Brian May's "Star Fleet Project" with Eddie Van Halen

Source: - 1993

Submitted by: Art Van-Delay

Star Fleet Project, a three-cut mini-album credited to Brian May &Friends, documents the rare airing of two rock's foremost guitarist in aninformal jam setting: Brian May of Queen and Eddie Van Halen, winner of BestRock Guitarist in this issue's Readers Poll. The sessions took place in LosAngeles on April 21 and 22, 1983, three month after Brian's Guiatr Player coverstory. Also in attendance were Alice Cooper keyboardist Fred Mandel, REOSpeedwagon drummer Alan Gratzer, and Phil Chen, bassist for the Rod Stewartband. "Star Fleet", the project's single, contains brief example of May'slayered guitar technique, a signature sound on many Queen hits. May and VanHalen swap hot blues solos in "Let Me Out" and "Blues Breaker", which total 20minutes. Here Brian shares his thoughts on his album and forthcoming video.

I hope people will take Star Fleet Project [Capitol, MLP 15014] in the spirit inwhich it was done. It wasn't made for release in the beginning, but I think itshould be fun for some poeple to listen to. All the mistakes were left in; I'veeven written that on the album. I wanted to leave the rough edges because I wantpeople to feel like they were there. I didn't want it to sound like it had beenworked on and messed around with too much.

The musicians on the project are some of the best friends I have in thebusiness, and also the people I respect most from a playing point of view. Iasked them if they would come in and play around with me. They all said, "Yeah,we'd like to". Luckily, they all had a little break in their schedules, and theycould come in. This project brought out unusual things in all of us; we reallyworked on each other a lot. This is not Edward and me, but Phillip, too. He'svery different style of bassist from what I've been used to. He is one of theoriginators of a style. I've always watched him and thought it would beinteresting to play with him because he has this very percussive style whichyou'd almost think wouldn't fit into rock'n'roll, but, in fact, it propels italong. He's very good. I've known Alan for quite a while, but I had no idea whatit would be like to play with him. When you hear people's record, you have noidea, really, what they would be like to play with. But it was great. theincredible thing about him is his consistency. He could go for 12 hours, and ifyou picked up his tempo from the begining, it would be the same as the end. He'slike a rock, particularly on the blues thing where you just feel that soliditywhich gives the track a sort of integrity. I really like that.

There weren't any rehearsals, except that we played around at each other'shouses a little bit, acoustically. I'd been to Edward's studio in his home, andI played a little with him - nothing very organized. I value Edward's friendshipmore than anything, really. I have total respect for him as a player, but what'simportant to me is that we're good friends. I wanted to make sure I didn't wasteanybody's time, so I did a little bit of preparation. I made a rough demo of theformat of "Star Fleet", which originally was a theme tune for a Saturday morningscience fiction serial for kids in England. There were just a couple of versesof this song on the end, which really caught my imagination, so I tried to getin touch with the guy who had written the song, Paul Bliss, and couldn't at thetime. So I pressed on and did some arrangement around a couple of verses andwrote extra middle bit for it. Later I got in touch with him, and he said it wasa pity that I coudn't find him in the early days because he's got some moreverse in the middle - which I'm dying to hear - but it was too late for theproject. My song does follow his musical theme, and I used the verse he wrote.He's a keyboard player who has done a lot of writing for various people.

When we recorded this, we went into the studio about 12:00 midday. We alreadyknew rought what we wanted to do because we talked about it, and played them acouple of demos. We worked till about 11:00 at night. A lot of it was talkingrather than playing, but we did a lot of playing, too. There's a lot of stuffwhich isn't on the album, obviously, but I think the most listenable music isthere. There isn't much else that you would call "songs" on the rest of it. It'sjust a lot of playing around, a lot of different rhythms. I don't think it wouldbe of as much interest. "Star Fleet" was done on the first day. I thought it wasthe most adventurous and ambitious thing to try. We were very up and full ofnervous tension. I think you can tell by the way we played. We all didn't knoweach other, and it was very electric. Everyone looked at each other and waswondering what the hell was going to happen next - very funny. I went hometotally exhausted with a splitting headache, but very happy.

The next day we all knew each other, and it was much more relaxed. We did"Let Me Out" and then a lot of blues jamming around and a few other bits andpieces. I used the guitar I always use, which I made with my father years ago. Ididn't have my whole pedalboard business. I just had a couple of Vox Ac-30 ampsand a Boss (Chorus Ensemble) pedal to stereoize them, which is the way I like toplay these things. So generally in the mix you hear me in stereo on the left andright through those two amps, and Edward in the middle with his echo floatingaround each side. That will proably help you figure it out. If you hear it onhead phones, it's very obvious who does what: My stuff is in each ear, andEdward's in the middle. At the end of one song, one of my amp blew up, so I hadto put me on one side and him on the other. And the amp was brand new! Ed wasplaying his regular guitar - the original red one - and a Marshall top and aMarshall cabinet. He has slightly more edge to his sound than mine, which issort of thick. There is very little vibrato bar from either of us.

