Have you broken any bones or guitars doing this?
I haven’t broken any bones, but I did break a 0- eBay guitar when I didn’t get enough height and it was either my face or the guitar. Thankfully the guitar sacrificed itself and took the fall [laughs].

How did you ever think to do backflips while playing guitar?
I remember having a dream when I was in fifth grade of a band that had their guitarists doing flips during solos. The biggest part of learning to do the flip with a guitar was not having any arm lift because you rely a lot on the momentum of your arms going up to get the necessary height for the flip, so I had to build up my leg strength. The first live performance that I did it was my high school’s jazz band concert my senior year—I think I really shocked a lot of people doing it there [laughs].
Tristan, did We Will Rock You prepare you for this gig or was it almost a handicap because you were so close to the material?
Honestly, it was a liability. To fit within the format of the musical, music was chopped up, played in different keys, even within the same songs because two different characters were singing it—a villain and a hero—and everything is mixed together in a way that benefited the show and onstage performance. Rarely did we play the material in standard, true-to-form package, which will happen throughout the Queen Extravaganza where we’ll reference their early live days as a feral four-piece band.

How did the final auditions in L.A. work out?
Everyone was nice and didn’t have any egos. I was the only guy that hadn’t ever gone through a professional audition, but everyone was very professional. We actually had to work together throughout the finals because they grouped us into pairs of guitarists with the other contestants making different band combinations. Then, we had 90 minutes to come together and figure out who would take what leads and rhythms, who would stay back during certain parts, and when we would synchronize our parts for a harmony effect. We had to be a team to survive.
Avakian: I wish I knew [laughs]… I had done a show with Night Ranger in Louisiana the night before and the only flight that would get me out of Louisiana and to L.A. in time for the auditions was going through the East Coast first. I was in a bleary-eyed, Keith Richards haze without the substance abuse by the time I went to the live auditions.

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Brian May: Working For the Greater Song

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 Queen Extravaganza?
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 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.