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Kerby's Exclusive Interview With Queensryche Vocalist Geoff Tate

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Saturday, October 23, 2004 @ 11:54 PM

I Remember Now: Kerby Intervie

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Mindcrime II?

Man, I dunno.

Queensryche has released several albums since Empire nearly a decade and a half ago, and the reception amongst the majority of fans has been decidedly mixed. The perception in many corners is that age combined with the loss of original guitarist Chris DeGarmo has left the legendary metal band in desperate search of former glory. Now, for the group sixteen years later to be in the midst of creating a sequel to 1988’s masterpiece, Operation: Mindcrime, it appears as though this endeavor could end up as either the biggest mistake of the group’s career or it could prove to be the type of masterstroke that provides a resurgence for Queensryche both creatively as well as financially. The fact that we’re even having this discussion in the year 2004 is amazing—not even the most optimistic follower could have envisioned the Ryche penning a second portion to the album that many consider the seminal metal concept record of all time.

If this were almost any other metal group, I’d say that if the sequel flopped that their career would be in jeopardy, but QR’s fan base is nonpareil in its loyalty with a new generation of Ryche fans continually growing and appreciating their parents’ music. Face it, this group from Seattle remains one of the few metal bands of the era who haven’t been reduced to playing casinos or having to latch themselves onto various package affairs in order to remain financially viable. Regardless of whatever musical trends may come and go, the Ryche continues to thrive.

One of the benefits of deciding to engage in this new project is that it serves as a vehicle to tour a full theatrical presentation of the metal story that first introduced Sister Mary, Dr. X and Nikki to head banging audiences worldwide. The current show is divided into two halves--the first part of the current live show includes hits originating primarily from the E.P., The Warning and Rage for Order. This segment clocks in at just under an hour and also features a rendition of rarity “Last Time in Paris.” After about a half hour intermission, the band comes out for the second half of the concert, which is essentially Queensryche performing Operation: Mindcrime complete with classical musicians in addition to an actor and actress/vocalist playing the two major roles. The overall effect is accentuated with video of various worldwide atrocities and story driven animation as well. When the final curtain drops, a preview of a song from Mindcrime II entitled “The Hostage” makes its debut followed by “Coming in 2005” as the last message on the screen.

Look for Mindcrime to come to your town in some form in the very near future.

KNAC.COM: How much should we attribute the creation of the original Mindcrime and the decision to produce a second portion of the story to the Republican administrations who have occupied the White House during those times?
TATE: It’s absolutely a solid decision. The whole reason we’re on the road right now and touring this particular show is because Bush is in office.

KNAC.COM: Would you consider it a responsibility as not only a performer but as a citizen to heighten awareness any way you can?
TATE: I’ve always believed that communication is a big part of being an American. That’s how we as musicians communicate and express ourselves is through music. This story and this time we’re in go hand in hand. Anything we can do to kind of open up people’s minds a bit and express ourselves should be done—it’s definitely the time to do it. This is the occasion every four years or so where we have to debate these things. It’s part of being an American. It doesn’t do any good not to talk about it.

KNAC.COM: You would concede though that this election is more important than probably any we’ve had in the last twenty years or so?
TATE: Oh, I think so—especially after the debacle of the last election and how that was all handled. It left a really sour taste in the mind of many Americans. It did a lot to undermine the system because we’ve always prided ourselves on being a democracy where every vote counts. Well, the last election kind of shattered that faith. There is no way anyone can say that that was a fair, square election. There is all kind of proof that shows it was rigged. The state that makes the final decision is run by the man’s brother? The Bush administration and the people behind him are so incredibly powerful that there aren’t many people who can stand up to him.

KNAC.COM: Do you think that’s why Al Gore went out with a whimper rather that trying to put together a substantive fight to contest the results?
TATE: I think Gore really proved his merit as a candidate at that point. He’s a spineless man who backed down to the pressure, and he couldn’t stand up to him.

KNAC.COM: Even if he didn’t think he could win, it would have been nice to see somebody try.
TATE: It would have been nice to have had that type of information available that the people could know so that they could realize just how many were denied voting rights or were really taken advantage of in that election. That is a sour point in American history that people definitely need to know about.

