Queensrÿche puts new wine in old bottles

If there’s one band to have always had a love/hate relationship with its audience, it’s Queensrÿche. Particularly since their 1997 album Hear In The Now Frontier Grungy, misunderstood by most of the band’s fans. Actually, even before that, with the now legendary Operation Mindcrime, the band had been frowned upon when they presented one of the first digital productions ever, purposely cold, sharp and more focused on the high frequencies compared to the industries standards at the time. But Queensrÿche doesn’t care about the criticism they often get, simply because they don’t want to repeat the same formula from one album to another. Not everything is great in the Seattle-based band’s discography, but when it is, it’s generally amazing. As proof, consider the great American Soldier and its poignant concept from 2009.

In the end, it’s truly the love for music – in a large sense, free of boundaries or rules – that motivates vocalist Geoff Tate and his team. That is made clear when we listen to the man talk about Dedicated To Chaos, the band’s latest album.

But apart from music, Tate has another passion: oenology. He even has his own wine production called Insania. Being the wine-loving Frenchies that we are, this was the occasion to talk about that matter at the end our chat.


« We like to experiment and make our music different. We don’t want to be part of a scene. We’ve never been part of a scene at all. »

Radio Metal: American Soldier was a special album given its concept and the efforts you have put into it. What are your feelings about that album now?

Geoff Tate (vocals): I’m very glad we made that record. It was quite a wonderful experience. It was a very different album for us in the process of making it. It was the first album we ever wrote that was about other people than ourselves. So that was quite a unique experience. We did a lot of interviews with the soldiers to get their stories, and then composed music to the stories that they’d told. Very interesting to make, I’m very happy about that record.

In November 2010, you went as far as a U.S. military base in Iraq to perform for soldiers. It must have been strange and kind of uncomfortable for a rock band to perform in this context, right?

Yeah, it was very different. And very challenging as well. We felt a bit of pressure to tell a good story, and to tell it accurately: what the soldiers were going through, what they felt. It was unique, I’m very happy we did that.

Is it because the concept of American Soldier was demanding emotionally and musically that you ended up only composing a collection of songs with no concept on Dedicated To Chaos?

Well, yeah. We like to change things a little when we make a new record. We did two concept albums back to back with Operation Mindcrime II and American Soldier, so the idea that went into the new record was to take a break from that and to create a collection of songs. It was a nice diversion after American Soldier. Writing a concept record is difficult: you have to link all the songs together and to tell some quick story throughout different movements of music. It’s pretty complex to do that. So it was nice to take a break from that for the new album.

The title, Dedicated To Chaos, sounds a little bit like a reference to Rage For Order. Is there a link between the two albums? Was the connection between these two titles intended?

No, the album title is sort of explaining that creativity exists in chaos. The artist, the musician hops into the chaos in order to create something tangible, which is music. This album is a collection of a lot of different kinds of songs. It might seem like a chaotic mix of different kinds of music. What the title means is that we’re dedicated to creativity and to the experimentation of music.

You’ve been quoted saying that the sound and writing direction of Dedicated To Chaos were more focused on rhythm, that Scott and Eddie had contributed a lot to the composition and that it’s got a lot more very intricate bass/drums than previous albums. And that’s actually all true. But how did the band end up focusing more on rhythm this time?

Whenever you write a record, you have a jumping-off-the-plank point, a starting point. On that particular record, our starting point was music that Scott and Eddie had written and brought in. We started with that and expanded on that. One of the things that we do when we make a record is, we have a lot of talks about what we feel we should include in the record. So we get kind of a plan in mind of what we want to try and accomplish. One of the things we wanted to try and accomplish with this record was to approach the music a little differently. We wanted to focus on the rhythm section of the band and to create more of a drum/bass base for the rest of us to complement. So we were trying to play our instruments differently, to approach our instruments differently. For example, Scott set his drums differently from what he normally does in order to play differently. I went to a different recording studio location in order to kind of change things and to get some different surrounding inspiration. All those little things help to prevent us from doing the same thing over and over again. We like to change things up and make things different for ourselves.

I read you actually justify that orientation by saying that music these days is really rhythm-oriented. Plus, your drummer Scott Rockenfield has been quoted explaining he had been thinking a lot about today’s popular music – like Katy Perry or Lady Gaga – and how the band could draw inspiration from it. He also mentioned some Moby influences on the song “Around The World”. Have the popular music scene always had an influence on the band? Have you always tried to understand it and see how it could be integrated into Queensrÿche’s sound?

