Total Guitar 2003-12 - Matt Bellamy: The ONLY guitar intertview!
AS ANTHEMIC AS IT IS EXPERIMENTAL ABSOLUTION IS MUSE'S GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT YET. MATT BELLAMY TELLS US ABOUT TAKING CHORDS APART, GETTING THE ULTIMATE TONE AND THE MAKING OF A MASTERPIECE
WORDS: JOE MATERA
It starts with the sound of massed armies approaching and ends with a single dying power chord - it's called Apocalypse Please and it's the opening track on Muse's extraordinary new album Absolution. From here on in it's a non-stop lunatic ride through some of the grandest, most unashamedly epic guitar music ever created, taking in mournful death marches (Blackout), sound-and-fury riffing (Stockholm Syndrome), as well as thunderous end-of-the-world anthems (Time Is Running Out).
In the months leading up to the album's release, Matt Bellamy told the press that the upcoming Muse record would be more 'uplifting' than previous efforts. We needn't have worried. From its portentous opening bars to its final desolate climax, Absolution is about as 'uplifting' as a nuclear holocaust.
Unsurprisingly, given its sheer scale and scope, the album wasn't an easy one to make. Sessions began in September 2002, but after three months the band found themselves with little to show for their efforts. It took a new producer and a change of location to finally get the creative cylinders firing.
"The first songs we started recording for Absolution were Butterflies And Hurricanes and Blackout", recalls Matt. "We'd been working with a producer called Paul Reeve, who was the guy we worked with right back in the beginning. We tried to go for a mixture of a lot of strings and a lot of choral backing vocals, and those two songs worked really well in that way. But when we tried to use that same technique on a couple of other songs, it didn't work.
"So we decided to take a break from it over Christmas. When we came back in the New Year we opted to work with this guy Rich Costey [ Rage Against The Machine, The Mars Volta] and it all took on a more minimalist approach."
Of course, what Matt Bellamy considers "minimalist" is what the rest of us would describe as "absolutely bleeding monumental" - and, sure enough, Absolution is shot through with mad effects, unorthodox scales, and jaw-droppingly inventive guitar sounds. TG caught up with Bellamy during Muse's recent Australia tour and asked 'How on earth do you do it?'
The guitar on the new album sound immense. What's your secret?
"Well, in a studio environment you can really test amps out against each other and find out what sounds best. I went through a lot of different cabs and heads but ended up using a Diezel head with a Soldano cabinet. It was the best sound, so I used that on everything. And I'll be using that exact set-up live as well. The good thing about the Diezel is that it's MIDI controllable, which means I can plug my guitar straight into the amp and have the effects just going through the effects loop.
"What I use is a Line 6 Echo Pro, which is actually a studio unit. Because it's also MIDI-controllable, I can have it on a rack next to the amp, leaving the signal between the guitar and the amp completely clean. It goes straight from me into the amp, with the Echo Pro running parallel. So when I hit my MIDI foot-controller the amp brings it into the loop."
How did you go about capturing those sounds in the studio?
"Basically, the cabinet had about 20 microphones in front of it! I couldn't tell you what they all were - there were so many different types. But all of the leads were going into a mixer. Obviously, the mixing desk was really big, and because we're only a three-piece band we put a lot of mics on our instruments, then mixed different microphones together to get a sound. We would just go through them all - on some songs we'd have, like, four mics going at once while others would have just one. Then on other tunes we'd have a little of all of them. That approach gave us a lot of manoeuvrability. We actually mixed the album on the same mixing desk The Beach Boys used for Pet Sounds. That Was Rich's [Costey, producer] idea."
How did your approach differ from previous albums? "In the past, I used to layer the guitars quite a lot, but this time around I wanted to get just one guitar part to stand out and be just perfect. On the last album [Origin of Symmetry] from example, on songs like Citizen Erased or Micro Cuts I did a lot of multiple guitar parts. But when I went to do it live, I found myself simplifying the guitar parts, which I then thought sounded much more powerful and more effective.
"So in making Absolution, instead of recording all of the songs in layers, I was working on the parts a lot more before I started to record them."
Did you use any weird tunings?
"Most of the album is in standard tuning. But there were a couple of songs where I used different ones - Stockholm Syndrome has a drop D tuning, and Blackout has standard tuning all the way through but the D string is dropped down to Db, just for a couple of notes at the very end. And on Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist I have a capo on the 10th fret."