Before Queen took the stage and rocked New Jersey at the Izod Center, broadcaster, Eddie Trunk had the privilege to join Dr Brian May backstage for this exclusive interview.
Eddie Trunk interviews Brian May 23 July 2014 –
Eddie Trunk interviews Brian May 23 July 2014 – http://youtu.be/Z7B-gSc5lXk
TRANSCRIPT by Jen Tunney,
EDDIE TRUNK: This is Eddie Trunk, and I am joined by Dr Brian May. Good to see you Brian.
BRIAN MAY: Thanks Eddie.
EDDIE: Ah, thank you so much for the time. Just getting right into it here – how’s this all going with Adam Lambert? Has it exceeded your expectations?
BRIAN: Yeah, it’s safe to say it’s exceeded every expectation. Incredible. Can hardly believe what we’re doing really. It’s enormous and full of joy. Just so much joy and fun and, you know, it’s very much like the old days and I know Freddie would love it. I just wish he was here enjoying it. Cos Adam is in no way a copyist of Freddie, but he has so much of a similar roots of Freddie, in his personality I guess. He doesn’t have to try to be funny. He doesn’t have to try to be camp or whatever. He doesn’t have to, apparently, he doesn’t have to try to have an extraordinary voice, and I mean that is a voice beyond any expectation. I don’t think people, well some people realise you know, but I don’t think the world at large quite realises how amazing Adam is as a singer yet, and I’m not in any way biased. I would be saying this whether or not we were out touring.
That’s an incredible instrument he has and he has the dedication to be using it and developing it, just like the way Freddie did. He realises what he has and he’s utterly dedicated in a very enjoyable way. He’s great to be around, cos he’s fun, he loves it, and there’s no pretence. It’s just extraordinary for us and I think it’s made us young again, me and Roger, you know. We’ve seen a number of years, but I think we jumped in. We dedicated ourselves to it and I think Roger and I are playing better than we’ve ever played and luckily we can still do it. The bodies just about they can handle this kind of energy.
It’s a very high-energy show. I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet but…?
EDDIE: I haven’t. I’m looking forward to seeing it tonight.
BRIAN: Yeah, it’s approaching about 2 hours 20 minutes, but it’s high energy and very colourful, a range emotion, a range of style, and yeah, very much like the old days.
I’ll tell you a strange story. I met up with my old security guard a couple of weeks ago, who was with us for a few years, and he’s always followed us since, you know, he works, he does other stuff – and he said, “Ah Brian, I’ve seen a lot of shows that you’ve done. I’ve followed everything you’ve done since 1986”, and he said, “tonight I saw Queen”. I said, “Wow”. He was kind of quite emotional. He was quite cheerful, and I thought, yeah, you’re right, you did see Queen, cos all the spirit of Freddie is still in there, and John, I have to say, plus we’re still here, and then organically somehow we found this guy called Adam Lambert and he just does it. He’s like… you know, you put him in there and you don’t have to ask – you don’t have to kind of plan. He’s just the right kind to be there. It’s amazing.
EDDIE: You mentioned you and Roger are playing better than you maybe ever have, which is quite a statement considering the history of this band. Do you think that Adam plays into that? I mean I’ve seen examples like for instance I just spoke to Judas Priest recently and they have a new guitar player that’s very young in the band and they talk about how much that’s injected new life. They were considering retiring and they had this new, young, fresh blood that has just reinvigorated them.
EDDIE: Do you feel that’s kind of the same impact?
BRIAN: Absolutely, yeah. I think he’s woken us up. (laughing) Just in time.
EDDIE: So that leads to the question, where do you see this going? I mean do you want to do a record? Do you envision doing more extensive touring? As you said, you and Roger are still playing great, but obviously time stops for no one, so do you see an end for this or enjoying so much that you want to continue it?
BRIAN: You know, we live for the moment, like we always did, so I don’t know. There’s a big call to do more shows now. We’re getting a lot of calls from all round the world saying, “We hear this is incredible, it’s extraordinary, and we want this show”, so there’s a good possibility we’ll do some more shows. And I think beyond that, we’ll just see what happens, but it’s a great place to be. You know, I feel so fortunate to be going out there.
I never thought it would happen again.
