Interview with Geoff Tate (Queensrÿche)

Geoff Tate from legendary Progressive Metal Pioneers Queensrÿche caught up with Metal Express Radio to chat about the forthcoming Operation: Mindcrime Tour.

First of all, talk about your forthcoming UK shows, which start on June 13th in Glasgow and run for 10 dates ending on June 25th in Southampton. This must be your longest UK tour in years?!

Yeah, it will be and we’re very excited about it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Why has it taken so long to come back and do such an extensive tour? Was the last time you covered so much ground on the Empire tour around 1990?

It certainly has been a long time since we last played outside of London. I don’t actually know why but it’s always dependent on the promoters and what they want to do and if they feel that they can bring us to an area. We’ve been lucky to find a promoter this time who wanted to bring us out on this tour.

This isn’t just any ordinary tour. This will be a celebration of the 20th Anniversary of your classic Operation Mindcrime album where you’ll be playing both Mindcrime albums in their entirety. What do you have lined up for the shows?

It’s a theatrical presentation rather than a straight musical performance. We’ll play both albums in their entirety and we’ll tell the Mindcrime story with music, film, stage sets, props and actors to portray the different characters of the story kind of like a musical.

Will Pamela Moore be reprising her role as Mary?

Yes, she is. She’ll be on the road with us.

What about Ronnie James Dio? Will he appear in person or on video?

Ronnie will appear on stage in image only on a video screen.

Who first came up with the idea of running both Mindcrime albums right the way through on stage?

It’s something that’s been brewing in our organisation for a while. We get a lot of letters and emails from fans asking us to perform both albums and we sort of took the inspiration from the fans really. We ran the idea past some promoters too and here we are!!

The logistics of planning such a theatrical tour must be a nightmare. How long ago did you actually start planning your approach to the performances?

It was a six month process of planning it and organising it and getting everything together. Then we had two months of rehearsals with the band and the actors and shot some film and put it all together and we then took it out on the road in America last year. It was hard work and a real challenging show performing that in its entirety every day. We got into the swing of things after about a week and it became something even more than we had anticipated. The fans seem to really enjoy it and the band loves to play it and we’re very proud of it and very happy to be able to do this.

Is it more of a challenge for you doing the Mindcrime shows rather than a regular gig in that you are interacting with characters on stage and performing more like a theatre show than a straight forward gig?

It took a lot of planning and there were a lot of people involved. Everyone came on board to help make this happen. It is a challenge doing this show with all the characters, I just try to stay out of the way..Ha!! It’s very cue orientated, there’s cues for lighting and positions. As well as thinking about the music you have so much more to think about too like you have to stand in a particular place during a song.

The show is scheduled to last around 3 hours. That’s pretty hard going for any singer but there’s some pretty challenging material for you to sing. How will you pace yourself during the shows?

The show lasts for three hours and there’s a short intermission between the two acts so I get a short rest. The scenes change over to a different look and then we start on the second part. I find that I become very involved in it and get into the character that I play, which is the Nicky character. I seem to become that character for three hours during the show and it’s very challenging to sing and it’s a very intense musical performance. I also do a lot of physical activity as well. There’s a lot of falling down and falling over. It’s acting you know !! It brings out the Thespian in me!!

Have you taken any acting lessons or did you make it up as you went along?

Yeah, I worked with an acting coach for the last couple of years. I’m actually leaning in that direction at the moment and I’ve actually got my first movie role. I’m shooting it this summer and it’s a psychological thriller film and I get to play the psychological horror in the film. It’s going to be called House of Eternity and it’ll be out next year sometime.

Could this become something of a side line for you?

Well, who knows. It’s one of those things that you have to see what happens and if some success comes my way then you never know but I’m not putting all my eggs in that basket.

Basically the show will comprise Mindcrime I and II plus a few songs from your back catalogue. It must be pretty difficult trying to decide the last few songs to play bearing in mind you have over 25 years worth of material to choose from? How did you select these songs?

It IS very difficult. I think we have about 125 published songs from 10 or 11 studio albums so we have a lot of stuff to choose one. What we’ve hit on is that we’re going to be changing the encore set around. We’ll be putting different songs each night so if people come and see multiple nights they’ll see different songs. It keeps it interesting for the band and for fans who come to multiple shows.

At what point did you decide to tackle Mindcrime II. Was the rest of the story already written with Mindcrime I or was it written from scratch some time later?

