Muse (Matthew Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme, Dominic Howard)
We've met in the center of Milan the three most celebrated guys in the world of rock. Two years after "The 2nd Law", Muse are ready to rock again with their new record "Drones", a concept album telling an intriguing story about a hypnotizing society and the need of regaining our lost human identity.
Article by Cristina Cannata - Publish on: 19/05/15

You have just concluded the Psycho tour, and you played new songs like Reapers and Psycho, but also some classics and b-sides like The Groove? Can we see that as a return to your original sound?


Chris:  I think that musically the new album is quite different from the first two ones. But I think on that tour it was great to play these rock songs from the new albums. It was great also to play in smaller venues, and to play some old songs, some that we haven't played for about ten years. I think in a live environment they seem to quite work well together. But I think going forward I'm not sure we'll do it again. It was a really nice tour to do, it was nice to play what the people wanted us to play. You know, we were not used to do that for quite a long time, we play big shows, in which you have a big production. Psycho tour will have a setlist with a specific order: this kind of big gigs is not so flexible. So it was nice to do a tour with no production, and just play what we wanted to play.


Matt, do you think that Muse actually took a step back to "true rock" as you hinted some time ago?


Matt:  Yeah, absolutely. I produced the last two albums, I really became a producer, I spent a lot of time fiddling with buttoms, using technology like drum machines computers and special effects. I really loved that because it was really different, but I think that we felt like it was a good time to come back to instruments, guitar, bass and drums. And the nature of this choice means that it's going to be more rock.


How and when have you got in touch with Mutt Lange? What did he add to your sound?


Chris:  We wanted to work with a producer for this albums because it has such a strong concept lirically, so we needed to get this concept to the sound as well. We wanted to retrieve this feeling, and make a more rock album, to show our personalities a little bit more. Having a producer helped us keep us focused. Sometimes, when you don't have a producer, it's very easy for bands to drift off into different directions. It's actually what we did in "The 2nd Law": we experimented with so many different styles of music, it was a very experimental album. I think that this album has a strong lyrical concept, and I think that sonically it needed to be strong as well. Mutt is a really quiet guy, he's really really focused on the performance of the songs, he makes you do a lot of takes. Whereas you would have done six takes, Mutt makes you take 25. He's also got some very strong musical opinions. He didn't try to change the songs, he didn't interfere with the songwriting process, but he surely helped to focus the songs more.


Matt:  He really helped us get clarity in the concept actually. He was really interested in the concept of the album, and creating the story, he was really aware of the importance of that. He was really obsessive in making everything sound clear.


Why did you decide to put on "Psycho" the riff that has been with you for so much time as a live ending for "Citizen Erased"?


Chris:  ook, we've been playing that riff for years. It's a riff that almost became part of the set by accident. The crowd used to love that riff, to jump up and down and sing on that riff, so it kinda seemed logical to try to make a sound up of it. It wasn't until the song came out that we realized it was at least sixteen years old. I'm not sure what was the first time we played it. I think it's nice sometimes to have a new song to play live that already has an element of familiarity. You know, when you do a new album and you bring the songs live, it takes a while for us and the crowd to be comfortable with it. When you watch songs like "Time is running out" or "Stockholm Syndrome", the crowd jump up and down and sing along. When we play new songs we don't get that reaction because people just want to listen. Playing "Psycho" was different because there was an element of familiarity, the people already knew that riff. So playing it live was very easy.




You've released a rock song and a more electronic one so far. What's the more representative of the sound of the album?


Dominic:  "Dead Inside" is probably the most electronic sounding, even though it's not electronic -it's real, it just sounds electronic- it's very groove-based and layered. The rest is really heavy. Some tracks like my favourite songs, "Reapers" and "The Handler" I think those two songs in particular, can really capture the feeling that we have when we play live. And there's no extra additional instrumentation, it's just raw, three-piece, bass, drums and guitar, and I love it.


Chris: It's very hard to say what is the new sound. There are so many different elements. If you take "The 2nd Law"... which song on that album is representative of its sound? If you take "Madness" or "Panic Station", they belong to pretty different genres. We're definitely not the kind of band that has a formula. There are lot of bands that are very successful that have formula they stick to, and they just do it forever. That works for lot of bands, like Weezer, Rage Against The Machine... we've just never been that kind of band, we're not happy of just staying in the same place forever. I guess this album is potentially... not a step back, but it does return a little bit to how we sounded in our first three albums. But I'm sure it will be something completely different again.


