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Interview: Geoff Tate – Queensryche
Established in 1982, Queensryhce have been at the forefront of an ever changing metal scene for more than 30 years. In that time the band have released 13 studio albums, each one different from the previous or the next, and they have had their share of band members leaving and returning. The one constant throughout has been lead singer Geoff Tate. Recently Tate has found himself on the outer with his former band mates and having to form a new version of Queensryche. Along with that comes a new album too, titled Frequency Unknown. I caught up with Geoff Tate to discuss the new album, the new line up and the goings on over the past couple of years.
Rock Man: Firstly, thank you for taking some time out of your busy schedule to talk to me, I appreciate it. A lot has happened since I last spoke to you – at that point it was 2009 and you were on the road promoting the American Solider album and heading to Australia to do a handful of shows. You followed that album with the release of Dedicated To Chaos in 2011, but it appears both albums have taken a hammering from some fans and critics. How do you view those two records now?
Geoff Tate: Oh I love those albums. Actually some of my favourite work.
RM: Congratulations on the release of the new album Frequency Unknown. I can only imagine how proud you must be at how it’s turned out?
GT: Ah yes it turned out nice, very happy with that one. Moving on to the next one now.
RM: Oh really, so soon?
GT: Yeah typically I start a new record, you know I’ve got a lot of records I want to write, so you know I’m kind of busy doing that at every opportunity.
RM: So will that be another Queensryche album or a solo record?
GT: Ah, I haven’t decided yet what I’ll label it.
RM: To me at least, Frequency Unknown seems to have a classic 1980s feel to it. Were you trying to tap into that classic vibe or was this naturally how the record developed?
GT: Ah no it’s just the way it turned out, you know, the way it rolls.
RM: You’ve taken the opportunity on this record to re-record four tracks from your back catalogue, can you tell us why you selected those particular songs?
GT: Ah well I didn’t actually select those tracks, that’s what the record company that signed the project wanted to have recorded and we went with those and put them together as closely to the original which is what they wanted, so there you go.
RM: Are you happy with how those songs turned out?
GT: I suppose so yeah, it wasn’t really my, what I’m interested in doing, you know, I like writing new music, that is where my head is at. But to make music happen on a record label you have to compromise on some areas and that’s one I had to compromise on in order to make the record, you know, all’s well that starts well.
RM: How important was it to get this album out to remind people what Geoff Tate and the Queensryche brand was about?
GT: How important was it for that? Well that wasn’t my reasoning at all, my reasoning is I make records. I like to put them out and I’d like to put them out a lot more frequently and that’s what I’m gearing up for, is to be a lot more efficient with my time and putting out all the music that I have in my head. In the past I had to work at other peoples pace, you know, so this is a real treat for me getting to work at my pace and work with the people I want to work with and not having that feeling that creatively my hands are tied, you know, so I’m very happy with that, very glad to be in the position I’m in now, very keen on moving ahead.
RM: For this new version of Queensryche you’ve put together a pretty impressive line up of players such as Rudy Sarzo from Quiet Riot/Whitesnake on bass, Simon Wright from AC/DC on drums, Robert Sarzo from Hurricane and Kelly Gray on guitar who has been a part of Queensryche before. What was it like playing with this new bunch of people, when all your career you’ve played with the same three or four guys?
GT: Oh it’s incredibly refreshing, yeah. First off it’s playing with really great players and it’s like such a treat to play with these really fantastic players. It’s like when you want to play or you really want to get good at basketball, you try to play with people who are older than you and better than you so that you can get better and that’s what I like to surround myself with, is quality players who really nail it every night consistently, and secondly, playing with people who are enthusiastic about playing. You know, who love it and are inspired by the music and who are glad to be there, that’s a huge thing right there, especially when you’re touring and around each other all the time, it’s so much more inspiring to be around people who are happy.
RM: All of those guy’s have a wealth of experience, what did they bring to the table when creating this new version of the band?
GT: Well I think I just mentioned the enthusiasm, that’s a huge factor. When you’re sitting in a room writing material, if you’re sitting there with a group of people and you’re the only one coming up with ideas it gets really frustrating, so it’s a collaborative effort. It’s so much more creative and so much more enlightening to have people with you who are throwing out ideas, who have an idea [laughing], and/or can verbalise their idea, can explain it, give references to the idea and put it in context, take your initial idea and push it further, you know, that’s the whole spirit of the collaborative effort. So when we were writing Frequency Unknown, Jason Slater (Producer) and I, Lukas Rossi and Randy Gane that’s the way it was, it was a very enthusiastic group of people and everybody was coming up with ideas and tossing them out and filled out the songs based on that collaborative effort and we continued that when we got into the studio and brought in all these different people on board to record the songs and give their interpretations to our music. And that’s always refreshing too, like you’ll have a drum rhythm in mind and a guy like Simon Wright or a guy like Paul Bostaph will come in and they’re seeing the song from a different stand point than you and they’re seeing it differently from each other and they add to it and they take it in a further place than what you thought it was. And I love that, I love that comradery, that kind of collaboration.
