Ahead of their 21 September concert in Shanghai, Muse frontman Matt Bellamy sits down with Time Out and dishes on conspiracy theories, the inspiration for the new album and dyeing his hair red.
Muse are known for their spectacular
live show. Are you going to be able to
bring the full caboodle to Shanghai?
It’s going to have to be a stripped-down
version. It’ll be the same as what we
do for festivals. It’s going to be more
about the music than anything else. Asia
poses a challenge because of the long
distances. The concerts are so far apart
that sometimes you have to do air and
sea freight; whereas touring in Europe
and America the infrastructure’s set up
so that you can use trucks overnight to get
from one arena to another. That’s one of
the reasons you don’t really see some big
acts, for example U2, in Asia very often
because they don’t really want to tour
unless they have their full show.
Are you guys into playing new cities?
We love touring new places because
they’re not the same old route that all
bands do all the time. [I think that’s]
because we didn’t do that well in England
when we started out. We’d built up a little
following down in Devon, and I remember
when we first came to London thinking:
Yeah, let’s go to London, we’re going to
make it big! And we played in the Bull &
Gate [pub] to two people!
We saw that our little regional following
wasn’t going to translate much further, so
we said the next time we come to London,
we’re going to bring a bus full of mates so
it looks like we’ve got more fans. We came
back to London a couple of months later,
rented out a bus and brought 50 of our
mates to fill up this venue somewhere in
Camden. Everyone who came thought we
were so popular!
Anyway, we realised that in England
things weren’t really happening that much
apart from down in Devon. Then we went
to France and we had like a thousand
people watching us and we thought: Wow,
this is crazy! So we learned at quite a
young age to go further afield to find an
audience and a purpose. I think that’s
why, even to this day, we still love going to places that are pretty far out, places
some major acts won’t even go to. We’re
particularly looking forward to going to
China, and if Beijing and Shanghai go
really well then we’re excited to possibly
do a tour of China one day – try and be
one of the first acts to play multiple cities.
One of our ambitions is to find a way to
introduce Western music into China.
What do you think your impressions
of China will be?
I’ve got no idea. I’ve got no idea what to
expect. Yeah, I’m intrigued to check out
some of the cultural differences there,
things that make it unique. And I’ve
always loved Chinese food! I’m intrigued
to meet people and find out what kind of
stuff they’re into, and I’m sure we’ll be out
and about looking at tourist attractions
and checking out the big river, whatever
it’s called – the big river in Shanghai that’s
apparently amazing, where you can see
all the buildings and everything.
You’ve talked a lot about global
conspiracies in the past. But have
you ever heard any wild conspiracy
theories about yourself?
[Laughs] Yeah! I have this friend who’s
based in San Francisco who runs a
website, like it’s one of those ‘Truth
Movement’-type things. This is back when
I was kind of… I believed more naively in
change than I do now! When I was in my
early 20s, I was a bit more researched
on some of those things and I became
friends with certain people in that world.
This guy was one of my close friends. Last
time I saw him he was really weird around
me and he was acting strange and asking
me weird questions. Later, I asked my
other mate, Tom, I said, ‘What’s wrong
with Steve?’ And he goes, ‘Oh, he thinks
you’re in the Illuminati’. [Laughs]. I go up
to him and say, ‘Tom tells me you think
I’m in the Illuminati?’ And he’s saying,
‘Yeah, you keep doing these hand signals
onstage’ and he was talking about these
hand signals that I do, like the ‘rock’
sign, and he calls it proof that I’ve been
converted to the dark side! I thought I was
in Star Wars Episode III or something! It’s
an unusual thing when one of your close
friends… in fact, that was a turning point
for me in the conspiracy world. Like, when someone who’s actually a close friend of yours starts to mistrust you and thinks you’ve ‘turned to the dark side’. That
was one of the key moments that made
me go: Actually, a lot of this is a bunch of
bollocks, isn’t it’.
New album Drones is probably your
most overtly political, but you’ve
said recently that it’s also semi-autobiographical.
I tried to make two narratives work at the
same time on the album – both of them
metaphorical. One train of thought is
that it’s a journey of an individual battling
against the forces of a sociopathic,
psychopathic, machine-like, cold, non-emotional
world. I guess you could say it’s
semi-autobiographical in terms of… in
the world that I’ve inhabited – the music
business and the touring lifestyle – you do
come across some nefarious characters.
But it’s also trying to make a sort of
connection to things, like how people are
dealing with technology and how things
like drones and social media are affecting
our ability to connect with each other
and erasing our empathy. The empathy
role is being constantly downgraded by
technology; technology is a direct assault
on human empathy because we’re
creating this artificial intelligence that will
never have human empathy. So I guess,
to simplify a bit, I attempted to get two
things happening at the same time: how
I felt as a person dealing with those
things, but also maybe how, on a grander
scale, what it means for people overall.
So what cold, psychopathic forces do
you face in your daily life?
[Laughs] I dunno… when you come from a
small town and you decide to escape that
to go around the world, you come across
all sorts of other people who are willing
to take advantage of you. And I think
that, whether it be the music business
or whether it be business in general, you
have to deal with some pretty… I’m not
going to name names, but we all live in the
same world together, we all know what’s
out there. I’m nothing unique. We’ve
accepted all this technology, and what
it really does to the human soul – I think
that’s definitely something to question.
Back in the day you dyed your hair
red. Ever thought about bringing it
back? It’d go down pretty well here.
Why red hair in China?
Red is an auspicious colour in China.
So I should dye my hair red for China?
Alright! You can take credit for the fact
that I’m probably going to do that. Yeah,
mid-to-late 30s… this is probably the last
chance I’ve got to actually get away with it
without being totally embarrassed. So,
I think I’ll give it a go. Yeah, I like that idea!
Muse play Mercedes-Benz Arena on
Monday 21 September. See full event details.