Side Stage: Queen’s Tyler Warren
Ahead of Queen Extravaganza’s UK tour, Shaun Ponsonby talks to the tribute band’s drummer who ended up drumming with his heroes.
Funny things, tribute bands.
There can be a level of silliness to them that many find difficult to get past – a caricature of rock & roll.
A few years ago, Queen drummer Roger Taylor set up an official tribute band to play Queen’s music, one that eschewed the usual dressing up. This is simply musicians playing a legendary bands’ material. For those who still scoff at the notion, there will come a time when this music can only be played by tribute bands. Centuries later, Mozart’s music is alive and well, seeing an orchestra play his music is somewhat akin to an elaborate tribute band.
The resulting Queen Extravaganza have been touring consistently ever since, and remain an official Queen project, able to dip further into the band’s back catalogue than Queen themselves can on the road.
The project’s drummer, Tyler Warren, has even been promoted to playing with Taylor and guitarist Brian May on their worldwide treks with Adam Lambert.
Here at Planet Slop, we have always had a fascination with the sidemen and session players who help artists realise their vision. So, ahead of both Queen Extravaganza’s upcoming UK tour, plus further dates with Queen + Adam Lambert, we spoke to Warren about working with one of the world’s biggest ever bands.
Planet Slop: The Queen Extravaganza is Queen’s official tribute act. How did this come about, and what unique aspect makes it “official”?
Tyler Warren: The Queen Extravaganza came about as Roger Taylor’s last word, if you will, for all the tribute acts around the world. He got tired of seeing so many tribute acts focusing mainly on impersonating Freddie, down to the fake moustache, the mic half-stand, and the stage clothes. He wanted it to be about the music, not about playing dress up. So he put together the auditions in 2011, and selected the original band, which is where I came in. And we strive to be the end-all live band. No tracks, no clicks. We performing everything live. And we kick it in the ass, I must say. What makes it official is that this whole thing was conceived by Roger and Brian. Initial stage designs, themes, song and album selection, are led in the main by Roger. Queen’s long time live keyboardist and musical director Spike Edney is also involved as overall Musical Supervisor for the project. His musical insight is also invaluable as he’s worked with Queen for many years now.
PS: Were you a fan of Queen before taking your place in the Queen Extravaganza?
TW: Oh yes. I grew up listening to Queen, thanks to my parents. I we had their entire catalogue on cassette probably by the time I was five or six, so I wasn’t just a Greatest Hits fan! I knew it all! I’d play Queen songs in talent shows when I was a kid. So…yeah!
PS: How and why did you get the call join Queen + Adam Lambert on their current tour?
TW: Well, I’d been doing the Queen Extravaganza tours for four years at the end of 2016, and sort of gotten pretty hands-on with the band myself, becoming the musical director. I got word from management – Queen Extravaganza and Queen + Adam Lambert, more-or-less, are all under the same umbrella of management – around Christmas of that year, that Rufus Taylor, Roger’s son, had gotten the gig as The Darkness’ new drummer, and wouldn’t be able to tour with Queen + Adam Lambert anymore, so they asked me to take his spot! And, of course, I said yes!
PS: Every night on the tour you get to have a drum battle with Roger Taylor. How does that feel ? It must be pretty surreal?
TW: It’s pretty neat! It’s something that he used to do with Rufus, so naturally, coming to those first rehearsals, I figured it’d be the first to go, since it was a cool father and son moment. But, it had become such a fun moment in the show anyways, and it gives the rest of the band a little breather backstage, that he wanted to keep it, and have me do it with him. It’s awesome, let me tell you. To be able to do a drum duet with one of my biggest influences as a child, in front of that many people, is just out of this world.
PS: How is it different playing the same songs with Brian and Roger compared to the Queen Extravaganza?
TW: Well, the biggest difference is that I’m playing these songs with the guys who wrote them. That’s part of some of the ‘pinch me’ moments I have. I get to feel the push and pull onstage that we’ve all watched from afar, either at a concert or on a tape or DVD. Since I don’t play the full kit except for a few times, I’m basically filling the percussive holes, giving a new twist to the live setting, and giving more muscle and time to the harder rocking songs. And nothing’s changed with the vocals; I’m still squealing out all the high notes! One big musical difference, is with Queen Extravaganza, we strive to really bring as much of the original studio recordings alive as we can, especially the background vocals, in the spirit of the macho rock show. With Queen, they’re a completely different band live, and have never tried to duplicate the studio recordings, so it’s fun to be able to do that with the real band, as it almost brings a sense of spontaneity, and sometimes danger to the show, which I believe is one of the most fun aspects of rock, especially 70s rock, because you can do that with that kind of music; you can do what you want.
PS: Have you learned anything from working so closely with Brian and Roger?
TW: Reaffirmations really. You always hear how involved they were with their shows in the old days, and nothing’s changed. We’ll spend just as much time on lights and the ‘show’, as we do sound and rehearsal. It’s helped reemphasize, to me, how important EVERYTHING is to a show. It’s easy to forget, with Queen Extravaganza, when you get in a tour rhythm where you come in, check your instruments, run a few songs, then do the show in a few hours, and that’s it. You can forget how hands-on the show SHOULD be. They care SO MUCH about every aspect of the show, and they put everything they have into it, because they want to make sure every fan gets their money’s worth. It’s refreshing to see that, as a younger musician, that the “older” generation still cares so much about their show that they’ll stay to the bitter end to make sure everything is right. Still getting schooled, years later!
PS: What can we expect from the Queen Extravaganza tour?
TW: Well, this time around, we are performing the Greatest Hits album in its entirety. There are a few gems that, believe it or not, we haven’t performed that made the cut on that original compilation in 1981, so I’m excited about that. That also leaves room for a few more songs in the live show, of course. And I say, since we’re performing an album where every single song was a hit, then why not throw a surprise or two in there for the fans, eh?
PS: Do you have any favourite songs to play and why?
TW: I’ve always enjoyed Under Pressure, because it has so many dynamics, and it just keeps lifting until the very end. It’s always a powerful song live. Of course I like any of them I’ve sung lead on, like I’m In Love With My Car or Stone Cold Crazy. I, personally, like to do the obscure songs live, because I like working for a big response. You know you’re gonna get the big response with the hits, no matter what, and doing b-sides keeps me out of auto pilot, because you have to work a little harder to engage the audience with something they might not have heard, and I’m always up for a challenge!
PS: Do you have any of your projects you would like to talk about?
TW: Oh sure! The latest thing that I’ve released was a full album cover of Rush’s Permanent Waves last fall, for no particular reason other than catharsis and escape from personal stuff, and fandom I suppose! I’ve written, recorded, and released my own solo music for about ten years now, and released a retrospective called Bookend: A Retrospective 2007-2016 just in time for the last Queen Extravaganza tour in fall 2016. I really just wanted a bundle of the best things I did in those years to sell on tour, but I’m very proud of that compilation, and I’m very proud of the music I did, and my friends I played with. I just finishing tracking in New Orleans for a new band/project, with my new co-conspirator Rachel Brandsness, and it’s very exciting, deep, personal, and dare I say, at times, DIFFERENT, and I absolutely cannot wait for us to share this new music when it’s done.
Queen Extravaganza play Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall on Monday 5th November 2018. Tickets are available now.