Interview: Muse

Frontman Matt Bellamy dishes on conspiracy theories, hair styles and China

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. How so?

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!

Lee Williamson

Muse play Mercedes-Benz Arena on Monday 21 September. See full event details.