When we wrote the first Mindcrime album we had planned to write a sequel to kind of finish the story. We began working on it shortly after we finished the first one and we planned to put it out after the Empire album. We were planning on releasing a concept album then follow that up with a regular collection of songs before releasing another concept album. The Empire album was such a huge commercial success around the world that it put us into a different frame of thinking. That album affected the band in many ways and we felt that after that we should write about what we were going through as a band at that time, so we put the Mindcrime sequel on hold for a while and it sat there unfinished for years and years. One day I was going through some files on my computer and I came across the outline for the sequel and I began to read through it. It kind of started making sense to me in terms of how the story fit within the context of what was happening in America at that time, with the Bush administration threatening to make war in Iraq. It was very similar circumstances to the first album. It hit home with me and I felt it was time to finish the story so I began working on the outline and brought it to the band. They all felt the same way and were very interested in finishing the story. We worked on it and put it out in 2006 I think it was.

Mindcrime is such a huge part of your musical legacy. Were you worried that you might not match it when you started Mindcrime II?

Not really. Like any record when you start getting into it and planning it, if it seems like a song fits into place then we go with it. It’s one thing for one guy to have an idea and push it through but it’s very difficult to make a record like that without everybody getting involved. When that starts happening and everyone has similar interests it’s usually a good sign for us that it’s something that we should do.

Obviously you must be very proud of Mindcrime but do you ever feel that it may sometimes hold you back as people constantly compare everything you do to this album or is that the price you pay for writing such a classic album?

I’m just happy that we wrote a story that could connect with people. I think if you can have one piece of work like that in your life then you’re very lucky so I really appreciate the fact the band was so into it and did such a wonderful job with it and I’m very appreciative of the fact that the fans love it. It’s still a mystery why that is. I’ve given up tying to figure that out. I just went with my gut feeling to write what was important to me and if people connect with it then great and if they don’t, there’s always another record to write.

Do you feel that your other work sometimes gets overlooked. For example Rage For Order was such a groundbreaking album on its release with it’s innovative use of technology and formed the template for so many Progressive Metal bands over the years and also Empire which was your commercially most successful yet it’s Mindcrime that always gets mentioned. Does this frustrate you?

Not really. We kind of bridge commerciality and art and art can be very subjective. Recently I took my family to Paris for Christmas and we were walking through The Louvre, which is one of the great bastions of art in the world, there’s so many great things to see there but you find yourself passing by a lot of things because they don’t connect with you. Other pieces of art on the other hand may take your interest and you sit down and study them but that doesn’t take away from the other pieces that may not connect with you in the same way. Music is like that too in that it connects with people in different ways and people don’t hear music in the same way. I’ve had people say to me that when Promised Land came out they weren’t interested in it at all but when they listened to it again later it became their favourite record. That makes me happy, the fact that the music is there and it’s there for them to discover and find it at different times in their life when they can connect with it. Sometimes when you write about a particular outlook on your life your audience isn’t there yet. Maybe you’re in front of them or behind them. You never really know, so you have to do what feels right for you and be happy with that. You have to keep your eyes open to other things and keep experimenting. It’s like, why was “Silent Lucidity” such a huge song and why did it connect with people? Maybe it was because there was an invasion of the Middle East going on and people were losing their children. It’s a song that really connects to parents. It was being played a lot on the TV and radio at the time. Rock was the music of the time, things have changed now, Rock is not so public anymore, it’s gone underground again. Musical tastes do change over time. As Phil Collins once said, a musician’s career is like waves on an ocean where you move up and down and up and down with the waves of the ocean. Sometimes you connect with public taste other times you don’t.

The storyline to Mindcrime is pretty complex. Can you summarise it in a couple of sentences?

It’s really a story about growing up and becoming a man and the rose coloured glasses coming off. It’s about the innocence of childhood where it’s a black and white world and there’s rules that you follow and that’s the way it works. As you get older you realise that’s not the way it works at all. Nothings black and white, it’s really different shades of grey and open to interpretation and laws apply to some people and some people they don’t. It’s a story about that. Nicky is a troubled teen growing up and becomes a man and he finds himself in circumstances that are way over his head. He unwittingly becomes a terrorist. In that sense it’s very timely. It’s about a terrorist and what he goes through and how he reconciles himself to what he does and what it does to him. There you go, that’s just a bit more than two sentences!!!

The main difference between the two Mindcrime albums is that Mike Stone is now guitarist in the band replacing Kelly Gray who in turn replaced founder member Chris DeGarmo. Where did you come across Mike?

Mike was introduced to us by a friend who thought that Mike’s personality would fit well within our organisation and they turned out right. Mike is an incredible musician, he can play anything, any kind of stringed instrument he can play from guitar, banjo, jew’s-harp to piano and keyboards. He’s very talented and is a very good singer too, which is what we need for back up’s. He’s also a great person to be around and he can judge the complex personalities of the band which seem quite stormy. He’s very even keeled, very calm in his way of thinking and he tends to lighten up the organisation so he fit right in. When he learned the musical styles of the band and adapted himself to our way of thinking he’s becoming a very valuable addition to the band.

