People who insist that rock is dead obviously haven’t paid much attention to Muse. Over the past two decades, this proggy British power trio has gone from tiny clubs around London to sold-out stadiums across the planet. They’ve been huge in Europe since the turn of the century, but it took five studio albums and a stint opening for U2 to finally crack America in a big way. Their 2012 album The 2nd Law sold 101,000 copies its first week on shelves and they spent the past year playing their biggest concerts ever.
The group’s European stadium tour wrapped in front of 60,000 fans in Rome, where they played a career-spanning set of 20 songs as high-definition cameras rolled. The result, Live at Rome Olympic Stadium, will be released on CD and DVD/Blu Ray on December 2nd.
Rolling Stone spoke with Muse frontman Matt Bellamy about the new live album, breaking big in America and why the band’s next album will probably be a back-to-basics affair.
What led to the decision to film the Rome concert?
We’d never played a venue in Rome bigger than a large theater before, so we were very excited to have all these fans from the south of Italy and all these places come out to see us. We knew the vast majority of the audience hadn’t seen us in at least 10 years. It was also an Olympic stadium. We did one of those in 2011 with Rage Against the Machine in Los Angeles. We loved that gig. What’s different about Olympic stadiums is there’s a requirement that they be completely open-air, including over the audience, so they have a bowl shape. The audience isn’t as high as you get with the football stadiums with the bleachers and everything.
We didn’t do a concert album for the last two albums, so we wanted this album and film to capture the best moments from those albums, but also capture some of the extremes of what we’ve been doing since we want to go in a different direction in the future.
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What extremes are you referring to?
They’re extremes for us, but it depends on your point of view. I mean, experimenting with electronic music and experimenting with a softer side of our band and also opening up our connectiveness with the audiences. I think Rome really shows us connecting with the audience in a way we hadn’t done before, literally getting out there physically and touching them, grabbing them.
We also picked this sort of tracklist without heavy prog numbers like “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Butterflies and Hurricanes.” They’re going to be a part of what we do in the future, but we wanted to capture a certain element that’s very different from the last concert film, which was shot at Wembley Stadium and was more prog-rock.
Do you feel extra pressure walking onstage when you know the cameras are rolling?
Yeah. It’s hard to avoid that feeling of extra pressure. Most bands, like U2 and so on, will choose to film at a venue where they are doing two or more nights. That’s because you’re getting all the cameras in and really hedging your bets. If something goes wrong on one night, you’ll get it the next night. There was definitely extra pressure on us because all the cameras were set up and the whole thing was on one night. We had to get it right. There was no fucking around. But as soon as you walk onstage and feel the weight and the sound and energy from 60,000 people, especially in Rome, it’s just overwhelming. You forget about the cameras pretty quickly.
Fronting the band on a stadium tour is no easy task. You’re essentially playing to four basketball arenas’ worth of people at once and a huge percentage of the crowd is incredibly far away from you.
You have to have a very strong stomach for taking risks. Playing to a stadium is not for everyone because you are essentially gambling, big-time. You have to go all in on production. You can’t hold back. We built this big stage that was supposed to be a big industrial nuclear power station. It was all custom-made, and you have to do that before you sell any tickets.
A lot of our songs have these big chanting moments or big communal shoutings, almost like a parade or some kind of riot. I don’t know what you call it. There are moments where people actually feel like part of the music. The chanting, the shouting, the fist-pumping and the shouts and so on. It’s not just about us. It’s about all of us making something together.
You’re headed to Australia soon. Are those the final dates of the tour or are you going to add more?
No, that’s the end of the tour. Actually, having said that, next year we might do one festival in the US and one festival maybe in Europe. That’s about it. There might be two concerts next year, but in terms of the tour with all the production and everything, that will pretty much be done in December.
Are you thinking about the next album yet?
Yeah. It’s interesting because the writing pretty much began the next day after the Rome show. I’ve got a pretty good picture of what I’d like the next album to be like. It’s the come-down and the sort of waking up the next day being like, “What the fuck? What the fuck? That was crazy.”
In some ways, the band has gone on this pretty insane journey since we formed as teenagers. Back then, we weren’t very outgoing on stage. We were very sort of off to ourselves, hiding behind the music. In some ways, the Rome gig almost represents a complete upside-down journey of personality from where we started. I want to bring it back to just being about the music that we are playing, about the instruments, the guitar, the bass, the drums and these personalities.
