASA.
Ask them a simple question about what they're listening to and they'll start talking about Hector Berlioz, a 19th-century French composer whose 'Grande Messe des Morts' was conceived as a soundtrack to Judgment Day. Sure, they're pretentious, ludicrous even, but that's good. Muse are a proper, tonight-we-take-Valhalla rock group ' and Britain hasn't had one of those for a while. But for all that, we know you're still suspicious. Twenty-four hours earlier NME was too. To the causal observer, Muse seem fake and calculated, a band who've lucked out because Jeff Buckley's dead and Radiohead are on holiday. In a different time, maybe they'd mean nothing but that's why they've currently sitting opposite us in this secluded Italian restaurant, attempting to justify themselves.
In terms of the '90s, begins Matt slowly, and probably for the one millionth time in his life, Jeff Buckley and Nirvana had the biggest influence, and Radiohead came from that, and parts of what we do come from it as well. And it's that that causes people to question us.
Is there any reason why they shouldn't? I don't know, responds Matt patiently. I'll always express what I feel, but I can't really work out what's driving it. Deep down, it could be greed or other sick stuff or it could just be wanting to be loved by everyone, I don't know. When you say, ' Can you trust us?' what do you mean?
Well, that Radiohead and Nirvana and Jeff Buckley obviously weren't/aren't putting it on, and we don't know whether you are. Well, it's fucking difficult, isn't it? he suddenly snap. Are you fucked up? I don't know. You look at an artist like Tom Waits and he's always been questioned about how real he is. When he fist came out, everyone said he was a copy of Captain Beefheart and just a rip-off. When I saw him, though, I just believed him. Whether he's lived a life that equates with his words. I don't know, but he can definitely tap into those emotions.
And there's the crux. Muse's debut album is a brutal explosion of skewed gothic angst. It contains one song ('Falling down') that appropriates the blues. It contains another ('Sunburn') that rails against the corporate nature of the music industry. The rest of it is a masterclass in generalized torment. Muse are all roughly 21 and are currently enjoying great success in their chosen profession. Some people wonder why they're making music like this. All three if them spent their formative years in the archetypal nowhere town of Teignmouth in Devon a place that in previous interviews has made the league of Gentleman look tame. There, they experienced similar frustrations to those of thousands of other teenagers. They were bored, they were destructive and they wanted to get out. But there were differences.
The way this band was formed, explains Matt, sipping a glass of red wine, was that there was this whole collective of musicians who had nothing to do. There was this dark energy that was very negative towards the town from which they came. Out of that, there were all sorts of weird amalgamations, with people doing this witchcraft stuff. It wasn't anything really, I suppose. It was just kids.
There were three girls in particular that I hung around with, and they did kind of improvised chanting. All that came out of it were moments of feeling very emotional and really weird. But that was it. And I just hung around with them, because there was a big break-up of friends and I was kind of separated from them.
Matt's adolescence was unusual in other ways too. His mother was a medium (and Matt himself would dabble regularly with Ouija boards), while his father was a former guitarist in The Tornadoes a '60s group produced by Britain's own Phil Spector, Joe Meek. Matt's dad would often tell him stories about how Meek would throw mixing desks at the group and draw guns on them in recording sessions (Meek eventually shot his landlady in the face and then blew his own head off). Matt's parents separated when he was 13 and from then on he was brought up by his grandmother. At the key moment in his life, he was being guided by someone two generations removed from him. This inevitably created tensions tensions which mostly found release through musical outlets (he was in a series of bands called awful things like Gothic Plague throughout this period).
Onstage, I felt free from the restrictions of everyday life, he explains now. Music has done that to me since the age of six. It's difficult to talk about that stuff. I didn't get that state from listening to music, it's always been the playing of music that's done it for me, even when all I knew was the Dallas theme tune when I was five. I remember my brother saying something like, 'That's cool, you can play that.' It was therapeutic. I can't really explain.
Music, however, wasn't his only release. When this interview is over, he takes NME to one side and explains how he was also drawn to certain criminal activities, some quite serious. What he says is off the record, but clearly if Muse hadn't taken off his life would now be following a very different path. It might also explain why he's prone to saying things like: I'm interested in the subconscious, the questions around the purpose of our existence. When you delve into that, it's like a black hole that goes nowhere. The deeper you go, the brain reacts in a way that's creative, that's just what happens to humans when they go that way.
But it doesn't really? What's certain is that Matt's upbringing has served as a powerful motivating force in the band's rise. It's why when they were 17 and 18, he would force Dominic and Chris to slog around Devon playing endless gigs to deserted puns, and how eventually he managed to persuade someone to fly the band to New York for the annual CMJ music Conference (the place where they were spotted, before eventually signing to Madonna's Maverick label in the US). It also helps you to understand the mental state of the group when they finally started to record 'Showbiz'.
For me, admits Matt, it was weird. It was the movement from a small town to this place where I was suddenly surrounded by loads of people saying, 'You're a genius.' I just thought, 'Jesus, what's going on? I've been making music for five years and now every one says it's going to be massive.' I just disbelieved all of it and found it very uncomfortable. And I guess that's what the album is about, the move from playing pubs in Devon to flying out to different countries and signing record deal in every one of them (Muse have a different deal in every territory.
That doesn't sound like cause for anguish, though, it sounds more like a cause for celebration. There was no conscious intention to do anything, argues Matt, it was just how we were feeling at the time. I'm not sure it was pain and anguish
He trails off.Look, you say ('Showbiz') is about anguish and pain, but those things are part of being human, and some people don't want to face up to certain things about life, but I don't find those things painful to face up to. The mortality of us, or whatever. I don't' find it unpleasant to admit it.
