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War, Wine, Music and Movies - Exclusive Interview with Queensryche's Geoff Tate

By Krishta Abruzzini, Pacific Northwest Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009 @ 7:47 PM


"I prefer to not have any boundaries or any boxes or labels."

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For nearly three decades, Queensryche has connected aspects of visual, conceptual and performance art into their mix. Hailing as ĎThe thinking manís metal,í the band continues to merge music and art into the next generation. The band will soon hit the road in support of their new album American Soldier. This is the band's first album of all-original material since Operation: Mindcrime II in 2006.

I recently spoke to Geoff Tate, who has got to be one of the most creative and busiest men in this industry. Heís been bitten by the thespian bug and is starring in an upcoming movie, continues to write music and tour, and has even come out with his own wine, ĎInsania.í Appropriate title, I think.

KNAC.COM: So, I am very good friends with Jeff Carrell (From Geoff Tateís solo project) and have been working with him and his new band, ĎThe Russian Brides.í He says to tell you hello!

TATE: Oh yeah. Tell him I said hello. I just saw a video of his on You Tube. It was really cool. I hardly recognized him because he had really long hair and a beard.

KNAC.COM: He has no hair now. He shaved it all off. (laughs)

TATE: He likes to do that, you know?

KNAC.COM: Heís a weird one, and I love that most about him. Very talented guy.

TATE: Heís a very talented guy. I loved working with him.

KNAC.COM: Letís start off with some of the more difficult questions.

TATE: There are difficult questions? (laughs)

KNAC.COM: At least for the interviewer! Youíve got one of the toughest audiences out there. The typical metal/prog rock fan a lot of times seems stuck on one particular album and they expect a replication, or something not far off from which, with each new release. Thoughts?

TATE: Can you give me a more direct question?

KNAC.COM: I told you this was going to be tough.

TATE: (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: The typical metal/prog rock fan knows almost everything about you. From every child youíve had, to what notes you play, and probably in some instances, things you didnít even know about yourself. Some tend to be pretty particular about each new album, and are super critics. From top to bottom, each release you do is completely taken apart and analyzed. Other genres seem to be a little easier on their artists. Prog/metal fans in some instances seem as if they donít want a lot of new things or directional changes thrown at them.

TATE: I suppose so. Honestly, I donít really keep up with what other people think about my music. I just came to this conclusion years and years ago that people hear music differently. You can never get a consensus, because itís kind of a personal journey. Songs move you and some songs donít. Some songs affect you at different times in your life, coinciding with your own experiences, and nobodyís on the same path at the same time, you know? Itís art. Itís not a sport. Itís something that everybody takes different things from. I just canít get involved with that. As a musician, Iím bound to follow my own heart and my own muse and whatís inspiring to me.

KNAC.COM: Do you keep your fans in mind when writing an album, or is it truly a creative outlet for you, whereas youíre not worried about how itís perceived?

TATE: I donít think you can get wrapped up in that worry thing. It limits you too much. I just look for, ĎDoes the music move me? Does the topic interest and inspire me?í And thatís where I go.

KNAC.COM: How do you feel when itís not perceived well?

TATE: I honestly donít know. I donít recognize if itís taken badly or good or whatever. I donít really pay attention.

KNAC.COM: You canít when youíre doing your art. Itís subjective. It would drive you crazy.

TATE: Yeah, you know, Iíve walked through museum after museum on my travels around the world and walked past great works of art, and not been interested. There are thousands of paintings you walk by and you glance at them, and ĎEhhh, nextÖí and then one hits you. And you sit down on the bench and look at it and contemplate it and go Ďwow.í Youíre moved by it. Itís that way with music.

KNAC.COM: I think the general consensus of a few fans, is that you guys were considered gods and put out four amazing albums in which they exalt, which has been their benchmark for everything you do, and if itís not similar, theyíre disappointed. One fan was actually quoted as saying that he believed the main reason for any change was that you hate metal and want nothing to do with the term at all.

