MATT BELLAMY is of the opinion that the people who gather to watch Muse play “don’t see [the band] as being famous people”. He also believes that “there is no separation between the band and [its] audience,” and that he and his colleagues—bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dom Howard—are “just like them”.
It’s a statement that’s hard to take seriously considering that, a year ago this week, Muse’s album The Resistance topped the charts in 19 different countries, and the subsequent 12 months have seen the band headline countless festivals, stadiums and arenas the world over. Not to mention high-profile stars such as Queen’s Brian May, U2 guitarist The Edge (who joined the trio onstage at the Glastonbury festival in June), and Twilight author Stephenie Meyer (who begged them to pen a track for the film soundtrack for Eclipse) joining the band’s list of celebrity superfans. But no, even in light of all this, the frontman stands firm by his opinion.
As a younger man, Matt used to flail around in the mosh pit that spun in front of bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against The Machine, and he says he “learned a lot” about how to present a live show “from being a part of the energy of a crowd”.
“When I’m onstage I want to know what it’s like out there,” he says. “And I want to do something that will excite [the audience], something that I would have found exciting.”
The weekend before last, Muse put this theory to the test over two evenings at London’s Wembley Stadium. Performing in front of 80,000 people each night, the trio graced a stage that may have had older fans wondering if perhaps they were experiencing some kind of acid flashback.
In the warm, late summer evening, prior to showtime the platform erected at one end of the stadium field looked like a monstrosity of brutalist architecture, perhaps a municipal car park somewhere deep in Eastern Europe. But as Muse kicked into opening track Uprising, this grey and oddly unsettling structure charged into life: what minutes before had resembled breeze blocks above a lighting rig became scores of television screens, and then one giant screen, and then something that looked like a space-age Rubik’s Cube. And then back to the television sets.
This was just the start of it. From the rafters of the Wembley roof hung a glitter ball, onto which was projected a human eye. Midway through the set, the headliners stepped aboard a platform that carried them out over the crowd in a manner that suggested levitation. During Exogenesis: Symphony Part 1 (Overture), a giant, helium-filled balloon fashioned into the shape of a flying saucer (something so large that, in June, it forced MTV Germany off air during a live broad-cast of Slayer from the Rock am Ring festival) floated above the heads of the people on the field, a dancer or gymnast or contortionist gyrating at its base.
“The reason I think the bond between us and our audience is so strong is because what we give them is exactly what I’d want to see if I were watching the show,” says Matt.
When people in other bands speak of Muse they do so with a sense of breathless admiration that suggests that this is a group of people possessed of otherworldly powers. And watching them play in the middle of a stage that looks as if it had been beamed in from the future, or from another world entirely, one wonders, what kind of egos, what kind of madmen, could possibly conceive of something like this?
But then consider this: three weeks ago Muse found themselves in Manchester. Two days prior to performing to almost 40,000 people at Manchester’s Lancashire County Cricket Club, they played a football match against a local Salford side. Needing to make up numbers for their team, Chris sought players by posting an invitation on social networking site Twitter. He seems surprised that “quite a lot of people” turned up. Muse United got their tails spanked, but Chris—a mad-keen Rotherham United fan—did score a 40-yard screamer.
Dom claims that he could walk the streets of London with only “a possibility” that anyone would stop him for an autograph, and then he wouldn’t mind because “they’re always so nice about it”.
“I’ve never been chased by the paparazzi or anything like that,” he says. The drummer even manages to come pretty close to guessing the correct cost of four pints of milk—”Two quid?”. (Had he guessed “500 quid?” Kerrang! would have offered to have popped down the shops for him…)
Matt Bellamy, surely the most recognisable of the three musicians, says that “it’s rare” that he’s ever approached by strangers (again, though, he doesn’t mind these advances “because they tend to be fans of the band, and nice people”) and that he’s “glad that [Muse] have escaped the trappings of mainstream fame”.
“I’m not that famous,” he says. “I’m anonymous. I just blend in.”
So what are they like, then, the members of arguably the most adventurous and pioneering band on the planet? Well, they’re like guys you might know, like friends, lads, men. In other words, they’re the exact opposite of the people they appear to be for the two hours they stand onstage.
And of all the tricks Muse have up their sleeves, this is the most impressive.
