Rolling Stone 2009-09-30 – Global Superstars Muse Explode in America

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An article in the October 2009 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, on pages 13 and 18.

Global Superstars Muse Explode in America

With a Top Five record and stadium gigs with U2, the Brit trio have arrived
By David Fricke

MATT BELLAMY LOOKS at it this way: "It's a grounding experience," the singer-guitarist-pianist says a few days before his band, the British trio Muse, starts a three-week run opening stadium shows for U2. "It reminds you you're doing well, but not quite as well as them," he adds, laughing, on the phone from his home near Lake Como, in northern Italy. Actually, Bellamy, 31, is calling from the middle of a maelstrom. A week earlier, on September 13th, Bellamy, drummer Dominic Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme made their Broadway and U.S. television debuts on the same night. Their performance of "Uprising," the pneumatic-metal single from the group's new album, The Resistance – from a gig the band played to a packed house at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York – was shown during MTV's Video Music Awards broadcast. Two days later, The Resistance, Muse's fifth studio album, was released. Then, on September 23rd at Giants Stadium, Must played their first set under U2's gargantuan Claw, aptly hitting the stage with "America," from West Side Story. By then, The Resistance – a whirl of serrated-guitar...

Photograph caption: SHOWTIME Bellamy at Giants Stadium, where Muse opened for U2 in September


...rock, classical outbursts and Bellamy's apocalyptic broadsides, fired in a glass-spear falsetto – was Number One in 16 countries, including the U.K., and Number Three in the U.S. The Resistance is surely the only hit album in the world right now with a song – "United States of Eurasia (+ Collateral Damage)" – that includes a vocal homage to Queen, a quote from Frederic Chopin's "Nocturne in E Flat Major" and lyrics inspired by The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, the 1998 book by Carter-administration national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. Muse's American success has been a long time coming. Bellamy, Howard, also 31, and Wolstenholme, 30 – school-mates from Teignmouth, a small town on England's south west coast, who started playing together in 1994 – have sold 8 million albums worldwide, and they filled London's Wembley Stadium on their own in 2007. "But we've always been a bit behind in America," Wolstenholme admits. Howard is more blunt: "The first two albums didn't count there." An early U.S. deal with Madonna's Maverick label ended after Muse's 1999 debut, Showbiz, in part because of a company order that Bellamy lighten up on the falsetto. Muse finally started touring here in earnest in 2004; three years later, they sold out New York's Madison Square Garden. "It's been a gradual building, and a pleasure comes with that," says Bellamy, talking at cheerful machine-gun speed. "We didn't get there with any massive hit songs or a hit album, although they've done well. We don't owe anybody anything. It comes from putting on good shows and having a good connection with fans." Those fans run a bizarre gamut from Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, who has cited the band as an inspiration for her bestselling quartet of vampire romances (the group also has songs on the soundtracks to both of the Twilight movies), to conservative demagogue Glenn Back, who has played "Uprising" on his syndicated radio show. "I don't know much about him," Bellamy confesses, "apart from a few questionable views on some social things." The singer's own politics may be best described as aggressive skepticism. "I am hungry for unrest/Let's push this beyond peaceful protest," he sings over the prog-rock turmoil of Unnatural Selection," which Bellamy wrote after the death of an innocent bystander, pushed by a policeman, during demonstrations against the G-20 summit meeting this past spring in London. Bellamy loathes politicians on the left and the right – "I can't believe we leave actual policymaking to a small network of people unaccountable to their voters" – and is a keen student of conspiracy theories, up to a point. "I'm a curious person," he says, and, he insists, "a rational thinker. There is loads of stuff on the Internet suggesting 9/11 was an inside job. But that is not my belief." "He likes extremes," Howard says of Bellamy's songwriting. "Those things work better with our music anyway." The biggest misconception about Muse, he says, is "we're these serious dudes who think the world's gonna end in the next 10 minutes." (Wolstenholme claims the bandmates laughed a lot while working on "United States of Eurasia," specifically at "the Queen bit. It's so ridiculous.") In fact, the studio where Muse recorded The Resistance is a bunker – a man-made cave inside a mountain near Bellamy's home at Como. He created the facility by converting dug-out spaces previously used as storage areas and wine cellars. "You get in a lift and go two floors underground, he says. "Something rubbed off too. The usual paranoia on on our records was accentuated by being cut off down there, watching BBC World News all day long." When asked just how paranoid he is, Bellamy doesn't flinch. His Italian girlfriend is, he says, "a fully qualified psychologist. She tells me I do have slight paranoid tendencies." Bellamy also has genuine rock history in his family tree. His father, George, was a guitarist in the Sixties British band the Tornados. Their 1962 instrumental space-pop classic, "Telstar," a tribute to a communications satellite, produced by Joe Meek, was the first American Number One single by a British group. But George was working as a building contractor and plumber when Matt was born in Cambridge in 1978. "My dad got burned by the industry – he didn't get paid anything," Matt says. At home, there was "no glamour, no sense I was being brought up by anybody famous." Matt didn't pick up the guitar until his early teens, shortly after his parents divorced. "I'm sure it had something to do with him," he says. "I missed him and turned to the guitar." (Wolstenholme's father worked in the coal industry; Howard's dad was a tailor, specializing in academic gowns and church vestments.) Matt says he can now see some of the Tornados' influence in Muse songs such as "Knights of Cydonia," the big galactic-Western finish of the 2006 album Black Holes and Revelations. "It still stands out as really unusual music, especially for its time," Matt says of his father's biggest hit. "I suppose I always thought that being innovative, out of the ordinary, was a good thing. "Weirdly, he thinks I've done way better, in terms of success," Matt adds. "I control my own destiny. His main concern was that no one could push us around. Although until I get a Number One in America, I'll always have a slight chip on my shoulder." He laughs. "If I can get a Number One album there, we're truly even."

Photograph caption:
UNDERGROUND 'RESISTANCE' Bellamy, Wolstenholme and Howard (from left) recorded their album in a studio built into an Italian mountainside. "We were cut off down there," Bellamy says.

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