Here is a quick trancript of Brian May’s telephone interview with Bob and Tom on USA radio last Friday – together with audio – Our grateful thanks to Bob and Tom.S peakers in this piece NOT verified in this piece…. E&OE.
Brian May telephone interview with Bob and Tom, USA.
24 October 2008
Brian May telephone interview with Bob & Tom 24/10/08
BOB AND TOM – Friday 24 Oct 08
TRANSCRIPT by Jen Tunney
This is the Bob and Tom Show.
TOM: And we have great guests in the studio . . . we’re gonna switch gears here. I think we have the great guitarist, Brian May, on the phone here.
BOB: We do – Brian!!
BRIAN MAY: Tom, Bob!
BOB: Yes. How are you?
BM: I’m very good thank you, yes. I’m speaking to you (in Spanish accent) from Barcelona.
TOM: Brian, the Olympics are over. (all laugh)
BM: Yes I know that. Nobody told me.
BOB: A long time ago.
TOM: Hey Brian, we’ve had a chance . . .
BM: A bit like Miami down here. (laughs)
TOM: We’ve had a chance to do a little preview of the new Queen project . . .
TOM: Queen Plus Paul Rodgers, The Cosmos Rocks.
TOM: It’s a rockin’ album. You wanna tell us about a little bit of background on the project?
BM: Well, it was kind of a logical step for us because Roger and I teamed up with Paul Rodgers about three years ago now, and we went out. We did a couple of big tours, as you know, including not too far from you guys, and the next step was to go into the studio and see what happened, and that is just what we did and I’m pretty happy with what happened. It was, you know, it’s never a straight line in the studio. You go off on all sorts of strange kind of tangents, but we all brought something in and a lot of things worked out very good. I feel like it’s a, you know, an album to be proud of and I’m happy to be out here, able to play NEW stuff as well as the old hits that people wanna hear too…. you know, I do some of that. Sounds good.
TOM: It’s…. Paul Rodgers has been on our show in the studio a couple of times and he has one of THE great voices in rock ‘n’ roll. I mean . . .
BM: He’s incredible.
TOM: You can pick it up instantly. One of the cool things about this album that I liked was it still has that Queen touch, particularly the background vocals, and of course your guitar playing.
BM: Yeah yeah.
TOM: Now I wanna ask you real quick, are you still playing the famous guitar that you built with your dad out of the…
TOM: Was it.
BM: Same one. Yes still here with me. Still going strong. Still not been re-fretted in 45 years or whatever it is. Yeah.
TOM: Am I correct in saying you made it out of a antique mantle?
BM: Yeah – bits of stuff that were lying around, including a fireplace. Yeah, that’s right. (laughs) Actually still works.
TOM: That is, that is incredible. Now, do you travel with that guitar?
BM: Yeah, yeah. I’ve never played a gig without it, ever, in my life.
TOM: It has to be one of the legendary instruments in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. I think that probably and McCartney’s Hofner bass.
BM: Yeah, yeah. I was looking at a programme on Les Paul the other day. I think I have a lot in common with that man. (Chuckles)
TOM: Yeah. Our guest is Brian May, the distinguished song-writer, guitarist, from the band Queen.
Can I ask about, way back in the day when you guys made your albums, you know one of the things, at least if my reading is correct, you guys didn’t use synthesisers for the most part early on.
BM: That’s right.
TOM: . . . a lot of multi-tracking, but when you would get up there as a foursome . . .
TOM: . . . to recreate that sound had to be, had to be kind of a challenge.
BM: Yeah, well there’s a few stories to that really, I mean. The reason that was on there, you know, “No synthesisers” was because we did a lot of multi-tracking and a lot of guitar harmony orchestra kind of things, a lot of backing vocals, and people – somebody said in a review, “Oh yes, it’s all done by synthesisers though.” So we kind of wanted to make everybody realise that it wasn’t anything except the four of us. It was just us and our instruments. As far as playing live, we always regarded it as something different and reproducing records on stage is not what we’re at. I think that’s still very much true. A stage performance is something in the moment and live, and it’s a different kettle of fish altogether. And yeah, of course, you play the songs and you have a stab at some of those textures, which is fun, but basically it’s about playing your instruments and communicating with the audience in a much kind of more straightforward way. I have a theory that in a live show, people can only listen to about two things at once (chuckles) and everything else is in their imagination.
BOB: Yeah. When you do the live shows, what is the largest audience you’ve ever played for?
BM: One of them must be, very recently we played to about 350,000 Ukranians in the first night of our tour, which was an Anti-AIDS concert in Kharkov, which was just sensational, I’ve gotta say. And these people all knew the words. That’s the strange thing, you know, because countries behind the Iron Curtain were listening to Queen stuff, but it was illegal in those days. They could get arrested and put in jail for listening to it. So they all had these little bootleg cassettes and stuff and shared them and swapped them, so to meet those people who’ve been with us all their lives, but never able to get close to us, was a very emotional moment. Really great.
