If you watch the Hollywood blockbuster Bohemian Rhapsody, it sure sounds like Freddie Mercury belting out all those classic Queen hits. Very few people would be able to discern whether it’s Mercury’s voice, that of the star of the film, Rami Malek, or that of Marc Martel.
The 43-year-old Nashville-based Canadian-born singer has been called the film’s secret weapon. A Mercury vocal doppelganger, Martel spent two months in the studio recording every Queen song used in the film, and what audiences hear on screen is a mix of his voice, along with master recordings of Mercury and contributions from Malek.
Can he tell whose voice is whose in the final product?
“Oh yeah, easily,” the good-natured Martel chuckled on the phone from Nashville last week. “But the amount that’s Freddy and what is me is to remain a mystery.”
Even the film’s insiders can’t tell the difference. Producer Graham King told Rolling Stone, “Literally, you could close your eyes and it’s Freddie. And that’s a very tough thing to do.”
For Martel, the ease with which he can aurally transform into Mercury has opened doors, propelling him far beyond the successful career he enjoyed in Canada. His band Downhere, which he formed at Briercrest College and Seminary in Saskatchewan in 1999, went on to release 10 albums while becoming a Nashville mainstay when it relocated there in the early 2000s.
GROWING UP, the devout Christian Martel wasn’t even aware of Queen, preferring the teen pop of New Kids on the Block and George Michael, when he wasn’t performing in church choir and piano recitals. But once he was exposed to classic rock, and he established himself musically with Downhere, the comparisons to Mercury began flooding in.
In September 2011, Martel entered a competition to join a Queen tribute project called The Queen Extravaganza, organized by the band’s drummer, Roger Taylor.
“It was kind of on a whim, because Downhere was still together. But we had been having some serious thoughts about shutting things down after almost 15 years together,” said Martel. “A friend told me about this thing that Roger Taylor was doing, and I thought wouldn’t it be crazy if all these comparisons with Freddie that I had been getting over the years would add up to something.”
Martel easily won the competition, but even before that, a video of him singing along to Queen’s “Somebody to Love” generated more than a million views on YouTube after a few days (up to 19 million now.)
“It was a shock to win, but an even bigger shock was the video going viral. That set the course for things to come,” he said.
Taylor echoed Bohemian Rhapsody’s producer King when he told the Daily Mirror
in 2013, “that voice. You listen, close your eyes and you think it’s Freddie. It’s really uncanny.”
Martel toured with Taylor’s Queen Extravaganza from 2012 to 2015, and has since formed The Ultimate Queen Celebration, which is coming to Israel on April 17 for a show at Tel Aviv’s Hangar 11.
That prominence brought him to the attention of the producers of Bohemian Rhapsody, who were faced with the daunting task of finding or recreating Queen’s live performances featuring Mercury’s vocals. Many of the band’s iconic shows were recorded poorly or not at all, which is how they ended up turning to Martel.
“The production team always knew they were going to need some extra vocals that didn’t exist in the Freddie archives. When Roger Taylor and Queen were told that, they directed them to me,” said Martel.
“We did a lot of recording to cover their bases because, early in the process – even before the film was shot – they weren’t sure what they were going to need. They wanted to make sure they had everything, going into preproduction.
“I didn’t even know how much I was going to be used in the movie, until I watched it in the theater for the first time, after it was released. I think they made the right decision by keeping it as much Freddie as possible.”
With the resurgence of Queen via its return to the stage with Adam Lambert in the frontman’s role and the success of the film, Martel and his tribute show are in demand like never before.
Going out onstage and taking on Mercury’s vocal persona every show has proved to be a challenge, he explained.
“The thing that takes a beating is the vocal cords. The difference between singing Queen and doing my own material is that if my voice is tired, I can get away with avoiding some high notes or changing things around here and there with my own material. But when people come to hear me sing Queen, they’re coming to see someone sing like Freddie, and I feel I have to figure out how to keep it close to what they’re expecting,” said Martel. “Actually, my voice has become much stronger because I’ve had to figure out a way to do it night in and night out.”
Having become somewhat of an expert on singing like Mercury, Martel said that he’s discovered some nuances in the icon’s style that he hadn’t realized before.
“He wasn’t afraid to use all aspects of his voice,” he said. “I always knew that I could create this feminine tone in my voice, but when I started my band back in my youth, when grunge was big, that wasn’t a thing at all. You had to sound manly.
“But Freddie wasn’t afraid to explore that aspect, and sometimes within even a single song, he could move from rough to light. That’s something I learned from him.”
Based on the response he’s been getting with the Ultimate Queen Celebration, that isn’t the only thing that Martel has learned. And for Queen fans? They’re no longer going, “Marc who?”
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