Marc Martel Very Much Finds His Own Voice With “Impersonator”


(PCM) Many people immediately recognize the name Marc Martel as the insanely talented man behind the Freddie Mercury meets Luciano Pavarotti mash-up viral video or perhaps he is best known for being the singer/songwriter that was hand-picked by Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor to take on lead vocals for the “Queen Extravaganza”, the hit roadshow that celebrates the legendary rock groups iconic body of work.

For Martel, who spent years recording and touring as the vocalist and primary songwriter for Downhere, an award-winning Canadian rock band with a sound, style and fanbase all its own, the success of The Extravaganza came with a catch. The project helped introduce Martel’s talents to millions of people, but spotlights his uncanny resemblance to Freddie Mercury–one of rock’s most iconic vocalists—more than his own music.

We were incredibly happy to spend some time getting know Marc Martel by speaking to him about his stellar debut solo album “Impersonator”.

On the feedback he has been receiving from fans about “Impersonator”

Marc Martel: I am real happy with the feedback and I am just really excited to get it out there live and start playing these songs.

On putting himself out there as a solo artist

Marc Martel: The Queen thing is awesome and it’s such an awesome gig, but obviously I want to do my own stuff. This is the first time for me ever doing something on my own and it’s kind of a new deal. Sole proprietorship is a new deal for me and I actually have to be really responsible with communicating with people and getting my ducks all in a row. There are so many details to handle, but getting my own music out there is something that I always wanted to do. The Queen thing is still going on, in fact we have the the Fall pretty full with that… The albums been out since September and I get to play my first solo show on May 3 so it’s been a long time coming.

On the length of time between projects 

Marc Martel: It’s been a couple years of just transition and finding time to record the album and then there’s the Queen thing in between. Not just the Queen Extravaganza, but I’ve done quite a bit of other work like corporate events and baseball and basketball games. It’s been a lot of diversity in the past couple years. I’ve had a lot of fun with it and everything is kind of lining up.

On the album’s theme of identity and the recording process

Marc Martel: There was actually supposed to be a third or fourth song that were within that same kind of theme, but my wife kind of stopped me and said ‘this record is a lot about your identity crisis! People will think you’re going to end up in some kind of insane asylum or something.’ (laughs)

Writing this album was about the last couple years of my life. There is definitely the theme of ‘yeah I’m an artist and I happened to sound like this other artist’. That’s great and I’m totally honored to be compared to such a great performer. I am never going to shun that for sure. There are definitely a couple songs like “Impersonator”, which is the title track, and  there is another one called “Dead Ringer” and of course the titles kind of speak for themselves.

I knew I wanted a song called “Impersonator”…  I kind of got the idea from the YouTube trolls on my viral videos. Someone once asked me how I deal with the YouTube trolls and I just say popcorn! It’s kind of entertaining, but but every now and then one will get under my skin and I’ll say ‘why did they have to that’. (laughs) Why did they say I have a big butt or something!

My favorite comment from YouTube so far is the only thing that Mark Martel and Freddie Mercury have in common is a stick out butt. Some other people say ‘oh he’s an impersonator or whatever and I don’t blame them for thinking that because all they know is what I did with Queen and most of the body of work I’ve done for the past couple of years has been the Queen Extravaganza. I did want a song to be called “Impersonator”, but I didn’t want it to be an obvious thing. I got together with a songwriter in LA and she said ‘what if we make it sort of like a love song, to sort of disguise it. It is about a person taking on this role, but it’s not really them, they are doing it to please the person they are in a relationship with at the time. I was like ‘oh man that’s so awesome why didn’t I think of that!

The other one is “Dead Ringer” which is just blatantly says ‘hey this is me and I know it, so let’s just put all the cards on the table. It is nothing new to me and I’ve been told 1 million times, I’m cool with it’. I’ve come to terms with it and I actually enjoy it. There’s different angles of the whole thing and it’s pretty healthy. I don’t think I’ll end up in an insane asylum anytime soon.

On the one thing that is misunderstood about him the most

Marc Martel: I don’t honestly feel misunderstood and I don’t really have that sort of chip on my shoulder honestly. If it was anything it would be that all I want to be is a Freddie Mercury impersonator obviously that is not true. People are going to think what they want and you can’t change that so I’m totally fine with it.