Did you want to sound more like a power trio? Do you think that this kind of formation can still be a valid choice in today's rock world?


Dominic:  I think the three piece rock thing... I have always found it interesting and pretty powerful. I think it's the reason we stayed three piece without getting another member in permanently. Staying a three piece makes makes you play in some way, it makes you powerful. And I was also influenced by three piece bands... when I first got into music I listened to Nirvana and stuff like that, Rage Against The Machine, Police, even Queen, band which had essentially a three piece rock core. And also two instruments is something that's still happening... you have Black Keys, Royal Blood, some other things that Jack White does.


museitw04Can you tell me something about the concept of "Drones"?


Matt: Yeah it's kind of two stories in one. The first one is from Dead Inside until Aftermath. It's kind of a person losing hope and faith in himself so he's kind of dead inside, he's manipulated by news and brainwashed and bad things like that. There are these three songs, Psycho, Reapers, Mercy, in which people are very controlled and oppressed and everything. In The Handler people start to re-find the inside strength, and JFK represents this moment of a person realizing the importance of indipendence and freedom of thinking. Defector is them kind of fighting back and creating a revolution against these oppressive forces. Aftermath is actually finding love again. So it acts like a full sequence, that starts with losing love and and hope and faith, continues with a very dark jorney and finally ends with finding love again. That's kind of the main positive story of the album. Then The Globalist is kind of a similar story, but it ends badly. The Globalist starts with a person losing hope losing faith going in this very dark journey, but it kind of ends in loneliss and destruction. I wanted to create a mysterious idea, that makes you wonder which is the real ending of the album.


What has made these ideas come to your mind?


Matt: I've read a book about Predators, the CIA drones for warfare. I didn't read that book thinking about music, but because I just wanted to know what's going on. I was very surprised of how much killig there was especially in Afghanistan and Western Pakistan, and also I was very surprised of how involved Obama was, he has made very very kill decisions on a daily basis. And then I started reading about how they featured drones, and how seeking artificial intelligence were integrated into drones, so the kill decision is no longer made by humans, it's made by computer. and to me it just represented the kind of very strange time in the world, when we have killing machines with artifial intelligence deciding to kill humans. Then I just thought that it could be a good metaphore, a good basis and have a concept for an album based around this. And that's how it started. In the album I speak about ideal drones, drones can be human beings that are actually used and abused to act like robots... whether they are military personnel or just normal people that you use like machines. It can mean the relationship between humanity and technology, and how we had -in the last whole century- this drive towards efficiency, precision and accuracy, and we moved away from imperfection, humanity, empathy, emotion. And the drone again represents the ultimate extreme destination of this path.


What is the warning you want to give to the people?


Matt: I guess the warning is the importance of maintaining your autonomy, maintaining control of yourself. When a person experiences a bad time in their life, it's really easy for they to disconnect and be taken advantage of. I think a lot of people entered military by choice, or entery religious extreme groups when they were probably not in complete control of thinking, of emotional state. I guess the warning is what can happen if you disconnect from humanity, if you disconnect from feeling and emotions,  and you can come in danger, you can be used like a robot. I guess the warning is to not lose humanity and to not hide from feelings. As I experienced in my life, English people are a little more reserved, I think Italian people are more expressive and emotional, and I really like that, I respect that. It took me a lot of time to be more comfortable with being expressive and open. I think I am now, but I wasn't in my younger years. I think I probably had a tendecy that if I experienced something that I didn't like I had a tendency to avoid that experience. In these album I tell that if you avoid things you become a little bit cold, and then you become a little bit detached. For me, I guess, during that periods of avoidance, I would actually come up with songs and musical ideas, so for me going in that world, going private, was where the songwriting process came from, because then I had this very strong desire to express something through songs and music. So I think in a way... I was not a drone, I was definitely avoiding feelings, but by doing it they came in a different way, they came through songs.




In a tweet Matthew has hinted at a possible sequel to "Citizen Erased" on the new album. Have you actually done that?


