Muse – Inspiration Unlimited
October 25, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: Music Australia Guide #70, October 2009.
UK rockers Muse have built a reputation on redefining rock’s parameters. Bass player Chris Wolstenholme tells Dan Rule that towering new opus The Resistance is the trio’s most expansive yet.
Muse have never been a band to do things by half-measures. They don’t do small, they don’t do quiet and they certainly don’t do demure.
“You have to do everything you possibly can in the studio and be as honest as possible,” says co-founder and bass player Chris Wolstenholme. “Because in the end, it’s you – the three or however many people in the band – who really have to live with it for the rest of your lives.”
“A producer doesn’t have to go on tour and play those songs every night; the band does.”
In a creative journey that has stretched over a decade and four epically scaled records, the English trio – Wolstenholme, singer and guitarist Matt Bellamy and drummer Dominic Howard – have traversed rock’s interface with symphony, experimentalism and electronics. Accumulation – of knowledge, of style, of compositional and production smarts – has become their calling card.
“I think with all of the great albums over the history of pop music, no one would have been worrying about how they were going to play it live, you know,” says Wolstenholme, who is chatting from his home in the small coastal town of Teignmouth on the eve of releasing sweeping fifth album The Resistance.
“I’m pretty sure that when Brian Wilson wrote Pet Sounds, the idea being onstage wouldn’t have entered his head once,” he laughs. “He would have been thinking about how he could make those songs as great as possible on the record.”
He makes a good point. Across the breadth of their career, Muse’s status as a three-piece rock band has acted as a starting point rather than a limitation. Whether it be the oscillating dynamics and atmospheres of 1999 debut Showbiz, the bombastic rock tropes and tangles electronics of Origin of Symmetry (2001), the baroque drama of Absolution (2003) or the unfettered paranoia and grand orchestrations of Black Holes and Revelations (2006), the group have crafted sounds of a scale that belies the trio’s core guitar/bass/drums line-up.
Mind you, it wasn’t always easy for Muse, each of whom grew up in Teignmouth and formed the early incarnations of the band as teenagers in the mid 90s. “I think in the early days we often felt quite limited in what we could do, because before you’ve had that experience in the studio, it’s hard to imagine the possibilities,” explains Wolstenholme.
“But the more time you spend in studios and with good producers, the more you really learn listen to the songs that you have or the ideas you have and you just really ask yourself, ‘What is going to be best for this song?’ regardless of what comes later on; regardless of those questions of ‘How are we going to do that?’. It’s just a matter of what is the best thing for the song on the album, and that’s something we’ve pushed a bit further now.”
It’s a notion evidenced on fifth record The Resistance, which debuted at number one in Australia the week of going to print. Recorded and produced entirely by the band in Bellamy’s newly built home-studio in northern Italy, the record visits terrains as varied as the inorganic RnB and hip hop grooves of Undisclosed Desires, Queen-like theatrics of cuts like United States of Eurasia and tearing guitar rock of first single Uprising and Unnatural Selection, before closing with Exogenesis, a fully-fledged three-part symphony.
“There are obviously political influences and references to the album, but I think this time it’s more of an emotional response to political issues, rather than just mouthing off about what’s right and what’s wrong, which is what we’ve been guilty of in the past.” says Wolstenholme.
“To me, it really covers a lot of ground and really feels like a journey from start to finish,” he continues. “The way we recorded it is actually very much how it ended up on the album and that’s quite rare. I don’t think we’ve ever done anything like that before.”
Indeed, recording and producing their own material proved a creative boon for Muse. “I think with each knew album we’ve done, with each new producer we’ve worked with and with each new studio we’ve been in, we’ve just accumulated this knowledge over time,” he says. “I think most bands will get to a point in their careers where they’ll go, ‘I think maybe it’s time to try this on our own’.”
“It was just very, very relaxed and it almost reminded me of how we used to work when we were younger, before we were signed.”
“It’s obviously on a much grander scale now,” he pauses. “We’re not in a little grotty basement anymore, but it’s pretty much the same thing.”
The Resistance is out now via Warner Music