In today's metal market it's hard to find a band that truly represents something unique and original. Since their formation in Seattle seven years ago, Queensryche have continually managed to attain that lofty plateau. From London to Los Angeles they were continually hailed as one of rock's most intriguing units. Such albums as Rage For Order and 1988's breakthrough disc, Operation:Mindcrime established vocalist Geoff Tate, guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield as an unmatched unit in terms of both vocal and musical intensity. Today, with the group's latest LP, Empire, upon us, it seems that Queensryche's commercial recognition is finally beginning to match their critical acclaim. Recently we hooked up with Tate to discuss this along with other matters that have forever changed the face of the Queensryche empire.
Hit Parader Geoff, it seems like people are finally beginning to catch on to Queensryche's unique musical perspectives. How does it feel to have gold albums and be on magazine covers after so many years of struggle?
Geoff Tate It obviously feels great. It really was a struggle with this band. I'm not one of those guys who says how much fun it was to live on no money and have to worry about where the next meal is coming from. I much prefer it when we're successful. The gold albums are great, and getting on Hit Parader's cover really is exciting for all of us, but being able to pay our bills is probably the most exciting thing of all.
HP Why do you think Operation:Mindcrime was the breakthrough album for the band - at least in a commercial sense?
GT Certainly the fact that it was a great album helped. Then, when you're able to tour with bands like Metallica and Def Leppard, you get to reach a lot of people you might not have reached otherwise. That was a great opportunity for us, and I think we made the most of it. Operation:Mindcrime was a very serious, heavy album, and in that regard I was a little surprised by how well it sold. I thought we might have made a record that wasn't accessible enough for a mass audience. I'm glad I was wrong.
HP On Empire you've gone away from the conceptual style used on Mindcrime. Why?
GT I guess some people would say that we're really gambling by moving away from a style that worked so well for us last time. We've always seemed to have themes on our albums, and this time we just wanted to concentrate more on individual songs. That was easier in some ways and much harder in others. On an album like Mindcrime, the lyrics tended to play off of the storyline and expand on what had happened before. On an album like Empire, each song had to represent something totally new - which is much more challenging for me as a lyricist.
HP Is there special significance to the title, Empire?
GT Actually, there is no special significance to it, other than that's a song title on the album, and we were looking for a shorter title this time. Sometimes in the past our titles got to be a little long and complicated, so this time we figured one powerful word would be interesting to try and Empire fit the bill. Saying 'Empire'is just less of a mouthful than Opemtion:mindcrime.
HP The song Empire tackles the subject of drug abuse. Another one, Best I Can, discusses gun control. You certainly haven't backed away from hot issues.
GT Yeah, but not every song is topical. Empire is about the drug problem in America and how it's ripping our society apart. It's too important a topic to avoid, especially when you're in a band that can reach young ears. Best I Can touches on gun control, but it's really the story of a young boy who gets shot and is paralyzed. He just strives to be the best he can be - it's really an upbeat story. But we also have songs like One And Only and Hand On Heart which are relationship songs. We've tried to give a little different angle on the old love story, and I think we've done it fairly well.
HP Do you have a song that you enjoyed singing more than any other?
GT I guess Della Brown would qualify as one of the more interesting tracks on the record, and one I enjoyed singing. It's a look into the life of a woman who had it all - beauty, brains and success. But things didn't work out for her, and it all slipped away. She ended up homeless - living on the street. It's a very moody song that gets into a groove and stays there all the way through. That song also means a lot to Chris and me because we see the homeless people all the time in Seattle. Most of the time you just fly by them in your car, but I remember once when we were caught in traffic and just watched them. How sad it was. They were just living in doorways with cardboard boxes for covering. It really moved us.
HP What did you learn from the success of Mindcrime that you put to use this time?
GT Actually, we threw everything we learned out the window. We did almost everything a different way. We used the same production team, but even they worked very differently this time. As an example, on the last record I'd come into the studio and say that I felt like recording a particular song that day. This time we made a master list and followed it, so that I had to sing a particular song on a particular day, whether I felt up to it or not. That put a lot more pressure on me. We also wrote and recorded in different ways; I guess you could say that we didn't stick with what brought us success.
HP What motivated you to change so many things around?
GT It was a conscious decision, but it wasn't like we really went out of our way to do things that differently. It was a situation where we wanted to shake things up just to keep it fresh, and it worked. We went into the studio not even knowing how long each of our songs were. I doubt if there's another band around who'd say that - or at least admit to it. (laughs) We didn't know how long the album would be until we had almost finished all the final mixes. But that's just the way things work for us. We've learned to adjust as we go along.
HP Earlier you mentioned the fact that the band toured with both Metallica and Def Leppard last year. Did you have to change your performance to satisfy different kinds of audiences?
GT Actually, we just went out and played our set. We really didn't think if there was a Metallica crowd out there or if it was a Leppard audience. They were both great crowds. The only real difference was that Def Leppard's audience had more girls in it, so the screaming between songs was at a higher pitch. But it wasn't like we were going to play louder for Metallica's fans than for Def Leppard's. We just did our thing and hoped they liked it.
HP What are the tour plans for Queensryche this time?
GT We'll be heading out sometime next month, and we plan on headlining. I know we won't be playing those same giant arenas we played last time, but the time is right for us to go and have our name on the marquee. That puts a lot more pressure on us, but I think we're up to it. We know we've got to come up with something spectacular, and to be honest, we still don't have it all figured out. But I'm sure by the time the first show rolls around, we'll have everything ready to go.
HP Is there an incident that really stands out in your mind from your last tour?
GT Hey, that was a year ago - I have trouble remembering yesterday. (laughs) Actually, one that comes right to my mind is one night in Cleveland when Eddie, our bass player, had a problem. He loves to run all over the stage every night, and he had been having a lot of trouble with his shoes. He was slipping all over the place. So he had our road crew on the lookout for a sporting goods store where he could buy a pair of wrestling shoes which supposedly gave great traction. Well, he finally found 'em, and the first night he wore them on stage we couldn't find him. We heard his bass, but he wasn't anywhere on stage. Finally, during the guitar solo I walked off stage and looked for Eddie. I found him sitting on our road managers back, playing bass while duct tape was being put on the bottom of his new wrestling shoes. He'd been slipping around more than ever that night.
HP Queensryche have never developed the now-standard "party boy" reputation while you're on the road. Why not?
GT I don't know. We're just a different kind of band. We're not saying we're better or worse we're just different. We've never tried to do things that people expected. We've just done everything our own way, and so far it's worked.