TATE: (laughing) Well, you know, metal is not what I use to define myself musically. I prefer to not have any boundaries or any boxes or labels. Thatís somebody elseís label that they put on it. Itís like if you drink a glass of wine, youíre going to find different nuances, different flavors in it, different aromas. Everybodyís going to smell and taste something different, and they all put their own label on it. We all label stuff. Itís kind of human nature, and of course our society that we live in, America, weíre very quick to jump to labels and put things a neat little box. Weíre very afraid of chaos. We see the word as being a negative and really itís not. So, you know itís kind of a cultural thing. I donít know how to say this without sounding pompous, but I think we define what metal is. We had nearly a thirty-year career of making what some people consider metal music and we define what that is. We define it, we make it, we create it. So, whatever we do, it is Queensryche, you know? Does that answer your question? (laughs)

KNAC.COM: I told you some of them were going to be tough (laughing)

TATE: I need a cup of coffee for this!

KNAC.COM: Iíll go easier on you. So, define chaos then.

TATE: Chaos is uncontrolled energy to me. Itís this swirling energy that surrounds us all. The world is made up of billions of people, who are all different, and come from different backgrounds. Different political beliefs or different religious beliefs, cultural doctrination, habits, and itís not equal. Weíre not equal. Even though weíve got these kind of grandiose documents that say weíre created equal, weíre not. Thatís a lie. Weíre not. Thereís haves and have-nots. So all that conflict creates energy. I believe that energy is always out there, surrounding us all. And artists have the ability to tap into that and use it as jumping off point to creation, to making stuff. You open yourself up and anybody can do it. You just have to train yourself to pull from it. Thatís what makes everything so interesting.

KNAC.COM: It would be kind of a boring place without some sort of chaos!

TATE: It would drive everybody crazy.

KNAC.COM: I feel like I do my best work under chaos.

TATE: Yeah, and a lot of people donít understand that. They really adopt what I call a sports mentality perspective on life. They want things in categories, they want scores and they think in terms of number one and number two and last place. Those rules donít apply to art. They really donít. If you check yourself, and stop thinking in those terms, life would be a lot more enjoyable, I think.

KNAC.COM: Organization can be chaos as well.

TATE: The whole idea of trying to compartmentalize things and put them in boxes, itís just a stifling way of looking at things. As an artist, I donítí want to participate in that. I donít think in those terms.

KNAC.COM: Itís gotta be asked, all the fans want to know, will you ever work with Chris DeGarmo again?

TATE: Oh yeah, yeah. We work together all the time. We get together at least once a month. We usually have lunch, hit the studio, write songs, hang-out. Go on plane rides. He goes sailing on my boat with me.

KNAC.COM: Any material that will be released with you guys?

TATE: I hope so. I hope we can get our scene organized in the sense that we can actually accomplish something like that.

KNAC.COM: As far as Queensryche, are you open to having a five piece band, or comfortable with it remaining as four?

TATE: For Queensryche, yeah, four works really well. When Chris left back in í97, we decided that we were going to continue on. We thought that what would be really interesting for us would be to have players come in and collaborate with us at various times. And itís really worked out great for us. We get to work with different people on that second guitar position. We get their input. That creates a different kind of chemistry. And when people want to move on, or we get stagnant, we switch them out and bring somebody else in that we like and respect, and it keeps everything very fresh for us.

KNAC.COM: As far as the writing process, I think thereís a misconception that your bandmates donít contribute to the writing process; that it is all from you. In talking to Jeff Carrell, he said it was amazing being in the studio with you and that you were very open to everyoneís ideas.

TATE: Oh yeah, yeah. I think that collaboration is very important. It depends on what youíre working on of course. Iíve got several movie projects Iím working on right now. A lot of them Iím doing all myself. Itís very challenging to do it all yourself. Itís also very frustrating. But other projects, I really enjoy the collaboration. I like the brainstorming process where somebody has an idea, and somebody adds to it, and at the end of the day you come up with something thatís quite a bit bigger, or definitely something different than where you started from. You have that option to use that, or go back to the drawing board and use the original idea. It gives you options to work on. At different times, and when youíve been a band as long as Queensryche has been together, you have time periods where certain people are more involved on certain projects. Somebody has a real feel for this particular idea and they run it to the beach. And other times, theyíre not so interested in it but they still contribute to it to a certain extent. It really depends on the project and whatís going on at the time. And you know, people still have life to take into consideration. Being in a band is a pretty all-encompassing kind of thing. You really have to give everybody room to live their lives and go through their divorces, or the births of their children, or their childrenís problems, the challenge of parenting, deaths in the family. These kinds of things come into play, and you have to be open to let those kinds of things happen. Not to deter you from what youíre doing, but also you have to give people time to do what they have to do with regard to those types of things.

