Interview by Adrian Hextall
Photo Credit : Adrian Hextall (Mindhex Media)
During the recent tour of the UK with his band, Operation Mindcrime, leader singer and former front man with progressive metal icons Queensrÿche took time out to speak to Myglobalmind in Southend upon Sea. Not your typical heavy metal resort location but look up Chinnerys, the venue where the band are performing and you discover a wonderful musical history and a look at the walls confirms that pretty much anyone who is anyone has at some point pushed a flight case through the doors on the road to success.
With this being the first full UK tour since the less than amicable split with his former colleagues, it must be a relief and quite refreshing to be back out on tour with a full band, doing what Tate does so well.
“Band’s tight and playing well, and everybody’s in good spirits.” Confirms Tate.
The venues on the tour are, like Chinnerys, capable of holding around the 500-600 mark. Having seen Queensrÿche in much bigger venues typically during their time with Tate, the venues themselves feel like a cautious dip of the toe in the water to see what the reaction is. I put it to Geoff as to whether it has been a challenge or interesting for him, to hit the club scene again. It must have felt a little bit like ‘I’ve done all this once’ and now by revisiting it are they back on the first rung of the ladder again?
“Well, actually, never did this. Never did this here,” says Tate with a smile. “Queensrÿche always toured mostly festivals when we played Europe, and we didn’t play Europe a lot. Maybe once every few years we’d come over, because we’d always lose money when we came here. We never sold big venues, well, especially in the UK, but all over Europe. We’ve never been a big band. Even in the US we weren’t a huge selling band. We played clubs and theaters on our own. We had a brief headlining tour of arenas which didn’t go really well back in the Empire days.”
As a fan of Queensrÿche, I’ve followed the band for many years and I remember seeing them at the 5,000 plus capacity Royal Albert Hall on March 10 1995. My memory of that show is of a packed venue, an argument with the staff due to the terrible viewing position affording to me from being perched in the gods and eventually managing to get inside a box (escorted by a charming gentleman in a red jacket who unlocked the door to let us in) opposite the stage for a perfect view of what I still see as their defining show in the UK. Given it felt ‘near capacity’, I assumed Geoff would have fond memories too.
“And there was no more than two thousand people there…..” he says with a rueful shake of his head. I’d love to prove him wrong on this as that’s not how I recall it at all. His view of touring Europe on the festival circuit is however a little more positive. The first time I got to see the band was in 1991 at Monsters of Rock, Donington (pre Download).
“You don’t have to sell all the tickets. It’s spread out over all the different bands, so it’s not as much of a financial hit. This is how I tour in the States, in Europe; every country really now. Clubs and small theatres, depending on the place, of course. It’s what it is. I like playing anywhere, whether it be a street corner, a club, an arena. I’ve kind of done them all, you know?”
Enthused to be touring, even with the smaller venues, Tate brings, of course, a new band and former bandmate from Queensrÿche Kelly Gray, along for the ride. Given his frustrations with his former team mates, I wondered what he was looking at the new team to bring to the mix to make life for him ‘fun’ again.
“Ideas, input, positive feedback; all the things you look for in a collaboration, really. With every collaboration, there’s somebody that starts the idea, and there’s people that get involved at various levels,” confirms Tate. “Some people just play the parts that you ask them to play, some people add to that; it just depends on the person. This group of people, everybody’s very creative and very vocal about their ideas, so that’s good. I like having more ideas to pick from than having very little.”
“Scott [Moughton – Guitars, Vocals] I think, has really been the biggest surprise for me, from the writing standpoint. I’ve worked with him before over the years on different projects, but this one, he really related a lot to this, and approached it in a real methodical way of trying to capture the emotion of the particular lyric within the music, which I really appreciated. He came to each writing session with a plethora of ideas on how we could approach it, which is so nice, to have somebody contributing so many positive idea, and that can actually perform it. It’s surprising; there’s lot of people that can play really well that, they’re not really writers. They couldn’t write a section or a part, or a song.”
As we explore the song writing process further, it’s clear that Tate is a man reborn. There’s an energy about him that was lacking in live shows during his latter years with Queensrÿche and seeing him lit up and engaged about the team he’s now working with is refreshing for a fan who’s followed the man and his voice for many years. The musicians he’s working with now have all added something to the mix as their experience allows them to embellish the sound and put their own stamp on the music.
