WHEN YOU'VE BEEN IN A BAND FOR 22 YEARS AND STILL GOING STRONG, YOU KNOW YOU'RE DOING SOMETHING RIGHT. GEOFF TATE HAS BEEN THE VOICE BEHIND QUEENSRYCHE SINCE THE BEGINNING. WITH THE RECENT DIGITALLY REMASTERED RE-RELEASE OF THEIR ENTIRE CATALOGUE, AND A BRAND NEW ALBUM, TRIBE, GEOFF AND THE GANG ARE OUT ON THE ROAD ONCE AGAIN. THE NIGHT WATCHMAN CAUGHT UP WITH GEOFF TO DISCUSS THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF A BAND THAT DEFIES CATEGORIZATION.
Night Watchman: Uh, hello,.. Geoff?
NW: Hi. This is Night Watchman calling from tastes like chicken.
G: Oh, hey. How you doing?
NW: Pretty good. How are you?
G: Oh, I've had a couple cups of coffee in me. I feel pretty good.
NW: Good. That's a great way to start off the day. So, where are you guys playing tonight?
G: We're in Detroit at Pine Knob.
NW: Ah, I've seen quite a few shows there.
G: Yeah. It's a good venue.
NW: Definitely. Just to let you know, we let our interviews run as they are, and the paper is geared toward adults, so you don't have to worry about anything you say or censoring yourself.
G: (laughs) Do you leave all the "uhs" in there?
[HE'S REFERRING TO ME SAYING "UH" A LOT IN THE LAST SENTENCE. BUT YOU'D NEVER KNOW IT, BECAUSE I TOOK THEM ALL OUT.]
NW: We clean it up a little so it reads well. Usually editing out the "uhs" is on my part, not the interviewee's.
NW: To start off, I just wanted to say thanks for all the great music. I grew up on Queensryche, starting with Rage For Order, and its been great to watch you guys evolve from album to album. How do you think Queensryche has changed over the years?
G: Well, we kind of look at each of our records as a photographic snapshot of where the band is at: what we're interested in, what's important to us, what sort of musical challenges are important to us. So, I think we've really been on a path of experimentation since Rage, that was sort of our first step to really "find" ourselves and our voice, so to speak. And we've just gone into it with that mindset; that we're all about experimenting and seeing how far we can push our chemistry together. We seem to work really well with themes and concept presentations. Therefore, we spend a lot of time talking and communicating about an idea; how to best express it musically. That seems to work real well with us. We enjoy that.
G: I guess how we've changed is that we really just try to keep an open mind when it comes to our music and what we can do with it, and we really kept an eye on expansion.
NW: With so much experimentation, the band has notoriously been hard to fit into a category.
NW: Do you think that has helped or hindered you?
G: Well, I guess from a longevity standpoint it's probably helped us quite a bit, because we're still playing as a band. We haven't all succumb to drug overdoses or broken up over creative differences. We've managed to keep it together, and we still enjoy what we do. And I think that's due to the experimentation and being able to know that you can try a lot of different kinds of things. We don't just have to keep making the same product time after time after time.
NW: As far as what you write about it, seems like the earlier albums were very political, while the last few seem to focus more on self discovery. With Tribe, it seems to be an even mix; a combination of politics as well as trying find where you want to be as a person.
G: Nice observation.
NW: Do you think, as far as the writing process goes, that is because of where you are in life? By having a family and maturing, or is it more about the world climate?
G: I think it's a little of both. I think what you see in our records is really just life; our life, my life. You're correct in that it's things I think about, things I experience. Where I'm at in my life as a 44-year-old man with a family and living in America in this millennium, it's a weird place to be. I think when you start out as a young man or a young person, you sort of have an outlook on life where you think in terms of black and white. Rules are rules; this is the way it is, and this is the way it should be. And the older you get, you sort of see that it's really just our design. Life is what you make it. Rules, regulations, all that kind of stuff is really subject to history. Who has the power? We used to not allow women to vote, which, to us, now seems completely asinine. Marijuana was illegal for years and years and years, and they're talking about making it legal now. What's changed? The thing that's changed is our way of looking at things. They used to say it was illegal and wrong and bad to drive over 55 miles an hour. Well, they changed that. How can you really ever say something is right or wrong? Because the way we look at things changes. I don't know if those are good examples, but I think what we're seeing is just people maturing and looking at life in different ways, and we're writing about it. That's kind of interesting to me. I hadn't really thought about it until this moment-- but that's what people read about.
G: I guess I feel very lucky that people care about my lyrical perspective enough to buy records.
NW: You're definitely one of the few lyricists that has something to say, and it works on a lot of different levels.
G: Thank you.
NW: For the show here in Columbus, you played "NM156" and "Screaming in Digital", some great older songs that haven't aged. They are still very relevant. How does it feel to know that the thoughts or perspectives you had then still make sense now?
