Queen's Roger Taylor on 'Glee' Cover, Freddie Mercury's Death and the Band's Future With... Adam Lambert?
Queen's original drummer, who put together an online global talent search called "Queen Extravaganza," talks about the band's past, present and future which just may involve a certain "American Idol" runner-up.
You will get no argument here if you say that Queen is among the most heard bands in the world. It’s hard to imagine a stadium or arena that doesn’t project the foot-stomping beat of “We Will Rock You” (the only drum lick that rivals it for cultural ubiquity is James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”), not to mention the heavy rotation “We Are The Champions,” cued up for many a final game, from the Super Bowl on down.
But Queen drummer Roger Taylor wants to make sure fans have a more lasting memory of his former band than as the background music for a day at the ballpark. Last month, the band made one hell of an impression when the surviving members recruited American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert to take on vocals for a three-song medley, stepping in the very big shoes of late frontman Freddie Mercury, if only for a moment. And the band doesn’t rule out working with Lambert in the future, either. “There's nothing signed just yet but we're talking about live dates,” Taylor told Billboard.biz. “It could be very exciting. He has grown into a really great performer with an astonishing voice with a range that's great.”
Indeed, Taylor is melding the Idol and Queen experience in other ways, taking on the Simon Cowell role for “Queen Extravaganza,” an online competition. The twist here is that instead of just looking for a new singer, Taylor and the show’s panel of judges will be rebuilding a full tribute band.
Taylor explains the idea in a recent interview with THR. Check out the auditions and hear the winners announced on Thursday at www.Queenextravaganza.com.
The Hollywood Reporter: What inspired you to put together Queen Extravaganza?
Roger Taylor: It was a day when I went back to my childhood town. I saw this poster for some local hall: “Live! On Stage! Queen!” And I looked at it, and I thought, “Well, that’s not true.” I really got sick of all these tribute bands, and so many of them are bad. I just would really like our music to not be cheapened like that. I like it to be represented in a spectacular or brilliant way and not in the cheap, small, cheesy way. I don’t want impersonators playing our music badly.
THR: Did you speak to Brian before committing to this show.
Taylor: Of course. Although I’m kind of kick-starting this, Brian will be involved when we go on tour; I’m doing the hard work (laughs), but he’ll be involved in the producing and rehearsing the show. This is quite an experiment we’re doing here. It’s never been done like this before.
THR: What makes it unique?
Taylor: I think this is so different from one of those TV talent shows: they’re about instant gratification, instant celebrity. We’re looking for another kind of person. What we’re dealing with here are different levels, different worlds. The people on the TV shows are looking for levels of celebrity; they want to be famous. The people we’re looking for, they want to be musicians; they’re happy going on tour. Because they love it, not necessarily because they want to be Madonna or Lady Gaga, or whatever their particular affectations or affinities.
THR: Why do it online?
Taylor: That was my manager’s idea. But I’m now convinced. I’ve seen the power of the net.
THR: Do you think the digital world makes it harder of easier for a band to reach the kind of success that Queen enjoys?
Taylor: It’s difficult. But then, it’s always been difficult. I think it’s still possible, if you’re a quality act. I don’t think things have... actually, a lot of things have changed, but the essence hasn’t really changed. There’s always been rubbish around. But it’s harder for a band to break through. Radio is so heavily programmed; you have to fit into a certain box. So it’s harder for anything different to get through.
THR: And how about TV shows?
Taylor: That too. But what’s most important is for it to be a wonderful show that brings our music to people in some small way, and make the music live longer... we’re getting older, and we’re getting all these young, strong, flexible musicians to play.
THR: What surprised you most about those young musicians?
Taylor: I’d have to say the level of talent, and how few tormentors we had. They’re very talented, musically. They all sit in their bedrooms or garages or their studios and they become incredibly proficient. And they’re all very passionate. The level of passion was very impressive. It was a very positive experience.
THR: Do they know anything that you didn’t know when Queen was starting out?
Taylor: They know how to work computers (laughs). I still have problems. It was an absolute revelation. Everything is so immediate. You put something up and the response... It could be from any corner of the world; not just North America. Anywhere.
THR: And what do you know that they don’t?
Taylor: I know how hard it is to make it in the music business. But they have the naive enthusiasm of youth that’s essential. To do something like this, you have to have a lot of faith in yourself. That’s the same today as it was then. I don’t think people have changed that much.
THR: Can you help to prepare them to deal with a big, professional tour? How do you think they’ll do?
Taylor: They’re amazingly mature in some of their playing. In terms of touring, some of them have a better idea than others, and some of them will probably go off the rails. You have to learn. I think if we did our job selecting right, we should have the right bunch of characters to carry it off. I don’t want anyone going crazy. But we’ll have some good people around them, they’ll be looked after.
THR: Have you heard the version of “Somebody to Love” on Glee?
Taylor: Glee, the TV show? No, I haven’t heard it. Have to tell you, it’s not one of my favorites (laughs). I think there’s quite a bit of auto-tuning on that, isn’t there? I’ll tell you what I really loved: the version of “Somebody to Love” that was in Happy Feet. That was fantastic.
THR: Do you keep track of different cover versions of your tunes?
Taylor: Not really. I mean, I’ve heard bad, I’ve heard good, I’ve heard... indifferent. I think that if anyone covers your songs that are paying you hommage, and that’s a good thing.
THR: What did you think about Brian May’s appearance with Lady Gaga at the VMAs this year?
Taylor: I think he gave her the kind of thing that she needed there. I guess it was fine. It’s the kind of thing that people don’t expect.
THR: Do you think people have paid enough attention to the 20th anniversary of Freddie’s death, which just passed on Nov. 24?
Taylor: Twenty years... Extraordinary. I still can’t believe that. I don’t know, I think the respect comes from the fact that our songs are still played on the radio, people cover our songs and continue to respond to the music. We’ve been commemorating, privately, but... life is long.
THR: How do you commemorate him?
Taylor: It’s such a long time now. For years, it was tough, but I think we... you have to learn to live with it. I feel it sometimes, very strongly, deeply. It’s difficult to define ... I don’t know how to put it. It’s just... He was a very special person. Which is why we need more than one singer.
THR: Do you have any other plans for the new year?
Taylor: I’ve got some solo stuff coming out and we’re thinking of going out on the road next year... Summer festivals, that kind of thing.
THR: When you say “we,” could that include Adam Lambert?
Taylor: Brian and me. (Pause) Yes, there is a lot going on -- quite a few different “wes,” aren’t there?