Muse are an English trio hailing from the sleepy town of Teignmouth in Devon. The band consists of Matthew Bellamy (lead vocalist, lead guitarist, and pianist), Chris Wolstenholme (bass guitarist) and Dominic Howard (drummer).
Matthew was born in Cambridge on the 9th June 1978 and moved to Devon with his family at aged 10. Matthew’s dad was in a band called The Tornadoes, who were the first band from the UK to get a US number 1 record. At the age of 14 Matthew’s parents got divorced. "It was ok at home, middle class, we had money,” Matthew says. “Well until the age of 14. I think I almost got everything I wanted until the age of 14, yes. Then, everything changed, parents got divorced, and I went to live with my grand mother, and there wasn't that much money. I have a sister who's older than me, she's actually my stepsister: my dad had her from a previous marriage, and also a younger brother. Until the age of 14 music was part of my life since it was part of the family circle: my dad was a musician, he had a band, etc. But it's only when I moved in with my grandparents that I started playing music myself. It was like a need to me."
Matthew moved in with his grandmother and then found music was a need for him. He started playing piano at 6, but the absence of his parents turned him towards the guitar when he was 14. His parents and older brother also used an Ouija Board to contact the dead, which Matt discovered when he was wandering downstairs late at night. He then became interested in it after the divorce of his parents. “It was exciting to go to school and to tell 10-year-old kids all about it, as they found it all quite scary and I was quite impressed that I was doing something that was scary to other people but that wasn’t to me. I did get quite into that.” His beliefs changed after one correspondence predicted the first Gulf War a year before it started. “My beliefs in the whole thing changed. I now believe that you’re contacting something in your subconscious, which is quite different. Something that you might not have known was already there. That’s probably more realistic than thinking you’re contacting somebody who’s already dead. And I do practice that.
Dominic was born on the 7th December 1977 in Manchester and also moved to Devon when he was 8 years old. He and his family had no interest in music until Dominic went to high school when he then became interested in a jazz band, and started playing the drums. Chris was born on the 2nd December 1978 in Rotherham, Yorkshire but also moved to Devon (at 11). His mum would buy records regularly. He started by learning the guitar, and then the drums to finally play the bass when he met Dom and Matt.
Teignmouth wasn’t a particularly good town to live in for the band as Matthew explains. "The only time the town came to life was during the summer when it turned into a vacation spot for visiting Londoners. When the summer ended they left and took all the life with them. I felt so trapped there. My friends were either getting into drugs or music, but I gravitated towards the latter and eventually learned how to play. That became my escape. If it weren't for the band, I would probably have turned to drugs myself."
The beginnings of the band came when Matt, Dom and Chris formed Rocket Baby Dolls and entered a “battle of the bands” competition. "I remember the first real concert we've ever made was for a band competition,” says Matt “We were the only real rock band; all the others were pop or funk-pop, kinda Jamiroquai if you want. We knew we had no chance to win - we were not the best musicians - it was a matter of 'fitting'. So we did the best we could, we took advantage of our feeling of being 'different'. We came on stage with make up all over our face, we were very aggressive, we played very violently and then we broke everything on stage. All that to say that the will, the attitude meant a lot to us. So we won. And I think that psychologically it changed many things in our heads. Because we came to lose, we expected to lose. And we were angry somehow. And we had just realized at this time that we could replace lots of things. We realized that emotion, the vibrations that you create are as important as your technical skills. We had just discovered something: music is a matter of emotion." Rocket Baby Dolls was then renamed Muse.
As a band, Muse were often asked to play covers. They didn’t like that and were determined to play their own music. The number of gigs started to decline. Then, in October 1995, Dennis Smith discovered them playing in a Cornish village. Dennis Smith: “Matthew has an incredible range of thoughts. He’s got such an imaginative and creative mind, which was obvious in those early days, always challenging and wanting to get into very deep conversations that took 20 years of adult life to come to terms with. An older head on much younger shoulders is how I’ve always seen him.” It wasn’t until 1997 that Dennis offered them free studio time.
