BY CAREY HEREFORD
Marc Martel never thought his career would ever be centered in the world of tribute bands. With vocals sounding similar to legendary Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, the Nashville-based singer was tasked with the job of recording the vocals for the Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. These days, Martel fronts the Black Jacket Symphony’s new project Queen: A Night at The Opera. On Saturday, February 23, the renowned tribute ensemble will bring the album’s sounds to the BJCC Concert Hall. Recently, Martel spoke with us by phone about his experience with Black Jacket Symphony and the career path that led him there.
Birmingham Stages: Marc, thank you for your time. Why do think that tribute bands are more prevalent and high-profile these days compared to 10 or 15 years ago?
Marc Martel: I got involved when I saw an advertisement for when Roger Taylor of Queen was starting a tribute band called “The Queen Extravaganza.” I decided to audition and got the part for the singer and that opened up a whole new world for me. We ended up doing a whole tour of Europe and North America. But nowadays it has become so common – like apparently there is a Pink Floyd cover band that sells out areas consistently in Australia.
Birmingham Stages: Do you perform the Queen songs as they were recorded or do you change them to make them more of your own?
Martel: That depends on which band I am playing with. I am obviously with Black Jacket Symphony and a tribute band of my own called the “Ultimate Queen Celebration.” The goal of the Black Jacket Symphony is to reproduce the album’s sound as best as possible and the second part we start to let loose a little bit and have more fun with the arrangements. On the first part, that is where I will stick to the script. I do not explore different ways in that part of the night. When I am with other bands, it can have a more of a free-flowing feel. You have to find new ways to keep these songs fresh every night and still give liberty to Queen and the songs themselves. I know people come to hear how they listen to these songs and then see that live.
Birmingham Stages: Which song on the Black Jacket Symphony setlist do you think is performed best live so far?
Martel: “Under Pressure” – that song holds a special place in my heart because I get to share lead vocals with somebody. There is just a really fun camaraderie built in that song because there is such an interesting chemistry built into that song. But, all in all, I think it puts out a positive message. You know, “Fat Bottomed Girls” may not be my favorite Queen song, but to the audience it really gets people on their feet so that’s really awesome every night.
Birmingham Stages: How did you get the role of recording the vocals for the movie Bohemian Rhapsody?
Martel: Well, like I said, I have had a relationship with Queen ever since 2011. I’ve worked closely with them for several years now. So when the movie was finally funded, they needed someone to do the vocals for the parts of the recordings that were lost or could not be used. So that’s how I fit into the mix, when the movie got green lit they reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to be a part. That part and my involvement was such a huge honor to me.
Birmingham Stages: What was your reaction to Bohemian Rhapsody winning a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture and being nominated for a Oscar?
Martel: It was pretty crazy. You know, when the movie was made that was my first time being involved in the movie industry in any shape or form. There were whispers of Oscar nominations before the movie was even out yet which blew me away. I was thinking it through logically – Queen is one of the biggest bands to this day. On top of that, Freddie Mercury was one of the best performers of all time. So if any musical biopic is going to do well, it would be this one. This is because you cannot go anywhere on this planet where people haven’t heard of Queen. So I already knew it had potential to do really, really well. Just to talk with all of the producers and people on the set and knowing how dedicated they were to this movie. Just when that much passion goes into a movie like that, you just know it is destined to do very well.
Birmingham Stages: Whose music influenced you growing up?
Martel: Well, I remember growing up my main memories of music were being alone in my bedroom waiting for a certain song to go on the radio with my tape recorder. When that song would come on, I would record it and then later try to mimic the vocals the best I could. Especially with George Michael’s music – I was a big fan of him. I grew up doing music mostly in church – that was a huge part of my formation as a musician. My father is a pastor, so I was on stage whenever I wanted or sometime when I did not necessarily want to either. I really dove into music in the early ’90s, and that is when grunge hit really hard. I was huge fan of Pearl Jam, Jeff Buckley, and Richard Marx. Richard Marx was the one who inspired me to try a more raspy voice.
Birmingham Stages: How did digging deep into the lyrics and foundation of these songs change your perspective of Queen’s music?
Martel: When I started listening to Queen’s Greatest Hits, to be honest I did not love the lyrical content at first. Maybe because before this I was in a Christian band for 13 years and all of our content was meant to inspire. Even when we dealt with darker subjects, there was always a light at the end of tunnel. But, that is not the case with all of Queen’s music, maybe on the surface though. It took me awhile to really appreciate the lyrical content. Now I have a better understanding, there maybe a little bit more and it helps knowing Roger and Brian a little bit, too, as well as knowing more about Freddie’s personal story helps appreciate that much more.
Birmingham Stages: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you and your career?
Martel: I just would like them to know that I have some records of my own. There is a Queen covers album I just put out recently called Thunderbolt and Lightning. It is my own take on some of the Queen songs that are my favorites. As well to check out my social media and all of that good stuff!
The Black Jacket Symphony will perform Queen’s A Night At The Opera at the BJCC Concert Hall on Saturday, February 23. Tickets to the 8 p.m. show can be purchased at www.blackjacketsymphony.com.