But let’s get real. Maybe unlike any other band, Queensrÿche had divided their audience after their peak with Empire. I mean, you’d pay to be a fly on the wall in recent years to hear what one would think would be heated musical discussions about where to take the band. Without reading too much into it… actually I’m going to read into it.
Some may say Queensrÿche lost the plot after their landmark first EP. Or around the time they covered DALBELLO song (‘Gonna Get Close To You’ from 1986’s Rage For Order). Or even when Chris DeGarmo left in 1998 after 17 years with the band.
The band’s last studio album, 2011’s Dedicated To Chaos, gave the band their worst chart appearance since the first EP and their lowest ever US-charting full album, at a lowly #70. It was another kick at the can to retain credibility with a fading audience - Roadrunner’s imprint Loud & Proud couldn’t save it. The band were certainly not getting any heavier. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Messrs Michael Wilton (guitar), Eddie Jackson (bass), Scott Rockenfield (drums), Parker Lundgren (guitar) and the aforementioned La Torre wanted to rock harder. Even to the point of creating an album under another moniker to bang their heads to.
So who was leading good ship Queensrÿche in a creative sense? Or was it more personal? And something must be said about a musical partnership that has lasted more than 30 years. In any event, down the solo pathway, Geoff Tate was going in various directions (as you will read below). His though process on his sophomore kick at the can sees the man reaching back at his roots, the music that inspired the man to pick up a microphone in the first place.
BraveWords.com spoke with Tate about his new album, Kings & Thieves, out this week around the world, while gingerly addressing the potentially explosive issue of his relationship with his former band.
BraveWords.com: There’s an old saying that when you encounter a major life-change, people focus on their strengths. Would that be a good way to put it?
Tate: “Yeah, it probably is. The best place you can go is to delve into what you know and do best and what you’re interested in and find your strengths there again.”
BraveWords.com: Can you give us a timeline on when this was composed. The answer is kind of crucial given the events around your split. Was it before or after?
Tate: “It all began on New Year’s Ever last year.I was sitting around with friends and family and everyone is toasting and making resolutions. So I made the resolution that I was going to do a solo record this year. So on January 2nd I started on it. I started writing and recording for the new album. And I finished it in July. It was incredibly smooth project, just really enjoyable. Very creative collaboration with my co-writers and the recording was really fun. And I feel really, really good that I actually accomplished a New Year’s resolution for once! So many times you make these declarations sand you never make it.”
BraveWords.com: How would you compare it to your solo debut?
Tate: “Well, I don’t really are to compare them. I think they’re quite different. They’re different in direction and the concept going into it. But I should preface - I’m kind of a list-maker. I like to make outlines of things I want to try and accomplish on a records, goals I want to reach. For this record I really wanted to make a rock album. By that I mean a classic rock album, utilizing classic rock instrumentation like the bands had that inspired me like DEEP PURPLE, RAINBOW, GOLDEN EARRING, PINK FLOYD - these bands were inspirational to me growing up and really formed a lot of my musical ideas. So I went into it with that in mind. And also I wanted to make a record that was very different than I had in the past. I wanted to make a record that was immediate. A very raw, emotionally raw - not a record that was slickly produced, polished and over-rehearsed. I wanted it to be very immediate. I went into it working with my writers and musicians all sitting in the same room playing together to form these songs. So what you hear on the record is really immediate. It’s all first, second or third takes. A lot of the songs were written on the spot. That was really special for me because I hadn’t been able to make a record like that … ever. But they are very different animal, the first one and the second one. The first record was a real exploration of my influences, all my influences, so you hear a lot of jazz, R&B and classic stuff on that, but not much rock music. So I wanted to make this one very rock, so when I play the album’s live, I will have a better way of presenting it. The show will have a lot of dynamics, a lot of movements to it, instead of being all one way.
BraveWords.com: Can you explain your definition of making a traditional rock record. Doies it mean recording in analog/digital? Off the floor live?
