After celebrating their 40th anniversary with an impressive slate of events, Queen will ring in 2012 with a new project that will give longtime fans something new to and help introduce their music to the next generation of music lovers.
Drummer Roger Taylor will be in Los Angeles today (Dec. 5) to judge the finals of the ‘Queen Extravaganza’ competition. The musicians and singers chosen as finalists will form the band for the planned multimedia touring experience which shall tour the United States during the spring and summer months of next year.
We spoke with Roger to get down to the nuts and bolts of ‘Queen Extravaganza,’ and we also spent some time discussing the future plans for Queen in the studio and on the road:
Congrats on the 40th anniversary of the band! I’m curious to know if you’ve taken any vacation time this year, because from everything I’ve seen, you guys have been keeping very busy!
You’re so right. Actually, no! [Laughs] I had some time in the summer, but it’s been a really busy year and next year looks like being busy as well. I thought after 40 years we deserved to rest [chuckles], but actually it’s good to work.
I want to talk about Queen Extravaganza, I like the way you’ve been careful to position this as something that’s not a traditional tribute, but instead, you’re focusing on celebrating the music of Queen and making this an event. Where did the seeds for this idea originate?
Well, I guess it was my idea. I just got really a little fed up with seeing tribute bands everywhere…not just to us, but to other bands as well. And on the whole, I would say it was a fairly cheesy experience and I really wanted a degree of excellence.
If somebody’s going to represent our music live, I’d like to see it represented with excellence and spectacularly and with really great musicianship. That’s what we’re aiming for here. You know, we were really shooting in the dark with the idea of auditioning through the internet, but it’s worked out brilliantly. I think we have 26 finalists, we’re going to put the band together next week in L.A. and they’re all excellent. I mean, the standard is so high – my breath has been taken away, literally. It’s going to be one killer band, I think.
Watching these auditions, it’s pretty clear that you haven’t had people just auditioning to get a gig. When I watch some of the drummer audition videos for example, I can tell that they grew up under the influence of your drumming. You can see it in their playing.
Yeah, absolutely. They’ve really put a lot of effort into a lot of the auditions and the guys have got great chops, talking about the drummers for instance. But yeah, it’s been really interesting and great to see so many great players out there. The guitar players are phenomenal and a lot of singers [are great], you know. It’s amazing, the talent in the bedrooms of America! [Laughs]
One of the songs that you used to audition the drummers was ‘One Vision’ and that’s quite a drumming workout. What was it like for you trying to get that one down in the studio when Queen originally recorded it?
Well, it wasn’t that bad, actually, because I think obviously it sort of organically came out of us, so it was what I sort of naturally do. I would say it wasn’t that hard, but I would say that it is not that easy [of] an arrangement to duplicate. You’ve got to count quite a lot there and it’s very rhythmic, so I thought that was a good song for a test for a drummer. But of course it was different – the vocalist had to do ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ and ‘Keep Yourself Alive,’ I think was the last guitar test.
You’re auditioning for three singers. Are those three vocalists going to share the vocal duties?
They’re going to share the vocal duties. Exactly. Freddie was a very intense performer and he had tremendous range. Also, we had the different eras of the band over those 20 years performing. So that gives us much more scope within the show to one, give people a rest and then showcase in a more spectacular way that particular singer who’s singing a particular song. I think it’s good with three.
Listening to the remasters of the Queen catalog, it really struck me how much each band member brings to the sound of the band and how all of it combines to form that blend that we know so well now. To prepare for the finals, have you assembled any sort of dream teams from the finalists to work on replicating that “blend?”
Well really, the 26 finalists, there isn’t one person that’s not capable of being in the band, so really I have to get the best mix. And I think we should be able to very strongly replicate the sound and also inject some new dynamism into it. This is going to be a real rock show – it won’t just be trudging through the catalog – they’ll be a lot of stuff that’s not so well known and obviously a lot of hits and a lot of clever, modern staging.
Plus a good amount of Queen archival material that will be part of the show as well, right?
That’s absolutely right. There will be a lot of screen visuals and the stuff that really wasn’t available to us. What you can do with screens now is phenomenal. Brian and I found out a lot since we’ve had our musical show in London which has run for 10 years. We’ve found out a lot with the different productions of that, what can be done these days with screens, etc. and visual effects. Things have moved on a lot, so I think this will be a very spectacular show.
You and Brian have been going through some demo recordings featuring Freddie for an upcoming Queen album. What era is that stuff from and what can you tell us about the plans for that project?
I’ve got to tell you, there won’t be an album. There’s just not enough and the last thing I want to do is have a sort of barrel scraping exercise. But there’s a couple of great tracks that Freddie recorded with Michael Jackson that Brian and I are working on and they are good. So at some point they will surface, I think, when we feel it’s a good moment. I don’t really want to ride any sort of wave there. So that’s an interesting thing, but that will be probably later some point next year.
These new reissues had quite a bit of bonus material attached. Is there a chance we might eventually see a full on rarities box set?
I would guess that the record companies will almost certainly bring pressure to make that happen, yeah. [Laughs] It sounds like a lot of work to me.
I was curious how much stuff there might be in the vaults that fans haven’t heard.
There is some stuff, actually. But I really feel that it has to pass muster, you know? I don’t want to put out [just] anything. We were very careful with some of the bonus stuff. Some of it we said “oh no, that really isn’t interesting or good enough,” so we didn’t let it out. I don’t really want to be seen to be cashing in.
As famous as they were, it was really cool to hear those first album demos finally.
Yeah, that was interesting. I thought they had a freshness which actually the first album didn’t have, to be honest. I’ve never been a big fan of the production on that album. I thought they had a freshness that wasn’t on [the album], a more open drum sound, etc. that really wasn’t on that first album of ours.
Wrapping up, what are the thoughts about any potential Queen shows in the future?
Well actually, we did a thing for MTV Europe – the VMA Awards, about two weeks ago. We did three or four songs at the end of the show with Adam Lambert, who has really matured and has become an incredible performer. I think Brian and I will very possibly be doing something with Adam, because he’s really great. His range is unequaled, I think, and his stage presence is really quite something these days. He’s a phenomenal performer and it went very well, so that was very interesting, actually. We would hope to be doing something with Adam at some point.