With their latest LP 'Empire' getting mixed reviews, Seattle techno-Metallers QUEENSRYCHE have had to take stock before embarking on their first headlining world tour. "We've been waiting for this for such a long time," guitarist CHRIS DE GARMO tells MICK WALL. But is the world really ready for the ultimate Queensryche stage experience?
IT'S JUST another rainy day in Seattle - Jet City to the rest of America, just plain-folks Lumbertown to the ocals, and home of Queensryche, one of the chief exponents of high-energy avant-rock currently messin' with the rules in the music business.
On the drive in from the airport, Queensryche guitarist Chris De Garmo fills me in on all the latest. "Did you hear about me and Geoff (Tate) getting ripped of?" he asks incredulously. "We'd been out all day doing a photo-shoot and we decided to stop off at this restaurant for dinner before heading home. I had the convertible top on my car and someone threw it open while we were eating and stole hundreds of dollars worth of stuff! Shirts and clothes and everything else we had in there. Geoff's bag with his wallet and all kinds of personal stuff in it - Geoff's whole life was in this bag, you know?
"Fortunately the thieves had shitty taste, cos they threw away a lot of the best stuff. But they stole my 'Mindcrime' leatherjacket - my prized possession! Bastards!" he howls.
"They even ripped off my shades. I mean, how uncool can you get?" he shakes his head solemnly.
SEATTLE LOOKS cold out there today, and wet, like it's been slapped across the face and made to cry. We keep driving and Chris carries on with the story. "The next day Geoff's wife is shopping at the public market and this 20-year-old kid walks by wearing my shades, one of Geoff's shirts and carrying Geoff's bag! She goes, 'Hey, that's my husband's shirt and his bag! And that's our friend's glasses! STOP!' She manages to start a scene but the kid gets away. But she does get a good description and we get the police on to it. About a week later we get a phone call from the bank saying they've got a young guy down there with Geoff's cheque book, claiming to be Geoff, trying to cash a cheque for three or four thousand dollars.
"The people at the bank know us, so they knew this guy wasn't for real, and they called the police who told them to hold him there until they showed up. Anyway, the upshot was we basically recovered every single thing that got stolen from the car - except my 'Mindcrime' jacket, which I am vowing to recover!" he cries, pounding on the steering wheel with the palms of his hands.
"Someone has got that jacket and someone is wearing it," he says, pursing his lips in disapproval. "I'm telling ya, I'm not joking," he jokes. "We've been doing frequent patrols downtown, around the seedier parts of town where all these gangs hang out to see if anyone is wearing it..."
I can see the headline now: Guitarist Killed In Gangland War Over Ripped Sleeve! ""Naw," intones Chris in his soft only-kidding Seattle drawl. ""It's not like, 'I wanna get that motherf**ker.' It's more like, 'I wanna get that 'Mindcrime' jacket.' I hurt without it."
THE REST of the drive is taken up with some rear-view mirror sightseeing. We pass by the giant Jet City 'Boeing factory" - where much of the US govemment's Star Wars space-aviation technology is currently being manufactured - speeding through the wooded hills overlooking Seattle's most famous beauty silvery-scaled Lake Washington.
Just a few miles south, in fact, of Twin Peaks, whose dizzying landscape provides the backdrop to weirdo director David Lynch's enthralling cult TV series of the same name. Which reminds me. A little birdy told me that Lynch is actually a Queensryche fan. I ask Chris if he's heard anything about it.
"I don't know," he shrugs. "Someone at our record company said that he was interested in doing a video with us. But I don't know. I haven't heard anything else so I wouldn't go on record saying David Lynch is a Queensryche fan or anything."
What about the other way around: are Queensryche David Lynch fans?
FINALLY WE arrive at the abandoned cinema where Queensryche have been rehearsing these past two weeks for the start of their next world tour, which kicks off with 15 dates here in Britain this month. Waiting for us are the rest of the band - guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson, drummer Scott Rockenfield, and, once he can untangle himself from the phone, singer Geoff Tate.
With the new Queensryche album, 'Empire', romping swiftly into the US Top 10 and already a Top 20 hit in the UK, not to mention giving Queensryche their first taste of chart action in Europe (on the day we meet, 'Empire' is at 22 in the German charts, 16 in the Finnish, 22 in the Norwegian, 26 in the Swedish, and 23 in the Swiss) the obvious first topic of conversation is the impact this sudden leapfrogging success has had on them as individuals.
Are they surprised the album has taken off the way it has?
So four albums on, what's it like being a Top 10 rock star in America at last?
How did he feel, looking at the word 'Queensryche' nuzzled up there in the Top 10 for the first time like that?
Ultimately, getting great chart positions is really exciting - it's never happened to us before! But we know it's a temporary thing," adds Chris, philosophically. "That's why we've decided we won't be doing any celebrating until the very end of this project, in a year or so from now when we've done the tour and we can really see how many more people are tuned into Queensryche."
BOTH GEOFF and Chris hope to see 'Empire' achieving a new and perhaps broader audience for Queensryche in a way that something as intensely demanding as 'Operation: Mindcrime'- their 1988 breakthrough album - could not have done, nor even attempted.
"Empire' shows a lot of different sides of Queensryche," says Chris. "I think some of them are going to appeal to people that, in the past, our records might have been a little too narrow for - in terms of musical styles."