KNAC.COM: Are you working on an indie film, or what is your movie project?

TATE: Actually, I have four movie projects Iím involved with to different capacities. Two of them, Iím writing soundtracks for and one of them Iím acting in. So thatís very cool. Theyíre at various stages of involvement right now. And then Queensrycheís working on a new album and Iíve got a solo project Iím trying to complete as well. Iíve got a lot of projects going!

KNAC.COM: Speaking of chaos! How did you like acting?

TATE: I havenít done my acting parts yet. That starts at the end of November or January right now. Iím looking forward to that. Iíve never done any film acting before. They contacted me and said they really wanted me to do this part. And I told them I had never done that or had any experience. They said, well, letís do a screen-test. That way youíll know, weíll know. So I did that. And I got the gig.

KNAC.COM: Can you give away any details?

TATE: Itís for a film called ĎPray for Lightí and itís a psychological horror film. Itís very well written. Thatís the thing that really got me about it. You know, so many films these days are so, I donít know, shallow.

KNAC.COM: Unoriginal.

TATE: Yeah, or just the dialogue is so juvenile or the story is just not that interesting. This one really got me because itís pretty in depth and has a lot of conflict with the characters. Itís set in the present and has a lot to do with the past, and I like period pieces quite a bit. My character is one that kind of transcends different time periods. So I get to play an 18th Century character as well as a modern character. Definitely challenging though.

KNAC.COM: Is it indie or a major release?

TATE: That I canít tell you right now.

KNAC.COM: Okay. Iíll look forward to more details and seeing the film! What is your favorite piece of work youíve done thus far?

TATE: I donít think I have a favorite. I like everything that weíve done. Itís all part of my life, you know? There all parts of your life, parts of whatís topically important to you. Some are sad songs, some are happy, some are brainteasers. Just all different and unique. As a performer you really get a wonderful experience performing the songs. To see the audienceís reaction to them, and you can tell thatís a song that really gets them, and perhaps thatís a soundtrack to their life. Thatís such a wonderful experience.

KNAC.COM: Iím told thereís a great story for the inspiration of Suite Sister MaryÖ

TATE: That song has quite a background, really, on a number of different levels. I think to this day itís the lengthiest song weíve ever written. Which we wanted to try to do at that time, that was very important to us to try to write a very long piece that was cohesive. The collaboration with Michael Kamen on that song was really a wonderful experience, as always, working with him. The subject matter was one that evolved from experiences I had, and meeting different people, building the character of Mary. Working with Pamela (Moore), bringing her in and singing the part, and do such a great job on it, was wonderful. Thatís one of the songs I really like to perform live and play a lot. Itís a workout.

KNAC.COM: Ah, so you just answered my last question as well! (laughs). I hear there was more to the story, as far as the main inspiration.

TATE: Oh with lyrical content. DeGarmo and I were drinking in Amsterdam. I donít know exactly how we got there, but we got to some club at like three or four in the morning. You know Amsterdam kind of runs all night. So here we are in this club, and weíre drinking and vibing, having a really good time. Iím right in the middle of creating the Mind Crime story at this time. I didnít have all the characters yet, it was just the beginnings of it. We had some solid musical ideas and we had the ideas of creating a story out of this thing. So weíre in this club, and itís four in the morning and thereís this sort of pounding disco music going on. At the time, kind of this early rave stuff . The dance floor is just packed full of sweating bodies, and people high and having a good time. In the center of all of this, chaos again, this swirling chaos of humanity, was this very sad looking woman. She was dressed as a nun. And sheís clutching a teddy bear to her chest and sheís rocking back and forth with her eyes closed, and tears are coming down her face. And the contrast of her, standing in this group of undulating bodies, just really got me. And thatís really where Mary came from.

KNAC.COM: Thatís intense.

