INTERVIEW: Director Lance Drake Helps Mess With Reality In Muse: Simulation Theory

Muse is an English rock band with eight studio albums, dozens of hit songs, and an eclectic sound that seems like it’s not only from the future but multiple versions of the future. Director Lance Drake has made music videos for Muse, and now he collaborates with the band for their most ambitious project yet, a film based on their 2018 album, Simulation Theory.

In Muse: Simulation Theory, viewers are treated with intense, powerful, and emotional music. Woven into the concert footage is a narrative that marries the music and its messages to create an overall cyberpunk vibe undeniably Muse. The film’s story puts viewers in multiple realities, including one that’s all too eerily familiar that includes misinformation and pandemics.

PopAxiom and Lance spoke about becoming a filmmaker, making videos for Muse, and working on the ambitious project Muse: Simulation Theory.

The First Film

“Filmmaking for me began at the age of seven,” Lance recalls his earliest years, “while making home movies with friends and action figures. We used my neighbor’s VHS camera and made movies riffing off of the movies of the time. Spielberg and James Cameron movies. They were spoofs of our favorite films.”

From an early age, Lance says, “It became such an obsession for my friends and me that from the age of nine to 16 we created a near three-hour long movie with action figures.”

Lance went to film school then moved out to LA. “Over the years, I got hooked into doing music videos. Over the past ten years, I’ve been mainly a music video and promo director and also doing documentary work.”

Dig Down

“Three years ago, I pitched on a track for Muse,” he says. “It was for the song ‘Dig Down,’ and it was a hail-mary pitch.” Lots of directors make their case for why they should be in charge of a particular project. “I’ve pitched on so many songs with so many bands and so many near misses.”

“But the idea I wrote clicked with the band,” Lance says, “and their manager had seen a lot of my work, which is super-narrative based. I like pushing the boundaries of what is possible in a music video and telling a story in three or four minutes.”

Previously, Lance directed a video for Miike Snow for the song ‘Heart is Full,” which was a “Ghost in the Shell, Akira, action mini-movie.” “Muse wanted to do something cyberpunk leaning,” he continues, “So, I pitched and got it.”

“It was super-exciting!” Lance was not only directing a new project where he could push the envelope but, he admits, “I’ve been a fan of Muse for a long time. I saw them play when I was 16 during the Curiosa Tour. They played on Stage C, which was in the parking lot. They played to maybe 30 people. It’s just crazy to think that all these years later, they’ve become my friends.”

Lance’s pitch for “Dig Down” was an ambitious effort with an important message. “The video stars Lauren Wasser, who is a model, activist, and amputee.”

“I was dealing with personal family trauma,” Lance shares. “I read her story and how inspiring she was that I was like, ‘I want to work with her one day.’ I wrote her into the pitch.”

Lance continues, “We put Lauren in a mini-action movie, and along with the message of the song, it’s such a powerful statement. I still think it’s the best video I’ve done for the band.”

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About Muse: Simulation Theory

Muse is a band that features a distinct rock sound and signature epic stage shows. “What’s unique about these three years with Muse,” he says, “is that they wanted to try something conceptually different from any of their past albums with Simulation Theory.”

“Usually, when doing an album,” Lance explains, “they’ll work with one producer, but they wanted to work with an eclectic mix of producers this time. So, every song basically had a different producer. The thing that linked them together is that they worked with me on the videos. Visually, the album was aligned with one voice, but musically, it’s their most eclectic album ever.”

The process for creating the music and movie for Simulation Theory involved another atypical move. “They also didn’t record the album all at once. The songs were recorded over about a year and a half. They would send me a song, and we’d do a video. So, instead of listening to the album all at once and thinking of something to be like a visual album, we were almost riffing off ideas as we went along.”

“For instance,” Lance continues, “we did this video for ‘Something Human’ where Matt becomes a werewolf. The next song they sent me, ‘Dark Side,’ opens with Matt howling. So, it’s almost like the videos and the music were starting to intertwine. It was a cool, unique thing.”

“Collectively, we did nine or ten videos for the album,” Lance explains further. “They’re all interconnected through a storyline, but it’s still very loose and open. We didn’t want to do something that was a hardcore story, but more like pieces of a puzzle. It is almost like Twin Peaks, where there is a sense and a feeling of the world, but it’s looser and freer. It allows the music to do more.”

