Muse: 'We thrive on demons'
On a sweltering summer afternoon Matt Bellamy is coming to terms with a new sensation: life as a tabloid plaything. For years the world's most anonymous stadium rock star, the Muse frontman finds himself in the gossip headlights on account of his friendship -- and rumoured romance -- with actress Kate Hudson. The intrusiveness takes a little getting used to, acknowledges the singer, who last year split from his long-term Italian girlfriend.
"I didn't expect that," Bellamy (32) says of the attention his relationship with Hudson has attracted. "It's quite a surprise. It reminds me of when our first album came out -- suddenly we were hit with a barrage of negative reviews. You grow up and you're making art and intending to communicate with people -- and, for the first time, you have to take the opinions that are coming back at you. There was a barrage of negative comments and it was a big learning curve -- to understand and respect other people's opinions, whether positive or negative. I don't see any difference with this [the Hudson rumours] really."
A prominent student of conspiracy theories, Bellamy once told an interviewer 9/11 was an 'inside job' (an opinion he has since recanted). His treatment at the hands of the celebrity industrial complex certainly feeds into his dramatic world view.
"I've been close to a couple of people over the years who have had a genuine celebrity life," he says. "I'm glad I've avoided it completely. It's shocking how much of what you read is absolutely made up. It's never happened to me, I've never been part of that world. People genuinely make things up -- things which tend to be negative in their connotations. I can't say if it's a conspiracy. It's unquestionably a sign that people want to bring others down to a certain level. Which is part of human nature really."
Softly spoken, if a bit blunt, Bellamy will never be mistaken for Bono or Chris Martin. And yet, Muse are arguably as big as U2 or Coldplay. Jaws dropped when it was announced they were to headline Wembley stadium in London a few years back, but such was the demand for tickets, they were forced to tack on a second date. When their new album, The Resistance, came out last autumn, it went straight to number one in 16 countries (and to number three in the US); to date it has shifted a properly whopping eight million copies. Not too shabby for a trio who, early in their career, were disparaged as unimaginative Radiohead copyists.
"If you're trying to be cool, you're automatically not cool," says Bellamy of the group's fractious relationship with critics. "As I've said, when our first album appeared, we were hit with a negative response from the UK press, whereas in France we were seen as an exceptionally interesting new band and started to do really well. That changed our perspective. A lot of bands concentrate on their home territory first, but we actually got known in France before we did in the UK. Even at a very early stage, we started going to Italy, Germany, even Japan. So I'm probably thankful for the negative response the first album had."
Somewhere between a 70s prog LP and an L Ron Hubbard sci-fi novel, The Resistance is Muse at their quintessentially battiest. A blitzkrieg of guitars, synths and detonating drums, it explodes from the speakers like the soundtrack to the end of the world (or at least the end of the world imagined by Michael Bay). It is also a conduit for many of Bellamy's frankly rather loopy theories, as hinted at by Chomsky-esque, grandly paranoid song titles such as The United States of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage) and Exogenesis Symphony Parts 1 -- 3 (only Muse could christen a track Supermassive Black Hole and leave you feeling that they had undersold it a tad).
Not that the singer is completely away with the Cosmonauts. On the album's first single, Uprising, he has interesting things to say about the recent global economic implosion. Against a backdrop of caterwauling keyboards and gut-punch riffs, Bellamy urges the listener to "rise up and take the power back, it's time that the fat cats had a heart attack". You suspect he wouldn't approve of the Anglo bailout.
"I'm not a religious person. The one thing religion has got right is that usury is a fundamental problem with the worldwide banking system," he says, donning a tin-foil hat. "Lending money with interest is dependent on there being permanent economic growth. And permanent growth is only sustainable if the earth is endless, which it isn't. It's a finite resource. For that reason, the laws of physics will always kick in. The solution is to move away from usury, to a system in which the lender has to share in the profits of the company to which they are lending, so that they can't blithely depend on the interest."
Such unorthodox views undoubtedly add colour to Muse's bombastic pop -- especially as the band incorporate global conspiracy nuttiness into their shows via Bladerunner-style video montages. However, they have also made life difficult for Bellamy. Just this week, flying into New York, he was taken aside by Homeland Security for a prolonged grilling.
"I do get pulled to one side every single time I enter the country," he sighs. "And I get questioned for half an hour. I've asked them what it's about. They tell me the best thing I can do is contact the British Embassy and find out why I'm being flagged."
Surely he has his own thoughts as to why he's a target? "I don't know. I've tried to get to the bottom of it. They say it's because I've got two passports. Well, all my band members have two passports. That doesn't make sense. They always question me, whether I'm working or not. There was one time I got taken off a plane 'cos I made a bad joke [in a row with a stewardess, he quipped that it wasn't as if he had a bomb in his luggage]. This was in England, actually. It probably has something to do with that."
One of Bellamy's great unfulfilled ambitions is to sit down for a cup of tea with David Icke, the conspiracy theorist's conspiracy theorist. In addition to believing a cabal of lizard men pulls the levers of world politics, Icke, a former professional goalkeeper, is of the opinion the earth will shortly will be ripped asunder by earthquakes and that he is the son of God. Bellamy, who once tried to arrange for Icke to come on stage at a Muse concert and deliver a spoken-word piece, suspects they'd get on swimmingly.
"I'd love to meet him and have a chat. A lot of things he writes are very, very far out -- very much on the fringes of journalism. I'd like to find out what I'd think of him face to face. Whether he's normal or, you know, a crazy person -- or where he'd fall in between."
On the subject of public figures with messiah complexes, Muse toured with Bono and U2 last year. Their stint on the road afforded Bellamy a close-up glimpse of the U2 machine and he was struck by what he saw.
"Those guys treat their crew very, very well. They are very good to the people around them, both personally and business-wise, and there's something to be learned from that. They have a great gang of support around them. A lot of the people close to them have been there for 20-odd years. They seem really nice guys. I was surprised -- the energy level they have for partying is quite high. I would have thought when you reach your older years maybe you calm down a bit. Definitely not -- they were having some pretty raging parties after most of their gigs."
Of course, along with France and Germany, Ireland was one of the earliest territories to fall for Muse in a big way. The band recorded their third record, Absolution, here, assembling it in the far reaches of rural Westmeath, at Grouse Lodge Studio. "We've always thrived on the madness that descends when you're on your own and there's nothing around," says Bellamy. "Our first album was made in a residential studio in Cornwall, about as remote as you can get. A lot of our best recording experiences have been when we were in places like the studio in Westmeath, places where you are cut away from everyone. Some bands find it weird, I think, because you end up having to stare inside yourself too much. They self-destruct because they have to face too many demons. We thrive on demons."
At Oxegen, Muse will debut a new song, a characteristically understated piece called Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever) from the soundtrack to the forthcoming Twilight movie, Eclipse. They have contributed to all three Twilight films -- it turns out Bellamy was an early fan of the teen goth franchise and a friend of its creator, Stephenie Meyer. "I heard about it way back. Stephenie came to one of our gigs in Phoenix in Arizona. I was told there was this amazing new novelist. I did read the first one and quite enjoyed it. I met her and she said, 'I'd love to use your music in a film one day'. I didn't think anything would come of it. But I made a promise and when she sold the rights they contacted me and said, 'oh apparently you're going to give Stephenie some music'. So we did."
Muse play the Oxegen main stage on Saturday, July 10