Brian May Says Queen ‘Get One Shot at Doing Freddie Mercury Justice’ With New Biopic: Exclusive Interview
When Queen guitarist Brian May is not engaged with music, astronomy or animal rights, his other passion is stereoscopy, the technique in which two side-by-side photographs of the same subject that, when seen through a special viewing instrument (i.e., stereoscope), produces the illusion of 3-D. May has explored the subject of stereoscopy in his previous books A Village Lost and Found and Diableries, both of which contain stereo images from the 19th century, when stereoscopy first developed.
For his latest stereo photo book, the 70-year-old rocker and astrophysicist focused on a subject that he is personally involved with: his years with Queen. A lovingly and lavishly produced work that contains a stereo viewer called the OWL that May created himself, Queen in 3-D features more than 300 photos of the band — about 95 percent of them never before released. With a stereo camera that he brought with him when Queen were on the road, May took photos of his bandmates Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor and John Deacon in a variety of settings, whether in the recording studio, music venues or hotels (He also handed the stereo camera to other people for his picture to be taken).
“This is the first modern stereo book that we’ve done,” May tells Ultimate Classic Rock about Queen in 3-D, which was recently published in the U.S. “It’s very personal because it’s my life with Queen. We approached it in the same academic way as we approached the Victorian stereos [for A Village Lost and Found] — getting them technically right and getting the text right. It’s been a fantastic journey for me.”
A good portion of the stereo photographs included in the book were taken during the band’s tours in the U.S., Japan, Europe and South America from the ’70s into the mid ’80s. Viewed with the OWL, May’s photos make the viewer feel like he or she is a member of the audience watching the band come alive onstage. The images also reveal the group in candid moments, such as Mercury posing with his Polaroid camera, Taylor shaving and Deacon perusing through a toy shop in what was the former Yugoslavia.
While not a memoir in the strictest sense, Queen in 3-D is the first book written about Queen by a member of the band. In addition to Queen, May also delves into his childhood to explain his interest in stereoscopy, which began when, as a youngster, he got a 3-D viewer through an offer by a British cereal company.
“[3-D is] so evocative,” May says. “It brings all sorts of stories out of you because you look at these things through the stereo window, and you feel like you’re there. You can get straight in touch with the emotions you felt at that moment.”
Initially, May thought this project would be only a picture book, because he assumed that he didn’t have enough material. “But there was so much flooding into my mind,” he says. “The guys that I worked with were very clever. They arranged it so we had a sound recorder going and we looked at these things in 3-D on the screen, and I just started talking. The whole thing was transcribed and that’s became the beginnings of the text of the book. I found I was kind of getting messages from the past about the band, the audience and the hotel rooms, and all those physical things, but I was also getting messages about how I felt at the time. So it became gradually more and more of a personal thing.”
One of May’s favorite images of Mercury in the book is of the singer having his makeup done in a dressing room circa 1976. “That particular picture I had no memory of taking,” May says. “I didn’t even realize I had it. It was on a roll of film which we hadn’t even cut up and mounted. I was quite shocked when I saw it. So these things were lurking in my archives, and I am so happy that they’re now out and I could see them and that the world can see them as well.”
It has been a very busy and productive period for the Queen guitarist, and not just because of the new book. Queen and singer Adam Lambert recently completed a U.S. summer tour and will begin performing in the UK and Europe later in the fall. “The chemistry’s there,” May says of the band’s relationship with Lambert. “It’s something that you just can’t fake. It has to be real. It’s wonderful that he can do all the stuff that we need him to do, technically and physically. But also he brings a new character to it. It just works with us. He’s not imitating Freddie — he’s a new personality.”
During the summer tour, Queen paid homage to the 40th anniversary of the News of the World album by featuring the robot from the famous Frank Kelly Freas album cover art as part of the stage visuals. Continuing the celebration of that classic album, which contains the band’s iconic anthems “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions,” will be a special News of the World box set due later in the year.
“It’s stupendous,” May says of the reissue. “It includes all kinds of goodies that no one has ever heard. We have a new vinyl mastering, which comes straight off the mix tapes as opposed to off copies of the mix tapes. So this is the most faithful reproduction of those master mixes ever. The technical guys went through the multitrack tapes and they done alternative mixes using alternative takes of all the tracks on the album. So that’s going to be something people will be fascinated with. You can hear different guitar solos, different vocal takes. There’s a restored documentary that was never finished about us [at the time of News of the World] in America. It’s fascinating to see us talking about what we were doing and just being on the road. It’s a very rich box set that people will enjoy.”
In other Queen news, it’s been now full steam ahead with the production of the much-anticipated biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. They recently announced the actors who will portray the rest of the Queen members and joining Mr. Robot star Rami Malek, who plays Mercury.
“It’s been at least seven years that we’ve been wrestling with this stuff,” May says. “Now the button is pressed and everything is in operation. It’s incredible. I’ve been spent time down at the offices of the film, and it’s a massive factory: building sets, researching into people’s clothes at Live Aid, doing wigs, costumes and makeup. And we met the actors who are going to play us. So it’s a fascinating thing.”
May adds that this production is a huge deal, “because it’s Freddie’s life, so we get one shot at doing him justice, and doing it honestly and transparently. But it’s also our lives. It’s a lot of our lives in there, which is kind of daunting. You’re looking at yourself being portrayed on screen, which is a lot to swallow. We have a fantastic team, it’s quite mind blowing, the power that’s in this team.”
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