Making Muse: Simulation Theory

As the album and visuals evolved together, creating a narrative concert film began to take form. “It’s all grown out of this album Simulation Theory. The cover has characters from the videos. Muse embarked on a world tour. They worked with their touring creative director Jesse Lee Stout to reinterpret the themes we made with the album into a live show. Two big parts of the live shows are these dancers and the scale of the show.”

“When it came time to do the film of the tour,” Lance guides us into the making of a unique cinematic concert movie, “we wanted to capture the scale of the show and how exciting it was, giving people a front-row seat. We also wanted to fill in the story beats of what the dancers were doing.”

Muse: Simulation Theory feels like being on a thrill ride across a rainbow. The colors are vibrant, and the energy is intoxicating. “A big goal for the film was to contextualize the show’s flow and the wardrobe changes, plus bring in some really big ideas that we had for the album.”

Those big ideas are heady but endlessly fascinating. “This idea that we’re living in two realities now since the birth of the Internet. What’s true and what’s not? What’s real and what’s not?”

“A big theme conceptually for the album,” Lance says, “was the song ‘Thought Contagion,’ where an idea, like a meme, is like a virus that spreads. Those two words, ‘Thought Contagion,’ started us on a visual journey of the guys in hazmat suits and the virus.”

Viruses spreading and hazmat suits? Sounds eerily familiar. “It’s so strange that it all came true. From the idea of calling the virus a hoax, to media manipulation, and the mass confusion that we’re all experiencing.”

“We did it in a fun way,” Lance laughs. “I was apprehensive when we went into lockdown. We finished the film, and I thought, with everything going on, that it would come off as insensitive. We didn’t know where it would be right now.”

Muse: Simulation Theory does poke at some of the heated political debates of today. “I think it’s just the right amount of politics, lightness, and brevity. It feels real, but not like you’re being preached to.”

“I’m super proud of the film and what we achieved.” For 95 minutes, viewers receive an audio and visual treat that’s like few, if any, concert films before. “Like everything I’ve done with Muse and my work in general, it’s insanely ambitious. We filmed the entire movie in four days. We shot three days of narrative in London, and then two nights, I shot the live concert at the O2 Arena.”

“It was brutal,” Lance admits about the shoot. “If you saw my office, it was a wall of index cards and story beats. We color-coded for the story and songs. We’d written the script to help fill in what the story was going to be.”

Lance declares: “I’m proud of it, and the fans are loving it.”

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Muse has a massive fan base (this author included) driven by the music to create more than any of the band members could imagine. “The film is a fulfillment of everything the band represents. The power of Muse. Not only are they inspired by so many different types of music and so many forms of art, but they also inspire others.”

“That is what has been amazing throughout this whole process,” Lance says. “The amount of fan art that’s been made, fan videos, and fan fiction, is unbelievable. It’s a Star Wars level of fandom.”

Among the legion of fans, Lance discusses one of his favorites. “There’s this one group called Algorithm Squad, no one knows who they are, and they seem like an organization of hackers who have predicted stuff that we had come out. They made their own documentary on the making of this album.”

Lance thinks that more projects like Muse: Simulation Theory from other artists might be on the horizon. “I feel with a lack of live shows, artists are going to have a lot of touring money to be able to put into creating things like this that go beyond the music.”

The Muse: Simulation Theory experience did a run in IMAX, and to see it at that scale is just a reminder of the power of cinema.

Wrapping Up

Within the dazzling array of visuals and music found in Muse: Simulation Theory, there are plenty of winks and nods to pop culture inspirations. “There are so many movie references. From the opening with the arcade as a reference to Tron, the interview they do with the NPC is like The Day The Earth Stood Still, Matt traveling through time in a Lamborghini is Back To The Future, a car chase that’s like Cannonball Run, and a fight scene is paying homage to “Night on Bald Mountain” from Fantasia.”

Lance shares another movie reference that we’ll let viewers see for themselves. “You’re feeling a glimmer of all these other films.”

The film is available for digital rental or purchase through Amazon or iTunes. But more is to come. “In December, there’s going to be a deluxe box set with a BluRay of the film and bonus physical cassette tape. We partnered with Marvel to make a comic book adaptation. There’s a lot of awesome bonus stuff in that set, and it’s gorgeous.”

Is Muse: Simulation Theory on your watch list?

Thanks to Lance Drake and Backlight PR
for making this interview possible.

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Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.