Hard Talk

Operation Queensryche: An Interview with Geoff Tate

Queensryche is a band that needs no introduction. For more than 20 years, they’ve built a reputation as one of the best, most innovative bands the music world has ever seen. During the course of their career, they’ve managed to go above and beyond what people would expect from them…and they’re still going strong. In fact, there’s a lot going on in the world of Queensryche. They’ve got a new CD/DVD, “Mindcrime At The Moore,” upcoming tours that will see them share the stage with Alice Cooper, Heaven & Hell and Thin Lizzy and a new studio album that’s already in the works. As busy as he is, vocalist Geoff Tate gave us a call to give us a quick update on the band.

Paul Autry: Where are you callin’ from today?

Geoff Tate: Seattle.

Paul Autry: Your home town.

Geoff Tate: Yes.

Paul Autry: Before you called, I did a search on your name on YouTube and I found an old video where you were smoking. Is that a habit you still have?

Geoff Tate: Ah, who knows when that was.

Paul Autry: I believe it was an interview from the “Video:Mindcrime” release.

Geoff Tate: Yes, that was quite awhile ago. No, I don’t smoke.

Paul Autry: Did that affect your voice at all when you did smoke?

Geoff Tate: No, not really. Just my health.

Paul Autry: I know the feeling. Anyway, you’ve got a lot going on this year…the upcoming tour, the new album. I guess we should start off with the tour. How did you hook up with that?

Geoff Tate: We’re really concentrating on a new studio album. So, we really weren’t planning on touring that much this year. But, some things came up that we couldn’t say no to…like the Heaven & Hell tour for example. That’s something that we dropped everything for and moved our schedule around so we could participate in it because it’s a wonderful event. That line up of Black Sabbath is my favorite. The three albums they did together were just phenomenal. Some of my favorite hard rock music, they made there. So, we’re really pleased to be part of that. It’s gonna be a wonderful time, can’t wait for that.

Paul Autry: Alice Cooper’s also on that bill.

Geoff Tate: Yeah. Recently added.

Paul Autry: You’re gonna share the stage with two legendary bands. Do you feel any pressure to deliver?

Geoff Tate: Well, you know, I never really look at music as a competition. As a performer, I’ve been performing for 27 years now and I kind of have a feel for it. I feel pretty confident in my abilities.

Paul Autry: How much time are they gonna give you?

Geoff Tate: I don’t know exactly. I think it depends on the venue and where we’re playing. It will probably be somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour I would guess.

Paul Autry: Much like Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath, you have a wealth of material to choose from, which much be difficult since you pretty much almost have to play certain songs that the audience would like to hear, plus the stuff the band would like to play.

Geoff Tate: We’ll probably do a combination of both. We’ll probably do a multiple set list and kind of change it up every few days to make it different.

Paul Autry: Will Ronnie James Dio be performing with Queensryche during your set because, if I’m not mistaken, he only performed as Dr. X one time in public.

Geoff Tate: Yes, he did. Uh, I’m not sure. We haven’t really talked about that yet. I’m sure it would be fun.

Paul Autry: Will you perform any of your solo material on this tour?

Geoff Tate: I haven’t planned on it yet. But, honestly, we haven’t put a set list together yet, we haven’t begun rehearsals for it yet. So, it’s a possibility.

Paul Autry: If I could side step for a moment, I’d like to talk about your solo album. When I first heard about it, I figured it would sound like Queensryche. But, when I heard it, it was, at least in my opinion, totally different than anything you’ve ever done. If I had to write about it, I wouldn’t know what to say. So, what was your thought process with that album?

Geoff Tate: Well, I went into it trying to get as far away from Queensryche as I could. I have a wonderful band with Queensryche. We’ve really pushed the boundries of metal and hard rock, probably further than most people, and I wanted to do something that was really not that. But, something completely different, something that allowed me to sing in other styles that I like and styles that have influenced me growing up and to write songs in that direction. I chose players that didn’t come from a rock backround. They came from a classical, jazz or R&B backround. That way, we could write a different kind of music, something that wasn’t Queensryche.

Paul Autry: Cool. Now, maybe it’s just me. But, you look angry on that album cover.

Geoff Tate: Ah, do I? I think the sun was in my eyes.

Paul Autry: You have “Mindcrime At The Moore” coming out. Obviously, a lot of people consider “Operation: Mindcrime” to be your greatest release. Personally, I’m rather fond of “Empire.” But, what made you decide to do this album?

Geoff Tate: Well, “Mindcrime” was always intended to have a conclusion to it. But, we left the story hanging there with the idea that we were gonna follow it up and conclude the story at some point. We originally planned for it to come out after the “Empire” album. But, we couldn’t actually get it together. We couldn’t finish the story. We couldn’t wrap our heads around it at the time. Other things were happening within the band. Our musical outlook was changing, we wanted to experiment with some different things. So, we put the conclusion to “Mindcrime” on the backburner for awhile. But, finally, finished the story and I brought it to the band and said I have this conclusion and I really like it, I think this could be good, anybody interested in getting into this again. Everybody was very excited about it within the band and they wanted to jump into it again. So, we jumped in and we started to work on the music for it…and pretty soon it was done. We decided that it would be really wonderful to play one and two together and give the audience the full story, the begining and then the conclusion. So, we did that, planned a tour for it and, at the same time thought, wow, we should film this because it’s probably not gonna happen again. So, we built our stage show around it and filmed it…and here it is.

