Queensryche: Personal Interview with Geoff Tate of Queensryche
Interview Conducted April 2004
By Mike Romcoe
Queensryche "The Gods of progressive metal" are hitting the road again with a powerful tour in the U.S.A. and Europe. The show will include the line-up featuring: front man/lead singer Geoff Tate guitarist Chris De Garmo, Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield and special guest Pamela More. Pamela, the voice behind Sister Mary recorded on the very popular Grammy nominated album Operation Mindcrime (1988). Queensryche has also launched a DVD" The Art of Live" (Sanctuary) which features the 2003 Tribe tour which also featured Dream Theatre. The DVD was filmed in artistic black and white and sets the tone for how the band feels today.
I got a chance to speak with Geoff Tate before he kicked off the tour in New Mexico.
UR: How does Queensryche now compare to the band it was 20 years ago?
GT: I think we're much more mature and have explored a lot of musical areas. It's been an interesting journey being part of this band and this musical growth - musical change. We've written a lot of songs - we have over about 112 published songs. We started from the metal scene being influenced by that and over time we took our influences and shaped them into our own significant style that is very recognizable.
UR: How is the chemistry between band members?
GT: The chemistry is what propels the band, and every time we've gotten together to make a record we always enjoy the process and it is a definite vibe that occurs once we all get together. When we play onstage it's the same thing - we have a definite kind of unspoken communication. It's a cool feeling - it's kind of like home, it's so familiar.
UR: How has Michael Wilton's unique guitar work shaped the sound of Queensryche?
GT: Michael is a very signature guitar player, incredibly creative. He's been so experimental in his guitar work over the years, and really pushed the definitions of rock and metal from a guitar standpoint. Often times he gets completely overlooked because he's not one to toot his own horn, he doesn't do interviews, and kind of keeps to himself. He's a total musician's musician. He is the "sound" of Queensryche - he is the riff, the chord progressions, and the inversions. That's what makes the sound, it's not the Marshall amplifier or the guitar you use, it's your musical sensibilities to the phrasing and choice of the chords that makes a signature musical piece. It's been a pleasure working with him over the years and it's only in the last past five to eight years have I begun to appreciate what he has done and what he is doing.
UR: How did Michael's creativity influence your writing?
GT: On the "Tribe" record, which is our new one, Michael wrote the majority of the music on that. Michael does a kind of bulk writing thing - he comes to me with a lot of different ideas, hands them to me and says "see what grabs you out of this stuff." Out of maybe twenty ideas I'll grab onto seven, and I'll write something to them and I'll hand it back to him and say "this is kind of what I'm thinking here, what do you think? Then we'll sit in his studio and brainstorm out a progression or an arrangement and we'll record that and take it to the other guys and have them put their influences in on it.
UR: You and drummer Scott Rockenfeld both put out solo albums at about the same time. How is it difference working solo as opposed to with everybody else?
GT: It's a different bunch of people that you're working with, and music is a collaborative effort, so you're collaborating with people of different influences and different backgrounds. For my solo record, I wanted to work with people that didn't come from a rock background - I didn't want to make a rock album. I wanted to do something very different than what Queensryche does and experiment and try out some different musical styles that had been very influential to me growing up like R & B music, dance music and electronic style. I wanted to take those styles and make something out of that group of influences. I chose musicians that came from classical backgrounds or from funk and R & B backgrounds so the influence wouldn't be so "rock." It was a challenging experience working with people who didn't know who AC/DC was or weren't familiar with how to play an Iron Maiden song or a Judas Priest song or even a Queensryche song. It was really refreshing for me to work with a totally different kind of musician and therefore the music came out sounding very different, very unique.
UR: Do you think your solo work will influence your future work with Queensryche?
GT: I don't think so. Queensryche's is a completely different kind of animal, different people, different influences, and different tastes in music.
UR: Do you have plans for any future solo projects?
GT: Oh yeah, I'm always working. We've got a Queensryche project we've been working on, and a solo project I've been working on for the past year - it's all sitting there on the hard drive.
UR: What can fans expect to see in your new DVD "The Art of Live?"
GT: It's a DVD of our live tour from this last fall. The cool thing about it, I think, is that it was a hands-on experience. We filmed it, we edited the film ourselves, and we mixed the audio, and put the whole thing together. We've never actually had our hands on all aspect of the production before. We went out and bought film editing equipment and created a film-editing studio that is portable, that we haul around with us, so we can keep track of all our visuals and stuff, so it's really a hands-on kind of hand-made film. It's shot in black and white which is my favorite, and it's got backstage footage, bus footage, and traveling footage and interviews - it's just a neat little package I think - very intimate.
UR: What part of the DVD are you most proud of?
GT: The actual making of was really an interesting learning experience. There is a learning curve involved with learning the equipment, and editing the footage, and finding out you really need to keep track of every night you shoot and to keep impeccable notes. We had 53 reels of footage to look through and keep track of. We had six different camera angles that we had to keep track of so it was a lot of details. We learned a lot from this one and will apply it to the next project we do. I'm very proud of the fact that we did it ourselves and made something that we really like.
UR: Are you excited about kicking off your U.S. tour tomorrow in Detroit?
