Latest release: Dedicated to Chaos (Loud and Proud)
Band site: www.queensryche.com
Seattle prog-metal/hard rock outfit Queensrÿche are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. After releasing landmark albums such as 1988 concept masterpiece Operation: Mindcrime and 1990’s multi-million selling Empire, the band’s creative fortunes have wavered somewhat, much to the disappointment of some fans. Regardless, the band persevered, continued to tour the world and have released their 11th studio album, Dedicated to Chaos. Brendan Crabb chatted with frontman Geoff Tate between rehearsals about the new record, social media, career milestones, concept albums and more.
Q: Many bands write and record a new album and don’t want to see the inside of a studio again for a lengthy period of time, yet I understand Queensrÿche are already working on new material.
A: Yeah, we began the writing sessions for the next record about a month ago. We kind of go from one project to the next fairly rapidly. In today’s world, you kind of have to keep coming up with new stuff, so we like that. It’s hard to keep us out of the studio actually (laughs).
Q: The new album has just been released and the title seems indicative of the band’s desire to change things up. Was that the intention from the beginning?
A: Yeah, usually before a record we sit down and kind of map out what we want to try to achieve. Most of the time we’re pretty successful at planning it out and figuring out the sketching of what we’re going to try and go for. With this record, I wanted to take a break from working with concepts and themes, and just really focus on writing a collection of songs that were indicative of where the band’s at, at this moment.
Q: Tracks like ‘Hot Spot Junkie’ and ‘Retail Therapy’ also make numerous references to how technology continues to change our world. I also know you’re somewhat of a social media enthusiast. Is that where the inspiration for those lyrical ideas came from?
A: Yeah, I think so. It’s sort of a commentary on modern life (laughs). We’re all pretty plugged-in now, it’s kind of an exciting time to be alive really and watch all the changes that are happening globally. We’re all so plugged-in and dependent, not just economically but kind of multi-culturally in a sense, I suppose because we’re all so well-connected and we know what’s happening everywhere in the world at any given moment. It’s kind of the first time in history it’s been like that, so there’s a lot to comment on. There’s a lot of information out there, there’s a lot of change going on. Not just technologically, but socially as well. So it’s a pretty exciting time.
Q: The Internet is such a valuable promotional tool, but on the flipside of that there are the substantial effects of things such as illegal downloading. What’s your take on that?
A: Oh yeah, the illegal downloading has pretty much gutted the music industry and it’s working pretty well to gut the movie industry and books as well. It’s pretty much an attack on intellectual property, and all the ways we have that set up and the system that was in place is completely wiped out now. So, on one hand I guess you could get real bitter about it and pine for the old days, but it ain’t going away; it is what is and you have to kind of focus on what you can do. How are you going to navigate in this new frontier? I think that’s really what musicians are kind of grappling with now, is how do we stay alive? How do we stay afloat economically now? So it’s challenging, definitely. It’s a big puzzle that we’re all working on (laughs).
Q: Is there still a part of you that bemoans the fact that a heavier rock band like Queensrÿche can’t really sell millions of records and match some of those earlier career achievements anymore though?
A: Well, a lot of things have changed since that time. One, rock music is not the pop music of the times anymore. People have moved on and that kind of music has really gone underground. The only people that are selling millions of records, and it’s very few, are pop artists that are more attuned into I guess what they call urban music or dance music, that kind of thing. I guess there’s a lot of ways you could describe it, but definitely rock music is back underground, kind of where it started originally. Two, you of course have the Internet and the downloading, so that just takes away all the outlets for selling music. Even the places where people bought music have changed. I know in the United States, I don’t know how it is in Australia, but in the US all the record stores have mostly shut down now. Businesses aren’t stocking the physical product anymore. In fact, it’s not just records, it’s retail in general. People are moving towards purchasing goods on the Internet now, rather than going to a retail shops to buy it there. So it’s kind of an economic indicator that things are really changing radically.
Q: Indeed. Back to the new album then – when the band is writing, is it a similar set of musical influences that still inspires Queensrÿche, or do newer sounds and acts also have an impact on what you do musically?
A: Well, I think one of the main things that really attracted us to each other 30 years ago when we started out was that we all had huge record collections of all kinds of music, from jazz to R&B to pop to classical, country and western. You name it – we had it in our collections. We had all those different styles and all those different influences when writing. And you can hear it in all of our stuff; you can hear influences from different kinds of music in what we do. So, no, that hasn’t really changed and I think for us, it’s really a matter of constantly experimenting what we can do with our chemistry. We’re always trying to find new ways of presenting Queensrÿche music. We go to great lengths a lot of times to find inspiration, from going to a different location to write and record, to working with different collaborators and different people within the band and the organisation, such as how we kind of work in groups sometimes. This album, we were all kind of working on our personal presentations, trying to find new ways of writing. I know Scott (Rockenfield) our drummer, for example set his drum kit up completely different than he has ever set it up before, forcing himself to play differently. I know Parker (Lundgren), one of our guitar players was playing around with tapings to stick his fingers together in different combinations to force him to play scales and (play) differently. If you approach your instrument differently like that, you get some different results. That’s one of the things we talked about early on when we started the record; trying to take our instruments and play them in different ways.
