Cleveland : 01.30.2005
Photo by Lyle A. Waisman
Before I say anything else, I want to say a large thank you to Susan Tate for her extreme kindness and for her efforts to make this interview possible.
Music Frisk recently sat down with Geoff Tate of Queensryche, a rare type of hard rock band that has longstanding, extremely passionate fans around the world and now operating in it’s third decade, despite unexplainable and regrettably sparse radio and TV love. It’s an interesting paradox, maybe people really do appreciate deep and thoughtful music lyrics more than music industry execs give them credit for having? Seeing Operation Mindcrime performed in its entirety almost two decades after it’s release in a full house that sang every world along with Geoff Tate until he wore a straightjacket cradling the microphone in his arms during the last song was an intense theatrical and musical experience that will not soon be forgotten or surpassed for this writer.
Think about what this subcommunicates for a minute. Go grab all of your CD’s from the 1980’s. I’ll wait for you…
OK, now look at each one and ask yourself the following, “How many of these efforts are even worth listening to from start to finish?” I bet that stack when you are done is extremely small. In fact, I bet you thought more than once, “Geez, why do I even still have some of this stuff?”
That’s a testimony of not only the certainly classic nature of the Operation Mindcrime album (Note to classic rock radio program directors, there was indeed other bands than Pink Floyd, Aerosmith and AC/DC in the 1980’s that people would still like to hear once in a while), but to the unique nature of Queensryche itself. I mean there are some things in this industry that you never hear like, “That band sounds like the next Queensryche”. It is a testimonial not only to Geoff Tate’s one of a kind voice, the meaningful lyrics that resonate with and are still memorized by fans years later and the signature Queenryche guitar licks that stand out as distinct on their own even without the other distinct attributes of the group. Hey, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Selection Committee, could you do us a favor? When you get done putting Britney Spear’s lastest outfit on display, could you go look up the definition of a Hall of Fame and then refocus yourselves on your true mission of finding the bands that have left an unarguably unique stamp on rock history through the use of music?
I don’t mean that just for Queensryche, actually there are several other omissions arguably need to be corrected first. While U2 did belong there someday in the distant future and I actually do appreciate you selecting Buddy Guy before he passes from this earth, how can you possibly put U2 there before Black Sabbath, Rush and Metallica (in that order) and expect people to see your institution as inclusive to all rock genres? Or is it just that certain genre discrimination is OK because there are no federal laws against it? I know it might take some hard work and I’m sure it wouldn’t raise as much funds as glorifying teenage pop stars in your lobby, but for your institution to be respected long-term, you should rethink what truly matters and go back to basics, those who made distinct contributions to rock music over time. If you’d like, please visit The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame web page and contact the director if you’d like to ‘Speak’ to this here.
Now without further delay, please enjoy our chat with Queensryche’s Geoff Tate…
MF: So why perform Operation Mindcrime again now?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: Well, a few reasons really. We actually started making a sequel to the record which came about from me being asked to write a screenplay for the original story. Then pulling it up on the computer and looking at it again and analyzing the lyrics (you) start finding all these vague areas of the story, things that were never really explored, which is fine when you have a musical record because the music sort of fills in those gaps, ya know? But when you start working with a screenplay idea, of course you have to examine things in much more detail, character development, backgrounds of characters, motivations, all of that kinda of thing. So I had quite a few notes scribbled out to fill in the holes. In doing so, those notes turned into paragraphs and those paragraphs turned into lyrical ideas and I recognized the fact that, ?Wow, it would be kind of interesting to make this into a sequel because there is this whole direction we could go in?. It kind of fit nicely with the times we?re in now, it?s a real interesting time?things are really being discussed in our country and there is a pretty evident division between people?s belief systems. So, I approached the band about exploring it musically, what we could do to bring back this idea, this concept record that we had, but do it in a musical way that?s now, more mature?the difference between twenty year old men making a record as opposed to forty year old men making a record is pretty different, ya know? So, they got all excited about that. So, we began working on the record. We had these touring commitments that came up and we thought, ?Gosh, what a nice way to introduce the new record by reintroducing the old one?? Kind of familiarizing people with it…familiarizing ourselves with it really. So, we decided, ?Well, OK we are going to do that, we?re going to bring it back.? In playing it, we decided well we need to update it a little bit, we need to change it around and make it more interesting, and ?What if we made it more of a theatrical presentation?? So we did. We brought in actors; we filmed new segments of the story on film to help tell the story a little clearer. We changed the music around in some areas, extended parts, shortened others, added whole new musical pieces to some parts of it. (We) brought in Pamela Moore to sing with us and Michael Delassandra to play keyboards with us (he used to compose music for the Vatican ? asking him about the difference between that and touring with Queensryche would be interesting me thinks) and you put the whole thing in surround sound and here we are?