KNAC.COM: Is it disheartening to see that the press is predicting a close race even with all the atrocities the Bush administration has committed during its tenure?
TATE: I think the problem is when the word “poll” is associated with those statements. They are a very narrow questionnaire. I’ve been alive forty-five years, and I’ve never been asked to contribute to an opinion poll. No one that I know has ever been asked to contribute to an opinion poll, and I probably meet a few thousand people a week. Nobody that I’ve ever talked to has been contacted about an opinion poll, so what does that say? You’re in the media business—you know how information gets passed down. Investigative journalism is too expensive, and no one wants to pay for it, so data just gets recycled.

KNAC.COM: How fine of a line do you have to walk when creating a Mindcrime II with regard to not wanting to be too specific because if you are, the music may become more quickly dated?
TATE: I don’t know. I don’t really have an answer there because I don’t really think in those terms. I think more in terms of writing from the heart and coming up with lyrics and things that express how a person feels. You don’t customize your opinions to see if you can sell a couple of more records.

KNAC.COM: Okay, but for example, if you wanted to say something about Iraq, would you just come out and specifically name that country?
TATE: Absolutely.

KNAC.COM: That wouldn’t even be a consideration?
TATE: No, and we say a lot about it in the show we’re doing now. It’s fun to go back and do this, yet it’s different from anything we’ve ever done before since this is a theatrical presentation of a concept record. We have actors on the stage and we have a surround sound system, which is timed to different parts of the show.

KNAC.COM: How hard is it to keep in time when you have different types of media needing to be in sync with each other?
TATE: Oh, it’s very difficult.

KNAC.COM: If one aspect of it goes wrong, how hard is it to get back on track?
TATE: Well, we’ve built in some cushion to get back on track, but it takes a few seconds sometimes for things to change. Sometimes a few seconds can seem like half hour blocks when you’re onstage. Time can be something different on stage.

KNAC.COM: Was it hard to get used to having other people on stage besides just the band or was it a relatively smooth transition?
TATE: It wasn’t so much a distraction as it was a challenge to get everybody organized and on the same page where everybody was understanding where the show was going and what they were doing. People just needed to know what their part meant to the whole production. A lot of the time, we just focus on our own little world and don’t see outside of it. That’s always a challenge when you’re dealing with other people.

KNAC.COM: How much is the band writing on the road?
TATE: We actually got a good start on the record already, and we’re taking a little break for a couple of months right now to tour this before we get back in the studio in February and put the finishing touches on the record. We hope to have the album ready and available to the public by fall of next year.

KNAC.COM: Could you foresee a tandem type of performance touring where you will be doing Mindcrime I and II in the same night?
TATE: Absolutely. We could do I and II.

KNAC.COM: Then just have an intermission? That would be really demanding on you as a vocalist, wouldn’t it?
TATE: Yeah, actually the current show is really demanding. I could barely make it out of bed today. We had our third performance last night and with the weeks of rehearsal prior to that, my whole body feels fatigued.

KNAC.COM: Just think, you only have two more months of this.
TATE: I’ll eventually get accustomed to it. It’s just that there is a lot of jumping around and a lot of movement involved in this. It is kind of a physical show.

KNAC.COM: Could you have had any idea when you were younger that you would be forty-five and out on the road performing this specific show?
TATE: Well, no, yeah—you never know in what direction life is going to take you. In the end though, life must be lived, and I have to say that I have no regrets. I’ve lived a very full, interesting, adventurous life. I’ve sort of had an education being in Queensryche. We started this band right out of high school, and none of us completed college, and this has been our college in a sense. Being in a rock band and learning how to manage it and work it and take it around the world and expand on it is like learning what it takes to run your own business. At forty-five, I never really thought I’d live this long. I thought maybe that I’d make it to my thirties, but I never really pictured life beyond that.

KNAC.COM: When you hear about a band who has a multigenerational appeal, it’s one thing, but when you actually see it in person, it is sort of a strange situation.
TATE: It’s odd, isn’t it?

