Interviews: Roger Taylor: Rockstyle Magazine '94
Roger Taylor, drummer of Queen, who becomes a singer when he goes it alone, is a happy man. With "Happiness?", his new solo album, he continues to express himself. A new Queen album will also render the last homage to Freddie Mercury. A few hours before this interview, he became father to a little girl. You'll know it all in reading what follows...
Rockstyle: "Happiness?" is the title of your new solo album... an immense programme isn't it?
Roger: I hope that it's a good title. I think that it's in harmony with the simple truths that I've tried to find. I really wanted to write a very personal album.
Rockstyle: This albums suggests that you have found a certain inner peace. Is this the case?
Roger: I really think so. Certain bits reflect this sentiment. There are a lot of optimistic sides, some other more tense atmospheres; in fact lots of different feelings. The album is like that too because I'm maturing!
Rockstyle: Are you getting better with age?
Roger: I would like to believe so! Everyone gets older and it's true on my part. I can only hope to improve with time and progress. For me, "Happiness?" is the best work I've done individually. It is fundamentally a very individual work and each piece has it's own identity. I think that the result would have been very different if I had worked in a group.
Rockstyle: You had your own group "The Cross". What has happened to it?
Roger: That goes back some years now. This group doesn't exist now however, and "Happiness?" is truly a solo album in the sense that it is really very, very personal.
Rockstyle: One of "Thes Cross'" albums is called "Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know", a motto by Lord Byron. Are you still mad, bad and dangerous to know?
Roger: I don't know, but I hope so firmly!
Rockstyle: What feelings have you expressed through "Happiness?"
Roger: A multitude of feelings in that there's not much difference between each one. I have put in all that I felt when I was writing them and I wanted the words to be as direct as possible. I believe that a certain form of beauty is expressed through elementary truths. It is what I wished to express. Now, from a musical point of view, it is true that I've tried to do a bit of research and the result sometimes seems a little complex, because there are lots of elements which come into play. But I hope that those melodies are taken directly by the listener and that they are expressive enough.
Rockstyle: Have you really experienced each of the different moods that are reflected in the 11 titles of the album?
Roger: Yes, certainly, because all have been written at different times. In all cases, what you write must reflect your mood at that moment. That to me seems indispensable. I am a musician in my soul; it's what I do for my living, and music is my best means for expression. I could also have been a writer, but it happens that I express myself better in words and music. So whatever it is, I don't know the best way to fulfil myself.
Rockstyle: In this album, you are again singer and guitarist...
Roger: I've effectively played a bit of guitar on the album, but mainly rhythm, because Jason, my main guitarist is literally amazing and brilliant. Also, I have let him evolve in his way on the record. He has an excellent touch. My principal objective was to concentrate to the maximum on my voice, because it is, in my opinion the best means I have to give out to the best the feeling of my compositions.
Rockstyle: One of the lyrics of this album risks causing a lot of noise...
Roger: You want to talk about "Nazis" eh?! I believe that it is a real problem that must be put in light, especially for the young. It is one of the main dangers that exist in today's society and particularly in Europe of all places. I wanted to write something simple and direct which gives the main idea, one which repeats throughout the whole song. In my opinion the repetition fixes firmly the idea in people's heads. This sentence that continually comes back is "They say that it never happened". To think that of the holocaust is purely and simply outrageous. How can they be stupid enough to think that? The general atmosphere of "Nazis" is cold and without feeling. That's at least what I wanted to create. The only emotions that we can set against these people are the strongest emotions. That's all there is which can stand against them.
Rockstyle: Do you think that the fight against this "plague" must be maintained by providing information to the young generations?
Roger: Yes, I'm convinced of it. People have a tendancy to trivialize this sad time in history and it is really important that the youngest among us are able to rise up against that. I have given my personal point of view on the question: that is all I can do. In all I have been tempted to make an album which expresses my deep feelings rather than a record which follows the trend of the moment. I have not tried to produce as many singles as possible, even though I know that Queen did that quite well. I thought that being OK with myself, people would be able to like it.
Rockstyle: The fact of having been a member of a group as popular as Queen is an advantage or an inconvenience for your solo career?
