Muse, it is claimed, make “rock music for clever people”. A bit like Radiohead, with whom Matt Bellamy and friends have been too often compared. Front man Matt admits that he hasn’t heard that comparison “for a long time.” Hailing from Devon – “where there was nothing to do except play music” – Muse have hit back at all easy comparisons with their latest offering, Black Holes And Revelations.
It’s an opus in which genres morph – from funk through classical to Ennio Morricone-style Italian beats – without compromising their signature rock sound. While bass player Chris Wolstenhome and drummer Dominic Howard go out to do some last-minute shopping, Matt “muses” over the record.
It’s quite a revelation, it seems. The band has managed to morph different genres and still make it sound like Muse. Matt laughs, “I think that comes from just us three … us three playing always. Our musical style – instrumental style – obviously helps it make it sound like us.”
But Matt has also pulled a Morrissey, whose move to Italy proved to be quite inspirational for his last album. “I’ve been listening to quite a lot of music from the south of Italy on this album,” Matt admits. “I’ve been living in Italy for a while, and I discovered this music from Naples, which sounds like a mix of music from Africa, Croatia, Turkey and Italy. It kind of gives it a mystical sound, so I think that’s one thing that influenced the album. I like being influenced by things that have a mixed style.”
So mixed that it borders on the Eurozone. “One of the influences for Supermassive Black Hole was a band called Millionaire from Belgium, who mix alternative guitar with funk beats, and I think they’re a great band. So we were maybe influenced a little bit by them.”
America also provided some inspiration. “Also, we listened to Sly And The Family Stone. The fact is that on this album, we wanted to listen to things that were different to what we normally hear.” That’s an understatement. “But really, we had these ideas which seemed very different, but somehow, when we we’re in the recording studio and playing them together, it just kind of changes and becomes our own personality.”
Speaking of which, it’s time those tiresome Radiohead comparisons met their apocalypse. How about drawing parallels with Depeche Mode? Matt agrees: “I’ve known Depeche Mode for years, but I never listened to their music properly until maybe… one year ago. I can understand the association, because they’re a band that never really fitted in exactly with the music of their time. They had their own thing, their own style, own sound. I respect them very much.”
“Some peoplethink we’re alien people” – Matt Bellamy denies those Martian Matt rumours
Sounds like he’s describing his own band, who (luckily) stand out from the current Brit scene. “I don’t think we really fit. I think we don’t need to fit. We make our own music and people notice.” So what’s the biggest misconception about Muse? “That we believe in aliens and stuff! Some people think we’re alien people.”
Black Holes And Revelations reveals a less alien, sober side than on the previous three Muse albums. It’s even got a funky twist to it – as though Matt has also been listening to a lot of Prince. He laughs: “Cool, yeah! I don’t have any of his albums or anything, but he’s great in performance art and videos and playing live.”
We come to the creation of intergalactic phenomena. How to top an album as grand in scale as Absolution? To get some serious writing done, the bandmates isolated themselves in an old French chateau, but chose to record in the more vibrant surroundings of New York City. Two totally different vibes. “Yeah, it couldn’t have been a bigger contrast,” agrees Matt. “We’ve always seemed to enjoy working in this contrasted environment. On almost every album, there’s a story of working a little bit in the countryside and a little bit in the city.”
Being stuck in a possibly haunted and most probably cold building in the midst of the French countryside, where there’s hardly anything to do, gave them no choice but to work. “We wanted to go somewhere where we had no distractions so we could concentrate, spend time and be surrounded by different musical influences, and have the time and the freedom to just explore. And that’s what we did in France. It’s where we wrote and created all the songs for the album. But we found recording there very slow.”
Having the leisure to freely explore new ideas without the interruption and lure of city nightlife may have adverse effects: the band developed a taste for over-perfection. (Yes, there is such a thing. We’re back to Radiohead again.) They began to have doubts about the new songs. “There are so many ideas that it is difficult to make a decision to which one is a good one, which one is a bad one. So we kind of reached the point where we’d spent maybe two months just trying loads of ideas, and we realised we needed to change the atmosphere to make decisions.” This despite the importance of “this kind of exploration and losing our minds a little bit in a chateau somewhere!”
Matt is actually trying to tell us that they were bored. So what better place to make a return to rock ‘n’ roll civilisation than the Big Apple? “We went to New York. It’s very fast,” he says. “The atmosphere and the whole place in general just changed our feeling a little bit. We managed to choose which songs were the best ones and we wanted to finish.” Matt also checked out the much-hyped New York City scene.
“I tried to learn to be a DJ, which I’m terrible at” – Matt Bellamy settles for guitar and piano
“I saw quite a few bands play, and in terms of feeling, there are great vibes obviously. There are loads of clubs. Any scene you want, you can find it.” And so the Muse front man decided to make further explorations to perfect the album. “I tried to learn to be a DJ, which I’m terrible at.” That’s one career option down if Muse ever break up – but it was during this period when listening to Prince and Sly came in handy. “I got the feeling of playing a record and singing and dancing, and thought, ‘Maybe we should get some kind of beats for the album’. That influenced song number three (Supermassive Black Hole) and song number four (Map Of The Problematique) on the album. I think.”
In between the discomatic beats, Matt’s lyrics draw on another source of inspiration – the imperfect world in which we live. “I’m definitely trying to be aware of what’s happening,” he admits. “There are so many things happening at the same time, like climate change and the wars taking place and the oil crisis, and all these things that seem to be heading towards change.”
This is when he lets out a pearl of wisdom: “The future is a little bit unknown at the moment.” But give him credit: he’s hopeful for this unknown future. “I think fear and hope for the future is a little bit on the album.”
Muse, it seems, have tried to fill in the black holes, and have experienced some revelations of their own.
Muse’s Black Holes And Revelations is out now through Warner.