*Thanks Sebastian for translating*
(Musikalische Themen Von Heute 2000)
Reinhart Mack is one of the most important musicians in Germany, but also a big unknown. Sound Engineer, Musical Producer and huge support of young amateur artists, Mack lives this year a special anniversary, being 20 years since his first album as engineer and co-producer of the British band Queen: The Game.
It's been told that you are responsible of the most successful Queen era, between 1980 and 1988, in which they traveled the world in huge tours. How far can we talk about that responsibility?
Well, it's true that in the albums we worked together we got a special sound, totally new, that converted in the new Queen trademark, as Bohemian Rhapsody had been years before. But it was a team work, the responsibility wasn't mine. In the background they had in mind the ideas for a new sound, but they needed an engineer who could help to bring them life and expression.
Your meeting was then, something Providential?
It was luck. For all of us. Actually it was thanks to Jim Beach, the band's manager. I don't think in destiny, at least as an unavoidable force that brings us into a fixed direction. I prefer to believe in opportune fate.
What did Queen transmit you when you had your first serious contact with them, while they prepared 'The Game'?
More than transmitting something, it was a generalized sensation that floated between them. In 1979 Queen had reached certain state of exhaustion; they started their career with two excellent albums that had a peculiar sound, an impressive production for the relatively few tools they had. They were complex records, and they understood that if they wanted an authentic expansion of audience, they should have a turning point in their next work, which was 'Sheer Heart Attack'. This album marked the mood of the next ones, which would follow a common line, mixing heavier songs with other completely original and in new styles. 'Opera', 'Races' and 'News Of The World' followed this patron that gave them so much success, but it seemed totally burned down with 'Jazz'. John Deacon told me that if they had followed that same line the band would have stopped having interest for the audience. The albums I've named are fabulous, an authentic whiff of fresh air in the music of that time. But with 'Jazz' the model was too cliched. They made it kind of clear, and that was the start point for my job.
In which point was already developed the album when the collaboration started?
For the new album, which should be released in 1980, they already had outlined the songs, and the places for recording and mixing were chosen. Fortune brought them to Munich, to Musicland, where I could work with them. The guys new they needed a new sound, something different to previous records. And at the same time they were afraid people would stop identify Queen, since the sound of their 70s albums, with the famous harmonies, was an emblem. They wanted something new but they didn't know what.
And how did they express it?
Freddie was the most reticent, since the songs he wrote for 'The Game' could have fitted perfectly in an album of the previous decade. Brian May thought that the disc should hook the audience, with more identifiable - hence melodic - songs. John had ideas a bit clearer, and defended a dryer sound, more audible, a more simple production and adaptation to new musical airs that blew in the time, and pointed to what's known as pop. Roger Taylor was perhaps who put more enthusiasm in the search of a new sound; I worked a lot more with him that with the other band members, because Roger needed my help.
In what sense?
Roger wasn't satisfied with his song writing work before. I think he finally found a new style different to his previous songs, but he didn't know how to polish it. I remember Roger wrote three songs for 'The Game', and the three of them caused polemic in the band: there was a song called Coming Soon which Roger, at first, thought should be promoted in the single, leaving its place in the album to other one of his, A Human Body. But Brian and Freddie objected that if it was included the album would result too melodic, since they had already written three downbeat songs for the same. Finally they convinced Roger, who felt specially proud of A Human Body, and opted for Coming Soon. That song is a good show of the sound we got for this album and in general for the next ones, until 'A Kind Of Magic'. But perhaps it's illustrated better by Roger's third song: Rock It. There were troubles with that one too: Roger was clear that he was going to sing it, but Brian and I suggested that perhaps Fred would sound better. Two versions were recorded, one with Roger and one with Freddie. John liked how Roger did it, but Brian preferred Freddie, so a compromise was taken: Roger's take, although the intro would be taken from Freddie. That was reasonable, Brian already had one song to sing in the album, and it was fair that Roger had the same chance once A Human Body was left out. Queen worked that way, there was a big understanding amongst them. Finally the song was recorded, although we had to work a lot in the production: Roger has a very particular voice, broken, that makes his musical phrases too short, as opposite to Freddie, who was able to make them longer. To avoid the lyrics to be so little, each time Roger ended up a verse I added some synth effects so there wouldn't be so much space before the next one. That gave the song a fresh new sound in which we worked a lot in the next albums, and specially in Roger's tracks.
