May , 2013
By Vinny Cecolini
Geoff Tate: Leaving The Past Behind And Looking To The Future
Former Queensryche Vocalist Speaks Out About His Past, Present And What Lies Ahead
Photos Courtesy of Geoff Tate's Facebook
For fans of Seattle progressive-metal stalwarts Queensryche, the last year has been devastating. Although there have been rumors of discontent among the band's ranks since founding member and guitarist Chris DeGarmo's 1997 departure, it was a backstage meeting before the band's April 14, 2012 Sao Paulo, Brazil concert that brought tensions to boil. During the August 25, 2012 episode of VH1 Classics' That Metal Show, Tate admitted just how heated the situation became, when his band mates informed him they had just fired his wife, who was the band's manager, his daughter, who had been the band's fan club president and his son-in-law, who was the band's guitar tech. "I was next and I lost my temper," he admitted. "I'm glad someone stopped me, 'cause I look back on it with regret. I could have hurt one of them badly. It's not something I'm proud of."
Soon after, concerts were cancelled and the band announced it was going on hiatus with Tate resuming his solo career, while the rest of Queensryche toured as Rising West with former Crimson Glory vocalist Todd La Torre. On June 20, 2012 the band revealed to Billboard.com what everyone had assumed - they had parted ways with Tate and were continuing with La Torre. One problem - legally, they were unable to fire Tate, who owned 25% of the "Queensryche Corporation." Lawsuits were filed by both parties with the judge informing both parties that "the market would decide by November 2013 who had a right to the moniker." Until then, both Tate and his former members could carry on using the name.
In early September, 2012, Tate unveiled his version of Queensryche. It was a super group of sorts that featured former Quiet Riot, Whitesnake and Ozzy Osbourne bassist Rudy Sarzo; Ratt drummer Bobby Blotzer; former Megadeth guitarist Glen Drover; former Queensryche guitarist Kelly Gray and former Myth keyboardist Randy Gane. Like most new bands, however, Tate's Queensryche experienced growing pains with Blotzer returning to Ratt and Drover deciding to leave. They have since been replaced respectively by former AC/DC drummer Simon Wright and former Hurricane guitarist Robert Sarzo.
In addition to touring, Tate's band began working on a new Queensryche record. With guest appearances by former Judas Priest guitarist KK Downing, Kings X guitarist Ty Tabor, Night Ranger guitarist Brad Gillis and Y&T guitarist Dave Meniketti, the resulting Frequency Unknown not only lives up to some of Queensryche's finest work, but also includes some of the vocalist's heaviest and hardest compositions in decades. Frequency Unknown, out now on Deadline Music, also features new recordings of fan favorites "I Don't Believe in Love," "Empire," "Jet City Woman" and "Silent Lucidity."
No matter which side you've taken in the band's acrimonious split, you cannot deny Tate is the voice of Queensryche. It will be both exciting and upsetting to see how the legal battle unfolds during the next few months. Regardless of how the judge rules this November, one thing is for certain. The Queensryche responsible for so many classic albums and songs will be no more.
As Tate answers his phone, the music background blaring makes it difficult to maintain a conversation. Once outside, he apologizes and explains that the current rehearsal session marks the first time he has played with Disturbed bassist John Moyer and Billy Idol drummer Brian Tichy, who are filling in during the next leg of the band's tour while Rudy Sarzo and Simon Wright tend to previous commitments.
The first topic of discussion is Frequency Unknown's controversial cover art. At issue is not the ring on the middle finger of the clenched fist punching through containing the Queensryche's logo, but the index and ring fingers featuring the letters "F" and "U."
Tate laughs. "It's an abbreviation of the album title. It's a metal thing. I've seen tens of thousands of fists punching the air at Queensryche shows. There is nothing out of the ordinary about it. I get criticized because I'm not metal enough. Now I do an obvious metal album cover and I get criticized for that."
JAM: How happy are you with the reaction to Frequency Unknown?
