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British trio keeps its Muse strong
It's fair to say Muse's latest album, "The 2nd Law," has established that the British trio rules.
coming off 2009's "The Resistance," which hit No. 1 in 19 countries and earned the group it's third gold album in the U.S. "The 2nd Law" -- Muse's sixth album overall -- debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 charts last October and scored two Grammy Award nominations The album's first single. "Survival," was the official song of the 2012 Summer Olympics Games in London, where Muse performed at the closing ceremony, while its successor, "Madness," set a Billboard record with its 19-week run at No. 1 on the Alternative chart.
It's been nothing but an upward trajectory for Muse -- guitarist Matthew Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard, who formed as Rocket Baby Dolls during 1994 at Teignmouth Community College in Devon, England. But despite the success the group members try to maintain a sense of modesty about its achievements.
"We don't take anything for granted," says Wolstenholme, 34. "We know that there's a certain expectation on this band with the quality of music that we make, and it's an expectation that we put on ourselves as well, because we always want to better ourselves."
Drummer Howard, 35, agrees that "you always want to create better music and discover new musical ideas and feel like we're moving forwards and not backwards." But he says that for Muse that process is more "relaxed" than some might expect.
"We never really feel like we've got too much pressure on ourselves in the studio," Howard notes. "We certainly don't have any outside pressure from anyone else. We just want to go in there and have a very fluid and natural process. If we find ourselves having pressure or feeling like we have pressure, I don't think you necessarily work to your best capacity.
"So we like to feel very relaxed and comfortable when we're in that situation. At least to the three of us, it feels like a comfortable creative environment."
Muse went into "The 2nd Law" without much of "a master plan," according to Howard. Rather, the group took to its usual, mad scientist style approach of experimentation and improvisation, spending the better part of 10 months in California and England finding new ways to mash together elements of classic pop melodcism and progressive rock-styled sophistication.
"It was pretty spontaneous, really," the drummer explains. "Anything we had when we came in was really at an embryonic level, and then during the course of recording them they changed so drastically. We just went into a room and started working on songs, and once we started bashing them out between the three of us we realized they were all sounding very different and quite diverse and different musically."
That includes "Madness," which as a bit moribund until Howard "booted everyone out of the studio one night" and added layers of percussion that gave the song its dramatic character. "Follow Me" started out "very, very raw and organic and rock-sounding" before Muse dressed it up with electronics, while "Panic Station" explores a funkier approach than the band has previously explored.
"The idea was to create these, almost like challenges for certain songs, to take them in new directions we hadn't tried before," Howard says. "But ultimately I think this album sounds like us enjoying ourselves and experimenting a lot."
Muse is looking forward to doing that more in the future -- though that will have to wait until the group's current tour, with its typically opulent stage show, wraps up later this year. Nevertheless, Howard says the group has already started initial conversations about a next album, "not really musical ideas so much as how we're going to do it, when we're going to do it. We've still got loads of touring to do, and we tend to feel like we need to finish touring one album before we start anything else. We like to finish one chapter and then start afresh
"We've known each other for so many years. We've grown up together. We've seen lots of different changes in each other...and we've always stuck together, which is quite unique, really, because not too many people have friends from when they were, like, 10 like we are. It really makes this (band) special, I think."
Muse and Dead Sara perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $35-$59.50. Call 313-471-6606 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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