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Kerby’s Exclusive Interview With Queensryche Drummer Scott Rockenfield

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Saturday, January 28, 2006 @ 5:04 AM

One busy drummer...

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Besides his normal duties as timekeeper of Queensryche, Rockenfield is also currently promoting a side project entitled Slave To The System. Unlike much of QR’s recent work, the new STTS record is a straightforward rocker featuring Scott alongside members of 90’s stalwarts Brother Cane as well as former Ryche guitarist Kelly Gray. There really isn’t much in the way of experimentation going on here, but what is present are twelve songs each managing to possess not only an instantly recognizable chorus but also a palpable melody as well. What’s more is that every one of these selections can stand alone as a solid rock offering. Ironically enough, in certain ways it’s possible that this album essentially represents more of what fans would like to see in the new material created by Rockenfield’s primary band.

Of course, metal fans are about to get a huge dose of Scott’s main collective in the very near future as Queensryche prepares to release the expansive follow up to the seminal record Operation Mindcrime. Whether or not this is a welcome reality or not obviously depends on whom a person is talking to as well as what that individual’s opinion may be of the band’s recent work which has been consistently maligned by many for deviating too far from the classic QR sound--best exemplified on records like, say, Rage For Order or The Warning. The new album will doubtlessly answer the question of just how successful Geoff (Tate) and company can be at updating a story revolving around the ominous character of Dr. X and disillusioned Nikki. Besides wondering if the group at this stage of their career will be somewhat out of touch, others also fear that too much thinly veiled political commentary may only serve to convolute a storyline that might primarily end up serving as a vehicle for Tate to express his political views. That Mindcrime II will ultimately prove to be controversial is a given, but the real question is whether or not a group—even one as undeniably talented as Queensryche—can excel at reviving a blockbuster concept album nearly twenty years after the release of its predecessor remains to be seen.

Here’s hoping they can.

KNAC.COM: Many of the lyrics on the Slave To The System record deal with disillusionment and seem to relish in taking up residence on the dark side. Does a life in music make a guy disgruntled or in your case were you always like that?

ROCKENFIELD: Wow, that really could be Slaves or Queensryche…(laughs). You know, maybe it is born and bred in us to do what we do. As far as the Slaves goes, I didn’t even know Damon (Johnson) when we started this project a few years back. Eighty-five percent of this new CD was completed a few years ago. Now, I knew Kelly from Queensryche which of course he was a part of during the Q2K record, and Kelly had actually produced Brother Cane on the Wishpool record back in the mid-nineties, so he had a relationship with them before. I was a fan of the Brother Cane stuff, but I had never met Roman (Glick) or Damon before and they’re both obviously in Slaves with us now. Basically, we just decided to get together after the Queensryche tour that we were on, and work together on some music because we figured it would be a good time. Three weeks after we initially got together, the record was finished. It was just instant chemistry. Maybe the way I’m trying to answer your question is that we just wanted to come in and do some things musically that weren’t like our two other bands. The whole Brother Cane thing was so wonderful for them, but Damon would be the first to admit that he wanted to do something a little darker that was maybe little more rock. He really wanted to pound and drive some stuff and maybe get a little darker--me, I don’t mind a little darkness either, so we kind of fell into it pretty easily. That was just sort of the direction it took, and here we are.

KNAC.COM: When there is an artistic burst like that, does the music always reflect that immediacy? Does it necessarily make for a better record?

ROCKENFIELD: Definitely. It’s great when you find that type of chemistry where you don’t have to force it to happen--it just does. The combination of the four of us has just really turned out to be great. We actually have a bunch of other songs we did just a couple of years ago in the interim period where Damon, Kelly and I got together in Seattle before Roman came in and did his part. Again, it was an easy, fun thing and we just realized that this could be a good thing for as long as people would allow us to do it by buying it and enjoying it.

KNAC.COM: Was there any potential friction that existed with you continuing to work with Kelly after his relationship with Queensryche dissipated? Would you be at liberty to say if there really was a problem with…maybe Geoff about it?

ROCKENFIELD: (laughs) We all kind of respect each other for being able to step outside the Queensryche box and that has been very true especially over the last five years. I think that is true mostly because we were just so busy prior to that--not that we aren’t busier than shit now too. I just think it’s a natural evolution for us to do that. Michael has his own group that he’s in (Soulbender), and Geoff has done his thing. Kelly being in the band I’m in after he was in Queensryche for that one album is still cool basically because Kelly left on good terms. There was no animosity there--he just decided it was time to move on because he wanted to produce more bands. At the same time we decided that it would be ok to move on as well.

KNAC.COM: Alright, so you’re telling me that there was no big blowout where maybe someone declared that they couldn’t work with someone else anymore?