In 1998, Taste Media got in touch and a self-titled EP was released on the ‘Dangerous’ label. A few specialist shows were set up in the USA. After strong interest, Madonna’s record label, Maverick, signed them on Christmas Eve 1998. Another EP followed before they released their first single ‘Uno’. It charted just inside the top 75. After the success of the second single ‘Cave’, Muse’s first album (produced by John Leckie who produced Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’) called ‘Showbiz’ was released in October 1999. Early comparisons were being drawn to Radiohead with some critics and music lovers describing them as mere copycats. But it did not stop their success – ‘Muscle Museum’ and ‘Sunburn’ were released as successful singles with ‘Unintended’ being the first Muse single to hit the top 40. The album sold 700,000 copies worldwide and still counting. Muse also released two box sets – The Showbiz box set (released only in France, includes all the copies of their singles) and the Random 1-8 box set (eight b-sides released only in Japan). A successful year for Muse was sealed with a Brit nomination for Best New Act but they didn’t win it.
John Leckie then returned with Dave Botrill (Muse asked him to produce the album with John) to produce the second album, ‘Origin of Symmetry’. Matthew explains the change in direction. "When we did the first album we'd only done a few gigs in London, no major tours. We've learned so much about how we want to be from touring with other bands because of the way they are on stage. If we recorded them in the way other bands do I'd be worried that it would sound the same as them. We've used wind chimes to set up entire backdrops... bits of bones, Llama claws and bubble wrap. It sounds much more atmospheric." Their first single off the new album, ‘Plug In Baby,’ reached number 11, the highest chart placing yet for any Muse single. Their second single ‘New Born,’ also charted top 20.
The album was eventually released soon after to a bag of mixed reviews. However, Muse were on a roll and won the Best British Band award at the Kerrang Awards and were nominated for three Q awards (Best Album, Best Live Act and Best Producer) but didn’t win any. ‘Bliss’ and the double A-side ‘Feeling Good/Hyper Music’ were the last singles from the album. What followed in 2002 was a massive world tour promoting the album and a CD and DVD called ‘Hullabaloo’. The DVD featured Muse playing in ‘le Zénith’ in Paris in October 2001. The CD featured a selection of b-sides on one CD and the concert in Paris on the other. Another double A-side called ‘Dead Star/In Your World’ was released. An EP was also released in France called ‘Dead Star/In Your World’ and a second Japanese and French box set were also made. Muse won the ‘Best Live Band’ at the Kerrang Awards for the second year running topping off a successful period for the band, which saw 1.3 million copies sold.
Then they took another break to record the third album but this time they dropped John Leckie and worked with Paul Reeve, John Corfield and Rich Costey. Matthew explains "He was the man we originally thought of working with for the rock tracks. He'd previously mixed some great rock records -Audioslave, Rage Against The Machine's ‘Renegades’, The Mars Volta - but in the meantime he'd been sending us discs of other people he'd worked with like Philip Glass and Fiona Apple and was trying to convince us that he should do the whole album. We reworked Apocalypse Please with a more aggressive sound, without too much over-production, and it sounded better. In the end he did do pretty much all the album, and mixed it as well. He understood what we were trying to achieve. The main thing with Rich was that his mixing technique was pretty precise. Every cab would have about 10 microphones on it and they would all be placed with mathematical precision. I remember spending a whole day playing the guitar and seeing Rich outside with a measuring tape and a spirit level! He was making the slightest adjustments, millimetres at a time to get it so there was perfect phase."
The album was going to be uplifting but then the US and the UK went to fight Iraq in the Gulf and everything changed. "We started off with a full orchestra, experimenting, pushing it right over the Queen mark - 98 backing vocals, 32-piece orchestra and all sorts! We did two songs like that and kinda lost our minds,” says Matthew. “We ended deciding to get back to basics. We re-recorded some of the stuff with the orchestra, toned it down a little bit. It sounds a lot harder now than I expected. In terms of general context, the world's changed in the last year, the world events of the last year and a half. It's not that we're a political band but I think it's impossible to avoid those things. I think there's a lot of apocalyptic stuff going on in a lot of the songs. While we were recording all the war (with Iraq) was coming out and we were in the process of recording while watching that. The direction definitely took a pretty harsh change in the middle of it all. In relation to the album it's come across more as a general fear and mistrust of the people in power. It's about moments of extreme fear, and a fair bit of end of the world talk.”
Matt also explains how it is different from ‘Showbiz’ and ‘Origin of Symmetry’. “In the past I was layering guitars quite a lot but this time I wanted to get just one guitar part to stand out and be just perfect. On the last album [‘Origin of Symmetry’] for example, on songs like ‘Citizen Erased’ or ‘Micro Cuts’, I did a lot of multiple guitar parts. But when I went to do it live, I actually found myself simplifying the guitar parts and found that the simple parts were much more effective and much more powerful sounding. So in making this album, instead of recording the songs in layers, I was actually working on the parts a lot more before I recorded them.”
