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By Patrick Prince

While the band Queen have been on hiatus from touring due to the pandemic, both guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor busied themselves with their own solo music. May concentrated on reissuing his past solo albums into expanded editions, and Taylor went a step further and recorded a brand new solo record, his first since 2013’s Fun on Earth.

Taylor’s new record, Outsider, is an eclectic piece of rock art. It's an album that will pull no punches lyrically about the dire state of the world in one song (“Gangsters Are Running the World’) and then insist that your mind completely escape reality with another (“The Clapping Song”). But there is a meditative sense of hope in even the most serious pieces of music. The album itself starts off with a pulsing push with the song “Tides,” which sounds more like the French band Air than classic Queen.

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Although Taylor will perform his solo material (and certain Queen songs) in the U.K. with a handpicked band, the ensemble will unlikely venture over to the U.S. Instead, Taylor will wait until the mothership — a term he gives the band Queen and crew — can tour America.

The following is an exclusive interview with Roger Taylor about the solo album Outsider, its studio guests like Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall (who Taylor calls “delightful”) and his overall concern about the current state of humanity.

   

GOLDMINE: You must be excited about the new album.

ROGER TAYLOR: It’s quite a surprise to suddenly find I have a new album. It seemed to come together very nicely. The artwork’s nice, because it was an idea … my daughter actually had the idea, did a sketch and she did the final.

GM: Yeah, the cover art goes along well with the title Outsider. A lone figure facing a cliff.

RT: I just wanted to sort of give the impression of aloneness.

GM: Well, the pandemic certainly took a lot of touring away from musicians. But one thing musicians did do is create a lot of music and record it. In this age, you could collaborate from far away, too, and bring all the elements together. You, of course, are a multi-instrumentalist, so you probably found it easier. You didn’t need much outside help. But if there is a silver lining — if you want to call it that — it’s that a lot of musicians were able to bunker down and create.

RT: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the first few months of the lockdown here in U.K., it was such a weird time. It was a leveling time. You know, everybody was locked away. Nobody was going anywhere. They weren’t sure if the food supplies were going to hold up. You didn’t know what was going to happen next week and just how bad this thing was gonna get. So, it was weird. I just thought I’d use the time as constructively as I could.

GM: The opening song, “Tides,” I found soothing, as well as atmospheric and reaffirming. Even though it says, “My only friend now is the tide,” I like the word reaffirming because it was almost like a meditation of sorts.

RT: Kind of, yeah. I mean, some of the time, and during the time of the first lockdown, we live by the sea and the only real constant are the tides. Weather is different every day, but the tides are absolute; they go out, come in, go out and it’s constant. Really, I suppose, I was just juxtaposing our sort of short span with this constant force of nature.

GM: It’s been called dreamy pop, but I think the song has more substance than something that could be labeled dreamy pop. And no matter how deep the statement is, it has a sense of hope.

RT: I’d like to think there’s optimism in there. Absolutely.

GM: As a creative person, you’ve never shied away from a statement in a song. And the song “Gangsters Are Running This World” is definitely a statement.

RT: Well, I have to say, I think it has a lot of truth. There are an awful lot of gangsters running an awful lot of countries at the moment. We seem to be in a very poor state, at the moment, in the world. It’s really not a good time, I think. And it seems like, you know, the right is on the rise, and ignorance seems to be on the rise. A lot of ignorance, in general, so you wonder, we wonder. Then, of course, here in England, we’ve had Brexit. So, we’ve effectively left Europe. We were Europeans. I think that’s a big mistake as well, personally.

GM: Speaking as an American, I never fully got to understand the forces behind Brexit. But it seemed like it carried over.

RT: They’re very nationalistic kind of forces — and really pathetic, actually. We’re now just starting to see all the ramifications and the extra red tape this is all generating and just making life more difficult. I think really stupid people voted for Brexit, you know, or selfish people. Stupid or selfish, or maybe both.

GM: Well, nationalism is nothing new in our countries. It kind of goes with the sentiment of tides, right? There is a sort of ebb and flow of it. You just have to make sure it doesn’t get out of control.

RT: Getting up to the moment, though, I think that was the point, really. An awful lot of these sort of dictators...

GM: …even in the so-called democracies, right?

RT: Yeah.

GM: And there is this feeling that you mentioned in the song, a sense of futility for the common man. Where you say in one lyric, “You can shout but never be heard.” Even with the internet, with people constantly giving their opinions, you can still feel sort of helpless.

RT: I think so. I mean, especially imagine living in Belarus, or somewhere like that, or in Russia. You can shout, but they might just put you in prison for shouting. So, it’s pretty scary, isn’t it? And as a solo thing, and not as a band thing, I can say what I like, really.

GM: I was going to ask you about that, with being solo...a band is a team sport …

RT: Yeah, very much so.

GM: Obviously, if you write a song, you have to get everyone’s sort of approval. In 1977, you did your first solo single, “I Wanna Testify,” even though Queen was at their height of success. Did you find doing a solo song then, in a way, refreshing creatively?

RT: That was what it was, it was really to express yourself as opposed to the band. As you say, you have to agree, you have to all have the same point of view, if you’re trying to make any kind of point, which we weren’t always, you know, we’re just making music, really, as entertainment. But when it’s your own thing, you’re free to express your own opinion. So, I might as well. People don’t have to agree. But that was a long time ago, that was “I Wanna Testify.”

