LOS ANGELES With a sound that combines fury with the ethereal, the Brit-rock band Muse soon will deliver something rock fans have been lacking for too long, according to frontman Matthew Bellamy.
"It's just that soul element," the singer/songwriter/guitarist said about his band's debut, Showbiz (Sept. 28). "I'm not saying that what we do is the way music should be. But I think that there's been a lack of that type of music for a while. ... Any new generation that comes, they need something like that."
Bellamy pointed to 1991's Nevermind by Seattle grunge-rockers Nirvana and 1995's The Bends by Brit-rock act Radiohead as the albums that most recently brought forth that kind of soul.
Showbiz, from Maverick Records, shows the influence of both those bands while showcasing Muse's ability to create music with a colossal sense of drama. The trio's passionately performed songs push and pull listeners with expansive dynamics and unlikely juxtapositions.
The opening track, "Sunburn" (RealAudio excerpt), begins with haunting piano that suggests a piece of classical music, then it crashes into a rock chorus. Initially shimmering in the background, Bellamy's vocals erupt with the music, proclaiming, "She burns like the sun."
The album's first single, "Muscle Museum" (RealAudio excerpt) which was released to modern-rock radio Tuesday also has a somewhat subdued opening, starting with a bed of ominous bass and drowsy flamenco guitar. Bellamy's vocals, delicate during the verses, explode on the grunge-like chorus as he pleads, "I don't want you to ignore me when it pleases you/ So I'll do it on my own."
Bellamy's ability to shift his voice into falsetto often takes the emotion in Muse's songs to startling heights. On the ballad "Unintended" his vocal floats over a lonesome acoustic guitar and then dramatically rises.
Bellamy said his writing required him to expand his vocal range. "Every song I write seems to push it further," he said.
Though you probably wouldn't guess it from the maturity of their music, the three members of Muse are fresh out of their teens.
But as they discussed their album while sitting on the pool deck of L.A.'s Standard Hotel wearing T-shirts and shorts, Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard seemed just like the 20-year-old guys they are.
As the slight, dark-haired Bellamy did most of the talking, Wolstenholme and Howard listened intently, allowing him to answer first and chiming in only occasionally.
When asked about the inspiration for "Muscle Museum" which debuted on Radio & Records' alternative specialty show chart at #7 this week Bellamy told a fictional story about traveling to an island in Greece with his girlfriend and meeting a guitar-playing spy who taught him the song's riff.
Finally, getting serious, he said, "I think I'm being honest, do you know what I mean? I'd say the themes on this record are frustration" (RealAudio excerpt of interview).
"Love," Howard added.
"Love, boredom," Bellamy continued. "It's everything in life. What's life? Sex, frustration, boredom."
Bellamy, Wolstenholme and Howard, who grew up in the seaside town of Teignmouth in the south of England, have been playing in bands together since they were 13, first in the mostly covers band Gothic Plague and later in Fixed Penalty and Rocket Baby Dolls.
"We've just grown up together," Wolstenholme said, explaining the band's chemistry. "We all sort of share the same views on music as well."
"For us, [forming a band] was like something to do other than just hang around and do drugs, you know?" added Bellamy (RealAudio excerpt of interview).
They officially became Muse in 1997, and their first gig under that name was a local battle of the bands, which they won based on their goth makeup rather than the strength of their music, according to Bellamy, adding that they dropped the goth look shortly thereafter.
They said they picked the name Muse because it came between "muscle" and "museum" in the dictionary and because they liked the meaning of the word. As they grew more serious about performing as Muse, the trio cut out all covers from their repertoire and focused on honing their own sound.
"As soon as we did that, no one came to any of our gigs," Bellamy said. "So for years it was just empty venues. Somehow we decided to stick with that, because we never wanted to play to crowds who didn't come to hear our music. We really wanted it to be our music."
They signed a UK deal in 1998; that same year, U.S. labels began expressing interest. The band eventually signed with Madonna's Maverick imprint on Christmas Eve.
Muse created some stateside buzz following their performance at Woodstock '99 last month and industry showcases in New York and Los Angeles. Onstage at the band's July 30 show at the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, Calif., Bellamy, Wolstenholme and Howard appeared confident yet entirely immersed in the music they were creating.
As Howard pummeled away at his drums, Wolstenholme often faced him while thrashing around with his bass. Bellamy rarely looked up from his guitar or the stage floor, contorting his face as though he were exorcising demons.
Chino Moreno, frontman for thrash-rocking labelmates the Deftones, and Fieldy (born Reg Arvizu), bassist of the chart-topping rock-rap act Korn, were among those who turned up to catch Muse in action.
"I thought they were really good," Fieldy said. "The drummer was dope."