Geoff Tate Interview- Queensryche
Written By Alison “MetalBabe” Cohen
Photos by Greg Watermann
Queensryche have been making a name for themselves since their debut EP was released in 1983. They have sold over 20 million albums worldwide and have recently put out their 12th studio release, “American Soldier.” During the writing process for this CD, front man and visionary, Geoff Tate interviewed dozens of enlistees and Veteran’s and interpreted their stories in lyric form, the most honest way that he could. Queensryche are currently on tour in support of “American Soldier.”
Metal Babe Mayhem (MBM) : Tell me about the Chickenfoot shows. It looks like you’re just meeting up with them for the last three dates. How did that happen?
Geoff Tate: They asked us. Simple. Not too much to report there. We didn’t ask why. We just said, yeah, sure, we’d like to do it. We had a festival about a month ago in Europe, I can’t remember exactly what country it was, but we were at the same festival and kinda hung out with the guys and it was cool.
MBM: Then from there, it looks like you are kind of going throughout the U.S. headlining again. Can you kind of tell us more about your plans for the tour?
GT: Yeah, well, we started the tour in April and have been going continuously since then. We’ve had a few breaks here and there, maybe a week or so, but it’s been a good tour so far. We’ve covered most of the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan. So we are looking forward to getting back on the road and finishing up the tour. It’s been a really good tour so far.
MBM: It has. I saw the tour in April and you had your daughter, Emily, join in and you also had A.J. Fratto (Navy rescue swimmer and Blue Angels crew chief) make a guest appearance. Are you doing anything like that on the rest of the tour?
GT: Yeah. Emily is joining us. But A.J., unfortunately, won’t be with us. Emily will be joining us.
MBM: It was amazing to see you and Emily perform “Home Again” live together. I’m glad you are able to do that again. Now, how will the three shows with Chickenfoot compare to the headlining dates?
GT: Well we have, of course, a limited set list, time wise, but we are gonna just pack it full of as much Queensryche as we possibly can. Probably pulling from most of the songs we have been performing on this tour. Just kind of shorten the set up, of course, but keep it bam, bam, bam, song after song.
MBM: So will you be still be focusing mainly on “American Soldier”?
GT: Yeah, a little bit of that, and a little bit of everything really.
AAM: I heard that the “Queen of Heavy Metal,” Lita Ford, will be meeting up with you on this tour. Do you have the details finalized yet?
GT: Yeah, she’s going to be joining us on our October leg. She has a new album out, and she’s going to be supporting us. We’re gonna be playing some of her songs and I’m going to be singing with her. It looks like it will be a pretty good time.
(Note: Lita Ford’s upcoming CD, titled “Wicked Wonderland,” will be released 10/6)
MBM: Let’s talk a little bit more about the writing process for “American Soldier.” What was it like to put yourself in the shoes of our soldiers?
GT: Well, it was a very long project. It was a couple years in the making… Quite a journey really. It wasn’t anything like I expected it to be, starting out, which always goes to show that you shouldn’t have expectations. You should just go with the flow and enjoy life as it comes. I met a lot of really interesting people and heard a lot of amazing, amazing stories. Very emotional stuff… You know, going into it, I had some preconceived ideas of what soldiers would be like. And I was really, really wrong about that. I found all of them to be… especially the ones that experienced war… to be, pretty darn thoughtful. Especially the ones that had been Veteran’s and been in wars that had taken place further back than like five years ago. They had really done a lot of work to kind of understand it all, put it into good perspective, and how it affected their life. I really applaud that kind of emotional work that people do to put themselves back on track. Anybody who has gone through dramatic or traumatic experiences, it requires them to really spend some time looking at themselves and putting things in order. Almost all the people I had talked to had done that.
MBM: How did this writing process differ from your previous CDs? Do you approach every CD differently or have a set plan? How does it typically work?
GT: Well there’s no typical way, really. Every project is pretty different with different parameters and different goals that you are trying to reach, artistically. For this one it was pretty easy because we had done all these interviews. For the first time, we were really writing from someone else’s perspective other than our own, and telling their story. That was quite different for us. Usually you write songs about your own experiences, your own perspectives, your own emotions. This was kind of a departure for us. We sat down in the studio with all these interviews. Some of them were on video tape, and others were audio tape and you listened to them and you watched them and you couldn’t help but be inspired by the stories. And the way musicians interpret their inspirations is musically. You would have all these musical themes that would just pop into your head, and it was fairly easy to write to that. It was kind of like composing to a film. You have a visual scene and you are interpreting that musically. This was really similar. We’d listen to the stories and interpret those musically.