Paul Autry: You did “Operation: Livecrime” back in 1991. What’s the difference between that release and this one?

Geoff Tate: Well, the first one we did was a live version of “Mindcrime” one and it was really the band performing the songs as a concert. We had some movie screens in the back telling the story a little bit. But, it really wasn’t an extensive, theatrical sort of production. Where as this album, “Mindcrime At The Moore,” is a complete theatrical performance. We had actors playing the different parts. We had extra music that we’ve written to kind of help flesh out the story and to tell it a little better. Mary’s death, there’s a big controversy on who killed her and how that happened, it’s been going on for years. So, that’s explained in the live show. It’s a much more thorough presentation is what I would say.

Paul Autry: Is there any chance we’ll see a DVD release of “Video:Mindcrime?”

Geoff Tate: Perhaps. Yeah, I don’t know. That’s an EMI project.

Paul Autry: I also heard you’re doing an acoustic show to promote the album?

Geoff Tate: We are. It’s just a short little acoustic set that we’re doing, a meet and greet, signing records for people.

Paul Autry: Will that be recorded or released?

Geoff Tate: We’re not planning on it, no.

Paul Autry: What are your thoughts on file sharing?

Geoff Tate: Well, you know, it’s a different world these days. Financially, it’s a huge hit. I think they’re reporting 75% losses in record sales now. I think in another couple of years, there probably won’t be any record companies other than, say, iTunes. So, the whole industry is really on it’s ear, it’s changing drastically and dramatically every day. I really don’t know what to think of it. On one hand, I would say it’s terrible because it’s really putting a big hit on people that make their living making music. I like to give the analogy…what would happen if you went into a grocery store and loaded up two carts and walked out without paying? It’s exactly the same thing. Until they make it legal to steal from people, I have to say I’m against it.

Paul Autry: Another thing I’ve never seen you talk about too much…what are your musical influences?

Geoff Tate: Oh, there’s a lot of stuff. I grew up in the wonderful 70’s where there wasn’t a music industry yet. It was an industry. But, it was really runned by musicians and music makers. It wasn’t the seventeen billion dollar business that it has become. Things weren’t categorized so stringently like they are today and there weren’t sub-genres of genres like there are today, it was all rock music. So, we grew up listening to everything from Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath to The Mamas & The Papas, The Turtles, The Byrds, The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, Queen…you name it…it was all rock music and we were exposed to it. Myself and the band, we all were influenced by everything that came out, all kinds of music.

Paul Autry: What’s in your personal CD collection?

Geoff Tate: Oh, I’ve got everything. All the bands I just named to bands I can’t even remember. But, honestly, I really don’t listen much to music right now. I’m usually working on the music that’s in my head so much that I don’t really have time to listen to other peoples stuff at this point in my life.

Paul Autry: Speaking of CD’s, next year will be the 25th anniversary of the release of your first album. Will Queensryche do anything to promote and/or re-release that?

Geoff Tate: Possibly, yeah. We haven’t really got that far as far as planning that. But, that’s a good idea.

Paul Autry: You also have a tour coming up with Thin Lizzy. How did that come about?

Geoff Tate: They asked us and we were interested in doing some touring at that time of year and it’s always nice to be in Europe in the fall. So, we thought that would be a great package.

Paul Autry: When I saw that on your website, I couldn’t picture it because, really, Queensryche and Thin Lizzy are two different musical styles.

Geoff Tate: Well, that’s kind of the way Europe works. If you look at tours that go through Europe, it’s in their tradition to put a lot of different bands together. When we go over to do festivals, we played…we opened up for Roger Waters last year. We’ve played shows with Yes, Porcupine Tree, Heart…you name it and the people are on the bill. It’s a real eclectic mix of bands. The American mentality is to put bands that are sort of similar together. It’s kind of a different way of doing it.

Paul Autry: As far as Queensryche by themselves, in your opinion, where do you see the more receptive audience, Europe or America?

Geoff Tate: Ah, I couldn’t really pinpoint that. We’re a really lucky band in that we grew up and came into the business at a time where we got to tour everywhere. We tour in about 26 to 30 countries. We can go to just about any major city in the world and play a show and between a thousand and six thousand people will show up. We’re really fortunate in that area. I think a lot of the bands that are starting out now don’t have the ability to tour worldwide because touring is a whole different animal now. So, yeah, we feel very fortunate about that. We’ve cultivated our audience over all these years and we keep going back.

Paul Autry: Do you have any good road stories that you haven’t told in public yet?

Geoff Tate: Oh, gosh (laughs). Well, you know, when you travel on the road and you’re playing shows, there’s all kinds of things that happen…people with you, different bands, creative people sometimes go off the deep end at various times…and your working with technical equipment where anything can go wrong and usually does night after night. After awhile, nothing seems to phase you. You get used to just kind of rolling with it. The whole stage can come apart. We’ve had giant PA systems fall down during our show. We’ve had light trusses fall down, which nearly killed us. We’ve had sandstorms kick up in the desert, they had to evacuate the audience, I mean, you name it…it happens.

