Queensrÿche (with Todd LaTorre) are ready to rebuild their Empire

Could Scott Rockenfield be any more enthusiastic? If we hadn’t heard Queensrÿche new self-titled album (with Todd LaTorre behind the mike) and understood just how liberating it was for the drummer and his fellow musicians Michael Wilton (guitar) and Eddie Jackson (bass), we would have thought he was merely using autosuggestion. You just have to count the occurrences of “great”, “enthusiastic”, “best”, and various other positive expressions in the following interview to realize how euphoric the members of this incarnation of Queensrÿche are. This is a new era for them. The band is in a ferment – they’re already working on the successor to the album – and enjoy a cohesion they hadn’t known for a while.

Because we’d talked to vocalist Geoff Tate – who’s been fronting his own version of the band since the split and has recently released a new album – on the phone a few weeks ago, we just had to hear what the other side had to say. The difference between the two interviews is striking; we’re talking near polar opposites here. One no longer wants to hear about the past and says he has “ripped off the rearview mirror”; the other elevates the band’s first six albums as a model for the future. In other words, they have two very different ideas of what Queensrÿche should be. And then there’s the singer who accuses his former colleagues of not composing enough, when they insist he always rejected most of what they had to offer. Even if things got a bit ugly, you can’t help thinking the split may have been for the best.

Now everybody has to make a choice – or not, come to think of it. In the end, the court will decide who the Queensrÿche brand belongs to. But for the time being, those who were waiting for the band to reclaim the legacy they’d built in the 80s and early 90s are already giving this new entity a warm welcome.

Let’s delve into all this with a very pleasæant Scott Rockenfield in this rich interview.

« Michael, Eddie and I have always felt that Queensrÿche was good at something. It was good at a certain style and energy and songs… »

Radio Metal: This new Queensrÿche line-up began as Rising West, when Geoff Tate was still in the band. Was the breakup and the change from Rising West to Queensrÿche happen only because you guys didn’t go along anymore with Tate or also because you actually felt that Rising West sounded more Queensrÿche than Queensrÿche with Geoff Tate did these past years?

Scott Rockenfield (drums): It was a great thing, it was actually a year ago this month that we did the Rising West shows in Seattle. Listen, Nicolas, honestly, what we did is… Rising West was something for us to have fun with. You know, Michael, Eddie and I had some free time, Geoff was going to go tour in the United States in support of a solo record that he had done. So that kind of left Michael, Eddie and I wondering what we wanted to do. Michael knew Todd and he knew he was a great singer. So basically we were interested in playing some shows as a different band and we came up with the name Rising West. We just wanted to go out and play some great Queensrÿche classics that we haven’t been able to play in a long time in Queensrÿche, to be honest. So we did and it was a great thing: the Rising West shows were a huge success, we had some fans from all over the world that came to see the show. What happened is that right after that, everything kind of fell appart with our situation in Queensrÿche. We finally had to make the decision to move on without Geoff and carry on as Queensrÿche. And we always wanted to carry on as Queensrÿche, that was our plan in the beginning anyway, when we started going through some problems with Geoff the last years: Queensrÿche has always been our thing. Rising West was just kind of a transition into finding Todd, to have him to come in and continue Queensrÿche with us. So we did. It’s been a great year, we’ve had shows around the world for the last twelve months and we’ve got a new record that’s coming out. That’s kind of the story of Rising West: it was just to have fun and then we moved on for Queensrÿche.

The album is simply called Queensrÿche. Was it important to show that this is a new beginning for the band and a brand new era that’s opening?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s exactly what we wanted to do. It just felt like the right decision for us to call the record Queensrÿche. Because we feel right now that it is a new beginning for us and it’s a great way for us just to say: « We’re Queensrÿche and this is what we’re doing. » So there you go, it’s an easy explanation.

Todd LaTorre also sang for Crimson Glory. It’s funny because the two bands have often been compared to one another back in the 80’s. So, was it an obvious choice for you?

You know, it became one which was interesting because we never had to audition singers and find somebody with whom we wanted to work with. We were very lucky to meet Todd early last year. He was a big fan of the Queensrÿche history and all of the music that we’ve done. And we’ve been fans of Crimson Glory and what he did with them was great, so it was a perfect fit for us. And, for what it’s worth, he’s got a lot of fans from his time with Crimson Glory. That’s certainly a great thing with him now carrying on in Queensrÿche.