Geoff Tate - I haven't paid much attention. I've been doing stuff with the band. We've been out on the road for a month and have two new guys who are sitting in with us during our next leg. I don't look back too much.
JAM: Unlike most recording processes, every little drama you've faced has been detailed in the music media.
That's the age we live in. As you are aware, I am in a lawsuit with my former Queensryche band mates. Whenever there's a lawsuit, there is an opposing side trying to paint a picture. They go about it with gusto. They think it's going to work, but I think it's worthless to engage in that rhetoric, 'cause it is not what this whole thing is about.
JAM: As a long-time Queensryche fan, I feel like a child in a divorce. Despite what others have said, I do not believe that two is better than one. Although I really like Frequency Unknown and have yet to hear what the other Queensryche will release, I remained troubled. On the other hand, I do understand that this is a business, these things happen and, after being together for so long, bands often split.
These things happen. It doesn't do much good to sit there and live and breathe the tragedy of change. You have to and move on with your life and get involved with the things that make you happy. Making music fulfills me. I love writing music and I love collaborating with other artists. I love playing live. That's what I've been doing during the last year.
JAM: When interviewed by KCAL Rocks DJ Frankie DiVita on the Revolve Golden Gods Awards red carpet, Rudy Sarzo said, "Just to be on stage next to Geoff Tate - the power and his passion, it's contagious."
Rudy has always been such a special guy and always so kind with everyone. He's a saint. He never has a bad word to say about anyone. His brother, Robert, is also fun to work with. He is inside the studio behind me working on the set with the new guys.
JAM: Tell me about the new guys.
Disturbed bassist John Moyer will be sitting in for Rudy for five dates. It's the first time I've played with John. He's a great player and a great singer. He's been tackling a lot of the back-up vocals really well, which is really challenging.
JAM: For most singers ...
Especially for someone who's not known as a singer. He has been working hard with Robert to get their thing down. It has been a lot of fun for all of us. Drummer Simon Wright is also sitting out during the month of June, so filling in for him is Brain Tichy. He is also a great player.
JAM: Frequency Unknown came together quickly. What was it like to hold that first completed copy in your hands knowing your hard work had paid off?
It was not a significant event for me. I make records all of the time. I have a backlog of recordings waiting to come out. I write all of the time. I'm working on a brand new album that I started about a month ago. I have another one that is probably about a quarter of the way completed that will probably be released in 2014. I look at Frequency Unknown like this. It was a great experience. I got to work with some really cool players; musicians that I always wanted to work with and people that I've never been exposed to before that I met through players I did know. I had a great writing experience with Jason Slater, Randy Gane and a new guy I've never worked with before Lukas Rossi (winner of the 2006 Rock Star: Supernova reality program). The two of us hit it off during the ShipRocked tour. We were having a couple of drinks talking music and the next thing I know we're back at the hotel writing songs. I love that collaborative effort. That is my pursuit these days - to work with as many great people as I can.
JAM: Once the judge had ruled the market will decide the fate of the Queensryche name, did Geoff Tate determine he had to act quickly, pull his musical friends together, and create a new album you could tour behind?
We already had songs in the work. I had just finished a solo record, Kings & Thieves, last October and started writing this one. It's typical of me to finish a record and immediately launch into the next one. It wasn't a full-tilt "let's go for it" thing. It was puttering around and then putting my views together. Once we had the judgment that we had a year to use the name, I decided, "Okay, here we go. Let's do it." So we rallied and did the record.
JAM: Frequency Unknown seemed to be created quickly.
It really comes down to who you're working with. With this record, everyone wanted to be there. Everyone was throwing out ideas. There was a constant pool of inspiration with many discussions late into the night like, "How cool would it be to do this? Wouldn't it be cool if we did that? Hey, I really like this part." That type of dialogue, the conversation about music, led to songs on this record.
JAM: How did that differ from working with your former band mates?
