ST. ALBANS – How do you channel one of the most talented singers in rock history? According to musician Jesse Agan, you work very hard on it.
The mustache is just the added bonus.
At the upcoming Kingman Fest on May 7, Agan and his ‘stache will perform as legendary showman Freddie Mercury as he and a group of local musicians set out to emulate one of the world’s best-selling rock bands, Queen .
And he knows he’s under pressure to do well.
” I like challenges. What greater challenge is there than singing like Freddie Mercury? Agan told the Messenger. “My first thought was ‘Can I really do this?’ Then my second thought was, “Well, I signed up. I have to.”
To prepare, Agan reviewed Queen’s discography and broke down the band’s songs to find out what made the band legendary. But the show must go on, and Agan has a lot of work to do before he takes the stage next Saturday, May 7, on Kingman Street.
Why Queen? Why not?
The concept of a Queen-Tribute band as the headliners of a block-party festival first emerged as a concept when Nelly’s Pub & Grill owner Shannon Smith and organizer of the event, Lauren Warshofsky, had decided to organize some interesting new events in St. Albans.
The two knew they wanted to do a festival on Kingman Street, but they weren’t sure how to anchor the event. Queen appeared as they played with word associations, and it seemed to work.
“I think everyone knows Queen. People know the band. They’re iconic and they’re fun. I think that’s the main focus. It’s free, fun, and family-friendly,” Warshofsky said.
So they started looking for musicians and recruited a few locals with the right experience. Andre Maquera, a local studio guitarist/producer, was one of the first. He then approached Agan to see if he would be willing to help. Agan quickly said yes.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge,” Agan said. “The minute I was asked to [perform], I started the task. I worked hard at it every day. »
Maquera, meanwhile, discovered how to play like legendary Queen guitarist Brian May and replicate the sounds of his signature guitar, the Red Special.
“There are certain guitarists you can idolize,” Maquera said. “Brian May is one of them.”
With Mercury and May ahead of the one and only queen, Agan and Maquera have a difficult task ahead of them. Mercury’s voice is distinguished by its pure energy and unique woods, and May’s approach to guitar playing is praised for its attention to melodic structures, hooks and clean tones.
So naturally, they at least knew Queen before they started memorizing the band’s songs.
But the two had never taken a deep discographic dive until they decided to stage an act impersonating the band. Agan, who is in charge of putting together the tracklist for the show, took the opportunity to learn about the band’s different musical styles.
As fans of classic 70s and 80s rock know, Queen have always been a great band, but they’ve also evolved tremendously since their 1970 debut as a more typical four-man rock band. With each new album, their music became more elaborate, and the four artists – May, Mercury, Roger Taylor and John Deacon – became familiar with recording techniques and complex arrangements over the course of their careers.
In 1975 the band released “A Night at the Opera” – their fourth studio album – and the rest is history. Almost overnight, Queen achieved international success with her nearly 6-minute single “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
In the years that followed, Queen toured the world, gaining a well-regarded reputation as great performers and eventually were able to attract crowds to fill the biggest venues.
“In retrospect, I was like ‘why didn’t I do that?'” Agan said. “Since 1974, I really like their stuff, and it was fun to be able to choose what our decor looks like.”
In the decades since, Queen’s work has been given a boost by the group’s hit singles being used in commercials, movies, video games and television.
When explaining why the organizers chose Queen, Shannon noted that most kids know Queen songs by this point. So, they hope families will stick around throughout the show so people of all ages can enjoy the music.
As for Agan, he must choose the setlist and he uses the discography review to adapt exactly the course of the performance.
Agan said he separates the songs as an arranger to see why the band made certain artistic choices and to glean the reasons behind Queen’s unique musical structures and dynamics. He hopes it will also help him recognize how the different musicians in the group would build on their strengths and their roles within the larger ensemble.
“I want people to feel immersed like they would with a Queen show,” Agan said. “My work is in two parts. First, working for this show, let’s tone down the vocals, and second, how do I elevate this performance by interacting with the audience – getting people to stand up and not just watch.
Agan has already shown how he plans to do Freddie’s microphone via social media.
“It’s just not the way music sounds,” Agan said. “Freddie was a talented showman, leader, musician in all of those aspects. This isn’t just a ‘listening show’, it will be a visual production.”
Meanwhile, Maquera dissected May’s style, breaking down some of the hooks and solos that guided her songs.
“You learn a lot by studying your heroes”, Maquera. “His guitar playing almost sounds like wood. I think he wears his musical influences on his sleeve.
What Agan won’t do, however, is incorporate every aspect of Mercury’s personality into the performance. It’s hard enough to pull off a character like the Queen frontman, and Agan said the plan was never to do a direct tribute band.
Some background parts, for example, will have to be played on tape due to the limitations of not having the budget to hire literally an entire orchestra. Many of Queen’s radio hits feature complicated studio production, and to make it work live, Maquera also had to make decisions about how to layer the guitar parts and what additional tracks to include during a live broadcast. direct.
Queen, the band itself, had similar decisions to make, Maquera and Agan noted, as Queen even omitted parts of “Bohemian Rhapsody” during the band’s iconic Live-Aid gig.
“I want us to sing together. For me, [a great show] would go out there, making people dance and sing along to songs,” Agan said. “I want people to participate, to have this aura of total energy when we’re up there, having a great time. It’s contagious.
If he can do that, maybe he can pull out Mercury.
“We are grateful to be a part of it,” said Agan. “It’s been great working with the people in the band and working with new faces and the music industry. It was a positive experience. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.