When Freddie went I thought, “Nah, that’s it. We did that. It was a great life. Now it’s time to have a different one”, and for years we didn’t sort of try to be Queen in any way and I remember looking, you know, I would look at the Forum in LA and I would look at Madison Square Garden and think, “Hmm, those were the days” kind of stuff – and to come back now, all these years later and to fill those places and to hear that noise that kind of vindication of the fact that we should be playing. We should be out there treading the boards and still trying to push the envelope. It’s been great and I feel just absolutely sort of overcome with it really. And yeah, we’ll all die one day or my fingers will stop moving. (chuckles) It’s a fact, you know and it’s tough.
In the old days I could do a two hour show and not break a sweat. Now it’s tough, it’s really tough, and I spend the rest of the bl***y day trying, you know, massage the feet and the legs and knees and the glutes and these fingers. There’s a lot of inflammation in the fingers, particularly this repetitive strain thing you get in the thumb that all guitarists get. And you battle with it. You know I battle with the finger end thing. You know I’m looking really good at the moment – like leather on the end, but that took a long time to get back. Your body in some ways likes it. It’s like an exercise regime and it gets fitter and fitter, but also starts to wear out. It also starts to protest. You know, some of the things – and the fingers are stiff when I wake up in the morning. I have to do a lot of stuff to get them moving.
That being said, two hours plus on stage and we give it Hell.
EDDIE: Well, you mention two venues – iconic venues – with the Forum and Madison Square Garden, both of which you played on this tour and you’re out there in the summer right now. A lot of bands are touring. Not everybody’s doing so well and a lot of bands are in co-headline situations. You’re going out, no opening act, doing arenas, doing two hours, in America where, although Queen is certainly iconic and loved, I think every one agrees outside of America, even globally, you’re huger. I mean, it’s even a bigger thing, so it is pretty stunning that 2014, with this guy Adam Lambert, that you’re doing this sort of business.
BRIAN: Ah, ah. It is incredible and none of us take it for granted. We’re really enjoying it. It’s an amazing thing and these days I’m more connected. I do social media and stuff, you know.
EDDIE: I follow you on Twitter.
BRIAN: You do?
EDDIE: I do.
BRIAN: I enjoy that. It’s great getting people’s feedback and educational some of the time. So it’s new world and I’m very, you know, I feel very blessed to be part of it.
EDDIE: Let me ask. You talk about how you’re holding up physically. How is the guitar holding up? THE guitar. The iconic Brian May guitar. How, after all these decades, how is that holding up?
BRIAN: It’s about the same as me. (laughing) Just about making it. You know, she’s still got the power and the glory and she’s just part of my body really. Yeah, and she’s never been re-fretted.
BRIAN: I mean those are the original frets from 40 year ago. More than 40 years now. 50 years. Yeah, so there’s a kind of magic going on in there. Yeah, the guitar’s great. I have some copies, notably an Andrew Guyton one, which I use for “Fat Bottomed Girls” which is a drop D tuning, and I have one which sounds amazingly acoustic for “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, but mostly I use the original guitar and it just has it. Yeah, it still has everything it always had. It has its voice, which is my voice.
EDDIE: I was a producer on a show that you played in Vegas in 06 with Paul Rodgers in the band Rock Honours, and I remember all these bands played that if you recall, Kiss and Judas Priest and Def Leppard and everyone was wheeling in these racks of equipment and guitars and in your case came in and one guitar… (laughing)
BRIAN: That’s it.
EDDIE: … and it was almost like an aura around it. There’s the guitar. So it’s really very cool that it’s still up there with you.
BRIAN: Yeah, I love it.
EDDIE: How did the process of picking a set list come about, because there’s such a catalogue of music and now you have Adam who’s clearly a fan of the band and the history of the band – did he have input?
BRIAN: Oh yeah.
EDDIE: How did you guys… I mean there’s a lot of music to pick from.
BRIAN: Yeah. We got, there’s too many hits, as Prince would say. There’s an embarrassment of hits. We can’t play all the hits and of course, you know, it’s tough. Also you don’t just wanna play hits. You wanna play music and give yourself space to stretch out and make unique events in a sense.
So well, we just hacked it out really. We were very influenced by the fact that we’d just all of us listened to the 1974 Rainbow show, which is coming out as a DVD as you probably know and we thought, “My God, we were heavy, let’s revisit some of that”. And I think a lot of the people who’ve stayed with us all through the years remember those early days when we were heavy. It was very fast and furious, and big and the original vision. So these days, yeah, on this tour we’re doing “In The Lap Of The Gods Revisited” and “Stone Cold Crazy”…
EDDIE: “Now I’m Here” as well.