Yeah, I think so. Popular music has always been an inspiration for us. If you look at our collected record collection, we’ve always been avid music fans. In fact, when we first got together, the first thing we did was bring our record collections and reference different songs, to talk about what we liked about it and what we found inspirational in different kind of songs. At the time, we listened to everything from Blue Cheer to Sabbath, to Frank Sinatra, you name it. We had different kinds of music in our collections, and we still do. We still bring in songs and say: “Hey, look at this, I like this progression, from E sharp to A major here. How do they do that?” We’re constantly inspired by all types of music.

« I’m sure in the next few years, you’re gonna see all the record companies go under, cause there’s just no way they can make enough money to stay afloat. »

Metal fans have often been very much against mainstream music and media, especially in the last 20 years. Aren’t you afraid of the fans’ reaction when you say that you actually get part of your inspiration from mainstream music?

No, not really. It’s something we’ve always done. Let’s put it this way: if you listen to this one type of music or musician, you’re always gonna be writing music like that. It’s not really something we’re interested in doing. We like to experiment and make our music different. We don’t want to be part of a scene. We’ve never been part of a scene at all. We’ve never thought of ourselves in terms of genre. We’ve never been part of a group other than ourselves. We’re very comfortable with the term Queensrÿche, and we don’t really care about any other attachments to that name! (laughs)

Does this mean you don’t feel at your place in the metal world?

You know, what I’m trying to get at is, we don’t think in those terms. What you’re talking about is a little alien to me. In this band, we don’t think of ourselves as a metal band, or a reggae band, or a hard rock band. We don’t think about those descriptions, that’s a game for other people. People like a lot of different kinds of music. I hate to think in term of genre, you know? I don’t really believe in labeling music, the type of genre that it’s sold in. Genres are something that was invented to sell music. It doesn’t really describe music, it’s just a marketing term.

You premiered the video for Get Started on the band’s website, but people had to justify their purchase of the album in order to see it. This is a strange move because the purpose of a video is usually to promote the album…

One thing you have to realize is that there are no rules anymore. All the old rules we grew up with, they’re all gone now. Music companies are starting to go under, music is really on its way to being free. There’s no standard way of doing anything anymore. The means are changing now. So to say that a video is for promotional purposes, that’s not true anymore.

By the way, you have recently stated that there was no use for record companies nowadays…

What I mean by that is that there is no money to be made in making music anymore. It’s all going away because of illegal downloading. More people download music illegally now than buy it. Record companies and the music industry in general have suffered something like a 85 or 90% loss in their sales in the last couple of years. That’s unprecedented, it’s never happened like that before. And it just keeps happening: now it’s happening to movies, books, any kind of intellectual material is now being pirated. I’m sure in the next few years, you’re gonna see all the record companies go under, cause there’s just no way they can make enough money to stay afloat.

Then, as a band, what are you going to do without record companies?

It’s actually a curse and a blessing. It really allows a band to promote themselves, and to make and sell their music and distribute it any way they want. On one hand, it’s very frightening, because it’s a new frontier; and on the other hand, it’s very exciting and challenging, because there are no rules anymore. You can do whatever it is you want to do. We’re definitely seeing a shift into this new frontier happening quite rapidly now. It’s gonna be an exciting time in the next couple of years.

Apparently you already began the writing sessions for the next record a month ago. The world we live in goes faster and faster, is this a pressure you feel as a band?

That’s true, things are moving very fast. That’s one of the symptoms of the world we live in. We’ve always started the next record pretty quickly after the last one. We’ve been doing that pretty regularly since 2000, the last ten or eleven years, I guess. We’re putting something from the last record into the next. That’s just sort of what we do.

Queensrÿche’s albums always have a specific musical, and sometimes conceptual, orientation. So do you already have an idea about what the orientation will be this time?

Most times, we have a direction we want to go that we talk about quite extensively before we start the record. Again, that’s just kind of the way we do things. We finish one record, and we start talking about what we want to do on the next one. Sometimes there are conversations that inspire us to write. And sometimes we come to rehearsal and we won’t play any music at all. We just talk about what we want to try to do, what we like or don’t like, where we want to go with the music. That might happen for a couple of weeks, and then everybody starts bringing in musical ideas and we begin composing.

