Just when you think you've got Muse boxed as thunderous, operatic prog-rock planet reachers, they come back down to earth for a brief day trip and give us the slippery as sex single 'Super Massive Blackhole', a tune belonging more to Prince's back catalogue than alongside the rumbling anthems from the last album, 'Absolution'.
However, bassist Chris Wolstenholme claims there's no need for hardcore fans to doubt Muse's soaring rock crudentials and says their long-awaited fourth studio longplayer, 'Black Holes And Revelations', will clear up any uncertainty. (Read our exclusive review of the record HERE.)
Headlining the Carling Weekend: Reading and Leeds festivals this summer, the two mega sets will herald the band's biggest shows since Glastonbury 2004, when Chris, Matt and Dom stormed the place despite a terrifying case of last minute nerves born from the fear that "we weren't big enough for it". There's no question of that now. But you get the feeling that Muse will always be grounded, despite their sound soaring somewhere above us in outerspace. Read on and you'll find out just why...
Virtual Festivals: So, Super Massive Blackhole. Was it written about the Reading toilets?
Chris Wolstenholme: "The Reading toilets? Ha ha! No, I don’t think so but I’m not exactly sure what it’s written about. Matt writes the lyrics and I never really know what he’s on about. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t written about the Reading toilets, but it does bear some kind of relevance I guess."
VF: The new album’s out soon. Everyone's obviously very excited about getting their mitts on it. But how do you think it will transfer live?
CW: "So far it’s been good. We’ve only really done one proper show since finishing the album and there are a fair few songs on there that we thought would be quite difficult to perform live, but in fact they’ve been ok. We did the Radio 1 Big Weekend and the reaction from the crowd was great. We did about five new tracks and there are still about four or five that we haven’t done live anywhere. But we’ve got a few festivals coming up over the next few weeks so we’ll see. It’s always difficult to tell; you spend so long rehearsing all this stuff but it’s never until you’re on the stage playing it that you really know if it’s any good or not."
VF: Are there any tracks that really stand out live?
CW: "So far the last track from the album, ‘Knights Of Cydonia’, has been going down a storm. I think the first track ‘Take A Bow’ will be good live as well, but it’ll also be one of the trickiest to pull off because there’s loads going on in terms of sound outside just the three of us. We haven’t tried it live yet but once it’s put together it should really work. The thing is, certain songs you present slightly differently live but I think 'Take A Bow' is one of those songs that really requires every inch of energy that it has on the album."
VF: Will 'Super Massive Blackhole' have people boogying and moon-walking rather than rocking out?
CW: "Yeah, that would be an amazing sight! No, I think there definitely were a fair few people out there, maybe the more hardcore fans, who were quite concerned when they first heard that track. But we’ve played it live a few times now and it takes on a whole new feel. If you strip that guitar track down to its most minimal form it could almost be Rage Against The Machine. It’s that kind of riff. But the way it is on the album, with those electronic jams, gives it that very r’n’b feel. We play it slightly different live and we quickly realised that it does actually rock."
VF: Headlining Glastonbury 2004 was probably your defining live moment. How does the prospect of Reading and Leeds compare?
CW: "I think Reading’s always been known as much more of a rock festival and now Leeds obviously has that reputation too. I never actually went to Glastonbury as a paying customer but it’s something you see on the television all the time and it’s seen as such a big thing. But Reading’s the one I went to a few times as a kid and it’s one of those places where I saw so many bands that I absolutely loved playing and I’d sit there thinking, ‘ahh, one day’. We played the main stage there in 2002, just before Foo Fighters, but to be headlining just feels very strange, especially when you think you’re following in the footsteps of bands like Rage Against The Machine and Smashing Pumpkins, all those bands that we’ve absolutely loved. It’s also great to play on your own soil. It’s always like coming home. Even if we’ve spent a few weeks in Europe, playing in Scotland feels like a homecoming. It’s going to be amazing to be up there… Or it could be tragic. We might get on and have the worst gig of our lives!"
VF: Does the fact that it’s two festivals rather than one mega set dilute it in any way?
