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Kerby’s Exclusive Interview With Queensryche Guitarist Mike Stone

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Thursday, December 21, 2006 @ 10:35 AM

"Yeah, I’m always impressed if

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Talk about unenviable positions.

On one hand, when Mike Stone was first offered the position of axeman with Queensryche, the prospect had to be a dream come true. On the other, he had to know that the shadow cast by founding member Chris DeGarmo was bound to remain formidable, and for good reason—Chris was an excellent guitarist and songwriter, and in the eyes of many, the material produced by Tate and company since he left has paled in comparison to the group’s previous work. Pretty much anyone with any taste within the metal community would have to recognize that The Warning, Rage For Order and Operation Mindcrime are important albums that have left their own unique stamp on a genre that has in far too many cases proved derivative.

It’s undeniable though that Stone dig catch a break of sorts in that his predecessor’s era (Kelly Gray) was largely considered a lackluster period that didn’t exactly enhance the Ryche legacy while the short lived 2003 Queensryche reunion with DeGarmo didn’t end up amounting to much either. It was clear after DeGarmo’s latest exit though that whatever path the band would ultimately take would depend primarily on their repoire with their new guitarist and what that individual could help bring to the writing process. Of course, the highest profile exemplification of what the band could produce with Stone comes in the form of Operation Mindcrime II---a record more maligned simply for what it represents than for the music contained therein. Regardless of what people might say or think, Stone understands his role as successor to the largely popular DeGarmo, and instead of wasting precious time complaining or lamenting his plight, he instead has chosen to spend his moments being creative in an effort to leave his own stamp on this band.

Here’s hoping that metal fans can look forward to more tours and new material from the Ryche for at least another decade, and if that happens, chances are Stone will have been a huge part of it.

KNAC.COM: From just an endurance standpoint, is it really that much different for you to perform Operation Mindcrime I and II than it would be to just do a regular two hour show?

STONE: I’d say it’s more taxing—mostly because it is just a lot more involved. Instead of where you’re just doing a rock set and you go, “I’ll just stand over here for a little while, you really have to keep your head in the ballgame with this or else you’re going to step on somebody or get hit in the face with a bunch of blood. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Does it make it exponentially harder to be a guitarist with all of the actors running around and all of the dramatic themes that are being played out onstage right next to you? Most musicians never have to deal with that.

STONE: It does add a dimension that you don’t normally deal with in a rock show. I’ve never had to play and turn around to find people dead in front of me. Of course, they aren’t really dead…(laughs)…so, I don’t really want to turn them over and kick them in the head with my boots.

KNAC.COM: Is there ever an effort made by the band members to try to mirror what is going on with the actors with regard to facial expressions or body language?

STONE: I know that I try to make myself a character in the thing kinda by what I wear. Sure, how you move and act might be a little different than normal because I do try to keep it within the framework of the story a little bit. The first set I kind wear this outfit that has kind of this “Anarchy X” type vibe. In the second, I try to look a little like one of Nikki’s cellmates—like we’re out to blow up the world or something. (laughs) We do try to create characters up there.

KNAC.COM: Was there any special pressure when you were doing Mindcrime II specifically from a guitarist’s perspective—because you had to know that the comparisons with DeGarmo would be pervasive? Were you able to create without having all of that in your head?

STONE: No. (laughs) There was definitely pressure. That pressure really didn’t come from anyone but ourselves because we knew that if we were going to write something and call it Mindcrime II and finish the story, then it had better be good. It had to be all of these things that we wanted it to be. When it started out, we had more or less a script. Then, we wrote the story accordingly to the script. Me personally, I was looking at it as creating a kind of hybrid Queensryche sound where it was very modern sounding but still with all the classic Queensryche nuances like the dual guitar solos and the inverted chords—basically everything that makes Queensryche sound like Queensryche. We were real conscious of that—we wanted to flavors of the old but mixed in with the new at the same time which can be pretty challenging to do. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: I know that at one time Geoff said that he had about ninety minutes worth of material for the second part.

STONE: More than that. There was a time where we just dug right in and at the end of the day of the “writing process” we had a ton of material. Some parts just ended up not getting used because we didn’t need it. It was kind of like making a movie where you have a scene that doesn’t end up making it to final production.

KNAC.COM: Was that more true of the music or the lyrics?

STONE: More the music because we would just realize that “hey, we don’t need that section because we’ve already gotten it covered here.”

