Rolling Stone 1999-10-01 – Muse Live the Dream

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An article published on the Rolling Stone website.

Muse Live the Dream

Muse Live the Dream

"Falling down and 15,000 people scream/ They were all begging for your dream," sings Muse's Matthew Bellamy against a backdrop of ethereal guitars in "Falling Down," an emotional track from the band's American debut, Showbiz. Is it a song about stardom, about finally realizing one's dreams, as this British threesome have done?

"Um, no," Bellamy admits bashfully, "It's actually, well, 15,000 people is the population of the town where we're from. Seaside towns are not great places to grow up in. They're very nice places where you can leave your doors open and all that, but it's just got a small town vibe about it. I think some of the song was actually about wanting to blow it up!"

Bellamy, drummer Dominic Howard and guitarist Chris Wolstenholme know a bit about blowing up. They began their rock odyssey when they were twelve, knocking around in a variety of rival bands in their sleepy seaside town of Teignmouth, 250 miles south of London. By their late teens, when the dust settled and their peers opted for university life or a future plowing the lush fields of their town, the three joined forces. Bellamy, then a pianist, learned to play guitar and began to sing; Wolstenholme, then a drummer and vocalist, switched to bass and back-up vocals and the three began cranking out material.

Despite the collaboration, Muse's muse primarily pursues Bellamy. He's the one responsible for creating the intriguing blend of sophisticated fretwork, pointed lyrics, charged vocals and moody piano enhancements that give the band their sound. "I write a hell of a lot of songs and [Chris and Dominic] sort of work as my filter, do you know what I mean?" he asks, generously adding, "[But] it wouldn't sound the same without the aggression of those two because it's the arrangements and the way they're translated that make it work."

Indeed, their sound is unusually lavish for a trio: South American and Spanish guitar influences appear on tracks like "Muscle Museum" ("That flamenco style is the kind of guitar I really love trying to play," enthuses Bellamy); riveting bass arcs carry the melody in "Sunburn;" and then there's the bombastic bottom end in "Overdue." "The magic is there between the three of us and there's a lot more power live than there is on the record," says Bellamy of the group's rich energy.

In fact, this brazen marriage of tumbling piano riffs, bravely evocative vocals and well-matched bass and drums is what first caught the attention of U.S. labels. Shortly after dazzling the jaded industry folks with their performance at the 1998 CMJ Convention in New York, the band of twenty-year-olds was snatched up by Maverick and sent into the studio with Radiohead producer John Leckie, who was as much a fan of theirs as they were of him. Their early inspirations were Nirvana and Radiohead, the latter moreso because of their innovative sensibility and willingness to bare their souls lyrically and musically. Even so, any comparison rankles them, eliciting a "we're not 'Radiohead lite'" response.

In fact, though there is a distinctive likeness, Leckie's work with them was built solely around the Muse sound, encouraging them to experiment with Wurlitzers and Mellotrons when recording. "He taught us the importance of getting a really good live performance sound in the studio," says Wolstenholme. "When you go into the studio, you don't have 10,000 watts of P.A. blasting in your face. You're playing into a dead room. So you've got to put the energy in there somehow and being able to fiddle around with things makes the difference."

Live, of course, is when the band truly shines. Recently playing for 10,000 people at a festival in France, Wolstenholme came to a profound realization: "Sometimes you go around to all these little venues and play to twenty people and think, 'Well, what's the point of playing to twenty people?' But then you go to a festival and realize that if you played to twenty people in every city or every town, then you've got, like, 3,000 or 4,000 people watching you. And you realize how important twenty people are.'"

ADRIANNE STONE (October 1, 1999)

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