Aren’t Crimson Glory mad at you guys for having stolen their singer, so to speak?

(Laugh) Well, I suppose! I don’t really know those guys and so I don’t talk to them but, you know, Todd told us, when he made the decision to let them know that he was going to leave permanently and didn’t want to work with them anymore, he said that they were fine and they didn’t get upset or anything like that. Todd’s just too busy to do both. It’s so busy for us right now that it would be too hard for him to focus on both. We just felt with him that it was the best choice to make. I think they’re OK and I think they can move on and do what they want to do. Hopefully they can find somebody to come in and be their vocalist and continue on, if that’s what they want to do, I don’t know what their plans are. But for us, we’ve just got to move on.

« We weren’t very excited about the last records we’ve made and we were forced to do things that we didn’t want to do. »

Todd LaTorre has a voice at times quite comparable with Geoff Tate’s. Was it important to preserve the vocal identity of the band, even with a different singer?

For sure and thanks because I think he’s been great with us. That was the one thing that I really liked about him, it was the idea that he could sing our old material, all the Queensrÿche music that we’ve ever done. He easily represent the sound that we were known for. The voice is an important part of what we do, as much as the music is. He was great: he comes in, he sings, it sounds like Queensrÿche but the nice thing is, Nicolas, that he’s actually doing a lot of things on his own now, he’s being unique to himself. And the great thing is that the band is allowing that: initially he thought he had to be a lot more like what we did in the past, now he’s getting a little bit more flexible and the fans are actually enjoying his own personnality now with what he does with our material. It was a great fit and he’s been a great fit.

Don’t you see too many upset fans about the fact that Tate is not anymore in the band?

Yeah, well, you know, we don’t. We’ve been so blessed with the greatest enthousiasm by our fans and they’re supporting us overwhelmingly. For the last twelve months we’ve been all around the world playing shows, everybody’s comming out to see us and the fans are really enjoying the show and very supportive afterward. So we feel really great about it.

Geoff Tate seemed to dominate the composition process up to now. So how did it feel this time? How was the composition process?

You know, writing all the new material and working with Todd, it was great. It was quite a struggle for us in the last year making the records that we felt we should be making. And Michael, Eddie and I have always felt that Queensrÿche was good at something. It was good at a certain style and energy and songs… It’s just been struggle. We weren’t very excited about the last records we’ve made and we were forced to do things that we didn’t want to do. Fortunately, now we’re able to do what we feel is best and I think this new records is a good representation of that. The energy was really great, we were creating some really great stuff together, we’re very proud of it and it was actually pretty easy, to be honest. It didn’t take a lot for us to find our chemistry together and to start creating the songs that you hear on the record. You know, we’re actually working on new songs right now for another record. We’re really having a great time with it and I think that shows in the music.

And does this mean you will not be supporting those albums anymore, like Dedicated To Chaos or American Soldier, and not playing songs from them on stage?

You know, not at all. What it actually means is that we really wanted to play a lot of the old Queensrÿche stuff that we haven’t played for so long and that our fans really wanted to hear for a long time. So that focus has been really important for us. And it’s going great because the fans are really enjoying hearing the songs like « Queen Of the Reich », « The Warning » and « Prophecy », stuff that we haven’t played for so long. So that’s been a great thing. So now, as time continues to move on and we have more shows… We’re rehearsing other songs now, so there’s going to be all sorts of Queensrÿche stuff that’ll be in the shows. And obviously we’re going to put a bunch of new materiel in the shows as well and have fun with that. So, it’s a good place for us right now.

You said that you had a hard time making the record you wanted to make but we had Tate on the phone a couple of weeks ago, and he was insinuating that you guys weren’t participating much in the composition process. So where’s the truth actualy?

Well, listen, the truth is just that, like I said, Michael, Eddie and I have always wanted to pursue Queensrÿche as being a rock and metal band, with progressive elements and some epic elements in the music, just like our first six records, from the EP up to Promised Land. It is really what we wanted to focus on as Queensrÿche. And also, the sound of Queensrÿche: I think our new record fits, at least we feel it does. You know, it has a lot of the elements of those first six records for us. Now, in the last years making records, we’ve been submitting all sorts of songs that we’ve been writing with that type of Queensrÿche sound we feel is best. But Geoff is not interested in that style of music, he hasn’t been for a long time. He’s told us on multiple occasions: « I’ll never sing ‘Queen Of The Reich’, it’s stupid and I don’t like it. I don’t want to make a heavy metal record like we’ve done before. » So bottom line is that we’ve been writing music but Geoff has really chosen in the last years to only work on what he was interested in. And so we went along with that for a while. It was kind of a building struggle that was getting worse and worse. We were hoping things would change but they just didn’t and that’s why we moved on last year.