KNAC.COM: Do you get a lot people at the meet and greets who ask you about specific points in the plot?

STONE: You never know what they’re gonna ask. (laughs) It could some intricate thing about the story one time or the other time they might be asking if you could sign their children. (laughs) Literally.

KNAC.COM: You guys do make it a point to reach out to the fans--do you like the whole idea of the unpredictability and spontaneity inherent in these types of interactions?

STONE: It doesn’t bother me a bit. I’d rather have somebody ask me questions I wasn’t expecting than to have to answer the same old thing over and over again.

KNAC.COM: “Yes, Mr. Stone, I admire your work.” Does that never get tiresome?

STONE: That’s funny. It’s a weird thing because people compliment you so much. It’s always very flattering, but the truth is that some nights you are better than other nights. Some nights, I could know it wasn’t one of my better shows, and someone could be screaming, “you were amazing!” You have to kind of balance that some way.

KNAC.COM: I think that would be an interesting situation. At some point, I’d think you might crave somebody saying, “Hey man, what the hell was the problem out there? You guys sounded off.”

STONE: Yeah, I’m always impressed if someone catches something. That is rare, but it does happen from time to time. The fact is that every once in awhile, you’ll do something silly that you weren’t intending to do---very rarely. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Once every two or three months, right?

STONE: Yeah, yeah. It might be something like from a guitar standpoint maybe you don’t step on a pedal hard enough and it doesn’t go on. Then, you’re just scrambling. That always impresses me when someone will go, “hey, I noticed how you missed that one part.”

KNAC.COM: That’s when you tell them, “What the hell do you know about it?” Or is it pretty easy to just take the devotion as a compliment?

STONE: That’s all you really can do. All you can really do in anything is just show up and do your best. As far as the complimenting goes, it’s great and it’s flattering, but at the end of the day, you just have to keep your balanced. Speaking for myself, I am just really critical of my performances, and I just want everything squeaky clean, but the fact is that sometimes, it’s just not. Sometimes you don’t get enough sleep or sometimes you have your dinner too late. There are kinds of things that could affect your gig.

KNAC.COM: How much easier is it for you to handle fan expectations given that you already had quite a bit of experience before you got into Queensryche? I mean, it isn’t like you are eighteen and having to deal with this.

STONE: If you were brand new to the industry and walked into this, you’d probably lose your mind. I’ve worked regularly as a musician since I was eleven. I’ve probably done a hundred to two hundred shows a year ever since. It’s pretty much all I’ve ever done. Fortunately, I had a great backlog of experience before stepping onto the stage with Queensryche. Even with that, there is still a ton of pressure. When I came in, everyone thought that Chris was back…replacing Chris DeGarmo…how do you do that?

KNAC.COM: How does that affect you on a daily basis? Is there some kind of contact every day about him or was it some kind of deal where there are fewer and fewer inquiries about it over time?

STONE: It’s funny because I’ve been in the band for a while now, and at first, everyone was like, “Uh, that’s not Chris.” It was like everyone just had their scorecard out. I’m fine with that though because the best thing to do in that situation is step up and give it your best shot. Over the past few years now, I think I’ve won most of them over--I do my best. With the Mindcrime II record, I had a very large part in writing the record, and I think that has just brought up the acceptance level that much more. It’s like, “Wow, he really is a part of it.” That’s great. I’ve pretty much been comfortable in my skin throughout the duration.

KNAC.COM: And you had to know about most of this going in, right?

STONE: When Geoff called and asked me to do it, we had just gotten back from vacation, and he was like, “Yeah, we’re going out on tour and we need a guitar player. Can you do it?”. I was like, “Let me ask my wife, and I’ll call you back in ten minutes.” (laughs) Of course, when I called him back, I said, “Yes”. My first question to Geoff though was, “Are they going to throw tomatoes at me?” It was like, “If they are, it’s cool. I can deal with that.”

KNAC.COM: You just wanted to know what you were getting into right away--

STONE: Yeah, definitely.

KNAC.COM: When you came in, was it strictly as a tour replacement? Or was there always the understanding that you would be part of the band?

STONE: I came in at the end of the Tribe sessions. I had one song on the Tribe record, and I’ve been neck deep in everything ever since. The understanding at first though was, “hey, you want to do this tour?” Then, it just kind of evolved from there. When I walked into the room to rehearse for that, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I just walked in, and did the best I could and the rest has just kind of taken off from there.

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