RM: If I can draw your attention to the album art work for Frequency Unknown, the cover depicts a fist wearing three rings, one with the band logo on it and the other two with the letters F and U either side for Frequency Unknown, however conspiracy theorists might believe there’s something more sinister going on there, like a parting shot to your former band mates?
GT: Maybe it’s directed at them personally [laughing]. Or maybe it’s aimed at Obama or maybe it’s aimed at space aliens, I mean God, there’s so many ways you can take something and twist it, you know, it’s all centred upon who’s twisted perspective it comes from [laughing].
RM: There are some accusations flying around about some pretty wild behaviour on your part, can you put into context any of the following – apparently you spat on former drummer Scott Rockenfeild, you pulled a knife on your band mates, you abused your own audience, you took an audience member’s iPhone from them and threw it away and you love that fans hate the new album?
GT: Well you know, honestly, I can’t even be bothered to think about accusations, it’s so worthless, so ridiculous. I think if you really want to look at context, unfortunately we’re in a lawsuit, whenever anyone is in a lawsuit it becomes, often it becomes a preoccupation and a goal for one side to try to make the other side look bad. So I’ll just leave it at that.
RM: I believe a court case is looming in November to decide who owns the rights to the name and imagery. If you lose, what will you do then?
GT: Ah, yeah of course. It’s not really a matter of losing from my perspective, it’s just being done with it. I definitely just want to be done with it, I’m already emotionally done with it, I’ve ripped off the rear view mirror and I ain’t looking back. I don’t want to look back. The court date in November is to settle what we have, which is a corporate dispute and corporate disputes have a set formula that’s regulated by the state and the government to how the case is settled and really when it all comes down to it, it’s just a matter of compensation and that’s what it’ll be.
RM: I remember in the 1980s the David Lee Roth/Van Halen split and the Metallica/Dave Mustaine feud, both got pretty ugly at times, do you see the same thing happening between yourself and your former band?
GT: Well I hope not. Yeah I hope not, I hope it’s all settled peacefully and civilly and we can go on our merry way, you know.
RM: Can you see yourself down the track returning to the original Queensryche?
GT: Oh absolutely not. What on earth for?
RM: When we spoke last time we discussed the possibility of Operation Mindcrime becoming a movie or even a stage show if the right offer can about, where do you stand on that now?
GT: Well I think there are a couple of different groups that are working to put that together right now. We’ve been approached – excuse me I should say, I’ve been approached so many times over the years to bring Mindcrime to the screen and it always gets to a point where it’s down to the financing, you know, it’s that way with every story it all comes down to that in the end, who’s willing to put up the money and make it happen. With the 2008 financial meltdown it took a lot of the financial investors out of the investing game of movies and art and things like that. It’s kind of in the rebuilding stage right now.
RM: You’re currently on the Operation Mindcrime Anniversary Tour celebrating 25 years of the album’s release, how has that been going?
GT: Great, yeah it’s an amazing performance every night. This band is so on and so hot and so tight, and for me it’s incredibly special, for one, these guys are all fans of the music, so they’re coming in and giving it their interpretation which I love and secondly it’s the first time it’s ever been played live. In the past Queensryche were very reliant on click tracks and computers to keep the band playing in time and all the background vocals I sang on the record were flown in to the click track so it all sounded like the record. On one hand that’s cool because it sounds like the record, each song sounds amazing, you know, the band is super tight because we’re all playing to a machine, you know, but on the other hand it’s incredibly frustrating as a musician because you’re locked to this “tick, tick, tick” machine for the entire show and you can’t deviate from the arrangement. So you can’t improvise at all, you can’t stop the band keep the drum beat going and talk to the audience and pick up where you left off, you can’t change a section or extend a solo or anything like that. So it becomes very mechanised and it doesn’t have a human feel, so this is the first time this music has been played live, everyone playing their instruments, everyone singing their parts, with me doing the harmony stuff and it’s great from my perspective, it’s finally human, the music has a human feel and I find that incredibly inspiring.
RM: I would imagine that over the course of your career you would’ve seen some pretty big changes to the music industry, is there one that has had the biggest impact?
GT: Yeah it’s pretty obvious, the music industry is over. It’s been gutted there’s no finances in it anymore, the economic engine of the record industry was record sales and nobody can make sales like that anymore, because people download the records, so the internet, like everything, it’s revolutionised the way we work, the way we think, the way we communicate, how we make a living. Not just in the music industry but in other industries as well, people shop online now, so there’s no real need for retail show rooms and thousands and millions of businesses are going out of business and getting rid of their retail spare because people shop online. So the same thing with the record industry, it couldn’t compete against the downloading and the downloading gutted the industry financially and so it all has a trickle down effect, that means less people are employed by the record industry, there’s less money to put behind records for sales/promotion or other things, the budgets have shrunk to nothing, the amount of record sales there are is minuscule compared to what it was fifteen or twenty years ago. The whole industry is gone it’s hanging on by a thread, propped up by outside companies that own the record companies.
RM: Again, congratulations on the release of Frequency Unknown. On behalf of everyone here at Full Throttle Rock Magazine I wish you all the best for the future.
GT: Well thank you, it’s been great talking to you again.
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