It is easy to be judgemental and pejorative on the internet. Even easier when one considers that you can do so from behind a comforting wall of anonymity, pouring scorn upon anyone and everyone who has, for whatever reason, aggravated you. For those in the firing line it can be a disconcerting, disorientating experience, particularly given the deeply personal nature of some of the comments made. Such things can be exacerbated by a major events, positive or negative, such as the traumatic split that occurred between Geoff Tate and the members of Queensryche earlier this year. That such a long-running, well-respected outfit should dispense with their singer was upsetting enough, that it should happen in so public and undignified a fashion doubly so and, of course, the arm-chair pundits were out in force, eager to comment on a feud that is still showing no signs of being resolved.
I don’t profess to know the rights and wrongs of the situation. It would seem that Queensryche suffered from a catastrophic inability to communicate and whatever else took place it is highly unlikely we’ll ever know the exact objective truth of the matter. Equally, I don’t know Geoff Tate or the members of Queensryche – I don’t know their private personalities as opposed to those adopted on stage – and I wasn’t there to witness the alleged fights, spitting or private deals: I quite simply don’t know what happened and I don’t much care – the media can have its field day, the trolls can make their comments – I just view it as a tragic split of a good band. I have, however, spoken to Geoff Tate twice now – it’s relevant insofar as on both occasions Geoff was charming and courteous, going out of his way to answer questions put to him in a manner that was neither arrogant nor guarded and on both occasions he displayed none of the obviously megalomaniacal tendencies so often attributed to him by people whose only contact with the man is the purchase of a Queensryche album. What follows is the transcript of an interview in which Geoff candidly discussed his latest album, the quite excellent ‘Kings and Thieves’, his inspiration and some of the delicate issues surrounding living life in the public eye.
The first thing I’d like to ask is: ‘kings and thieves’, for me, is an album that is very varied and has a lot of depth to it. How long does the writing process for the record take from scratch to the finished piece?
It came together incredibly quickly; probably the quickest record I’ve ever made – which I was loving because I tend to work pretty steadily, once I get an idea going, and I didn’t have to wait around for people on this one, I just got to work at my own pace. So I began this record on January 2nd and finished it around July 15th and it just fell into place. I worked with my long-time friend Kelly Grey, Randy Gane and Jason Ames writing the record and we all sat in a room and knocked it out.
And one thing I think I really like about the record is that it’s a very raw kind of record, very immediate. It’s not like a super produced; and over-produced kind of record, it’s very… almost live feeling. I think it’s because we didn’t sit around and overthink everything , we just let it all flow out and what you hear on the record is a lot of first, second or third takes of performances, so it’s very raw and immediate and I really like that about the record – it’s the first time I’ve ever accomplished that.
It sounds like it embraces a wide range of sounds and genres as well – is that a fair assessment?
Yeah, yeah – Well I’m a music fan. I have a lot of records – I think I have close to ten thousand records in my collection of all different kinds of stuff and I grew up with music, I was in a band all through school and got exposed to a wide range of music growing up, and it sort of whetted my appetite as I grew up and became an adult to really search out all the different kinds of music that exist in the world. And then there’s the travelling to all these different places and you hear the traditional music of whatever region you’re in and that really sticks with you as well, so yeah I think all those musical influences raise their head when you’re creating your own.
There seems to be a strong rhythmic cadence to your vocal style, almost rap in places, is that an influence?
Oh yeah probably, one of my main influences in my life has always been R&B music and I’m part African, it’s my heritage, so it probably comes out – yeah. I think that the older I get, the more rhythmic a singer I become – the phrasing is sort of leaning to a more rhythmic delivery in what I do. I’m fascinated by creating holes in the music for the melody to work in a rhythmic fashion.
That sort of rhythm seemed to start back on the ‘tribe’ record – that had a similarly loose feel on some tracks…
Yeah yeah, think you could be right there.
Lyrically, you’ve never shied away from important themes, but on this record you’ve got songs such as ‘Dark Money’ dealing with the financial melt-down – is it difficult to develop those sort of themes?