“I can say ‘Play this, and at bar forty-seven. Give me a lift of something. Propel me into the next segment.’ That kind of direction, there’s a lot of people that can do that really well, but there’s not a lot of people that can come up with all the other stuff that goes in between.”
For the Operation Mindcrime album ‘The Key’ it feels much more of a collaborative effort that’s allowed Tate to bring out the best of everyone involved.
“Every album is (a collaboration) , unless it’s just your name on it and just songs that you wrote, which, I wrote several on this last record myself, but I had the other guys play the parts. But it’s always a collaboration, more or less, because you’re having somebody interpret your ideas. You’ll give them a rough draft of what you want them to play, and they might take that and play what you gave them, or they might say ‘Hey, I know you’re thinking this is a bridge, but I got this bridge idea. What if we did this?’ and all of a sudden you’re going ‘That’s great. I like that better.’ I’m always open for that kind of thing. Collaboration is what it’s about for me.”
That of course has turned into ‘The Key’, an album that has received mixed but for the most part very positive reviews from critics and is a definite step forward (and away) from the difficult ‘Frequency Unknown’ put out under the old band moniker whilst Tate was still embroiled in legal wrangling with his old band.
‘The Key’ is the first of three that Geoff is hoping to put together to tell a story. Like films, the trilogy needs to flow so there is an assumption that they will all be released in a short space of time to maintain the audience interest.
“Well I recorded these for Frontiers Records based out of Italy, and they are planning on releasing the second album in September 2016.” Says Tate. “Then the third one will come out a year later. The second album’s done,” he confirms, “and the third album’s I guess about ninety percent written.”
‘The Key’, will tell a lengthy story over the three year release cycle. The concept about changing the world and what we can do with it; we currently know little about the follow up to The Key but Geoff, without giving too many trade secrets away, was happy to elaborate.
“Well the first album introduces us to the four characters of the story, and introduces us to the concept of the technology that they develop, and mentions several times in various songs what the potential of this technology could do.
He continues.. “It also introduces us to the conflict that arises between the four characters. They’re kind of split; some want to develop this technology and sell it and become fabulously rich, and the others are more humanitarian. They sort of see it as a jumping-off point for mankind and they want to give it to the world because they think it’s going to make a significant impact on the way we interface life. That’s where the first album leaves us, with this conflict, and the second album picks up from there. I can’t really tell you….
“Too much?” I ask.
“Anything.” He replies with a laugh. When I ask about a resolution with Part III, again he responds cryptically; “We hope it resolves, yes.”
As we talk about releases and critical reactions, ‘The Key’ certainly seems to have him back on track with the media and fans alike. We look at the previous album, released as noted as Queensrÿche. ‘Frequency Unknown’ with its clear F.U. statement received an almost legendary backlash online and prompted Geoff to respond on YouTube with a glass of red wine in hand as he addressed some of the informed, ill informed, internet critics.
The responses for ‘Frequency Unknown’ have stopped in Geoff’s opinion because “Well, because the lawsuit’s over. When you have people with many domain names posting as other people and carrying on conversations with each other, and forming opinions, that’s pretty damn extreme. But that’s the kind of stuff that happens with lawsuits. People go to unbelievable ends to try to achieve what they’re trying to get.”
When bands fracture and split, everyone from fans to critics to the media suddenly have additional opinions and know someone in the legal sector who “knows what happens”. In reality it’s much different.
“Nobody knows anything about it. Unfortunately, or fortunately, ‘Frequency Unknown’ was kind of caught up in that whole thing, and combine that with a record company that just did very strange things like having the album remixed without talking to me, and then reissuing a remixed version of it; kind of strange thing. I’ve never had that ever happen to me before in all my years.”
For those of you who followed the saga around the album, you’ll be aware perhaps that a special edition exists, a fully remixed version and the original.
“The original was the one we did. They (the record label) never said ‘We think you should remix this’. If they would have said that we probably would have remixed it at the time, but there never was the invitation to remix it. There never was never a feeling that it needed to be remixed. It just was what it was. And still to this day they never have contacted me saying ‘Hey, we remixed your album. Would you like a copy?’”