Paul Autry: The world has changed a lot over the past few years. Is life on the road any different now for you?

Geoff Tate: No, it’s not really that different. It’s still kind of unpredictable and crazy. You still have to get from point A to point B safely. I think we stay in nicer hotels now than we used to. That’s the only real difference.

Paul Autry: You ever trash any?

Geoff Tate: Yeah. Who hasn’t?

Paul Autry: The one thing I’ve always admired about the band is that, during the length of your career, you’ve only had two line up changes and, in this day and age, a lot of bands will come out with an album and, by the time they get around to recording a follow up, half the band is gone. So, what has kept Queensryche together all these years?

Geoff Tate: Well, we just like each other as people, for one thing. We have a lot of common belief systems. We have a shared history that we’re very proud of and we like what we do. We’re musicians and we play music. We like working together. It makes it easier to hang out with people if you like them.

Paul Autry: The fact that you stayed together, do you feel that has added to the Queensryche legacy?

Geoff Tate: I think so. Yeah. I think that’s important to an audience. They wanna see the band that they like. They like the music and they wanna see the band continue.

Paul Autry: Going back to the “Mindcrime” album, I heard that there was talk of turning it into a movie. Is that a rumor or is it a possibility?

Geoff Tate: Oh, yeah. That’s a possibility. There’s a wonderful screenplay that was written for the record by a gentleman named Mark Shepard, who’s a screenwriter based in Hollywood. It’s a wonderful story and it’s being shopped around Hollywood at this time. The thing about a screenplay is, you never know what’s gonna happen with them, even when people buy them and want to develop them for films. It takes anywhere from one to ten years for that to happen. It’s a whole different industry from the rock industry…you get an idea for a record, you make a record and you put it out. It’s so simple. But, Hollywood is totally different.

Paul Autry: Now would you want or have control over a project like that?

Geoff Tate: That’s part of our…when we signed off on the screenplay, we get to retain control over decisions made regarding it or how it’s presented. That’s very important to us.

Paul Autry: Yeah, you wouldn’t wanna make a “Detroit Rock City.”

Geoff Tate: Yeah, we wouldn’t wanna make it into a comedy or something.

Paul Autry: I personally like the movie. I can’t see why it didn’t do better. I guess because it was Kiss, there were huge expectations. With the “Mindcrime” story, I would assume there would be bigger expectations because that movie was based on a song where as this movie would be based on two albums worth of material.

Geoff Tate: Right.

Paul Autry: So, what does the future hold for Queensryche. You had mentioned that you’re working on a new album. So, what can we expect?

Geoff Tate: Well, we’ve got a new studio album in the works. We’ve just begin working on it. We’re gonna try to finish it up this year. It will probably be out in the spring of 2008. That’s our goal. We have an EMI best of release that’s coming out soon, which is kind of an interesting project for the collector. There’s a lot of unreleased material on it. Some demo stuff from the “Empire” days, original demos of the songs that ended up becoming songs for the record. A brand new song that Chris DeGarmo and I wrote, he was our former guitar player. Just some really weird and eclectic stuff that we found lying around on tapes and we decided to put it out.

Paul Autry: How do you feel the band has changed from your debut release to your upcoming studio album?

Geoff Tate: I think we’ve grown up. We’ve experimented with the band and the music all these years. That’s what really got us started, we liked making records, we liked writing songs. We all agreed early on that we would experiment with the music and push it as far out as we could go with it and really not have any limits…you know…pre-set limits. We were just gonna try to take it as far as we could and be experimental and take chances and be brave.

Paul Autry: When you decide to call it a day, how would you like Queensryche to be remembered?

Geoff Tate: Well, you never really have any kind of control over that. People say what they will. I think we’re a band that takes chances. We don’t play the safe route. We experiment. We really push ourselves musically to try new things, different things. We try to make each record sound different than the previous one. We try to make smart records, lyrically intelligent stuff that people can wrap their heads around…music that will, maybe, open their mind a little bit and makes them see a different perspective.

Paul Autry: Angus Young once said something about how he was very laid back when he’s not on stage. But, when he’s up there, it’s like he’s on fast forward and somebody else is driving. I mention that because I saw a video where you were being interviewed on a radio station and you seemed like a very laid back kind of guy. So, is there a difference between who you are when you’re not on a stage and who you are when you are?

Geoff Tate: Well, that’s very true about Angus. He’s a very laid back guy. You know, the stage is something…it’s very different than real life. Within real life, you’re living in a society, you have certain rules that you need to follow. On stage, it’s a whole different thing. You can let out all those inhibitions that, most of the time, we all have to keep in check. I can barely stand up when I get off the stage. That’s the goal, every night, just give it all up.

Paul Autry: Final comments?

Geoff Tate: Well, if you’re interested in Queensryche, thank you for believing in the band all these years and supporting us. We’ll continue to tour and make records for as long as we possibly can.

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