TATE: Yeah. It was really a wonderful visual scene. Iím a very visual person, so Iím always looking for things like that. That image really stuck with me for the inspiration of the Mary character. The sadness of her, and how damaged she was as a person.

KNAC.COM: Kind of a beautiful tragedy.

TATE: Yes. Really. Thatís actually a good way to put it.

KNAC.COM: Wow. I wonder what her story was. Did you ever speak to her, or find out her story?

TATE: No. I never did. Just took it in and wrote it down on my notebook.

KNAC.COM: So, we should talk about the new release, American SoldierÖI understand that you were inspired by stories told by your dad and the silly little bumper stickers that proclaim support of the troops.

TATE: You know, with every project, I find myself leaning in direction of some sort. A lot of times I really donít know what direction that is, until a certain point. In retrospect, in looking back at it I can kind of put it together a lot easier than explaining it at the time. With this particular project, a little background, I grew-up in a military family. My dad was a career military man, and he served in Korea and Vietnam, and as usual with military families, you never talk about the war. As a boy growing up I was always bonding with my dad, or trying to, always asking questions about it, and he would never really talk about it. Fast forward to years later, somewhere around 2006, we were on tour and had a day off, and I was visiting where he lives in Okalahoma. We were sitting on the back porch. I had my glass of iced tea in the shade, and he just out of the blue starts telling me about Korea and the time he was there. My jaw just hit the table. Heís never talked about this before. So I stopped him and said, Ďdad, let me stop you and grab my video camera.í So I got my video camera set-up, and we continued talking for a couple of hours and I actually got to know him better. That was a part of his life that I was never privy to, I didnít have any idea what he experienced there. It was a wonderful bonding experience. Couple weeks later, I was home and Iím playing the video back for my wife and kids. Susan, my wife says, Ďyou know, youíve got to write something about your dad. Thatís a great story. Youíre looking for topics to write about right now, and I think covering the angle of the soldier would be really interesting.í

KNAC.COM: It really affects everybody at this present time. No one is too many steps away from knowing someone who is presently a soldier, or sadly that was.

TATE: Exactly. So I said to her at the time, you know, Ďhow can I write about this? Iíve never experienced it. Iíve never been in a war. Iíve never been a soldier.í We talked a little more about it and she says, Ďwhy donít you approach it like you did with your dad? Talk to different soldiers. Get their background and get some ideas from that.í And that sounded like a great idea. So I started off just kind of talking to the different soldiers that I met, at gas stations and airports and things like that, and that led to more sit down interviews and video taping them. It was so important to the whole project. At the end of the day we had collected hundreds of different stories. I compiled what I thought were the more interesting ones. What I found was that there were a lot of commonalities in the stories. Iíd sit in the studio and Iíd play them and we would write to the story, and compose music to it. You really couldnít help but be moved by a lot of the stories and immediately musical beings would come to your mind, youíd throw them down and record them and then build on that. It was really a wonderful tool to use.

KNAC.COM: It must have been a very emotional journey to witness through the interviews. I mean, itís easy to put a bumper sticker on your car, but to know what these people are living every single day is completely foreign to most of us.

TATE: Yeah, it is. And youíre really right about it being a very emotional journey. It was one that all of us needed to take a break from. We actually took a break from it and recorded the ĎTake Coverí album, which is a collection of cover songs on that interim break.

KNAC.COM: Really heavy material.

TATE: It did us a world of good to take the break.

KNAC.COM: Would you say youíre anti-war?

TATE: Oh yeah. Definitely. I think, in fact, every soldier I talked to was anti-war. I kind of went into the whole thing with kind of a prejudice, in the sense that I assumed that there would be a lot of gun-ho mentality, you know? But it wasnít that way at all.

KNAC.COM: I would have thought that as well. I would have thought most as being ultra conservative if not brainwashed into believing what is happening is all for the right thing. That would have been my preconception.

TATE: I was really surprised and actually very humbled by the experience in talking to veterans and getting their perspective on it. It is one that, often times, we that havenít experienced, often speculate so much about it. We have all these preconceived ideas about it. Really, we donít know shit. I donít know how to say it clearer, but we donít know what weíre talking about, unless youíve been there and done it. You have no idea. Thatís one of the great things about the interview process for me was that I didnít have any input in it. I didnít have any input where the songs were going lyrically. If I had, Iíd be speaking from a platform of complete ignorance. So this was a way to tell the soldiers story, from their perspective, and thatís much more realistic.

