You can take the name away from the man but you can’t take the music out of the man. Out of the ashes of a court battle over who IS Queensryche, Geoff Tate is now Operation: Mindcrime, a band that continues his tradition of metal music with fiery textures, featuring protagonists who grapple with soul-wrenching decisions and the repercussions that unfold like a Shakespearean tragedy. Hence Resurrection, volume two in a trilogy that began last September with the release of The Key. Again featuring longtime guitar player Kelly Gray, who also co-produced with Tate, it features turmoil, chaos and singed human emotions that come through such songs as “The Fight,” “Invincible” and “Taking On The World;” altogether fourteen pieces to an elaborate puzzle.
But this is not Tate’s first time into the world of a concept album. With Queensryche, 1988’s Operation: Mindcrime exploded into the consciousness of listeners – but not at first. “When that album came out, it was universally criticized. People didn’t get it and it didn’t sell any records,” Tate told me in a 2012 interview for Glide. The record company lost faith and were ready to move on. But a funny thing happened on the way to the bargain bin: it caught fire. “It didn’t really take off, so to speak, until MTV did the video for it and then all of a sudden it went gold within a week.” The follow-up, Empire, released in the summer of 1990, spawned the hits “Jet City Woman” and the power ballad “Silent Lucidity.” And Tate’s reputation as a songwriter was sealed. “You relate to a song because the song is talking about something you’ve been through or you’ve experienced or you’ve thought about so therefore you experience that song,” said Tate. “I try to write what I know. I come from that kind of attitude and so songs are typically written about what I live through, the experience that I have, my general outlook on things, that kind of thing.”
By 2012 though, the band’s seams were splitting open. Tate was out of the band, the brand name lawsuit was fodder for the music press, Tate got vilified and then everything just stopped … and restarted in new directions. Tate made a solo record in 2012 and in 2013 he toured with Gray, Rudy and Robert Sarzo, Brian Tichy and Sass Jordan, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Queensryche’s breakthrough opus. Tate was a commanding presence during the shows, vile and evil as the menace eats his soul, bringing his character to hissing life.
But for all the dead-on coldness of his stares, sweat dripping from the adrenaline, when you talk with the man whose voice gave you “Eyes Of A Stranger,” “I Don’t Believe In Love” and “The Needle Lies,” he is quite composed, well-spoken, mannerly and seemingly very happy. “I am Wonderful, can’t complain,” Tate says with a tone that gives you the impression he is smiling on the other end of the line. And that is indeed good news as he is about to give fans another big dose of Tate vocals on the fourteen song Resurrection, due out on September 23rd.
Resurrection is the next chapter in the trilogy you started last year. Did you already have these songs worked up when you did The Key or did they come to life afterwards?
Yeah, pretty much. We wrote the whole thing all at once and then each record will be released a year apart. That was the plan. I think the third one is just about done. We’ve got some finishing touches to put on it, like mixing and mastering and that kind of thing, and the third one will be out next September.
So who is we? Who was working with you on this?
My longtime production partner Kelly Gray co-produced it with me. He also played guitar and bass on some of the tracks and co-wrote some of the tracks. Scott Moughton has been playing guitar with me over the last several years and co-wrote some tracks on the album with me as well.
How does it feel talking about this record since you’ve had it done for a couple of years now?
I had to actually kind of go back and listen to it again (laughs) and familiarize myself with it again. But I’m up to speed on it now. We have a month before it comes out and probably another couple of months till I actually play it live.
You’ve been down this road before with these very intricate pieces full of anguish and torment and the eating up of someone’s soul. How close do you have to get to these characters to create such intense stories?
Well, I have a pretty vivid imagination which helps (laughs). But I guess a lot of it is, well, not a lot of it, some of it definitely comes from personal experience. And I’m kind of fascinated with human nature – why people do the things they do, how they do them, what drives people to do the things they do. It’s always been kind of one of my fascinations, you know.
Did you always dream about using all these different textures to form one musical piece? Was this something you thought about when you were a young songwriter?
