Muse: 'We blew them all off the stage'

The once-unfashionable Muse have cracked the big time - and they've no intention of being modest. Alexia Loundras joins them on the road

"The problem with David Icke," announces Matt Bellamy, "is that he tends to dig a hole for himself the moment he brings lizards into the equation." The Muse front man shakes his head. "You know, I'm interested in some berserk things too, but you've got to try to talk about the ideas that are possibly not crazy, otherwise you just end up devaluing everything you're saying."

The singer might front a multi-million-selling band, but he can easily empathise with the sports presenter-turned-Messiah. Bellamy has a well-documented affection for, let's say, alternative thinking. The singer defends Icke's less reptilian pronouncements, has a firm belief in conspiracy theories, such as September 11 being an inside job, and is a fan of the writer Zecharia Sitchin - who claims that humans are an alien/ape genetic mix. Such opinions have had Bellamy labelled a sci-fi crank. But, having been a member of Muse for more than a decade, ridicule is something he's had to get used to.

For a long time Muse were the high-school misfits of the music world. When they released their 1999 debut Showbiz they were dismissed as Radiohead sound-alikes. Then, when they returned with 2001's Origins Of Symmetry, which added quasi-classical flourishes to their already overblown rock, they were accused of being pretentious and po-faced. But their breakthrough third album, 2003's Absolution, forced critics into a rethink.

Absolution was a revelation for everyone who had written off the band as the preserve of space-geeks and teen goths. With its exciting fusion of tempestuous rock and quasi-Baroque grandeur, the album proved that the pieces had finally fallen into place. Now, with the follow-up, July's Black Holes And Revelations, they've gone one better. Even more adventurous than its predecessor, album number four finds a mighty, more visceral Muse exploring new ground, and it was given a richly deserved place on the Mercury Prize shortlist.

Right now, however, what Bellamy wants most is a long, hot bath. The band have spent the day recording three tracks for a new Channel 4 series - Live At Abbey Road - and the effort of delivering a hyper-animated performance to an unresponsive jungle of cables and mic stands has sapped much of the life out of the usually ebullient front man.

Ensconced in the shiny, wooded cavern of Studio One, the band play multiple takes of each song just to be sure that every vocal warble and every exaggerated fret-move is captured. From the spaceship-like control room, the excitable producer repeatedly calls for the volume to be turned up to so that he can enjoy the full ear-bleeding effect of Bellamy's wired guitar riffs. It seems the adrenalin is still coursing through their veins from the night before.

Just 16 hours ago, the band were delivering a flame-ridden encore as the final curtain was drawn on this year's Reading and Leeds Festivals, in front of a 60,000-strong crowd in Leeds. The night before that, they gave an equally breathtaking headlining set at Reading, which the NME later called "the gig of the millennium". That might sound like undue hyperbole, but the fact is that, when Muse took to the stage after Arctic Monkeys, they made the Sheffield tykes look average in comparison. "We blew everyone else off stage," says Muse's impish drummer Dominic Howard with a victorious gleam in his tired eyes. It'll take a lot more than a few sleepless nights and a day in a TV studio to smother the buzz of the weekend's achievement.

As star-struck youths, making their annual rock pilgrimage from the sunny, seaside town of Teignmouth to Reading's rock mecca, the aspiring band dreamt of playing the headline slot. "The one thing I've always said," continues Howard, "is, 'when you headline Reading, you know you've made it.'" He grins. "So, have we made it now?" he asks. "Maybe we have!"

Visibly tickled by the notion, he collapses into laughter. "I don't know - headlining Reading was just so surreal," he says, determined not to get too philosophical. "Whenever we play festivals it feels as though there are still a lot of people who don't know who we are. But it felt like we did a good job. By the end of our set, there was definitely a sense that they liked what we do. It felt like we were winning people over. And that feels great."

Compared to the rapid rise of the Arctic Monkeys, Muse are the tortoises of the music industry. Yet their slow-but-sure approach has paid off. From their Teignmouth days, they've always been the underdogs: "We were the kids in town that got chased around," says Howard. "We looked different, got in fights and generally despised the town because we felt so different."

But, far from trying to fit in, Muse revelled in their status as outsiders. "Making music was never about mixing with the in-crowd or trying to be a part of anything," explains the band's amiable bass-player, Chris Wolstenholme. "We never dreamt of adapting what we were doing in order to fit in with anyone else."

Sticking to their florid, arpeggioed guns while tight-trousered and even tighter-riffed bands like The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand redefined the musical landscape meant that Muse have never been very cool. However, existing outside the scrutinising lens of the media meant that Muse had something few bands in recent years have enjoyed: time to evolve.

"It's always been really important for us to feel like we're pushing our own boundaries in some way," says Howard. "But on this album, everything about us has changed. How we interact with each other, how we play together, how we talk about music - it's all changed."

Two summers ago, Muse delivered an incendiary Glastonbury headline performance. But the band suffered a tragic end to what should have been a triumphant night, when Howard's father died of a sudden heart attack shortly after the band stepped off the Glastonbury stage. However, never ones to falter in the face of adversity, the bandmates rallied and a new openness was forged between them. "How we interacted with each other definitely became more positive," says Howard. "It's a shame that something so terrible has to happen to inspire something so positive but that's just life."

