Roger Taylor & Brian May Interview - Part 2
I’m interested in what Freddie was like when you were recording…was he the flamboyant performer we all know or was he a different man in the studio…more disciplined?
BM: Incredibly disciplined. He was very undisciplined when we met him as a performer, he would run around and scream and generally be quite shocking, but as soon as he heard himself in the studio, and it’s quite interesting that we’re sitting here, because I remember sitting here and Freddie listening to himself back and being very critical and unhappy about the way he sounded, and he worked and worked and worked night and day to fashion his voice and the way he controlled it into the way he wanted it to be.
So we have these five re-mastered albums, re-mastered by Bob Ludwig. Why did you choose him to do the job?
RT: We went to about eight different mastering studios, all great actually, we really liked Bob Ludwig’s work and so we made sort of our own little notes and sent them back to him and then he sent them back again. It really does sound beautiful and fresh and wonderful, alive, and of course it’s all recorded analogue in the first place, which I still think sounds better than digital recording and there is something about it in the fatness of the sound, it’s just more pleasing to the ear, I think. It just sounds a little better.
Roger, can I ask you about Queen’s recording process…did the four of you turn up at the studio with the songs and arrangements all finished and ready to record?
RT: No, they were never utterly finished, not completely finished, there was always sort of quite a bit of group work really, people would chip in ideas and stuff, but you’d have to have the general concept in your head and usually some chords.
Roger, is it true that any rows, any ‘creative differences’, in the studio would always be between you and Brian...and that Freddie was the mediator?
RT: Freddie was a great diplomat. We used to have, yeah, we used to have creative differences, but then we’d normally resolve them well and I think it was, without using the word compromise, it was a good result.
Given that you had Freddie as a front man, was the plan always to be a spectacular theatrical live act…?
RT: We wanted to be different and we wanted be theatrical, because very much in those days it’s easy to forget the bands did nothing. They came out and they didn’t move – they maybe shake their heads. So we wanted to put on show, unashamedly theatrical and Freddie was very good at that. Nobody else was really doing that, maybe David Bowie in a slightly different way, he was great, fairly theatrical performer, but more understated.
When the first record came out, did people understand Queen…did you understand Queen?
RT: We had it in our heads, we pretty much knew what we sort of wanted to get and where we wanted to get, but a lot of people didn’t really quite get it, they thought what are they glam? We are hard to categorise, there was a lot of glam rock bands and art rock bands, we were sort of somewhere in between hard rock, we were sort of a mixture of things, we were a strange beast.
I always felt in the early days that the press didn’t quite ‘get’ Queen…
BM: I think perhaps we had sidestepped the press; we didn’t go up the normal route so perhaps they felt left out and felt kind of jealous because they like to help build things, so perhaps we never had any time for them and they never had any time for us.
RT: It was very hard to categorise us I think, because we were sort of falling, there was a bit of this and a bit of that, but we were sort of fairly theatrical and we really got up purest critics noses quite a lot I think, but thankfully there was a sort of great public out there that seemed to really lap it up. They seemed to like it and we always felt fairly unhip, I think it’s quite good to be unhip because if you’re hip you don’t last very long and so we’ve been successfully unhip for forty years now.
BM: I sometimes think that the rock business is all about persistence, because you do something and people go ‘what?’ ‘What is that?’ And then you do it again and they go ‘oooh that’s not bad’ and then you do it again and people think: ‘ah they’re really serious and you know what? I really like that’. So we just kind of ploughed on our furrow, we plugged on believing what we believed in and gradually the snowball started to build.