ROCKENFIELD: No, not at all, man. It has just been a natural progression. They know what I’m doing, and I know what they’re doing, and we just kind of let it all happen. We just come to the Queensryche table on the nights we need to get together.

KNAC.COM: Is it a huge shift of gears for you to create music inside a different dynamic than what you have become used to in QR where everyone’s roll is pretty much defined at this point?

ROCKENFIELD: It’s really great. That’s a great question because that is exactly what is so appealing to me is the ability to be able to get away from the same combination and the way we have always done things. With Queensryche, it is a certain box wherein we all have a certain function, and we all have a chemistry that really works well. There are certain rules that go along with that which we use in regard to how we do things. The Slaves thing was kind of an unknown though where we all just stepped in together. Damon and Roman talk all the time about how fresh it is for them too. It’s great to just work with people out of the blue sometimes. Now, since we have been getting such great response to the record, it has been encouraging to all of us.

KNAC.COM: In some ways, do you find yourself being more enthusiastic with the Slaves project because it deals with you more specifically than maybe a Queensryche record might? Or can you put equal effort into both?

ROCKENFIELD: I think it is both because they are so different. I’m very proud of my history in Queensryche which has been going for over twenty-five years. We get the respect of fans as well as the industry. With the new record and tour coming about, we are going to be really busy, but with that comes its own level of enthusiasm. The Slaves thing is just like totally different. I am very proud of it and very proud that the four of us got together on equal terms. The songs were all written equally, and we are all in it together. Now, it’s just great because we’re all reaping the rewards of it as the album is getting a great response from the radio, and we aren’t even officially out yet. People are constantly phoning in with positive feedback about the songs, and it’s really cool. I suppose that my legacy, along with Damon’s is what helped get our foot in the door, and yeah, the Queensryche thing helps me out in that as well---basically, I just want to be excited about all of it.

KNAC.COM: Is it possible that some Queensryche fans would find the Slaves record to be more satisfying in a variety of ways just because it is so straight forward and less experimental? Also, in this case, you don’t have to deal with the same expectations either, do you?

ROCKENFIELD: (laughs) I love it, and just for that reason. I agree. Queensryche is this…thing. You are correct, sometimes we try to focus in on this experimental stuff and sort of push the artistic envelope, but that has been what we have tried to do since the beginning. That has remained true even though we have had a lot of hit oriented material over the years. Our path has all been about pushing the envelope. On the other hand for me, slamming out some rock songs and just letting it go was refreshing. Queensryche is more of a concentration sometimes—that’s fine—it’s just different. When you called, I was actually cranking the new Mindcrime and listening to it, and it’s going to be a lot for people to chew on….there is a lot going on. It is a very thick, heavy emotionally taxing thing to listen to—it’s a big opus we put together. It is completely different from the Slaves effort, and I’m kind of glad they don’t really tie in together, so I can basically get the best of both worlds by doing it.

KNAC.COM: Do you think people of today are willing to bring the type of effort required to enjoy an album like that? Aren’t we more song oriented today?

ROCKENFIELD: You’re talking attention span…(laughs)

KNAC.COM: How much of a consideration is that for you?

ROCKENFIELD: I suppose my best response would be that we make records for ourselves and try to push ourselves to be creative artists. If other people like the new Mindcrime record, then that’s great, but if not, we can say that we did it and we’re happy. Sure, the Slaves thing will be easier for people to instantly grab onto, but is the Queensryche one going to do that? I don’t know, since it isn’t out yet, but it really wasn’t conceived that way. Slave To The System is just a lot more laid back. In all honesty, the new Mincrime record will be loved by some fans, but ultimately, it is a big thing to live up to. Many people already have a preconceived idea of what the new one should be, and if we don’t do exactly what they had in mind, then they may not be happy. Those are the expectations that you’re talking about…but we’re gonna do it anyway. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: I know that you are supposed to say that you create the music and are lead by your own muse, but….are you really able to disregard what people say that easily?

ROCKENFIELD: Well, it is just so hard to tell how people are going to react. I mean, we have dealt with that with quite a few of our records where people don’t know what to expect. Some people are bound to love it while some people won’t, but for us it is important to keep going anyway.

KNAC.COM: Let me ask you specifically about Geoff. He is a very opinionated guy, and he tends to dominate a lot of the press for QR--have you guys ever had a conversation where you said, “Uh, hey Geoff, we aren’t exactly with you on this.”?

ROCKENFIELD: (starts laughing) You know, Geoff has his own opinions about things just like everyone else.

KNAC.COM: And he is very willing to share them even if they are controversial--something many others aren’t willing to do.

ROCKENFIELD: Yeah, he likes to express himself. I have tried to take on some of the press responsibilities that Chris used to handle before, and in the end, a person has to realize that Geoff is very good at expressing himself and is very willing to do so.

