An Interview with Geoff Tate of Queensryche
By Casey Pukl
Just six short months ago, lead singer of Queensryche, Geoff Tate, told me in an interview that he was taking some time to “stretch out” from Queensryche. While this comment was just 2 measly words of a nearly 3,000 word interview, metal fans across the world latched on, and the word spread like wildfire. The amount of times that quote shows up in my Google alerts each week is alarming. If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that Geoff Tate and Queensryche have some of the most dedicated and engaged fans I’ve ever seen.
Fortunately for us, Geoff Tate returns next Wednesday to again grace San Diego with his acoustic show. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited. I was beyond pumped, and needed a follow-up interview to see what he’s been up to. This time, the conversation focused on Tate’s latest solo record (hopefully due out this fall), what subject matter inspires him most, and just what he has learned about performing through his recent solo acoustic shows. Instead of summarizing, I’ll just let you read for yourselves.
CP: It’s so great to speak with you again! I really enjoyed both our last interview and your acoustic show last time you came around!
GT: Oh, thank you! Yeah, that was our first show, so I promise this one will be better (laughs). I swear!
CP: It was already great! I’d love to get into what you’ve been up to since we saw you in January! I know you’ve been touring with these acoustic shows, working on that solo record you mentioned last time…
GT: That’s exactly what I’ve been doing (laughs). Been playing lots of shows, working on the album— that’s recorded now, so I’m happy about that. I don’t know exactly when it’s coming out, but I think it’ll be around the fall. That all changes weekly depending on the record company’s schedule, but we’re working on it.
CP: Any hints as to what the new record is going to sound like? I know you said it was going to be quite a departure from what you’ve done in the past.
GT: Well, it’s very different from my last one for sure. It’s a new bunch of people I’ve been working with to write and record it, so that changes things. When you’re working with different people, it really changes the record. This one is really hard rock. The last one was really all over the place with different styles of music and everything, but this one really keeps with the hard rock style. It does it in kind of a different way— more of my way or what I would envision. I guess it’s experimental in some ways, while in others it’s very traditional.
What I tried to do was take traditional rock instrumentation and apply it in kind of a different song structure. That’s what I would best describe it as (laughs). Music is kind of like that. It’s a personal journey. It’s hard to describe. I would never want to be a music journalist (laughs). It’s very hard to describe music! I’d rather just listen to it, and come up with my own conclusions. It can be taken so many ways and interpreted so many different ways. People can always apply that song to their own lives and life experiences.
Over the years, I’ve had so many people tell me completely different stories about songs I’ve written and what they mean to them. They remember when they first heard the song, what they were doing, where they were, how it’s affected their life. So often it’s so different of a story than what the song means to me. I always find that kind of interesting. Why that happens, I don’t know. Music is one of those things that just becomes the background music for people’s lives in a lot of respects.
CP: Last time we spoke, you were discussing branching out into different genres, and you made a comment that if someone offered you a million dollars to sing “Danny Boy”, you wouldn’t be able to do it. Have you been learning more of other people’s songs in this time? What have you been doing to really expand?
GT: Well, typically when I put together a record, I have a vision for it. I know what I want to accomplish. While I always reach the goal, the path is always different from what I think it will be (laughs). Sometimes I think that’s the way that it has to be— especially when you’re working with a group of people. Everyone has their own input and their own interpretation of what the music means to them.
For an experiment, I set an outline for the people I’m working with, and said something like I really want like a really sexy kind of song here as an example. Give me some music that you would listen to if you were making love. Man (laughs), the stuff I get is just so different! What somebody thinks of when you give them an outline like that is just so different from what I think. I found that that was just too vague of a description, and I needed to get more specific with it.
We’re doing something that has sort of an uplifting and spiritual feel to it. I needed a chorus for that, and what’s uplifting and spiritual to one person is not at all to another person. It’s really strange, but that’s kind of the process. You have to try and find and adhere to it when you’re making a record. You have to try a lot of different roads in order to get to the destination somehow.
CP: I know last time we spoke, you talked a lot about current events inspiring your writing. Is this record at all motivated by recent political or social events?
GT: Well, topic wise it’s about a lot of things. There are a lot of pieces that are inspired by current events. I really am not interested in politics at all. In fact, I really loathe the subject. I don’t know why I keep getting labeled as that sort of political writer, but I’m not. I guess it’s because the “Mindcrime” record had a lot of political overtones to it. But when you really break down that record, it’s not about politics at all. It’s a love story between two people that happen to be in a situation where they’re living in a tumultuous time politically. I just sort of set the tone for the story to take place in this particular tumultuous time, and I think people took that as me having a lot of opinions about politics. But I really don’t! I try to stay away from politics. It’s a subject that… well, if you’re at a dinner party and you bring up politics or religion, you’re going to get into some heated debate. Not many people can discuss those subjects without getting all fired up. I find that it’s rare. Most people are passionate about those two subjects in some way. It’s hard to have a conversation that doesn’t come to fist fights (laughs) over those subjects.
But I like music. I like songs that are about people and relationships. I’m fascinated by relationships because every single relationship is special and so different. There’s so much conflict to write about. There’s so much diversity in that subject matter. I just find it really interesting. Plus, it’s a never-ending subject because everyone has relationships to some extent. It’s a never-ending well of inspiration.
CP: Absolutely. It’s a common denominator among people. You can’t find anyone that can’t relate in some way and make their own interpretation.
GT: Mmhmm. That’s definitely true.
CP: I’m actually really surprised to hear you say that Mindcrime really wasn’t politically motivated. You’ve just shifted the way I’m going to have to listen to that record later. I’m going to have to revisit that now.