It must have been hard for him to break into the established cliques within the band bearing in mind you’ve all been together since your school days?

You know, I wouldn’t have wanted to have been him !!! When Chris was in the band he was so prolific with his writing and he left some big shoes to fill. Stone just came in and understood that. He didn’t try to make waves or set his feet in concrete on opinions He went with the flow and tried to learn how to work with us and he just adapted himself and did it very well. Not just with the band but with the fans as well.

It must be hard for him playing Chris’s parts knowing that every note is closely analysed by hard core fans. How does he cope with the pressure of this scrutiny?

I think he played it really smart and learned Chris’s style and solo’s. He didn’t drift too far from what Chris did but he also established himself as his own person. He’s been with us for 6 years now and we’re very happy with him.

You released Mindcrime at the Moore on DVD last year featuring your show at The Gibson Amphitheatre in Seattle. This reached Number 1 on the Billboard DVD chart. That must have been a very proud moment fro you?

I was very proud. That was a very in-depth project. To capture a performance like that on DVD was very challenging. There was a lot of planning and meetings with the camera crew and director to get everyone on to the same page. It turned out really well for us and I’m very pleased with it. We actually learned a very valuable lesson on it too. On previous projects we would always film a show, when doing a live project, really early in the tour, like in the first week and the band hadn’t settled into the show or into the staging of it and it always looked like we were uncomfortable, which we were. On Mindcrime at the Moore we waited three months into the tour when we were really comfortable and I think that helped with the overall feel and presentation of the show and it looks very confident.

As well as your work with Mindcrime you have also been busy with a covers album called Take Cover. There ‘s some unexpected selections on there including “Red Rain” by Peter Gabriel, “Bullet The Blue Sky by U2 and “Synchronicity” by The Police. Are these representative of the range of influences you have as a band?

Yeah. The band grew up during the ’60’s and 70’s and we were exposed to a lot of great music during that time and back then there wasn’t such an industry surrounding music so bands were much more free to experiment with what they did and that meant that those were very creative decades. Nowadays everything is so categorized into sub-genres that it dictates and overshadows the art aspect of it a lot of times. I think if you look at our record collections we have every record ever made !! We’re huge music fans and we like all different styles of music and during sound checks we fool around with other people’s stuff while getting the instruments tuned and the sound system tuned. As a break from what we do we play “Name That Tune” and we’ll play a riff and then try to play the song out. Sometimes you get all the way through a song but sometimes you just get to the first chorus before it all drops apart. It’s interesting to us as you retain so much musical information in your head that you constantly pick up and sometimes you don’t even know that you know a certain song. We had some time in the studio when we were working on our new record and we thought we’d work on a few of these cover tunes. Our record company thought that we should put them out. It was great fun to do and it only actually took us 10 days to record and it was a fun distraction from the work we were supposed to be doing at the time.

How did you select the songs? Did you all make suggestions?

We started doing that but the list became a mile long and we weren’t getting anywhere so we decided that each of us would pick two songs each and no questions asked. The only deal was that we had to do something different with the arrangement of the song, maybe change the instrumentation of the song or its tempo or some of the chording. So we all came in with two songs each and it was a fun experience from all of our standpoints as we weren’t quite sure what we were going to do. A lot of songs like “Synchronicity” and the Queen song, “Innuendo”, I’d never heard those before so that was really fun learning that and getting to know that. Michael Wilton, who brought in the Queen song, told me the story about that album, I’d never heard that one either, Michael told me how Freddie Mercury was dying at the time he was recording and had to sing a lot of his parts from a wheel chair. “Innuendo” really struck me as it’s a song about what a man has learned in his life and here we are hearing from the perspective of a man who was near the end of his life. It was a really strong statement and we wanted to do justice to that song. We actually got a really nice e-mail from Brian May congratulating us on our version. It was really rewarding to hear from the composer that he liked our version and was glad that we did it. What did surprise me was fans and the press saying that they didn’t expect us to do certain songs. It shocked me that people can think that a band or musician is so one dimensional that they can’t play different styles of music. Most musicians listen to lots of different types of music and the smart ones take all those different musical influences and blend them into what they do. What makes peoples music so unique is there’s so many different influences in it and if you only listened to one type of music that is all you’d sound like. The only song we didn’t change too much was “Neon Knights” by Black Sabbath and that was probably the closest thing on the album to what we do and we tried to think of how we could rearrange it. We tried a Reggae version of it but it didn’t quite work very well so we stuck closely to the original version.