And were the songs you’ve been creating and submitting at the time actually used for this new album?

You know, that’s a good question. Most of the new album is actually new material that we worked on when we met Todd last year. However, there are some pieces inside some of the record that were things that we had from before that we really always wanted to work on. So, there’s a little bit of it but most of it was generated by writing new songs or taking a riff from before and then making a new song just out of that. But generally it’s all new and fresh. But, listen, we’ve got lots of stuff that we’ve written and never got used. We’re kind of chewing on some of that stuff right now as well for some new material. Bottom line, it all sounds like Michael, Eddie and I in the old great Queensrÿche songwriting craft, I guess you could say.

« We don’t really acknowledge that there’s another Queensrÿche out there. »

Your drumming on this album is quite impressive, more technical, richer and more creative than ever. Is it because you felt liberated somehow?

(Laughs) Well, yes and thank you, that’s very complimentary and I appreciate your compliments. And, listen, I feel really proud of myself. I haven’t been able to play drums like this on our records in a long time because of a couple of reason. One: it was a struggle for us and I didn’t really believe in the music that we were being forced to work on. So I didn’t give what I was best at. I think the songs that we wrote on this new record are what we are good at. And when we did that, it meant that I had to become what I was before. This is what I felt and why I was so energetic. I’m so excited about the songs. So I played, I just went in and put myself at the highest level that I know I could achieve and I tried to shoot for that. I think there are some things I can still work on but I certainly had a great time making this record. And, listen, I love listening this record! I haven’t listened to one of our own record in a long time. So it’s really special for me. And Jimbo, James Barton, who made the record with us and did Mindcrime, Empire and Promised Land, he’s great with me and the band. He really pushes me to be the best that I can. What he really said in the studio, on every song, is « just go out there and play the songs like you’re Scotty Rock. Just be yourself! Because I know you can do it. » And so I did and there you go. Now I have to figure some of that stuff out, Nicolas, because I made a lot of overdubs in the studio. (Laughs) So I have to go back now and figure out what I did so we can play it live. I’m actually challenging myself now when I listen back to it because that’s like « Wow! I went pretty crazy on a lot of this stuff and now I’ve got to figure it out! » (Laughs)

You mentionned Jimbo who did Operation: Mindcrime. Do you think he should have been on Operation: Mindcrime II as well?

No, I actually don’t because I don’t think it would have been the right record for him to work on. And, listen, in all honesty, that was the beginning of our struggle in Queensrÿche with Geoff. Mindcrime II just wasn’t a big focus for all of us. A lot of bad things happened during the making of that record and it was the beginning of the struggle, like I said. So, I think it was better that Jimbo was not a part of that. And actually I think right now is the perfect timing [to work with Jimbo again]. We were meant to come back together and make this new record. He’s been so excited about it and he’s very greatful for all the comments from the media and the fans. He had no idea that people would be so excited to have him working with us again on this.

About your drumming, it sounds like you’re using new elements in your drum set. Did you rethink your drumming and your drum set especially for this album?

Well, you know, that’s an interesting question. But I guess… No, not really. I didn’t add any really odd elements. It’s kind of the big setup that I had for many years, because it’s so confortable for me. Maybe it’s just the way I played and the way Jimbo and I worked together on the sounds of the drums and what we ended up with and achieved when it was all finished. I think that our goal, whatever the drums were doing, was to make sure that they sounded and they worked the best for every song. I think it sounds very much like me, like back in the days of Mindcrime and Empire. I think that the sound of the drums and my performances feel like that time period for me. But I also think that it sounds like a nice, new, fresh, modern version of Queensrÿche and maybe we achieved both of those.

In reaction to the fact that you guys wanted to revisit the old Queensrÿche sound, Tate told us the following : « I don’t think you can go back. It’s not being true to art, if you are constantly regurgitating the same things that you have done. You’re despising yourself as a human being. » What do you think of that?