“We’re the biggest band in the world that no-one’s ever heard of,” says Dom Howard.
MATT BELLAMY says that were it not for music, in the last 12 months he “would have probably gone off the deep end”.
“It’s been a strange year, an up and down year,” he says. “It’s been a weird time for me. I’ve been moving around a lot. I broke up with a long-term girlfriend, and that happened pretty much when [The Resistance] was released. I suppose it was probably the most successful period for the band with regard to how the album was received around the world. But for me I was kind of caught up with other stuff. For the band, it’s been great, but for me personally it’s been a bit strange.”
Were you able to appreciate the success, given everything else that was going on?
“This year I’ve been able to,” Matt says. “This year I’ve been able to look around and go, ‘Wow, this is great’. But not so much last year. Playing live is always fantastic, but that’s the only thing I really enjoyed. My good memories from last year are all from the times when I was onstage.”
Matt is presently homeless. Not homeless as in he drinks White Lightning from the bottle beneath Waterloo Bridge, but homeless in the sense that he doesn’t have a bed he can call his own. Muse work as hard as any band you might care to nominate—by the time the tour in support of The Resistance draws to a close in December the trio will have toured Europe and America twice—but even allowing for time off, the 32-year-old singer, guitarist and pianist has been living in hotels for one full year. Previous to this Matt lived in Italy, but his erstwhile girlfriend retained that property when the pair separated. Presently Muse’s principal songwriter is stepping out with actress Kate Hudson, a development that might just nudge him into the realm of celebrity that to date he has so effortlessly avoided. As such Matt seems about as comfortable discussing this subject as he would be lending a stranger his credit card for the day.
“It’s all great, it’s all going fine,” he says of the fledgling relationship. “We’re having a great time together just getting to know one another.” And then silence.
What advice would you give to readers hoping to pull a Hollywood A-lister?
“Er, God, be a perfect English gentleman.” More silence. Not rude silence, just ‘move on, please’ silence.
But if recent times have heralded a period of change for Matt Bellamy, at least he’s not the only one. During the recording of The Resistance in Italy in 2009, the drinking habits of bandmate Chris reached chronic levels. He took the view that if he himself wasn’t recording that day then he could better use his time getting pissed. This he did, and his absence from the sessions altered the dynamic of the group. Without his presence and input into the larger details of Muse’s fifth studio album, Matt and Dom—a man who at the time worried that the follow-up to 2006’s Black Holes and Revelations might not be a success—were left alone to bicker over the direction of the music that was being made. Today Chris will describe his relationship with Muse’s 2009 release as being “distant”.
“It was just becoming such a problem,” he says of his drinking. “I’d stop going out with [his bandmates] because I was drinking three pints to their every one. It’s difficult to explain to people why it is you’re doing that. So on tour I’d stay in my hotel room just so I could drink more. I look at photos of myself from that time—and obviously in this business you have your picture taken a lot—and I can’t believe what I looked like.
“Since I gave up drinking [18 months ago],” he adds, “I’ve lost two-and-a-half stone and I feel much, much better. Obviously it was the smart thing to do.”
Chris may be Muse’s most overlooked member, but in journalistic terms he is an unearthed gem. The son of a South Yorkshire steelworker, this father of four (soon to be five) remains married to Kelly, his teenage sweetheart, and appears so down to earth that it’s something of a surprise that he doesn’t show up for this interview wearing grease-stained overalls. He sits with the fans at Rotherham matches, but also speaks (in the most unassuming manner) of being friends with former England goalkeeper David James, and having the footballer round to his house to watch games on television. At one point during our conversation, one of the band’s representatives walks over to ask whether Rio Ferdinand is still coming to the second of the two Wembley Stadium shows.
As both a friend of the stars and a man of the people, Chris is the unlikeliest rock star you’ll meet in a month of Friday nights.
“I’m very happy with that [perception],” he says. “I’m able to have this amazing job—if you could call it a job—and to make music and play for so many people. But then away from it all I’m able just to live my life. For me, it’s perfect.”
LISTENING BETWEEN the lines, it seems that the members of Muse have come to believe that in the past few years a distance has grown between them. This division though is not personal, but instead purely geographic. A decade or so ago, when the band’s fortunes first began to blossom, Matt and Dom moved straight to London, and Chris used to join them from his home in Devon. But as each boy became a man, things changed. In 2010 Dom has his home in the South of France, Chris is based in Ireland and until last year Matt lived in Italy. Needless to say, nights out at the cinema became difficult to schedule.