G: (laughs) Yes. It is strange, isn't it?
G: I think about people like Isaac Asimov, futurists thinking of things before they happen. At the time they wrote it, people didn't get it. But then, years later, the things that they were talking about came true. We've actually modeled a lot of the technologies off of what science fiction writers and futurists have dreamed up, you know? It's kind of an interesting place to be.
NW: It always seemed to me that Queensryche was always a few years ahead of what everyone else was doing, and that it sometimes took others a while to catch up.
G: Yeah. We've always been a little ahead of what public opinions and tastes have been.
NW: I thought it was interesting at the show that you would see the regular crowd of 30 and 40-year-old ex-metal guys playing air guitar, and then there were several groups of 14-year-old punk and goth kids there, too. It was a strange mix of audience members.
G: We do have a very wide mixture of people; different classes of people, different types of people. I'm always amazed when I meet people backstage. The after-show parties run the gamut, from technology professionals to guys that work at 7-Eleven to housewives to supermodels, you know? Strange. (laughs)
NW: That has to make it more interesting.
G: I think it is also interesting for the people that show up, because they're all looking at each other. (laughs)
NW: (laughs) Who's playing guitar on this tour?
G: A guy by the name of Mike Stone.
G: Mike Stone. Not scone, but Stone. (laughs)
NW: (laughs) Stone. Okay.
G: It showed up in the paper that way, and we've been kidding about it.
NW: He's the new guy, so he's the brunt of most of the jokes, eh?
G: Yes. He's actually a really funny gentleman. He's got a great sense of humor.
NW: I thought he brought a real good energy to the band. You guys are a really tight band. Do you go through a lot of rehearsal before you go out on tour?
G: Well, yeah. I guess we did. We had about two-and-a-half weeks of rehearsals. Not that we actually made it to rehearsal everyday in those two-and-a-half weeks, but we had quite a few days of running through the stuff. Michael (Wilton, guitar) and Stone got together quite a bit on their own. I guess I never really thought about it this way, but from a guitar player's standpoint, the Queensryche stuff is pretty intricate.
NW: It really is.
G: It requires hands-on demonstration to get all the intricacies and finesse. So Michael spent quite a few hours with Stone showing him the details, and it really made a big difference. I was really surprised after the sectionals how much better everything sounded. He's been really working overtime, having rehearsal time with us. We have been playing together so long, it's really like breathing.
NW: I'm sure. On this tour, you've really stripped down the live show, as opposed to the tour for Operation: Mindcrime, where you had multiple screens and all these different effects going on. Is doing a show on that scale a pain in the ass?
G: (laughs) Well, I really enjoyed that. I like theatrical presentations and planning them. We've got a rather huge one coming up; the Dream Theater/Queensryche tour this summer is kind of a one-off. In September, we go out onto our own tour. We're planning something a little bigger for that. But I like the big stuff. You have to work a little longer hours to get the idea together; to practice it. And it's expensive to have that kind of technology. We've seen some interesting technology breakthroughs. When we first started doing our own theatrical presentations for our shows we were using these giant 35mm movie projectors; the kind you use in a movie house. They came in six-foot tall by eight-foot long cases, and we had to have these special platforms built. They could only be used in certain circumstances, in certain kinds of buildings, and a union projectionist had to travel with you-- it was a huge cost! Now everything's on DVD, which is so much better. We actually have a computer system-- just push a button. Everything is so much more compact; it fits into one small case about the size of a 30-inch television.
NW: You were kind of the guinea pigs when it came to doing those types of shows.
G: Yeah! We developed a lot of the technology for using audio syncing. Scott (Rockenfield, drums) was at the forefront of that whole thing. He had people like Pink Floyd's production people calling him, asking him how he did it.
G: Yeah. He'd go fly out and test drive a new system.
NW: Wow. That's really cool. As far as the direction of the new album, I noticed more of a world sound coming into the music. Do you think that is a direct result of some of the things you were doing on your solo project?
G: Perhaps a bit of me making suggestions. But, really, I think Scott had a lot to do with that. He brought in a lot of albums himself, and he took a little encouragement from me saying, "Yeah. That works well." It just took off from there.
NW: How was it working with Chris DeGarmo (ex-guitarist) again during the writing process?
G: It was interesting. It was kind of a surprise, because we weren't expecting him to work with us. Suddenly, he was there.
NW: It just happened out of the blue?
G: Yeah. It came out of the blue. The first day we got together I was sort of nervous about it, wondering if we could make something happen. He pulled out an acoustic guitar and was showing me this musical idea he had. And within 30 minutes, we had a song.
G: It was like riding a bicycle. It all came back.
NW: Was there ever a thought that he would be re-joining the band at that point, or was it just writing the album?
