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Old Muse interview from January 2000


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It gets mighty lonely down in the shabby, far-flung resort towns of Devon. Especially in winter, when the sea becomes a slate-grey storm cauldron and the sky an unforgiving slab of Wagnerian gloom. There’s not much for an ambitious young rock trio to do besides pack up and lose themselves in London, or stay behind and pour every last drop of their frustrated, choked-up souls into heart-wrenching, doom-punk epics.


Matthew Bellamy, the 21-year-old guitar-playing frontman with Muse, grew up far removed from fashion-driven metropolitan tastes in the sleepy backwater of Teignmouth. He taught himself slide guitar and piano while listening to Robert Johnson and Ray Charles, before graduating to American post-punk noiseniks like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. All of which can be heard in the skewed traditionalism of Muse, who fuse strong, achingly melancholic melodies to tumultuous guitar turbulence. These are not Ibizan trance anthems.





“It’s not like I’m not into that music,” Bellamy argues. “I used to go and see bands like the Orb and Orbital every time they came down, and I’ve seen Aphex Twin a couple of times. I was really into all that stuff, but it didn’t speak to me. It did something to me when I was off my face in a club or something, but it didn’t really work at home.”


After Bellamy poached bassist Dominic Howard and drummer Chris Wolstenholme from rival school groups, Muse made their live debut at the age of 16 in a local Battle of the Bands contest. They wore makeup, trashed their gear, incited a stage invasion and won hands down, much to their own surprise.


“From then on it was pretty much downhill,” Bellamy sighs. “I think even now that was the peak in the band’s career. That show was magical and it kept us going for years and years, just remembering what that felt like. It’s taken us years to get even close to what that felt like.”

Muse: Watch the video for their new song Psycho

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After striking a deal with a local west country management/studio team, Muse began courting record labels just as the British music industry began downsizing and shedding its rosters in the gloomy post-Britpop lull. Consequently, the trio signed with Australian company Mushroom in the UK and Madonna’s Maverick imprint in the US. This gives them an enviable foothold in the US, where direct American signings tend to receive priority treatment.


With their debut album, Showbiz, newly released on both sides of the Atlantic, Muse are committed to touring for the next six months. The record is amazingly assured for novices, full of epic Nirvana-style peaks and nerve-shredding Radiohead-esque lyrics. But it hardly makes easy listening.


“That’s the sort of stuff that used to make me feel good,” Bellamy insists. “People like Nick Cave – that ridiculous, over-the-top doom, taking it to extremes. I find it uplifting because it’s like someone else is feeling what you’re feeling and putting it into their music. Someone expressing extreme joy is just as valuable, it’s just the fact that they’re expressing their soul through music. But I think the first thing that drives people to express themselves is darkness and depression. Our music can definitely be played in the wrong situations. It’s definitely made for people to watch it live, but I’m not sure if it’s a party-type thing.”


Bellamy is wary of seeking easy explanations for the “schizophrenic” sentiments in his songs, but points to his parents splitting when he was 13 and recent family deaths within the band as evidence of genuine trauma.


“I wouldn’t say we’re suburban punks,” he shrugs. “We’re not a bunch of boys who’ve got everything, whinging about nothing. There is definitely substance behind it, but I don’t want to have to go into too much to prove it.”


The new Muse single, Muscle Museum, is yet another howling gloomfest – but with a fruity Mediterranean twist. It sounds, in Bellamy’s words, “like a Greek wedding”, partly because it was conceived during a month-long stay on an Aegean island.


“I just think that music is really passionate,” nods Bellamy. “It has so much feel and flair to it. I’ve spent important times of my life in Spain and Greece, and various deep things happened there – falling in love, stuff like that. So maybe that rubbed off somewhere.”


The song itself is a lusty, exotic perfumed breeze of highly un-British passion. “It’s about how different elements of our being – the soul, the body, whatever – won’t let another element do what it wants to do,” Bellamy explains. “It’s about the conflict of not quite knowing what it is you want. Not just relationship-wise, it could relate to the band as well, about how there are still people who will knock you down even though you are down already.”


It’s a savagely beautiful sadness that these small-town poets have created.


Time to get down with Muse.

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