Working with the old band, there wasn't a lot of that after Chris DeGarmo left. They are not prolific writers. The other guys aren't those types of people. To do a record with just them took a couple of years. It got to the point where it became very difficult to go that long without having a new album out. Personally, I would like to release a new record every six months.
JAM: You have a '70s recording mentality.
Music is art, and art is inspired by the times you are in, whether that be your personal time you're experiencing, or what is happening around you. This is a really interesting time to live in. There is so much going on with the Internet and technology. We bear witness to these fantastic events that happen worldwide every single day. You can track patterns and movements within the global society. I'm fascinated by that and I want to talk about it through music, which I think is the most powerful medium in the world, perhaps second only to television. I use music as a vehicle for my commentary. Music has been so inspirational for so many people for so long, it remains a great medium to expose your thoughts and ideas.
JAM: Although the Internet has made the world smaller, it has also put the music industry in a tailspin.
That's because the music industry didn't guard the technology, though I do not think there is any way you can. There are groups hacking into FBI and financial institution databases. So how are they going to protect the record industry? Pirating is going to happen in this day and age. The business of selling music has dramatically changed. I don't think we can use the old model anymore.
JAM: Record companies are rightfully nervous about advancing music to journalists for promotional purposes.
Therefore, you see that old model of relying on music sales is no longer lucrative. That is why so many bands are touring now.
JAM: Is there money to be made by touring?
There is no way that technology is going to replace a live performance. The biggest problem to overcome is the publics' reticence to go out. In America, we're very comfortable sitting in front of our television snacking and watching others live their lives. We have to get people interested in going out and seeing a live performance. Music speaks to everyone on a very soulful level. It's embedded in our DNA. There is nothing that can replace that feeling of having a large group of individuals getting together to experience live music.
JAM: I gave up my season football tickets because it's cheaper and more comfortable to experience games from my couch in front of my television.
I think about that quite a bit when booking a show. I try to put the band into venues where I know fans will be comfortable. My fans are mostly older and they don't want to go out to some greasy, dirty dive bar or club. They want to go to a classy place where they can leave without being covered in filth.
JAM: Was it your intention to create your version of Queensryche as a super group? Everyone in the band has a name and they're all veterans of larger stages.
I want to play with individuals who are great. I want to play with people who have passion and can perform. I don't want to spend any more time playing with musicians who don't want to be there; who are not grateful for where they are or what they are doing; who cannot see passed their own fret boards. I've done that way too long. I want to be inspired too. I want to play with talented people that will blow me away. So, I try to get involved with musicians who can do that; people I know have the personality that is going to jell within the band. When you're living on a bus for extended periods of time, it quickly becomes apparent when someone has issues.
JAM: Although you've said you do not look at your version of Queensryche as a new band or as a "restart," you have experienced many of the growing pains experienced by new artists, including lineup changes.
You have to leave yourself some room to wiggle. Trying to get the caliber of musicians I want to play with requires a lot of scheduling. Everyone in this band is in demand and some had long-standing projects and relationships that had already committed to. They also have wants, needs and dreams they want to achieve beyond what I'm doing. I never want to stand in the way of someone doing what they love. Rudy, for instance, had a commitment in South America. I didn't want to say, "No way, Rudy. You can't do it." I figure if he can go off and do what he loves, we'll find someone else who can stand in until he returns. John Moyer and I have known each other for about 12 years. I always want to play music with him, so this is a chance to finally do that.
JAM: Performing with Moyer and Tichy will definitely be a new experience. That must feel exciting.
When we finished the last leg of the tour in Texas, the band was on fire. There was a week of dodgy stuff where we worked with our crew trying to get everyone up to speed. Because we were working out some new gear, we had a couple of rough shows. Then, however, it clicked and it got better and better with each show. By the time we got to Austin, it felt as if we had played together forever.
JAM: Why did you decide to rerecord four classic Queensryche songs for Frequency Unknown?
