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Telegraph interview: 'We're not the full robot. We're kind of cyborgy'


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On a vast sound stage in west London, a huge floating pyramid shimmering with mind-melting LED visuals inverts itself by some silent hydraulic system until it is hovering upside down over a drum kit. “It should gradually consume the band until we disappear inside,” suggests the skinny figure of guitarist Matt Bellamy, watching the first full test-run of a new stage set from the floor.


“Very symbolic,” nods tall, serious bassist Chris Wolstenholme.


“Oh yeah!” adds the third figure in contemporary rock’s most ambitious and exciting trio, comically cool drummer Dominic Howard. “The power of the pyramid! The strongest shape in the universe!” He chuckles uncertainly. “Isn’t it? Or is that the triangle?”


The first time I met the band, promoting their debut album in 1999, the circumstances were rather different: three bedraggled young men from Teignmouth, Devon, huddled round a table after a typically frenzied gig in a dingy London club. Back then, critics tended to dismiss their highly strung rock as Radiohead-lite, but they already seemed quietly confident about their uniqueness.


“We’re trying to do something which is a bit special,” Bellamy explained to me. “I don’t know if it’s fashionable. Maybe fashion will have to come to us.”


Thirteen years later, Muse are superstars, viewed as potential saviours of the commercially moribund genre of rock. Their sixth album, The 2nd Law (released this week by Warner) is ascending to the top of the charts as we speak, with critics enthusing (often with a tangible air of bewilderment) about its mad sci-fi mix of prog rock, cinematic strings, pop melodies and dubstep-inflected electronica.


In this giant rehearsal room, Muse are adding the final layers of hi-tech drama to their already fantastically over-the-top music. “When titles like 'world’s greatest band’ get thrown in our direction, it blows my mind,” grins Howard. “It’s an amazing feeling and it makes you want to live up to it. Somebody’s got to be the best band in the world. Why not us?”


Later, in the quiet of an upstairs office, band leader Bellamy makes an eloquent case for why rock has to evolve to survive in the 21st century. “I don’t think rock is dead but the sound palette and frequency ranges are exceptionally tired. As soon as you pick up an electric guitar and plug into a distorted Marshall amplifier and someone starts playing a stadium drum kit, you are already in the Seventies. That’s why we focus so much on the sound and use orchestral and electronic elements. But the concept of what it is to be in a rock band, to create music with a group of like-minded friends that has some drive and power and meaning to it, I think that’s still got some life in it.”


The son of Tornadoes guitarist George Bellamy, the Muse frontman was raised in a musical household, although by the time he was born, in 1978, his dad was in the building trade.


“I suppose being in a band didn’t seem an unusual career option, so it gave me an optimistic approach. But there was never a comparison, the time and the industry was radically different. The main thing was he didn’t make any money, he was still being paid a session wage when they were number one all over the world with Telstar. I definitely learnt from that.”


Now Bellamy is married to the Hollywood star Kate Hudson, their one-year-old son Bing’s foetal heartbeat is sampled on the new Muse album, and the in-laws are Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.


“I grew up on films like Escape From New York and Stargate, so seeing Kurt around definitely gets to me every now and then,” Bellamy giggles. “But obviously I get to know these people as they really are. There is so much fun, so much laughter in that house, it’s very high energy being around them.”


Despite this almost ridiculously glamorous backdrop, Bellamy comes across more like a slightly eccentric laboratory scientist than a rock god, talking fast and quiet with a nerdish enthusiasm for complex ideas, but also frequently given to giggles.


“The value in human beings performing is an idea that’s gradually declining,” he ponders. “People will pay money to see someone with a laptop who’s done all the experimentation at home and pretty much just hits the space bar. There is a part of us that is definitely clinging to the organic, human side of music, to honour our friendship and the fact that we want to play together in a room. We’re not afraid to bring new elements into the equation but we’re not quite prepared to go full robot. I think we’re kind of cyborgy!”


Muse songs glint with bits of familiar melody and wink with knowing references. Reviews of The 2nd Law have alluded to Queen, U2, INXS, Led Zeppelin, Prince, Michael Jackson, John Barry, Tchaikovsky, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mike Oldfield and Skrillex, a mix-and-match approach that seems inherently of our times.