TOM: Wow. We’re speaking, by the way, to the great guitarist and song-writer, Brian May from Queen. Queen has a new project, Queen Plus Paul Rodgers, the great vocalist from Free and from Bad Company. I gotta tell you this. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. A couple of the songs had that kind of Paul Kossoff/Free feel.
BM: Oh yeah.
TOM: I really love that guitar sound. I don’t know if that was a tribute you did consciously or I guess when you have the presence of Paul Rodgers’ vocals, you get that feeling.
BM: Yeah, I think we pulled each other a little bit more into these directions. I think we’ve pulled Paul a little more into the kind of arrangement stuff that we do as Queen, and that, you know, the big, the big heavy bombast, if you wanna call it that, and then he pulled us a little more in the blues direction. And Kossoff has always been a hero of mine. I love that guy, you know, and I wish he was around to enjoy the way people still enjoy his work. I go on every night of this tour, I go on and done the solo in “All Right Now”, which is – all kinds of stuff goes through my head at that point. You know, I feel very much that it’s kind of in my hands for a moment and I wanna do justice to his great work. Love the guy. Yeah.
TOM: And I know that read somewhere that you have, not too long ago received, am I correct in saying, a proper PhD in, is it, Astronomy?
BM: I did. I went back to college and spent a year in addition to the four years that I did about thirty years ago and did my dissertation and the oral and everything. Got the PhD. Yeah. That’s what I wanted.
BOB: Well I’m a Sagittarius. Am I going to have a good day or a bad day?
BM: I thought you were going to ask me about the pains in your knees!
TOM: Our guest is Brian May – Doctor, I guess – Doctor Brian May.
BM: Doctor Brian – yeah, I don’t take to being called Mister anymore. It wa tough. It was not an easy call, that. It was something like unfinished business for me. So Doctor May at your service.
TOM: The new Queen project is called “The Cosmos Rocks”. Is there any connection when you write with your studies of the Universe? Does it come into play at all when you sit down with a piece of paper?
BM: Not – to be honest, not instinctively – no. I tend to write about, personally, people and emotions and the way I feel about the planet and the world and people around me. It doesn’t immediately go out to the Universe. But we had a lot of discussions about this stuff ‘cos when we first began this album I was actually still doing the PhD. I was kind of employed by Imperial College, London, so there were a lot of discussions and I also wrote a book, which is called Bang! The Complete (Guide to the) History of the Universe, so all these things were lying around and they became part of the background of us in the studio, I guess. It’s tongue in cheek. I mean, Roger had this song called “The Whole World’s Rockin’” and it’s on there now. It starts off with “the whole house rockin’”, and then “the whole town rockin’”, “the whole world rockin’” and then I went, “Well, why don’t we have ‘the whole Universe rockin’’?” So that’s kind of, and it’s just for fun, you know. It’s not a serious comment on cosmology, you know, but it just fun to think, yeah, you can get the whole cosmos rockin’, you know. So that’s kind of how the thing took shape and there’s a few little allusions in thereto the – to the Cosmos.
TOM: Well I’m just glad you put that sub-title on your book called “Bang!”, ‘cos you get a rock star wrote a book called “Bang!”
(Studio: It’s not about the Universe.)
BOB: It might be about the Universe. I know there’s a few Hollywood stars that have super nova-ed. Tell you that.
TOM: We were listening a little bit to the song ‘C-lebrity’. It’s about something we talked about on the show, which is this whole thing that everybody wants to be on TV, and they somehow thing that being on TV’s gonna make them a better person. And it’s a great tune, by the way, but . . .
BM: Thank you.
BOB: . . . an important commentary for our times, I think.
BM: I think it’s an interesting lyrical idea, which came from Roger. It was his kind of comment on the . . . Yeah the cult of personality I suppose, and the cult of fame for its own sake, which to us is a very alien concept. I don’t think it really makes people very happy but it’s taken over the world for a little while.
BOB: It certainly has.
TOM: Once again, our guest is Brian May the guitarist from the great band, Queen. If we could go way way way back, Brian, what was the first band you were ever in? Did it have cool name?
BM: Oooh, the first band that I had at school was called “1984”, which was a very futuristic name in those days, ‘cos we’re talking about 1970 or something. No, no – way before – no 1960s. And “1984” we named it after the George Orwell book, of course, and . . .
TOM: Was it post-Beatles, your first band?
BM: Hmmm… during Beatles, I suppose. Yeah, yeah, our influences – I was always influenced by The Beatles, always.
BOB: That’s a nice literary name. Did you ever have any sort of psychedelic . . .
BM: It was kind of psychedelic, to be honest. Yeah, it was the time of plastic fairytale discotheques and stuff, which we used to play in, (chuckles) and we’d wear tie-dye tee-shirts and, oh yeah. Yeah, we did all that. And then we kind of broke up and when I went to college I started a band with Roger, our present drum expert, which was called “Smile”, and that’s when we really started writing our own material seriously. And that’s when we met Freddie, who was to become quite an influence in our lives.
BOB: Indeed, yeah.
