Interviews: Brian May: Paul Cashmere '98
By Paul Cashmere, from www.undercover.net
Queen's Greatest Hits albums to this date makes up a large chuck of classic rock radio's playlist. Not a day can go by without radio playing hits like Bohemian Rhapsody, Another On Bites The Dust or We Will Rock You.
While the charismatic Freddie Mercury fronted the band and absorbed most of the publicity, the behind the scenes support from Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon really fuelled the group.
Freddie wrote the pop songs, but it was guitarist Brian May who was the grunt behind the group, and composer of many of their guitar driven rock songs like Hammer To Fall.
Not long after Freddie's death in 1991, May released his first solo album, but it has taken him six years to follow it up, with Another World. Now that the new solo album is out, May is also gearing up for a world tour. He spoke with Undercover Executive Producer, Paul Cashmere.
Do you still remember a lot of your early gigs, like for instance The Hordern Pavilion in Sydney in 1975.
Brian: Oh yeah, wow, I remember it well. I not only remember it, but I remember going to it because we got stuck in traffic on the way there and outside of it Fred went beserk. It was brilliant, great memories.
In your liner notes on the cover of the new album Another World, you say the last six years haven't been so smooth for you. What exactly did you mean by that?
Brian: There were a lot of bumps. I don't think anybody gets away for free. There were a lot of bumps and stuff. When you are really at the bottom of the bumps, you are not very capable of doing anything, you know. But then you get it on a rise, and you get to a place where things start to happen. So I wrote a lot of this stuff on the upwards part of the curves.
The opening lines of the first song read "I'm going to make a little space around me so nobody can come in". How protective have you got with your life?
Brian: That's a little piece of therapy actually. I am fairly protective of being an ordinary person if you know what I mean. That matters a lot to me. I have kids and I need to live a fairly ordinary life. It is important for me to be able to step out of the sort of rock and roll world and be a person. The thing that you are talking about, the beginning of the album which is called Space comes from a friend of mine who does linguistic programming. It sounds like something to do with a computer but it is actually alternative psycho therapy. It is based on very simple experimental principals and what they do is they reprogram your mind so that you are not scared of things. It's like any problem that you have is in your mind so they will re-program your mind so that it doesn't perceive it in the same way. It's a technique that works pretty well. This space thing is one of them. If something is hurting you, you put an imaginary clearing around yourself, until you have enough space to breathe and then you get on with your life.
Brian May, Have you had a few really rough years then?
Brian: I find life pretty difficult in general. It's not that I'm ungrateful. I had a lot of good stuff. Queen was a lot of good stuff and I've been very fortunate to have a career since. It's not the work side of it. This business unscrews you a bit, it unhinges you, but I find it very hard to deal with the day to day kind of emotional pressures of relationships. Just the whole emotional world.
Would you have gone through all of these pressures if Queen didn't end so suddenly?
Brian: I don't know. I think I was always like that to be truthful. I think I go around with no skin on for some reason. It was pretty hard, Queen ending, but I'm very happy being without Queen now. I like being free. I like knowing I can go anywhere I like, I can explore any musical territory I want and I don't have to argue about it with anyone. It's the personal stuff. And the personal stuff is always hooked up with what I write, so in an indirect way, I'm kind of painting from life on the album, which is what I always do I suppose.
Are the songs from Another World a compilation of songs you have written over the last six years, or are they songs who wrote recently for the album?
Brian: It's a long time isn't it. They were written all through the period. I wrote a lot more than you hear on the album. I think that's part of the process. You have to be happy with them yourself. So I threw a lot of stuff off and just focused on the ones that were relevant towards the end.
You have recorded some interesting covers for this album.
Brian: The covers are leftovers from the way I perceived the album about four years ago. I was working on the album as a way of getting back to my roots in a way. I figured that I had all that time with Queen and it was very inveloping. You never had time to think about anything else really. It was totally self consuming. Then I made this great leap into a solo career with Driven By You and Too Much Love Will Kill You. I then toured the world as me with my own band. Then I thought that I had made a step into freedom. But what had happened was I had to come back and step right back into the Queen camp and wear the Queen hat to do this Made In Heaven album. It was an enormous task and it took about two years out of my life. In the end I thought who the hell am I, I don't even remember what got me into this business. I started to revisit all the stuff that got me excited as a kid. Stuff like Buddy Holly and Little Richard, Elvis and a whole load of stuff. I was actually making that stuff, you know like Jimmy Hendrix. It was going to my album. (I assume you are still listening, because I ramble hahahaha). So, I almost made a complete album on that basis, based on the fact that a lot of people were asking me to make tributes at that time. Particularly the Hendrix thing and the Mott The Hoople thing. They were both made originally for tribute albums. Then about the time that Queen Rocks came about, I wore my Queen hat again, No-One But You which was a song for this album became a Queen song for that album, which I think is going to be to last Queen song ever to be truthful. Then I lost it for this album. Suddenly I didn't have my important track which was about Freddie as a hero. So then I ditched the whole concept. Then I starting thinking that I have to zero in and I have to work on my own stuff and focus on my own journey. I think that's how music really has some value. When you start exposing your feelings in an honest way. That's what I did.
Was No-One But You with Freddie or did you write that after Queen?
Brian: I wrote it a long time after Freddie. It was in my mind for a long time. In fact, it was in my mind for a long time. That's one of the things that has been around for a few years, but the problem would have been that the album would seem like it would be still retrospective. The album has been cleared of all the good looking stuff in a sense. It's a Queen free zone.
Not only have you had to deal with Freddie's death, but also the tragedy of the death of Cozy Powell in recent months.