KNAC.COM: Did you ask them how, without complete conviction and belief in what theyíre doing, how they can go out and risk their lives? I cannot imagine.

TATE: I know. The whole interview process was really involved. I did thousands of interviews in my career, but this was the first time I was ever on the other end, actually asking questions. Man, I was so green. I was such an idiot starting out. I didnít know what to ask, or how to ask it. It was really a process of learning how to do that. I got pretty good at it. Trying to get people to feel comfortable enough to talk to me about how they felt. Itís one thing to talk to people about the technical side of things. Most people are very comfortable about talking about that. ĎBut how did you feel about it.?í

KNAC.COM: Emotion is a whole different thing. When itís personal and private, thatís when people become vulnerable. Most people are pretty uncomfortable with that. But then, thereís your chaos again. Weíre so removed from a lot of whatís going on though.

TATE: Oh yeah. Weíre removed from most of it. Most people arenít affected by it. We just go about living our lives and doing what we do, pursuing our goals, reaching for our own definition of happiness. People donít even pay attention to the fact that weíre doing big, big military movements in different parts of the world. Itís just part of the everyday thing for us.

KNAC.COM: And honestly, weíre being fed what government wants us to hear. I think the facts and truth would be more frightening, at least to our culture here. Iím not sure we would be able to handle the truth.

TATE: Oh yeah, look at what happened with the whole economic scene.

KNAC.COM: Exactly.

TATE: That was a domino effect. People started talking about it, and more people started talking about it, and they talked themselves into a frenzy. People stopped buying stuff.

KNAC.COM: Scared themselves.

TATE: The whole definition of America, the whole reason of why weíre here is to consume. Thatís what weíre designed to do. Once everybody stops consuming, the whole thing falls apart.

KNAC.COM: So back on your touring, you toured this release with Chickenfoot, and are soon going to be on a headlining tour with Lita Ford.

TATE: Yeah, we just finished our Japan and Australian tour. Now weíre off for a couple of weeks. Weíll be touring with Chickenfoot, we have a few dates with them. Then we start our October run, which is including Lita.

KNAC.COM: I canít wait to hear what sheís got going. I had no idea she was even getting back into it.

TATE: She has a new album thatís either coming out now or just came out.

KNAC.COM: How is it going out with a band, particularly one of pretty straight-forward in-your-face music, and not a lot of lyrical thought provocation? Do the fans cross over pretty well?

TATE: We only played one show with Chickenfoot at a festival. And yeah, itís very different kind of music, but itís nice to know that all the guys in Chickenfoot are fans of Queensryche. And a lot of Queensryche guys are Chickenfoot fans. So thatís kind of cool.

KNAC.COM: So the bands all cross over really well. (laughing)

TATE: Most musicians are open to a lot of different types of music. We all pull inspiration from each other. It was fun when we played in Europe, because it was a festival and weíre all sitting backstage. The guys from Chickenfoot had some instruments backstage so we pulled a jam session. Simple, blues rock kind of stuff, so nothing that was too challenging to play, but it was fun. Thatís a big part of music too, thereís a fun aspect that you can lose yourself in. Iím looking forward to touring with them. Itís going to be fun. I like those guys a lot. Michael Anthony and Sammy are incredible guys, Iíve known them from way back. Joe Satriani, Iíve known him a couple of years. And the drummerÖ

KNAC.COM: Yes, the one that looks like Will Farrell. Chad Smith.

TATE: (laughing) Yeah, people were asking for his autograph, and everybody thought he was Will Farrell.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, I talked to Joe Satriani, who told me that heís actually every bit as funny as well, which makes it that much more difficult to look at him and take him seriously. Youíre also doing the ShipRocked cruise. That certainly doesnít sound like a gig that will suck!

TATE: Iím really looking forward to that. Iíve actually never been to the Caribbean before.

KNAC.COM: What?

TATE: Well, just Puerto Rico. Iíve never done any time there, so Iím really looking forward.