BRIAN: … at ridiculous speed. Yeah, yeah, “Now I’m Here” – a lot of the early stuff, and it’s great and I’m sort of revisiting some of the solo things I did in those days. It’s never the same, but I’m sort, it’s a kind of retro aware show, if you know what I mean. We don’t want to be stuck in the past but at the same time we treasure what we built together with Freddie and to take it to a slightly new place with renewed vigour is a thrill.
EDDIE: You talk, you mentioned “heavy” when you talk of Queen and the heaviness of music, and a large portion of my audience that I cater to the hard rock and heavy metal fans who love Queen – are you aware of the impact, you must be aware of the impact Queen and the music has had on metal bands? Metallica obviously did “Stone Cold Crazy”, but I mean bands like Testament, bands like Anthrax, Dream Theatre, on and on, they’ve all covered and talked about how much Queen impacted them. Is that surprising to you in some ways or do you see the connection?
BRIAN: It warms my heart. They’re great, ‘cos I love all that stuff, I love the heavy stuff and one of my great friends is Paul Crook and he’s always reminding me, “Hey you don’t realise what it means, you don’t realise …”. He’s great. He’s the Anthrax guy.
EDDIE: Paul’s an old friend of mine and the guy who connected us right now.
BRIAN: Did he.
EDDIE: Yeah, I’ve known Paul for ever.
BRIAN: Yeah, he’s a great guy. I love it, the fact that people got excited about us and that inspired them to do what they do. There’s no greater tribute, there’s no greater pleasure than to feel you inspire people to do great things. Very happy about that.
EDDIE: Are there any guitar players that you hear today, Brian, that you are really excited about? Any one….?
BRIAN: All the same ones that I’m always excited about I suppose, mainly. Ah – that’s a hard question, ‘cos I love listening to everybody. Everybody’s different. Ah… you see I’m always thinking of things but now you put me on the spot, it’s hard to know. See I still listen to Jeff Beck – with mouth open. (laughing)
EDDIE: That’s what you do.
BRIAN: Yes we all do, I suppose. I still love my Hendrix. I just appreciate everybody’s different thread. It’s just six strings and yet so much could be done. You know my great friend, Tony Iommi, I watch him now, whenever I get the chance, my God, the guy hasn’t even got the ends of his fingers, you know. He created Heavy Metal.
BRIAN: He is the Father of Heavy Metal.
BRIAN: He’s extraordinary to watch, and I think people… it’s great. You know they’re having a great tour at the moment and I’m very happy to see them put in the place that they should be, Black Sabbath. That’s a seminal thing. And we were all just boys, they were like were. I’m thinking of guitarists and stuff. There are so many.
EDDIE: Well you mention some great iconic one there … we could go on and on for ever.
BRIAN: So many – Joe Bonamassa is incredible and makes my heart skip a beat.
EDDIE: It’s gotta feel good for you though when you see the guys like Jeff Beck, like Tony Iommi. I just, a good friend of mine I just saw recently play and sing, Glen Hughes – what they’re doing point in their career and at their age still, it proves rock n’ roll keeps you young. I mean really remarkable that, and of course put yourself in that category, would you, that you’re playing so well? So it really I think pretty inspiring for me as a fan to see that, and I would think for you as a player to be able to still be able to get up there and see the guys you came on the scene with still doing it so well.
BRIAN: It’s great. I think every day I thank God that I’m still in the river which I thought I’d kind of been diverted away from me. You know?
BRIAN: That’s the greatest thing for me. It’s the greatest perk kind of being a successful rock player that you can interact with your heroes. So occasionally I’ve stood on a stage with Eric Clapton. You know, I’ve worked with Eddie van Halen…
EDDIE: The “Star Fleet” record. Someone asked me on Twitter to ask you will that ever come out on CD?
BRIAN: It ought to, yeah, but CDs are defunct, aren’t they?
EDDIE: Not for me. (laughing) Not for me. I’m fighting to still hold onto them. I’m still a CD guy.
BRIAN: It should do, yeah. Should do really. We talked about Paul Crook who is an amazing player who did all that stuff with Meatloaf, and he’s producing right now as well. He makes me feel pretty humble (laughing), still working at it. There’s some great bands out there. We haven’t even mentioned Joe Satriani.
EDDIE: Of course.
BRIAN: Ah…. Steve Vai.
