Muse is nowhere near finished recording their eighth album, but today they gave a preview of what’s to come by releasing “Thought Contagion.” The politically charged rock song is the second single from their as-yet-untitled LP after “Dig Down,” which came out last year.
Dropping singles piecemeal like that is a radical departure from the group’s standard practice of holding back any music until the album is complete. But nearly a quarter-century into their career, the trio are shaking up the process. “It’s nice to have that sort of quick turnaround rather than waiting for all the materials to come out with the album,” Muse singer Matt Bellamy tells Rolling Stone. “The album will be a very mixed bag. The songs are going to be quite different in spots and we’re also interested in doing some genre-blending and era-blending.”
Before releasing “Thought Contagion,” Bellamy opened up about his frustration with news in the Trump era, headlining Bonnaroo the day before his birthday and why he thinks the new Muse album will be their strongest.
What’s the backstory of “Thought Contagion”?
It’s a pretty recent track, probably towards the end of last year is when I wrote it. I came up with the bass line and then I used a theremin, originally, to [create] this lead melody that went over the top. It wasn’t until we started recording the song in November that it occurred to me that the theremin melody would be a cool, anthemic sort of vocal part, so [bassist] Chris [Wolstenholme] and I did about ten passes on that to create this sort of crowd effect on the vocal. The verse of the song, originally, was probably a lot more heavy-sounding than it is now, in terms of [having a] much more arena sound, drum kit kind of thing. But we wanted to experiment with programming the verse and go for more of a slightly trap or 808 drum feel for the verses, which took the song in a bit of a different journey.
What inspired the lyrics? Lines like “It’s too late for the revolution/ Brace for the final solution” really stood out to me.
Probably watching American news stations. We’re living in an age where these sort of ideologies, people’s belief systems, whether they are true or false, are getting a lot of air time, especially ones on the false side. I think that we’re living in an unusual period where a lot of airtime is being given to crazy ideas. The flip side is that we’re living in a time where pointing out someone’s inaccuracies, using science for example, is becoming increasingly difficult. Sometimes it’s even perceived as an insensitive thing to do.
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The verses are me streaming off anxieties and feelings, which in the course of the song, I’m wondering whether they’re actually mine or not. I don’t know to what extent I’m influenced by others. Sometimes your anxieties about the world or your anxieties about the world of the future can be lessened by turning the news off and turning your phone off for a few days. You then realize that everything is fine.
The key line in the song is: “You’ve been bitten by a true believer/ You’re been bitten by someone who is hungrier than you/ You’ve been bitten by someone’s false beliefs.” That summarizes what I’m trying to get at here, which is sometimes in life you will come across situations where someone who is a bit idealogical or believes things that are not true in any way will sometimes have more power than you, over you or get more airtime. I think that’s really what the song is about. It’s about how other people’s false belief systems can infect your own and sometimes even affect your feelings.
Are “Thought Contagion” and “Dig Down” slated for the next album or are they standalone singles?
All the songs we’re putting out we will put on the next album. We’re about halfway through the album process and we’re pretty sure we’ll get it done by the fall. We’re either going to put it out in fall or early next year, but we’re hoping to put another two singles out ahead of that.
It’s a very different approach than what you’ve done in the past, almost like what band’s did in the 1960s. Why the change?
Yeah. It also reminds of what it was like when the band first started where you’re thinking about just one great song rather than thinking about a whole album. For us, it’s really refreshing to just work on one song at a time and take each song to completion. We’re doing the writing, recording and mixing process and even the video in this occasion before moving onto the next song. It’s nice for us to not be multitasking twelve songs at once and always thinking about the whole.
I think for the last two or three albums, we’ve always been thinking about the whole. “What’s the concept? What are the themes? What’s the sound? What are the textures we’re going to focus on for this album?” It was nice to remind ourselves to just think about a song. What makes a song great? Every song you’re going to hear over the next year will be totally unique with their sound, approach, textures and so on.
You’re playing a bunch of festival dates in the coming months. Are you going to fill in the gaps in the schedule with regular shows?
This year, we’re just doing about four or five shows. That’s really to keep our energy up and take that energy into the studio. It’s really just a year to make new music, basically, and we’re just doing these shows to keep ourselves fresh and remind ourselves what the live show is and maybe a bit of that will come into the album process. Next year, when the album comes out, we’ll do our own headlining world tour of some kind.
Who is producing the album?
It’s going to be a mixed bag. We did “Dig Down” with Mike Elizondo and “Thought Contagion” was with Rich Costey. We might do a couple of more songs with either of those two and we’re going to look at other producers for some new material pretty soon.
That Shepherd’s Bush “By Request” show you did late last year seemed like a lot of fun. What was it like to play songs like “Butterflies and Hurricanes,” things you haven’t touched in years?
It was really great. I was particularly fascinated by some of the songs they requested. Some of them were so old and strange. Half the songs were B-sides that weren’t even on the albums. The one that surprised me most was a song called “Easily.” The reaction that it got was amazing. It felt good since we’d never even played that song live before.
You should do something like that in America.
We’d like to do that. We always forget how long we’ve been going. In my mind, I always see the States as somewhere that we kind of came to after Europe. I don’t always think how much time we’ve been touring the States. The first albums didn’t come out there. It wasn’t until the third album where we felt like we were starting out in the U.S.
Are you looking forward to Bonnaroo?
Totally. I’m over the moon about that. It’s the day before my birthday, so I’ll be celebrating onstage.
Some fans are going to see this singles approach and think that you’re not as committed to the idea of albums as you used to be.
That isn’t the case. It’s a different approach. If anything, what we’re going to wind up with here is an album where all the songs are going to be better. It remains to be seen whether the whole will have a concept to it, but I kinda think that we’ve done two or three concept albums in a row now. I think it’ll be our greatest album in terms of the quality of individual songs.