Muse Bassist: Twilight Movies Paved Way for Band's Stateside Success
Muse bassist Chris Wolstenholme has stated on the record that contributing to three of the soundtracks for the Twilight film series was like “selling your soul.” For the modern progressive rock trio, the devil comes in the form of sparkly teenage vampires with good hair. Yet the band credits the films, inspired by the popular work of local author Stephanie Meyer, for their popularity in America. With over 17 million albums sold in an age when streaming reigns supreme, there is also the possibility that talent might have something to do with their success. Muse draws liberally from influences like Queen, Pink Floyd, and Radiohead, proving themselves fully capable of taking the musical reins.
Wolstenholme, drummer Dominic Howard, and guitarist, vocalist extraordinaire, and eccentric tabloid mainstay Matt Bellamy, are bringing their latest tour to the Valley in support of their most recent opus Drones. If creating singles for melodramatic, teen-targeted films allows Muse to write a heady politically-charged concept album, then making a deal with the same corporate demons that are the targets of Bellamy’s stadium anthems is worth the trouble. The music will manifest itself onstage with an audio-visual “in the round” experience.
Wolstenholme sounded a little exasperated as he took some time out of putting the finishing touches on the tour to speak with the New Times about playing in Meyer’s hometown, crafting linear concept albums in the age of shuffle, and enjoying success after recovering from alcoholism.
New Times: Has Muse ever played in the round before?
Chris Wolstenholme: No, we haven’t. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band try it, other than U2. They did kind of a 360-degree thing, but it wasn’t really right in the middle of the venue. I’ve not really seen too many 360-degree shows. For us, it’s going to be a brand new experience. There’s that realization that there’s nowhere to hide on stage anymore. There are moments in the show where you have this dead space behind you. You want to go hide for about ten seconds behind an amp. You can’t really do that with a 360 show. You’re right in the middle of it all. I think it’s going to be great. You have the opportunity to make a venue that really isn’t meant to be intimate a little more intimate.
You’re going to be playing in the hometown of Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, who is a big fan. Have you ever met her?
We’ve met her a few times actually. I think we met her well before the [Twilight] movies came out. She told us about the books and making them into films. She said she’d love to use some of our music in those films. At the time, I don’t think there were that many people who were aware of who she was. Years later, the films became such a huge success.
To be honest, I think our involvement in those films was the major reason for us being more successful in the United States. We’d done a lot of touring in Europe and the United Kingdom, and we were building things up over there. Things weren’t happening for us in the States. When “Supermassive Black Hole” appeared in the first film, it really opened up an audience for us.
You’re obviously very skilled on bass. How did you learn?
I didn’t really start as a bass player. I started on guitar for a few years, then I ended up being a drummer for a few years. Matt [Bellamy] and Dom [Howard] asked me if I wanted to join their band. They wanted a bass player and at the time, I wasn’t really that interested in playing bass. It wasn’t an instrument I played before. I was more of a music fan, really. I never really considered myself to be a guitar player or drummer. I’m quite keen to learn lots of things.
Having played guitar, I brought some melodic experience. Having played drums, I knew how the rhythmic side of things works. It’s all lent itself to playing bass, but I’m pretty much self-taught.
You’re like the secret weapon.
I think it’s good to have in any band. It’s the same with Matt. He’s a great guitarist, singer, and piano player. Primarily we’re a guitar band, but I find it amazing when all of a sudden he pops up with this amazing piano track like “Butterflies and Hurricanes.” We’re able to take the band in a slightly different direction. Between the three of us, we’re able to open ourselves up to do things beyond our main instrument. Dom’s quite good at the synth stuff. He’s likes to fool around with stuff like that.
Matthew gets most of the songwriting credits, but how much input do you and Dom have in the process?
It depends really. By the time we get to the studio, that’s when we have a rough idea of what’s going to happen. There are certain songs where Matt has a strong vision of where he wants to go. He shows us what the part needs to be and we play it as a band. Some songs work like that and some change radically. You always have a starting point, which is usually Matt’s starting point. It’s very much a talking process. We work to get the songs to a point where all three members are happy with it. It’s quite different on each song.
And your albums are epic-sounding and tell a story. Are you all cinephiles or big readers?
I think Matt is. He reads a lot. With [Drones], I think it was important to do something different with this album. Albums are declining massively. People don’t listen to them much. I think for us it was important to give this album a reason to be an album. In order to do that, you have to give it some sort of concept or story. It makes the listener want to listen from start to finish. Otherwise, you’re in the same boat as every other album because people tend to pick out their favorite songs on it. It was important to make this album like reading a book.
I read that you battled with alcoholism. Did the other members of the band approach you about it? Do you feel you enjoy Muse’s success more now that you’re sober?
Absolutely, yes. It crept up on me over a number of years. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s a cumulative process. I think the reason for a lot of it is because I was quite young when we started this band. I had a family as well. I had this feeling of constantly being torn between having a wife and kids, and the band, which I loved doing but kept me away from the family. Throw in the fact that you’re in an environment where you’re a bunch of guys on tour. You’re doing a show every night and want to party afterwards. Over the years, it was something that got out of hand and honestly, put me in a bit of a state both physically and mentally.
It was something that the band had talked about, but I also think that for Matt and Dom, it was a very sensitive subject. I think you find that most people with alcohol or drug problems, the only person who can do anything about it is the person with the problem. No matter how many times people tell you that you’re doing too much of this or too much of that, you don’t really listen. I think there were moments when it had an effect on the band and they tried to do something about it. At the end of the day, I don’t think anything was going to change until I was ready to change it myself. When that moment came, it was a very difficult time. It was a bit of an adjustment to go sober. There were various demons I was battling.
I’ve been sober for nearly eight years. Over the years, your life changes and you adapt more and more. You feel healthier and happier. You’re more comfortable in your own skin. I think because of that the creative influence comes back as well. All those things that were clouded for a period of time suddenly come back. As a human being, I can say that I am happier than I was years ago.
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