That was an unemotional decision. The record company asked us to do it. They said, "We really want to give you a lot of money to make this record, but we don't want to give it to you unless you include the re-recordings."
JAM: I thought you wanted to prove something.
No. I don't really need to prove anything. These days, economics plays a big role in decision making when people offer you a large sum of money for something you like to do. I tried to wriggle out of it. I said, "I've already recorded these songs. How about I do those with a different arrangement and make them really special?" The record company said, "No. We want them to be as close to the originals as possible."
JAM: Your voice sounds brighter on the re-recordings. Was that intentional?
No. Songs sound different depending on how and where you hear them. For instance, you can listen to a song in the studio one way, and then it will sound totally different on your home system. Sometimes you'll says, "Oh, my God! I can't hear the guitar parts" or "I can't hear the vocals." It is so strange. Everyone hears music differently to begin with. I've had mixing and mastering guys who work on hundreds of records each year and they all have opinions on what the low end should be. They all have numbers and graphs that they adhere to.
JAM: What was the mastering issue with Frequency Unknown?
Songs and albums are remixed all of time. The fact that there is so much focus by the media on what I do is the tragedy of a court case.
JAM: Where does the court case stand?
It is supposed to be resolved this November.
JAM: For you, what would be the best possible outcome and what would be the worst possible outcome?
Legally, I can't say a lot, but what I think would be helpful for people to understand is that this is strictly a corporate dispute. There is no "winning the name Queensryche" or anything like that. It's just about who can afford to pay the name. Corporate disputes have rules of engagement that you have to follow that are dictated by the state and the federal government. You cannot fire a corporate member without compensation and proper protocol, which happened in this case. I have to be compensated for my part in the corporation. If they can't pay me, I will get compensated in some other way. We have to figure out what that is. It is strictly nuts and bolts dollars.
JAM: It is like a divorce.
There is no adultery (laughs). It is just simple nuts and bolts. There is a formula.
JAM: For longtime fans, unfortunately, it has been difficult to deal with.
I wish it happened differently. I wish it would have been handled with a lot more privacy and decorum. I wish we could have settled it like gentlemen and moved on with our lives without stretching it out for a year and playing it out on the Internet like some sick drama.
JAM: During your time in Queensryche, could you have ever imagined the brotherhood ending on such a sour note?
It never was a brotherhood. It was a bunch of kids that got together and achieved success at an early age. We got used to that success and continued doing the things we did to get that success. We found comfort in our way of working. It's just that simple. We were never close. We never hung out doing stuff and sharing life. It was always just, "Hey, we have another record to make. Anyone have any ideas? Let's try to make a record. Here we go."
JAM: Obviously, you're now in a more comfortable space.
I'm in a comfortable space where I can feel creative; where I am not trying to operate with my hands tied behind my back.
JAM: This coming November, should you be awarded the Queensryche name, will the music you've written be released under the Queensryche name? Will you maintain your solo career?
I don't know. I don't have an answer on that just yet. I think maybe after November I'll have a clear picture on that. I just want to be able to write what I feel. And I don't want to be dictated to by anyone. I don't want anyone to say, "You can't do that because, fill in the blank!" I don't believe in categorization or genre-fication. I think that ruins art. I think that is elitist. Art is not meant to be confined or put in a box. It's an uphill climb, because so many people want you to conform. They want you to be what they think you should be.
JAM: One of the benefits of being on a record label like Deadline Music is you have creative freedom.
I never had that issue with record labels. The only time I ever experienced that was during the recording of Queensryche's first album, The Warning. We went $300,000 dollars over budget and the label (EMI) took the record out of our hands and gave it to someone else to mix.
JAM: And critics complained it was overproduced.
The guy that mixed the album had no clue what Queensryche was. He never listened to hard rock music and didn't take input from anyone in the band. He just mixed it according to how he thought it should sound. No one in the band could listen to that record. We all hated it.