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Kerby's Exclusive Interview With Queensryche Frontman Geoff Tate

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Sunday, November 5, 2006 @ 8:36 AM

Staying The Course

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Geoff Tate is currently making the rounds of the U.S. with Queensryche in support of Operation Mindcrime II. When I first spoke to him about the project a couple of years ago, he was uncertain as to whether or not a live production that included both parts of the Mindcrime story could actually be a viable touring possibility. The sheer length of both discs combined with the demands rendered by fast-paced onstage action that included actors, props and story-driven video all loomed as potential obstacles to the band being able to realize this epic vision on stage. Never a disappointment live, one could rest assured though in the knowledge that if the group was going to commit to crossing the country with this scale of a production, the end result was going to have to be up to their usual high level or standard. True enough, anyone who has seen the recent tour should be able to attest to the fact that Queensryche does manage to pull off both portions with equal parts virtuosity and emotion.

The whole idea to even attempt to write a sequel to 87’s seminal record has been met with both enthusiasm and incredulity. When the album finally came out this year, the perception amongst the fans was mostly predictable--some loved it, and, of course, some hated it. For many, it wouldn’t have mattered how quality laden this disc may or may not have been, they would still have found a myriad of reasons not to enjoy it. By the same token, QR has always had a steady legion of fans that will swear all of the group’s music is outstanding…even if…well, even if some of it isn’t. Thankfully, it isn’t like Queensryche got into this not knowing that they were going to create a type of polarization among their fans by even attempting such a project. They knew--they knew, and they attempted it anyway. Sure, there have been the accusations that this is all about money and that the band is somehow cashing in…yet writing a second installment for a concept album released nearly twenty years ago doesn’t seem like the most streamlined route to triple platinum status. Although it’s true that initially there was a definite spike in sales, Tate and company would seemingly also have needed some other motivation for the band to want to express themselves in this way in 2006.

When Geoff holds up the sign during the Mindcrime performance that states, "Somebody Give Bush A Blowjob So We Can Impeach Him," one can be certain that the majority of the motivation for this record almost certainly emanates from the frustration of living in a country whose leadership has reached a level of corruption that makes Watergate look like the good old days. Tate maintains time and again that he wants to create work that interests him, and throughout the years in which I’ve interviewed him, he has never been reticent to express his political views even during a time in this country where doing so is discouraged more than any period in this nation’s proud history.

Agree or disagree with the content of this interview---you might as well express yourself one way or the other…while you still can.

KNAC.COM: Not to simplify the theme of Mindcrime 1 and 2, but…could a person reasonably infer that a large part of the story suggests that the world is basically a scary place where even the most earnest of people sometimes get manipulated into doing unsavory things?

TATE: Well yeah. I guess so. Sure. I would think though that the world isn’t necessarily a scary place. I think that humans are more scary. Actually, I think we’re genetically inferior in a lot of ways to other forms of nature. It’s like when you’re breeding stock. It’s like when you have this award, prize winning horse, and maybe some of its offspring aren’t quite up to par, you do away with the weak ones and keep the strong and rebreed them. We don’t do that with humans.

KNAC.COM: No, it seems like with humans there is almost this reverse Darwin affect wherein the feeble minded and mutated seem to thrive.

TATE: Yeah, we keep inventing medicines and new scientific ways of keeping the weak genetically weak. It keeps them alive and kicking.

KNAC.COM: Are we a society that is predisposed to the idea that the big fish absolutely have to eat the little fish? Are we destined to always be subjected to exploitation and coercion from other humans?

TATE: I think we are. I don’t think we really know what the hell we’re doing. I think we just follow the voices. (laughs) That may be a spiritual voice or our own subconscious voices or just maybe the voice of nature that if you open up to it will lead you down a path in some way. I think that the whole idea that "the strong survive and the weak fail" certainly holds true.

KNAC.COM: Wouldn’t you say that those who are driven by an inner force or power are vastly outnumbered by those who rely on externals to drive them whether it be a politician or a religious figure? It doesn’t seem like there is a lot of independent thought anywhere.

TATE: No. I think we are pretty much pushed and manipulated because it’s too difficult to focus on one thing for the given period of time it takes to do anything really, really, really well or be superior. You really have to focus on it.

KNAC.COM: Are people just not given to that from either a cognitive standpoint or an even an effort standpoint?