Tate: “I guess what I mean by that is … a lot of those songs that bands who influenced me wrote really relied on traditional instrumentation. Guitar, vocals, drums and specifically the Hammond organ which I love. So I wanted to utilize that kind of sound. They also tended to be simplistic in their arrangements. There wasn’t a lot of jumping through mathematical time signatures and things like that. It was more straight-ahead, punchy kind of rock. So that was kind of my thinking, to make that kind of record.”
BraveWords.com: Your remark about the Hammond organ immediately brings to mind the loss of DEEP PURPLE legend Jon Lord. He must’ve been instrumental in your early musical life?
Tate: “Oh yeah, Jon Lord was a pioneer in the rock era with the Hammond organ and what he did was really interesting and emotional. I had the opportunity to meet him several times and he was always a gentleman whenever I met him. Very open to talking about music. It’s funny when you meet musicians a lot of times they clam up and they’re not comfortable talking about music. It’s refreshing when you can actually have a musical conversation with a musician about music. I find that really refreshing and interesting. And he was one that as always open about talking.”
BraveWords.com: Your vision of this material and how it turned out. Were both the same?
Tate: “I think so. It actually turned out how kinda how I thought it was. Of course there are surprises here and there because you are working in a collaborative atmosphere with people. You’ll write it one way and somebody will play it a different way and you’ll end up liking they way they played it, opposed to the way you played it. So that’s alway nice and surprising. I think it has a raw, emotional, kick you in the face kind of atmosphere in the songs. So it turned out like that as I wanted it to.”
BraveWords.com: So let’s clear up any confusion. You really have two functioning bands now.
Tate: "The band that I have touring with me now is the band that played on the solo record except for Greg Gilmour the drummer. The Queensrÿche band I’m putting together for March is Bobby Blotzer (RATT), Glen Drover (exMEGADETH, KING DIAMOND) and Rudy Sarzo (ANIMETAL USA, DIO’S DISCIPLES, ex-OZZY OSBOURNE, WHITESNAKE, QUIET RIOT, DIO, BLUE ÖYSTER CULT). And Kelly Gray (ex-Queensrÿche guitarist/producer) is joining us and Randy Gane on keyboards.”
BraveWords.com: In the Queensrÿche band, you've brought together mixed bag of players with a lot of precious baggage. Explain your relationship with them. The BW&BK family has a long history with Glen dating back to his EIDOLON days.
Tate: “Well I chose specifically because I’m a fan of that guy’s guitar playing. He just really has this really fluid effortless style of playing. And he’s the kind of guy that can play anything you throw at him. He’s very schooled and very disciplined. Personality-wise, he just has a really easy going personality. He’s not difficult. And I like the idea of matching Glen and Kelly. Kelly approaches the guitar like he’s picking a fight with it and Glen is the opposite. I thought putting those two together would be most interesting. And they’re both writers, so they’ll have a commonality there when it comes to playing together and also hopefully composing together. Bobby, Rudy and I have been friends for 30-plus years and we’ve always talked about doing a project together - ‘wouldn’t it be fun, what could we do and what would it be like?’ When the opportunity came to form this band I called them up immediately and luckily they were able to do it because they are both busy guys. But the rearranged their schedules, dropped some stuff and made this their priority which is very flattering and I’m so happy they can do it. Because they are great players. Bobby is incredibly excited about this because he comes from a progressive rock background, but he’s never been able to do that kind of stuff with his band before. So this gives him a real opportunity to wet his fingers in some different water. He and Rudy I think are going to be exceptional playing together. Rudy has this real silky smooth style of playing and Bobby’s bombastic. Again, it’s kind of an opposites attract get-together.”
BraveWords.com: It must be said that Kings & Thieves has that majestic look and feel about it. The cover art brings up images of your past.
