Muse talk Vital and embracing the single life
Stadium-slaying alt-rockers Muse headline Vital in Belfast next week. Bassist Chris Wolstenholme tells David Roy about surviving their ultra hi-tech Drones tour, the perils of letting fans pick your set-list and why singles rather than albums could be their future
HI CHRIS, what are you up to today?
We've got rehearsals today for this Shepherd's Bush Empire gig on Saturday. We'll be doing quite a lot of songs that we haven't played for a long, long time – some never, actually. So we've got two days of very intense rehearsals ahead.
This is a benefit gig for homeless charity The Passage, where you've let ticket buyers choose the set. Have you finalised what you'll be playing yet, and what are some of the rarities they've chosen?
There were some nasty surprises in there! (laughs) But I'm sure it will be fine. There's definitely one song which we've never played live before that was a B-side from (2010 album) Black Holes and Revelations, a lot to the other ones are songs that we have done before – just not for a long time.
I'm sure once we start trying them it will all come flooding back.
So, will any of these oldies/rarities still be in the set by the time Muse play Vital next week?
Erm, possibly! It's quite funny, we ran through a few in soundcheck the other day at the last show we did in America and we were quite surprised at how good some of the songs we haven't played for a while sounded, actually.
So that was quite nice, but it's always quite difficult: you try to pick the most balanced set possible, and while there are quite a lot of people out there who really want to hear the rarities, there's also a hell of a lot of people who don't even know what the rarities are!
You kind of want to make sure that people know the bulk of the set that you're playing, you know?
The world tour for 2015's Drones album found you playing 'in the round' with lots of elaborate live production, including actual flying drones. Now that you've now gone back to a more 'traditional' stage set-up with less bells and whistles, do you miss it?
With the Drones thing, we could only really do that in arenas. It was quite an involved production and I think by the time we got to the end of that tour, which I think was about 80 gigs altogether, it was quite nice to just get rid of that headache.
I mean, it was an amazing show and it all worked really well – but for a while it did pose a few problems. Even playing 'in the round', although I think it was really great for the show, it did take a lot of adjustment.
So I think there was something really nice about getting back on a normal stage again. With these shows, we felt that maybe we could strip the production back a bit and make it a bit more about the music again.
Muse have become known for staging impressive live spectacles like the Drones tour, but does all that production ever get distracting for you as a performer – and have you endured any Spinal Tap style mishaps because of it?
Every time we go out we want to try and do something new that the fans haven't seen before. We always try and push the boundaries as far as we can with the live show.
With Drones in particular, there was a lot of new technology involved in that show that had never been used in a concert before and there was only one company in the world who knew how to fly these things.
It was a little bit distracting at times: there were a few incidents where we had drones falling out of the sky and things like that. There was one gig we did where one of them smacked me in face right in the middle of singing the chorus of Supermassive Black Hole – so that was definitely pretty distracting!
Also, because of the way the stage was laid out there was a lot of moving around between different mic positions for me and Matt. The stage was about 40m from end to end. We had our steps clicked one night and I think me and Matt were walking about four or five kilometres each during the show.
So just remembering where we were supposed to be standing at which points in the songs was quite distracting – instead of just running around, we really had to think about it. But you get used to it after a while.
This was supposed to be a 'quiet' year for Muse, but you have been playing in the US and will soon be off to Australia. You also recently released a new stand-alone single called Dig Down, with Matt commenting that singles rather than albums may be the future for the band. Why?
I think it maybe is for the foreseeable future anyway. I guess we kind of feel that we've been in a similar cycle for a long time: make an album, do a tour, take a bit of time off, do another album.
Obviously, when you make an album, you have to tour it. The Drones tour was about 18 months long, so we felt like we weren't ready to do another full tour this year.
But at the same time there were lots of places we hadn't been too yet, so we thought why not put out some new music to put into the live set and also remind everyone that we haven't disappeared off the face of the planet?
Also, with stand-alone singles, you're not tying yourself to any particular concept or direction for the future like you would when you make an album, which you then have to go with for the next two to three years or however long you tour it.
They give you a little bit of a license to experiment and try new things, but at the end of the day there's not too much riding on it. You can find out what the fans think of it and then decide if it's something you want to pursue going forward.
Also, sometimes it's nice to get together as a band even during your time off, like we used to do in the early days before we were making records or touring. Sometimes you just want to hang out and make music together – even if you don't have to. So this is quite a good way of doing it.
The band have been together for 23 years. How much longer do you think Muse will last?
I feel like we've got quite a few good years left. I think sometimes you have to remember how lucky you are to be doing the thing you dreamt of doing as a kid.
We still really enjoy the shows, we still enjoy making music together and we're still all good friends so there doesn't seem to be any reason to be winding things up just yet.
Muse, with Biffy Clyro, Nothing But Thieves and Fangclub, Wednesday August 23, Vital, Boucher Road Playing Fields, Belfast. Tickets available via Ticketmaster outlets.