In the past few years, YouTubehas become a multimedia classifieds for guitarists. It’s opened doors for fingerstyle wizard Andy McKee, whose “Drifting” video has 44 million views, and ukulele phenom Jake Shimabukuro’s “Ukulele Weeps” video has 10 million views. And for Queen Extravaganza’s guitarists Tristan Avakian and Brian Gresh, YouTube might have assisted them in their best gig yet.
Queen Extravaganza is the official tribute band compiled with nine musicians—four lead singers, two guitarists, bassist, drummer, and keyboardist—to tour the US and Canada on the legacy of Queen’s expansive canon. The finalists were picked via fan vote on YouTube, and from there the band was assembled by Queen drummer Roger Taylor with help from Queen guitarist Brian May and Spike Edney—live keyboardist and musical director with Queen since 1984.
“I was blown away in shock!” says Queen Extravaganza guitarist Gresh about being chosen for the show. After 16 years of playing guitar, he is now living one of his wildest dreams: performing on a nationwide tour.“Once I calmed down a bit, I called my parents and they didn’t even believe me.” [Laughs.] Gresh has worked as a mechanical engineer at T.D. Williamson in Tulsa, Oklahoma, since 2006—performing with his band Megatron on the weekends ... that is, until he submitted his video audition for “Killer Queen.”
Queen Extravaganza’s other guitarist, Tristan Avakian, is much more familiar with the music business. He’s collaborated with Lauryn Hill, Mariah Carey, Biohazard, toured with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and worked on Canada’s Rock of Ages and Queen’s We Will Rock You. “I feel honored that I made one of the two spots because Brian is my guitar hero—he’s a legend,” says Avakian. “I feel like Mark Wahlberg in Rock Star when he joins Steel Dragon and the band is doing the cool rocker poses and he can’t stop smirking. That’s how I feel every time I think about playing anything by Queen.”
“Tristan and Brian complement each other so well,” says May. “It’s great to see the organic interaction, the body language, and the evolution of their relationship—both those guys are so giving, share such a joy when playing, and are so individually charismatic that something special is bound to happen when they perform.”
Gresh and Avakian filled us in on their precarious auditions, what it was like to rehearse Queen songs in front of Taylor and May, and how gymnastics and guitar playing can go hand-and-hand. Bonus: Check out below for our special conversation with May.
How did you find out about
the Queen Extravaganza
Avakian: I actually heard about it from a We Will Rock You fan. I was initially reluctant because I’m just not a big fan of the gladiatorial competition in art or music. Then I had a conversation with Brian May and he let me know about Marc Martel’s [Queen Extravaganza lead singer] video having millions of views and he said it’d be a great thing to try out for. I just realized that if someone was going to represent Queen in this capacity, I should at least tryout since Queen’s music and Brian. are so near and dear to my heart.
Gresh:I just Google’d “guitar auditions” and I stumbled across it and by the time I realized it, the deadline was just three days away [laughs]. I figured I had no chance of winning since I submitted my video audition of "Killer Queen" so late- the night before the deadline.
As the process and voting
was unfolding, what were
Gresh: Three days after my upload I found out that I made the second round and I had to do another video—this time I was told to do Queen’s “Keep Yourself Alive.” I figured I’d go all out and use all my moves.
Avakian: Since I was initially apprehensive about this whole process, I was relieved once I saw quality players in the band that could potentially be honoring Queen. I actually started to worry in the second round when players like Steve Zukowsky, who’s in the Queen tribute band Sheer Heart Attack, and Richie Castellano, who’s rhythm guitarist and keyboardist in Blue Öyster Cult, appeared. And, of course, young Brian Gresh scared the crap out of me, too [laughs].
Brian, describe your go-to
“moves” that you had in your
Gresh: [Laughs] I did a backflip during the solo part of “Keep Yourself Alive.” And then during the live audition of “One Vision,” I did another flip, but I think I unplugged Roy’s [another guitar finalist] guitar chord when I landed so I’m still sorry about that.