Drummer Dom Howard defends sonic indulgences ahead of his band’s Abu Dhabi gig
Hands up those who played in a band as teenagers and had fantasies of playing for hundreds of thousands of screaming fans. Dom Howard would raise his hand without a second's hesitation: the Muse drummer dreamt about being part of a stadium band from the time that he, Matt Bellamy and Chris Wolstenholme were kids rehearsing in Bellamy's granny's basement.
'We grew up and started going to festivals like Reading and Glastonbury, and that inspired us, showed us how far we could get in the future,' Howard recalls. 'I dreamt of playing in big stadiums, and I remember one time in particular, seeing Rage Against the Machine in Reading, and thinking, "Wow, I want to play on the main stage".' If anyone else besides Howard put their hand up, put it down now if your dream hasn't come true: Muse took the main stage at the Reading Festival in 2006, the year they released their fourth album, Black Holes and Revelations.
'It was an amazing experience,' he says, and since then, playing to tens of thousands of people has been so routine to them that when they played at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire (which has a capacity of 2,000) in February, it was like doing a private gig. Now the British trio are facing the challenge of filling Barcelona's Olympic Stadium, something that not even Madonna has been able to achieve. But if Muse were ambitious when they started playing almost two decades, imagine how they are now.
Their latest album, The 2nd Law, released in late 2012, is more evidence of the trio's ambition, in this case, sonic. If in the early days, comparisons to Radiohead weren't taken too kindly, Thom Yorke's band and Muse have evolved in very different directions: one towards experimental electronica with minimalist tendencies, and the other towards symphonic rock and electro house for the masses along the line of Skrillex and his ilk.
'I think we took a big risk with this album,' Howard says, 'and as a group we felt that we found some areas of music that we hadn't tackled before. The result is a very diverse album. We realised that the music was taking us in different directions, so we made the most of that, trying lots of different ideas. You just have to listen to the first three songs - it's like we're three different groups. We've opened a lot of doors and that's given us more options for the future.'
The risk taken is clear: just listen to their over-the-top 'Survival', which could just be the all-time Olympic anthem, as it was in London 2012: the insane Queen air about it would pale Freddie Mercury, and soprano chorus, Montserrat Caballé. Did they ever think they were going too far? 'With music I like to take things to the limit,' says Howard. 'With "Survival" we wanted to push the boundaries of the idea of an epic song, and when we finished it, we thought we really couldn't go any further."
Have they reached their peak? 'Maybe for next album, we'll back it up a bit,' Howard concedes. 'Or maybe we'll find a way to go further. This is the kind of music we make, with mad progressions, heavy instruments, massive choruses, enormous... the things that excite us about music.' Muse perform at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday November 2. Entry is only available to race day ticket holders. For more information, see www.yasmarinacircuit.com.