Marc Martel
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Interview with Marc Martel

Dec 12 edit: If there was ever any doubt, we are pleased to announce that Marc Martel has won the contest to play the part of Freddie Mercury in the 2012 Queen Extravaganza Tour! Watch out for the Downhere vocalist and five other lucky contest winners (a second vocalist, 2 guitarists, a drummer and a bass player) when they kick off the Queen tribute tour in mid-2012. Converge was lucky to have a chat with Marc here:

His unique voice ushered in the 80’s, 90’s and survived throughout the 2000’s. You’ve stomped and clapped with “We Will Rock You” in sports arenas and you may have even attempted the highs and lows of “Bohemian Rhapsody” on a karaoke night.

I am of course talking about the voice of iconic Queen’s front man, the late great Freddie Mercury. For decades there has never been anyone like him, until Roger Taylor of Queen, launched a talent search looking for vocalists and musicians to star in “The Queen Extravaganza” tribute tour.

Eager vocalists and musicians immediately started uploading their audition tapes to YouTube for a chance to tour with the band. It was that very week near the end of September when the web was aflame with what could be ‘the next Freddie Mercury.”

The audition video itself appears unexceptional: Studio space and guy holding a mic. He introduces himself as Marc Martel doing his “Somebody To Love” audition. He pushes the play button to his backup music. Then, when he starts singing, you suddenly realize and listen closer to what seems to be Freddie Mercury’s voice coming from this guy’s mouth.

His voice being the next closest thing to Freddie Mercury, and even with some physical resemblance (topped off with a nice dirty stache!), Marc Martel has been wowing Queen lovers all around the world. His audition video now sits with over 4.5 million views and, after having made it to the public voting round of the talent search, has a clear shot of winning the competition.

But this is not the first time he’s performed nor is it the first that people have heard of him. In fact many Christians in North American will recognize him from the band Downhere. Originally hailing from Canada (now living in Tennessee), Martel has been the singer of the Christian rock band for the last 10 years and doesn’t show signs of quitting either. We got a chance to talk to him as he wraps up his album tour before he heads up to Canada for the “How Many Kings” Christmas musical tour.

How did it begin?

I had a friend in Nashville he found out about the contest and obviously for years people have been telling me that I sound like Freddie Mercury and everybody who knows me knows that He found out about the contest the day of, the day that it began and he sent me the link and I thought to myself, Wow this is amazing, this is actually legitimately put on by Queen themselves and I thought I don’t know if I can pass this up

Were you expecting your audition tapes to do that well (because you’ve been told you sound like him for a long time now)? You’re coming up to 5 mill!

It’s very amazing. Every now and then I have to remind myself though that Justin Beiber has hundreds of millions of views. Nobody nobody expected it … its absolutely  mind-boggling how something like that can just take off and especially since people have been telling me that i sound like the guy for years I didn’t realize that people really cared that much you know? It was like never that big of a deal, but I guess it is. It’ awesome.

Were you a fan of Queen before or just after?

I definitely am a Queen fan. I was introduced to the band through Wayne’s World like a lot of people in my generation. Obviously I’d heard ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are The Champions’ at sporting events and what not but I really got into the band themselves probably 10… 15 years ago.

Is that your natural singing voice? Or just when you mimic?

I’m definitely a mimic naturally but then there are definitely a few other singers I can do fairly well but even when I’m not trying to mimic Freddie Mercury, like I said people always tell me, people at my shows or come see our band, I sound like Freddie Mercury even when I’m trying specifically not to sound like him I still get it. Mostly my normal voice but i put it on a little bit when I wanna try to sound exactly like him.

Your audition tape was so natural and smooth. How many takes did you take?

Think I did around six to eight takes I believe, and that was the last one I did. The first few I did were a lot more animated and I just felt like a bit of a goofball jumping around in my studio and I was like, “You know what? I’m not gonna do that. I’m just going to stand there basically and sing the song and not make a big deal out of it.” And I didn’t make a big deal out of it by not cleaning my studio!

[But] I was still kinda doubting myself whether or not I should upload the video because you know, I love what I do with my band [Downhere]. We’ve had a great 10-11 years and I’d love to keep doing this for as long as we can and I was afraid in a way that if I win this it could interfere with my band. There are three other guys’ careers at stake here. You know, if it interferes with that..

