Queen guitarist Brian May took a hands-on approach to mentoring
Brian Gresh and Taylor Avakian as the two pickers prepared for the
Queen Extravaganza. We asked May what it was like to see his music
through new eyes (and fingers).
What sort of input did you have on the selection process for the
This is Roger’s baby, but because he’s hiring guitarists I can’t stray
too far. [Laughs.] I went through some of the videos and made
notes on the players that I really liked and felt could do the music,
tour, and overall production at a high level.
Queen Extravaganza is a much more stripped-down, band-only endeavor compared to We Will Rock You. Is this what you
thought it would be?
We Will Rock You tells a different story and is part of a bigger overall production of music, dance, and visual stimulation. I think with
Queen Extravaganza the music is the central focus since the songs
will be played in their entirety.
In the very beginning, I thought it would be very interesting for
it to be big and orchestral—it would still rock with a traditional
band, but with a full-scale orchestra bringing all of our compositions to life … [laughs] much more extravagant if you will, but
Roger became very infused with the idea that the band would be
like us in the early days.
What was it like for you when you saw Tristan and Brian playing the riffs and songs that you spent countless hours creating
and recording with Queen?
I just enjoyed it thoroughly. In the beginning of We Will Rock You,
I tended to worry quite a bit about how the songs and guitar parts
were not done right. I actually would get quite nitpicky about the
details and how every note needed to sound. I’ve learned over the
past 10 years that it’s good to have a light touch when dealing with
art and music.
Did you give them any specific advice beyond that when they
perform Queen’s music and your riffs?
What I tried to drive home to Tristan and Brian is that I wanted
them to bring themselves to it—I didn’t want them to be carbon
copies of me or my playing. Another thing I was keen on was
encouraging and making sure they felt comfortable in letting the
band organically evolve as a whole throughout the rehearsal process
and eventually on tour.
If and when I’m giving advice to guitarists in the situation of
Tristan or Brian, one of the things I always say is if you’re in any
way doubting what to play, listen to the vocals because everything
revolves around the voices and harmonies. Even when I was coming up with these songs and writing these licks I would always
80 PREMIER GUITAR AUGUST 2012
Photo by Jamie Cooper
ask myself, “Does this make sense? Does this work for the greater
song?” In those periods, I learned restraint—a great tool for guitarists and writers.
Were you able to talk with the guys about gear or give them any
suggestions on their setup for the tour?
[Laughs.] For me, it’s simple—if it sounds good and sounds right
then it is right. Both those guys have their sound put together
already, so it’s not something I worry about terribly, but we did all
play through new handwired AC30 amps for the rehearsals and
the American Idol performance, which was a first for me. No matter what, you get something special out of any Vox—especially an
AC30. They’re just made different—even to this day—from most
any other amp as a class A, valve amp that’s hi-fi sounding. With
the negative feedback taken off that it creates a real rich, smoothness that edges its way into overdriven tones or distortion.
What are you goals and expectations that the Queen
Extravaganza does for you, the music, and the band?
I would like to see it become a thing of itself—maybe like my
orchestral idea years ago. For me, the most exciting part is seeing
what these fine musicians and singers will do with our music and
compositions because it’s inevitable that they’ll put their own stamp
and thumbprint on it. I hope they absorb and take enough of our
legacy—if there is such a thing as a legacy—and do their own thing
with it and form their own identity that’s new, exciting, and that
has to be seen and heard.