The Geoff Tate Interview
Geoff Tate has been and will always be THE voice of Queensrÿche, even though these days that’s becoming an issue of sorts. If you’ve been following the storry for the past couple years, you know there are two Queensrÿches — one with Geoff Tate and the other with three founding members. To make matters more confusing, both entities released albums in 2013. The album with Tate, Frequency Unknown, came out in April and is fairly straightforward with 14 songs, the last four being re-recordings of classic Queensrÿche songs.
Since parting with the original band, Tate has toured steadily, doing his best to keep the name “Queensrÿche” and his association with it alive and well for the fans. It hasn’t been easy, but the singer has surrounded himself with a great roster of musicians, played some key shows, including the Monsters of Rock in Brazil, collected a few accolades along the way, and continues to plan for future Queensrÿche projects. In the following interview, we get Tate’s insights on all of it — his band, his music, his wine and, whether or not, the name of Queensrÿche is in fact…his.
Hi Geoff. How are you doing?
Good. I’m up to my elbows in diesel mechanics today.
I’m working on my tour bus. Getting ready to roll down to California.
That’s right. You’ve been playing out a lot actually. Didn’t you just play the Monsters of Rock in Brazil?
Yeah, I guess about a week ago.
That’s a big gig.
Yeah, it’s a big gig. It’s a fun one. The Brazilian audiences, of course, are legendary in their enthusiasm. They really like rock music, you know, a lot. They’re all very familiar with your catalog. It’s always a good time to play there. The promoters are really like the old school promoters. They look at this as not just a business, but as a good time. Everybody goes out to dinner and you celebrate—you know, it’s like it used to be.
Wasn’t Aerosmith on that bill?
Yeah, Aerosmith was headlining and let’s see … Buckcherry, Ratt, Whitesnake and Don Dokken.
What did you get — two or 300,000 people out at this thing, right?
No, not that big of a thing. There was about, I think there was 80,000.
Well, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Oh no, it was a massively big show these days. The first time we played a show in Brazil we played the Rock in Rio and that was 250,000. That was the biggest show I’ve ever done.
Right, that’s what I was confusing it with. So this one was in Sao Paolo, right?
Right, Sao Paolo.
As you were saying, you’re getting your bus ready. You’re going to come down here to California. What can we here in California expect to see?
This is just some dates, you know, with us playing a set list of songs from all our different records.
I understand that at some of the venues, if not all of them, you’re going to be doing some acoustic stuff. Is that right?
Yeah, the first show, at a place on Hermosa Beach (Saint. Rocks), I think. We’re playing an acoustic show.
Are you just going to be covering the catalog, but acoustically? Is that pretty much how it’s going to work?
Yeah, that’s it. Yeah, just kind of a stripped down concert of songs done in an acoustic format. Intimate, and kind of brings you back to how the songs typically start out when you’re writing them. Typically you write on piano or acoustic guitar and you record your chord progression and play and work on your melody and get that in place and you’ve got kind of a song and you take it from there and expand on it and make it into something different. But most songs start out with acoustic guitar and piano.
Who’s currently with Queensrÿche right now? I know you’ve had some different players come in.
Ah, let’s see. We have Simon Wright on drums, John Moyer on bass guitar, Kelly Gray on guitar, Robert Sarzo on guitar, Randy Gane on keyboards and myself.
Earlier this year, you released an album, Frequency Unknown, which I believe was the first album of yours under the Queensrÿche name without the members of the other Queensrÿche. And I read that there were some issues early on with the mix, which were later resolved. But overall, were you pleased with that record? I’ve been listening to it and it sounds really good to me.
Yeah, yeah, very pleased with it. It was a really fun record to make. I had a lot of help making it, you know, a lot of different people coming in and contributing their performances for the record. That was really, really fun. I loved doing that. I’m a collaborator; I love collaborating with people. I had a lot of great players come in and do their spin to the song, which was really, really fun.
It seems heavier than some of the stuff you’ve done in more recent years. Was that kind of what you were going for?
Um, no, not really. I kind of give up on the whole heavy term because it’s so subjective. One person’s heavy is another person’s light. It’s like trying to chase the Holy Grail — you never get there, you know. I don’t really think those terms. I just kind of write the songs. You know, do what moves me, you know, what makes me feel something. That’s the way it is.
You also re-recorded four classic Queensrÿche songs. What was the motivation behind that?
Uh, well our record company, Cleopatra, really wanted those songs. And so, being a new relationship, I thought, “Well, OK. Let’s try that.” It actually was really difficult to do. Because they wanted them to be as close to the originals as possible, you know. So we had to go back and listen to those tracks and see how we recorded them. Because over time, you play these songs live and they change. You add different things to them, you change the melody up here and there, you change the words. So I had to actually go back and listen to the originals to see what it was we did.
Did you discover anything new about those songs when you did that?
