The last time Queensryche got this much attention, “Silent Lucidity” was a radio and video staple and the progressive hard rock band was packing arenas.
With an acrimonious breakup that culminated last year at a show in Brazil, where the band fired lead singer Geoff Tate, who proceeded to spit on drummer Scott Rockenfield on stage, the band is back in the spotlight.
Or, more accurately, the bands are back in the spotlight.
After his dismissal, Tate started his own Queensryche, while his previous bandmates replaced him with vocalist Todd LaTorre. In April, Tate’s Queensryche released a new album, “Frequency Unknown,” which features a cast of guests including KK Downing (Judas Priest), Paul Bostaph (Slayer, Testament), Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) and Ty Tabor (King’s X), while the other lineup put out an album simply called “Queensryche” last week. Both camps are engaged in a lawsuit, and a federal judge in Washington is expected to decide in November which band will get to brand itself as Queensryche moving forward.
Tate brought a lineup featuring bassist Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy), guitarist Robert Sarzo, drummer Brian Tichy (Foreigner, Whitesnake, Billy Idol) and guitarist Kelly Gray and keyboardist Randy Gane, both of whom have a history with Queensryche and were in Tate’s pre-Ryche band Myth, to Brews Brothers West in Luzerne, Pa. earlier this month for powerful performance that featured a complete performance of Queensryche’s landmark 1988 concept album “Operation: Mindcrime.”
A week later, Tate called Highway 81 Revisited to chat candidly about “Mindcrime’s” legacy, forging his own artistic path and what he thinks of fans that badmouth him on the Internet.
GT: I think it’s a classic story that seems to resonate with people, and probably always will, because, ya know, in its most basic sense, it’s a love story. And it’s set in a tumultuous time of change, and there’s a lot of conflict between the characters and some unresolved issues that is more, perhaps, indicative of real life. Things don’t always wrap up neat and tidy, like the cliché Hollywood ending. Things oftentimes take a long time to resolve; some things never resolve.
H81R: Why did you decide to play the entire album on this tour?
GT: I think it’s very timely. The 25th anniversary (of “Mindcrime”) does coincide with some very timely events worldwide right now. Revolution and revolt and people coming together to try to make change seems to be on the rise these days. Just this morning I saw on the news, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, there’s massive riots in the streets protesting government spending, and that kind of thing is prevalent everywhere. And then with the acts of terrorism that we keep seeing and being witness to in our country as well, I think the story is very timely in that regard.
H81R: In the 1980s, hard rock and metal bands generally fell into one of two camps: they either wrote about girls and partying or hell and the devil. For most of Queensryche’s career, you did neither of those and instead focused on politics, social issues and so on. Was there a concerted effort to go in that direction?
GT: Well, ya know, when I first started with the band years ago, our philosophy was of no limits. We didn’t want to have limitations placed upon our music or our creativity or our imaginations. We wanted to write from our imagination, we wanted to take our chemistry as far as we could take it, and we certainly didn’t want to have other people dictate what we should do or what we shouldn’t do. So that’s the philosophy that I’ve always followed: write about what’s interesting to me. Write about what’s important to me at the time. Whether that is social change or how hot some woman is that I’m seeing at the time, I’ve always felt the freedom to explore both, and any idea, really.
In fact, it wasn’t until the last few years that I felt massive amounts of pressure from my fanbase to conform. And I think that’s probably due to at the age my fanbase is getting to now, where they want to kind of relive their high school times. I shouldn’t say all of them, but I think a certain portion of the people want me and the band to be where they found us, whatever era that was (laughs). So yeah, it’s difficult to keep embracing the idea of progression and change when there’s this chain around you that wants you to stay in this specific place.
H81R: Was there ever any outside pressure to conform? For example, an idea like a concept album such as “Mindcrime” doesn’t seem like the most attractive thing to a record label.
GT: I think that at the time when we were doing “Mindcrime,” the record label didn’t understand us at all. They didn’t understand what the band was about, and probably honestly they didn’t really care. We were only selling 250,000 records at the time, which in that timeframe, those numbers were severely low; that was basically a failure. So they really weren’t too interested in what we were doing at all. It wasn’t until we got involved with Q Prime Management regarding commercialism. . . . They had Def Leppard, and Def Leppard were selling millions of records, so now the record company was seeing dollar signs. So I’m sure that probably made a difference to them at the time and they were happy about Q Prime coming on board and managing the band. It’s funny because, in contrast, what Q Prime said to me when we first got together was, “Look don’t change what you’re doing, what you’re doing is great, just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t feel pressure from the record company, let us handle that, you guys just do what you’re doing and follow through.” So that definitely gave me the idea that we had the green light to continue our dream and continue our philosophy of no limits to the music.