Most teenagers never give death a second thought. Do you think it's strange that you did? You're getting into weird territory he says, lowering his voice. We've all got our personal reasons why we understand a bit more about it. Two of my close friends had relatives who died (the table falls ominously silent).
ook, he rallies quickly, if you listen to the music and believe it's fraudulent, I don't care, go away. I don't' need to win people over. People who get it, will get it, and people who don't, just don't. I'm not desperate to win over people who fucking don't. I'm just concerned witht eh people who can relate to it the people who don't get it have obviously got personal experience which clash with ours. That's life. I'm not going to change myself to try to get on with everybody. It's impossible.
If you're looking for proof about the validity of his music, then here it is. When Matt talks about his band, he does so clearly and passionately. His life to date has been a struggle, and what you head on 'Showbiz' despite its barouque excesses and occasionally gauche lyrical content is the sound of that. There is extremity there, but not for the sake of it. And that's what people have tapped into. Muse are self-evidently part of a tradition that includes not only bands like Radiohead and Nirvana, but also Richey-era Manics and maybe even The Cure. Their fanbase can be characterized by its comparative youthfulness and Bellamy has confessed in the past that he's aiming to speak to people (his) age and younger.
I think one of the reasons why I said that is because I don't assume I've got more knowledge than someone who's lived on the planet for loner than me, he says with a shrug of his shoulders. I can understand why people older than us would go, 'That's crap.' People are unsettled by youth. I don't really want to affect people who've lived for longer than me.
I know what I'd feel if some younger person was singing something they felt was speaking to me. I'm noticing with age my opinions change and contradict what I thought when I was younger. I can only really talk about what I know, I don't really want to conflict with other people's lives which have been longer and more experienced than mine.
Do you think that's why your fans are younger than a lot other 'indie' groups? Some of the stuff that I'm thinking about is more in tune with people who've been brought up in my time, he decides. It's to do with technology. In japan, they've managed to combine massive technological advances with religion, whereas over here we've abandoned one for the other. I think there's a lot of soulless feeling around, and it affects people of this generation more than anyone.
All this from a band who are often accused of being apolitical (notoriously, they once refused to comment on the election of the far-right government in Austria). Perhaps their thoughts operate on a more, ahem, global scale. People really want us to care about those things (e.g. The situation in Austria), sighs Matt, and I can understand why people get passionately offended by us not knowing certain things, but no-one's perfect. I'd rather not talk about it really. I don't think a band's views on politics are relevant unless they mention it in their songs. Anything that's political in our songs is more on a spiritual level than a parliamentary level.
And on that bombshell, it's time to order another bottle of wine. Muse are a band developing fast. Their live shows, in all their riotous Andrew Lloyd Webber glory, already transcend anything that you'll hear on 'Showbiz' and they're showcasing one or two new songs that, bad titles like 'Plug In Baby' aside, are a radical departure from anything they've written to date. Just as Radiohead's 'The Bends' succeeded the more prosaic 'Pablo Honey', there's a real feeling that the same is about to happen to Muse.
They might be a group who willingly admit that they submit to their record company's wishes when it comes to promotion, but that's apparently where the interference ends. They've already got together nine or ten new songs, but no-one should hold their breath just yet, because the earliest they'll start recording them is after this summer's Reading Festival.
The thing that's in us, says Matt, newly refreshed with Italian red, 'is the fear of repetition. I'm never going to make an album for the sake of it just because people are giving studio time. I made that clear form the start. We'll only start making the second album when we've reached a stage where we can offer something radically different from what we documented on 'Showbiz'.
I suppose, right now, I'm in the middle of a transition. Some of the films I've seen since 'Showbiz' have influenced me, things like 'Being John Malkovich, Fight Club and The Matrix. Why? Because they're the first films I've seen that have made me think, 'This is what I've been thinking about.'
So we should expect a bleak, anti-capitalist polemic then? I have that in me, he deadpans. I'm trying to work out if I want to destroy society or make it a better place. That's not really what the songs are about though
No? Well, one or two of the songs are about how we've abandoned religion in favour of technology in this culture, while other cultures don't, he says, returning to an earlier theme. I want to talk more about the links between us and how they get affected by the way we live, the jobs we have and the technologies we use and how they serve to separate us. And then the rest of the songs are just about how much I've changed in the last five years.
So there you go. It's going to be a bit like 'OK Computer' (only joking). All of which leaves NME with only one final question to ask. Would you rather be famous or make a critically acclaimed album? That's a good question, laughs Matt quietly. it would be nice to think that what you've done is good enough to connect with millions of people, but I don't want to flog with dead horse if it's not going to happen. If what I do is not in tune with other people then fair enough, I'll live with it.
That doesn't answer the question. Well, I'm not sure (getting flustered).
Look, would you rather be Bush or The Velvet Underground. Er, I don't know. The Velvet Underground, he blurts out suddenly. Even if I don't know them. Jesus.
Having reduced Matt to a state of confused agitation, NME's tape recorder clicks off. Muse want to be like The Velvet Underground. Only popular. They will continue to play a lot of gigs until that happens. Some people think they're the best new band in Britain. Now you've met them and discovered they're not just corporate lapdogs, it's time for you to decide. Hurry up, though. Virtually everyone else already has.