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Interview with Matt-Sydney Morning Herald


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They started their musical journey together as a group of unlikely looking school friends jamming out covers in the rural county of Devon in south-west England. Nearly 20 years later, the same three friends - diminutive singer-guitarist Matt Bellamy, hulking bassist Chris Wolstenholme and octopus-armed drummer Dominic Howard - have become one of the world's biggest rock bands, slaying stadiums and charts alike.


We are talking about Muse, a revelation that needs to be underlined because, for all the group's success, theirs is not quite a household name. They have never had a top-10 single on the ARIA chart, and yet topped the Triple J Hottest 100 poll in 2007 with the inspired prog-metal madness of Knights of Cydonia, and they spend little time in the celebrity spotlight, despite the fact that Bellamy has a son with his girlfriend of three years, Hollywood star Kate Hudson. Muse are not your usual supermassive rock titans playing standard stadium anthems.


''We've always been up for something that's a little bit out there,'' Bellamy, well, muses. ''In Devon, there wasn't much to do other than take mushrooms and roll around and be weird in fields … Down there, I suppose being cut off, you don't pay so much attention to fashionable trends.


''So I think we just do what feels right for ourselves. Who wants to play verse-chorus-verse-chorus when you can play Knights of Cydonia, which is a ridiculous experiment? It's much more fun playing that kind of music in a room with your mates than it is to be caught up with trying to be popular.''


This attitude was born along with the first incarnation of Muse at their high school in 1994, as much as anything else because the trio felt like outsiders. ''There's a lot of talk about this band being from Devon and so on, but I suppose not many people know that none of us were born there,'' Bellamy says. ''All of us, our families, for various reasons, moved down there when we were about eight years old or something. I think that we became friends because we didn't actually necessarily feel like we were from Devon … and there was a bit of a 'you ain't from around here'-type vibe. Even when you're eight, nine or 10 years old, you can feel that, you know what I mean?''


Having long left that part of the world behind them, Muse have had little reason to look back. In terms of both creativity and success, they have grown exponentially over the course of six studio albums, from the Bends-era Radiohead soundalikes of their (nonetheless exhilarating) 1999 debut, Showbiz, to the epic space-prog majesty of last year's The 2nd Law, with a spectacular live show to match. Indeed, today they release a CD and DVD of their recent European summer tour, Live at Rome Olympic Stadium, which is as ambitious a production as you're likely to see.


''That captures us pushing ourselves, not just musically outside the boundaries of where we started, but also as performers and personalities,'' Bellamy says. ''We'd got, like, actors that were acting out theatrical parts to do with the albums and angels dangling from lightbulbs.


''It represents us almost being upside down from who we were as people when we started - a relatively introverted, quiet, sort of weird prog band. This band has not just been a journey of music, it's been a journey of sort of coming out of ourselves and seeing what our limits are.''

But isn't releasing a live DVD just before a tour tantamount to a gigantic spoiler?


''Well, the show's actually different 'cause we're not doing outdoor stadiums in Australia. The indoor-arena production, weirdly enough, I'd go so far as to say, is possibly even more extreme from a technology point of view.''


Muse gigs show rock music doesn't have to take itself too seriously to impress. ''Something happened in the '90s, where it all got a bit earnest,'' Bellamy says. ''Obviously, Nirvana were brilliant … but there's something about the aftermath of when Kurt Cobain died that everyone seemed to take rock very, very, very seriously indeed and it became a little bit depressing, you know?


''I think the levity that rock used to deliver, especially in the '60s, '70s and '80s - if you look at those three decades, what rock was doing then was mostly making people feel good, making people smile and jump about and go, 'F--- yeah, man!' ''I love music that's heavyweight and so on, but I think ever since the mid-'90s, into the 2000s, it struggled to get back to that point of, like, where's [a modern equivalent to] Back in Black? Where's Paradise City by Guns N' Roses?


''I'm not saying that we're doing that, but even going further back to some of the more extreme stuff of Led Zeppelin or even the experimental stuff by The Beatles, there seems to have been a lack of experimentation and fun.''


By the same token, Bellamy believes a band has to stay true to itself, and it is, perhaps, the fact that these three longtime friends have always enjoyed what they do that has been key to their success.

''I sense from certain other acts that there's a sense of, like, looking at one's self and sort of wanting to be a certain way.


''I'm not contriving any of it and I'm not cutting anything out. I'm not saying [Muse are] only going to be an alternative rock band. If I feel I want to write an R&B pop song, then I'll do it.


''I've never really got caught up in analysing what we're doing and what it means … The more something veers off in a weird direction, usually the more I like it.''


Muse play Rod Laver Arena on December 6 and 7. Live at Rome Olympic Stadium is available today on CD, DVD and Blu-ray.


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