Roger: There are both aspects! It was a marvellous period I must say. With the two other members of Queen I'm continuing to work on a new album and I am very proud of this group. Being a part was exceptional for me. I must admit however that it has provoked certain disagreements when it hinders a solo career because everyone sees me as the drummer of Queen. It is what I am besides and it is very good, but that gives me a harder task because I am firstly considered the drummer of a well known group.
Rockstyle: Is it difficult because of the high standard established by Queen?
Roger: No, I don't think so because of that. Is is just the power of the name which hinders. Musically the music I make alone is really very different to what we make in the group, and above all I don't want to give birth to poor sub-versions of bits of Queen. No, I don't wish that my albums sound like those of the group.
Rockstyle: But on the other hand, you continue to work with Queen. Is is not difficult in this case to do some things?
Roger: These are two completely different things. In my role as member of Queen, what I create has nothing to see. When I am reunited with the other members of the group, there is like an alchemy which operates between us and functions automatically. When I am alone, it is just my ideas that are taken into account. I don't even have to tell myself that I must separate the two: that comes naturally.
Rockstyle: This solo career, does it really place you as a writer in the eyes of people?
Roger: I really hope so. I have however been very involved in the compositions with Queen and particularly during the last ten years. The work was then divided very equally between the different members of the group, but perhaps people weren't aware of it. Elsewhere in my solo range, I took the role of singer because I believe it is impossible to interpret the songs well from behind the drum kit. I have some fantastic musicians with me who will certainly help me get established in the role of singer. In concert I will also play percussion - not drums - and a little guitar.
Rockstyle: What will make up your set?
Roger: A large part of "Happiness?" and also bits of Queen. Titles like "Radio Ga Ga", "The Show Must Go On" and the older ones like "I'm in love with my car"... some things people want to hear. I am happy to be able to sing the songs I've written for Queen and I am happy enough with the way I have interpreted them. I don't try to sing like Freddie because that is entirely impossible. He was really unique! And then, in my case, I never look to recreate the sound of Queen.
Rockstyle: What do you think of the fact that now Freddie is no longer there, the press lays out the red carpet for Queen, when it was not the same thing a few years ago...
Roger: It is true that the press have never been very soft on us and perhaps in the end that's been a good thing, because we have had an extraordinary career despite that. In England particuarly, people tend to be jealous when they see someone successful. You get flattered and then when things work, you fall! Fortunately we have overcome that and have had some incredible years.
Rockstyle: When will we get the new Queen album?
Roger: It will come out next year, and that's all I can confirm. It is that it will be the last album of the group with the vocals of Freddie Mercury, because after that, there will be no more tapes with his voice to use. However, perhaps the three remaining members of the group will work again together in the future. We don't know anything about that. I can't confirm it or deny it.
Rockstyle: In this case, will you be under the name of "Queen"?
Roger: I really don't know anything at all that I can say on this subject that wouldn't be supposition. I don't know what's going to happen, and I've no desire to predict the future. What is certain is that the next album will be the last with Freddie Mercury and we are very excited by the idea of its release.
Rockstyle: You must certainly have the wish that this last album with Freddie will be perfect.
Roger: Exactly. I must confess that for the last two years, we have not wanted to listen to the tapes, because it was too much... difficult and sad. But now I believe we will really start to like this project because it is taking form bit by bit.
Rockstyle: It has had to be particularly moving for you to hear the tapes with Freddie's voice.
Roger: Yes, at first it was really moving. Then it became a project which was very enthusiastic. At the moment we find tha album interesting and I really hope that it will have some nice surprises for those who really want to listen to it. We must do it... for Freddie.
Rockstyle: Can you reveal some of these surprises?
Roger: They would no longer be surprises in that case! I think that people will take account of the state that Freddie was in and see the awareness he had of his condition, at which point his performance is fantastic. Sure, this album takes on certain elements of "Innuendo", but other aspects will be different.
Rockstyle: The fact that Brian May and you from now on lead solo careers, does it show you to become more creative?
Roger: It is true that it is proved on a personal project, but we are before all musicians and it is natural that we continue to write. We don't do it for the money because we already have enough. But who really wants nothing to do and retire from all activity? Who envisages seriously to take a holdiay for life? No, I like music and it is what I will continue to do.
Rockstyle: What is the ultimate goal that you have in your life of a musician and in your private life?
Roger: That's quite a difficult question! In being a musician, I would always like to reach and touch people with what I do: and being a human being, I wish simply to be as happy as possible.