Matt Bellamy heads into the virtual world on the band’s conceptual new album.
Are we living in a simulation? Perhaps Matt Bellamy and co’s latest album can solve this mind-blowing mystery…
While he was making the new Muse album, Matt Bellamy thought back to the first time he laid his hands on a synthesizer. It was the ’ 80s and the seven-year-old Bellamy had already learnt to play the piano a little bit when he noticed a synthesizer sitting in his house. It was a Juno 6, Roland’s flagship model, and the inquisitive youngster couldn’t help but have a go. “For some reason, the first time I touched it, it had the arpeggiator setting on it. I held the chord and it made this sound and I was just like, ‘Holy shit!’,” says Bellamy, speaking to Q from his LA home. Something about that futuristic cascade of tones made a huge impression on Bellamy, and the arpeggiator synth effect has been a trademark sound throughout Muse’s career, adding a spacey dynamism to their anthemic rock songs. It reaches a culmination on Simulation Theory, the forthcoming eighth album from the Devon trio. What began as the acoustic-sounding album Bellamy has been threatening to make for over a decade morphed into Muse’s most
electronic-sounding record yet when the frontman became interested in virtual reality. “That coincided with my interest in synths returning quite heavily after the Drones album and tour, which felt very rock,” he says. “I found myself drifting back towards electronic sounds and synths.” You get the sense it doesn’t take much for the Muse frontman to disappear down a wormhole, and the idea of simulated reality sent his imagination into overdrive. “There are some theories around that suggest we are living in a simulation,” he says, in the matter-of-fact way other people describe what they had for tea. “I’d say the speed that computational power is evolving at, in 10 or 15 years’ time, it’ll be possible to virtually create a simulated universe. If you combine that with the direction that virtual reality is going in, it’s quite possible in 20 years, we’ll all have a universe in our pocket. Our phones will have a universe app.” Perhaps he could have got this all off his chest by soundtracking Spielberg’s adaptation of the similarlythemed Ready Player One earlier this year, but he wasn’t asked. “The big ’Berg! I’m not quite on his speed-dial yet, but maybe. I think John Williams keeps that job for now.” Instead, the three-piece, completed by bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dom Howard, channelled those themes into Muse’s most un-guitary and experimental record yet. “We didn’t want to have one producer that got too involved in the whole project,” says Bellamy. While Bellamy’s histrionic vocals ensure these songs sound unmistakably Muse – what other frontmen could wail, “This means war with your creator!” in a way that makes it sound like it’s from Terminator: The Musical, as he does on opener Algorithm? – a variety of collaborators bring new flavours to the LP. Hip-hop producer Timbaland adds a percussive swing to the thumping Pressure, while Grammy Award-winning hit-maker Shellback injects Get Up And Fight with a sophisticated pop sheen. Elsewhere, the band worked with Black Holes And Revelations’ Rich Costey and Dr Dre/ Eminem collaborator Mike Elizondo. “I was thinking about ways to overtly blend eras and feelings and instruments that don’t go together in the same song,” says Bellamy. After their record-breaking Drones tour, the trio will now consider how to create another live show that pushes the envelope. Maybe they could bring virtual reality into it? “We could chill out on a green screen at home and be anywhere we want,” laughs Bellamy. “The great thing about simulated universes is that you can move through time.” Muse, live on the moon with George Formby supporting and a stand-up set from Tommy Cooper. You heard it here first.
“There are some theories around that suggest we are living in a simulation.” Matt Bellamy
“Those walls look a bit pixelated to me”: Matt Bellamy at work on Simulation Theory in LA.
Mind blowing: drummer Dom Howard (left) and Bellamy get the horn.
String theory: bassist Chris Wolstenholme does a bit of hot desking.