GT: Yeah, we've been rehearsing for the last week and had the last couple of days off to gear up for it, and spend the last couple days with our families before we take off for two weeks.
UR: What do you do to mentally prepare for a tour like this?
GT: Well most of it's just rehearsals. We're doing quite a few different songs then we've been doing and we learned a few different ones. We've been working with Pamela, constructing different harmony bits, and really working on the musical presentation. And of course all the planning that goes into picking the crew, getting the buses in order, and the travel, and picking out where you are going to stay - the accommodations and stuff have to be gone over and there's a lot of busy work. For instance, we're starting this tour in two days, and we've already begun working on the next leg, which starts in August-September, so we're like three months out planning ahead for the leg.
UR: What we can expect as far as the set?
GT: It's about 220 [minutes], and it's got quite a few "Mindcrime" songs in it because we're focusing on that for the tour, mixed up with a lot of "Tribe" songs because we're sort of trying to show the similarities between the two records, for people that missed the point obviously, so it's kind of a juxtaposition of the past and the present.
UR: When creating your music, do you think about whether the fans will like it or not?
GT: All of those adjectives that you [fans] use to describe what you like are things that we never think about when we write songs. We look at writing music as a personal experience; it's not a sporting event. It's feelings that you have and subject matter that moves you. and you match music to what the lyrics are trying convey. To us lyrics are very important, it's the message of the song, and what we try to do is paint the picture of what the lyrics are about. If you look at music from the standpoint of liking excitement, yeah some songs are going to be exciting, but it's kind of like life, not every day is exciting, some days are exciting, some days are introspective, some days you gotta go empty the garbage. I prefer the whole thing; life's rich pageant, you know, it's fill with ups and downs, sideways movement, backwards movement - it's all of the above. I guess what I always have strived to do with Queensryche is to make us very multi-dimensional. We're a band that either you're going to "get" the record we're doing, like Promised Land for example, is a work that explores a certain point in one's life, and until you get to that point, you won't "get" that record. You might appreciate a song, or what a melody did, or a hard-driving part, but you don't "get" the record until you've reached the point in your life called the "midlife crisis." All of a sudden you're looking at things completely different than you ever looked at them before. Until you get to that point in your life, you won't "get" this record Once you get to that point you're like 'oh my God I get this song completely!' It's a weird experience. That's the beauty of Queensryche - we're a band that's been around 25 years and we've grown up in the music business. We came right out of high school and began writing songs and were signed to a label and touring the world at eighteen and nineteen years old. So what you see when you put down a Queensryche record and listen to it is a group of musicians' life experience. You don't hear that kind of thing in a song by Nickelback - you're hearing a young band that is just starting out; they've got their own career handle and their own life path to follow. We're light years ahead of that. We've already done those songs that we've done in the past and we're not interested in treading water. We're interested in breaking new ground and trying new things and being experimental with what we do. If we leave some people behind so be it - our life work has not been to appease people. We write music for our own reasons for or own selves, we don't write it for anybody else.
UR: If I was to write a headline about Queensryche what should it read?
GT: "The greatest rock-n-roll band ever." That's the way I feel. Some people think 'Geoff Tate, what an arrogant bastard that guy is,' but I believe in what I do. I have a commitment, a drive to pursue my music dream. If some record company guy says 'well, you gotta write a hit song here', you know, fuck you! That's the way I've always lived my life and I've gotten through this far, and I make a pretty damn good living, I support my family, I put my kids through school, and I have a good time doing what I do.
UR: The House of Blues in Chicago. How do you feel about playing in Chicago?
GT: I have family in Chicago, from Glenview, my wife's from Glenview, and her whole side of the family is from the Chicago area, so every time we go to Chicago it's always a big family reunion where we have fifty to a hundred people come out and hang out so the backstage area is really filled. Most of the people at the Chicago venue that you will be seeing are our family.
On Sat., April 17 Queensryche was ready to hit the sold out, jam packed, Chicago House of Blues for the second night. I found myself surrounded by devoted, excited, and aging Queensryche fans. "Symphony X" opened the night with their hard-hitting melodic metal. They sounded great! However, I believe they didn't get the respect from the crowd that they deserved. It must be really difficult for them. Queensryche has always had a very loyal fan base, which can be very demanding at times.
Queensryche started with "Tribe", the enthusiastic crowd went into a frenzy. The set included an acoustic medley and many of the top 10 favorites as: "I am I", "Jet City Woman", "Empire", and "Silent Lucidity". However, the fans went absolutely nuts when they began their concert rendition of "Operation Mindcrime" featuring Pamela Moore. The band was really tight and Geoff Tate and Pamela Moore seemed like they were having the time of their lives. There was a strong feeling of the past clashing with the present that gave me goose-bumps. I watched the fans sing along with Geoff Tate, while head-banging thought the entire evening.
Queensryche continued to keep the energy level high, while Geoff Tate thanked the loyal fans and reminded us, "that we will always be a part of something really special to him". I thought the only thing that could have made the show better would be to get back into playing arenas again, where all the fans can enjoy the show, instead of being packed in like sardines at the HOB.
Queensryche played for over 2 hours giving the fans exactly what they came to see "The greatest rock n roll show of all time" Thanks Guys!