KNAC.COM: Is it sort of a validation for you?
TATE: It is strange, and I try not to think about it. Because I have four children, I get faced with it quite often though. They’re in their teenage years and forming bands and planning on playing music. Scott’s son plays drums, Mike’s son plays guitar and my daughter plays guitar. She’s very interested in music, and we’re envisioning them starting a Queensryche II--at least taking off in a sense from where we started and taking it someplace else. It’s interesting to look at it that way and go, “Wow, this is happening.” It’s like that because often you still think you’re in your twenties, and I feel great. Then, I look in the mirror on some days, and I do feel like forty-five. [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: Actually, at the last performance I attended, there was this soccer mom looking woman with her son, and they were dancing kind of close and bumping into each other in a hot venue. When you sang the lyric from “Gonna Get Close To You” that goes, “I like to look at shadows sweating on the wall” -- I thought, this is a mother-son bonding experience that I’m glad I missed.
TATE: That’s funny. I’ve seen kids in concert gear with their t-shirts and headbands on, and the parents are covered in tattoos. They’ll come over to me and go like, “Hey, Geoff—he’s gonna sing you ‘Child of Fire’—listen to this.” For him to sing some song off of The Warning, you know, you realize he’s been listening to this his whole life.

KNAC.COM: Is that when it becomes most evident to you that certain songs and music are an intrinsic part of some individual’s lives?
TATE: It is very strange. It’s strange when I’m sitting at my house, and I’m in the country surrounded by forest looking at the mountains, and I write a song. Then, I take it out and record it with the band, and then six months later or a year later, I’m in Istanbul, Turkey sitting on the edge of the Black Sea singing that same song looking out at an audience that is singing it along with me. They’re into it, they’re singing—there are tears running down peoples’ faces. That’s when it really hits me that this is such an odd phenomenon. Music can transcend thousands and thousands of miles and very rigid cultural boundaries as well. It is a strange, strange thing.

KNAC.COM: At the same time, hasn’t this realization resulted in many artists seizing up and becoming almost paralyzed creatively? Is it a case where you don’t really want to look down too much? You wouldn’t want to over think, right?
TATE: It’s hard not to over think though. You get it in your face so much and you talk about what it is that you do quite a bit. It’s like going to a job, at some point, you have to go home and do something else for awhile and get your mind off of it so that you don’t live and breathe what you do every day. At that point it would consume you and turn you into an unbearable prima donna.

KNAC.COM: Have there been times in your life when you have been guilty yourself of being an unbearable prima donna?
TATE: Oh yeah. That happens to me a lot. Well, I have a fear of it actually. I’ll tell you how it works. It comes from being on the road for twenty-five years, and you get to the point where you realize that you never stop paying your dues. At some point, you always think that you are going to get to a place where you don’t have to pay dues anymore. When you walk into a dressing room, it will all be done the way it should be. The coffee pot is going to be on with some coffee and be ready to go. You think there will be a nice palatial dressing room with seats to sit in… but no, it doesn’t happen that way! [Laughs] Instead, it’s a crap hole, and you’d never want to sit on the chair because you don’t know what’s happened on it. Most of the time they don’t even have coffee. It’s just things like that, but after a month or so on the road, the minor inconveniences of the road start piling up, and you kind of freak out. After you act like a prima donna though, you have to go back and apologize to everyone for acting like such a jerk.

KNAC.COM: Of course, that will always be the first story out of everyone’s mouth. “Can you believe what a jerk Geoff Tate is?”
TATE: Yeah, or “the light bulb was burned out and he just came unglued.”

KNAC.COM: “He’s on drugs. He has to be!” That is something you have to be cognizant of as well—when you meet someone, it is more than possible that at that particular moment, what transpires is going to mean more to them than it did you depending on what place you may have held in their lives before the meeting. You could be permanently wounding someone in your insatiable search for… coffee!
TATE: Yeah, it’s like my wife says, “One should move delicately through the world.” I have to say there is a lot of wisdom in that. You don’t need to freak out and let all of that negativity loose all the time. I try to just kind of tread softly.

KNAC.COM: At times, that’s nearly impossible to do.
TATE: It’s funny when you can come across people who can diffuse that easily though with either a small joke or a gesture. That actually happened to me yesterday because we were in a tremendous amount of pressure to make this show work. The doors were supposed to open in an hour and one portion of the show wasn’t working. Two parts of the three were going fine, but the other one wasn’t happening, and I came unglued at the guy. He just looks at me and says, “Uh, can I get you another cup of coffee, Geoff?” Right away, I just started laughing, and I told him that I was sorry and didn’t mean to be such a jerk.

