Uncut - Interview (Intro online article)

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Translated from German



Intro: This morning, I had the chance to listen to your album twice or three times at a listening session. So impressions are still fresh. Would you take it as a compliment if I said that I didn't expect some of the songs as being on a Muse album...?

Matt Bellamy, Muse singer: Yes, because we wanted to change. Every song was supposed to be a bit different from everything we did before. But I think that we turned away from our old material especially in production matters. The sound's different. If we played the songs in the bandroom, more rawly, they would sound more like Muse.

Was it your intention to make the sound completely different?

Indeed. We wanted to extend our knowledge, especially in production matters. We wanted to become more interesting.

Is this due to producer Rich Costey?

No, we produced the album all together in a way. We thought the time had come with the fourth album to show a different aspect of Muse. Many elements of the new album had always been a part of Muse, we just didn't manage to work them out on the previous albums. Now we made it.

Nearly two months ago, when the album was to be mixed, I read a posting on your web site which seemed to be just gibberish to me. You talked about a ménage à trois of Prince, R2-D2 and [the] Queen. However, now I understand this hint better, the influences - from Prince through to Queen - are more than obvious...

"Supermassive Black Hole", yeah [laughs]. We always had this groove element but we never managed to really implement it. Before those kind of riffs always sounded a bit like Rage Against The Machine. Then we tried out a drum beat, an electronic beat Dom had created. This gave the song a completely new direction. Actually it is a heavy blues riff but the electro beat inspired me to do a totally different vocal performance. That's why there are these funk vocals. There's a song called "Microcuts" on our second album in which I sing falsetto. I absolutely wanted to do this again but this time less opera-like.

This nonsense in your internet posting, doesn't it summarize quite well what Muse is all about? To be creative, to make the impossible possible - anything goes?

These somehow strange seeming words and phrases are actually just the way we talk to each other. We love to rummage in the most hidden and isolated places. Because you find some very interesting things there sometimes.

The new album seems to be much more optimistic to me. Especially musically because I didn't get much of the lyrics yet...

Yeah, the fun element definitely is bigger. I wouldn't declare it as pure fun but you definitely get a deeper view into our sense of humour. Maybe for the very first time. Of course there are serious moments on the album but its character is undoubtly positive.

Why did it take such a long time to finish the album? After all, three years have been gone since your last opus ("Absolution", author's note)?

It was indeed a very long recording process, our longest to date. "Absolution" was published in the States eight months after the release in Europe, which of course distorted our tour plans. Eventually we toured until April 2005. Then we had a break for a few months and started writing new songs in June or July. We wanted the songs to be different this time, which is why the rehearsals took a longer time. The recording process dragged on because we tried out many new sounds and techniques. This was very important for the band, since we could take Muse up to a new level.

Chris once said before the release that you will shock your fans with the new album. Seems like you were prepared to get ambivalent reactions...

Most of all, we wanted to surprise ourselves! I'm very glad that songs like "Supermassive Black Hole" or "Knights of Cydonia" came off well. They've been in my head for quite some time, I just wasn't sure if we could get them right. We wanted to get rid of all boundaries and show what Muse are able to do.

Parts of the album were recorded in a chateau in South France in a quiet environment, other parts however, in sharp contrast, in New York City. To what extent did these extremes influence your songwriting?

In Miraval (name of the chateau/studio, author's note) we were cut off from the outside world. Our tour life seemed to be incredibly far away, similar distances came up in our private lives - and we left our expectations behind, so that we could work with absolute freedom. If you want to enter unknown territory, it may be important to cut yourself off from the outside world. At least it is for me, because everyday life - TV, family, friends - only takes your mind off. The fans' or the record label's expectations, we left all this at home, knowingly or unknowingly. These are the positive aspects of this marooned atmosphere. On the other hand, it also leads to difficulties, for example to definitely make decisions. We almost lost track of our ideas and concepts. This was very confusing. We had nearly 20 songs, more than ever before.
In New York, strangely enough, we could decide quite quickly then.

There have been rumours that the nightlife in New York inspired uptempo songs such as "Supermassive Black Hole"...

[laughs]. When we left France, some of the songs were still raw versions. At that time, "Supermassive Black Hole" seemed to be a joke to us. Or "Starlight", for example, sounded much sadder and more melancholic at first. In New York, obviously, we were thrilled somehow, which made the song sound much more optimistic. The same happened with "Supermassive", it became really one of our faves. Possibly this was indeed due to the atmosphere of the city, with all the clubs, so the groove aspect became more important in some of the songs.