MF: You took away the next few questions but we?ll come back there!
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: (laughs)
MF: ?you talked about rediscovery, I?m curious about this with all the time that passed, when you look at lyrics, to perform that whole album from start to finish, there?s a lot of material there, do you have to restudy part of it or is it like riding a bicycle?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: A lot of it is kind of like riding a bicycle. There?s a lot of my personality in that record. But ya, I did go back over and look at things and sort of figure out where I was at with it. First off, if I was really comfortable with singing it again, portraying it, could I still do that, could I still get behind the ideas in it? As you grow up and change and experiment with music and your head kind of goes in different directions and some of the earlier stuff that you were into, you?re not so much into anymore, ya know? A good example is my daughter who is now sixteen. When she was twelve, she was really into the Spice Girls, I mean her whole room was Spice Girls memorabilia. And then a year or two went by and she couldn?t stand em! She?s like, ?No Way!? She took everything down and put it away, she was embarrassed with the fact that she liked the Spice Girls, ya know? (Editor?s note: While one can?t help but laugh at the visual of Geoff Tate visiting his daughter in a room full of Spice Girls posters, you greatly respect him at the same time as a parent for allowing his daughter to come to her own conclusions about things!) I think musicians kinda do that too, especially when you had a long career you look back at the earlier stuff you do and you go, ?Oh my god what was I thinking here? Where was I at, ya know?? And then you go through a period of being really uncomfortable with it, not wanting to perform it and that kind of thing and then I think you probably get to a point where you break it out and you figure, ?Oh, OK, that is a part of my history and I did like that enough at one time enough to write it so, (laughs) how can I redefine it and make it interesting now for me so I can please myself and people who want to hear it too.? That?s kind of what we?ve done with Mindcrime I think, explored it and made it our own again…
Photo by Lyle A. Waisman
MF: I think based on what we?ve seen on the performance of the tour, it?s weathered pretty well. I mean, you just finished four sold out shows in Chicago, why do you think this album resonates with people so much more than fifteen years later? You are selling out shows with hardly any advertising quite frankly?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche:
Click to hear Geoff Tate answer this question!
Well, honestly I think it?s a classic story, ya know? It?s a story of a young man coming to realization and growing up and discovering what the world is like. When you grow up, when you?re young, we have this kind of vision of the world as a black and white place because we are so used to following the rules of the household, Mom and Dad?s rules, that kind of thing?then you get on your own and you realize there?s a speed limit I gotta follow, I gotta do this at a certain time, I gotta be at my job at a certain time or else I face the consequences. Then, somewhere around twenty-two to twenty-five you start realizing, ?Hey, this is all just a bunch of opinions, ya know?? I?m not going to get struck down by lightning if I go sixty miles an hour instead of fifty-five. It was just somebody?s opinion that that is ?the law?. The law is changeable, it?s dictated by whoever is in power at the time. I mean they made it such a big deal that we had to drive fifty-five for so a long. Well, heck they changed it and now we don?t. So what does that mean? It doesn?t mean shit! It doesn?t mean anything! It?s just a group of people that were in power made the decision that was the way it was going to be and the rest of us just had to eat it and suffer with it?and deal with it. And that is what life is all about, ya know? You get to that age where, ?Man, the rules are made by the rich and powerful and the rest of us just have to eat it.? That?s probably what resonates with people is that fact, right there, we?re all really powerless, there?s a giant blanket of apathy that covers our country where we don?t give a shit about what is really going on. We don?t care. As long as we have, we can pay our bills and watch TV and go to the movies on the weekends, escape, we?re all right. We don?t give a shit that we are bombing the shit out of a third world nation, ya know? We don?t care about that. We don?t care that we are sending in our own people that our troops that are dying to procure wealth for a small, elite group of people in this country that are in power, we don?t really care about that because, ?What can we do, what can we do about it?? Even our elections that are sacred for democracy, ya know? What?s happened to that? Who believes that it?s even real anymore? Really! I mean the last two elections, how can you even tell? In the state of Washington where I?m from, it took until two weeks ago to figure out who the governor was, to count the ballots. I?ve never heard of that happening in my whole life before. I?ve never met so many people, as I travel around the country, who talk about leaving the country and not being an American anymore but going someplace else