KNAC.COM: At least the ability to apologize goes a long way.
TATE: Yeah, you’ve got to be able to do that no matter what your occupation is.

KNAC.COM: Earlier you were discussing the need of people to get outside the box we normally occupy and do something different. Is that what made the solo album so appealing to you?
TATE: It was really enjoyable to do that last record. Working with different people and getting to explore some of my musical influences was really enjoyable. I loved doing the tour and we had a great time. It’s also very comfortable for me coming back to the known quantity that is Queensryche. All those years of experience with the same people is very comforting too. I always like going and branching out and doing different things—it’s usually just a matter of time. Time is always the issue and how much of it there is or isn’t.

KNAC.COM: You are going to be involved with this new project and the touring for quite awhile, aren’t you?
TATE: Yeah, so far we’re booked up until February, and then we’ll go back in and try to finish the recording. Then, we probably won’t tour again until next winter. We’ll have a little time off in there somewhere.

KNAC.COM: Prior to this tour, Ryche had been on the road on and off for a long time.
TATE: We just finished the touring for Tribe this summer before this one started. We toured for about eleven months straight.

KNAC.COM: I have to ask you this—why are there so many Queensryche fans in Albuquerque, New Mexico?
TATE: You know, I don’t know.

KNAC.COM: Is this something you guys have ever talked about?
TATE: Oh yeah. We have certain really strong markets in which we do well around the world. I don’t know why that is, and I’ve been trying to draw a correlation between the areas, but I haven’t been able to because they are all so culturally different. I don’t get it either.

KNAC.COM: When you’re onstage are you cognizant of any differences in locale or do the audiences end up feeling the same?
TATE: Well, I usually rate a good show for me as when I’m not conscious of anything but the music. If I’m noticing that so and so from high school is in the front row, well then I’m not really that involved in the show at that point. I really need to be oblivious of everything else besides what I’m doing. That’s when I know I’m having a great show or an awesome night.

KNAC.COM: How often is it possible for you to achieve that state?
TATE: Probably, I’d say about 75% of the time.

KNAC.COM: Can you come out that way or is it something that you have to work yourself into?
TATE: Yeah, I can start out in that state, and then when the music starts, I can just sort of get into it. Honestly, sometimes you do sort of have to work into it though, and sometimes it is sort of dictated by the audience. It’s not so much seeing the audience, but it’s the energy the audience creates. It’s sort of like an energy exchange between the audience and performer. It’s sort of like a sports athlete in a sense because you have a level you adhere to that it comfortable for you, and an audience can just give you this energy and help you to excel and go to places that you couldn’t have imagined going to before. It’s like they propel you to these new heights, and it’s really exciting, and I have to admit kind of intoxicating as well. You can get addicted to it.

KNAC.COM: I would assume that there isn’t really a substitute for the type of euphoria you feel when you first hit the stage. Can that feel as enjoyable to you now as it did twenty years ago?
TATE: Oh, it’s more intense now because now you have the age and the wisdom to understand what it is. You also have the stagecraft and awareness to be able to harness that energy and that power. It is so exhilarating that it’s like your heart is sitting under your tongue.

KNAC.COM: When you were younger, was there a tendency for you to just maybe let the energy go and take you in directions that maybe weren’t productive?
TATE: I think that as a young performer, you are just experimenting and trying to figure out what you can do. You find yourself in situations that you have learn what works and what doesn’t work. Then, years go by, and you get bored with the limitations. That’s when you push the boundaries and decide that maybe you misjudged certain things when you were younger. You’re always learning, and your audience learns to a certain extent as well. There are certain things they expect of you—you really can’t walk away from those expectations—you have to give them what they want.

KNAC.COM: Was there any dramatic point when you had to reconcile audience expectations with your personal desires as a performer?
TATE: I don’t really know how you come to that realization, but I do know that you have to come to a place where you satisfy both parts. You have to come to a place where you satisfy both parts and balance it out where you feel satisfied as an artist, and they feel like they’re getting their moneys worth. That’s always interesting.

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