Muse returns to self-producing on Will of the People, an album teeming with formidable anthems that navigate themes of fear, politics, dystopia, compliance, corruption, and other topics concerning the world order.
Decked out in black ninja-like uniforms with mosaic mirrored masks obscuring their faces, Muse opens their current shows with the powerful, sing-along chant of “Will of the People,” the anthemic title track off their latest album. From that song’s infectious shuffle until the very end of the concert’s encore, people are jumping out of their seats, and appear to be completely mesmerized.
Muse’s guitarist/frontman Matt Bellamy describes the song’s concept: “‘Will of the People’” is a fictional story set in a fictional metaverse on a fictional planet ruled by a fictional authoritarian state run by a fictional algorithm manifested by a fictional data centre running a fictional bank printing a fictional currency controlling a fictional population occupying a fictional city containing a fictional apartment where a fictional man woke up one day and thought ‘fuck this.’”
Muse Won't Stand Down (Live at NOVA Rock Festival 2022)
Fictional, perhaps, but art imitates life, and the whole vibe is connecting explosively with Muse fans upon the return of being able to experience one of the best live shows around. After all, the trio of Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme, and drummer Dominic Howard view themselves as a live band, first and foremost, and the concert experience informs every aspect of their writing process.
“It’s unavoidable for us because we’ve probably connected to our audiences more through live performance than we have through pop charts or anything like that,” says Bellamy. “We’ve never been embraced by the mainstream. I don’t think we’ve ever had a Top 40 single or anything like that. We’ve always been kind of alternative outsiders regarding recorded music, but where we connect with our audience is onstage. I think it’s totally inevitable that when we’re in the studio, almost every song we’re creating—I mean not every moment, but almost—we’re thinking about that, rather than like, ‘Oh, this is going to be on X radio station, or it’s going to be in this film.’ We’re not thinking about any of that stuff. We’re thinking, ‘We’re making this song and we’re going to go onstage and play it.’”
Bellamy has been Muse’s main songwriter since the band formed in 1994, when they were originally called Rocket Baby Dolls. After the songs are drafted, the band collaborates on production, song arrangements, and the sounds to be used on each album. Over the years, Muse has tinkered with outside producers, but for Will of the People the band decided to keep it in the family.
“We haven’t produced an album since The Resistance in 2009 and The 2nd Law in 2012,” Bellamy says. “Then, we felt like we needed some outside input, and we went to Mutt Lange for the Drones album. On [2018’s] Simulation Theory, we worked with a whole bunch of different producers. But on this album, we felt like it would be good to get back to our original process.”
“I’ve always been anti-authoritarian by nature. If you read some of my school report cards, you’ll probably find that I wasn’t the most compliant student.”
Bellamy recalls, “Lange leaned towards the human side but wanted the humans to play their parts accurately rather than use computers to repair an inaccurate performance—a very humans-first approach.” Other producers “wanted to program a drum beat and just start with that.”
Muse doesn’t operate with a singular magic formula. “Songs like ‘We Are Fucking Fucked,’ ‘Kill or Be Killed,’ and, to some extent, ‘Will of the People,’ benefit from being a bit more human sounding, a bit more relaxed, and not perfectly tight in all the different spots,” explains Bellamy. “Sometimes you can tighten the life out of a track, and we’ve noticed with Muse that could be a problem. If we make it too tight, we lose elements that we like to tap into, like chaos or feeling slightly out of control.”
The sense of reckless abandon is huge in Bellamy’s music. “I grew up on things like Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, or Jimi Hendrix. Those are the two guitarists that I probably loved the most. And the element that they brought into guitar playing was, obviously amazing guitar playing, but also an element of chaos, an element of being slightly out of control. Sometimes When you edit it out, you end up losing a little bit of that chaos feeling. That’s something that we’ve been trying to balance a little bit. It’s difficult because it’s so tempting to try to tighten everything. There was a bit of that on certain tracks. Something like ‘You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween,’ for example, is much more on the tighter side.”
TIDBIT: Muse returned to self-producing on their ninth studio album, Will of the People, which was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London.
That is, until the blazing guitar solo enters. “When the guitar solo comes in, it’s really like, ‘Just let it rip. No editing,’” says Bellamy. “It was like, boom, whatever happens, happens. It’s just a balancing act with rock where you want to make sure you don’t erase the feel of it, if that’s part of what the song is trying to convey.”