Is there a golden thread in the lyrics of the album? Maybe not a concept, but certain recurring themes? [The title of the album was still to be decided on at the time of the interview, author's note]

Maybe...Normally the lyrics are from a first person view, I've never really told stories of certain people. This time, it is a bit about struggling with various contrarities of life, but from a different person's view, not from mine. It is about the fear of who or what is ruling the world. It is about trust and about not losing track in this tangle. Maybe it is about a person struggling his way through this chaos.

Good point. There is a song called "A Soldier's Poem" on the album which is only two minutes long, however it is your first one to be concretely political.

Yeah, somehow I felt sympathy with all the soldiers fighting in the war, but who are never talked about in the media because war is such an anonymous monstrosity. People often forget that soldiers risk their lives and amidst all the political debates their lives come least. To me, it was more interesting to look at the man, or the men, who die in war. It is not really about the political aspect or arguments for or against the war in Iraq. It is written from a soldier's view. Stylistically, the song had opened a new door for me, because I'm singing for the first time in first person view, from the soldier's view, without actually singing about me. Tom Waits, for example, uses to sing about other characters, too.

So is it a coincidence that the next song "Invincible" starts out with a militarily-seeming march rhythm?

[laughs] No. Both songs indeed were originally almost one continuous song. Originally, both parts were written in D major, but the vocals in "Invincible" were too high for me. The falsetto just sounded weird. Then we changed the key of the latter in C major, and it was only then that the song was split up. I wanted both songs to be on the album, they are some kind of the heart of the album. "A Soldier's Poem" tells the story of someone who gives up hope, whereas "Invincible" is about an almost unrealistic optimism, a bit like: We can do anything, we have the power.

Why have you decided on "Supermassive Black Hole" for the first single?

To me, this song is fundamentally different to the rest of the album. The album works well as a whole, but this song absolutely stands out. Since there is a single released before the album comes out, I thought it would be good to point at a different aspect of Muse. A more groovy and also funny aspect. When the album is out, we will probably release a single which meets the basic theme of the album better.
Maybe "Starlight" or "Invincible".

In the song "Assassin" however, you turn out to be real metallers in System Of A Down fashion...

[laughs] Yeah, I've always been fascinated of this speed metal riffing. All this stuff, like Lightning Bolt, SOAD or the stoic drum and bass structure of Def Leppard. Each time Muse experiment with these kinds of minimal approaches, we sound like a metal band. Or on the other hand "A Soldier's Poem", these are the genres I love. Three people playing on their instruments. We thought that would be an important aspect of Muse as well [laughs].

The album represents quite different styles and genres. Do you think the people are able to get along with that?

Of course I don't know if everyone is able to do. But I'm sure some are. Especially the Internet and iPod generation is dealing more with albums again, and is occasionally listening to many different styles. Just because you can carry it all around with yourself. People are able to shift between different styles and they're more open-minded towards different genres. That's how I am listening to music. So the Internet had a great impact on the album, all the possibilities and the webstations you can listen to always and everywhere...

To me, it seems much easier to take particular songs out of the context.

Maybe this is the direct influence. I don't believe that an album has to have this stringent flow anyway. Not anymore.

You seem to deal with esoteric themes again. One song is called "Exo Politics", which means politics which is influenced by extraterrestial intelligence and conspiracy theories growing up around...

I've always been interested in conspiracy theories. There is much information withhold from the people for sure. Including myself, so I'm not saying that I know about them. I've read much about it prior to the album production. Some things are just bollocks, other things are quite interesting. I like this narrow line. Many songs on the album deal with conspiracy theories or the formation of a world government, a topic which has been discussed in the last fifty years. Other songs are about control and how the media is purposely influencing and trying to keep us off from the truth. Methods that keep people off from questioning things and issues. Inventions and technologies bottled up in order to being able to use them later in military. I'm interested in all this, and it influenced the album. The first song ["Take A Bow", author's note] is about the feeling of the little man who lost control of anything and now wants to take revenge on authority. "Exo Politics" is dealing more with the aspect I think is daffy, though [laughs]. It is about a trade agreement between the US government and extraterrestials, about the use of new technologies. Many people believe that a large part of the contemporary techniques came from a different world. I'm not sure about that, but it is certainly interesting.

Last question: Prior to the album production, you have been to Bhutan for some weeks. Have you just been there on vacation, or was there a deeper intention?

I'm always very interested in escaping our modern world for some time, the same reason which made us go to this rustic chateau in South France. Mobile phones, computers, TV. If you leave all this behind for some time, it helps much - even with songwriting. It's definitely easier to write for me when I'm free from these influences. Moreover, getting to know another way of living appeals to me. That's very inspiring, you are able to write more objectively. I did not write songs there, except for some small ideas and drafts, but I definitely collected some lyrical ideas and topics.

See also

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