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by Wendy Lee Nentwig

October 12, 2011

Q&A: Marc Martel Will Rock You

by Wendy Lee Nentwig  |  October 12, 2011

Veteran Christian rockers Downhere released a new album, On the Altar of Love, a few weeks ago, so it's not surprising that the Juno- and Dove Award-winning band is getting some attention. What is surprising is that much of that attention is thanks to a YouTube video of guitarist and vocalist Marc Martel channeling late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.

Martel is a dead ringer for the flamboyant voice that brought us hits like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "We Are the Champions." The video was recorded as an audition for a contest launched by Queen member Roger Taylor, with a prize that includes fronting the band on their summer 2012 North American tour, belting out all those hits in person.

Though Canadian-born Martel knew he was a close match for Mercury, he was completely unprepared for the media onslaught. The YouTube video received more than 3 million hits in a matter of weeks, landing him an appearance on Ellen as well as coverage in Entertainment Weekly and numerous other publications. Downhere have also added " Somebody to Love," the song Martel covered in his audition, to the set list for its fall tour.

As Queen and Downhere fans anxiously await the results (the contest winner won't be announced until the end of the year), Rhapsody touched base with Martel by phone, getting details on his audition mustache, other artists he can convincingly cover and how a win would affect his role in Downhere.

Did you have any idea this could possibly become so big?

I thought it might get a few thousand views, like a usual Downhere video.

When did you first notice that you could sound so much like Freddie Mercury?

Not that I've ever dreamed of being in a tribute band, but people have been telling me that [I sound like Mercury] fairly regularly for the past seven or eight years. When I heard about the contest, it just seemed so cut out for me.

You've already been a professional musician for more than a decade with your band Downhere. Why audition for this?

Singing is my only marketable skill, and our touring schedule is empty for the first part of 2012, so this was my effort to keep singing and not get a different kind of job.

Did you grow the mustache specifically for the audition? I've interviewed you over the years and I know that's not your usual look.

I don't know that you can even rightfully call it a mustache. I had a few days' growth and just shaved the rest. It was my wife's suggestion. As soon as I did it, she couldn't even look at me.

Many YouTube viewers seemed obsessed with the messy room in the background of your audition video. What's the story with that?

That was kind of on purpose. I was trying to manage my expectations. I said, "I'm not going to dress up like I'm onstage." I was really having second thoughts as to whether I should enter the contest because of how it might affect Downhere if I won. When I showed my wife the video, she wanted me to clean the room and shoot it again, but she knew if she asked me to do that, I wouldn't submit it. That's the bonus room I use as my studio at our home in Nashville.

What's the craziest thing that's happened as a result of your newfound fame?

The Ellen show. As soon as the YouTube video started going viral, people were like, "He needs to be on Ellen!" I mentioned it to my wife and she flipped out at just the possibility. We got the call two or three days later. I never record myself or tape anything important in my life, but I thought, I need to record myself telling her. [They showed that video on Ellen, of course.]

Is anyone questioning the mix of a Christian artist and Queen?

To me, it's not really an issue. I want to keep it about the music. I'm not a pastor or a theologian. Good music resonates and is honest.

Are there any other artists you can mimic convincingly?

I have a video of me doing an opera aria, one of Pavarotti's calling cards. I used to be a bit of a George Michael fan. Jeff Buckley. [Christian artist] Keith Green. They're making a movie of his life, and I'd love to be involved in that.

You just kicked off this new tour with Jason Gray and Aaron Shust to promote Downhere's new album. Has this changed your fall plans at all?

Not at all. The Queen tour, assuming I win, of course, starts next June, which doesn't conflict with our schedules at all. I obviously wouldn't have submitted it if I couldn't have done it.

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