Tate: “Anthony Clarkson is the artist that put that together. I was in conversation with him and he’s asking ‘what do you want the cover to look like?’ And I really wanted to have my family crest in some design. My last name is Tate and my family crest is basically what you see on the record cover. So he gave me this really interesting, stylized version of it. And I though ‘ah, wow, that’s perfect!’ It really spoke to me. It has this elegance and worldly look to it. And it’s also kind of familiar in a way. It’s imagery that is familiar to people. I think it’s a beautiful piece.”
BraveWords.com: So Tate is not a stage name.
Tate: “Tate actually is my family name with English roots. The Tate name is a very old English name and it even has a family crest to it. And really the album cover is actually the family crest with the shield and the colour scheme and the ravens. So it all worked very nicely.”
BraveWords.com: How far have you been able to trace back your family history?
Tate: “Mine goes back somewhere in the middle ages. My wife’s (Susan) family goes back to the pre-Christian era which is pretty amazing. Our kids come from all European descent, so it goes way back.”
BraveWords.com: Was any of this solo material intended for Queensrÿche use.
Tate: “No, this all started with me on January 2nd with a hangover (laughs).”
BraveWords.com: With something that you created I hope!
Tate: “Yes, it was definitely a wine hangover. I actually don’t think I will ever give up the booze. I actually don’t trust people who don’t drink.”
BraveWords.com: Since you brought it up, let’s talk about touring and using the Queensrÿche name. You seem to have held your composure remained relatively silent during all these court proceedings.
Tate: “When this whole thing blew up, back in April/May, the other guys started using this title Rising West and they were going off doing this side project which was fine. We’d all done solo projects and side projects over the years. But then they found they couldn’t book shows, could;t book a tour with that name because it didn’t have any value. And that’s when they decided to fire me and take the name Queensrÿche for themselves. So I said ‘no, you can’t do that … that’s illegal because we’re a corporation and so it becomes a corporate issue.’ And so I tried to filed an injunction with the court that said ‘look, until we come to a settlement here, on who gets the name and how we’re going to split things up and all that, I don’t think that either party should user the name Queensrÿche. We should protect the name, not destroy it or devalue it in any way, by forming some kind of splinter groups Queensrÿche, which is dactyl what happened. Because the judge said “look, both parties can use the name Queensrÿche for the next year and both of them can benefit from the brand. And let the market decide.’ So that’s kind of where it’s at until next November, we’ll be competing with each other which is very strange and definitely not how I wanted things to end up and how I wanted to handle things. I thought we could’ve all been gentlemen and sat in a room, discuss and come up with a plan. And if we wanted to end the relationship, we could’ve done it in a civilized manner and not run the name through the dirt. It doesn’t make any sense to me, why on earth you would take this incredibly successful entity - Queensrÿche is a very respected name with integrity that we’ve built over the years and destroy it at this point in our careers. Realistically we’re all guys in our ‘50s and we have maybe ten more years of productive work ahead of us. And why would you destroy the thing that you’ve built all these years and have to start all over again. It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s madness.”
BraveWords.com: It’s been painful to watch. And all the crap behind-the-scenes, true or not. It’s all so very sad. Let’s be honest here, it hurts us as fans to see the band splinter.
Tate: “Absolutely. It’s very sad. It’s humiliating. It’s disgusting and I personally have wired all my adult life at building this brand and protecting it. And trying to represent it in an elegant way. And to see it rubbed in the dirt like this is a real difficult thing to swallow.”
BraveWords.com: Some are saying nobody should use the name.
Tate: “I agree. And that’s what I tried to do but it got voted down.”
BraveWords.com: Have you heard the new singer?
Tate: “No I haven’t.”
BraveWords.com: Well you’re handling yourself very well. This resolution in November will probably be one that we all won’t be happy with.
Tate: “Yeah. I wish we could all sit in a room and discuss it as civilized people and come up with some kind of way to put it back together again, come to some sort of agreement or something like that. I would do that in a second. But it’s at a point now where it’s just gone past that, or at least their side refuses to do that. So I’ve got really no choice but to continue on and do the best I can with what I do. Write new music and keep going.”
BraveWords.com: Best I can … I think there’s a song there?
Tate: “I think so.”