Yeah, I grew up in a time, the sixties and the seventies, where a concept record was more prevalent than they are today. I was very influenced by the Progressive Rock and metal bands from those times. And I have been thinking about doing a large scale piece for quite a few years and I always thought the trilogy was a good amount; three records that told a story would be kind of an interesting thing to do. I had been kind of wanting to find a subject to really write about and a few years back my wife and I took a holiday to Spain and we hiked the Camino de Santiago, which is a five hundred mile trail through northern Spain. It took us about a month to hike it and while I was on the hike I wrote the story. I felt very excited about it and when I got back to Seattle I started writing music to tell the story with and was kind of just on a roll for quite a while, writing the three records. So yeah, it’s definitely been a dream of mine to create a trilogy.
Is that how you write, all in one burst? Is that normal for you?
I wish I had a normal but I don’t (laughs). I kind of go with whatever is going on. I tend to work every day in some form of creative work so that kind of keeps me in the practice of it. But I’ve learned that when you have an idea you’ve got to kind of put everything else aside and flush out the idea before it evaporates. A good idea will come and then it’ll be gone before you can get it down, you know. So while I had this idea I wanted to get as much done on it as I could. And I was lucky that I was in a position at the time to spend quite a few months writing and getting it in order.
When you were creating Resurrection, were the instrumentals originally intended to be without words or were they fragments of other songs?
They kind of start out for me as a story. I have a story outline in mind, like I know I want to write about this particular instance or this situation or this scenario. Then I start jotting down lyrical ideas, words that are associated with that particular scenario, and typically out of those words comes a little bit of a musical inspiration – a melody line or a sound effect or something like that that will trigger the song. That’s what I think takes the longest to work on is the musical entity itself, creating all the parts and pieces. And typically I’ll write out the guitar lines and the keyboard line and the bass line. I’ll create those first and then get them to a point where I bring my collaborators in, like Kelly or Scott, and say, “Okay, here’s my idea that’s sketched out. How can we make this more interesting?” And hopefully at that point I’ll be able to add something to that, like, “Oh, I think the guitar part should be different here” or “I like what you did here. Let’s beef it up here;” that kind of thing, you know. So we start building the track out in that respect.
I was going to ask you if somebody brings in a riff or something if that can change the flow of the storyline?
I think it can, yeah. If somebody has an idea like, “Man, what about this?” I’m very open to good ideas, very open to that.
Is it like writing a symphony doing something of this scale?
Yeah, quite like that. An album like Resurrection, for example, has a lot of different movements to it, a lot of different parts, different moods that you’re trying to explore. Even within one song, for example like “A Smear Campaign” or something like that, it has several different movements to it and that takes a bit of thinking of how you’re going to get from one part to the next, how you’re going to bridge those parts together. It’s kind of like a crossword puzzle. You have one part that leads you to another which leads you to another part so pretty soon you fill in all the blanks.
And hopefully not get confused
Yeah (laughs), you don’t want to lose your way
Which song on Resurrection changed the most from it’s original conception to it’s final recorded version?
Let’s see, probably “Into The Hands Of The World.” That changed quite a bit from where it began. It actually began with the middle section as the first part written for it and then was added to and then rearranged to a little something different than what you hear now. And then the last kind of evolution of it is what ended up on the record.
When you’re doing something like this, do you see it visually or only musically?
If I close my eyes, yeah, I see it visually.
Like a movie director?
Yeah, kind of like that. You sort of see movement, you see activity, that kind of thing; at least I do. But mostly I feel it. It becomes a thing that I want to feel that emotion that is going on within the songs. That’s what I really want to experience and some parts of songs, some entire songs, really affect me dramatically and that’s the real challenge I think as a writer is you’re trying to create this mood and this feeling that is going on within a song. That’s really what you’re all about, so it’s challenging but I enjoy the challenge.
How do you not get engulfed in it, almost to the point of becoming the characters?
I don’t know how to do that (laughs). I guess you just get it to where you like it and at the end of the day it all comes down to, well, do I like this, does it move me, am I happy with it. That’s where you draw your line.
What about bringing this record to the live stage – what is conceivable?
You can do anything you set your mind to, really. For me, the challenge is working new material into a set. I have a lot of albums to perform. I think I have eighteen or nineteen albums now. And people who have followed me throughout my career, they have their favorites they want to hear and another person has a favorite they want to hear. So I could play for hours and hours and hours if I could do that but unfortunately I can’t. I have to construct a setlist that will appeal to most people and that’s very challenging I think. Then you have to work in your new music that people are really unfamiliar with cause you have to do that as an artist. It’s what you’re most passionate about at the moment, the new material. But other people, they don’t have that same passion for it yet because it usually takes a while for people to digest and to call their own. Like, you put out a song and then it becomes an important song for some people. It becomes the soundtrack to their lives and that doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over time that they are exposed to the song and new material doesn’t mean as much to people yet but in years it will.