CW: "One thing we’ve learnt over the last few years is not to hype up any one festival in particular. You spend your whole summer playing festivals all over Europe but because it’s Glastonbury or Reading then suddenly it becomes a big deal and that becomes the festival of the whole summer. It’s very easy to get yourself in a position where nothing else is important and that’s not fair really. What you have to do is sit back and look at all the festivals and say ‘this festival in France is just as important to the fans there as Glastonbury is to people here’ so you’ve got to go into all of them with the same attitude. One year we headlined one of the tents at Reading (2000) and all summer we hyped it up in ourselves, so much so that we ended up playing an atrocious gig and it was probably the worst festival experience we had all that year. Something strange happened, I’m not sure what."
VF: What bands you looking forward to checking out at Reading and Leeds this year?
CW: "Loads! I think the day we’re playing probably has the best lineup. Arctic Monkeys and The Streets are playing before us. Yeah Yeah Yeahs were supposed to be playing before us but I think they’ve swapped days now with Feeder. Dirty Pretty Things. I think I’ll go on the Friday as well as see what’s going on that day. But from what I’ve seen it’s a great lineup."
VF: So you won’t be spending the weekend getting pissed backstage like certain others?
CW: "No, you can’t hear any music from the side of stage at Reading, all you hear is a really annoying and indecipherable bass and drum noise that’s no good to anyone. I don’t see the point in going to a festival and hanging around backstage all the time so it’s good to get out and about and stuck in, especially with the quality of bands on show this year. Where would you get to see all that lot in one place other than at Reading and Leeds? I'll be out there watching the bands definitely."
VF: What’s been your best festival moment?
CW: "It’s got to be headlining Glastonbury in 2004. That was definitely a highlight. We were extremely nervous before that gig, we really felt that we weren’t big enough for it. We played on the last day, it was really muddy and we saw a whole bunch of bands playing before us and there was this real kind of jaded atmosphere. I could understand it because if I’d been there in mud for three days I’d probably have been a bit pissed off. So for an hour or so before the show we really had the fear. We were thinking, ‘Why are we doing this? We’ve made a huge mistake. This is the end!’ And then suddenly we were on stage and from the very first moment it was absolutely electric, incredible, and I think it turned out to be one of the best sets we’ve ever played."
VF: How about a worst moment?
CW: "Probably Reading 2000 performance wise. As a punter it would definitely be diarrhoea at Reading 1995. Easily. I don’t want to go too far into it obviously, but avoid dodgy food at all costs! Any kind of stomach condition at a festival doesn’t really work."
VF: What’s the one thing you’d definitely take to a festival?
CW: "Probably my laptop. What if they wouldn’t let me plug it in? I’d charge it before I came. Why a laptop? I dunno, just for stuff, probably to make some music."
VF: Any festival survival tips?
CW: "I’ve not really been as a punter for a while now but I’ve got this mate who, whenever he goes to a festival, takes these pills that stop you getting the shits. They basically block you up which means you don’t have to spend longer than a few seconds at any one time in the toilets. You don’t need to take a dump for about four days and he swears by them so whenever he goes to a festival he doesn’t have to go and shit in a hole somewhere."
VF: You were voted Best Live Act in the 2004 UK Festival Awards. Must be nice having thousands of people saying you were the best band of the summer?
CW: "Yeah definitely, we were thrilled by that. It was great to win an award that says you’re good at festivals. Festivals are very hit and miss because they’re not like your own gig where you get to sound check. Also, you don’t get to take that much of your own stuff in there, so you’re more in a situation where you just get up and play and so far I think we’ve managed to do reasonably well. We haven’t had any really tragic festivals yet. I think the worst one was when I broke my wrist just before V 2004 and that was a bit of a downer. But yeah, it’s always great to be appreciated as a good live band. I think the live side to this band has always been really important, even from very early days, and it’s always great getting that respect from the people that matter."
VF: Finally, is there any truth in the rumour that Matt Bellamy wears four inch heels on stage?
CW: "Ha ha, absolutely none whatsoever! Four inches? I think he’d be falling all over the stage. Maybe I’ll ask him to though, it would be funny to watch."
The album 'Black Holes And Revelations' is out 3 July (reviewed HERE). The single 'Super Massive Blackhole' is out now.