In a way, Eddie's and my playing sound much more alike here than it does withour respectives bands, particularly on the blues stuff. Electric blues is whereI came from originally. Way before Queen formed, I used to play blues. One of myfirst inspirations was Eric Clapton on that John Mayall Blues Breakers album(London, LC50009), the one with the Beano comic book on the cover. The same withEddie. We got to taking about that, and that's where the "Blues Breakers" trackcame from. That was totally unplanned. We were just talking about thosesessions, and what it must have been like in those days when everything was abit freer and easier. We started kicking around those little riffs which are abit like Blues Breakers, and just let the tape roll as we played around.Although "Star Fleet" was sort of structured, I wanted to have a bit ofarrangement and a little bit of trading off together, and then I wanted to giveEdward a place to just let loose. It was built around wanting to have this bitwhere I could just lay down the chords, and he would let loose in the middle.That track begins with Edward doing fingerboard tap. Later on he does the linewith harmonics, and I layered in the harmony guitar parts. Then at the end, wedid a climb together. That was a great feeling, because we just stood on eachside of the board and worked out roughly how it should be. We said we have tostart here and end up there - go up in more or less semitones, but get to theright place at the right time. That was fun - he played his better than I playedmine!. The song fades and then starts up again, which was completelysponteneous. Edward has this thing that ha can never stop playing (laughs). Soevery time everybody else thought we'd finished, he'd be going, "chack, chacka,chack, chack". So those plucked chords there are his. He's just so inspiringit's ridiculous.

There was no overdubbing at all, except to produce the harmony guitar on"Star Fleet". I didn't want to overdub because I wanted to preserve the originalfeel. We kept everything. There's a place where Edward breaks a string towardsthe end of "Let Me Out". First of all, we thought, "Well, should we do somethingabout that?" And then I thought, "No, it's great because nobody has ever heardthat on a record before". There's all sort of talking to each other that you canhear if you listen very carefully, and bits where we slip around. I don't thinkit's a matter for concern. I would rather leave that in there and keep itoriginal.

I worked on "Star Fleet" a little to make a single version. I wanted to havesomething which was instantly accessible, so I made a little introduction on thesingle version instead of sort of long preamble on the mini-album. So the singlegets into the song very quickly, and it lasts about half the length. I made itto tell people about the album. I've been working very hard on making a videofor "Star Fleet". The people who made the series, which originally was Japanese,heve very kindly given me access to footage that I'm using. We're putting awhole little story together using the original shots of theirs. I'm also tellingthe story - a sort of figure who appears, a background narrator. It's amazinghow long it takes. I've been working on the Queen material and trying to dothat, and it's nearly killing me. But I'm very enthusiastic about the way it'sturned out, because I love the series and want people to be able to share thefeeling of that, too. It's great stuff. The hero of the piece is called Shiro,who is the chief pilot of Star Fleet. And he flies along with his friends, threelittle space rockets which detach from the main X-bomber. At one point whenethings get really bad - when he's under fire from the enemy - the three modulesjoin up to form one and become this robot which is controlled by him. The robotcan go down and fight on land. He smashes tanks with his fists, fires torpedoes,stamps on stuff with his feet, and all kind of things. It blows my mind. It'smost amazing the way it's put together. The models are incredible. My experienceworking on the soundtrack for Flash Gordon came in handly for this. It's verysimilar, actually. I think I should go into this full-time.

There weren't any reservations from the other musicans as far as releasingStar Fleet Project. Everyone was very positive and has been wonderful to me. Inthe begining I didn't want to put it out because I thought it was private, and Ididn't know if it would be in good taste to release it. I played it to a fewwfriends, and they said, "Really, you should, because a lot of people would liketo hear this stuff". So I spoke to each other of the guys individually, and theyall said, "Hey, do what you want with it. We'll be happy". The only thing whichwas really hard was getting the paper-work done. These days people's contractsare such complete maze. It took literally a couple of months to get through allthe paper-work that was necessary from management and record companies. Andthat's with the best will in the world; nobody was trying to make it difficult.Queen was leaving Elektra at the time, which was the final piece we had to getinto place before we could put anything out. It's a big headache, but I thinkit's worth it. I want people to know that this is just a one-off thing, a pieceof fun. It's not like anyone's leaving their group or anything; there's no hintof that. We're all very much involved with our bands activities. This was just alittle trip out.