What would happen then, with your band, if you win or lose?

Well the good thing is that if I win, the good thing about it that it’s a temporary thing. It’s not like a career thing to be in a Queen tribute band. It’s a tour that’s going to happen next year for two or three months and as far as I know that’s all. And I’ll be able to keep playing with my band. We’re already booking a spring tour next year so we’re still moving along with our band as if nothings really changed.

Awesome, like you even just released a new album in August?

Yeah!

And it also says that you’re currently on tour?

Yes we are! We are actually in New Jersey tonight, we’re kinda setting up and we’re about to sound check in a few minutes. Well yea, its been a great tour. We’re out with 2 artists, one named Jason Gray and another one, and Aaron Shust. They’re good friends of ours. Its been a really successful tour actually, we’ve had a great time, we’ve been out for a month now. We’ve got 4 more shows including this one, so this is our last weekend.

Any plans to come up to Canada?

Not on this tour. Um, but we’re going up to Edmonton at the end of January. 

So Downhere is a Christian band. Knowing that Queen was controversial back in the day (and sometimes still now in extreme conservative eyes) with Freddie Mercury being homosexual, does singing Queen songs harm the Christian-ness of Downhere?

We’ve had so much positive feedback from the Christian community. I think people know us, people know our hearts and they know that we’re strong believers and that is the foundational thing, to all four of us, and me included obviously, and I wouldn’t jeopardize that with this and some people have different opinions as to how far a Christian should go..  as far as being in the world and not of it. This tour, this whole thing, when it comes down to it, is a tribute tour for a great band who put out a lot of great music and the reason why its great music is because they said a lot of stuff thats true. And it really resonated with the hearts of millions of people. They’re the second or third most selling band ever. And the reason for that is because not only did they write good music but I think their lyrics, obviously they weren’t coming from a biblical perspective, but I also believe that all truth is God’s truth and when you speak in truth people will resonate with that and want to hear more. And this tour is not about celebrating Freddie Mercury’s personal life decision, it’s not about that, it’s about giving Queen fans something new to cheer about and I can get behind singing truth even if its not proclaiming the gospel, its still truth, and people want to hear that.

Downhere, Christian band, Nashville, Canadian

How does your band feel about your success? Are they jealous?

Glen, our bass player, has submitted his audition and he’s actually made it to the second round as well. So there’s a possibility that he might be coming out on the road with me. I’d be SO ecstatic about that, it’d be so great to have another one of my band members out on this tour with me. Also my brother, he’s in the second round of vocal auditions, so that… he’s got a really good chance of winning as well because they’re picking three singers, not just one. But the band has been really supportive. They’re just happy. This whole thing has brought Downhere some exposure to an audience that otherwise would never have heard our music before and its just really cool to go on YouTube to read some of the comments by people who aren’t believers and don’t have any Christian music on their iPod yet they’re buying our album and they’re saying stuff like, “Well I don’t know how well Christian music is going to fit in my iPod music repertoire but I love the music and it’s in there!”

You guys started out in Saskatchewan, Canada?

Yea, none of us are from Saskatchewan but that’s where we got our start because we went to college there, at Briercrest College, three of us did anyway. That’s where we got our start and the college was really instrumental and getting us on the road and touring and getting our touring legs under us. We were signed to a Nashville Christian label in 2001

Its always good to see Canadian talent out there, making it!

Yeah! Anytime I see a Canadian artist get some recognition I’m like, “Yea go for it!”

Lastly… Your dirty ‘stache! Are you growing it out for Movember?

You know what? I really wanted to, and I started it, because we were on the road and I’m like, ‘Well I got nobody to impress,’ so I did have the mustache for about just over a week and then I got home and my wife is unfortunately not a mustache fan at all so as soon as I walked in the door I had to cover my face with my hand and I’m like, “Aaah I’m sorry honey, I’ll shave it right away!” and she’s like, “Yea, you better!”  Well [the mustache] wasn’t very impressive. I think the way to do it is to grow the whole beard out. She can stand the whole beard and then just shave off the beard and leave the mustache so then it’s actually a real mustache and not just the dirty ‘stache. [It’s] strategy.

Public voting ends on November 28 (next Monday!) so make sure you head over to Queen Extravaganza to make your vote! Vote for Marc Martel!

Kona