EDDIE: You mention that you thought you would never do this again and then you did an album and a few very successful tours with Paul Rodgers, and I saw the band with Paul as well. How do you look back on that phase in the post-Freddie history of Queen?
BRIAN: I think it was very good – again we didn’t look for it. It was an organic coupling – and I think Paul remains a hero to us and he’s an incredible singer. What happened I think was that we kind of broadened ourselves and we sort of reached out towards the Blues and stuff and we wanted to accommodate what he could bring and what we could bring to each other. I think we had some great moments. But in that situation we toured long and hard. We did big, big tours, including down to South America – and by the time we got to Rio and Buenos Aries it was apparent that it was becoming, I’m not going to say ‘strained’, but it was obvious that Paul needed to have his career. Why would he give up his career just to be singing Queen songs? And in some senses it was apparent that we were in a sense pushing and pushing and pushing, but maybe it was time to just step back and take stock again.
And again we didn’t look for anyone else. We didn’t look for Adam Lambert. We didn’t look for a replacement for Paul. We just thought “Okay, that’s it, that’s done. It was great, shake hands”, you know.
EDDIE: That could have been the end right there.
BRIAN: Yeah, I didn’t imagine we would do it again. And then suddenly there is this guy out the…
EDDIE: Was your first exposure to Adam Lambert through “American Idol”? Was that the first you had heard of him?
BRIAN: Yeah. Yeah.
EDDIE: And you saw him, I’m assuming you saw him doing “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
BRIAN: Yeah. Yeah. People sent me the link and I looked at it, “Hmm I thought”
EDDIE: Were you, you know, there’s a lot who have found new singers – Journey comes to mind through Youtube and through clips like that. Were you actively kind of clicking around and looking for someone or was it just people said, “Hey, you have to check this out”.
BRIAN: Absolutely not. No, I wasn’t looking. I have a very full life and I have become an animal advocate, which takes a lot of my time and to me that’s one of the great priorities of life to try and change the world so that we treat the rest of the creatures on this planet decently. You know I have enough to do. I did return to Astronomy. I’m still active in Astronomy and Astrophysics. I do stereoscopic photography and the history of.
EDDIE: I saw photos you posted from, I believe, the Empire State.
BRIAN: Yeah, yeah, I’m very into that. I’ve published a few books on the history of stereo photography. So I don’t absolutely need to do this. But then suddenly there it was and everybody said, “You have to play with this guy, he’s perfect”. And indeed he is perfect. He comes into it with a great joy of life. He comes in with an incredible voice beyond anything I could imagine. We didn’t push it, we didn’t jump straight into it. He went off and did some stuff and he had the beginnings of his career and he’s done well, but we had the opportunity to work together, first of all in Ireland in an Awards show. We just did a couple of tracks. We did I think, “The Show Must Go On” and “Rock You” and “Champions”, something like that, and everyone went, “We-hey, you should be touring, guys. You should be doing … ”. A couple of years later here we are.
EDDIE: I’m getting the kill sign that you have to go, but two quick, final questions:
What can fans expect coming out? Anything coming out as far as new material? You mentioned the Rainbow show from ’74.
BRIAN: That’s the DVD that’s coming out before the end of the year, and we have this Queen Forever album coming out, which has some, a selection of tracks, which are a little bit unusual, from the studio albums, but also some material which people won’t have heard before like “Love Kills”, which you’ll hear in the show and which we do with Adam. It’s a reworking. I guess it’s – well, I’m excited by it, it’s different. We have song which we discovered and recorded in LA in the 1980s called “Let Me In Your Heart Again”, which nobody has heard, NOBODY. (laughs) It’s great in these days of everything being leaked all over the place – Youtube and whatever. Nobody’s heard that and I’m thrilled. You put it on, we put on the analogue multi tracks and it was just as if it was recorded yesterday, Freddie bursts out of there, I’m playing guitar, Roger’s playing drums, John’s playing bass – it’s Queen at a great moment – and I was thrilled to be able to rescue it and make it into a record. So you’ll hear that. There’s a couple of tracks with Michael Jackson, which again I’m pleased with, we’ll see how that works.
EDDIE: There’s so much I wanna ask you, but I don’t wanna hold you up from your sound check. I appreciate the time. It’s great to see you and I speak for all the Queen fans, it’s great to have you back, playing music and hearing these great songs. So thank you for the time.
BRIAN: Thank you.
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