Queen was an extraordinary prolific band because it had the advantage that its four members were songwriter. How was each one of them confronting a white pentagram?
Freddie was something impressive writing. He always started by a general idea of the song, he first purposed to do something in a global sense, for example "I'm doing a love song, very harmonic". And from that seminal idea he polished, added and took off stuff. That's how he said he wrote Bohemian Rhapsody and those superb songs he did for the first two albums of the band. But he always was clear about what he was doing and where was he going. Brian May is a tremendously meticulous musician, I remember he made up the songs like an architect, I mean, floor by floor, starting on the foundations. He kind of knew the levels the building should have, but he didn't know how many windows he was going to put it, or how big the attic would be. Besides he's very rigorous and exigent with himself.
John was an enigma though. When Brian wrote we knew because he went from a side to another with a notebook and singing us the choruses or telling us his ideas. When John Deacon wrote, we could tell because he hardly talked. He just stayed quiet for a long time, sitting in a chair and drinking tea and soda. I remember once Roger arrived joking around to a living room we had in the studio. There was an absolute silent until Roger came in yelling 'but what? whose's the funeral?', and Freddie whispered to him 'shhhhh, John is creating'. I think it was Fred who came up with the nickname of ostrich. Because John was like a bird, who stays quiet until it finally puts a perfect egg. John was that way, he handled the sheets to the others fully finished, although in the end everybody added something to improve the song.
Roger was like Freddie's opposite pole. As composer he was very intuitive. He departured almost always from an aisled idea, like a melody or a chorus, or a simply harmonic support. If it sounded nice he thought it would be the start for a good song. In that sense Roger is the one who depended the most of inspiration. Luckily, he was almost always inspired, and wrote really wonderful songs. He's a great musician, a person that gives his body and soul to the music. And it's incredible how his enthusiasm has remained intact since all those years ago. In this album he really gave his best.
Nevertheless, 'The Game' is the last album in which Roger Taylor and Brian May sing any song.
Until 'Hot Space' it was the usual. I guess they wanted to show that they were not only able to write and play, but also to perform their own songs. It also looks like the songs Brian and Roger sang throughout the albums could be only sang by them, as if they had been written for their respective voices. I can't picture Freddie singing I'm In Love With My Car, or Sail Away Sweet Sister, a precious song Brian wrote for 'The Game', but, however, it wasn't included in the set of the concerts. Now it seems that Brian has recovered it for his solo performances, and it's a total wonder to listen.
The Game was a big commercial success of Queen, around it there were done important concerts that brought the band triumphs in American scenarios. Besides the commercial part, were you and the band musically satisfied?
The global result of 'The Game' was very satisfactory. John was delighted with the final appearance of the album, and Brian recognised that since 1976, when they mixed 'A Day At The Races', they hadn't done anything that good. Freddie was the one with more doubts. He wasn't unsatisfied, in fact for so long he considered Crazy Little Thing was one of his three or four best songs; but he had to make major efforts to adapt the new sound we were looking for. Years later I remember he was working for a song of 'The Miracle', an album in which I didn't participate, called Stealin', and he assured me that, seven years after 'The Game', his way of writing and arranging the tracks owed too much to the stuff we did in Munich. I feel proud of that work, it was a total of five albums we did, and they all presented a debt with 'The Game'. I can't hide it's my favourite album that I edited with Queen in which was their best era. Out of it there were also some emblematic songs that since then never were absent of each one of their concerts, like Another One Bites The Dust and Crazy Little Thing.
Does Mack have projects of working again with Queen?
No, nothing in this moment. With Brian May I have worked outside Queen, but nothing now. Brian and Roger keep fight for the legend of Queen to go on; they have decided it, and they have to be the ones who do that job. I already did mine in some unforgettable years, but that's the past. Anyway, they're close friends, and I'll always be arranged for us working together again.