Matt Bellamy: “Some Muse Fans Probably Know Me Better Than I Do”
Following on from last week’s Muse cover story, here’s an extended interview with frontman Matt Bellamy on the songwriting process, the problems with social media and the “onslaught of technology”.
You’ve mentioned how your songwriting brings out a less biographical and more narrative-based side. Is this indicative of the type of songwriters that you admire now, or perhaps the music that you grew up listening to?
Matt: “You know what? I don’t really know what my influences are in terms of lyrics and stuff. I’m more of a sort of music person; when I grew up I’d loved the music so much and I’d listen to the melody and things like that. What was being said in songs was something that never really sort of, I don’t want to say they didn’t matter too much, but it was never something that really drew me in until I probably came across someone like maybe Tom Waits and Rage Against The Machine as well. They’re the two sort of lyric writers that made be go, ‘You know what, actually what they’re singing about really makes a huge difference to the feeling of the song, what they’re actually saying’. That was probably my mid to late teenage years, when I discovered Tom Waits and Rage Against The Machine. It’s hard for me to say, my lyrics are nothing like either of those. Whereas what I write myself, usually for me the music comes first. I just try and create a sort of a flow of words that somehow fits with the best melody for the tune or the best expressive feel for the vocal, plus I’m trying to link it to what the music itself is making me feel. So sometimes if I’m writing a tune like Take A Bow on the Black Holes album, that’s like a pretty weird sort of elaborate sort of sequence of kind of arpeggios and it’s very dramatic and classical sounding and very dark as well. That made me lean towards singing about like, you know, what it is to mistrust a political establishment and want to assassinate a president or something weird like that.”
Does the music help inform your lyrics most of the time?
“Sometimes the music itself will lead me in and draw out a kind of weird emotion from me that certainly doesn’t come out in your every day life. Some of it does end up being autobiographical and I say the stuff ends up being more autobiographical is where the music itself isn’t really that kind of dark or weird-sounding on songs like maybe Starlight or Madness. On this album, like the song Something Human, songs where the melodic structure and the chords are relatively simple, it’s in those situations where I tend to actually go a bit more autobiographical with the lyric like singing about things like love or relationships and things like that. But I’d say Muse, we tend to do songs which have a much more darker musical tone and a much more unusual chordal structure and melody to most traditional pop music and I think that reason it drawls out of me a lyrical content, which is a bit different to what most people to sing about. I tend to go down the route of paranoia anxiety or the impending doom of technology and anxiety about the future of the world and so on. I think some of that stuff actually comes from the fact that that’s what the music itself makes me feel when I’m listening to it.”
You mention how you lean ‘on the private side’ in terms of how much you put out there. You’re not especially active on social media, especially to the extent that many artists are in 2018. Why not? How do you view social media, in the context of this album; its role in the world, its dangers and its benefits?
“I only really started using things like Twitter and Instagram in the last couple of years. I’m not really an active user and maybe once every few months I’ll just go on there and answer bunch of questions. You know, Instagram is something that I started to learn how to use and for me, it’s something really it’s a nice way to be able to communicate directly with fans of the band in a way that bypasses the need to go through the sort of the traditional media route, I guess. I don’t really use it as a way of receiving information, I don’t really follow much stuff. I don’t follow many people, if any, at all [he follows 33 people on Twitter] I don’t really follow much in terms of the way of news and stuff. I guess I don’t really trust a lot of information that’s on there. Facebook, I’ve never ever even touched it or used it or I don’t even know how it works. I have never gone near Facebook. It’s more of a way of sending out stuff to people but if I don’t really use it as a way of receiving stuff back, if you know what I mean.”
Do you think that social media is unhealthy?
“I think, at the moment, that it’s been largely unhealthy. I think in the future it might become healthy. Actually, I think you know when you’ve got on a VR headset and you actually are in a room with an avatar in some kind of virtual space with another avatar, you automatically much more respectful because you can hear each other talking. The fact you can hear each other talk, you’re just one step closer to having a more realistic interaction with another human. The problem with the current sort of social media is that’s there’s no personal close relation to the person. It’s just text and therefore people are more able or more likely to lean toward being mean or saying things that are harsh, being more judgmental. Things they would never say if they were in person. That’s unhealthy. I think that a lot of the social media that set up, in about 10, 20 years are going to be completely different and I think the ability to actually connect with people in a more realistic way, a more personable way, it will improve things and people will become more probably become nicer again.”