and living, ya know? I mean that?s a huge change, I?ve never heard that in my entire life. What?s going on in our country? I think the veil is lifted and we are seeing what is really happening and we all feel powerless about it. Anyway, that?s the story of Mindcrime, it?s a guy who has a weakness, he?s a drug addict and he meets somebody who uses that weakness against him and uses it to manipulate him and takes over his whole life and puts him on a path that he feels like he can?t control. I think a lot of us relate to that, we get on paths on our life that we feel we know that is something bad for us, but it?s really difficult or impossible to control it. Ya know, whether it be soft addictions, like fast food or smoking or drinking, gambling, sex addicts who visit porn sites, these are all soft addictions that a lot of Americans, a lot of people around the world, fight with everyday to try to keep in control, ya know? Nikki, the character in the story is no different than the rest of us. That?s a longwinded answer, I?m sorry. (laughs)
MF: Let?s talk about Nikki for a second?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: Nikki is kind based a lot on me, just me as a young man, growing up. Situations I found myself in my twenties, people I met along the way. The whole Mindcrime story is a lot of that; it?s a combination of my own viewpoints, my own observations, current events and people that I?ve known and had dealings with along the way.
MF: Somebody e-mailed me this question, it might sound strange, but there?s that line in ?Speak? ? ?educate the masses we?ll burn the White house down.? Has the Secret Service Ever?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: Nah, Never! (Pauses, almost regretting the quick answer, then gets sarcastic). We travel around the country with aliases checking into hotels named ?Al Queda? and ?Mr. President?. No nothing like that. (laughs) That?s high security. Oh yeah, security alert ?Amber?.
MF: I don?t even keep track anymore?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: What can you do? Live in fear?
MF: Talking about the comparisons between then and now, the majority of it is the changes in the media and the political climate, which unbelievably has gotten worse since you wrote this in terms of its? functionality. SO when you write ?The rich control the government, the media the law? and you start talking about the sequel, you talked about the legalistic counts of the governor for the state of Washington, where does you mind go with this, the average guy, you can?t even operate in society without interacting with lawyers to do the most basic things?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: Yeah, yeah. They got you cornered on every aspect because they write the rules. Man, wish I could write those rules! (laughs) From a musicians? standpoint, ?Mandatory music classes for everybody.? (laughs) Yeah, it?s a weird world we live in man. We?ve given them way too much leeway. Isn?t it everyone of our politicians is a lawyer, has a law degree of some sort, ya know?
MF: Some say we now have one political party, it?s called the ?Money? party and it has two different divisions?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: (laughs)
MF: It?s hard to tell which one is which sometimes, where do you think it?s going to go lyrically, I don?t know how far along you?re in?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: We?re about halfway through recording right now, it is definitely opinionated! At this point in my life, I figure I?m not going to pull any punches. If people don?t agree with my viewpoints on this, there?s nothing much I can do about it. I?m not out to be a politician and garner votes, I?m just a singer. People either like it, or not. I?m just going to state my opinions, I?m forty-six years old, I?ve traveled the world and I?ve got a lot to say. I feel kind of strange because, ya know, we do business in twenty-six different countries and we travel there and we talk to people in the press who are usually educated or know what is going on in current events. They ask me, ?What is going on in your country?? Everyone asks the same questions, it?s not like the Germans are only interested, no, it?s everyplace we go, ?What is going on there? What?s happened to America?? I find myself trying to explain things and I can?t anymore. I just really cannot explain what?s happening. It?s madness, it really is. It?s frustrating as hell! Now I don?t have an answer for it, I?m not one of those people that says, ?Look this is how you got to do it. It?s gotta be like this. It?s got to be like that!? I don?t know either, I don?t know how to fix it, other than having lots and lots of talks about it with people everywhere you go and discussion. But man, when you get into discussions with people about current events there always seems to be this kind of sports team mentality that takes over where it turns into a win/lose scenario, ya know, they have to win, they can?t lose, ya know? It?s not about winning or losing, it?s just about trying to figure out a way to do something that works for everybody, ya know? Or at least works for the majority of people in a way that is good and doesn?t harm people, but America has got this real weird sports team mentality, we look at that war we are in like it?s a game show, or a football game or something. It ain?t that, it really ain?t that?