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GM: Well, there’s also not having the fear of making mistakes, or, you know, a total freedom of creativity.

RT: Made plenty of mistakes (laughs), but, yeah, very true. That’s why I think we do it. I mean, I love working with Queen. It’s great. It’s the mothership. It’s always been my main job. At the same time, we do the individual solo stuff for our own gratification or artistic fulfillment, whatever you want to call it.

GM: Talk about playing more (instruments) on your solo albums besides the drums.

RT: I love playing the other stuff. It’s nice. Obviously, I’m not the best bass player in the world, but we don’t need the best bass player in the world. (laughs)

GM: Now, on your first official solo album, you did practically everything. Right?

RT: I think I did everything on that one, yeah. On this one, there’s a couple of things. There’s a sax. I can’t play the saxophone, so... (laughs) I love some wailing sax. So, Steve Hamilton is a great sax player in England. I’ve used him before. He’s just a great sax player. And I have friend play some of the guitar. Mainly rhythm guitar. Jason Falloon is his name. I worked with him before. He’s a fine musician. He can do some of the stuff that I can’t do.

GM: Also, on the new album, KT Tunstall came in and played. Maybe you could fill us in about that.

RT: She just sang along, really. We turned one song into a kind of a duet. KT’s backing me up on the song “We’re All Just Trying to Get By.”

GM: How were you able to get in touch with KT? Did you know her before?

RT: I got in touch with the record company. I’ve seen her before, years ago. She really pioneered this looping technique, and I liked her voice, and she’s a real gutsy performer. She was doing this looping, way before Ed Sheeran, who has become very expert at that. He’s very good, but give her the credit for that, you know,

GM: Maybe you could talk about that looping technique a little more?

RT: It’s not something that I do. Although it’s a very interesting technique where you can build up layers, it’s all you. But you literally put one layer down, then you let that layer go and you can hear it, and then you build on it. So, you can start with a rhythm, where you can start with a chord sequence, and you can build on that. And the same with vocals, you can harmonize with yourself, and you can build up. It sounds like a big ensemble, and it’s just you. Ed Sheeran is quite a master at it, but KT Tunstall started it, as far as I know.

GM: She did add to the song “We’re All Just Trying to Get By,” which (is a song) anyone, no matter where they’re from, can understand — not just the working-class hero, which you once covered (with a song by John Lennon). But it is true during these times with the pandemic, you’re just trying to survive, basically.

RT: Yeah, I mean, I think I started off with the idea that we’re all human beings, we’re all just trying to survive. But then it sort of goes further, you know, and then you think every living creature is just trying to survive, just trying to get by... even the virus, if you want to really take it that way. And that everybody is struggling to multiply but basically survive. Very simple but very fundamental point.

GM: Compare this album, if you can, to other solo albums.

RT: I think it’s a better piece, as a group of songs. And I think it’s a little more adult. Should we say a little more grown up? Yeah, I would say that. I mean, but it is for other people to judge.

GM: When you say it’s a little bit more adult, you mean the themes that you’re tackling?

RT: Yeah, I think the themes. I think there are some decent songs in there. I think the things (the songs) are dealing with, it’s coming from an older viewpoint as well. You know, I’m an older man now. With a certain age comes, should we say, more wisdom. The last song is “Journey’s End,” which is kind of...

GM: Melancholic?

RT: Yeah, kind of melancholic but optimistically melancholic. It’s about coming to the end of your stay here, but don’t worry, nothing to fear, you know, fly on.

GM: What do you think about Outsider being released on both vinyl and cassette? Now, vinyl’s resurgence is understandable for many. The cassette, however, can be seen as more antiquated.

RT: That’s a mystery to me. I would have bet against cassettes coming back. But, hey, I guess they’re back. Incredible. I don’t really understand that. But I do love vinyl, you know? It’s my go-to, my favorite media — something you can hold in your hand, which is great. You can hold a CD in your hand as well, but vinyl just sounds better to me. Just warmer, rounder, fatter. You know, you get an album, you take it home, you look at the cover and then hopefully there’d be a lot of information in there, which you’d read while you were listening to the album. It’s a good, long process. Also reading lyrics along with the album. I remember getting Sgt. Pepper. I think that was one of the first to actually print all the lyrics on the album, because they didn’t used to do that. Really, before that, I don’t think.

GM: The artwork is very special. You could tell with Queen, the album covers were important.

RT: Literally, they were vital.

GM: A question fans will want to know about besides writing a solo album: Why not new Queen material as well?

RT: What, to make a new album? Well, we talked about it, but I don’t know. We haven’t reached any massive agreement yet.

GM: I know, and Brian (May) is busy reissuing his solo stuff.

RT: Yes, he is. We did a song with Adam (Lambert ) in Nashville, actually. We never quite finished it. We didn’t feel it was quite right. Maybe one day.

GM: The material you’ve done on this solo album would be very welcomed by Freddie (Mercury). It’s very eclectic. It’s all-around well-rounded.

RT: Thank you. Well, that is very reassuring, actually. That’s nice to know. Because you just don’t know when you’re throwing something out there. You do not know how it’ll be received. It’s a lottery.

There are a lot of things that just have one kind of mood going. I mean, the great thing about The Beatles’ albums, it was always eclectic ... which is why we love them so much. We tried to vary our albums and make it, you know, not want one to sound like the track before.