AAM: Did you do these interviews in person?
GT: Oh yeah. That was something I had to really get used to…. the journalistic aspect of it. I’ve done 1000’s and 1000’s of interviews throughout my career and this was the first time I had ever been on the other end… actually asking the questions. And I’m sure you can relate to how difficult it is sometimes to get people to open up and talk about stuff. Most people are pretty comfortable talking with the technical side of things. You know… this is how we do this and this is how it’s done. When you start asking, well, how did you feel about that? You start getting yes/no answers. You had to find a way to start digging without being offensive.
MBM: Did you think it was easier doing the interviews in person, over the phone, or on the Internet. What was the easiest way to get the most honest answers?
GT: Well, definitely being in person. That creates a whole different dynamic than being on the phone. You can read body language and see when somebody is getting visibly uncomfortable, and you can back off, or push forward, depending on how you judge the situation. It was a matter of learning for me. The learning curve was to try to find a way of talking to these people and getting them to open up to me, someone who was a perfect stranger. Getting them to feel comfortable enough to have a conversation without putting their guard up…
MBM: Do you have plans to play any shows for the Troops, or have you already done that?
GT: Throughout Europe, yeah, we played quite a few of the U.S. Military Bases over there. We did a concert in Germany for NATO. That was pretty intense. And we played a number of different Bases around the United States as well. One of the most memorable ones was in Fort Benning, GA. Right before one of the Battalions deployed for Iraq. That was a very emotional show because we were pretty much performing all of the “American Soldier” album, and these were soldiers going into battle, and they had their families with them. It was a very intense experience. We recognized that they were feeling all sorts of emotions, getting ready to separate from their families, and go in to very difficult situations. They recognized that we recognized it. So it was kind of like a big therapy session (laughs) with music being sort of the communication tool.
MBM: That’s great that you’ve been able to do that. Definitely. Now I just want to talk a little bit about your early career. So when you were first starting out, opening for bands like Twisted Sister, Dio, AC/DC….What bands treated you the best and what kind of learning experiences did you get from your first tours?
GT: Well, a lot of different experiences and a lot of education, really. All of us in the band were very young when we started touring with Queensryche, just out of high school. This was sort of our continued education, in a sense, because we were touring with very seasoned bands who had been around a long time, been all over the word and really cemented an audience. We always looked at it like a privilege to be able to open for one of those kinds of bands, and always were very grateful for those types of experiences. If you think about it, here’s a band that’s worked a long time to get an audience, and here they are, asking you to entertain their audience for a short time, and you get to expose your music to their fans. It’s really a privilege to be able to do that. And we’ve learned a lot. We’ve watched how other bands conducted their business, how they handled things, and we learned from that.
MBM: Do you have a favorite tour, if you had to pick just one? Is that possible?
GT: No, not really, because they were all different, and unique. The bands themselves were very different and unique. The personalities, the make-up, the group…The dynamic there is always very interesting to observe. They were all really, really good.
MBM: I have to say, “Operation Mindcrime” is my favorite album ever to exist, and of course I saw the “Mindcrime” 1 and 2 tours. Do you see yourself doing anything like that again in the future?
GT: Oh yeah. Well, “Mindcrime” itself is kind of its own entity now, you know. We’ve been asked to do quite a few shows over in Europe next summer…to bring “Mindcrime” there. We’re looking at doing that now. I don’t know if we’re going to bring it to the States or not next year, but definitely, throughout Europe. We are gonna do that.
MBM: Any chance you would play Rocklahoma again?
GT: Oh, probably. I’m not sure if we’ll play it again next year, but we probably will at some point.
MBM: Now I’ve read that the first vintage of your wine, “Insania,” has already sold out, so it’s doing great. I was wondering if you are working on another batch and what you are planning next, as far as the wine making goes.
GT: Yes the 2nd batch of “Insania” should come out in February. It’s just about harvest time here, in Washington State. I was just down in Walla Walla last week, meeting with the vineyard managers, looking at the sugar content of all the grapes, and getting a rundown of when they expect the harvest. So we’ll be doing that in the next few weeks, beginning the bottling process and getting it ready to release in February.
MBM: Now what got you interested in making wine in the first place?
GT: Well, I’m a wine drinker. It’s my beverage of choice. And just through travelling, I get exposed to a lot of different wine regions, flavours, and different ways of doing things. And I’ve just always been interested in it. Ever since I had my first glass of Bordeaux back in the 80’s. It really got me, you know. And it kind of led me on a path in life… learning about it, training myself, my palate, to be able to differentiate between different tastes, different aromas. And then once you start doing that heavily, usually you start taking it to the next step, which is making your own and trying your hand at it.
