Interviews: Brian May: Gitarre und Bass '98
Brian May was the guitarist of Queen - and will be it most probably forever to the fans of the English bombastic rockers. But that he was more than sideman in the shadow of Freddie Mercury he shows once again on his new solo album 'Another World'
The story of the band Queen, founded 1971 originally under the name of Smile, maybe known well enough and ended with the deafh of vocalist Freddie Mercury in November 1991. That 20 years Queen can't be wiped of easily, is obvious when you listen to Brian May's solo albums, and this is also true for the new disc "Another World". More autonomy show the (hard)rocking tracks, on the other hand again and again there are typical Queen-ingrediences like e.g. multilayered background choires. However, that does not tell much about the quality of music. And here we have to confirm that it turns out to be a successful classic rock album that shows why he is one of the most important guitarists in rock history. His play in combination with an absolutely characteristic guitar sound are still unique. In connection with this there are lot of legends about May's selfbuilt guitar, which he built together with his father, a talented hobby craftsman. Only the pickups have been replaced later - the self coiled ones showed problems with the magnets. Astounding is the - again self created - vibrato that works in principle like a Bigsby-system. And remarkable is in regard of May's fat sound that he still uses a thin .008 set of strings.
Also important for the Brian May sound are the Vox AC30 amps used by him. An extended interview with the guitarists can be reread in G&B 03/93, information about his tour equipment are found in G&B 02/94. The interview: Brian May (50), father of three and a passionate collector of antique fotographs from the middle of last centure, is an openminded and polite man, who told in detail about himself in the following talk:
Brian (flipping through a copy of G&B and discovers Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath in an ad): Ah, Tony!
G&B: You know him?
Brian: Yes, very well. He is one of my few real friends in the business.
G&B: Do you know what he is doing at the moment?
Brian: He rehearses with Black Sabbath and Ozzy. I think he is underestimated very much in one way.
G&B: But as a guitarist he's highly popular among young musicians right now.
Brian: I was thinking on the business side. People don't play Black Sabbath tracks on the radio and don't know it's good music; they still think it's satanism and noise.
G&B: Let's talk about you: The last interview with Guitar & Bass took place five years ago. What have you done in the meantime?
Brian: Most of all I worked on my new solo album. The biggest thing was the last Queen album 'Made In Heaven'. We did not talk to much about what we were doing there. The album is something like a simulation of what we would have done if Freddie, Roger John and me would have been together. And it was very difficult and the more a long time project. We definitely wanted to finish the material so that people can hear it. Than we recently worked on the compilation 'Queen Rocks' where I spent a lot of time to put together the best material. One problem was the decay that had started at the original tapes. People don't always know about this problem. In principle the life of a tape is limited. And if you make a copy it is the question if the copy really is the same as the original. It's fascinating. Until not long ago everyone thought everything would be safe if you copy it digitally. In the meantime we learned that you lose information when copying from analog to digital which you can't get back. And the other thing is that everyone thought the digitals would be very stable, but it isn't. These tapes disintegrate quicker than the analog tapes. It's a catastrophe if the machine can't read the information.
G&B: Did you also work as a producer within the last years?
Brian: More as a musician than as a producer. I did some music for film and TV and playd with various people in the studio. Last year I decided finally to bring out my album. In my head I constantly worked on this album. Some tracks on the album are already six or even ten years old. If someone brings an idea up to me and my blood starts to boil I write the song very quickly. While working on it I realize that the song heads into a totally another direction than originally thought. I always find things in myself which I want to pack into the music.
G&B: You're in the music business for a long time. What has changed for you in the way of producing?
Brian: Techniques have changed a lot. You can spend a whole life on one note, if you want to. But than you loose the view for the whole picture. To me it's a balance: Sometimes I want to see each wave in a singing line and then I need some time to remember that I have to deal with a song and a singer.
G&B: With 'One Rainy Wish' you choose a rather exceptional song by Hendrix as a cover version. How come?
Brian: That was done consciently because I did not want to descend upon 'Little Wing' well knowing that the original is unbeatable in any sense. 'One Rainy Wish' is a fascinating little picture Hendrix painted, it's like a dream. I thought I could do with it something I've never done before. (May recorded the track already for the Hendrix tribute album 'In From The Storm', ed.'s remark).
G&B: Another cover on your album is All The Way From Memphis' by Mott The Hoople.
Brian: Yes, somebody asked me if I would not like to do a song from them (May played the song for a Mott-The-Hoople-tribute album before; the editor). They influenced Queen very much. We were on tour with them, and this was our first experience towards that. We learned from them what it means to be on stage. They kept contakt to the audience which was pretty unusual at that time. Most people just stood on the stage, played for themselves and took a nap. And if the music was over the audience was happy. But Mott The Hoople were different, they gave everything on stage and in my opinion they were a wonderful rock'n'roll band. They understood everything: The necessity to communicate, the sounds, the visual side; they knew that you need a fix form for a good show. We were prepared in theory at that time, they went into praxis. That song of them we recorded like a live track.
G&B: Was the rest of the album done the same way?
Brian: The only track we really recorded live is 'Slow Down' which I have played with my old band. Otherwise I had a plan, a frame to which people should play. I found a friend and a fiend in the computer. It is a friend because you can write wonderfully with it. For the album I spent most time with e.g. programming a good drum track. The track had of course not been used but instead of describing Cozy Powell (who sadly died in an accident in April; ed.) what he should play he heard it directly. But a computer can also be terrible because you can become obsessed and spend your whole life with it.
G&B: On one song Jeff Beck is playing...
Brian: Jeff is unpredictable and that is great. He surely had some influence on the track. Originally it was meant for a film which never was shot. That happened to me more often.
G&B: Do you think people still see you 'only' as the Queen guitarist who has made another solo album?
Brian: I really don't know how listeners will see me. Queen is big plus and a big minus: Through Queen people know me and will finally listen. But many think they know in advance what they will hear on my album. But what I do here is really different from Queen. I hope people will see it as a fresh album. To me the important thing is the song, the feeling and that music touches people. First comes the song, then the singing and third finally the guitar playing.
G&B: With some tracks of the new album I got the feeling you represent something like the heavy side of Queen. The songs partially are much more guitar orientated then the Queen albums of the last years.
Briand: Yes, on 'Made In Heaven' were nearly only ballads. Not there are guitar tracks again. I love the power of guitar.
G&B: Are there music or band within the last time that impressed you?
Brian: No, not many. I like the Foo Fighters. They are very honest, fresh, musical and very imaginative. (Brian ponders) I like the album of All Saints, an English girl group. They sound different from the Spice Girls, very soulful. Thitney Houston also is incredible. I don't like these BritPop stuff. I think there is more in a Spice Girls album as far as e.g. songwriting is concerned.
Retranslated from German by Livia (r_special)