TOM: And we were talking earlier that your guitar famously handmade by your father and yourself.
TOM: Are you a self-taught guitarist as well?
BM: Yes, I guess I am. My dad taught me the chords on a ukulele banjo, a George Formby style, so I had a little idea of what chords were, and I had piano lessons, which were really pretty crucial to me. I think five years piano lessons, so I got to understand what music . . . what is inside music, what makes it tick melodically, harmonically, rhythmically and whatever, but as far as guitar, yeah. I just listened to people that excited me and those people were starting out was James Burton, Hank Marvin, Les Paul and then Jimi Hendrix kind of blew my world apart.
BOB: Everybody’s apart, yeah.
BOB: Do you ever go back and play the ukulele?
BM: I do, in fact, I just bought at auction one of George Formby’s favourite ukuleles, which is a real treasure and I thought I would give it a good home for a while, before I send it on my way. It’s wonderful to pick it up and kind of see all the kind of marks of his playing. It’s a really well-loved instrument. Beautiful tone.
TOM: Brian, you don’t realise this, Brian – we’re speaking with Brian from Queen. Brian, you’re talking to a guy who owns a beautiful ukulele. Bob over there has a beautiful pearl inlay. Where did you get that uke?
BOB: It was hand made by a guy named Chuck Moore out of Hawaii.
BM: Oh fabulous.
BOB: Absolutely eautiful.
TOM: And of course, Bob has a naked woman inlaid into it.
BOB: Goes without saying, Tom.
BM (laughs) That’s very nice for him.
TOM: Brian, there’s also a legend, and I don’t know if this is correct, but I’m gonna ask anyway, that when you play, at times you use an English sixpence coin as a pick?
BM: That’s what I use all the time, yeah. I don’t use it for acoustic, but for my electric playing, yes I always use a coin, yeah.
TOM: It’s interesting.
BOB: And your strings last?
BM: Yeah, The coin, strange enough, is a lot softer than the steel strings, so it doesn’t, it’s not a problem. It’s nickel silver, those old English sixpences and they . . .
TOM: Yeah – and do you have a whole bunch of them like glued to the mike stand?
BM: I have them everywhere.
BOB: Yeah. Does it hurt when you throw them in the audience?
BM: I have them as earrings! (?)
BOB ?: “My eyes!!!”
TOM: It’s some of the odd things in the world of rock ‘n’ roll the Duane Allman Coricidin bottle and the Brian May sixpence. I guess that explains why you’re one of those guys, Brian,
BOB: That sound like no other.
TOM: Yeah – you hear some of those, the way you’re playing, and you go, “Yeah, that’s Brian May.” The same way you’d go that’s Carlos Santana, or that’s Jimi Hendrix.
BM: Oh, that’s very kind of you. Thank you. Well we all – I think the great thing about the guitar is it does let people’s personality come through. You can have two guys and you’ll teach them the same chords, but they’ll come out completely differently. Everybody has a personal feel, so you, yeah, I love that. I love that in guitarists. And you know, guitarists are never really competitive with each other. They’re always going, “Ah yeah, I like that”, to each other, because we’re all different and that’s the wonder of it.
TOM: Yeah, they like sharing and showing off.
BM: Definitely. No secrets between guitarists. I love that.
TOM: Lastly, do you tend to write on a guitar, or do you sit down at a keyboard or grab a bass or . . . ?
BM: You know what, I usually write in absentia. I write when I’m not near an instrument and when I’m in a situation suddenly something will come to me and I only use the instrument to develop the idea. I find things sort of come out of the blue, and sometimes if you’re sitting with your instrument, it’s almost an obstacle, because you tend to play the same things every time you pick it up. If you’re some place else having a conversation or a drink or I dunno, walking some place, and suddenly something just blows into your mind and that’s the seed. That’s what I call them – the seeds of the idea, which are so crucial. Without the seeds you have no songs.
TOM: Do you remember the melody, or do you call your voice mail and leave yourself a message?
BM: I’ve done that. I’ve called – I have called my voice mail, yes. I usually carry, a little – some kind of little recording device – very crude – just to put just a melody down, ‘cos you do forget, and a lot of stuff comes when you’re just falling asleep and you can’t quite be bothered to get up, so I try and made a sort of a little . . .
BOB: Oh, I’ll remember that in the morning and you realise you can’t.
BM: Yeah, you don’t.
TOM: When you leave it on your voice mail, do you say “Goodbye” to yourself?
Hi Brian, it’s me Brian.
Brian, I know you have to go. Two things. Thanks for a) taking the time to talk to us, and b) thanks for all the great years of music and congratulations on the new album, “The Cosmos Rocks” – Queen Plus Paul Rodgers. We have a direct link at BobandTom.com. You can find out all about the new album by going there. Thanks Brian. What a great pleasure.
BM: Thanks Bob and Tom. Bless ya’.
BOB: Bye bye. See you later.
TOM: Well, he’s the world’s coolest guy.
BOB: Nice guy. We gotta get him in the studio.Studio: We gotta ask him if he’s bringing the tour to the States.