"As much as anything, 'Empire' is also just us trying not to delve into the 'Mindcrime' story
again," says Geoff. "We wanted to steer clear of that. We still got caught up in
social issues with this album you know, the homeless situation, the environmental issues and what's going on
with drugs and gangland warfare in this country. We're still self-aware. just the whole manic raving of
'Mindcrime', we were trying to stay away from. Just taking a look at things a little differently this time. A
little older, maybe."
AT THIS point, with typically evangelical fervour, photographer Ross Halfin orders the band to stop what they're doing instantly and "FOLLOW ME!" Ross has found just the spot he wants ("IT'LL HAVE TO DO, I SUPPOSE!") to shoot the band in - out by some tree trunk-sizcd railway tracks downtown. It will be cold. It will be wet. But, as says Ross, that's "TUFF!" I ride there with Geoff. He drives fast but evenly, his eyes never wavering from the road. With his long brown hair now worn straight and simple to the shoulders, as opposed to the gelatined pompadour sported at the outset of the 'Operation:Mindcrime' tour two years before, Geoff Tate cuts a quietly confident, relaxed, almost too determinedly unassuming figure when you meet him in person these days, his gestures far less nervous and self-observed than in days of old; he's far more in control.
Or under control. "I'm trying to learn stress management," he tells me when I comment on the change in him. "I consciously try to relax and enjoy myself now - enjoy life. And not take things so personally. Our lives have gotten so much more complicated these last couple of years. There's so many more things going on now. There's so many people who want to talk to us now. There's never a day when you're not working, and everything you do is so scrutinised. It wears you out."
"But I'm not complaining," he insists. "I can still remember the not so long ago days when we didn't have much at all going on, and I'm gratefult to be where we are. It's just that if you delve into this business so intensely all the time it doesn't leave you much left."
To help him escape Geoff and his wife Susan live on a house-boat - a twin-mast sailing ketch with 'one little bedroom, one little bathrooom, one little galley and a work-out room' moored to the harbour on Lake Washington - that the singer bought last year.
"It's a place to go and relax," he explains. "A boat is mobile, too. It's nice to take it out on the lake and just forget about what's going on on-land. I take the boat out and nobody can find out where I am until I choose to get in touch with them."
Your way of keeping in touch with reality?
WE FIND the location after driving straight past it once without noticing, leaving a beet-faced Halfin screaming by side of the road: "ARE YOU BLIND!?" While they're getting ready for their group shots, I pitch in a few questions about the forthcoming world tour - Queensryche's first as headliners wherever they go. "We've been waiting for this for such along time," says Chris. "We're putting every penny we've got into making this thing the best show we've ever done. If it works the new stageshow could be amazing....."
"It's gonna have a real interesting lightshow too," adds Geoff. "We've got some real weird mirror pyramids that sit at the side of the stage and rotate. They have these high-powered lamps that send out these sheets of light - huge beams seven feet tall."
The new mind-stealing lightshow notwithstanding, one of the most fascinating prospects in store for Queensryche fans on the forthcoming British and European dates will be the appearances in the flesh of Sister Mary - the crypto-fascist beauty that so bedevilled Nikki, the anti-hero/victim of 'Operation: Mindcrime', which of course Queensryche have already announced they intend to perform in its bitter-sweet entirety for the first time ever.
She will be played by Pamela Moore, a local Seattle girl whose voice weaves its way so ethereally through the original 'Suite Sister Mary', magnum opus on 'Operation:Mindcrime'. Pamela will be onstage singing with the band for that number and perhaps several others, depending on how rehearsals turn out - and rehearsals with Pamela have, according to Geoff, "been going really really well. It's astonishing the way it's worked out. She has an equal vocal range to me and she's such a good singer, it's really challenging for me to sing with her."
And after getting to know that haunted voice so well these past two years, what will Mary actually look like
when we finally get to see her?
A shadow looms menacingly over our shoulders... "Ol! DO YOU THINK I'M STANDING HERE IN THE PISSING RAIN FOR NOTHING?" Guess who. "COME ON, GEOFFREY, IT'S TIME TO TAKE YOUR PICTURE..."
THE SESSION with Ross over, we've got a night-flight to catch. Ever the gentleman, Chris De Garmo drives us back to the airport. The rain is steadily getting heavier and thunder clouds waft lugubriously into the comers of the early evening Seattle sky. We talk about flying. I hate flying. Ross hates flying. Chris has just got his first pilot's licence.
"I began taking lessons at the beginning of last year," he tells us. "And I passed the exam at the beginning of this Summer. I fly this little Cessna 185 seaplane that I rent, cos there's a lot of mountains and lakes around here. You guys should come up with me some time. I'd love to take you!" Ross and I try not to look too horrified at the thought. I ask Chris what attracted him to the idea of flying his own airplane. Was it just kicks, or something else? "I don't know really," he says. "I just had this fascination for it. I think part of it was that I had this fear of flying. I had a lack of understanding of it and it scared me. Now I love flying! When you're out six or seven thousand feet above it all, higher than you ever thought you could be in control of, let alone sit back and joyride - that's a real high!" He shudders as he says this, visibly reliving the high altitude charge.
"Michael and I went flying the other day. We took off from the north end of Lake Washington, where there's a seaplane base there, and flew all around. Michael wanted to see his house, so I took him on an aerial tour of his neighbourhood. I showed him where they're raping all the forests around there - the commercial zoning areas - and said 'Look, there's yours, that little dot that looks like all the others.' It's like you have to get that high, that far out there, to really see what's going on down below. And everything looks different from up there," he whispers conspiratorially. "Everything...."