GT: (Laughs) If you read the lyrics and break it down in story form, it really isn’t about politics at all. It’s about the relationships people have. It’s about the relationship between Nikki and Mary primarily. Then it’s also about their relationship with Dr. X. It’s about how those relationships interact.
CP: I’m going to have to listen from a different perspective.
GT: There you go!
CP: That’s always fun for me. I love to revisit records over time because they always change for me. Whether or not it’s what the writer meant, it’s what I get out of it.
GT: That’s true for me, and for many other people. I’ll hear a record by one of my favorite artists, and I won’t necessarily like it, understand it, or relate to it, but then I’ll listen to it again a year later, and something has changed. Something about it affects me. It’s about life experience. Sometimes it’s really difficult to relate to something unless you’ve actually been there, walked in that person’s shoes, or been through something similar.
CP: Sure. Even just in terms of what you’re listening for. My number one go-to record is always going to be Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years”. That’s the one I come back to when I’m having a rough day, good day, any day. But I started listening to that record at 12 years old when I really had no clue what he was talking about. I just knew that I enjoyed the grooves and the melodies.
But then I revisited it at 15, and then I could understand a bit more of the lyrical content. Then I listened again at 20. Every time I listen to it, it’s a completely different album. It’s very interesting to have that experience and revisit different records and songs at different stages.
GT: That’s exactly it. It’s about life experiences. We had an album that came out in 1994 called “Promised Land”. When it came out, a lot of our fans didn’t really care for it. They didn’t like it, and I think a lot of them didn’t understand it. But now, many people cite that as being their favorite record by us. It’s just funny and strange and weird. It’s all about life experience.
Unless you’ve had a midlife crisis, you don’t understand that record (laughs).
CP: (Laughs) Sure. I also think some records are a little before their time too. Some records come out, and people just instantly don’t get it. But then 10 years later, people are ready for it, and there’s a little bit of a revival.
GT: Yeah, and that’s the great thing about music. It’s always around so you can revisit it!
CP: Totally changing gears for a second, how’s Insania doing?
GT: Oh great! The wine is flowing, as I like to say. It’s doing really well! We just got a 92-point review on the 2010 white, so that’s a wonderful thing! That’s like a musician getting a Grammy.
CP: Congratulations! That’s a great accomplishment!
GT: Thank you! Yeah, it’s a really high score. I’m very pleased about that. The wife says I’m now impossible to live with (laughs).
CP: What are you most looking forward to about coming back to Anthology?
GT: I love the venue— it’s a beautiful place. It’s a very inspiring place to perform in. The sound is fantastic. The layout of the place is really comfortable and elegant. It’s my vision with my music. I love that about it. I love playing there. Some places you play, you walk into the venue and it’s not exactly what you envisioned it was going to be, but you have to make the best of it and turn it into what I wanted it to be. But Anthology is such a stunning venue. I feel I don’t have to work so hard at transforming it into a place that my music fits. It just fits there.
CP: I couldn’t agree more. The room is pretty epic. It feels so intimate, but it’s also so big and spacious. Everyone is so close to you.
GT: Yeah. I like that quite a bit. When we played there, that was our first show. It was the first time I had played in a room that small in a long time. It was kind of an eye opening experience to be that close to the audience and be able to hear what they’re saying. It actually started inspiring the show quite a bit. The show kind of turned into a storytelling show. I talk a lot about the songs and about the writing of the music and what inspired it. I tell the stories to set the tone for the music we’re about to play. I’ve gotten into on-stage conversations with the audience. Sometimes that conversation will take the show in an entirely different direction, and I find that to be very interesting.
It’s also kind of a test of some sorts. I can test myself and see if I can take the show in the direction that I want to or if I can spin the conversation around to the topic I want to get into next. I’m having a lot of fun with that topic. I wanted to make the presentation more dynamic. That was one of my goals from the beginning, but I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do it. But now after playing so many intimate shows, it has become very evident how to do that for me. I’m really enjoying that.
It’s in such contrast to a Queensryche show, which is pretty scripted out. It’s the same show every night. This is definitely not the same, so it’s really different.
CP: That’s part of what I find so interesting and entertaining about these acoustic shows you’re doing. It is such a departure from what we’ve seen before. You had to find a different level of engagement with the audience. It has to be such a different experience to really have to read the room.
GT: Very different. With the Queensryche show, we’ve all got in-ear monitors, so we can’t really hear what the audience is saying at all. The music incredibly loud as well, so it really blocks out any interaction with the audience. Acoustically, it’s a completely different scenario. I can hear people’s conversations. I can hear what they’re saying when I’m playing. That in itself is strange, and at times, it can be really distracting to the performer. But you can’t stop it from happening, so the best scenario is to kind of spin it in your direction.
I had a recent one where there was a couple having a couple argument during one of my songs. After the song, I commented on what they were sort of talking about (laughs). I worked it into the set up of the next song we were going into, and the audience just loved that. That’s something that normally wouldn’t happen in a Queensryche show. I couldn’t have heard them.
On another note, in one show we had the audience pretty much right up on the stage. I mean, they were literally sitting their drinks up on the stage. But we had one guy who was just so loud and animated. He couldn’t clap in time with the music, and he was seriously louder than we were. His clapping was really throwing us off! So we had to actually talk to him, and I told him, “Look, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but we really need you to clap in time.” (Laughs) He was throwing off our guitar players!
CP: (Laughs) There’s always that guy at every show!
GT: (Laughs) Yeah, that guy. I think he follows us around.
Special thanks to Geoff as always for his time! Be sure to catch his show next Wednesday night!