Brian May Talks Summer Tour, Queen Biopic, ‘We Will Rock You’ Legacy
As Queen tour North American arenas with frontman Adam Lambert this summer, guitarist Brian May says it feels almost like déjà vu. “A lot of the times, it does feel like the old times because it’s become as big as the old times,” he says. “I feel very privileged and very fortunate that we can play arenas. It’s on a scale actually that’s bigger than anything we ever did. It’s big and it’s dangerous and it’s live as it ever was. We’re not a museum piece; we’re a living entity.”
The band kicked off its summer tour in late June and will be making its way around the U.S. through early August, playing a set that covers many of their greatest songs. “I remember Prince saying, ‘Too many hits, too many hits,'” May says. “It’s a nice problem to have. We’ll be throwing in a few songs which people won’t have seen live for a very long time; the problem is what to leave out.”
He says fans should expect “vintage ‘Americana Queen’ from the glory days … the era when we were kind of hitting that spot with the American public” with songs like 1977’s “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” The band has also been playing the odd Lambert solo song and even a tune from May’s 1993 solo album Back to the Light. “It’s become pretty much as flexible as the old times,” says the guitarist, who recently put out another solo release with singer Kerry Ellis, titled Golden Days. “We don’t play to backing tracks or clicks, so we can go off and do what we like. We know Adam well enough now to be able to hold that together. So it does feel like the old days. But obviously it’s new, because you’re playing to an audience who are sons and grandsons and daughters of the people we played to in the 1970s. And we are a little older.” He laughs. “Not much, but a little older.”
Interestingly, he says he recently found peace with the band’s current place in the world by seeing a band that were roughly Queen’s American counterparts in the Seventies. “I took my kids to see Aerosmith not too long ago,” he says during a wide-ranging chat with Rolling Stone. “Aerosmith are, in some ways, quite parallel to us. Everything is real and live and dangerous and there’s no safety net. I was just watching my kids’ faces and thinking, ‘I don’t have to apologize for this. This is the real thing.’ I feel that we are unquestionably the real thing. We are what we are and it won’t be perfect, but it will be something that you never quite saw before. It’ll be something of the moment.”
What should fans expect from the tour?
If they’ve seen us before, they will be very surprised because the show will look very different from anything that we’ve done before. We were very keen to embrace advances in technology and all the new toys. Although the show has certain retrospective elements, it’s gonna look very new. And we have a phenomenal singer to add to our armory; Adam is something quite extraordinary in so many ways.
What do you mean by “retrospective elements”?
Well, people want to hear the hits. So there’s an obligation, which is a very pleasant obligation, but it’s nice to change it up and keeps all of the songs alive. Also, there’s a video element, which we’ve been pre-planning. Video screens are cheap now, so there’s a lot of video content. The video will be very much interacting with us; it will be intimately connected to what’s onstage and what’s off it. I don’t want to give too much away, but there will be a certain retrospective element, which connects with some of the glory days of when Freddie was with us. So there will be echoes of the past in a new way.
You’re not talking about a hologram, are you?
No, not holograms. We have experimented with holograms, and we haven’t found that they give us what they want. And most of the things that people call holograms are not actually holograms; they’re Pepper’s ghost. We prefer things which are more flexible in a live situation. So, no. We’re not doing holograms [laughs]. We’re doing other stuff.
“We Will Rock You” turns 40 this year. Can you describe the feeling of an arena stomping their feet and clapping their hands to that song?
[Laughs] The “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” audience-participation thing was something kind of astonishingly new at the time. When that song was…