This, though, is soon to change.
“We’ve decided that we’re all going to move back to London,” explains Dom. “For many years we’ve been split up. We’ve lost that feeling a little bit where we feel we can walk down the street or just jump in the car and be at the rehearsal, or even just hang out for its own sake, without making any music. Because for years we’ve just got together specifically to make music.
“So it’s been a great few weeks for the band, us having made that decision. It’s probably gonna happen halfway through next year, in the spring or the summer,” he continues. “It’ll be brilliant to have the opportunity just to go around each other’s houses to jam and to have enough space to play. I think that’s gonna really address how we make the next album. Chris thinks it’ll be like being 19 again.”
What if you move to London and discover that it’s not like when you were 19, and that outside of the band you no longer have anything in common?
“Well, it’s not like we’re gonna be living next door to each other,” the drummer says. “It’s not like we’ll be living in the Big Brother house or anything. But we do get on; we’re still mates and we all still socialise together. I’ve got no doubts that it’s all going to be fine.”
Dom Howard is quite convinced that this decision of the three members of Muse will be “an important creative component of the next album”. But it’s also the case that as with 2008, 2011 will be the year that this band disappear from view. So if you didn’t see them at their recent brace of summer shows, then it’s probably not advisable for you to hold your breath ‘til next they hover into view.
“The plan for next year is not really to do anything,” says Matt. “Knowing us that could all change, but that’s the plan. We’ll probably do a couple of shows [Muse have been offered a headline slot on next summer’s Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, for one], but other than that, 2011 will be about making the next album.”
And what might that album sound like?
“Fuck knows,” answers Dom.
ALL THIS, of course, is still to come. Before then, and until December 20, Muse will do what they seem to do more than any other band save for Biffy Clyro: tour. And what a tour it’s been. There are certain groups who are popular in certain countries, and then there are groups that are popular in every country. Muse belong in the second category.
“I suppose we’re giving U2 a run for their money,” says Dom, with a quick laugh.
And how. By the time the tour support of The Resistance reaches its denouement, this otherwise unassuming band will have played, among other places, at the San Siro stadium in Milan and the Stade de France in Paris, and headlined the likes of New York’s Madison Square Garden (twice0.
“A lot of bands complain about playing big venues, but at the moment I really enjoy it,” says Matt. “There may come a point where I want to change that, but even then we’ll probably want to get back to playing these huge shows.”
Is there a case to be made that you’re now the biggest band in the world?
“I certainly would never want to make that claim,” says the frontman, quickly.
“Sometimes I do think about that, yeah,” says Dom. “I won’t lie. We seem to be in that small gang, with Coldplay and Radiohead. That’s about it for English bands, isn’t it?”
Indeed it is. Muse presently occupy a position that few bands can ever hope to reach, especially not in the current musical climate. It might be argued—it may even be probable—that with the structure of the music industry decaying like so many rotten teeth, never again will a band rise to the heights that this trio have attained. Then again, bands that combine the raw talent and musical and artistic sophistication that Muse seem to so effortlessly hold in their grasp do not emerge at all often. Truly, you may never see their like again.
The question, then, seems obvious: where, and what, next?
“I think the next album will be more like the first album,” reckons Matt. “[It’ll be] more emotional and more personal. I think there’s been a personal side to our music that’s been neglected for a very long period of time… I had a personal life that was pretty stable and good for a long time, and then it stopped being that. Having had my life shaken up makes me want to explore that again.”
Is unhappiness a good fuel for creativity?
“I wouldn’t describe it as unhappiness,” he says, “but I would say that having your life shaken up is good for creativity, yes.”
“We’ve got to do something great with the next album,” says Dom. And then he has a think, and changes his mind. “Then again, it might be that we’re due a duff one. Every band that’s passed the test of time has at least a couple of duff ones to their name, don’t they? Maybe on the next album, it’ll be our turn.”
It may be, yes, but it would be a shock, the kind of shock that would only take second place to the earth ceasing to turn. It may be a cliché to say this, but as impossible as it may seem given their work to date, Muse could still be the kind of band whose best work has yet to be heard.
šaltinis: Muse messageboard.