‘I’m still in pain’: Queen guitarist Brian May recalls going solo after Freddie Mercury’s death
It’s been almost three decades since Queen’s Brian May ventured out on his own with his first solo album, Return to the Light. When he recently re-released the record for his 30th birthday, he was forced to reconsider his connection to the hapless young man he was in 1992.
“I thought I would feel fatherly to this boy I’m looking back on,” May said in an interview with Q guest host Ali Hassan. “But actually, as soon as I got into it, I felt [like] no, it’s still me. I’m still that boy…. I still have pain. I still have the desire. I still have a feeling of dissatisfaction. “
The initial release of Back to light culminated in a period of personal upheaval for May. A year earlier, in 1991, he experienced the death of two of his relatives: his father and Queen singer Freddie Mercury. On top of that, he was still reeling from a divorce.
“The boy who made this record was not in good shape,” he said. “[He] was in a very depressed state because he was losing Freddie, he was losing his father, he was losing his marriage [and] he was losing the group in which he had put all his energies. It was a dark time. “
For May, the solo album was a way of reaching out to others who, like him, were in a dark place and were looking for the light. He said his creation was partly for his own therapy and partly to find a new identity outside of one of the biggest rock bands in the world.
Mercury gave May his blessing to go solo
May felt uncomfortable going solo until he wrote the lead single on Back to light – a track called Driven by you, which he was challenged to create for a Ford car commercial in 1991. He played the song for Mercury like he and his colleagues normally did when they had a new demo.
“I said, ‘What do you think? Maybe it should be a Queen song? Would you like to sing it?'” May remembers asking Mercury. “And he said, ‘Honey, you sing it beautifully. I don’t think I should sing it. I think you should go with it.'”
After complimenting him on his voice, May said Mercury had initiated a “strange conversation” that he hadn’t expected. May had worried about her friend’s failing health, but he never raised the possibility that Mercury’s time on Earth was drawing to a close – so the Queen’s leader did bring it up himself.
“Freddie said,” Look, I don’t know how long I’m going to be here and I know you’re probably feeling anxious about posting this because you maybe think it’s disrespectful to me. ” “, recalls May.
“He said, ‘You shouldn’t be worrying about this… We’re here, we’re doing what we always do. As usual. We’re the queen for as long as we can. [be]. But you should be thinking about your solo career because it’s going to happen. And that’s a great way to start. ‘”
Having Mercury’s blessing to go solo was exactly the boost of confidence May needed. Driven by you mapped both in Europe and North America, culminating in sixth place in the UK singles chart.
“As soon as I delivered this [song] and it was a success, i thought, okay i can do it. I can do a track and do an album, “May said.” It will crystallize the emotions that I am going through – the journey that I am on – and it will be an album that means something to me and to people who listen to me. . “
WATCH | Driven by You official video:
Losing Mercury and Learning to Cope
The night May recorded her single Nothing but blue, he had the intuition that Mercury was near death. Although he never admitted it at the time, he wrote the track about and for Mercury.
“I had Freddie in my head and just had a feeling he was about to go,” May said. “And all I could think of was what could have happened, what could have been – and it wasn’t going to happen now.”
Freddie was like family…. Losing him as a family member is something that never goes away.– Brian May
Although May never quite got over her grief, he was able to find peace with it. “Freddie was like family,” he said. “It was definitely a family we had. And losing him as a family member is something that never goes away.”
May added that the emotions that accompany grief are often complex. He said he and Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor first went through a stage of denial, refusing to talk about the band or even acknowledge that they had been a part of it before. Then feelings of anger and frustration arose at the thought of being left behind. “These aren’t the emotions you really expect,” May said.
By republishing Back to light perhaps forced May to consider the similarities between the way he was then and the way he is now, he said his current feelings are much more positive.
“I think about Freddie every day, but it’s good,” he said. “It’s a good sense of pride that we had a great time together, that we created all of these things together. [and] that we had the great friendship that we had. “
Listen to the full conversation with Brian May at the top of this page.
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Produced by Vanessa Nigro.