Muse’s label had hinted at the band making a greatest-hits album. But for Will of the People, Muse wanted to create a new take on that concept. Rather than rummage through their discography looking for the “best” songs, Muse wanted to make all new songs for Will of the People, with the aim of making “greatest hits” in different styles. To that end, it seems like they’ve succeeded. Bellamy has said “Compliance” is the best pop track they’ve ever done, and “Kill or Be Killed” is the best prog-metal song they’ve done.
The latter will appeal to lovers of guitar pyrotechnics. It features a lethal whammy-infused, drop-tuned opening riff, Lydian pedal chords, and an over-the-top dramatic solo that could make envious shredders want to quit. But Bellamy cautions them to hold off giving up.
“If you listen to the Grace album by Jeff Buckley, you’ll notice the guitar sound is very glassy, very bright but very, very clear at the same time.”
“I’m plainly cheating in that solo [laughs],” he says. “I’m basically tapping and using a whammy pedal to do octave shifts. It sounds like I’m doing insane arpeggios. I’m not a shredder at all. I’ve never been a very good shredder, but I found ways to cut corners. On that one I’m doing a simple tapping technique, but the octave is being pitch-shifted as I’m tapping to make it sound like a really broad arpeggio.” Bellamy used this setup before to great effect on “Map of the Problematique” from Black Holes and Revelations .
The Multi-Faceted Musician
Being a guitar virtuoso is far from Bellamy’s priority. “I’d say I’m a jack of all trades but not necessarily a master of one,” he confesses. Initially, in his formative years, Bellamy went down the road of trying to be a flashy, technical guitarist, but soon changed course.
“Trust me, there are thousands of guitarists on Instagram that are way better than me [laughs]. I see them all the time. I sort of realized I was never going to be like Steve Vai or something. To me, probably where my specialty is, is in playing guitar and singing at the same time. That’s something I’ve had to work on quite a lot because it’s hard—at least it was hard for me in the early years. Especially playing certain rhythmic parts or rhythmic patterns and detailed kind of singing. That’s what I focused on. Sometimes you have to work out where your upstroke is on the guitar and how that connects to which syllable of the vocal.”
Bellamy has always been less myopic than his peers in the guitar community. Starting in his late teenage years, he had a dual musical personality. On one hand he was in bands that were all about rock, U.K. Indie music, and grunge, but on the side, he would be at home listening to classical music. “I just loved it,” says Bellamy. “I was getting into the electric guitar, but in my school there was a classical guitar teacher. That was the only guitar teacher who was available, so I decided to just go down that road because I was already playing guitar a little bit. I learned about different modes and scales, and different ways of moving chords around. I studied a bit of [Heitor] Villa-Lobos and learned a little bit about that back then, but I never really became serious in the classical realm, guitar-wise. I did it for a couple of years and then, through listening to that stuff, it led me to discover great piano composers, like Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and Liszt.”
Matt Bellamy’s Gear
Muse’s Matt Bellamy makes a point with his main axe, a Manson DL-1.
Photo by Hans-Peter Van Velthoven
- Manson 007 MB
- Manson ORYX custom fanned-fret 6-string
- Jeff Buckley’s 1983 Fender Telecaster
- Manson MB Drone 003 with Manson PF-1 bridge pickup and Sustainiac
- 1966 or ’65 Gibson LG-0 acoustic
- Manson MB Standard with Manson PF-1 Humbucker Bridge pickup and Sustainiac in satin “Matt Black” finish
- Manson MB Standard with Manson PF-1 Humbucker Bridge pickup and Sustainiac in gloss “Red Alert" finish
- TogaMan GuitarViol Bastarda
- Sennheiser MD 421
- Royer R-122V
- Neumann U67
- Neumann U87
- Shure SM57
- Diezel VH4
- Mesa/Boogie Badlander
- Marshall Handwired 1959 Super Lead plexi (modded)
- Orange Rockerverb 100 MKIII
- Gibson EH 150 (1940)
- 1964 Vox AC30 Top Boost
- Laney 100-watt Klipp head and 4x12 cab (1972)
- Universal Audio OX Amp Top Box
- Mills 4x12 cabinet with Celestion V30 8-ohm speakers
- Marshall 1960BX handwired 4x12 cabinet with 25W Celestion Greenback 16-ohm speakers
- Dwarfcraft Necromancer
- Pro Co RAT
- Death by Audio Total Sonic Annihilation
- Korg SDD-3000 digital delay
- Pete Cornish TB-83 treble boost
Strings & Picks
- Ernie Ball (.009–.012–.016–.026–.036–.050)
- Dunlop Tortex .73 mm
While Bellamy is the band’s sole guitarist, he is completely fine with not including the guitar on everything Muse. He’s made it a point to also showcase piano, and the instrument plays prominently on the new songs “Liberation” and “Ghosts (How Can I Move On).” The latter is the big piano number on Will of the People and opens with an arpeggiated keyboard figure similar to Adele’s mega-hit “Someone Like You.” This song indirectly spawned from a small solo side project Bellamy was working on over the last several years, which mostly saw him redoing Muse songs with just piano and vocals.
