MUSE’S last album Drones was dark and fraught with anxiety over technology.
Their latest, Simulation Theory, looks at things in a more positive way.
“I’ve deliberately tried to take the opposite view to look at how technology can be good and how we can embrace it,” says frontman Matt Bellamy. “For Drones we were wearing black all the time and it was very black and white in its heart. This is definitely more colourful in every way, including the artwork.”The idea came from watching Black Mirror’s Star Trek-esque episode USS Callister and playing virtual reality games online.
“It’s a bit like Star Trek where you meet different people as an avatar,” says Bellamy.
Muse are back with their eighth album, Simulation Theory
“Even though you are a fantasy character, I found people were genuinely more pleasant to each other than they are on social media — VR gave me optimism to what the future could be in terms of social interaction. It’s actually going to bring us closer together.
“I had fun playing with someone from Australia, England and Germany without knowing them. At the end when everyone asked who we were, I said, ‘I’m a musician in a band called Muse’, one replied, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been flying a Starship Enterprise with Matt from Muse!’ It was a laugh.”
We are sat in the bar of a London hotel. Bellamy, 40, has just arrived from Spain, where Muse were performing at the MTV European Music Awards.
Dressed in a black leather jacket, he’s very chatty, talking ten to the dozen about how making Simulation Theory has rejuvenated him after the gruelling 15-month Drones tour left the rock trio of Bellamy, drummer Dom Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme, depleted and homesick.
Matt says making Simulation Theory has rejuvenated him after the band's gruelling 15-month Drones tour
“It was a long, long tour,” says Bellamy. “We were doing these multiple nights, five or six nights in London, Paris and Milan. It was great to be in the same city but doing the same show over and over again, it was like Groundhog Day. I prefer going to a city and giving it everything then moving on.”
It was pining for his family and loved ones that inspired Bellamy to write Something Human, the synth-pop ballad that started the new album.
“It’s a pretty simple song and obvious and direct in its lyrical content. It’s just what it feels like to be at the end of a tour.
"At that point, I was quite tired of the noisy guitar and drums and the craziness of it all. So picking up the acoustic guitar and playing something mellow was nice.”
The album's synth-pop ballad Something Human was inspired by Matt missing his family while on tour
Initially Bellamy thought that album number eight would take an acoustic direction.
“Or even gospel,” he adds. “Dig Down is that type of song. But then we decided to produce it in the complete opposite way anyone would ever do a gospel song.
"It’s electronic and synth-based, so we ended up going down that route and I thought, ‘now we are getting the direction of the album’.”
Rediscovering gaming also made Bellamy nostalgic for his childhood in Devon and he started thinking of films he enjoyed watching as a kid.
The album is heavily influenced by movies Matt liked as a kid, such as Back To The Future and Blade Runner
He says: “I loved Blade Runner, The Thing, Back To The Future and Alien. Not just influences in terms of my ideas about sci-fi, the future and dystopian thinking, but also the soundtracks. I loved the synthesised, early John Carpenter soundtracks.
“I’d not played computer games for about 20 years. I think that is one of the reasons the retro graphics feature in the videos for the new songs.”
Muse have released videos for a number of the album tracks on Simulation Theory.
Bellamy says: “We’ve made nine, nearly ten videos now. After the album is out there will be two more videos to come out, so pretty much every song will have a video at some point.
“It’s like the old days when videos were a must for every song. I remember being, like, five or something and all the family staying up late to watch the Michael Jackson Thriller premiere. It was a huge event.”
The Simulation Theory videos were made with director Lance Drake, while Stranger Things artist Kyle Lambert created the album’s distinctive artwork.
Bellamy laughs and says: “Strangely enough, it’s the only album where we’ve worked with multiple producers on the music and also the only album where we’ve worked with the same video director for every video.”
Producing some of the tracks themselves, Muse teamed up with Rich Costey, Timbaland. Mike Elizondo and Shellback for the others, while Swedish singer Tove Lo provides backing vocals on standout Get Up And Fight
“Tove is really cool,” says Bellamy. “She came on board through Shellback, who I’d met in LA, and we talked about doing one song together. He and Max Martin are the most successful pop producers maybe ever, but definitely in the past ten years.
“They’ve worked with Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande but I did some research and found out they both used to be metallers when they were younger, and that Shellback had been to a Muse show when he was a kid in Sweden back in 2001.
“When I met him, he told me he’d even been in the mosh pit.”
Track Propaganda, Bellamy says, “jumps out as being influenced by the American beat — a slow, almost hip-hop type beat”.
He adds: “It’s been nice to broaden our horizons a little bit and get outside of the ‘rock’ sound thing.
Propaganda (produced by Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake collaborator Timbaland) came from when I was driving one day, and I had an idea which I recorded into my phone.
“We had this sort of Prince thing going on. My voice is not a traditional rock voice, so with my falsetto I like to go down the Prince route.
“That is what that song is really. It’s influenced by hip-hop and funk.”
The rockiest track on the album, Thought Contagion, is a song inspired by academic and ethologist Richard Dawkins. Its lyrics are based on the theory “that thoughts are contagious, and they spread like a virus, or like genes”.
Bellamy says: “I respect Richard Dawkins a lot. I’ve been to a couple of his talks and read a couple of his books. I think rational thinking can be really helpful when it comes to belief.
“There is an analogy I stick to: If you are lost in the woods at night, who would you rather be with — a priest, a burning man on magic mushrooms, or a scientist who knows where north, south, east and west are?
“I’d rather go with the person who can read the stars and get you out.”
Bellamy says his beliefs and interest in science come from his unconventional upbringing.
He says: “My mum and dad told me I could believe in anything I wanted to, it was my own choice. They are both very liberal minded and I was brought up around ouija boards. My mum was into that stuff and leaned on the spiritual side.
“Last night I watched the film Ouija with my girlfriend and it was freaking me out. It was a horror film but it was actually like my childhood.
“I remember being ten years old and pushing these things around the ouija board talking to these dead soldiers from World War Two.
"My mum was looking at me and I was thinking she was crazy. But I think because of that weirdness, when I became a teenager, I had the opportunity to choose anything I wanted to do.”
Bellamy, who has son Bingham with former fiancée and Almost Famous actress Kate Hudson, says memories of his youth flood back when he visits Devon with the seven-year-old.
“I try to get down there with my son in late August when the regatta is on,” he tells me. “His childhood is very different to mine.
"I recently remembered that we’d go down to Teignmouth Pier bellawhen I was young. When I was 12 we’d go on the penny slot machines and use a technique where we put a penny in and cleared out the whole machine. I got kicked out of the pier twice.
“My son goes to school in LA, so I live there most of the time but he comes here in summer. He’s proper LA and skates, surfs and plays baseball. It’s a nice lifestyle for kids in LA but I try to keep some English traditions.”
This week Muse announced the Simulation Theory World Tour, including dates at the London Stadium and Manchester’s Etihad next June.
“We are looking forward to playing stadiums again, we haven’t played outdoor stadiums since 2013. Some of the colour schemes from the album and videos will be used and we are going to try to use an array of performers. More humans than technology this time.”
How will they approach this tour after the demands of taking Drones on the road? “We’ve all learned to respect each other’s space and personal lives and what our family requirements are,” says Bellamy.