Muse's Matt Bellamy Talks New Single 'Something Human' & 'Simulation' Themes on Upcoming Album

Jeff Forney
Muse

Chat with a Muse fan and you’ll surely be reminded how the towering electro-rock trio is best enjoyed in the live setting, amid one of its enormous, dystopian arena spectacles. 

And luckily for the diehards, such mammoth concerts aren’t usually so hard to come by. Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard have toured nearly in perpetuity over the last decade; the band’s most recent trek alone — the striking, 360-degree Drones World Tour — was 132 dates and 18 months on the road across four continents in 2015 and 2016. 

So perhaps it was inevitable that once the enduring U.K. band pumped its brakes and closed its doom-saying Drones chapter, that it would gravitate toward a sound a bit more personal as it penned its eighth studio LP. 

Enter Muse’s tender new track, “Something Human,” released Thursday as a sizable step away from the anthemic horsepower of two previous singles in this new cycle — the glam-rock banger “Dig Down” and the U.S. rock radio darling “Thought Contagion” — instead taking on the group’s true-to-life struggles: “ten thousand miles left on the road, five-hundred hours 'till I am home.” A new, ‘80s-inspired music video was released Thursday as well. If you long for the days of VHS, this is a must-watch. 

As Muse polishes up its so-far unnamed album, due out this fall, we spoke to Bellamy about the origins “Something Human,” it’s retro-tastic new video and how the band balances family time with all those monster performances. 

As you gear up for this new album cycle, how’s everyone feeling as you enter this next chapter for the band and your fans?

We’re definitely very excited. We are putting the finishing touches on the album at the moment, hoping to get the album finished over the next few weeks. If all goes to plan, the album will be out in November. 

We made this album quite spaced out over the last year and a half, interspersed with shows. Last year we did about 30 shows, mostly in the U.S. and this year we’ve done about six shows. It’s felt quite healthy to have that balance between playing a handful of shows here and there and then being in the studio without being burnt out by either of those two things. We’ve felt re-energized by finding that balance, playing shows but not so many that you want to take a big hiatus, so it’s been really refreshing for that reason. And it’s the most we’ve ever been involved in the media making process, we’ve been working with Lance Drake and we’re hoping to work with him for all the videos for the album and get into this idea of a sort of world-building mentality around this album, where there will be visual things that go throughout the album, linking together in certain ways.

The first two tracks released, “Dig Down” and “Thought Contagion,” are such big, anthemic songs. But “Something Human” feels more personal and true to life. Where does this one come from? 

The song comes from when you do get a bit burnt out from being on the road for too long. The Drones Tour was amazing and we’re very happy with how it went, but at the same time it was quite grueling. Six nights in Paris, five nights in London, the same show — it’s the first time we did that, an extensive arena tour with multiple nights in multiple cities. And the nature of the album and the show was quite dark in message and tone, and I think that living in that for a long time can actually be quite draining. Portraying a set of songs which are quite dark in tone, and having the visual nature of the show with the drones flying around and what we were putting across with the riot police at the beginning. It had a dark vibe, which is good, but when you’ve been doing that for a while that natural result was that as soon as I came off the road, “Something Human” came out, which is a more tender, down-to-earth, simplistic song about what it feels like to be burned out and wanting to get home to a more normal life after being on the road for a couple years. 

With all the expansive touring Muse does, how do you stay close to your son and other loved ones? 

We’ve found a balance over the years. With the Drones Tour — the heaviest touring we’d done in a while — what we tend to do is book the heaviest amount of touring in the summer when our kids can be off school. That way our families can come on the road with us for a lot of it. We find a balance that way, but I’ve got to admit that for the Drones Tour, it’s going to be a long time before I want to do something that extensive again with so many shows in a year. I’ve really enjoyed last year and this year, finding that balance where all the shows feel special because you’re not overplaying, and when you’re off the road you’re not so exhausted that you’re not excited to be in the studio. You’re very excited to be making new music. So I want to find ways to keep that going into the future a bit. 

The new video — one man’s quest to return a VHS tape before he turns into a werewolf — stays on the ‘80s nostalgia thread from the “Thought Contagion” video. What’s been the inspiration for these wild, highly stylistic videos? 

I feel like we’re moving into this age of virtual reality and also simulated reality, and that’s really one of the themes of the album, the idea of fantasy becoming real, simulations becoming something that’s part of our everyday life. Whether it be in the realms of science, where they’re simulating black holes, the beginning on the Big Bang and all that stuff, or whether it be in entertainment. I feel like this age is coming where the simulation really becomes fundamental to how we interact with our everyday lives, but also with our understanding of the universe and science and so on. For that very reason we live in age where because you can be anything or anywhere you want in a simulation, for me I want to go back to the early ‘80s and Back To The Future. I’m a big believer in meta-modernism, this idea that we’re now living in this age that’s defined by oscillations between two extreme poles, so doing something very retro but futuristic at the same time is definitive of the times we live in, rather than … we’ve moved beyond the point where it’s taboo to do something retro. So it’s exploring what it is about our times, that we can be anything we want and simulate any reality that we want. We’re on the cusp of that way of thinking, I’d say. 

So for me it’s like I’m going back to the earliest memories I have of the things that influenced me as a child, from films to music. … I think film music was as big an influence to me as pop or rock music on the charts. My earliest memories as a child are of watching films like E.T. or Back To The Future or Teen Wolf. … I think as I’ve gotten older it’s occurred to me how influential that period was on me from a musical point of view, because it was music that was coming into my mind with weird fantasy imagery as well. That’s played a big part in what Muse’s sound is about. Another odd side reason regarding the visual style is I feel like the age we’re in right now feels quite a bit like the early ‘80s, in terms of there’s some correlation in the political changes that are happening in the world, and there’s some sort of reaction where people are tuning out a bit to what’s going on because it’s too troubling and too complicated to understand. So some people are choosing to revert into nostalgia and fantasy and dream-like states to escape reality. 

Congratulations on the Drones World Tour film. Did you get to go a screening and see yourself as a movie star? Did you ever think that was possible for you and the band?

No, not at all (laughs). I didn’t get to see the full film but I did go to the cinema to see the new Star Wars film (Solo: A Star Wars Story), and I saw a trailer for the Drones film coming on before that and I got a real kick out of that. I didn’t even know there was a trailer, I certainly didn’t know the trailer was going to play in cinema and on screens like that so, I got to sit back and see myself up there. But no, I never thought that’d be something we’d get into. But it’s a cool sign of our times … now you can mobilize a fanbase around the world to all go into the cinema for one day (July 12), and what was exciting about that day was the social media activity and seeing the pictures from places like Indonesia and India and Australia, South America, seeing all these different fans in small groups going into the cinema was quite exciting.