KNAC.COM: Was it cool to go back during the Priest tour this summer and play some of the material that the band probably hadn’t played live in well over fifteen years or so?

ROCKENFIELD: (laughs) Truly, there was some material that I don’t think we had played since the album it was on was recorded. I actually had to go back and figure some of it out.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, but it isn’t like you guys haven’t produced a ton of material. It would be hard to instantly duplicate a drum fill from any given song on The Warning at the drop of a hat, right?

ROCKENFIELD: It is almost like learning a new song. You have to sit down with the CD and the drum kit and just figure it out like you did when you were a kid. The Priest tour was cool because we were able to revisit our history. That was something we wanted to do to keep ourselves fresh and having fun. It wasn’t just all about the hits or playing what we thought people wanted to hear. It was just about throwing out some material and seeing if we could still play it--and it worked!

KNAC.COM: Speaking of the fans, Queensryche has a very strong, loyal fan club that sits together and goes back to the meet and greets together. Basically, in the end, QR is a lot more accessible than many other groups of your stature. Is that the result of a collective decision made by the band---basically what do you get out of it?

ROCKENFIELD: It was a decision we made when the band first started out, you know, the fan club has been operating since the mid-eighties. It has seemed to get larger and more intense each year, and we seem to hold onto fans for longer and longer. That has just continued to be true over the years as we decided that we needed to do right by them by taking the time to meet them and talk to the members of the club. Sure, part of it is a marketing tool because in order for them to meet us they have to join the fan club. In a business sense it does work, and it’s done for a reason, but on the other side, it also gives us a cool following. People tend to stay with us for years and see a ton of shows, and it’s almost like the Grateful Dead in a way. We get so many repeat fans and personally, I meet a lot of fans that I hope they will all go out and buy the new Slave To The System album. Overall, I would have to say though that they all tend to be cool people who put their pants on one leg at a time just like we do.

KNAC.COM: And they all love you--c’mon, it’s got to be a little ego gratification, right?

ROCKENFIELD: Oh, I wouldn’t lie to you and say “no.” (laughs)

KNAC.COM: There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m sure that if I gave you a list of a hundred carpenters or electricians to meet, you’d have at least a couple of bizarre encounters, so that has to be multiplied by a few when dealing with rock fans, right?

ROCKENFIELD: Sure. In the early days, you’d get the guy who would come up and go, “I want you to go over there and sleep with my wife. It would be better than any autograph if you‘d sleep with my wife. That would be a cool thing--I want you to go and sleep with my wife. I‘m totally cool with it, you can just go and take her in the back.” It was a long time ago though.

KNAC.COM: The fact that it ever happened is astounding regardless of the decade.

ROCKENFIELD: (laughs) Those types of things have truly happened, but generally, we have a pretty subdued fan base. They just kind of shake around us more than anything, and that’s very flattering. I just try to tell them to relax and that it’s ok.

KNAC.COM: So you get to see the whole red-faced, profuse perspiration thing going on when they approach?

ROCKENFIELD: Absolutely. All of the above. I suppose I would be that way as well if I was about to meet someone that I really admire.

KNAC.COM: Tell me if you’ve ever heard this before: “Hey man, you’re the reason I started playing drums.”

ROCKENFIELD: All the time. Then, you get a million CDs handed to you. “Hey man, this is my band, and you should check it out.” There just aren’t enough hours in the day to listen to all of them. I start to feel like a record label guy or something who gets a million a day and doesn’t know what to choose.

KNAC.COM: “Hey man, you can hear the influence. I play just like you!”

ROCKENFIELD: Dude, have you been to our meet and greets? You sound just like some of them. I tell ya, if you ever tell me that and hand me a Cd, Jeff, I’m not going to take it.

KNAC.COM: Hmm, I’m gonna have to get over the disappointment somehow…

ROCKENFIELD: Or maybe they can fit you with a big sticker so we’re warned.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, “there’s that loser who tapes the meet and greets!” Speaking of the adulation factor though, how much do you think that VH-1 specifically has had to do with bringing certain popular forms of metal back into public consciousness?

ROCKENFIELD: It has been a cool thing. You don’t think of that happening necessarily. There are a lot of cool new things going on in music, but it’s great that a lot of the old things are coming back as well. These historical bands are putting themselves back together and being successful. There are also some groups that have been put together with the remnants of other bands like Slaves or Velvet Revolver or Audioslave. When people know how to write great songs, it’s timeless. There is a lot of great music that is new, but there is still a lot that gets swept under because it really doesn’t have a leg to stand on--I’m not damning anyone by any means, and you know as well as I do that a lot of it is opinion, but that is kind of what I see.

KNAC.COM: Like you said, your association with Queensryche may have helped open the door, but that is only going to get you so far if the music is bad.

ROCKENFIELD: Exactly. In the end, you just have to hope for the best and just try to make the best out of it that you can.

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