Published on December 14th, 2019 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Marc Martel On “The Christmas Collection,” Working With The Members Of Queen & More
Long before his YouTube videos went viral — spawning an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and a performance with the surviving members of Queen on American Idol — singer Marc Martel spent 13 years recording and touring the globe with Canadian rockers Downhere. Not only did the rock band go on to visit all 50 American States, but they also toured throughout Europe and even Northern Africa, ultimately collecting worldwide acclaim along with 4 Juno Awards in their native land.
The latest studio from Marc Martel is this year’s The Christmas Collection. The holiday album features a star-studded cast of collaborators including Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Jason Gray, Buddy Greene, Plumb, Scott Mulvahill, and Ron Block. In support of The Christmas Collection, Martel is on the road alongside Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, who are both on his recording of “Silver Bells.”
Marc Martel also notably worked on the recent award-winning Queen bio-pic Bohemian Rhapsody as one of the voices of frontman Freddie Mercury. I had the pleasure of speaking with Martel about this and more within our Q&A for The Hype Magazine. Tour dates and plenty more about Marc Martel — including where you can purchase the aforementioned new album The Christmas Collection — can be found online by visiting his official website at www.marcmartelmusic.com.
The Christmas Collection is your new album. How long did you spend making it?
Marc Martel: I spread the recording of the album over the last five years, with the exception of “How Many Kings,” which I recorded with my old band Downhere in 2007. Suffice it to say I’ve been living in Christmasland for many, many months. Good thing I love the Holidays!
There are lots of stories about artists making holiday albums in the summer, but making the studio out to have a holiday feel to it. How did you get yourself psyched up for the holidays?
Marc Martel: In an ideal world, we’d jump in the studio December 1st, and release the record a week later. But that’s prohibitively-unrealistic, unless you’re a live-off-the-floor bluegrass band or something. I generally would wait until at least April or May, so that I could put some distance between recording and the previous Christmas, to help it feel somewhat fresh again. But I’ve found it remarkably easy to get into the spirit when recording Christmas classics, since they have stood the test of time on the basis of them being such great songs. I haven’t resorted to putting up a Christmas tree mid-year in my studio or anything yet. Maybe I should.
Which song did you record first for the album?
Marc Martel: Other than “How Many Kings,” I believe it was “O Holy Night” in 2015.
Holiday music aside, you were hand-picked to contribute vocals for the Bohemian Rhapsody movie. How did that come about and what was that experience like?
Marc Martel: I’ve had a friendship with Queen since 2011 from my days with The Queen Extravaganza, Queen’s official tribute. Jim Beach, who manages Queen, mentioned to me early on that they were going to make a movie about Freddie and the band, and that he’d like for me to be involved if ever they needed help on the vocals side of things. Roger Taylor even asked me at some point if I’d ever done any acting. But as I haven’t acted since the 6th grade, I kindly recommended he get a proven actor — and did they!
So when the proverbial ducks all got in a row in 2016, we received a call from Denis O’Sullivan, one the movie’s producers, inviting me to lend my voice. Seeing behind the curtain of a major motion picture for the first time was incredibly-fascinating. Kinda surreal knowing this shy kid from Montreal was contributing a crucial piece to something that was so highly anticipated, literally, by millions all over the world. And having a first-hand understanding of Queen’s global popularity, I was fairly certain it was going to be a smash. The one bummer for me was being unable to make time in my schedule to be on set during principal photography.
Your show The Ultimate Queen Celebration has toured all over the world. How would you describe it to someone who hasn’t attended before?
Marc Martel: We do things quite differently than what most might think of as a tribute show, in that we never pretend to be Freddie, Roger, Brian and John… or Spike. Acting isn’t our deal, although some very talented artists do that quite impressively — check out Gary Mullen and John Blunt if you’ve got a hankering for suspending your disbelief. You won’t see me donning a moustache, yellow jacket, or — bad — English accent when I speak. I like how it gives me a different perspective as a performer, presenting the band’s work from the third person, as an outsider looking in, just as the audience is.
I like to remind the crowd that we’re all just a bunch of Queen fans spending an evening together, appreciating some of the greatest rock & roll ever created. It’s a real rock show. It also gives me the ability to get creative and throw in a non-Queen song or two. For example, I do “Ave Maria” in the style of Mercury, which tends to go over gangbusters. The show is an absolute blast, to the extent that even my most jaded muso friends who’ve attended tell me they can’t remember the last time they had so much fun at a show.
Are there any bands you hold in as high of a regard as you do Queen?
Marc Martel: Besides The Beatles and The Beach Boys? I spent most the 90s listening to Pearl Jam and Radiohead. And although they’ve had much less time to prove themselves, I love what The Killers have brought to rock and pop.
Are there any Queen deep-cuts that you think more people ought to know about? In other words, songs that you think ought to be hits but aren’t as well-known?
Marc Martel: For sure. I’m always shocked that “You Take My Breath Away” was never a hit. It’s one of Freddie’s most beautiful songs in my books. Also a big fan of “Spread Your Wings” and “It’s Late” from The Works, which were of course overshadowed by “We Are The Champions” and “We Will Rock You.”
What does 2020 look like for you?
Marc Martel: I’m hoping “smarter, not harder” will have summed it up come next December. I love touring and the invigorating energy of playing live, but I’d also love more time at home so I can really dive back into writing some new material, not to mention for sanity’s sake! But the year is mostly booked up already, kicking off with a huge tour of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Then on to Israel, Iceland, Canada, South America, Mexico, Eastern Europe. It’s going to be another action-packed one, and a working musician is a happy musician.
When not busy with your career, where does your free time usually go?
Marc Martel: The usual. Spending time with my wife and my friends. And my cats. The cats are cute and cuddly. And thinking up the next hopefully-viral video. Being at home really recharges my soul.
What was the last concert you attended for fun?
Marc Martel: Céline in Vegas with my wife, earlier this year. We got to say hi and chat with her for a minute before she went on. She’s nice.
Finally, Marc, any last words for the kids?
Marc Martel: Nothing earth-shattering. But I love what I get to do, and huge thanks to everyone who comes to my shows and buys and plays my music!