GT: I think that’s the ultimate lesson, all the time with art. Youhave to do what is important to you. You have to follow your heart and follow your muses. You can’t be led around by opinion, public opinion, because opinion changes, and everyone has different opinions, and you find yourself in this tail-chasing game of trying to please all these different people, and you never please anyone. So in my way of thinking, the best thing you can always do is please yourself. Be true to yourself as an artist and as a musician and write from your heart, and that passion for what you do will translate to the audience. I think one thing that we’re really confused about, especially in American society, is we equate record sales with quality. If something is selling, then it must be good. That’s not true with art. There is no good art. There is no bad art. There just is art. It’s not about how many units you’re selling or how many tickets you’re selling. It has nothing to do with how moving a piece of music is, or how it affects somebody. It has nothing to do with it.
H81R: Are you interested in playing another album live?
GT: Oh yeah, yeah. I’m always open to that. We’ve done it quite a few times. We played “Promised Land” in its entirety, we played “Rage For Order” in its entirety, we played “Empire” in its entirety before.
H81R: Now that “Frequency Unknown” is out, how do you feel about the end result?
GT: Good, yeah. I’m pleased with the album. It was a really fun record to make. It was challenging, considering all of the different players that contributed to it. The big input of creativity with the record was incredible; people getting involved and giving the music their interpretation was the gameplan from the beginning, and it was a very invigorating, inspirational record to make.
H81R: You haven’t played any of the new songs on tour yet. Do you have plans to play some of them live?
GT: Well, we’re working some of them up now, and probably towards the later end of the year we’ll start playing more from that record. Typically, I really like to let songs sit with people, an audience. Let them live the songs a little bit, become familiar with them, before you start playing them live. It gives people a chance to understand what’s happening there, because live, it’s a whole different thing. It’s a lot to take in when you see a band in a live setting, and often your message gets missed. I like to have people soak up the music a little bit before we start hitting them with it live.
H81R: There has been speculation that the “F.U.” on the fist on the cover of the new album stands for more than “Frequency Unknown” and is a message to your former bandmates. Is there any truth to that? [Editor’s note: A press release sent out with the album said “Coincidental abbreviation? Unlikely.”]
GT: Oh God (laughs). It’s probably like the rumor of the “Rage For Order” cover being an emblem on the Nazi uniform. You hear all kinds of stuff. It’s crazy.
H81R: You recently ran a video rant contest, where people could send in clips of themselves talking about why they hate the new album. How did that come about? I’ve never seen anything quite like that before.
GT: Yeah, that was kinda fun, wasn’t it? (laughs). I’m involved with a lawsuit right now with the former bandmates, we have court dates coming in November which will hopefully settle the whole thing. Because of that, there’s a lot of negativity on the Internet, the whole side-choosing game, and a small group of people who are very vocal about spreading negativity, going to every review of the album or every live review, anything regarding me, this small group of people paints a negative picture of me. They sort of create like a smear campaign. Which in the big picture doesn’t matter at all, because this is a corporate suit, and corporate suits have regulations and rules of engagement governed by the state and federal government. So at the end of the day, when we get to court, both sides are going to be compensated, and we’re going to come to a monetary settlement that has nothing to do with he said, she said, or who’s better, who’s worse. That doesn’t even play into it all, it has nothing to do with it. So really the whole smear campaign is a waste of time.
But on the bright side, it has created a lot of press, and I think we’ve had more sold-out shows with this band than the former Queensryche has had in 10 years. So you can’t really argue with the Gene Simmons philosophy of “any press is good press.” The rant contest was sort of an extension of that. Tim from our record company said, “Why don’t we have a contest and get all these haters to send in their submissions?” Let’s see how eloquent they can be, how accurate they are in their critiques. And it was kinda fun, listening to the inane insanity of some of these people (laughs) and actually looking at them as they’re saying it and wondering, “That’s really my critic? That guy? OK. Interesting.”
H81R: Do you think some of the negativity directed at the album is not people reacting to the music per se, but instead reacting to you and the breakup?