And I find that it’s very similar to making music. An analogy could be that the grapes are kinda like notes and you blend these together to form a chord that resonates with you in some sense, makes you feel something. And then you work with the different chord arrangements to form a complex structure of wine that will work and will be pleasing. And then after you do it a few times, you learn, this works, and this doesn’t. Then you start trying to change it up, expand and try different types of wine.
“Insania” is a wine that really is designed to drink on its own. It’s really big and powerful. And it doesn’t really go well with most foods, unless you’re eating a really good steak, or lamb, or something like that. But I wanna try to make a wine at some point, maybe expand the brand name, that is more food friendly.
MBM: Now you are going to headline the Shipocked cruise in November, along with Tesla, Ratt, etc. Have you ever done anything like this before, and are you excited about the cruise idea?
GT: Yeah, really excited. It should be really interesting. We’re doing all kinds of activities, as well as playing a show. We are going to be stopping in all the Ports of Call, we are going to have an “Insania” wine tasting onboard, there’s some guitar clinics and drum clinics and things like that, that people can participate in as well.
MBM: Wow, I wish I was going! I did want to ask you how you got into playing the saxophone. That’s one of the things I always love when I see you live. How long have you been playing and how did you get interested in the first place?
GT: Well I started as a kid, in a school band. I started out on trumpet, then clarinet, saxophone… It’s kind of been my 2nd instrument over the years. I really enjoy the instrument, the sound of it… The expression of it. It’s very much like singing, the whole action of it. There’s a lot of breath control and mouth control and things like that, so it’s kind of similar in some ways. And it’s a melodic instrument. You can’t do chords on it, so it’s meant to be soloed. I have a wonderful time playing. And I’ve been collecting different horns over the years. And I’ve got some pretty interesting ones, like my latest one that I’ve been playing on this tour is a 100 year old horn, made in the early 1900’s. I got it from a guy that found it in his Grandfather’s attic, and I had it all rebuilt and customized out, so it plays really well now. So I’ve been really enjoying playing that one on the tour.
MBM: Now you mentioned that next summer you will be doing some festivals in Europe. What other future plans do you have? A DVD or new CD? What’s coming up next after you’re done touring?
GT: Well, we finish touring in December, and we are in the midst right now of working on a new Queensryche album, plus we have three different movie projects I’m involved in, doing soundtracks for two of them, and acting in one of them.
MBM: Have you done that before?
GT: No, I’ve never acted before.
MBM: Well that’s exciting!
GT: Yeah, very exciting. I did a screen test, and I guess I did ok…
MBM: Well, I mean, you’re an actor on stage though, with “Operation Mindcrime” and “The Promised Land.” It seems like another natural transition, too, just to do it on TV instead of on the stage.
GT: Yeah, it’s kind of similar in some ways, and very different in other ways. Like, when I did my screen test, I was used to being a stage actor, which is big movements, because you are playing to a big house. And the movie screen is very small, so you have to concentrate in a much smaller realm. All your actions have to be quite a bit more toned down, and more subtle. And you have to let your face do a lot of the acting, which takes some practice. (laughs)
MBM: Looking in front of the mirror…
GT: Yeah, kind of sitting in front of the mirror and going through different lines and giving it different expressions, just using your facial expressions. It’s kind of a different thing. And you know, since they asked me to do this, it’s been about a year now, I’ve been watching a lot of films and picking up things from actors’ performances that I never really noticed before, or consciously noticed. You know, like how they do things, how they look at certain points, mostly facial expressions… It’s just a huge part of it. So in a way, it’s kind of ruining movies for me because I don’t get caught up in the stories so much, I kind of get caught up in the techniques that they’re using. (laughs)
MBM: You definitely have a lot going on! Is there anything else that you would like to tell our readers?
GT: I think we covered pretty much everything.
MBM: Ok, well thank you Geoff. I definitely appreciate your time.
GT: Thank you so much Alison. I’m glad that we got to connect. Thank you very much.
MBM: Well you are welcome, and best of luck, with everything.
Make sure to check out Queensryche on their “American Soldier” tour! The tour picks back up in Berkeley, CA. on Friday September 25th. And if you are in the Los Angeles area, Queensryche will be opening for Chickenfoot at The Gibson Ampitheater on Sunday, September 27th. Please see their website below for tour dates and additional information.