KNAC.COM: You get to take the whole cruise and enjoy it as well then.

TATE: Yeah, we play one night. The rest of the time is our own and we hang out and go to all the different stops along the way. Weíre all bringing our families and weíre going to make a little mini vacation out of the whole thing.

KNAC.COM: What would your dream tour be?

TATE: Anybody really. There are people Iíd definitely like to collaborate with. Playing-wise, really anybody. We always have an open invitation to any musician that we know that wants to step in and play with us live. Weíve had all kinds of people play songs with us while we tour. Itís always a treat to do that. It completely changes the musical dynamic. Youíre not really rehearsed on anything, so itís always a matter of improvising. Thatís really fun to do. Especially when youíve been touring a long time and youíre playing the same songs every night, not a lot of improvisation going on, so itís great having a different person sit in.

KNAC.COM: Now we gotta talk wine. What is this Insania and how did this business come about?

TATE: Well, Iím a wine fan. A wino. (laughing).

KNAC.COM: That would be the term for it. (laughing)

TATE: Iím all that. Through traveling, Iíve been exposed and tried lots of different wines around the world. I really developed an interest in it. Not just from the drinking standpoint, but from the actual blending and growing of the grapes. The whole thing really fascinates me. Itís kind of like making music in a sense. You have the chords and notes, just like you have grapes, and you take these things and blend them into something that works together. Itís a very satisfying kind of experience to the senses. Through traveling, meeting different people in the wine industry, wine makers, vineyard owners, I just had some people that Iíve really clicked with personally, and we talked about making a wine together and going into business and seeing what we could do with it.

KNAC.COM: Which vineyard did you use?

TATE: Actually four different vineyards, but itís all Washington-based vineyards.

KNAC.COM: We have some nice wines here.

TATE: Oh yeah. Itís a wonderful industry thatís really in its infancy, but we have so much potential. Weíre starting to see Washington wines on the menus all over the world now. Itís actually the second wine producing state, just behind California. So, Insania is our first vintage. It came out last February, our first bottling, and it sold out. We were really happy about that. This year weíre producing the second vintage of red and weíre also adding a white wine to our Insania label this year. For me, there are so many wonderful wine areas in the world, but the French have really refined it. Thousands of years of making wine. I like their philosophy on winemaking, of finding a specific patch of ground and really cultivating the grapes from that ground to give the wine itís own character. Thatís where my inspiration for winemaking has really come from.

KNAC.COM: Where can we get your wine?

TATE: You have to order it through the websites (Queensryche.com or Geofftate.com). You can put a preorder in for the next vintage which comes out in February.

KNAC.COM: Itís a fun business to be in, Geoff.

TATE: Iíll tell ya, Iím having the time of my life with it.

KNAC.COM: Okay, last. Youíve got to settle a bet with me. Jeff Carrell has this selective memory. I heard a rumor that the two of you bonded over a Hall and Oates song to which he doesnít recall. I heard the two of you got up and sang one of their songs. I have my bet on what song it is. Please tell.

TATE: Hall and Oates is where Jeff and I really connected. I believe it was ĎSara (Smile)í. You know, heís a wonderful singer. When we were playing together, we had a wonderful time harmonizing, switching back leads and stuff like that. Itís not often that I get to sing with somebody whoís a really accomplished vocalist. I mean, the guys in my band are good backup singers, but theyíre not lead singers. Iíd like to think that we learned a lot from each other. We had a wonderful music connection, and I loved the work we did together. And yes, Hall and Oates was definitely the band that kicked off our musical compilation together.

KNAC.COM: (Laughing) It seems so odd to hear the singer for Queensryche talk about Hall and Oates.

TATE: Darrell Hall is an amazing singer. What he does with his voice and all that jazz improvisation he lays in there, and still manages to keep a really strong melody. From a musicians standpoint, a vocalists standpoint, itís incredible. All the harmonization. Thatís hard to do. He makes it look really easy.

KNAC.COM: Thanks so much for chatting today, Geoff. Looking forward to all your future projects.

For more information on all things Geoff Tate and Queensryche, please visit: www.Queensryche.com
www.geofftate.com
For information on Jeff Carrellís project, visit: www.myspace.com/therussianbridesband


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