You identify yourself as not having an “extrovert personality”. What does a typical Saturday look like for Matt Bellamy, when he’s not got a VR headset on?
“The last thing I did was a fun gig with a bunch of ex-pat mates who live in LA now. We created a band called The Jaded Hearts Club. We had Graham Coxon there, sometimes we play with Miles Kane. We had Nic Cester, the singer from Jet, turn up. We did a few songs and that was a good laugh. It’s one of the best nights out when we all get together and jam a bunch of old rock tunes from the 60s. I like doing that or I like taking the dog for a walk. I’m usually at most mornings walking the dog for a good hour before breakfast. She’s an Australian Shepherd called Hazel and she’s still like a bit of a puppy. She’s like 10 months old now, but yeah, she’s like one of my best pals.”
You identify yourselves as “more laid back”. What gets your goat, and how do you process that – are you someone who takes everything in their stride, deep breath and carry on, or do you confront problems head on and blitz through them?
“Watching the news is always a source of getting riled up. You know, I think I tend to switch off from it a fair bit. I guess, just sort of the way society is structured and the way the world is tends to drive humans towards being a slave to a system, you know, working all the time and being obsessed with trying to make money. Money’s like ‘freedom credit’ in the modern age. I guess, you look at it and think how it could be structured differently. When you go on VR or play online games, sometimes you go to these other worlds and and you end up chatting with these people from all over the world and and everyone’s just all having a great time. Everyone gets on very well. I also went to Burning Man a couple times and I’m not really that into that kind of nusic, but the scene out there is interesting because again, like when when you take humans away from society, they tend to sort of be pretty mellow and happy and get along very well. The structure of the way the world is at the moment, it seems to bring out the worst in people. I guess that’s always been a driving force for me; mistrust for state power is something that’s been a general theme in a lot of lot of my songs and albums; I’m in favour of individual power and local government as opposed to distant state power which is a general theme in a lot of the songs. I guess the ‘resistance is futile’… regarding the onslaught of technology in our lives. It’s nothing we can do about it now. It’s happening. On this album, I’ve chosen to take a more positive viewpoint on that. The last album Drones was a much more negative view point on technology’s invasion of our lives and control over us all that’s still happening. On this album, I’ve chosen to take more of a positive point of view on that, but that’s really a choice, you know, that’s almost like a resistance is futile, if you can’t beat them join them type scenario, which is kind of coming across on this album. My truth is the really onslaught of technology, especially on the music industry as well. You know, we’re one of the first industries that really did experience this thing that’s happening all across the world now, this automation of jobs. People are losing their jobs to automation, people are losing their jobs to AI robots and it’s only going to continue. But in the music industry, we felt it way back in the early 2000s – you train as a musician, playing guitar, piano or drums or singing or whatever and then suddenly you turn up at a festival and someone’s just opened up a laptop and presses play. It enables people to create an entire orchestra in five minutes on a laptop.”
Do you feel people – Muse fans – know the real you? Do you even want them to?
”(Laughs) I think they probably do. I mean some of them probably know me better than I do. There’s certain things are going to the songs which are certainly coming from a subconscious level; some of it, not all of it. Some it’s coming from deep buried paranoias and anxieties and things like that which which I pour into the songs, so you could say on some levels some of the fans will know elements of my persona or self or subconscious better than I do. But in terms of my regular everyday personal life, there’s not many that know that in that depth in terms of who I am as a person. I think it comes across in a lot of music.”
Is it important to keep a divide between your public and private life?
“I don’t think it’s unusual. I think everybody has that, it doesn’t matter what you do in your life. You know, if you work as a journalist or you work as a car maker or whatever you do. Everybody’s got their personal lives. Everybody’s got their lives with their workmates or their friends and so on and I think I think it’s pretty normal to have different sides of yourself that different people bring out of you.”
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