An Interview with Geoff Tate of Queensrÿche
by: Casey Pukl
If you’re anything like me, you’ll understand why today’s interview is barely edited (except for the part where I bared my sister’s Queensrÿche-loving soul to Geoff Tate). Some people are just interesting. They are the people that you can listen to for days and never get bored. Geoff Tate is one of those people. If you’ve ever listened to Queensrÿche, you could probably predict that Tate is someone with a lot of ideas, opinions, and knowledge; but listening to him speak about wine, writing, staying current, and what inspires him is just plain interesting.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Geoff last week to close out my Friday. Immediately following, I headed home and spent no less than three hours researching winemaking and all of the regions on the west coast that I need to visit while listening to Operation: Mindcrime II and American Soldier with new ears. I hope that this interview inspires you all to do the same.
CP: Thanks so much for taking some time out to talk to me this morning! I was just poking around your website, and you have a ton of stuff going on lately!
GT: Sure! Yeah, I usually have a pretty crazy schedule with events and shows and things like that.
CP: Yeah, it seems like you’ve been up to quite a bit these days!
GT: Yes, I’ve definitely had a lot of things in the works. Before we dig into this though, I have to ask how you pronounce your last name? [I’ve get asked this question in 9/10 interviews, and figured some of our loyal blog readers might be curious].
CP: It’s Pukl- think hockey puck with an “el” at the end. I know it looks like it’s missing a ton of letters.
GT: That’s a very interesting name. I’ve never heard that one before.
CP: Yeah, it’s Hungarian, and on top of that, my grandfather edited it a little when he came over and made it even harder to say.
GT: Ah, that makes sense.
CP: Yes. So getting into it, I know you just wrapped up your 30th anniversary tour with Queensrÿche! What has that been like?
GT: Yeah, the tour just wrapped up. We had a new studio album as well called, “Dedicated to Chaos” which we released last summer.
CP: That album felt like quite a departure from all of the Queensrÿche music I’ve heard in the past. I feel like it’s got a much stronger melodic focus than previous records.
GT: Well, we tend to write records depending upon the subject manner that we’re trying to get across in the lyrics. We flip flop between making really heavy concept albums and very metal records. We made quite a few albums that one might consider pop records, and I think this one may fall under that category. It’s very similar to the “Empire” record or “Hear In the Now Frontier”.
CP: What’s the process for you guys when you decide to do a new record? Do you sit down and discuss the concept first or do you have some songs?
GT: It starts various ways, really. Sometimes it starts with a lyric line or a short paragraph or story. Usually it starts with an abstract idea. Sometimes it’s just a subject, like I think I’d like to write about the political unrest in Nicaragua. I find that interesting. Sometimes I’ll go in with something like that in mind.
CP: How about this latest album. What sparked it?
GT: Gosh, I think it was just trying to make a very singable record that people could put on and sing along to. We also wanted to make a lighter record than what we’ve done in the past few years. We did two concept records back to back, “Operation: Mindcrime II” and “American Soldier”. Both are really pretty aggressive records that are pretty dark and melancholy. We wanted to do something that was a departure from that— something lighter.
CP: What’s your writing process like within the band?
GT: It depends on who’s writing the song. If it’s Eddie and me for example, we’ll work very closely on the arrangement, deciding what’s a verse, bridge, chorus, that sort of thing. Then, when it’s time to record it, the other guys get involved as far as playing the parts that were written for them. We give them a lot of room to expand on it and put in their own flavor.
CP: I read an interview with you recently where you commented that you had mixed this record differently than in the past to adapt to the new way people listen to music— through their headphones.
GT: I’m always thinking about what’s happening now. I’m pretty plugged into what’s going on musically around the world and with politics, you know. I try to stay really on top of things and keep it relevant. I’m always looking and trying to predict what the next trend is going to be. I’m sort of an armchair anthropologist. I like looking at social situations and seeing what I can predict is going to happen in that situation. So yeah, I’m constantly keeping an ear to the ground to see what’s happening. And people are absolutely listening to music on headphones more nowadays than they ever did before. It’s a mobile society now, and people can take their music everywhere. That’s fascinating to me that people stay plugged into it. And then they can switch to answering their phone, listening to voice mail, cruising the internet. It’s a fascinating time to be alive and witness all of this happening.
CP: Absolutely. I know I listen to things on my phone all the time while I’m reading the liner notes, lyrics, reviews and anything else I find in Google about the album or song I’m listening to. It’s neat to process all of that stuff together.
GT: It’s like when I was a kid growing up, I’d sit in my bedroom listening to the song or album and read everything from the album cover. It’s no different; it’s just a different medium and system.
CP: Yes. Now I know you’ve also been into acting and documentary film making over the years. You were recently in a movie called, “The Burningmoore Incident”. How did you get into that?
GT: I didn’t really ever want to get into it, actually. I met these guys that wanted me to act in their movie, and they were convinced that I’d do a good job even though I kept reminding them that I’d never done anything like that before. I’m not a professional or anything like that. So they had me take a screen test, and I did that and got the part. I shot the movie, and I don’t think it’s come out yet, but it’s coming.
CP: Can you tell us what it’s about?
GT: I can’t really talk about it, but it’s kind of a psychological horror film that was done in a really clever way.
CP: I’m already interested!
GT: Yeah, it was a fun project. It was cool to try something new and try my hand at acting. I found it to be pretty enjoyable.
