NME 1999-10 – The first great British guitar band of the 21st century

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

The first great British guitar band of the 21st century

Oh the angst! The Pain! Searching for truth in a meaning less world..
Such is life in Teignmouth. Just ask Muse, three lads who've escaped small-town hell to be the toast of America. This just looks silly.

Three 21-year-olds from the sleepy fringes of Devon, lording it up in a glitzy Manhattan hotel lounge, chomping gleefully on tree-trunk cigars like they've just shagged New York senseless and eaten the entire music business for dessert. Any minute now these straggly indie-kid interlopers are sure to be turfed out on to the sidewalk with all the other guitar toting losers, back to their Transit van world. See ya. Keep dreaming, suckers. Except this never happens. Because even if they remain just above toilet-gig level at home. Muse are trainee rock royalty in America right now. Madonna herself beat half-a-dozen bidders to sign the youngsters to her Maverick label last November. Which is why the Teignmouth trio are billeted in New York for three weeks of back-to-back promotion for an album that hasn't even been released yet.

When British record companies sniffed around Muse, they declared them 'the new Radiohead' and shuffled away. When American labels saw them in New York's CMJ in November, they declared them 'The new Radiohead!' and formed a queue to sign their asses on the spot - cultural differences or Brit snobbery? Probably a bit of both, as Muse are more than the new Radiohead - they're the new Pixies, Nirvana, Mansun, Queen and Guns N' Roses too. And in their own broody intense way, they are about to explode.

Matthew Bellamy (singer/guitarist), Chris Wolstenholme (bass) and Dominic Howard (drums) were thrown together in a dark place of stagnation and decay, despair and degradation. It's called Teignmouth. Just below Torquay on the English Riviera, Teignmouth is a black hearted realm of eternal torment from which few souls emerge unscathed. Beneath its sleepy surface of genteel retirement homes and crazy-golf ranges, something deeply wicked festers in the remorseless south Devon sun. Possibly. "It's sort of like Torquay without the nightclubs" shudders Dom. Sounds pretty sinister. Like one of those elegantly shabby red-brick English towns where it's forever 1952 apart from the raging crack problem... "I think the best way to describe Teignmouth would be if we sent you the article that was printed on the front page of the local paper," sneers Matthew. There's a picture of the mayor of Teignmouth putting our CD in the bin because apparently we said in some interview that Teignmouth is a boring place, full of drug-takers. He said "I don't know who these drug-takers are, no-one takes drugs here...' Hahaha! That gives you an idea of what the town is like." Naturally, growing up in a stifling backwater run by rock-hating killjoys straight out of Footloose, the Muse boys were sometimes suicidally bored. They even resorted to doing 'dodgy stuff' on occasion.

There was a whole lot of nights when there was nothing to do and the only stuff that was fun to do was music," recalls Matthew. "You ended up doing dodgy stuff like breaking in to swimming pools, just because that was something to do. Most of the friends we had have either gone to University or become drug dealers." Ooh, the mayor will love that. Picture a bonfire of NME's outside the town hall. But at least the nascent Muse had something to kick against. And kick they did, starting with their debut sixth form gig five years ago. "The first gig we ever played together was a Battle of the Bands contest," says Matthew. "We wore loads of make-up, played loads of trashy punk stuff and got the crowd to invade the stage and smash all our gear. And we won! That's the weird thing. Because we beat all these bands that were really technically proficient, bands that sounded like Jamiroquai. People were shouting, you fucking cunts!' That totally affected our view of what music's about - it's not necessarily about music, it's about really believing in what you're doing."

So Muse kept plugging away, ignoring their critics, trashing their gear, dreaming of the big league. They eventually signed with a West Country management company and won a UK record deal with Mushroom, home of Garbage. And now, five years later, Madonna owns their souls. Sweet revenge on snobby old Britain and tight-arsed little Teignmouth, right? "That's what started us but I don't think that's what we're doing now," says Matthew. "The stuff we write now is more of a realisation of what the world's like. It's easy to blame stuff on a small town but then you go out there and you realise that some of the attitudes that you thought were just in your small town are actually all over." Muse's debut album is called 'Showbiz'. Oh yes. Most first albums contain two or three half-great peaks padded out with fillers. 'Showbiz' has a dozen tracks. ALL of which are heart-wrenching Wagnerian uber-anthems with fiery Spanish rhythms seismic meta-choruses and bile-spewing ultra-lyrics from the scabrous depths of Matthew Bellamy's charred-black heart. In other words, it's fucking great. But, bloody hell, is it miserable. Not trouser-fumbling hey-nonny-no Belle and Sebastian wistful nor chest thumping Daddy-never-loved-me Pearl Jam feel-my-pain self pity. Not even beautifully desolate and fragile like Thom Yorke, but aaaargh! post-apocalyptic heart-on-skewer Nick Cave tormented and urrrgggh! self-lacerating edge-of-darkness Ian Curtis fucked-up desperate. Heroically, bracingly, cathartically tragic. Hooray!

And yet Matthew seems like a pleasant well-balanced chap in person. Why the long face Sadboy-Slim? "Erm.... is this the time or the place?" Matthew wonders nervously "I don't think it is. Aren't we all tormented in some way? I've always had trouble.... I think it's like existentialism or something. The problems I'm having, if everyone else is having them the world's a scary place." Is miserable music some kind of perverse comfort in a cruel world? "All I can say is some of the music I listened to when I was young was like how we sound," shrugs Matthew. "That emotional deep stuff was what made me feel good because someone else out there is saying things the same as me. I used to listen to a lot of blues - Robert Johnson, Ray Charles I think that music was way deeper than I could have understood but for some reason it spoke to me."

Of course, Muse will be roundly mocked for taking themselves so seriously. But cynics said the same thing about Nirvana at the end of the '80s. Remember these boys are only 21, hurtling into a new millennium with their emotional wounds wide open. "I think things pick up generally towards the start of every decade." nods Matthew, spotting light at the end of a very long, very dark tunnel. "In 2000 or 2001, people will start getting more positive. There's a lot of fear hanging around which people are trying to deny but there is. And when that's over hopefully there will be a positive thing. Either that or extremely negative, hahaha! And it will all be over..." The first great British guitar band of the 21st century has arrived. Enjoy them while there's still time.


See also

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