Do you think people don’t have the patience to listen to a record top to bottom anymore, especially a concept record that takes you through a story?
I think we do. I think that people who really enjoy that type of journey take that time to do that cause that’s what they enjoy doing. I know I do. I like to put on an album and just sit and listen to the whole thing and kind of lose myself in it. And I’m sure a lot of people still feel that way about albums. Other people don’t but that’s what makes the world so interesting is different strokes for different folks.
Do you think this is a good representation of what all you have been going through these past few years, cause there is a lot of turmoil and chaos and human feelings all over this record.
I think music and albums are a way for an artist to express themselves and it’s a healthy way, I think, of writing about things that mean a lot to you or a personal experience. So I would say it’s probably pretty reflective of how I felt the last few years and a way of kind of working those demons out, so to speak.
And you’re happy now
(laughs) I am very happy right now actually
Since you have thirty years worth of recordings, is there a song in your catalog that you felt should have gotten more recognition than it did?
Oh, I really don’t think in those terms, really. I think music finds you. You hear music when you’re ready to hear it and it affects you in a very special, unique way, and I don’t think it necessarily should be forced down your throat; although some music definitely is, songs that are on the radio, for example, and that kind of thing. But music is a very personal journey so how people hear it and when they hear it is kind of up to them.
Was there a song that maybe was too complicated or intricate to reproduce live faithfully to the original version?
Oh gosh, that’s good. I have some theories about that. I’ve heard some musicians say, “Oh, I don’t think that song would go over well live.” And my question was always, “Why? Why not?” I think that how a song performs live is up to the performer. If you put everything you have into a song, all your emotions and all your strength and your power into a performance then I think an audience picks up on that and feel that. But if you don’t, and you hold back or if you’re unsure and not confident in your delivery, they’re going to feel that too. So I would say the success of the delivery of a song live is solely dependent upon the performer.
You got up onstage with Disturbed the other night in Seattle.
Yeah, just a couple of days ago. That was fun, very fun. That venue, White River Amphitheatre, is a wonderful venue and it’s a wonderful stage and it’s one of those technologically together places that sound incredible. So it was a real pleasure playing in that environment. And Disturbed is a great band, a super-tight band that is fun to play with and they were very giving to allow me to step on their stage and sing one of their songs with them. I felt so honored to be in that position and humbled that they would ask me to do that. I was very happy for that and I’m very happy for the success of their project and their album is doing really well and they are having a really big year this year.
Who would have thought they would have taken “Sound Of Silence,” this classic, and made it their own the way they did. It’s like the song has come to a new generation.
And that’s great and that’s exactly what can happen with music and songs. That somebody can do a remake of something and now affect a different generation. That’s great and it becomes timeless that way.
What was your first “I can’t believe I’m here” moment?
I would say 1984, recording at Abbey Road Studios in London. That was a real oh my gosh moment; I can’t believe I’m doing this and I’m actually in this place. I was a huge, huge Beatles fan and to actually be standing in the room where The Beatles recorded. In fact, we used the console The Beatles recorded The White Album to record our song, “Roads To Madness” from The Warning album. It was really, really a treat and I felt very humbled and very special at the same time.
What is the rest of your year looking like?
I’ll start touring in, looks like November. I’m doing a very unique project to start with. I’m hooking up with Tim Owens and Blaze Bayley and the three of us are going out on a short tour called Trinity. Tim’s playing music from his time with Judas Priest and Blaze is performing music from his time with Iron Maiden and I’m performing from my time with Queensryche and we’re going to be doing a show together. I think it’s going to be a wonderful time and I’m really looking forward to it.
That’s a lot of music, a lot of good music, in one night
It is (laughs). And those guys, we’re all very accomplished singers and I think we sing really well together. We’re going to sing some songs at the same time together and I’m going to harmonize and I’m really looking forward to that aspect of it too. Then after that I’m going out and doing the Operation: Mindcrime tour starting in Europe in December.
Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough