The title track from Muse's latest album, The 2nd Law, is a two-part suite that, according to the British rock band's members, relates to Newton's second law of thermodynamics, which posits that the universe tends toward equilibrium and therefore any energy, however great, will eventually dissipate as the universe finds its balance.
That certainly doesn't seem to be the case for Muse, however. The trio has been on a steady ascent since its debut album in 1999, and currently ranks as one of the biggest bands on the planet. It has sold more than 15 million albums worldwide and won a Grammy Award, with two more nominations this year, for The 2nd Law album and for its hit single Madness. Muse's The Resistance (2009) hit No. 1 in 19 countries, while The 2nd Law debuted atop 13 charts around the world.
The album's first single, Survival, was the official song of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, where Muse performed at the closing ceremony. The group also has become one of the world's most popular live bands, headlining nearly ever major rock festival around the globe.
It's all a far cry from what guitarist Matthew Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard expected when they joined forces in 1994 after playing in separate bands at Teignmouth Community College in Devon, England, originally calling the band Rocket Baby Dolls. While their creative ambitions remain grand, however, Muse's members try to maintain a sense of perspective on the band's achievements to this point.
"We don't take anything for granted," the 34-year-old Wolstenholme says, speaking by telephone before the start of the North American leg of Muse's The 2nd Law tour. "We know that there's a certain expectation on this band with the quality of music that we make, and it's an expectation that we put on ourselves as well, because we always want to better ourselves."
The 35-year-old Howard agrees — "You always want to create better music and discover new musical ideas and feel like we're moving forward and not backward," he says — but adds that, for Muse, that process is more relaxed than some might expect.
"We never really feel like we've got too much pressure on ourselves in the studio," the drummer says. "We certainly don't have any outside pressure from anyone else. We just want to go in there and have a very fluid and natural process. If we find ourselves having pressure or feeling like we have pressure, I don't think you necessarily work to your best capacity. So we like to feel very relaxed and comfortable.
"At least, to the three of us, it feels like a comfortable creative environment."
Howard reports that Muse went into The 2nd Law without much of a master plan. Instead the group took its usual, mad-scientist approach of experimentation and improvisation, spending the better part of 10 months in California and England finding new ways to mash together elements of classic-pop melodicism and progressive-rock sophistication.