The music of Queensryche brings me back to a forgotten era of my childhood rarely revisited. I first heard their music when I was in the eighth grade coming from my buddy’s basement bedroom as we snuck some beers out of his father’s refrigerator and talked about girls. For us it was a time of anxiety, apathy and angst. Now hard rock wasn’t really my thing. I was just discovering Kate Bush and Elvis Costello. The only heavy metal I had heard at the time was the more commercial hair groups that were being featured on the local radio stations. Guys like Axel Rose and Nikki Sixx. But there was something about Queensryche that was different. The album was Operation: Mindcrime and there was an intense, operatic darkness about it. Still too young to have ever even heard of The Who’s Tommy or Lou Reed’s Berlin, Operation: Mindcrime was the first concept album I had ever listened to. The idea that heavy metal could be used to tell a story blew my mind. To me it wasn’t just music. It was something more. It was art. When preparing to interview Queensryche lead singer Geoff Tate, I dusted off my copy of Operation: Mindcrime and was suddenly brought back in time, and just as it had done over twenty years ago, my mind was blown all over again.
Today Geoff Tate and Queensryche continue to record and tour across the entire world bringing their brand of hard rock to the fans that have supported them through three decades of rock n’ roll. It’s almost impossible to believe but 2012 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Queensryche. But unlike the majority of acts that were formed in the 1980’s, Queensryche has somehow avoided falling into the category of “retro” acts. With eleven studio albums, dozens of EP’s and a handful of DVDs, Queensryche has managed to stay relevant by continuing the creative process and evolving with the times. Never comprising the quality and integrity of their work, Queensryche has become “the thinking man’s” heavy metal.
I didn’t know what to expect from Geoff Tate. While watching videos of him through different eras of his career, Tate has an intense stage presence. Focused, dark and almost tortured, I can’t help but admit that I was fairly intimidated to be talking to the mastermind behind some of the most intense rock music of my era. However, the Geoff Tate I spoke to is a down to earth kind of guy. Currently doing an acoustic tour through small venues throughout the West Coast, 2011 was a busy year for Tate. Beyond touring much of the year with Queensryche, Tate has been working on a new solo project, and has been working on various projects beyond music. Catching up with Tate as he was preparing for his acoustic tour, we spoke about his current and upcoming projects, the art of songwriting and life on the road.
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS
GEOFF TATE UNPLUGGED:
A CONVERSATION WITH GEOFF TATE
Sam Tweedle: You are about to go on an acoustic tour of smaller venues.
Geoff Tate: I’m on the road right now.
Sam: Cool. Well this is a lot different than the shows that you do with Queensryche. What is the appeal of working in small venues?
Geoff: Well, as a performer you can have more of an [experience] like you are actually communicating with the audience. You can pause and tell stories and relate it to the songs. You can really take the show in a different direction. When you are doing a big show its difficult to get that many people focused on one thing for any given length of time.
Sam: Now Queensryche has been together for thirty years. What is the origin of the band? Where did you guys start out?
Geoff: We came out of Seattle in 1981.
Sam: When I think of Seattle during the early 80’s I think of acts like Prince and Morris Day. I think of the glam pop scene. Metal was more of a Los Angeles thing. Was there a hard rock scene prevalent in Seattle at that time?
Geoff: No. There really wasn’t, although Seattle has a lot of famous artists and bands that have come out of there. Bing Crosby was from the Seattle area. Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Kingsmen, Steve Miller, Heart and Jimi Hendrix were all from Seattle. And then we came out. We were kind of the gap between Heart and Nirvana.
Sam: That’s a pretty big gap.
Geoff: Yeah. That is a very big gap.
Sam: What were your early influences in music? What were the first things you were listening to?
Geoff: Oh, everything. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a very fertile time in music history. The 60’s and the 70’s have proven to be inspirational decades for music. Especially pop music. I was exposed to everything that was on the radio at that time. Everything from the early American folk music, like Bob Dylan and the Mamas and the Papas to Lou Reed, Bowie, Beatles, the Stones. You name it, I listened to everything. In fact, I have a large record collection. I think I have about seven thousand records. It just spans the globe as far as styles of music.