‘Stockholm Syndrome’ was released as a download only single to give fans a taste of what was to come on the third album, now called ‘Absolution’. It proved to be not only popular but also one of the most popular download singles ever. Muse then started to play warm-up gigs ahead of the release of the album and a huge European tour. Their next single, ‘Time Is Running Out’, was the only Muse single to feature in the top 10 of the UK chart. Shortly after the European release of ‘Absolution’, Muse won the Q Innovation Award and ‘Absolution’ also topped the album charts in the UK in the process and in December they won the Best British Rock/Indie Band award at the Interactive Music Awards and their third single, ‘Hysteria’, also charted in the top 20 to end a memorable year for Muse.
2004 was full of drama for the Muse. They were again nominated for a Brit Award, this time for Best Rock Act but lost to the Darkness. They also went on tour in Australia, France, Japan (in which Chris lost his wedding ring that was eventually returned to him) and the USA. Matthew injured his mouth whilst performing in Atlanta. Matthew explains the pain: "I didn't feel any pain at first. Then I spat out this liquid and there were gushes of red stuff spurting out all over the microphone. I ran backstage and started puking up. At first you could feel the stitches stretching my face as I sang but now the only problem is that they seem to be disappearing into my lip.” Dominic also noticed that Matt was injured. "I knew it was bad as soon as he turned around, there was blood dripping everywhere."
He recovered and Muse continued touring America and Canada whilst ‘Absolution’ got critical acclaim, making them one of the British bands that have the potential to crack America like Coldplay. ‘Absolution’ was also only the second album to be released in America because ‘Origin of Symmetry’ was never released there following a dispute with Maverick. ‘Sing for Absolution’ was then released as a single on the eve of their huge European festival tour, charting in the top 20.
Matt has a very interesting habit whilst touring; poker. "I'm really into the mind games of poker", he explains. "I'm more ruthless than the other two so I've been taking all their money. It can get boring. In Barcelona I had to go to a casino to play with some pros. I still made around 500 euros. You know the Channel 4 poker programme Late Night Poker? My ambition is to appear on that. But the stake is £1500 and I'm not quite good enough yet."
Muse confirmed their status as one of the world’s best rock bands by playing a fantastic set at Glastonbury. But it was marred by tragedy as just hours after coming off, Dom’s father, died of a heart attack after seeing his son play live. "It was the biggest feeling of achievement we've ever had after coming offstage", Bellamy says. "It was almost surreal that an hour later his dad died. It was almost not believable. We spent about a week sort of just with Dom trying to support him. I think he was happy that at least his dad got to see him at probably what was the finest moment so far of the band's life."
More drama would unfold at the Cure Curiosa Tour in America as half-way through the tour, Chris injured his wrist, throwing many festival dates in doubt. However, they managed to recruit a temporary replacement in Morgan Nicholls, bassist for UK hip-hop act The Streets, and, with Chris playing on keys and providing backing vocals, delivered a storming show at the V Festival in August 2004, rounding a mad year since the release of ‘Absolution’.
Matthew explains how Muse will go about recording their forth album. “We want to have a new approach and a new atmosphere. We will maybe find a house and take our own material to record it. I’d like to spend some time in New-York too! It seems to be a “magical” city to record an album. We really dunno now. I think that we all wanna have a normal life. Chris is gonna spend some time with his children and I’m gonna find a job in a bar! I think the combination of guitar rock and full-on 70’s disco is ready to be exploited properly. Like Night Fever, but heavy. Or Billy Jean. A little bit rock guitar, a little bit disco."
"For me", Matt says, "Muse is about getting the hopes, dreams, desires, frustrations out of your system that you wouldn't normally be able to do. It's about showing people that there are things inside buried that should be exposed, and having no shame about them. We can communicate no matter the environment." Dom also explains what the band has learnt from their time as a band. “I think we've just grown up over the years and learnt loads about who are as people and how we played our instruments and it's definitely kind of a growing up process, but it's all about commitment. You know, believing in something you do a lot and kind of fulfilling that and fulfilling the things you really want to do!”
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Biography by Max Raymond exclusively for Microcuts.net
Sources : Microcuts.net, Muse-official, NME, Guitarist magazine, Q magazine, the Herald Sun newspaper...