Your first and only solo album dates back to 2002. Do you have any plans to do a follow-up?

Yeah. I have one that I’ve been working on off and on for the last few years. It’s getting pretty close to being finished, I think. I would guess probably in the next year or so, I’ll have it ready.

You’re regarded as one of the best singers in metal. But how do you preserve your voice?

I sing every day. I work on music every day, usually composing new material. I find the best way to keep myself in shape is to sing constantly. I also tour quite a bit, so I get a lot of work-out doing that.

« You know, wine is very similar to music, I find. Everyone tastes wine differently, everyone hears music differently. There’s lots of different varieties. »

Now on to a completely different subject to conclude the interview. I know you’re a wine lover and I’ve read about your Insania wine. You’re actually going to take part in the Insania Barrel Tasting Event in December. Can you tell us more about Insania wines?

I started making wine about five years ago. It’s something of a fascination for me, I’ve been fascinated with it for years now. I first was introduced to wine through travelling and trying wine all over the world. I really fell in love with how different wines are, and with the different tastes of wine from all regions of the world. And I just happen to live in a premier wine-making area of the United States, in the state of Washington, which is in the north-west part of the United States. We grow really good grapes here, we have just about any kind of grape that is. We have a wine industry that’s growing up around that. We’re actually the second largest wine producer in the country, behind California. We have a fairly new line of industry, of course it’s very young compared to other parts of the world. But we’re doing well, and the Insania brand is selling very well. We’re very happy with it.

I know that many American wine lovers really defend Californian wine and affirm that some of them are as good as some of the best French wine. Is this your case?

You know, wine is very similar to music, I find. Everyone tastes wine differently, everyone hears music differently. There’s lots of different varieties. Of course the French have been making wine for thousands of years, so they have a history and a wine culture that’s very extensive. The French wine industry has really been the model for the American wine industry. We’ve learned a lot from the way they make wine in France, and we have similar growing conditions here in Washington State as there are is parts of France – specifically the area around Cahors and Bordeaux. So there’s a similarity there, in the land and the taste of the wines. Comparatively, I don’t know. There’s all kinds of contests and things like that, that they hold to taste these different wines, and people judge them, kind of like a sporting event. I don’t know how accurate that is. I’ve always kind of been against the sporting mentality when it comes to music, and also to wine. I don’t think you can really judge it, because everyone has different tastes. But I like French wines, Spanish wines, Italian wines. I like some wines from South Africa, some Chilean wines. I like wine from Washington State and from California. I like a lot of different things.

David Coverdale from Whitesnake has his own brand of wine and James Maynard Keenan from the band Tool produces his own wine in Arizona. Have you by any chance tasted their wine?

Yes, I tasted several bottles of Maynard’s wine. But I haven’t tasted David Coverdale’s. I haven’t had that yet.

Is Maynard’s wine good?

There was one bottle of Maynard’s wine that I liked quite a bit. I think it’s very good.

What is the best wine you ever drank?

Um, the best wine I’ve ever had… “Best” is a hard term, because wine is something that you enjoy with food, with a dinner, and with company. All that kind of plays into it. I’ve had some incredible dinner parties with bottles of wine from California, I’ve had some fantastic dinner parties with wine from France or from Italy. I couldn’t say “best”, you know? I really couldn’t. And also, it changes with the vintage. There are vintages that are just exceptional, in terms of how the bottles scored. There’s also how the temperatures were kept. You can pay a lot of money for a bottle of wine that has a reputation, and when you drink it, it’s not that great. That really depends on how the bottle was kept and stored, and also on your own frame of mind. It’s like listening to music: sometimes you hear an album by an artist that you admire quite a bit, and you can’t relate to the music on it. But then you pick it up a year later, and all of a sudden – oh, you get it! It hits you. It really depends on your state of mind.

Do you sometimes drink wine while composition songs, to give you extra inspiration?

Yeah, I’ve been known to do that. I usually have a glass of wine or two before I go on stage to perform live. I always drink wine with dinner, and usually with lunch. Not so much with breakfast – I like coffee with breakfast! (laughs)

Interview conducted on july 12th, 2011 by phone.
Transcription : Saff

Queensrÿche’s Website : www.queensryche.com
Geoff Tate’s Website : www.geofftate.com

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