Finding strength in their new bond, the band continued their intensive year-long world tour promoting Absolution. Once they'd got to the end of that gruelling schedule, it didn't matter that Bellamy upped sticks to live in Milan with his Italian girlfriend, leaving Howard in London and dad-of-three Wolstenholme in Devon. Although, geographically speaking, the three friends had never been so far apart, as a band they'd never been closer. And for Muse, that meant they had the confidence to make music that was bigger and bolder.

"Over the years we've cast loads of ideas aside thinking they were too cheesy, too silly or simply not rock enough," explains Bellamy. "But when we came to writing Black Holes And Revelations, none of those things seemed to matter any more. We'd got to the point where we were just not afraid to do anything."

Black Holes And Revelations is Muse's most unabashedly honest album to date. Lyrically, Bellamy has let down his guard and for the first time, fire-and-brimstone cautionary tales inspired by his passionately held beliefs sit side-by-side with poignant, heartfelt love songs: "This is the first time I've managed to get these things into the music," he says proudly. Rather than feeling pressured by the success of Absolution, it seems to have freed them. "We really wanted this album to be a departure for us," says Howard. "Whatever it was we were doing - whether just working out the guitar sound or arranging the whole song structure - we wanted to make it more extreme."

Black Holes And Revelations is the sound of a band letting their hair down and, for the first time, really having some fun. "The dirty Prince-like groove of [the album's first single] 'Supermassive Black Hole', definitely surprised people," says Bellamy gleefully. "It was just so light-hearted. That's a side of the band we didn't capture on the first three albums: us jamming around and having a laugh."

In fact, Muse aren't the dour, chin-stroking types of repute. When the likeable Bellamy punctuates his self-proclaimed "berserk" assertions with an infectious hyena-like laugh, he proves that the band possess a mocking self-awareness. "We really don't take ourselves as seriously as people think," he chuckles.

Not that they're unwilling to use that perception to their advantage. In New York recently, they wangled themselves a spectacular day in a helicopter over the city after they convinced their label that an asteroid was due to crash into the Atlantic that day, and that Manhattan would drown in the consequent tsunamis. "Pieces of a comet had gone missing in space," says Bellamy, "and when I read about the possibility of them crashing into Earth, I thought: that's a bit of a shame. But I must admit," he continues, wearing a mischievous smile, "I was looking for a few days off."

Muse have always embraced their sense of the ridiculous. "Our best songs have always sounded ever so slightly ludicrous," says Wolstenholme. "Songs where we've had no fear of seeming over the top. We've never lost that fearlessness, and now it seems we've earned some respect for that." He's right: a somewhat open mind is called for to appreciate the bold ambition of Black Holes And Revelations, but surrendering to Muse's hyper-coloured world is well-rewarded.

In the current climate of copycat acts signed because they sound like the last big thing, Muse should be cherished. The band have found success and - latterly - credibility without having to compromise their music or their ideas. People don't compare Muse to Radiohead anymore. As Howard says: "No one else is making music like we are and we're not making music like anyone else.

"We didn't peak early with this band," he continues. "It's always been a slow, steady evolution. But it feels like we're always stepping up and pushing on. I've always been happy about existing on the fringes of the mainstream. But I'm more happy about it than ever now."

Muse might have proved themselves worthy of headlining any festival and won the critics over, but one thing hasn't changed since their Teignmouth days. "We're still outsiders," Bellamy agrees, with his customary assurance. "And that makes us feel absolutely untouchable."

'Black Holes And Revelations' and the single 'Starlight' are out now on WEA; the band tour the UK in November

Story Of The Song: 'Karma Police' Radiohead (1997)

OK Computer, Radiohead's epic third album, has little to do with PCs: "It was just a noise that was going on in my head for most of the year," said the band's frontman, Thom Yorke (right). Track six, the faux satirical "Karma Police", was inspired by Yorke's dislike of being sneered at. "I can't handle having people looking at me in that certain way," he said. "That's what 'Karma Police' and a lot of the album is about."

With a plummeting chord progression, resembling The Beatles' "Sexy Sadie", and some deftly humorous lyrics, this is an atypical off-the-shoulder number from the usually buttoned-up Oxford five-piece. It was premiered live when Radiohead supported Alanis Morissette on her Can't Not tour in the summer of 1996 and was recorded in September of that year at a Bath manor house, owned by the actress Jane Seymour. The OK Computer track "Exit Music (For a Film)" was taped in the stone entrance hall. The eerie siren closing "Karma Police" was created by the band's second guitarist, Ed O'Brien, by feeding sound through a digital delay machine. "He made weird noises, and we taped that a few times," Yorke said.

On release as the second single from the album, "Karma Police" proceeded in a northerly direction up the charts. The accompanying video, more disturbing than the song itself, showed Yorke pursued by a petrol-leaking car which he ends up torching. Unpicking the metaphors and meanings embedded in the song's brief lyrics and accompanying imagery might keep the chatrooms busy, but Yorke has made it quite clear: "It's for someone who has to work for a large company. This is a song against bosses. Fuck the middle management!"

Robert Webb

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album