Brian: Yeah, that was a horrible shock. It was just a tragedy. I don't think any of us could believe it because he was used to just bowling in here. He would come and do things and come and cheer us all up, that guy. He was full of energy and full of positive vibes. He will be very badly missed.
You and he were obviously planning on working together for some time.
Brian: Yeah that's right. We had it all arranged. We were going to go out on tour together in September. I know he was really up for it. The last message I got from him was "you know I'm really up for this". He had just heard the album and he said it was even better than he expected and that he couldn't wait to take it out on the road. Then the next thing I heard, he was dead in the crash. It was unbelievable. You know what, you never know what's around the corner, do you!
Now let's got on to your first ever solo effort. Tell us how a television commercial was the catalyst for your solo career.
Brian: It was a kind of fortunate thing. A lot of stuff tends to happen in my life by accident. I had just met these guys one day beside a swimming pool and they asked if I had ever made music for a commercial. I told them no, and they asked me if I wanted to and I said "no" beaming "I don't think so". I considered it something purely commercial and not artistic. They then said `listen, what have you got to loose. We'll throw a phrase at you see what you come up with". So I said "OK, I'll try it" just as an exercise. And it happened very easily. They threw "everything we do is driven by you" at me. To them it was about motor cars, but to me it was about relationships. So I wrote my own song and their song in parallel. And it worked out well. It was kind of like a liberation. I find things like that are great triggers. So all the stuff on this album, the Another World album is triggered by other stuff, like a film or a TV series, something that someone else has asked me to do. And then halfway through I found I was almost speaking my own mind.
Your Brixton album was released in (Australia). I was amazed by the amount of old Queen songs that you still do live.
Brian: I did at that time and I think I'll still take some Queen songs with me on this tour in September. I hope to take it down to Australia. That would be great.
You were always the guy at the side of Freddie. What's it like being the guy out the front of the band?
Brian: It's damn good. Strangely enough, it's not that I was ever unhappy. In fact, I was very happy in Queen most of the time. It was always a great release and I felt very free. Freddie really took the burden of being that link with the audience. But now that I'm in the centre, I find it's a whole lot of fun. It's an amazing feeling to be able to communicate directly with people. You can look much closer into their eyes and feel like you are in a two way connection. It's very exciting. It's unbelievable really.
Can I congratulate you as the person who has written the world's most sexist song Fat Bottom Girls.
Brian: Hahahahaha Thankyou.
Who was the inspiration?
Brian: A lot of people really. There is a kind of a mixed history to that song really. I can't even tell you some of the stuff that's in there. It's a mixture of various kinds of people. But, I guess, positive feelings of people who surround the business. I'm not always talking about sex, you know. But sometimes it is. It's about people who give comfort and support and make the whole business go around.
What about another one of your songs - We Will Rock You. I don't think you can turn on the radio and not hear it everyday. It's such an anthem.
Brian: I think I better come back to Australia quick. It came very quickly. It was after an experience we had with an audience. It was fairly early on in our history. We used to like people to sit and damn well listen to the songs, you know. We weren't a dance band or a sing along group. Then suddenly, people would start to sing along with the songs and they would sing everything. In the beginning we thought "oh god, what are we going to do about this, its annoying". After a little while, we realized that that was how people felt and it kind of felt good if you actually conditioned yourself that way. One evening we finished a concert and we went off. It was actually in Birmingham in England. And the audience sang to us a kind of a football song or whatever, you know. It was a very moving experience. Freddie and I looked at each other and thought something important has just happened here, and we should embrace it rather than fight it. We both went away and starting writing with the idea that we would involve the audience deliberately. And Freddie wrote We Are The Champions and I wrote We Will Rock You. I think I woke up about three in the morning and I heard the initial beat in my head and I thought that's what an audience could do. They could sing something along to it, something that was a kind of uniting feeling. That's what happened. We did it very quickly in the studio. Roger thought it was a joke because there was no drums on it.
The movie Waynes World bought Queen to the younger generation. What did you think of the Bohemian Rhapsody scene?
Brian: I thought it was great. It was very fortunate for us because it did put us right in the middle of a new generation in The States. I thought it was very funny, very well done. Strangely enough, we did similar things, but we didn't take ourselves al that seriously. We took our work seriously, but we didn't take ourselves seriously. Freddie in particularly had a wicked sense of humor. If that song came on the radio with us in the car, we would have done the same thing, bouncing around to it.
There was an album that came out a few years ago, Queen Dance Trax. Did you ever hear that or have anything to do with that and what did you think of it if you did?
Brian: That's three separate questions (laughs). Yes, I did hear it and No we didn't have anything to do with it and actually, I think it's OK. A lot of people got upset with it and said "how could you allow this thing to happen". In my mind, if people do your stuff, it's the greatest compliment you can have. And there were some things on it that I enjoyed. I found it stimulating. It's not the sort of CD I would have on in my car for the most part. I enjoyed it for what it was. There were some good honest performances in there.
The song with George Michael Somebody To Love was a major hit for Queen. The press ran riot with stories at the time that he would have been a great new lead singer for Queen. Was there ever a consideration that you would replace Freddie?
Brian: To be honest, no! There was a lot of hullabaloo in the press about that, but it was purely manufactured by them. No, we were good friends with George and we still are. He is a fabulous artist and singer but he has a very different direction from us. It wouldn't work. He's on his own path. To be honest, between the three remaining members, between Roger, John and I, we have every different paths anyway. I wouldn't want to be in Queen at this moment. It would be like putting the shackles back on in a sense. I would not want to do that.
Brian May's new album Another World is out now through EMI Records