Chris:  Limitedly I think. He did talk of it when we started working on "The Globalist", and he did say that lyrically it was kind of the sequel to "Citizen Erased". I don't know really, there's such a gap between the songs, it's difficult to attach them together. But indeed, really lirycally they have a lot in common. You know, I don't really see the new one as a sequel to "Citizen Erased", but you can actually say that the songs have a kind of relation. And also musically, there are some similarities, in the way the songs are arranged. "Citizen Erased" does not have a traditional arrangement, it's more like a kind of a movement. "The Globalist" is a little bit more extreme, it's twelve minutes, it doesn't have verses, it does not have a chorus, it has these streams, these movements. There are definitely similarities, in particular with the guitars.


Matt, in an old interview you said that you've never taken singing lessons and that someone told you that you have small lungs. What has changed in your way of singing since "Showbiz" and what are the tricks you have mastered to achieve the best results in your last album?


Matt:  I never had singing lessons in the beginning, but in the last few years I had some sessions of coaching. My voice in the beginning was more out of control... which maybe actually gave it a more interesting sound, cause it was more emotional, strange, weird. As I got older, I just had to control more the voice.


Making a concept album in some way is something that goes against the way we listen to music nowadays, with singles, shuffles and whatever. Was it a choice you made against something? What's your opinion about Spotify and this kind of platforms. Do you think they are an help for artists?


Dominic:  That was one of the reasons why. The concept seemed to be the right thing to do this time around. Nowaday people listen track by track, they download songs and stream them, and it's all very track by track. We knew we could still make an album, so we thought that if you make an album it should have a beginning and an end, something that someone would like to listen to the entirety, and every song would have a correlationship with each other. Having a narrative in the album is definitely the right thing for us, cause we wanted just to emphasize the whole form of the album. We didn't want to make like a bunch of random songs pushed together, and say "it is an album", because it would have been a collection of random songs. Speaking about new media and Spotify: the whole musical landscape is changed, in the way that people discover and listen to music, with streaming services. The way you listen to music is becoming more more broad, it's easy for people to listen to music, it is great. The only issue is for the record companies. Unfortunately the record companies don't make as much money as they used to do. For the artists... you just have a greater landscape you can get your music out to people who want to hear it. And that's why you started to play music in the first place, because if you play music is because you want people to hear it. Everything's become easier for new artists, to get their music heard. When we first started we got a record deal, and fifteen years ago, unless you had a record deal you had like no chance. And even when you got a record deal it wasn't guarantee that you would have any success: there were thousands of bands who got signed but then nothing happened. These days you don't actually need it, because you can record in your bedroom, stick it on youtube, and if it's good enough, people can hear it.


Have you ever thought of a collaboration with a colleague of yours? Who would you like to play with? 


Dominic: I saw Jack White recently, he's amazing, it's the best thing I saw. He's such an amazing guitarist. But every night you can see something that makes you wanna play, that makes you go "Fuck it up i want to go on stage and play it along", and that's the last time it happened to me.


What if you hadn't become Muse? What do you think your life would have been?


Chris:  It's strange. I don't know. I've grown up playing in bands, doing music since the age of eleven. I just always had this feeling that this was what I was gonna do, I had this feeling that I would always be involved in music, because it was something that I loved to do, something that I wanted to be involved to do. You know, you got to study, you got to go to university, you got to have a plan B. I haven't really ever thought abount a plan B. I went to college, I started studying law, and after three months I was like "this is shit, this is really boring", and I gave up. I couldn't really find anything else that gave me the same feel that music did. Had it not worked, I would have tried to find something... but I can not imagine not being involved in music somehow... whether it is being in a band, whether it is production... whatever it is.


How is gonna be your next live shows? Will there be drones flying around?


Dominic: I think the show is going to be build conceptually, and progressively. Hopefully we will be using some drones and stuff for live shows. We did use some in the video we shot for Dead Inside, and that kind of felt awesome. We're working on the live shows, I think it's gonna be a lot more conceptual show incorporating some crazy flying objects. We're going to play in a way we've never played be fore as well. We're going to be much more connected to the audience. It will be a really different show.


You're doing some festival in Summer, but when will the actual tour for "Drones" start?


We'll start in summer doing festivals, and we'll be playing some new songs. The production tour... I think it will starts in South America in septeber-october, then we'll move to North America. We'll come here by march or something, I don't know the exact days. We're gonna do lots multiple shows in arenas, maybe we'll stay in Milan for a week or more.

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