Well no, not really, not an excess of time – I thkink I tend to write what I’m interested in… write about what I’m interested in… and if the subject matter moves me in that direction I just go with it. honestly, Phil, I don’t think too much about music – I use a lot of intuition and just go with what feels right and I don’t try to get too detailed about dotting the I’s or crossing the t’s so to speak.
You also seem to be very honest in your lyrics – everything from economics to sex it seems – is there anything that’s off limits to you lyrically?
I guess not really – I think if you look at my body of work I’ve talked about a lot of different things. Honestly I just find life to be very interesting. What’s happening around me is very interesting to me and the people I meet; have conversations with; have relationships with in my life – I never have a problem coming up with topics. There’s just so much to write about, so much to comment on. Probably the toughest thing is being able to pick what to write about because there are so many things that influence me and that I find interesting. It’s hard to narrow things down sometimes.
You and Kelly Grey seem to have a very strong musical relationship…
Yeah we do. Kelly and I – Kelly and Randy Gain and I we go back… nearly forty years with our musical relationship, and we’ve written a lot of songs together and played a lot of shows together over the years and had a lot of conversations about music. We have a way of communicating that some people find very frustrating because we kind of speak in shorthand to each other because we know each other so well, and we’ll complete each other’s sentences, and the people that are working with us find that somewhat frustrating at first because they don’t really quite know what’s happening, but the three of us do.
How do you choose a band for a solo record?
That’s always a bit of a interesting endeavour. I like to collaborate with people and I’ve found throughout my musical career that there are players and there are writers. And sometimes you can find both – people that are really good writers and players – but typically it’s the one or the other. And some people just can’t put together an interesting composition for some reason… I don’t know what it is, but they lack originality or they haven’t experienced enough excess in their life or something – they can’t pull from that artistic point that it takes to be a writer. And then some people just can – so it’s like a search I have all the time. I try to keep myself open to finding people that I have an artistic connection with, people that speak the same language musically – that kind of thing. So the core of the record, of ‘kings and thieves’, is Randy, Kelly and I and then Jason, whom I’ve worked with off and on for about eighteen years, came in with some really good song ideas that we took and developed. And then I met Greg Gilmour, the drummer, through Kelly and Greg used to be in Mother Love Bone and he has a really nice recording studio in Seattle and we set up in his place and tracked drums and everything there. We had a really good time with him, he’s a real solid, rock steady kind of drummer and he has a lot of feel which I wanted to focus on on this record, I wanted to have a strong rhythm section and a groove to the songs. Something that was more roll than rock I guess. You know that phrase ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ that was coined decades ago, the rock thing being that solid 4/4 beat and the roll being the off beat – I like that kind of groove orientated, heavy backbeat kind of music that has a lot of space for vocal phrasing and melody.
This is your second solo album and on both records you’ve experimented with form and genre – was that the appeal of working on a solo record for you – the possibility to do something very different to what you had down with Queensryche?
Yeah – you know when Chris and I started writing and recording Queensryche music years ago, our motto, our catchphrase that we always stuck to and lived by was ‘no limits’ and what we were trying to always achieve was to not impose any limitations on our ability to write and create music and to be able and open to creating anything that we could imagine. As time goes on- when you create a body of work – you have records that are a success for whatever reason, whether you have a solid record company behind you or whatever, or the timing’s just right. But the public tends to want to box you up with that success and have you remain the same. There’s constant pressure to recreate what you’ve done over and over again which is in direct opposition to what my philosophy is and what Chris’ philosophy was in Queensryche way back when we started. So a solo record really gives you the ability to stretch out because it’s not Queensryche, it doesn’t have any expectations by anybody else. It can be whatever you want it to be – so yeah there’s a great sense of freedom in the creativity that goes in to making a solo record that I love. I love that feeling of no boundaries, no boxes, no expectations.