On the challenge of putting so much of himself out there, especially with the album “Impersonator”

Marc Martel: Yeah, I think there is kind of like a vulnerability block like for instance what you want to put on the album and what you want people to know about you. That’s definitely different as a solo artist because you know I was in a band for 12 years where you didn’t have to be so vulnerable and personable in your songs. If you tried to be too personal the rest of the band would be like ‘that’s not me’, so there was this kind of balance that you had to find. Doing the solo thing you have to be more discerning and kind of ask people around you like Crystal, my wife, do you think this is too personal to share. It has to figure your genre I’m a rock artist and I wouldn’t necessarily put the same stuff in a song as I would if I were a pop folk artist or something.

The album is definitely the most personal and gives an inside look at who I am for sure. I am definitely an introvert. I am an artist that has a little bit of that Jekyll and Hyde onstage meaning I am totally extroverted as soon as I get on the stage but the second that I get off the stage I resort back to being an introvert and people are like oh he’s not much of a talker is he? I think actually that might be one thing that people misunderstand about me just with the differences in their interactions with me.

On his interaction with fans

Marc Martel: I think I’ll have a better answer for you once I get out on the road and begin interacting with fans. The interaction with fans from the Queen thing is that everyone is just fantastic. Queen fans are just so rabid and loyal. By saying rabid, I don’t mean crazy or anything, they are just true music fans and they are just so happy to hear Queen’s music kind of the way they’ve been wanting to hear it.

The Queen Extravaganza is just really cool to be a part of and to be able to do that for them. We’ve played over 100 shows over the last couple years, it may even be closer to 150, and every single fan that I’ve run into is really cool and chill and they are great. I am interested to see what it’s going to be like to see some of the Queen fans, people that know me from Queen come out to my solo shows. I’m half expecting to hear the audience go ‘hey play some more Queen songs! (laughs)

On changes in the music industry and their effect on him as an artist

Marc Martel: That is an interesting thing because I have been an artist throughout the whole thing. My original band started kind of at the end of the old music business back in 2001 when record labels were still developing artists and spending a lot of money on them. Back then they would drop the artist that wasn’t working and spend money on the ones that were and we experienced that whole thing. Then right around 2004 or 2005 MySpace came around and the big thing was to spend two hours a day on MySpace requesting friends.

I remember feeling like I’m wasting my life, meaning this cannot possibly matter or make a difference in our lives. And it didn’t really. It has been really cool to to be able to look back now and say I was an artist through tumultuous and crazy times where everything was changing and it’s been really interesting to adapt.

Not that I was too terribly married to the old-school thing anyway and I’ve seen a lot of people in the industry have a hard time transitioning who were really rooted in the old-school Ms. music business. They are trying to readapt and that’s been really interesting to see as some people can do it and some people can’t there are still some people that hold on to the old ways, but social media has brought about change and there’s no denying that. Crystal, my wife, is a little younger than me and she is a little hipper with that then I am, I try and I’m okay with it.

On when music first began speaking to him

Marc Martel: One of the earliest music memories that has left an impact on me was my mom playing Beethoven at night while me and my siblings were falling asleep. I just remember in my head listening to the notes that my mom was playing and thinking to myself about how those sounds and notes all came together. It sounds so beautiful and I was just learning piano at the time when I was probably six or seven years old and I knew that I couldn’t make those sounds that she was making with her hands and I knew that was going to be a goal in my life to be able to reproduce that stuff.

Some of the earliest artists … and I’ve been thinking about this recently because because of the solo tour I am going out on  I wanted to put a couple covers in my show or that were really meaningful to me growing up and I have this big huge ambitious idea to go through my life and pick out all these songs that were significant to me throughout life and put them all into this huge medley, but I gave up on it because I couldn’t decide because there were far too many.

I am really kind of a top 40 listener, maybe not so much now, but back in the 80s in the 90s I was very much into what was on the radio. Artists such as George Michael had a huge influence on me growing up. If you listen to my music I don’t know if you can really hear it but every now and then I made that decision to sing the melody that way because I heard something similar in a George Michael song. I was also really big into Pearl Jam in the early 90s in fact I was so into Pearl Jam I can actually still hear it in my voice.

I have always gravitated towards artist that don’t lock themselves into one particular genre. I tend to get bored with music pretty quick and I will bounce from one thing to another. If you listen to my record there’s lots of 70s ask guitar guitar rock but there’s definitely some pop rock elements as well. I like to be all over the place.

Marc concludes by telling us that he plans to schedule another small run of tour dates this summer and will have a very busy second half of 2015 when the Queen Extravaganza heads over to Europe and possibly Australia.

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