Sam: You spent most of 2011 touring with Queensryche. How do you guys maintain the kind of energy you do, and continue to stay creative? How do you guys continue to stay on top?
Geoff: Oh. Good question. Well, I think we have to differentiate making a record and making a hit record. I think it’s important as a songwriter to continuously be making music. People that give up and stop making music and continue to tour and play the same songs that people like over and over again are usually not very happy. They do it because it’s an economic necessity for them. I think it keeps a band vital and interesting and energetic to keep making new music. So that has always been the thing that drives [Queensryche’s] music relationship is that we all love making music and writing records and we become very excited about that. That excitement sort of has a trickle down effect, and it trickles down to the audience. They feel the excitement of the band regarding the new music. I think it goes hand in hand. I think it is very important to keep that vitality intact, and the only way to do that is to be excited about what you are doing.
Sam: What is your take on song writing as an art form? I look at something like Operation: Mindcrime and I see it almost as a theatrical piece, or even a literary piece instead of just another rock album
Geoff: I see where you are going with that. Well, art is a difficult definition. One person’s art is another person’s trash. We all perceive different things as art and we define it that way. So, one person might not enjoy Operation: Mindcrime while another person will enjoy a song that’s getting a lot of airplay on the radio. Writing a pop song is an art. It’s a blend of art and craftsmanship. You have to know the building blocks of music theory and song writing in order to write a song in the first place, and you have to have a little bit of inspiration to put you on that path in the first place. I don’t differentiate a pop song and a concept record in regards to the art aspect of it. But what I’ve learned in my years of being in the music business, and playing my music for people, is that we all hear music differently. We all experience music differently. Songs that you hear and don’t affect you now, can affect you in the future depending on your life experience. You relate to a song because it speaks to you based upon your own life experience. It represents a period of time in your life, or it represents a situation that you may have experienced yourself and didn’t know how to put into words. It does a lot of things. Music and art can really change the world. It is the catalyst for change. It’s the purity of human spirit in my opinion.
Sam: So according to your web-site you’ve been doing a little bit of acting. You have an appearance in an upcoming film.
Geoff: Yeah. I’ve done a little acting.
Sam: What made you decide to go into acting?
Geoff: Well it’s like everything. You lean in some direction and inevitably you fall into it. That’s how this happened. I got asked to participate in this film and I said to the director, “Look, I don’t have any experience in this” and he said, “Yeah. I know but we think you’d be perfect for this role. We really want you to do it. Why don’t you just take a screen test and then you’ll be comfortable with the fact that you’re capable of doing this, and we’ll be happy for making the right choice.” Well, anyways I did the screen-test and they liked it and I got the gig.
Sam: Can you tell me about the film?
Geoff: It’s called The Burmingmoore Incident. It’s kind of a psychological horror film done in a really clever way, and I’m really excited for people to see it. It hasn’t come out yet, but it’s a really cool film. I’m really pleased how the whole project came out.
Sam: When will it be released? Is it going to be on the film festival circuit?
Geoff: You know, I really don’t know. One of the great things about acting is that you get asked to do the project and then they pay you and you walk away. You’re not responsible for anything else. It’s not like making a record where you’re working on this project for months and months and maybe even a year, and then you put it out and you’re promoting it and then you’re talking about it and then you’re playing it…it’s not like that. You just walk away from it. It’s great.
Sam: And then if it all doesn’t come together, it’s not your career on the line.
Geoff: Yeah. You’re just a paid person who did a job. The job’s done now.
Sam: So let me ask you this. Is touring in a heavy metal band exactly what the public perceives it to be?
Geoff: Well that’s a tough question to answer because I have no idea what the public perceives. Maybe if you have some insight.
Sam: Well, you know. Is it all sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, shenanigans, groupies, partying….
Geoff: Oh yeah. It’s exactly like that.
Geoff: Oh yeah. It’s anything you want it to be. You can find any sort of extra curricular activity that you’d want to partake in when you’re on the road because you’re traveling. You’re in a different place every night. You’re there for twenty-four hours and then you move on. The mentality of traveling musicians and bands is, “I am only here for a short time so I might as well make the most of it and do what anybody can dream up.” The danger is that you find some sort of willing participant. If you have no restraint at all you can get in a lot of trouble, or have a lot of fun, depending on what your point of view is.
