Muse frontman Matt Bellamy has a lot to look forward to on the Big Day Out tour, says JAMES WIGNEY
MUSE'S shows in this week's Big Day Out tour will be a triumphant return to Australia for frontman Matt Bellamy.
Since last touring here on the 2004 BDO bill, the rock trio have regularly claimed awards as the world's best live act and last year producing a mind-blowing, genre-defying fourth album which left critics grasping for superlatives.
This time around, the UK band is at the top of its game after six months on the road and, after its stratospheric rise, is one of the headline acts. <more>
For Bellamy, there is the added bonus of catching up with his neighbour, Nic Cester from Jet.
As befits his status as a rock god (with an Italian girlfriend), Bellamy, originally from Devon, England, now calls exclusive Lake Como, just outside Milan, home and counts among his neighbours George Clooney and the Jet lead singer.
While he has only seen the reigning World's Sexiest Man riding his bike and trying "to pretend he is a local person", Bellamy enjoyed a big night with Cester over Christmas.
"I met him for the first time when I bumped into him in Como and we had a bit of a booze-up," said guitar and keyboard genius Bellamy.
"He is a lovely guy - I just sort of hung out with him and it's great to have someone else living there who is in the same game."
Bellamy hasn't seen much of his adopted home since releasing the brilliantly bizarre Black Holes and Revelations last July.
The band is still only about halfway through its biggest global tour so far, which will continue through South East Asia for the first time after the Aussie leg and won't wind up until at least August.
Muse's reputation as such a killer live act has been something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, the swelling crowds and larger venues have encouraged Bellamy, bass player Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard to be more adventurous and ambitious.
On the other hand, the spectre of having to live up to that reputation has, at times, held them back in the studio. One of the biggest challenges the band faced while making Black Holes was to rid themselves of the fear of how they were going to play the grandiose blend of prog rock, goth, funk and flamenco live.
"When we are in the studio now, there are certain things we are not afraid to do that, in the past, we probably would have thought were too over the top or epic sounding," Bellamy said.
"When you get used to playing the larger venues you get a bit more confidence with those types of songs. I think with this album, it was no holds barred and, in the studio, we really pushed ourselves into new areas and some of these songs work really well in big gigs.
"This time, we thought it was time to just make a studio album and one that wasn't really about what we are like as a live band and it was time to let ourselves go and not be afraid, even if the song turned into something that could only be played by a five piece.
"So there are certain songs that once we made the album, we were very happy with them, but it wasn't until we mastered it and released it we actually started to panic about how we were going to play it."
The answer, easily enough, was to add multi-instrumentalist Morgan Nicholls, former bass player in the Streets, to help fill out the epic sounds of songs such as Depeche-Mode influenced Map of the Problematique and sweeping six-minute closer Knights of Cydonia.
"We thought it was actually long overdue to get a fourth person in to play live," Bellamy said.
"There are certain parts - little extra layers, some thickener parts, some small lead piano and a lot of synthesiser stuff - all these little extra elements that have crept their way on to this album."
While Black Holes and Revelations has been a critical and commercial success, the eclectic blend of styles and overtly apocalyptic tone has not pleased everyone.
In fact when the album's first single, the electro-funk, Prince-like Supermassive Black Hole first appeared, Muse diehards dismissed it on the internet as a fake.
Bellamy laughs at the recollection, but doubts their experimentation has lost them too many fans.
He said embracing a wide range of influences from metal to electronica and classical to funk was less of a problem in the iPod age, where people flipped from playlist to playlist quickly, picking only what they liked from an album.
"I think there are probably a few hardcore fans who maybe didn't like this album, but in terms of our live gigs, they are just getting bigger, so I assume there are people coming now who are coming for all different songs we play off different albums," he said. "There is a kind of pluralism that is becoming more common with younger people.
"That's definitely the case with me and I think you can hear that in the album in that we mix and match what we do quite a lot."
Even with all the success and accolades, chief songwriter Bellamy is unsure what the future holds.
He is interested in writing a film soundtrack, but is waiting for the right opportunity. Having been castigated in the past for perceived prog rock leanings, he dismisses the prospect of writing a concept album like My Chemical Romance.
But Black Holes' wild experimentation could be just the beginning.
"We needed to open up these new doorways so we could go forward," Bellamy said. "It could be seen as some kind of transition album, going from what we were and songs like Supermassive Black Hole could open up whole new areas for us in terms of electronics and dance grooves, but also songs like Soldier's Poem could open up slower, more acoustic or even more jazz based music."
Thematically, Bellamy is equally uncertain. Even after the dark themes of Black Holes, with its accusations of corrupt politicians, shadowy secret agencies, alien conspiracies and incitement to revolution, Bellamy remains upbeat about the future.
"Any given generation can look at the times they live in very pessimistically if they want to," he said.
"Every decade probably over the past thousand years or something you could easily say: `This is a very bad time to be living'.
"Part of life is just accepting the harshness of the mistakes that are being made around us but, at the same time, I think, being aware of them is the important thing.
"I don't mean to be pessimistic, but I think it's nice to be aware of it so at least you can do something to try and change it and make others aware so the same mistakes are not made in the future."
: Sunday Mail