Aside from your solo record you are putting together, or have put together a new version of Queensryche. Does not that problem of expectation come with reassembling a band under that name?
Yeah it does. Yeah – it’s definitely something we have to think about. It’s too bad really, but I guess it’s the nature of the beast.
It sounds as if that’s a very frustrating thing to deal with – and obviously you have all this solo material – is that going to cross over into the new version of Queensryche or are you keeping the two fairly separate?
Well I see them as separate projects really. Primarily the new Queensryche is getting together for touring purposes and we’re going to hit the road in April with our live presentation Now, whether our association together is a creative one, where we can actually make some music together, really remains to be seen. I hope it does. I hope we’ll all get in one room and all of a sudden everyone’s getting ideas and we’re all throwing them out and hitting the record button as fast as we possibly can – I hope that happens, that’s always something that I look forward to when collaborating with people. But I would hate to come to some sort of ‘jump the gun’ situation and say “oh yeah – we’re going to make a record” or whatever before the chemistry is really tested. I mean I know Rudy [Sarzo – Whitesnake / Quiet Riot) and Bobby [Blotzer – Ratt]; I’ve known those guys for thirty years and we’ve talked a lot about music over the years and actually made plans to make music together before, so I think there may be a possibility there to make something new. But I’m hesitant about jumping the gun and saying whether we’re going to make a record because I just don’t know, honestly.
On the other side – you seem to be forever creating new material – are you thinking that another solo album might be possible (I know it’s early to say)?
Oh yeah – I’d definitely like to do another record although when that is going to happen I couldn’t tell you at the moment!
One of the issues you dealt with on ‘dedicated to chaos’ was the proliferation of the internet and it seems that with the recent split you’ve been a victim of this 24 hour availability of artists to the public – it must be frustrating to deal with these issues in the public domain?
Well it’s definitely a different world these days isn’t it – with the internet being so dominant. It’s where everything is done now. It’s changed everything from retail to sales to how we buy what we eat and how we get our information. The internet has changed all that. But also it’s given rise to a lot of people making statements and having opinions about things and they comment without really being cognisant of the higher situation is. A lot of people jump the gun and comment on stuff they really don’t know anything about which is pretty frustrating because, of course, nowadays if you really exist a lot in the music world you exist upon people’s perception of you. You try to shape that perception and try to keep a handle on how you’re coming across and that kind of thing and, for me at least, I’ve always been pretty… It’s always been in the back of my mind to try to communicate my ideas well with the press and answering questions in a way that comes across in a way that I feel comfortable with. But the internet now – there’s so much that can be said and so much damage that can be done by a real small group of people who are out to shape public opinion in their way so yeah – it’s a slippery slope.
…and a difficult one because it seems to strip responsibility from opinion…
Well that’s another thing that’s so disheartening – when people just anonymously state opinion as fact and there’s nothing to back it up. They don’t even have a real name and they don’t have to stand by their opinion – they’re anonymous.
Are we likely to see you in the UK at any point?
Yeah – well I definitely want to do that because I haven’t been to Europe in about a year and a half, I guess, and I miss it – I really have a connection with Europe in general and the European audiences seem to be really open to my idea of what music is. They seem very open to music there, and creativity and they seem to honour musicians a lot more than, say, American audiences do. I guess it’s like back when the American jazz musicians couldn’t get work in the USA and they all went to Europe and Europe was really appreciative of their music and I think that metal and hard rock have come to that same point. There’s much more appreciation for this style of music in Europe than in the United States and I’d love to get over there and that is in the plan for this year – to book shows for Europe.
Any final words for your UK fans?
I’d like to say thanks for listening to the music all these years and thanks for the interest. As an artist you never know how people are going to take what you do – you just have to write from your heart and write about what’s interesting to you and then you share it with the world and what the world will do with it is what the world will do… and I think I’ve been very fortunate over the years to somehow carve out a little niche in the world and created a certain number of fans around the world who appreciate what I do and I’m very thankful for that. I feel very fortunate and humbled by people’s interest in what I do.