TATE: I don’t know. You got me there. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Isn’t that part of the reason we keep going back to the music of the 60’s and 70’s though? I mean, do we as a society have what it takes to produce music of that quality anymore? Do we go back simply because it is easier than originating?

TATE: I think that when you’re talking about music, the 60’s and 70’s were a very innovative time because there wasn’t this industry that attempts to stranglehold you with niches and boxes and chart positions. It was a different culture then. We weren’t so interested in making gobs of money over everything else, so people were more into experimenting. As far as my experience goes, we all grew up listening to rock music, and that meant everything like the Byrds, the Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, the Grateful Dead. It was all called music. Sometime in the 80’s, the industry took over and began cutting up the pie into little niche genres and calling it this and this. Radio programs needed demographics to sell products. What the hell? You know? What’s going on?

KNAC.COM: In that respect though, Queensryche has been pretty lucky by not having been pigeonholed into a genre like "hair metal" or some other classification that would shorten the group’s shelf life. Wouldn’t you agree?

TATE: I think that for us, tenacity has probably been the biggest component to our survival. We just won’t stop. (laughs) Never say never, you know? I think that after Empire, we made the conscious decision to follow our musical muse and not jump on the commercial bandwagon. They were talking action figure dolls and that kind of stuff. That wasn’t what we got into music for in the first place. That was a turning point for us. We went really underground and took four years off in between records which is just unheard of in pop life. We made the conscious decision to stay away from that and make records that were pleasing to us. We wanted to make the kind of records that if you shared them with somebody, they’d have that same feeling rather than making the kind of records that please people where we would end up not pleasing anybody.

KNAC.COM: I have discussed the timing of Mindcrime 2 with you before, but do you feel any more of a commitment to using your position to convey your own ideas whether they are creative or political? Is it important to combine them both? Is it in any way your obligation?

TATE: You know, I wouldn’t want to speak for everybody, but I just feel like with what it is I do that I want to do something that is interesting to me. I want to do something that I feel passionate enough to write a song about. That is how I feel about it. Luckily, I have the medium to express myself. Luckily, there are people out there who purchase our albums and come and see us live which allows me to live the life I do. That is a life of observing and writing and talking about it. It’s probably different for everybody.

KNAC.COM: As a person who is in essence paid to observe what goes on around them, do you see these as some of the most oppressive times to be in that position?

TATE: Absolutely. In my twenty-five years of being an adult and living an adult life in the music business, I can never remember it being as oppressive freedom-wise as it is right now. It’s amazing how they sold it to us and dressed up this whole idea of censorship and taking rights away and even giving it a name called The Patriot Act. If you’re against it, "I guess you aren’t patriotic." (laughs) It’s beautiful marketing.

KNAC.COM: Unfortunately, that proves incredibly effective….if one throws enough descriptive at a group who doesn’t think, then all they have the capacity to do is react.

TATE: I think that the Bush Administration proved after years of questioning and wondering if we have now raised two generations on television who will now buy any commercial. The answer is "yes, yes we have." That’s the answer.

KNAC.COM: In fact, that is so true that even with all of these so called low approval ratings Bush has and all of the incredible incompetence he has exhibited, I wouldn’t bet three dollars against the Republicans remaining in control of both the House and the Senate after the elections next week.

TATE: (laughs) Would they rig the election? Is that what you’re asking?

KNAC.COM: I was getting there next, so…yeah.

TATE: Why not? Yeah.

KNAC.COM: I mean, it isn’t like it hasn’t happened before.

TATE: I’m with you there. I think that it is unbelievable at this point in our history that we are allowing this thing to happen. It just shows how apathetic we are as a society.

KNAC.COM: Isn’t it funny that when you’re growing up and you start learning about Hitler and the Nazis, there is always this sense that it couldn’t happen here. It is always drummed into the kids here that "geez, they must have been stupid. How could that have happened? Did it ever happen?

TATE: Yeah right. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Then, though when you start to see it and it’s so subtle at first and it gets packaged a certain way and all of the variables are in place…how come it isn’t so obvious anymore?

TATE: Exactly. I ask myself that question often.

KNAC.COM: It doesn’t strike anyone as odd that the price of gas just dropped roughly eighty cents a gallon right before the election either?

