andrew kruse-ross | marc martel | march 2019
Hand selected by the surviving members of Queen, Marc Martel's uncanny vocal likeness to frontman Freddie Mercury continues to take the singer to new heights. The singer recently lent his voice to the hit film “Bohemian Rhapsody," a credit to add to millions of YouTube views, five Juno Awards and an ever-growing appreciation for his remarkable voice.
When not recording tracks at Abbey Road Studios for blockbuster films, you'll find him fronting the Ultimate Queen Celebration. The tribute act is unequivocally the closest one can get to seeing Queen in 2019.
The group makes several stops in Northeastern Wisconsin beginning on April 2 with a stop at the Meyer Theatre.
What follows is an excerpt from our conversation with Martel while on tour in 2018.
Marc, you're the son of a pastor. Was church your first experience performing in front of other people?
Absolutely! I was lucky enough to have a stage to use whenever I wanted and even when I didn't want it. My parents put me to work a lot. Actually, my brother and I used to sing a lot together in church. My mom was the choir director in my dad's church, so that was a big part of what steered me into music.
I understand you've never had vocal lessons. It's actually through imitating others that you developed your sound. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yeah, I'm still to this day a pretty introverted person but I've just learned to deal with it and to be extroverted when I need to be but when I was a kid I remember spending a lot of time at home. And my mom was just recently telling me that she remembered me as a kid staying home and just playing the piano for hours and hours while other normal kids — quote unquote—were out playing outside.
I remember being in my bedroom listening to the radio with the two-cassette ghetto blaster waiting for your favorite song to come on to record it. I remember specifically waiting for a specific George Michael song to come on and there was another Richard Marx song that I was trying to learn and that's what I'd do.
You mentioned George Michael and Richard Marx, your influences were more pop-based. Did rock 'n' roll influences come later?
Definitely, I started as at Top-40 radio kid. I didn't really grow up listening to what you'd consider cool music. It wasn't until the '90s, until the grunge movement, that I really started to discover rock 'n' roll.
I really got into Pearl Jam and Pearl Jam and … there was a lot of Pearl Jam in the '90s. I was kind of a one-artist listener, I guess. I listened to one artist till I got sick of them.
Your work with this Queen gig isn't your first exposure to music success. For more than a decade you fronted Down Here, even winning some Juno Awards. I'm curious to know how the transition from that project to this came about.
With Down Here we tried from the very beginning — we're talking late-'90s to early 2000s when we first formed — I remember we wanted to, as a band, to end well whenever that happened. We had sort of a distaste for bands that went on too long and kept hanging onto the dream when really no one was listening and they were out of creative ideas. So, we didn't want to be that. We had such a great run for a band that was mildly successful, just enough to stay alive. You know, I never had to get a second job thankfully, although we came close a couple of times but we made it work.
We recorded six or seven studio albums and every one up until our very last one had done just a little better than the previous one and when we released our last one, it kind of tanked. And although we'd never had huge success, we'd always had this gradual growth—reaching a wider and wider audience every couple of years. So when this album, which we felt was some of our best work—I felt that I'd written the best song—and it went to radio as the first single … but a month later the adds started to drop off like flies and I remember thinking 'What's going on here?' If I write what I consider is my best song and nobody cares, then what are we doing?
That's when the thoughts of 'How much longer are we going to be doing this?' started — 2011, I believe — and that was right around the time Queen snuck in there.
I understand that for the audition for the Queen gig you were actually somewhat reluctant to audition? Is that true?
Yeah, definitely. People had been telling me for years that I sounded like Freddie Mercury to the point where it started to be like a joke in the band like 'Let's see if tonight we can get no comparisons to Freddie Mercury.' I'd try as best as I could but people always hear that in my voice.
When it came up that one of the members of Queen started this audition process to join this tribute band … I didn't know for sure that what I can do is rare at all. I figured there's billions of people in the world there's probably lots of people that can do this sort of thing. But, in the back of my head so many people have told me that I sound like this guy and are so amazed by it, something tells me that this might be a rare thing, that I could probably win this.
I had recorded the audition video and had talked to my manager … and he said go for it. Then I was like, 'Nah, I don't want to do this because I feel like it could really change my life and I don't know if I'm ready for that.'
Tell me about the response that you're getting. There's been this huge hole left for fans that are never going to get a chance to see Queen perform in its entirety.
You put your finger on it. When Freddie Mercury passed … I think more than any other artist I can think of, he was so beloved. People just have a really special place in their heart … it's almost like everyone thinks of him as their little brother. What a tragedy that he had to die so young and like what we were robbed of when he died so tragically and people feel that to this day, man. And people want to show their kids this once in a generation person who came along and changed the face of rock 'n' roll and wasn't afraid to be himself in every way possible.
The Ultimate Queen Celebration visits the Meyer Theatre on April 2, the Grand Theatre in Wausau on April 3, the Capitol Civic Centre in Manitowoc on April 5 and Waverly Beach in Menasha on April 6. For ticket information visit BrennanSeehafer.com.