I have this strong feeling that the next album should be something that really does strip away the additional things that we’ve experimented with on the last two albums, which is electronics, symphonics and orchestral work and all that kind of stuff. I kind of feel like it will be nice to reconnect and remind ourselves of just the basics of who we are.
Next year is also the 20th anniversary of the band.
Exactly. So it kind of feels right that next year will be when we start making a new album. When I say I want to go back, I don’t mean go back to the kind of music we made when we started. That would be disastrous. I mean, go back to the mentality that we had when we started, which was just us wanting to be good on instruments and wanting to play together and make music that was organic in nature. I think that will be where we set off on our next album.
Do you ever think about recording a solo album?
No, not really. No. I’ve got no interest in that. I really enjoying playing with the other band members, collaborating and so on. I would consider doing things on my own for film and stuff like that where it’s not really a vanity kind of deal.
It’s pretty amazing that it’s been 20 years and you guys seem to get bigger with each album. Bands are usually cracking up by the 20-year mark.
Yeah, it’s actually the industry. It’s such a negative energy. I just stay away from record company people these days. I stay away from business talk because what you hear is always negative. I’m like, “What are you talking about? I just played for 60,000 people. It’s fucking great.”
It must have been nuts a few years back to headline your own stadium tour in Europe and then come to America and open for U2.
Certainly. I think that anyone who opens for them will get humbled because the level they’re at is simply off the charts.
Do you think you’ll wind up like U2, still going at this in your fifties?
I don’t know. It’s hard to predict, really. I can’t imagine it, but I suppose all these big rock bands like the Rolling Stones and U2 seem to be changing the definition of what rock is about. It used to be die young, work hard and don’t fade away into the distance, but these bands are changing the perception of what a rock band can do, so I don’t know. I think there is a chance that we would still be vibrant in our fifties.
You play “Knights of Cydonia” at every single show. Do you ever see yourself dropping it from the setlist?
I can’t imagine that. We haven’t not played it since we wrote it, so it’s hard to imagine not playing that song. You never know though. We knows. . . Maybe we’ll unplug it on the next album.
It’s sort of like your “Where the Streets Have No Name.” It just brings the stadium into an absolute frenzy.
Exactly. When U2 plays “Streets,” it’s just crazy. We were lucky enough to jam that with The Edge in 2010 when U2 was supposed to play Glastonbury and got put back because of Bono’s back. I remember Edge came out to play “Streets” and I got to feel what it’s like to play that song and see 120,000 people just go mental.
How do you top that last tour? Can you go bigger?
Yeah, I think we can. Obviously, speaking in terms of America, we can go bigger because we play basketball arenas there. But I don’t think that’s what we really care about, bigness. I think we can definitely improve the quality of the show. I went to see The Wall to think about what’s possible. I feel like we’re a band, with the right kind of idea. . . I’m already starting to think about going a bit more conceptual, not necessarily narrative-based, but certainly a bit more in the direction where we could do something in the arena that’s another level of production.
There’s always new technologies coming out. Look at The Wall now as compared to what they did it back in the day. It’s a massive difference, so in terms of bigness, we can go bigger. In Europe, I don’t think there is anything we can do that’s bigger. But I think in terms of what we can do in terms of the quality of the show, I think we can really refine that, for sure.
Right. But if the album is more stripped down, might the tour also be more stripped down next time out?
The idea is. . . I mean, it’s early because we haven’t made the album yet. I have to put a disclaimer here and say that whatever I say now is likely to be contradicted when I go into the studio. But if I was to predict now, as I said, we definitely want to get more expressive and a bit more about the musicianship of the band and the instruments that we play and who we are and make sure that is the prominent sound of the next album.
In other words, again, I want to strip away the electronics and the orchestral elements and so on. And I think you’re right in terms of how we tour. I think it’s possible we would probably mix things up a little more. We might play theaters at times. Other times, we would probably do a much higher concept arena show. Maybe not as extensive in the number of months that we do it, but maybe we go for a couple of nights in major cities and do something with a bit more higher concept.
On top of that, we might do festivals, too. We didn’t do any this time outside of one in Japan and we might do one next year, but we missed all the European festivals. I can see us doing a combination of things, probably theaters for fun and to reconnect with what it’s like to be in a small, sweaty venue and then do huge festivals to cover the fans that can’t get into the theaters. Then, like I said, we might do a short run of really high-concept shows. We touched on that on this tour, but I think we can go a lot further.