“That is what led to that song,” recalls Bellamy. “That was the first time I really tried to do a simple piano/vocal ballad. I guess you’re always going to be in the company of people who have had big hits with those kinds of things. For us it was a bit of an unusual move. I’ve always had piano here and there, but never really a song that’s just vocal and piano. To be honest, I played the song for the guys in the band, and we weren’t sure if it was going to be on a Muse album. But they really liked it and we thought, ‘You know what, this adds a little bit of color, so maybe it can be on.’ I’m not sure yet to what extent it will be played live.”
The Manson Connection
In his time away from the stage and studio, Bellamy keeps himself very busy. In 2019, he became the majority owner in Manson Guitar Works and is very involved in everything from overseeing all the new designs to going to the shop and meeting new employees. “It’s great. I love it. It’s a local business in the area I’m from in England. When I was growing up in Devon, South West England, there was a guitar shop in Exeter, which is the nearest college town. It was kind of the best guitar shop really,” says Bellamy, who, as a teen, lusted after a Manson custom build.
Muse - WON'T STAND DOWN (Official Video)
“I bought my first couple of guitars from there, but I couldn’t really afford the custom-made ones. We found out that the guy who ran the place, Hugh Manson, used to be Led Zeppelin’s guitar tech. He’s a luthier that makes his own guitars to whatever spec you want. So, as soon as Muse had any kind of success and I could afford to buy a nice guitar, around the year 2000, I went to him and said, ‘I’d love to have a custom-made guitar.’”
Bellamy’s first custom Manson was an aluminum guitar, with a finish similar to a DeLorean and a Z.Vex Fuzz Factory and MXR Phase 90 built in. “It became my main guitar from about 2001 onwards. Then I went back to him to get a couple of others that were similar in shape. I designed the shape. I wanted a unique shape that hadn’t been seen before. I worked with him on custom guitars throughout the 2000s and this just went on and on, to the point where all the guitars I use onstage are Manson guitars. Then, around four or five years ago, Hugh retired and wanted me to take over ownership of the company, to keep it running, and to take it to the next step.”
Manson sells a good amount of custom guitars, but the big seller is the Manson Meta Series MBM-1, which comes in at the lowest price point. “That was something I introduced to the company when I took over. I really wanted there to be a more affordable version available,” explains Bellamy. “We have some of those parts manufactured in Europe and some in Indonesia, and we have those parts brought to our warehouse in Devon where we put them together ourselves. The more expensive ones are handbuilt and handmade in the factory in Devon. Since the last 20 years, he’s employed a bunch of amazing guitar makers. There’s an amazing workshop where people hand-make these things.”
Matt Bellamy prefers an element of chaos in his music, which Muse mirrors in their thematic tours and potent onstage presence.
Photo by Jordi Vidal
While Bellamy is mostly a Manson loyalist, he employed a unique instrument called the GuitarViol for the pizzicato string parts in the verses of “Won’t Stand Down.” “It’s got a similar range as a guitar, only a few tones up from where a cello is based. When you play it, it sounds a bit like a cello,” he says. “I’m not a fretless player. It’s a way of adding string sounds to songs. I was playing it like I play a guitar or bass. It’s a cool instrument because, rather than using sound libraries, I just played that instrument.”