You’ve also recently released a compilation Sign of the Times. The collector’s 2CD edition is a treasure trove for fans. When you trawled through your archives did it surprise you how good some of the early demos were?

Yeah, it was really surprising, it was a really eye opening experience. It may sound strange but when we were going through boxes of tapes we came across a lot of unreleased material and some of them we can’t even remember that we had written them!! Here they were completed with lyrics, melodies and solos and we were scratching our heads asking each other if we remembered doing them!!

It’s certainly interesting to hear how some of the Myth demos developed into Queensrÿche songs on your albums. Has the way you approach writing material changed over the years?

It hasn’t changed that much. We’re the sort of band that writes in several ways. We write some on the spot in the studio and we also write things separately and bring them in to the rest of the band and we also write together as a team. Sometimes Scott and Eddie will get together and write a section or a bridge for a song. There’s no one way of doing it, we play around with lots of different techniques.

Do you have much left in the vaults which could be released at some point?

We’ve got enough unreleased material that we could put out another two of these compilation albums.

“Della Brown” from your MTV Unplugged appearance is featured on the bonus disc. Have you thought about releasing your whole performance?

I would like to but MTV owns that. It all depends on their schedules and whims but if they ever agreed to it out we’d definitely like to put that out as we get a lot of requests for that. Or we could always make another one ourselves.

You also included a new track written with Chris DeGarmo called “Justified”. Does it suit everyone that he make the occasional contribution to Queensrÿche every now and then?

Yeah, we’ve been friends for so many years I can’t even remember. I’ve known him since he was 16 years old so we have a deep musical connection and friendship. We still see each other every month to have lunch and talk about what’s happening with each other and that usually segues into a topic we’re both interested in. That particular song, “Justified”, was a lunch conversation that we were having and it developed into a musical idea and I suggested going over to my house and putting the idea down. We kind of worked it out one afternoon, then the band came and worked on it and we ended up getting a song from it. I think that’s how most of our songs come about, where a couple of people get together and start talking about something and that starts a little ripple that gets an idea going and before you know it you have a song and if you keep going you get a record.

Did you ever think all those years back when you were first featured in Kerrang magazine when you issued your Queen of the Reich EP on your own label that you’d be around 25 years later playing such an ambitious tour?

Well no, we didn’t really think that far ahead. It was impossible really as the music business is one of those entities where you’re never quite sure where you are within it. We’d all got out of High School and found ourselves in the band making music. We realised that we were drawn together through our love of music and that’s always been our main motivator to get together and it still is to this day. We get together 3 or 4 times a week and we’ll meet at Eddies house, our bass player, as he’s got a studio there. Sometimes we don’t write a thing, sometimes we’ll just hang out and watch the game on TV and have a couple of beers and go home. Other times we’re there for 12 hours working on something. We like hanging out and that hasn’t changed over all these years but you just never know. I’m 50 now and I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I’m so lucky as I love doing this. It’s in my blood. It goes over in the blink of an eye. The time goes over so quickly especially doing something that you love. You should probably enjoy the moment and not base your happiness on something in the future or something that happened in the past, you should find a way of enjoying the moment.

Back to the present. Where will you be heading after your UK shows?

We’ll be heading over to Europe to do some shows and we’re going to be doing quite a bit of touring. We weren’t going to be touring that long as we were going to be finishing our album but the dates just kept coming in and it’s hard to say no. We’ll be in South America before we come over to Europe and we’ll play Brazil, Argentina and Chile. We’ve just got back from Mexico doing shows there. We’ll be in Spain first then the UK and then we’ll head over to the rest of Europe after that. I guess we’ll get back home for sometime in July. Then in July I have that movie shoot. Maybe I’ll take a vacation at some point in the summer. I might take some time off at Christmas too but I’ll go somewhere warm this year. Last time we went to London, Paris and Venice over Christmas. My family goes on vacation every Christmas for a winter break it was freezing in London this year so I think we’ll go somewhere warm this time.

How is work on the new album coming along? What sort of direction are you heading in?

We’re working on a new Queensrÿche studio album at the moment and we’ll finish it this summer and it’ll be out in early 2009. In one way it’s very constant and in another, very different. We’re exploring the concept album again and we’re looking at social commentary based on current world events. It’s a story and we’re planning on presenting it in a theatrical performance as we find that the band works really well with themes and concepts. It gives us something that we can sink our teeth into.

Have you ever thought of doing a full blown project with an orchestra?

That would be very ambitious and something that we are very inclined to do. Classical music seems to be one of the main musical influences of the band so yes, that’s something we’d consider. We had a soul partner in the past with Michael Kamen over several records and we really enjoyed working with him and it would be nice to find another arranger who we really love their musicality who we could do something like that with. It’s definitely a possibility in the future.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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