University of Waikato doctoral student Nick Braae has recently completed his thesis focusing on a musical analysis of British rock band Queen’s studio recordings between 1973 and 1980. Nick’s PhD sets out to explain Queen’s idiolect, or distinct musical style, as well as how the band developed across their early albums.
Having long been familiar with Queen’s music, Braae was drawn to the group because of their rich and intricate songwriting and production style. “It was fascinating to discover how their backing vocal arrangements were constructed, for example, and the idiosyncratic ways in which their songs were structured,” says Nick.
A highlight of the research was meeting and interviewing Queen guitarist Brian May in September 2014. “He gave many insights into what occurred behind the studio doors, and these provided an invaluable complement to my own analysis. He was also very friendly, polite, and really interested in my work – it was quite surreal!” he says.
Nick’s main research finding was that Queen were continually experimental in terms of the form, style and harmonies of their songs, but they also had highly consistent ways of arranging and recording songs. Many tracks, therefore, struck a fine balance between musical novelty and familiarity.
Chief supervisor Associate Professor Ian Whalley says that “given the popularity of Queen internationally, it was surprising how little has been written on them from a musical perspective. Nick’s thesis was innovative in its use of traditional musicological techniques to address Queen’s work, while also drawing on ideas from contemporary popular music studies. The study has addressed a large gap in the popular music literature, while also developing methodologies that can be applied to other bodies of work.”
Nick is currently developing his thesis into a book.