Latest release: Condition Hüman (Century Media)
The last ten years haven’t been great ones for Queensrӱche. Since the forced departure of guitarist Mike Stone in 2009, the band’s career has been a rollercoaster of feuding, in-fighting and litigation, poorly-conceived and badly-received albums and ultimately the ludicrous situation that allowed the existence of two distinct entities called Queensrӱche for two years. That all ended in August 2014 at the close of a tour by former frontman Geoff Tate when he was banned from further use of the band’s name, a name that is now exclusively owned by original members Michael Wilton, Scott Rockenfield and Eddie Jackson.
It was a struggle that would have killed many a band, and on the phone from his home in Seattle, Michael Wilton makes no illusions about how tough the situation was.
“It was definitely a daunting task,” the guitarist says. “I don’t recommend it to anyone. When you’re in a tunnel and you can barely see a glimpse of light at the end – that’s what it feels like. So you have to believe in that light. Most bands would give up halfway through that tunnel. We stayed the course, we believed in what we were doing and we have something strong to offer and we are playing the songs that Queensrӱche fans wanted to hear. We did it. It’s basically one day at a time, one show at a time. There’s a lot of proving to do, and we’re ok with that.”
Queensrӱche’s last two albums with Tate – American Soldier and Dedicated to Chaos – were critical and commercial failures, the former a directionless and uneven concept piece and the second a complete musical departure that disenfranchised the group’s fanbase. Crucially, both were written almost exclusively by Tate and co-producers Kelly Gray and Jason Slater with virtually no input from the rest of the band. That’s a situation since rectified by the current line-up, that now includes vocalist Todd La Torre and 29 year-old guitarist Parker Lundgren. All of them have song writing credits on the two albums completed since the split, 2013’s eponymously-titled release and latest full-length Condition Hüman, ending the creative enstiflement enforced on Wilton and his bandmates by Tate’s dictatorial control of Queensrӱche’s output.
“I’ve got so many CDs, I’ve got dictaphone cassettes… cassettes!” Wilton lists a catalogue of unused ideas he’s collected over many years. “I’ve got hard drives… It’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle, right? Even from spontaneous ideas I get, I still have this backlog of ideas that never got used, that Chris DeGarmo and I did that never got put on record.”
With La Torre’s input, some of those ideas became “Don’t Look Back”, one of the tracks on Queensrӱche and the one that Wilton points to as the beginning of the rebuilding of the band.
“There are others guys in this band that have decades of songs that weren’t used,” he adds, referring to drummer Scott Rockenfield, the third cog in the quintet’s main song writing machine. Youngest member Parker Lundgren has also been active in the creative process. Originally hired as Stone’s replacement in 2009, he was finally given full band membership when the action against Tate was finalised.
“He’s a smart kid and a great player and he listens to the fans and he doesn’t party too much,” the 54 year-old Wilton says of his guitar partner, “and when I say kid, he’s under 30. He’s on the other side, but he totally understands the music, he understands what we do. And his influences… it’s push and pull.”Z
“That creates the bonding,” he continues. “Everyone has their influences and you pull a bit from everybody. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. A piece of clay starts forming into something substantial. That’s the whole thing. That’s what being a band is about. It’s not about hiring outside writers… where’s the fun in that?”
It’s clear from his demeanour that Michael Wilton is having fun being in Queensrӱche again, despite the hard work of the last few years and more than is still to come.
“We’re blowing people away every show, and we are happy doing that. It’s a rebuilding process, and it’s so much work. It’s a lot of stress on everybody’s individual lives and families and everything, but that’s what had to be done to get it where it is today, and we’re very proud that we have made it this far.”
In the wake of the split with Tate, there was also division in the fanbase, made even more problematic by both parties releasing albums under the Queensrӱche name in June 2013. Each wasso stylistically different from the other that it didn’t take long for fans to choose which side they were on, with most apparently favouring the La Torre-fronted band over Tate’s version, which was considered by many critics as such a departure from the original Queenryche aesthetic it no longer warranted the name. Wilton says some fans have compared this revival to that of another classic metal band.
“One fan said, ‘When Dio joined Black Sabbath it was new era of Black Sabbath. This is like a new era of Queensrӱche’. So in that sense, the older fans get it!” He’s quick to put in a few jabs directed at his former vocalist too: “We’re putting out music that’s written by individuals in the band that’s great to listen to. It’s really just a positive situation. You wish you could get back to that certain status, but it’s such a crazy industry right now.”
The state of the music industry in the early 21st Century is perhaps Queensrӱche’s biggest enemy now. At their late-80s height, Queensrӱche were selling albums in their millions. Their influential 1988 release Operation:Mindcrime went on to be awarded platinum status for more than a million sales in the US alone. But the days of nine-digit sales figures are now long in the past for most bands industry-wide. It’s a bitter reality more people that just Michael Wilton have to face every day.
“There’s hundreds of millions of people that don’t pay for music,” he says fiercely. “They think it’s their right, you know? They can have it streaming in the background at work and don’t realise that they’ve just cost a bunch of people their jobs. Hopefully, with technology expanding, the next platform that comes out there’s gonna be a way to fix all this. Cause otherwise, bands aren’t gonna care. If my music is just gonna be streamed and get tons of airplay but I’m only getting enough to buy a Starbucks coffee, I’m not going to do this.”
Queensrӱche are luckier than many others, however. Their 35 year legacy has amassed them a huge following who still flock to their shows, shows where they are once again free to play many of the songs the fans want to hear them play.
“We have people who have been there since the 80s coming to our shows, and they have grey hair!” Wilton declares. “But we also have lots of new fans, and they only know our new stuff. Hopefully they’ll go back and listen to the back catalogue too. It’s really cool. It’s the rebirth of a band. With that you have new pockets of fans that were curious, took a chance and were hooked! Having this chemistry in the band is liberating and it’s really refreshing and it makes me want to perform and make music. We’re going into countries we haven’t been to in a long time, and some we haven’t been to before and we’re charting all over the world now. The world is awakening. They’re awakening to Queensrӱche again. That’s exactly what I wanted to happen.”
11/10: The Triffid, Brisbane QLD
13/10: Fowlers Live, Adelaide SA
14/10: Prince Band Room, Melbourne VIC
15/10: Manning Bar, Sydney NSW