Photo by Lyle A. Waisman
MF: Let?s talk about a lighter subject for a minute. Depending on how you look at it, it affects your career, so you might not think it?s a lighter subject. The music industry and how it was when you broke into it and how it is now, we?ve had all of these things, there used to be less control on the artist on day one, where today they shape the bands like the Spice Girls that you mentioned, the revenue models used to work and there?s all of these other things that are changing and creating a mass bloodletting across everything, where do you see all that going? What do you see forming out of all of that, new entities forming with new revenue models or what?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche:
Click to hear Geoff Tate answer this question!
Well, it?s a fascinating subject for me. I?ve been in the business for twenty-four years and when we signed up the model that was common was this, that you signed a contract with a record company and you worked closely with that record company, ya know, on selling what it was that you did. They invested money in you and you realized that and you worked hard to tour and to make records and do it in a timely fashion so that everybody could make money and you could do business together. The record companies were staffed by, in the top positions, by people who were into music, ya know, they were music fans, they came up in the 60?s and 70?s and they were part of that whole creating the music industry. (I) mean they believed in music and they realized that its art, it isn?t like anything else and you have to let it do its? thing. So they came in with the idea, ?Well, look, it takes three albums for a band to really gel and find themselves and to discover their sound and realize what they are doing.? So, that was the norm. You had three records to get out there and tour and expose your music to as many people as you could and the record company would work to expose it. Usually, by that third record you had a big hit, ya know, because you made enough relationships with the radio stations and everybody else in the industry that you needed to do. You got to a point where it all clicked…
MF: Today you get one single?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: In the 90?s that all changed, they fired everybody, ya know? They made sweeping changes and that?s when I noticed everything started falling apart because they brought in bean counter personalities, accountants, to run the music industry. They only looked at bottom line numbers and how they could make it more efficient and make more profits and this kinda of thing. All of the sudden you saw all of these cookie cutter bands coming out, one after another and capitalizing and selling lifestyles rather than music. Sub-genres of rock music, just I mean, just cutting it up into little tiny slices, niches, to sell, ya know, to that niche kind of market out there. Man, they, ya know they told people, ?Well we have new medium, we?re gonna sell it, it?s called CDs and the price is going to drop on the CDs once we get this technology paid for??they never dropped the price. They introduced the pop culture mentality to America like nothing else. Television really grabbed onto it. MTV grabbed onto it and shoved it down everybody?s throats and all of the sudden music didn?t have value anymore culturally, it became less taken seriously, it was more disposable, like something that you do when you?re a kid and then when you grow up, you don?t have anything to do with that anymore, you take on more serious pursuits. So music became just part of the disposable pop culture and now we are seeing the fallout from it. There is a huge disinterest in music and musicians and of course the music that the music industry is really pushing, ya know, rap music, isn?t really musical music, ya know, it?s not made by musicians. It?s a huge different thing?
MF: It?s the cheapest thing to make. Two people and a turntable, etc?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: Yeah?
MF: How many people do you need to make this show happen? (out back there was one bus for the band, one bus for the crew and one full semi-trailer!) Compare it to that?it?s?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: It?s night and day; it?s not even in the same comparison…
MF: It?s all about cost; it?s not about quality?
Geoff Tate of Queensryche: Yeah?and so that kind of thing has, ya know, been able to?well, it?s been sold. It?s the culture to the generic people. We bought it. We buy everything that is on television?cheap! (Laughs) But, on the other hand, it is a very exciting time right now because of the dismantling of record companies and that kind of thing?there?s not going to be a record company in five years. It?s going to be a whole different system. Everyone is scrambling right now for what that system is going to be and it?s a new frontier. It?s very exciting! I feel bad for bands that are just starting out because I think it?s going to take a while for things to become where there is a revenue earning mechanism in place for bands?