Q: Also, perhaps after two concept albums in quick succession (2006’s Operation: Mindcrime II and 2009’s American Soldier) perhaps there was there a real sense of wanting to strip things back somewhat.
A: Well, let’s see what the past couple of records were. American Soldier was a pretty serious record really, emotionally serious. We interviewed different soldiers from different conflicts from World War II all the way up to the present to get their stories of what it was like to be a soldier in battle. Because none of us had had that experience, we felt the best way to go about writing something like this was to kind of take it from the people who have actually experienced it. So hearing all those stories was really an emotional rollercoaster, but the album turned out really good, I like it a lot. The album before that was the sequel to Operation: Mindcrime, the finishing of the story, which is a group of songs and a story that we had been kicking around for a long time. In fact, we originally had planned to put Operation: Mindcrime II out after the Empire album, sometime around 1991 or ’92 or something like that. But it didn’t work out at the time, so we continued on writing from some other perspectives.
Q: Do you feel the new album lends itself to the same kind of live show theatrics the previous few albums did?
A: It could definitely; it’s always up to how you want to present it and its performance. One of the things about the timing of this particular record is this is our 30-year anniversary this year. So our tour is going to be really focusing on our catalogue of music. We’ll be playing songs from all of our different records and it’s a really cool visual show that we’re presenting along with that, kind of a Queensrÿche retrospective where we have visuals that follow our catalogue of songs from our past. We’ve even had fans submit their videos of themselves talking about the band and the songs, and we’re including that in the show as well.
Q: Great to hear. On that front, are we likely to see Queensrÿche in Australia again as part of the 30th anniversary tour?
A: Yeah, we will have to get back down to Australia; it’s been a few years since we’ve been there. Of course, it’s all economics so we tour where we can play and we can get our crew there, pay them and all that kind of thing (laughs). I hope to come down there; I think if we do it’ll probably be after the New Year.
Q: Fingers crossed. When reflecting on the band’s lengthy career, is there an album in the catalogue that you feel is particularly under-appreciated?
A: Well, honestly no, because I don’t pay much attention to ratings. I think music is a real personal journey, not just for the artist but for the listener as well. People discover music at different times in their life, and (whether) a song or an album becomes important to somebody really is dependent upon their life experience and what’s happening to them at the moment. I know for me, I’m constantly discovering not just new music, but older music as well. There are albums that I stumble upon or somebody gives me or I hear a song and it sparks my interest and I end up discovering their whole catalogue of stuff, which is always an exciting thing.
Q: Obviously you reached a commercial peak around the time of Operation: Mindcrime and Empire, then shortly after grunge and alternative rock completely changed the landscape for heavier bands. What are your recollections of that time period?
A: Well, I think Phil Collins said it the best. He said a musician’s life is like riding a boat on the ocean. You’re just kind of floating along with the waves of things that happen to you. You go up, you go down, you go sideways and it’s all kind of perspective really I think. We’ve had a very fortunate career, we’ve been able to just out of school start the band, get signed to a label, make records for 30 years and tour the world – we’ve played in I think 50-something countries now. It’s just been an incredible experience that I have no regrets at all. I feel very fortunate and I think everybody in the band does.
Q: Obviously you still has success with albums like 1994’s Promised Land, but many bands which had been in vogue in the late 80s/early 90s were suddenly out of favour throughout much of the latter decade. How do you believe Queensrÿche survived that?
A: We didn’t really pay attention, honestly. Your question kind of concerns itself with feeling like your self-worth is based upon your chart position and we’ve never felt that way (laughs). We just make music and we play our music for people that want to come see us play, and that’s all we’ve ever been concerned about. We’ve never been concerned with competing. I don’t think music is a competition sport, you know? It’s an art form, it’s expression. Some albums you maybe tour a little bit more based upon what the economy is doing at the time; other albums you don’t tour so much because that’s the way the economy is (laughs). It’s kind of an up and down thing, you know? All I know is we’ve never slowed down; we tour a lot and we still got to a lot of the same places we’ve been going to and every year we have new places we go to. So I don’t really notice a huge difference from album to album, as far as that goes.
Q: Last year was the 20th anniversary of Empire, which was also reissued. Did this encourage you to think a lot about that era of the band and what you’ve achieved since?
A: Yeah, EMI re-released it with some bonus tracks and a live show that was included in there from London, I think from 1991. Yeah, it was a cool package; a lot of people liked it a lot and I liked it a lot. It did make us think back to that time a little bit because of course you do the interviews to support the release and some people ask you questions about it. We’ve honestly never been a band that really looks back. We finish one record and we start thinking about and writing for the next one. It’s like once the songs are out of your system, you’re moving on to the next thing that you’re thinking about. We’ve never been a band that kind of stopped and rested on its laurels – we just continued to write music, put it out, tour and do our thing.
Q: Are there any plans to afford 1986’s Rage for Order a similar treatment, given 2011 marks the silver anniversary of its release?
A: I haven’t heard of any plans from EMI regarding that, but that could happen tomorrow, I don’t know (laughs). It’s really an economic issue; if they think they can press it up and people are going to buy it… I don’t know – that’s kind of their game.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: (Laughs) I would say thanks for the interview and we definitely hope to be down in Australia as soon as possible. The first time we played there was recently, like in the past few years and we had a wonderful reception, people seemed to really relate to the music quite a bit. So we hope to be back there soon, absolutely.