Looking back at his career, it’s not the first time Tate has been frustrated or impacted by a particular mix on an album.
“You know, in the big picture of things,” he says with a sigh. “What is a mix? A mix is something that is so ambiguous. What is good? Who defines what good is? If you listen to albums throughout time- I can’t even imagine how many U2 albums there are- in my opinion, horrible mixes, but people love the albums. They love the songs. They bought them. So what does that mean? Five hundred thousand people bought ‘The Warning’ album by Queensrÿche which was a horrible mix. It wasn’t even a mix that the band did. The record company took it out of our hands because we were way over budget. The band hated the mix, but it was what it was.”
Even though that was, of course the album that put the band on the map at the time, the problems around control and ownership of the final product again reared their head when the band released their seminal concept album and the one Geoff’s current band is named after.
“Yeah. The ‘Operation Mindcrime I’ album, when that came out, the record company hated the mix on that. They hated the sound on it, because it was one of the first five digital albums ever made, and nobody was used to listening to digital records yet. They have a real harsh kind of sound to them compared to the analogue records. So that was a big problem at that time, and that album was remixed. Remixing and remastering albums is just part of the process that you do when you make albums. It’s no big deal, but typically, it’s not done in front of the public. What happened with ‘Frequency Unknown’ was that somebody in the anti-camp wanted to capitalize on this in some way, and so they started talking about it and posting under multiple websites and multiple names and creating a controversy that really wasn’t there.”
The relationship Tate has with Frontiers that will see him releasing all parts of the Key trilogy seems to be a good one. Frontiers know what they want and Geoff with a smile seems happy to deliver.
“You work together. You’re in communication. ‘Hey, the album’s running behind. We need another couple weeks’. ‘Okay, but hurry up. We’re trying to release this’. ‘You have everything else you need to release? You have all the artwork, you have all the lyrics, everything, it’s just the audio you’re waiting on?’ ‘Yeah. So as soon as you get the audio.’ ‘We’re trying really hard to get it together’. You work as a team. They get the audio and they say ‘Ah, well, we’d like a louder vocal version on song four’. ‘Okay, we did that. We got one for you. Let’s throw it over to you and see if you like that’. It’s a teamwork thing. You have to be flexible and work with people. I remember when EMI wanted to take the song ‘Sweet Sister Mary’ from the ‘Operation Mindcrime’ album, which is a ten minute song, and they wanted to make it into a single. Well, that means it had to be under three minutes long. They wanted to hack that much music out of it and make a single, and I said to them, why? Why do you want to do that much surgery one a song when there’s several songs on the album that you could make into singles very easily without cutting that much out?”
And the reason they wanted that one and the reason why ‘talking’ works…. “Well, we just really like this one.” Is what they said.
The live shows that Tate performed with OM before Christmas only debuted a handful of tracks from ‘The Key’. The focus, as the band name suggests, is on performing the original ‘Operation Mindcrime’ in its entirety. Something that has drawn the crowds and seen most of the venues at capacity during the tour.
“It’s kind of a ‘take small steps’ kind of approach. I haven’t performed ‘Operation Mindcrime’ in the UK or Europe since about 2006. I wanted to perform it again this time, because it’s probably the last time I do it. The new material often times takes a while for people to get used to it as well.
Fans certainly are a fickle bunch. “We want a new record” they constantly say, often followed by “Play the old stuff only” at gigs. “Yeah. They have to get used to it,” Says Geoff with a smile. “They have to hear it a bunch of times and live with for it for it to become important to them. It’s very important to the artist, of course. It’s frustrating when people don’t really listen to your new stuff, because that’s really what you’re into. But it is the nature of things. You have to take it slow. So we’re introducing the new album in short on this tour; giving people a taste of it. We’re really kind of surrounding it with familiar music that they’ve hear before.”
With an album due every year at the moment we may even see OM back in the UK very soon.
“Yeah. What I’m trying to do is, I’m trying to come to Europe regularly, and I think I found a way to do it now. I’m going to try to come at least once a year, although this year, I’m going to be here again in June doing some festival dates.”
British summer festivals is a tick a tick in the box then. We just have to wait and see. I for one will be looking forward to the next chapter from this excellent vocalist. In the meantime, a North American tour commences in February this with the band taking in Canada as well.