TATE: Why do they go up at holiday time or in the summer? Any major U.S. holiday, the gas prices start going up through the roof.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, well if you ask any questions about situations like that of this administration, you get a bunch of ambiguous answers that generally concern Arabs, terrorists or the boogie man. Sure, I really believe Bush has lost a lot of sleep trying to utilize alternative energy sources.

TATE: All the while raking in the largest profits in history. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: When you raise the sign during the current Mindcrime performance referencing the Clinton blowjob, isn’t it one of the biggest political travesties of all time that we can get an inquiry into what a chunky girl does with her mouth but we can’t get one about an illegal war or countless unjustified deaths? Is it all right wing, Bible-thumper driven?

TATE: You’ve got me. I don’t understand it. I think that perhaps people are honestly afraid of their government. They are afraid of the spin-doctors they see. Think about it--not too many months ago, if you said anything challenging about this administration in public you were lambasted or raked over the coals. Letters were written into the newspapers in any city in America that were attacking people who were unsympathetic to the war effort. Of course, that was spun to where you hated the enlisted people. Of course, that is not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that I just don’t agree with the enlisted people being over there. It’s amazing. I think people see that perhaps and are frightened. What is a regular guy going to do? A regular guy doesn’t have millions and millions of dollars to take on somebody who is trying sue you over something. No, all a regular guy can do is hang onto your own livelihood here and hope that you can do the best you can with the given situation. There is this hope though that someone will sacrifice themselves and be the target and it will gain momentum and something will happen as the result of it. I mean, it’s going to take one brave person to do it.

KNAC.COM: Doesn’t that seem like an impossible task in an egocentric society? Wouldn’t such a movement have to be grassroots? I mean, we started doing these interviews like five years ago, and we are still talking about at best a 50-50 Republican-Democrat proposition. There is grouping of citizens in this country that just won’t change their opinions regardless of the facts. Is it just a Red State issue or is it abortion…what is it?

TATE: I think it is taking the Christian right out. Just take it out. It’s a bad idea.

KNAC.COM: Who really thinks Bush goes home and prays to a God that isn’t his reflection in the mirror? Is a picture of a guy closing his eyes and clasping his hands in the media that powerful?

TATE: Anybody that can’t see that guy is a bold faced liar when he speaks is an idiot--an absolute idiot who should probably be put out of his misery.

KNAC.COM: Isn’t that the downfall of a Democratic society---every uninformed Twinkie eater gets to have an equal vote? You have your haves and have-nots monetarily and you have your haves and have-nots intellectually and the chasm between the two gets wider every day.

TATE: You know it’s an interesting psychological issue in our country. We have millions and millions of people who have gaping holes in their lives. They feel empty like they are disconnected or need to have something more. That’s how they get lured in to the whole Christian fellowship. The Christians will take anybody on--you could be a serial killer and someone is going to be there going "join us brother in the joy of God! Our version of God." You know, it’s a powerful, powerful attraction and you have all of these people with this gaping hole and they’re all looking for salvation and completeness, so they all get lured into the Christian religion and all of a sudden they have a voice and they have power. They can change policy in the government and change the way things function.

KNAC.COM: And we can do it all tax free.

TATE: It’s a bunch a psychologically deficient people. That’s my opinion--debate it all you want--I won’t change mine. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: The whole idea of getting a bunch of emotionally impaired people in a church and telling them that you have the key to salvation is an amazing tool. "Hey, I don’t need this voting situation getting between God and I. I’d better just pull the lever for the Republicans. George is a good guy. He’s anti-Abortion."

TATE: What is a good Christian? I don’t think there is such a thing.

KNAC.COM: I don’t know…I heard Billy Graham was a good guy. You’d probably have to at least go back that far. Maybe Moses.

TATE: With that kind of history that surrounds Christianity with the lies, the deceptions, the murders, the rapes, the taking over countries and killing people, you’d think they would have called it something else by now. I would have thought that name would have had such a negative connotation by now that they would have changed it and tried to upgrade their image. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: The most troubling point of all of this is that the more we evolve, the worse these particular problems get. That being the case, what do you do? Do you stop voting? Stop caring?

TATE: I suppose you could. I was at a lecture Gore Vidal was giving, and someone asked him that same question, and he stopped and kind of looked around with this puzzled look on his face and said, "of course you don’t give up because they’ll win. We should never give up." After all, there are more songs to write.

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