Exclusive Interview with Marc Martel of the Christian rock band Downhere and Winner of The Queen Extravaganza contest.
The Christian Post: Where did you develop this passion for music when you were younger and who did you dream to be?
Marc Martel: Definitely my passion for music came from my mom. She is a piano player and a choir director at my church. My earliest memories of music and just really loving the sound of music itself was her playing the piano for me and my brother and sister at night as we were falling asleep at night, and she’d play Beethoven to us and I think that’s where it all started to me. I ended up taking piano lessons at a really young age, I took like years of piano lessons and I always loved to sing.
My biggest influences when I was a kid – I listened to a lot of top 40 radio, so whatever the big artists were so like the mid 80s. I think of artists like George Michaels, but my biggest influence at that age was probably Keith Green. His passion and his piano playing and his singer was something that I always wanted to strive toward.
CP: You’re also in the band Downhere, when you guys started why was it important for you to come to the U.S. as Canadians and how did that whole process of getting signed work out for you?
Martel: We started our band in college, at a college called Briar Cliff College in Saskatchewan. None of us are actually from Saskatchewan, but we kind of all met there and started there. We got signed to a record label in Nashville in 2001 and before that all came about we were all just planning on moving to Toronto or something and trying to make the best of it there and staying in Canada.
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We never saw it as kind of a thing to do, to move to the states and when we got that offer from this big record label in Nashville we thought “Well this is a door that either God was opening for us” and we were very careful about it and very prayerful about it and after eight months of negotiating to make sure it was really worth it for us, we moved down in 2001 and that’s when we kind of went full time.
CP: Where does the name Downhere come from?
Martel: The name Downhere comes from a song I wrote after a friend of mine died in college and it was kind of the first time I was dealing with loss and you know real mortality and it was a song of how down here on Earth we don’t have the big picture. We rarely know why things happen and why God allows certain things, but it’s a song of faith that God is in control and has a purpose for everything that happens in our lives. As hard as it is to believe at certain times.
Later on when we were looking for a band name we thought we wanted something that had a lot of layers of meaning. The name also means just being down here. When Christ was down here and the example he set for us as a way of life and trying to emulate that as much as possible. We want our music to be a soundtrack for down here and obviously our world views are Biblically based and obviously that’s where our music is centered on. So yeah, just being down here on Earth and trying to figure it out like everyone else.
CP: When did you guys finally start to feel established as a band?
Martel: The first year and a half in Nashville we actually all shared a four bedroom house and there were two married couples and three single guys trying to figure out how to live in community and learning to take care of the daily schedule, “Who’s cooking what?” “Who’s cleaning what?” That really was kind of a pressure cooker for us trying to figure out if this was going to work for us. That first year and a half we had to live together because we didn’t have any money. I was making about $300 a month back then and we made it work and that’s when we really gelled.
CP: Who pushed you to try out for this and what were your initial thoughts, what did you think would actually happen by you trying out?
Martel: The whole Queen thing came around in a really timely fashion. I was thinking about what I was going to do in 2012, our families were growing in the band and that’s always been our first priority, so we planned to take some extra time off the road so the guys can be with their families.
My wife and I don’t have kids yet so I figured “Well while we still have no kids I have the freedom to travel a little more than the other guys probably” and I figured, “Well instead of trying to get some other part-time jobs to supplement the loss of income from not being on the road, I’ll look into singing with other bands or do some session work whatever it may be.”
Right around that time I got this email from a friend of mine here in Nashville. I pretty much got that email the day the Queen Extravaganza started in late September. I read the contest rules and the vision behind and seeing that it was an official thing put on by the band Queen themselves I thought, “It has never been my dream to be in a tribute band. I love to write my own music, I love what I do in Downhere and hope to keep doing it for a long time,” but just the timing of the whole thing and the fact that people have been telling me for years that I sound like Freddie Mercury, it just was kind of a no brainer for me.
I still had some self doubt about the thing and I haven’t heard a lot of guys sing like Freddie Mercury, I know there’s a few of them out there for sure, but I felt like I had a good chance of at least moving on to one of the vocalist spots. They were looking for three singers, so I thought I had a decent shot at it so I thought, “Well if I win this what is it going to mean for Downhere?” And at the time I really had no idea what it meant for Downhere and whether it was the potential of taking the place of Downhere. I had the video all ready to send and submit, I was sitting there on the couch next to my wife and I was like, “Yeah I don’t know if I really want to do this. I love what I do, if I win this I don’t know what to do with my band” and she’s like “Marc, this is like cut out for you. This is a no brainer for you.”
And so I’d have to say that the final word went to my wife, and I listened to her, as a good husband should and here I am today with a new job, for next year.
CP: When you started getting viral feedback for the Youtube video, what were your first impressions of that?
Martel: A little bit of fear honestly, excitement obviously. I had no idea that was going to happen, you can’t predict a viral video. It doesn’t really happen to a lot of people. I submitted the video on the 21st of September, and the next morning I checked what the views were at and I remember specifically it was at 303 at like nine in the morning and I thought “Well that’s about what I expected,” I honestly didn’t expect much. That’s about what a Downhere video gets.
Then in the afternoon, it’s funny because it had exactly doubled in views. It was at 606 and I was like well that’s kind of funny. Well this is going to be a small thing if I win, who even knows if they’ll carry on with the whole Queen Extravaganza, maybe they are hoping for more views than that.
At the same time the contest had just started and maybe they haven’t gotten the word out. I had no idea what was going on, and in the evening around 9 p.m.
I went to check and all of a sudden it was in the thousands and in the tens of thousands, I think it was around 18,000 views and I had noticed that the comments were coming in almost every second, and people were saying “Hey the Internet has arrived welcome to the Internet guy, dude you’ve gone viral” And I was like, “What does that even mean, viral video? Let’s see if this is really true, maybe it’ll just spike after a few hours and then stop.”
Sure enough the next morning it was in the hundreds of thousands, and for probably the first week or two it was just really surreal all the attention I was getting. I mean people have told me I sound like Freddie Mercury for years and I didn’t really think it was that big of a deal honestly. I thought “Well, I know there’s other guys who can sound like Freddie Mercury, it’s not terribly unique, sure I can do that, but what does it all really mean in the end?”
It caught on so crazy over the Internet, it surprised everybody, it was kind of an outer body experience. I keep telling people it’s so weird being the one guy that can join in with everybody and say “Hey way to go this is so exciting for you, this is awesome.” It’s kind of weirdly lonely in a way. Just being the center of attention in that way, it’s a strange thing. I think I’ve seen enough people have their 15 minutes that I can sort of manage my 15 minutes of fame with it. I knew it would eventually die down, but it was sure fun while it lasted.
CP: How did it feel when you got the phone call from Ellen to go on her show?
Martel: That was crazy because a lot of the comments that were being left early on in the viral thing were saying we need to get this guy on Ellen. I didn’t know my wife was such a big Ellen fan at the time, and I said ‘Hey check out what this guy said, he said I should be on Ellen.’ She freaked out and said ‘What you’re going to be on Ellen!’ And was like, ‘N o, no, no, he was saying that I should be on Ellen, there’s a big difference.’ But obviously I got the call from my manager a few days later saying I got Ellen. Continue »