“It’s neither conscious nor subconscious,” says Matt of this jackdaw sensibility. “You absorb influences and experiences and the brain mingles them together and they come out distorted – you could say that’s the nature of creativity. Our generation was the first to have the mp3 player, Napster, downloading for free, and that definitely had an impact on how we think about music. We are comfortable with multi-influences across big time spans.”


The other element that lends Muse contemporary potency is a sense of purpose stemming from a willingness to engage with political ideas. This has not always manifested itself particularly coherently, with their air of fin de siècle dystopianism drawing on a paranoid well of conspiracy theories; but, at 34, Bellamy thinks he has become “more rational and empirical. I watch the news and try to gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on in the world and see if I might have something to contribute”.


The band’s 2009 album The Resistance had an anti-establishment vigour that appealed across the political spectrum. The Right-wing Fox News agitator Glenn Beck has written to Bellamy to thank him “for singing words that resonate with man in his struggle to be free”.


Muse, for their part, decline all requests to use their music for political causes. “I wouldn’t support any one side, because I think party politics is a hijack of democracy, the whole whipping system is terrible,” says Bellamy, who describes himself as “some kind of vaguely Left-leaning libertarian”. The 2nd Law (drawing its title from the famous law of thermodynamics that states “entropy always increases”) could certainly add fuel to both sides of the arguments about the future of mankind, with Bellamy exploring the impact of threats like the global financial crisis and climate change from different perspectives.


He describes the Olympic anthem Survivor as embodying the aggressively optimistic attitude of a “raging lunatic libertarian”, while the suicidally pessimistic Animals explores “the more socialist and fearful side”.


He is genuinely fascinating on this subject, drawing in the evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins, the games theorist John Nash, political PR pioneer Edward Bernays and the 19th-century economist Henry George’s theory of land value tax. Although Muse’s music often has an air of near apocalyptic dementia, Bellamy claims he is not particularly fretful about the future.


“We’re all in the same boat together. There’s two directions it can go, one is energy revolution, someone might crack nuclear fusion and we could all be living like Star Trek. The other direction is fossil fuels gradually decline, global warming kicks in, things could get ugly and all we can do is deal with it. I’d like to think we’re gonna be living on other planets in 100 years, but I’m going to be teaching my son how to farm, just in case.”

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Some of the thinkers Matt is supposedly drawing on in his political ideas are a bit suspect. I've only heard Henry George mentioned before, none of these other names. I don't know anything about the other names, well apart from Richard Dawkins, but I looked them up and I'm not keen on what I read.


If he has got some idea of contributing to some kind of mass propaganda exercise, well firstly I don't like the sound of that at all, (and wouldn't that be a direct contradiction to Libertarianism), secondly he's not doing very well. :LOL:


Regarding Matt contributing. I love the political edge in the music, but I don't think his ideas are particularly developed. For instance, as much as using physics to explain social phenomena is interesting metaphorically, and touches on an interesting concept, I don't think it really makes sense, not as he appears to be using it, as a theory to explain everything.


Encouraging people to care is important and I personally think that music can do that because it is emotive. But it is also important (if it is going to have an effect at all) that people are encouraged to care about the right things. Hmm, so far I think the messages in the music are okay. I like stuff that criticises exploitation and crushing the vulnerable. But I don't like the idea of cynically seeing "the masses" as irrational and easily manipulated to follow ideas. That is utterly patronising and gives me the creeps.


Hmm but this is The Telegraph. And it's very unclear what is meant, in any case. The Telegraph are just throwing names around that he is supposedly drawing on, without any explanation of how he is drawing on them. There is the fact that Matt could be deliberately mentioning stuff that he thinks will appeal to the readership, if he is well enough informed or, like the Guardian relating his ideas of Noam Chomsky without Matt actually saying that, the Telegraph are relating his ideas to their preferred thinkers. In that way it's not much different to the need of reviewers to categorise their music by comparing it to other artists.


Slightly annoying that they have simply said it is fascinating without reporting what he has actually said. :rolleyes:


Long post I know.

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