CP: Do you see a lot more in the future?
GT: I suppose. If I get asked and it’s the right kind of role, then sure!
CP: Now another thing you’re involved in lately is Insania winery. How did that come about?
GT: I’ve been a long-time wine fan. I started collecting wine years and years ago. The whole thing was brought on through travel. We traveled to a lot of countries around the world touring, and I always got to sample these incredible wines from all of these different cultures and various parts of the world. I just became a huge fan of wine and winemaking. I found it very interesting. I met some very cool people who are from my state of Washington, who were interested in having me on as a partner to make wine.
We started the Insania brand about five years ago, my wife and I and Holly Turner and her husband Andy. We’ve got four vintages now. We do a red and a white, and they are very French Bordeaux inspired wines. We use the classic French varietals of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Merlot for the red blend, and then Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon in the white. We’ve just been having such a ball with it, introducing it to people and going to wine shops and doing bottle signings. We do tastings and dinners with celebrity chefs that come in and pair our wine with their food.
CP: That sounds like a great time! If you had to pick your favorite wine, what would it be?
GT: I’d honestly have to say the Insania Red. It’s really good. A lot of people think I’m just this musician guy that got involved with winemaking and it’s going to be crap, but then they taste it and see that it’s a very serious wine. It’s well done. A lot of times people are shocked. But I’d say that’s my favorite.
CP: You basically got to design your ideal wine there!
GT: Yeah, it was really a labor of love. We worked on it for quite a while to come up with the blend we thought was the best representation of our idea. Once we had the blend, of course the real challenge is consistently making it each year with the challenges of the harvest to deal with. But so far we’ve been really good at it. This is going to be our fourth vintage that comes out this spring.
CP: It sounds like a lot of fun over there.
GT: It sure is a lot of fun— especially if you like wine! (Laughs)
CP: It’s certainly something I’ve been getting further into, and especially working here with a great wine list.
GT: Well you guys are in San Diego, so you’re pretty close to Temecula.
GT: That’s a great wine region. There’s some great stuff coming out of that region.
CP: Yeah, I’m new to being out here, so I’m looking forward to taking some trips out to explore some wineries.
GT: That area is really beautiful; it’s one of my favorite parts of California.
CP: It’s incredible! I’m still amazed that you can drive for an hour or two and go through three or four different microclimates. It’s still really bizarre to me.
GT: Listen to you; you’ve already got winemaking language going on! Microclimates— that’s great!
CP: (Laughs) What can I say? I’m kind of a geek.
GT: That’s how I am. I lean into something and before I know it I’ve fallen into it.
CP: Getting back into your music, are you looking into any future solo projects?
GT: I am! I’m actually working on one right now that I hope to have wrapped up pretty soon. This show that I’m doing at Anthology is an acoustic show with some friends of mine who are fantastic acoustic players. We’re doing kind of a blend of my last solo album, some Queensrÿche songs, and we’ll toss in some new ones that haven’t been released yet. It’ll just be a really fun night. Very homey, intimate, we’ll probably take requests, things like that.
CP: That’s awesome. Is this something you’ve been doing a lot of lately?
GT: For the last couple of years, I’ve been doing more stuff outside of Queensrÿche in order to just stretch out. But I’ll tell you, even though I’ve sang shows in front of hundreds of thousands of people and also intimate shows of a few hundred, but whenever I go out to an event or something and someone asks me to sing a song with them, I’m petrified! (Laughs) I don’t know much material outside of my own material that I’ve written, and so if someone asks me to sing “Danny Boy”, I couldn’t sing it! Not even if someone offered me a million dollars could I sing that song. So I’m trying to be a bit more versatile and learn more stuff.
CP: Well, having thirty years of your own material in your head is quite a lot to remember! It’s hard to keep track of someone else’s’ stuff.
GT: That stuff is embedded into my psyche. I could do any of my own stuff at any time, but if it’s someone else’s’ stuff, I have a hard time with it. But I’m expanding my horizons.
CP: It’s a different mindset to learn someone else’s’ material. It’s a little more mechanical.
GT: Yeah, it does take a different mindset. You know, my wife manages this band called The Voodoos, from Ireland. They’re a fantastic band, by the way. Really cool stuff. But the other night we were at a show watching them, and they always ask the audience if anyone else is a musician. And if someone raises their hand, they give them the offer to come up on stage and play a song. It’s really cool— a very Irish thing to do. So a guy raised his hand, and the guitar player just handed him his guitar and walked off stage. So the kid looked like he came out of the 1950’s. He really looked like he came out of a different time. And he launches into “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. He just does this amazing version of it out of the blue. It was unrehearsed, out of the blue, and the rest of The Voodoos came up on stage and jammed out with him. It was a very cool, very authentic moment. I’ve seen people do it before, but I’m not someone who can just do something like that, but I want to be. So that’s what I’ve been working on the last few years.
CP: That must really re-energize and inspire you, doing something new like that.
GT: Oh yeah. Any kind of artistic endeavor, when you’ve had success doing one thing, you do as many variations on that thing as you can, and then you run out. You need to have some new input and a new direction. We’re all looking for that. Everyone is looking for something that will inspire us. It’s addictive.
Special thanks to Geoff for his time! Be sure to check out the links below for more information on Geoff’s Insania wines, his music, Queensrÿche, and more! Don’t miss his special acoustic performance here on the 26th!