Bellamy also recently indulged in the purchase of a trophy instrument: Jeff Buckley’s 1983 Grace Fender Telecaster. Rather than store it away in a glass case, Bellamy uses the instrument quite often. “It appears a couple of times on the album and I love it. It’s a great guitar. Rather than just stick it on the wall, I think it’s nice to give it some use and keep it involved in music,” says Bellamy. “I used it on ‘Will of the People,’ on the lead part, which is the high bluesy bit. I may have used it on the verses of ‘We Are Fucking Fucked’ as well. It’s such a great instrument. It’s just a unique, strange-sounding Telecaster. I had it looked at by the Manson team and they were saying there’s something odd about the pickups. They seem to be slightly out of phase, and it causes this very glassy tone. If you listen to the Grace album by Jeff Buckley, you’ll notice the guitar sound is very glassy, very bright, but very, very clear at the same time.”
“If we make it too tight, we lose elements that we like to tap into, like chaos or feeling slightly out of control.”
Populism and Power Struggles
Many songs on Will of the People, such as the title track, “Compliance,” “Liberation,” and the closer, “We are Fucking Fucked,” revolve around matters of oppressors and the oppressed. “I think it’s a theme that you can find across Muse’s career. It’s part of my nature,” explains Bellamy. “I’ve always been anti-authoritarian. If you read some of my school report cards, you’ll probably find that I wasn’t the most compliant student. I’ve always been kind of skeptical of power structures and those that have power—the concentrated few who take advantage of their power over the masses and so on. It’s not one particular thing that I’m aiming at. It doesn’t matter where it exists, I have a natural inclination to feel like that should be always disrupted.
“You can apply that to anything from corporate structures, banking structures, economic structures, to political structures. Any structure where a concentrated few have incredible power over a large population. I’ve always been intrinsically questioning that and wondering about the quality of the people who are placed in those positions of power, and how did they get there? It’s been a lifelong fascination for me, and it’s obviously translated into the music and the songwriting, going back as far as songs like [2009’s] ‘Uprising’ and so on. It doesn’t matter where they exist. The fact that extreme wealth can be concentrated in a handful of tech entrepreneurs, for example. Or the fact that powerful lobbyists can have such an influence on senators.”
Having lived in L.A. since 2010, Bellamy gained new insight into the class politics that divide America, and this seeped into many of the songs on Will of the People. “During the troubled period of the crossover from January 6, and when all that stuff started to fall apart, it kind of played into this idea that populism can actually be quite scary,” says Bellamy. “When the masses do topple something, it can be quite chaotic and crazy as well. On the one hand, the masses overthrowing power structures is appealing, on the other it can actually be quite frightening. This album explores both sides of that.”
Muse - Map Of The Problematique [Live From Wembley Stadium]
PG's Shawn Hammond is On Location in Frankfurt, Germany, for the 2012 Musikmesse Show where he visits the Diezel booth. In this segment, we get to see and hear a demo of the D-Moll (D-Mon).
PG's Shawn Hammond is On Location in Frankfurt, Germany, for the 2012 Musikmesse Show where he visits the Diezel booth. In this segment, we get to see and hear a demo of the D-Moll (D-Mon).
Editor’s top picks from Anaheim—the cream of the crop in cutting-edge gear.
By the last day of the four-day Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California, you see a lot of exhibitors, journalists, and gearheads walking around with rather glazed looks in their eyes. Believe it or not, this is a good thing. See, Winter NAMM 2012 was busy ... hoppin' ... cookin' ... happening. And that means business is good -- so good, in fact, that it's just plain hard to take it all in.
But blasted and dazed as we are when we emerge from the buzzing confines of the Anaheim Convention Center, there's a lot you don't easily forget. So here are some of the guitars, amps, pedals, and basses that blew us away, in full color for you to see for yourself.
One of the great things about NAMM is that it's a beautifully democratic bazaar. Garage-based pedal builders hawk their wares just a stone's throw from the biggest players in the business. And just when you think the newest 6-string from Fender, Martin, Gibson, Taylor, or PRS is the thing you'll remember as you fall off to sleep that night, some upstart fuzz builder pulls you over and blows your mind -- cranking their latest contraption through a ratty, blackface Princeton from a booth the size of your closet.
The whole cross-section is represented here, some of our favorites, anyway. But there's plenty more to see, including in-depth video coverage, at premierguitar.com. Check it out. Then holler and let us know what you think. You'll be seeing a lot of these products reviewed in the months to come, but we'd love to know what you're all hot about, too. Frankly, we're still a little blown away by everything we heard and saw.
1. Reverend Eastsider
Reverend’s Eastsider is the company’s second Pete Anderson Signature model. It has a Broadcaster-style bridge pickup, korina body, and a compound radius fretboard.
2. Moog Lap Steel
The Moog Lap Steel was one of the most intriguing instruments at NAMM. It’s built around the electronics from the Moog Guitar, which means the Lap Steel is capable of practically infi nite sustain, a cool controlled sustain mode that simultaneously mutes unplayed strings and sustains played strings, and a piezo pickup so you can blend natural lap steel sounds and Moogifi ed tones.
3. Jens Ritter Monroe
Jens Ritter’s Monroe, dressed up in deep and luxurious royal blue from head to toe, was a contender the running for the Rolls Royce of NAMM. Ritter conceived the model after a rockabilly listening binge and features custom humbuckers and a Bigsby B7 modifi ed by Ritter himself.
4. Hagstrom Viking baritone
The new 28"-scale Viking Baritone features a maple semi-hollow body with fl amed top veneer, a vintage-voice humbucker and P-90, dual volume and tone controls, and 22 frets. Besides being beautiful and sounding great, it’s remarkable in two big ways: It’s possibly the only semi-hollow production baritone on the market, and it streets for around $700.
5. LSL Instruments BadBone 2
This vintage-themed beauty comes in a choice of swamp ash, pine, or alder bodies, features either a 7.25"- or a 9.5"-radius fretboard, and has a trimmed-down T-style bridge that accommodates its handwound PAF-voiced LSL humbuckers.
6. Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar
Fender’s Johnny Marr signature Jaguar includes several signifi cant and useful evolutionary features. Pickups can be wired in series or in parallel and there’s a reconfi gured bright switch. Marr also requested Bare Knuckle pickups and the guitar has a chunkier-than-usual neck based on a favorite ’65 Jag in Marr’s quiver.
1. Blueridge BG-2500 Super Jumbo
Blueridge’s BG-2500 Super Jumbo has a gorgeous flame maple back and sides, spruce top, sweet, hefty neck, art deco bridge and barks like a 200-pound hound.
2. Lowden F-35
Lowden’s F-35 fanned-fret prototype looks bound for production and the combination of reclaimed redwood top and Honduran mahogany back and sides sounds distinctly Lowden—warm, detailed, and really responsive.
3. Santa Cruz Baritone
Santa Cruz Guitars brought some show stoppers this year as part of their program to support local guitar shops, including this spectacular dread-bodied baritone with sycamore back and sides and Italian spruce top.
4. L.R. Baggs M80
Lloyd Baggs’ new soundhole pickup features a stacked humbucking design in which the second coil is suspended in a proprietary material that allows the pickup to act as a 3-D body sensor. It also has active/passive modes and a multi-segment battery indicator for more convenient battery-power tracking.
1. Orange OR50
Big and classically British, the single-channel OR50 is a reissue of Orange’s legendary “Pics Only” 50-watt head from 1972. Two EL34s, two 12AX7s in the preamp, an attenuator section and a ton of classic Rock Over London vibes.
2. Marshall 1-Watt Anniversary Editions
Marshall Amplification introduced 1-watt versions of their classic amplifiers celebrating the company’s 50th anniversary in 2012. There is the JTM 1, JMP-1, JCM800, DSL1, and JVM1. Each amplifier represents the corresponding decade the amp was originally released.
3. Diezel Hagen
A refinement on Peter Diezel’s acclaimed VH4 head, the brilliant and brutal new 100- watt Hagen is powered by four EL34s and has a preamp that’s driven by six 12AX7s and controlled by four horizontally arrayed independent channels—clean, crunch, mega, and lead. It also has three effects loops—one MIDI controlled serial, a permanent serial, and a permanent parallel with volume control.
4. Carr Bloke
Carr amplifiers unveiled their new hi-gain amp, the Bloke. It takes its inspiration from vintage British heads and late-’60s tube bass amps from America. Controls include lead master, treble, and bass with the bass routed through a separate circuit. The Bloke is powered by two EL34s, but is compatible with 6V6 tubes.
5. Jet City JCA22W
Based on Mike Soldano’s Atomic 16 amp, the EL84-powered, 20-watt Jet City JCA22W is a dream for guitarists who love hearing pure tube tone onstage but are at the mercy of sound men in the house mix. The JCA22W’s monitor-like wedge shape enables you to blast your own unadulterated tones into your face while sending a 4x12-simulation via direct output to the PA.
6. Ampeg R-12R Reverberocket
1. Malekko Plus Ultra, Chaos, and Helium
Malekko released three fuzz boxes at NAMM. The Wolftone Plus Ultra, Wolftone Chaos, and Wolftone Helium all create different flavors of absolutely insane fuzz mayhem— and exponentially so when they’re used together— and they are licensed designs from Studio Electronics, whose own versions are highly sought-after rarities.
2. Earthquaker Organizer and Rainbow Generator
Earthquaker Devices was up to their usual sickness at NAMM. The Organizer helps you generate organ tones and odd oscillations. The Tone Job is a simple but effective cut/boost EQ and boost. The Rainbow Machine is a DSP-driven, pitch shifting, tone twisting, dimension altering piece of hardware that can also be controlled with an expression pedal and sounds freaking incredible.
3. Egnater Overdose
Egnater announced two new pedals at the NAMM show, the Holy Driver and Overdose. The Overdose is a pure analog overdrive and boost pedal. The right side handles the boost and can be routed either before it after the overdrive section in the signal chain. There are also patch in/out jacks so you can insert other pedals between the overdrive and boost sections.
4. Jack Deville Deuce Coupe
The Deuce Coupe is Jack Deville’s new dual-mode overdrive pedal. You can double tap the clickless, true-bypass switch to activate between 4 and 16 dB of boost.
5. Rivera Sustain Shaman
Paul Rivera’s new compressor goes way past traditional guitar-pedal compressor designs by offering two channels with extremely low-noise circuitry. Channel B has a SuperSust switch for long, sustained leads, while channel A is voiced for rhythm work.
6. Pigtronix Infinity Looper
Pigtronix Infinity Stereo Multi-Track Looper features dual stereo loops with sync, 20 loop presets, multiplier for loop 2 (2, 3, 4, or 6 times), and USB access to save loops.
7. Diamond Pedals Quantum Leap
Diamond Pedals introduced two new pedals at NAMM. The Cornerstone has two gain controls and two switches for bright and mid. The Quantum Leap, which has design roots in the Memory Lane Jr., is capable of everything from a flanger-ish short delay all the way to a 500 ms, analog-style delay. You also can get classic, chimey modulation tones and pitch shifting up or down one octave.
8. Red Witch Synthotron
The new Synthotron pedal, which is dressed up in what looks like a visual nod to the wild Mu-Tron pedals of old, offers up a wild variety of psychedelic tones, including octave and envelope-filter functions that let you get your Dr. Who on.
1. EBS Reidmar
2. Epifani AL Combo
Epifani introduced the AL series line of bass combos at NAMM. The AL is the first to use a solid-aluminum shell, a construction technique that Epifani says results in improved frequency response and power output without unwanted tonal colorations.
3. Lakland Bass 60-11 Prototype
Lakland brought a new bass prototype called the 60-11 to the show, and it’s likely to appease anyone who’s ever lusted for a Fender Bass VI. This 6-string is technically a bass, but will be familiar to baritone guitarists, too. The bass is loaded with three Hanson P-90s and sounds just as good through a bass or guitar amp.
4. Warwick Jack Bruce Survivor
This fretless, neck-through designed bass is ready to rumble. Available in both fretted and fretless versions, this beauty is handcrafted in Germany and outfitted with passive MEC single-coils and active MEC 2-way electronics. With a stained, high-polish finish in either burgundy red or nirvana black, Bruce’s signature axe certainly turned some heads in Anaheim.
5. Gallien-Krueger 800 MB Fusion
GK’s latest features 800 watts (at 4Ω) of power shaped by a 12AX7-driven preamp. It’s all packed into an incredibly portable design that weighs around five pounds. New front-panel features include backlit mute and -10 dB input padding toggles.