Interviews: Brian May: Steve Gett '82
Steve Gett talking to Brian May
Queen had recently finished the UK section of their "Hot Space" tour. The actual recording of Hot Space was the longest period Queen had spent in the studio to make an album.
Brian: From beginning to end it took about nine months. But we weren't in there solidly - we did a few tours in between. The actual recording-time was between four and five months. Quite a long time really.
SG: Recording in phases was following a similar format to The Game wasn't it?
Brian: Yes, it seemed to work well so we thought we'd try it even more for this one. But it didn't work out as well as we expected, because every time we went in we recorded new stuff. We'd get fed up with the old material and so in the end, about seven months down the line, we still hadn't got beyond the backing track stage. We must have had about 25 different pieces. It was getting ridiculous, so we had to consolidate and ruthlessly go through everything and pick out the songs that went best together. The good thing that came out of it was that we had a chance to actually pick a direction. Having done some of this funk based stuff, we thought we'd make an issue of it and do the thing properly - so that's more or less the contents of the first side.
SG: Do you consider that a bold step?
Brian: Yes, we knew it was a risk. But we're not really in this business to be safe. There's not much point.
SG: Do you think that Queen has ever been a particularly safe band?
Brian: We never felt that we would repeat a formula. The closest we ever came was with "A Night At The Opera" and "A Day At The Races". Those two albums were very similar. But that's just because we couldn't stop. All that very heavily arranged stuff came out in one lot - those two albums you could treat together. But I think every step before that and afterwards was a risk to some extent. But I'm surprised people have made such a fuss about this being such a big step. When you live with something though, you don't realise - you gradually evolve.
SG: Who's got the real funk leanings in the band?
Brian: I'd say Freddie and John mostly. John's had this thing about black bass players for a long time, which is where "Another One Bites The Dust" came from. Freddie's always been keen on Aretha Franklin and those sort of people. He's also spend a lot of time in New York nightclubs, and he became more and more influenced by material that had a real aggressive rhythm to it.
SG: How did you react to this style of music, and was it in your nature to go with it?
Brian: It's funny - it's a different world. Initially it was very hard for me to come to terms with it because when I started growing up as a guitarist, all the guitar playing I wanted to get away from was that soul stuff. I felt I didn't want the guitar to be a backing instrument - I wanted it to be upfront and on a level with the vocals. Basically a leading instrument. So my first reaction was to say that I didn't want to play it. But then as you become more exposed to it you see it in a different light. Gradually I became accustomed to it and realised that there was something there, even though I'd rejected it for a few years.
SG: How did you manage to combine it with rock?
Brian: Well, I don't know that I have succeeded yet. It's very much at the experimental stage as far as I'm concerned as a guitar player. We always fall out on albums, but we fell out on this LP because I only regarded the exercise as being worthwhile as long as we were doing something different - taking the funk music into a different area. I wanted to have it as a kind of fusion - which is a horrible, pretentious word - but a sort of meeting place; where we come from, which is the hard rock background, and where this stuff comes from. I wanted to blend the two.
SG: Do you think you managed to achieve that?
Brian: On some things I think we did. But on others I felt we went too far towards reproducing the funk style rather that doing our own version of it. And that's where the arguments came. A lot of it comes down to the mix.
SG: Are you saying that you're not altogether happy with the album?
Brian: I don't think any of us is ever happy with all of an album. There are a few mixes on this one which I would have done differently had it just been me producing. But it's not - it's the four of us. And it's a democratic arrangement. Generally, if we can come to a solution by argument we do, but if not then the author of the song has the final say. There are some things on the album which I felt came out too light, that's all.
SG: Such as?
Brian: Ahh... Body Language. There's a lot of things where I felt that we became so obsessed with the rhythm side that we were afraid to turn up the guitars. Afraid to use the guitar as a force.
SG: So what happens next time? Do you carry on where you left off or try something else?
Brian: I don't know. We just go back in the studio and argue again probably! But we've learnt how to stop. We don't get to the point of blows anymore, as we did a few times in the past. We know each other well enough to know which way the argument's going to go. A lot of things can be unsaid, yet understood.
SG: Are you sometimes surprised that you've remained together?
Brian: Yes, I think each of us thinks of leaving quite a lot. But we all know that even though we might get our own way if we left, we'd still lose something. We'd just lose more than we'd gain at the moment. It's a stimulating environment and because we don't always agree it's good for us.
SG: Cynics might suggest that you're only sticking it out because you're commercially successful.
Brian: I think that comes into it, but it's not a major consideration nowadays, because the money's not a major factor. We've probably got enough to be able to do what we want to, to be honest. It's not the driving force. At the beginning, htat 'success sign' is above your head, no matter who you are. You think you want to succeed and money is part of that. But ten years down the line it's very different. You want recognition but the fact of being a commercial success isn't live or die.
SG: How do you get on as four people?
Brian: Very well... except in the studio!!