Wearing tights doesn't seem like such a good idea to Queensryche's Geoff Tate in his fifties
Jim Corso Geoff Tate of Queensryche
Queensryche was formed in 1982 in Bellevue, Washington, by friends who played in various metal bands from the region. Since the band's debut EP in 1983, Queensryche has consistently set itself apart by incorporating progressive elements into its music with a vivid, almost dystopian, reflection of society in a way that was thought-provoking and poetic.
The first classic record of Queensryche's career was its third album, 1988's Operation: Mindcrime. A dark love story involving two people swept up by events in a society governed by an oppressive government and those that are working for its overthrow, Mindcrime was a sharp commentary on the Rea
gan era, a time that is now too commonly being characterized as a golden age but which was rocked by scandals and political and financial malfeasance as devastating as any we have seen since.
The band's 1990 album, Empire, proved to be its commercial breakthrough, marking the outfit's first hits. While the band did not quite reach the same level of success with subsequent records, it did continue to release albums when many of its hard rock contemporaries split up. Last year, there was a major schism in the ranks, and now there are two editions of the band, one fronted by Todd La Torre and the other fronted by original singer Geoff Tate. We recently had a candid chat with Tate about Mindcrime, David Sylvian and what it means to be in your fifties.
Westword: You did an interview you did for Sleaze Roxx a few years back you mentioned how you like to tell stories in your songs. What were some of your early inspirations for that style of songwriting?
Geoff Tate: At some point, someone talked about how songs tell stories, and I thought, yeah, they are stories. Just watching audiences throughout the years, when you're performing they tend to understand what you're doing with a song better if you set it up and give a back story to what the song is about, or if it has a funny anecdote attached to it or a tragedy. Some songs tell stories; some ask questions. I find the music really dictates the direction of the lyrics for a song.
When people mention Seattle and connect it to music, it's not often mentioned that Jimi Hendrix, Heart and your band came from that city, as well, because you, Heart and Hendrix probably aren't seen as "local bands." What do you remember about playing in the area before Queensryche became known nationally and internationally?
Oh, we never did. We cut a different route. Seattle, at the time we were coming up, had a club scene, but they wouldn't let you play if you were going to play original music. They just wanted to hire you to play cover songs. We didn't really want to do that. We wanted to focus on our own music, so we took a different route and went into a studio, and cut a record, and created our own record company, 206 Records, and signed some distribution deals with a couple of different companies that handled the world, and we sold our record on our own. It sold so well that major labels were very interested in us at the time.
Years later, I'd say, probably by '89, '90, the club scene had started to really gather some steam. But we had already been established and been out and touring around the world at that time. A lot of the bands that came out of Seattle at that time, in the early '90s, ended up going on the road with us, and opening for us, and we did festivals together. Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, specifically. They toured with us a lot.
Were the political aspect of the band's lyrics part of the music early on, or is that something that developed along the way?
That was definitely influenced by the Reagan administration. People forget how it was then. It was pretty oppressive, you know? Lots and lots of rules, and that was sort of the beginnings of the Christian Right wing getting into power, and a political party was dictating your interpretation of god and what that means.
I just found the whole thing to be completely distasteful. I found it to be inspiring as well -- to write about that and point out the hypocrisy of it all. And who are they to tell me what to believe and those kinds of things? I think that's the major inspiration for that leaning in that direction.
Some of us got to hear Operation: Mindcrime in its entirety on the radio at the time it came out. It seemed very dark, eloquent, on point and poetically sharp in its critique. Did you receive any backlash about the album then?
Oh, there was definitely a backlash. I didn't really worry about a backlash. In the entertainment business, a backlash is a good thing. You want as much press and controversy as you can. So no worries. I was glad the album pushed people's buttons and made them talk at least.
Did you get any interesting mail out of that?
Oh, yeah, yeah, of course. Still do. There's a lot of kooks in the world and in our country, as well. I mean people that are just messed up. In our country, they've got guns, and they know how to make bombs. You keep your eye out for them and report them to the local authorities when you have to, especially today with the Internet. You don't have to be accountable for your opinion. That changes all the rules and changes the whole game. If you're not accountable for who you are, then you can say anything you want, no matter how ridiculous or off-the-wall.
The problem is that I think other people take people seriously. If someone's signing their name to something, they become accountable. If they sign their real name, they're inviting debate. That's a person I can have respect for. They have an opinion, and they want to talk about it and express it and invite dialog.
It's the people hiding behind a fake name and no contact information that spew some incredulous idea or opinion that I have no respect for at all. A lot of times people lose track of that, and they start worrying about, "Is this a popular opinion that this person has?" No, it's not. It's a crackpot. A crackpot and a coward.
Did you feel the times you were commenting on in 1988 were pretty similar to the times you commented on in 2006 with Mindcrime II?
It was pretty similar. The thing about Mindcrime that, I guess, some people don't see -- which I understand because people interpret music in their own way based on their life experiences -- is that Mindcrime is a love story. A relationship story between two people. They're just trying to survive in this world they're living in -- which is in upheaval. It's a very scary place.
The way things are is being challenged and the people in power are trying to keep their power. It's a time of upheaval and revolution, and these two people are trying to live their lives and be happy with each, and they're stuck in this environment. I think people lose track of that with this story and start weaving ideas that it's this political manifesto or something.
Both albums end on a note that could be said to be melancholy, or like a Dickens novel, without any kind of pat resolution. Why did that sort of ending appeal to you?
It was always written, in our minds, to make a double album out of the story. So the first album ended with Nikki being put in the institution, and that's where it left off. So eighteen years later in Mindcrime II, he's on a quest of revenge. It has its end that I think illustrates what happens when you live a life based around revenge. There is nothing that can make you happy.
You accomplish your task, and when you do, I think most often times, what people find is that's not what makes them happy. They should have perhaps done something different or found a different way to deal with their frustration. What I chose was what I felt was a typically human ending. Not necessarily what we've come to know as the Hollywood ending, where everything wraps up in a neat little package. That's not often the way life is.