Sam: You’re a married guy. You have a family. Do you still partake in the craziness of the road, or have you settled down?
Geoff: Again, it depends on your definition of craziness. Primarily, what I do is I ride motorcycles. I ride, a lot of times, from show to show on days off. If we have an eleven hour drive, I’ll ride that on my bike.
Sam: That’s pretty awesome.
Geoff: Yeah, it’s a really nice way to unwind and kind of get away from the madness of the tour, and also to see the country that you’re traveling through, because there are some beautiful places in America that you often miss as a musician, because you’re traveling on a bus and you’re sleeping. You wake up in the city and that’s all you see. You see the venue that you’re playing, and the hotel, and maybe something around the hotel, but most of the time you’re sleeping the day away. It’s kind of a cocoon existence that you’re living when you’re traveling, so I try to get out of that as much as possible and see what’s going on around me.
Sam: What would you say are some of the truly amazing sights that you have seen doing this?
Geoff: Oh gosh. You know all the incredible beauty of nature. The different paths and roadways around the country are amazing, and sometimes challenging to ride on. I’ve seen some incredible places around Europe and South American and Asia. I’m going to Asia in March and driving a motorcycle from Singapore up to Burma. I’m really excited about that. I haven’t been in that part of the world very much. Just, primarily the airports and the larger cities, so I’ll finally get to see some countryside.
Sam: So after the acoustic tour, what is coming up for you and Queensryche? Any big plans for the thirtieth anniversary?
Geoff: Well, I’m going to finish up the acoustic tour, and then I’m going to finish up my next solo album which will hopefully be done for spring and out in the summer. I’m going to concentrate on touring solo through the summer, and I’m getting ready for 2013, which will be the next Queensryche tour.
Sam: What can you tell us about the new solo album?
Geoff: Well I don’t know when it’s going to be released just yet, but I’m working on it at the moment. Writing new material and filling in some holes in the running order. I’ve been working on it for a while. It’s coming along nicely and I’m looking forward to people hearing it.
Sam: You got a name for it?
Geoff: Not yet. You got any suggestions for it?
Sam: Oh. Geez.
Geoff: It’s hard to name an album. Isn’t it.
Sam: Well I guess I’ve never tried. I come up with band names all the time that nobody seems to like.
Geoff: I’ve always wanted to call a band Rash of Stabbings. I think that’s a great name.
Sam: I’ve always liked Angry Jewish Lesbians.
Geoff: Oh, that’s good!
Sam: Especially if there weren’t any angry Jewish lesbians in the actual band. Sort of makes it ironic.
Geoff: That would be funny.
Sam: Hey! For an album title you could use something like Spidey Senses Tingling.
Geoff: Hey! Can I use that?
Sam: Sure. You can have that. It’s all yours.
Sam: But it means you might have to write a song about Spiderman.
Geoff: Oh yeah. I can do that.
I have had the pleasure of interviewing a lot of musicians in my career, but Geoff Tate was the first musician in the heavy metal industry that I have ever had the chance to talk with. Despite my initial expectations as a result of the intense goth/metal persona that Queensryche exhibits in their act, I found Geoff to be a very easy going, intelligent and insightful guy who was easy to talk to. I think that his friendly and forthcoming demeanor could have a lot to do with Queensryche’s success over the last thirty years. Personality goes a long way in the music industry; combined with Queensryche’s commitment never to be stagnant and to keep making high quality music, it is no wonder that Queensryche has become one of the most respected heavy metal acts in music history. The next two years should prove to be very busy for Geoff, both in his solo career and with the band, ensuring that this will not be the last we see of this talented musician.
POP CULTURE ADDICT NOTE: We’d like to thank Jeff Albright from The Albright Entertainment Group for arranging the opportunity to talk with Geoff Tatey. Thank you Jeff for an incredible experience. We appreciate all your continued support in connecting PCA to some of the biggest icons in the music industry!