G: Well, we really kind of left it open. When he first came in he expressed that he wanted to work on the record. We left it open to see if he wanted to take it any further; he was just concerned about the tour and all that. Touring takes on a whole different thing. You have to be really committed to it. I mean, we're booked up through Thanksgiving. So it's quite a bit of time to take out of your life and devote to something. He has an outside job; he's a jet pilot for corporate clients, and he seems to like that. I don't know why. It's like being a limo driver.
NW: It's probably very relaxing.
G: Hey, it's what he likes to do.
NW: When you look back over the span of Queensryche's career, what would you say is the highest point?
G: There have been lots of moments like that. I think, in the beginning, when we first got our record contract, that was definitely a high point. It was a high point when we did our first national tour; when we did Europe the first time; South America; Japan; when we put out our first full-length record,.. there have just been so many high points. It's a really interesting lifestyle. It's something that is completely your design, however you want to do it. It takes you a little while to understand that. I was always working for a boss, and now I'm one of the bosses. (laughs) I get to make all those decisions, like what we're going to do for the next six months. Or if we're gonna take some time off and stay home. Like, last year, we all opted to take a break from Queensryche and do outside projects. Michael did one, Scott did one, I did one, and Eddie decided he needed time, too. He and his wife were having a baby, so he spent a whole year devoted to that experience, which is really wonderful. It's his first child.
NW: That's a great side project.
G: Yeah. He got to throw himself into it, and that was really special. It's a different way of thinking, besides always thinking about yourself. The downside, of course, is that you are responsible now. It's not like you just go home at the end of the day and not think about work; it follows you no matter where you go.
NW: When you were all doing the side projects, was there ever a point when you thought maybe Queensryche wouldn't get back together?
G: Oh, no. This is what we do. One of the things we do.
NW: What about low points? Were there times when it seemed things were headed in the wrong direction, or like it was time to quit?
G: Well, we've gone through a few management scenarios with different companies that were difficult to deal with. Relationships developed, and then people decided to go their separate ways, and that's kind of difficult to deal with. It was definitely a challenge when Chris left the band. And then, when EMI went down, we were forced for the first time in our recent memories to go out and find a different record company. That was also a challenge. I would definitely say that was a low point. The way the whole record company thing went down was really despicable. We'd been with them for 14 years, and they didn't even give us a phone call. No "Sorry this is all happening. Heads up-- in six months the company is shutting down. You should probably make some arrangements." You know? Nothing. Out of the blue one day we're out on tour with our new record and, boom, they pull the plug.
G: Yeah. Definitely no respect.
NW: Just a couple quick questions here for the end. One thing I've always been curious about is when a band has a hit song, and then they have to play it every night for years and years-- do you hate playing Silent Lucidity now?
G: (laughs) No. I actually really like the song. I like singing the song, and I really like watching people's faces when we play the song. How they react to it. It's one of those songs that really touched somebody at one point, and maybe that's what brought them in to being a fan of the band. Or maybe it was something that coincided with a certain event in their life and affected them. Every night, without a doubt or question, there are people from the front row to as far back as I can see with tears rolling down their cheeks, or they're holding on to each other; their arms around each other, singing the song. Maybe their relationship was christened with that song. I'm very proud to be a part of that. It makes me feel very emotional, I've got to admit, when they're singing that song.
NW: What CDs do you have in your collection that would most surprise fans of the band?
G: Oh, I have a lot of CDs. I have an interest in all music, so I have CDs from just about every genre you can think of. I have the new Massive Attack record. I just got that. I just got a whole bunch of new stuff; the new Lisa Marie Presley, which I really like a lot of the songs on that. Let's see,.. what else do we have? I have Crystal Method. I have Opeth. Have you heard of them?
NW: Yeah. I have heard of them.
G: Yeah. That's about all I can think of right now. Any of those surprising?
NW: Lisa Marie was a little surprising.
G: Which one?
NW: Lisa Marie Presley. I remember reading at one time that you were into Portishead, so Massive Attack doesn't surprise me too much.
G: Uh huh.
NW: Finally, a question we always ask: do you think dogs have lips?
G: Yeah. I think they do. I've seen them get stuck on their teeth and roll under.
NW: Yeah. That's a good point.
G: I've got three dogs.
NW: What kinds?
G: I've have a brown-spotted dalmatian, which is kind of strange. I have a Boston terrier and a wiener dog; a miniature dachshund.
NW: So you are the expert to ask.
G: Well, I'm definitely a dog aficionado. (laughs)
NW: I really want to thank you for your time, Geoff.
G: It was a pleasure talking to you.
NW: Pleasure talking to you. Good luck on the tour, and keep making great music for us.
G: So, you won't have to edit too much out of this?
NW: I don't think so. There weren't very many "uhs"-- not on your part, at least.
G: I just have to say one more thing: have a fuckin' great day!
NW: Hey, thanks. Same to you!
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