Well, I discovered that I had changed them over the years. I changed the phrasing here and there. There’s a song, “Silent Lucidity,” that we recorded, and I changed that one quite a bit over the years performing it live. What did was I actually got the music kind of in place and I’d do a vocal track, you know a vocal take. And then I did a few tracks and got it to where I liked it. And then I went back and listened to the original one. “Oh wait a minute—this is really different.” You know, gosh I should listen to the original here and see what I did, because I really changed the phrasing up. Because, you know, when you write a song, typically you don’t perform that song very many times before you record it. So typically, you’re writing as you go and you go with what it is your melody idea is or your musical idea is at that time. And you don’t try it 18 different ways. And over the years performing it live, you end up changing things. You change the melody, you change the phrasing, you change the rhythm structure somewhat. And honestly, I hadn’t even realized that I had done that.
Yeah, they sort of evolve.
They do, they really do.
Are you preparing a follow-up to the album?
Yeah, we’re working on a new record now. I’m about … I don’t really know where I’m at with it. I’m in bulk writing mode where I write every day and put ideas down in a rough form and typically I’ll go back after a few months of doing that and see what I have and then piece together an album out of good ideas that I’ve got recorded.
As I’m sure you’re aware, the other Queensrÿche released a record this year. I don’t suppose you heard that or listened to it at all, did you?
No, but I heard they released one.
It gets a little confusing with there being two Queensrÿches and I did read in a recent interview with you where you discussed the issue of who gets to keep the name, and that whole issue will be resolved next year. Is that correct?
Yeah. We have a court date that was set for November that recently got pushed back to January. So that’s when our actual court date will happen, is at the end of January.
Why is it important to you to keep that name?
Well for me, it’s my life’s work. It’s…what you hear when you listen to a Queensrÿche record is my ideas. My hopes, my dreams, my fears, my fantasies — all the stuff that is me is in those records and those songs. I’ve worked tirelessly over the years to protect the name, to bring value to the name, and I just can’t give it up. It’s me. It’s who I am.
Do you have any sentiment for the other guys — do you miss playing with them at all? Or are you just kind of moving forward and you’re digging playing with new guys? What’s your feeling on that?
Oh, I’m really interested in playing with the guys I’m playing with now. They’re all really fantastic musicians and we have a generally good time when were on the road. It’s a bunch of personalities that really work well together. And I’m just digging it. It’s a happy scene.
That’s the important thing, right?
Yeah, it is. It’s no fun to go to work and not get along with the people that you’re working with. It’s much better if you’re hanging out with people for days on end and hours on end to be able to laugh and have a good time and enjoy life.
You said you’re working on this new record. Are these just individual songs or are you putting a conceptual piece together?
Yeah, it’s a conceptual piece. It’s pretty darned involved. It’s a story that I’d written a while back. What I’m doing is basically setting the story to music and trying to tell it in a musical fashion. So it’s long and involved and very in-depth. The beauty of it is that I’m not under any time constraints to finish it. So I can work on it when I feel moved to work on it, you know. And I can work at my own pace, which is a great feeling, and not have a deadline looming over my head. So oftentimes in my past, working with Queensrÿche, it’s always been a case of, “C’mon, gotta get this album out, gotta get the album out. Gotta get it done, gotta get it done.” You know, and you end up just stressing so hard about that — trying to be creative, trying to work with this looming deadline. So this is a great feeling to be able to not have that, not have that pressure.
When you say this is a conceptual piece, do you foresee this as something you’ll take out on the road and perform live and add theatrical elements to? Sort of like you did with Operation: Mindcrime? Or is this going to be something different or is it too early to tell at this time?
Well, it’s kind of too early to tell, but I would guess that it would evolve to a point where I’d want to take it on the road, yeah. Because I like to perform and I like playing live. I like creating shows that are theatrical in nature and have interesting things happening during the show. So yeah, I think it would probably evolve to that stage. But again, it’s like, every record you have to get to that point where it’s together enough to think in those terms.
In addition to your music career, you do have Insania, your wine. What’s going on with that these days?
The wine is flowing, yep. It’s called Insania and it’s like a red and a white. They’re both very French-inspired wines, Bordeaux-style in particular, which means they’re a blend of several different grape varieties. Yeah, doing really well with it. The red recently got 91 points in Wine Spectator and my white from last year got 92 points. So those are really great scores for wine. That’s like the equivalent of a musician winning the Grammy. If you’re in the 90s, that’s where you want to be. I feel good about that.
I interviewed you a couple years ago and I seem to recall you saying you have a couple of glasses of wines before you hit the stage. Is that a ritual that you have still?
Yes, uh huh.
Does that help your voice or help you prime for the show? What’s the reasoning behind that?
I think it’s more of a relaxing thing, you know, to sort of take the edge off the nerves before you walk out on stage, you know.
So it doesn’t dry your throat out? I would think that wine might dry your throat out a bit.
Nope, I don’t really have a problem with dry throat. I’m pretty lubricated. Being from the Northwest, you’re constantly in the wet weather, you know.
It seeps into your pores (laughs).