GT: Oh yeah, yeah. I think that that’s a lot of it. But honestly, I don’t think there’s as much negativity as what is evident on the Internet. There’s people with multiple Internet accounts and Facebook accounts just having conversations with their multiple selves, all aimed at spreading this negativity, and it’s kinda psycho and fanatical. I guess that’s where the word “fan” comes from. But ya know, but they are organized in their attack, I must say. It’s pretty stunning the stuff that they’re saying and doing. But from my standpoint, from what I see, I don’t read stuff on the Internet, I hardly ever go on the Internet anymore, but what I see is the fans at the shows, the packed houses and the enthusiasm that the audience is feeling for this new band, which is a phenomenal band. Great players, passionate players, who are coming into this organization as fans of the music, so they’re playing music that they love, that they’ve always been attracted to, and they’re getting to interpret it in their way as artists, and what a fantastic position for them to be in. They’re loving it, and I’m loving what they’re doing, and the synergy that we’re creating together is phenomenal. It’s actually infectious. And I think the audiences are a witness to that and they’re affected by that.
H81R: Do you plan to make this a permanent lineup?
GT: Um, I have no plans. No. I have very few plans, actually (laughs). I’m kind of one of those people who is really enjoying the freedom of not having so many anchors around my feet. Ya know, the last 30 years I spent in the band, I don’t regret it at all. It was an extraordinary situation to be part of, and I’m very grateful for all the fans and all the support that the band and the music has received over the years. But I am at a point in my life now where I’m so grateful to be done with the relationships and the past baggage that I’ve been trying to carry for years and years and years, and I’m enjoying the freedom of being able to make records at my own pace. I don’t have to wait two years for a release. I think art is immediate, and I want to write about things that are happening now, I want the music to be out there. I don’t want to wait for two years while somebody mows their lawn and can’t make it to rehearsal and can’t lay down a part on a record, ya know? I don’t want to wait for that anymore. I want people that are around me that are dedicated and enthusiastic as I am about the music. And I want to play with really great players, I want to play with people that can play and inspire me.
Rudy SarzoTo me, that’s amazing right now, because this is the first time that this music has ever been played live. These guys are actually playing all these parts, where formerly Queensryche, we were always stuck to a click track that controlled the tempo, and no one in the band could sing like me, so all the background vocals that I performed on the records were flown in, and all the keyboard parts and stuff and all the special effects and everything were on a click track which controlled the show. And man, I tell ya, after years of doing it like that, you just get so tired of the monotony and the mechanics of it all. On the bright side, the final outcome is that it sounds amazing, it sounds just like the record to the audience. But there’s no interaction with the band. There’s no immediacy, there’s no improvisation. Like now, I can turn to (drummers) Brian (Tichy) or Simon (Wright) and give them a signal, and we can stop a song on a dime, and I can say something to the audience and pick it right back up again, boom , boom, boom. It’s all improv and in the moment. It’s a live performance. So it’s the first time this music’s had a human feel to it, an actual bunch of human beings controlling the tempo and the pace of the music rather than a machine. For me, it’s an incredible position to be in. It’s a win, win. I’m really, really enjoying myself right now.
H81R: What is your desired outcome of suit? Does it just boil down to who gets the name?
GT: Well, it’s a corporate suit, yeah, so our name is owned by our corporation so we have to divvy it up, and the only way to divvy it up is through monetary compensation. Somebody will get the name, and somebody won’t, and the people that don’t will be compensated for what they’ve done and what they’ve contributed in the organization and that kind of thing. It’s just a standard corporate dispute.
H81R: It seems like you have a very positive outlook for Queensryche right now. How would you describe your state of mind?
GT: My state of mind is elevated. I’m really enjoying every performance. The band is just on fire. They’re playing incredibly every night, and at the same time, it’s a really fun bunch of people to hang out with. Everybody’s laughing and joking and lighthearted after the show. They leave the show behind them with each performance, and the next day starts. They’re glad to be here and doing what they’re doing and appreciative of where they’re at in their lives. There’s nothing worse than being surrounded by people who just hate themselves and hate being around each other, and the negativity just seeps into everything you do, and man, it’s like all you can do to keep your head above water. And I was just very tired of living like that, and I’m very happy to be in the situation that I’m in right now.
Live photos by Tony Traglia