So, Brian, ‘Queen II’ made it to #5 in the UK and also hit the Top 50 in the U.S where you had a deal with Elektra. But things really took off for you with the third album, ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ which hit #2 in the UK and #12 in the U.S on the back of an American tour which took its toll on your health…
BM: Yes I was very sick, we did our first American tour and I got Hepatitis but that wasn’t the real problem. I recovered from Hepatitis relatively quickly, but the diet that they put me on re-energised the bad stuff that was going on in my digestive system, which had apparently been going on since I was a kid, so I collapsed on a consultants floor at one point and he said you’ve had no nutrition going into you for months, it’s a wonder you’re still alive, because your stomach is completely blocked, you know the exit to your stomach. Without going into too many details, I went in and had this operation and it was a very serious operation they don’t do it anymore. Nowadays they give you these drugs like Tagamet to stop this whole business happening. If you really want to get into details it’s all about helicobacter pylori, nobody knew this in those days, but some research was done about twenty years ago which really revealed that almost every stomach problem including all these acid and duodenal ulcer problems is down to one bacterium, this helicobacter and it’s not exactly inherited in the genes, but it is inherited in families because you are drinking from the same cups and eating the same foods, so now that’s been discovered they don’t do this operation anymore they just give you this cocktail of antibiotics and you’re cured. But I was probably one of the last people to have this major operation to take piece of your stomach away and re-engineer the plumbing down there.
‘Sheer Heart Attack’ still sounds like a special record…
RT: I think by that time we’d got the sounds that we wanted, we were much happier with the studio and we didn’t have people trying to steer us anywhere or tell us what to do and I think we had a mixture of the extravagance of the second album but with a more commercial and accessible sound on that. I think it’s a very good album, there’s no time wasted on it and it’s good.
Roger, I read somewhere that someone had said your fourth album, ‘A Night at the Opera’ was Queen’s ‘Sergeant Pepper’...
RT: I wouldn’t, well I’m not sure I think that Sergeant Pepper is the Beatles best album you see. I think it’s probably analogous to Sergeant Pepper. I think that the Beatles made better albums than that actually, you know, I’d say Revolver and Abbey Road and the White Album are all better. I think for me so I would say Night At The Opera was a very good piece of work and very eclectic and because it had Bohemian Rhapsody, but we did a lot of other good things as well. So I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily our best work but maybe it was our Sergeant Pepper album.
You mention ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’…now might be a good time to ask…the staggering harmonies on that track...
BM: The harmony thing, do you know I don’t even know, but we had such diverse influences I can remember listening to Mantovani and trying to understand how these harmonies worked with the violins and some of that is in our records strangely enough. I had a very favourite group called the Temperance Seven who were kind of based on Dixieland jazz, but highly arranged and I loved this kind of arrangement of spontaneity and very complex arrangements and you hear this sort of bell thing on Bohemian Rhapsody ‘ar, ar, ar’ well even that has some of its roots in the Temperance Seven. Ever since being a kid I was analysing people’s harmonies, like the Everly Brothers or the Crickets, but also things on Doris Day records. We took in everything.
Were the Beach Boys an influence?
BM: Beach Boys we liked, but I don’t think the Beach Boys were much of an influence because they came from a different world, but I have to say I think I had a bit of a resistance to the Beach Boys. They were like the enemy when I was young and it wasn’t until probably later, I remember Good Vibrations, I thought ‘yeah very nice’, but I would have done it differently, you know, being a very big headed little boy. I remember hearing this record when they made this record called Darling, it suddenly washed over me and I thought ‘Oh my god I’ve been missing so much because these guys are so clever and there is so much great instinct in there as well as great skill'. So, looking back, The Beach Boys are wonderful, but for us it was The Beatles. Really, The Beatles were our bible in the way they used the studio and they painted pictures and this wonderful instinctive use of harmonies. So, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and The Who, we loved The Who. Now, The Who had the beginnings of harmonies and they were very kind of rough and hooligan and we liked that. We liked this sort of element of danger that was in The Who. But I suppose we took our harmonies a lot more seriously and I remember Pete Townsend, we met him quite early on, we went to record in his studio and he said ‘Brian where did all of this harmony stuff come from? Did you study it?’ and I actually didn’t know what to say. I said ‘I don’t know if I studied it, we listened to people including you and something happened in our heads’.
Click here for Part 3.