Well, you know, listen, everybody has their own opinion. What our thoughts are is that we wanted that, we wanted to get back to playing the old material live but also, with the new material, we wanted that energy back that we had back in those days and that creative chemistry, and we struggled with that. Todd was a great addition: he loves that idea, he loves the music from back then that we did as Queensrÿche and he was very interested in bringing all those elements into the new material. I don’t agree with that opinion of what you’re saying that he said. I think it’s important for Queensrÿche to do what we do best, and that’s what we feel we do best.

« Michael, Eddie and I feel that the best thing for Queensrÿche is to have the original members playing the old material for the fans and making new records that sound like Queensrÿche. »

He also said that Chris DeGarmo and him came up with a philosophy regarding their music that is to keep expending and progressing with the writing and trying all kinds of different things. Do you think you’re actually keeping true to that original philosophy?

Yeah, well, that was actually all of us that talked about that, it wasn’t just Chris and Geoff. I mean, our goal as a band back then was to always make the best music that we felt we could, to push ourselves and to enjoy what we did. You know, we’re artists: you evolve and you try different things. But I think that the most important thing for us now is to make sure that the important elements of Queenrÿche are still in the music that we’re going to start making now, including this new record. I think we’ve elvoved greatly again with this new record but it sounds like Queensrÿche. You know, it’s one thing to evolve way out and not really have a solid foundation of what a band is known to be good for, but it’s good to evolve within, I think, the parameters of what the chemistry has been from the beginning, if that makes sense. (Laughs)

The album is only 35 minutes long. How comes it’s so short?

Well (chuckles), you know, that interesting because we actually didn’t even know how long the record was until we finished it six weeks ago. We worked on the material, we recorded the eleven pieces of music, we all got done and the record company called us when we were getting ready to send it to them and they said : « Can you tell us how long the record is? », because we hadn’t added it up yet. And we were all surprised that it was only thirty five minutes. I guess the important aspect of that is that it never felt short to us. The record, from the first song to the last song, feels, to us, like a very complete project. It wasn’t missing anything. Our goal is to always have the best quality and not as much quantity. We don’t want to put extra songs on it that aren’t ready yet just because we thought that the audience and the customers needed more material. There has been some great records in the past that are way shorter than ours is, even at thirty five minutes. I still think that the greatest thing is that our fans are very excited: they just wanted the best music they can get, no matter how long it is. They don’t want a bunch of stuff that feels like filler as we call it, right?

Since the breakup, Geoff Tate has toured for the 25th anniversary of Operation: Mindcrime and released an album as Queensrÿche two month before you. Did you feel like being pressured by this somehow?

Well, no. To be honest, we actually don’t. My main comment is just that we don’t really acknowledge that there’s another Queensrÿche out there. Because, it’s not important to us and we don’t feel it should be important to us. Our focus is Queensrÿche, our Queensrÿche, and we feel that we’re doing the best that Queensrÿche needs as a band and as a brand. And Michael, Eddie and I have been the main guys in Queensrÿche from the very beginning. Even before any body else was in the band, we were playing together. Our confidence is pretty high on any everything that we’re doing for Queensrÿche. The fans around the world are supporting us, our record is getting amazing reviews right now and the fans are very enthousiastic about it. So anyway, we feel great and we don’t feel pressure. We don’t do things just to get them out. Our record is coming out at the end of June because that’s when we could spend enough time to get it done. We weren’t going to rush anything and put out music that wasn’t up to the standards that we felt we should be doing.

And I guess that you didn’t listen to his album, right?

You know, I’ve heard a few pieces here and there, just because it’s on the internet. That’s an honest response but, I don’t have enough time to sit and listen and, to be honest, I’m just not interested. Because, like I said, we’re the core of Queensrÿche and we have three of the five original members in the band, so we just feel that our strengh lies in that.

« Now we know what we can do together with Todd. [..] So it’s a great begining for the next record and then the next one. […] And it could be another twenty years! »

About the legal issues, the next court date is in November. Are you confident? Do you think this issue will finally be settled?

I think that hopefully the best decision will be made in November for the support of the name of Queensrÿche and what it means. We feel very confident. Like I said again, we just feel confident about what we’re doing, the fans are supporting, we’re really proud of the new music and we’ve got a great new surrounding of people that are very professionnal that are helping us. We have a huge management company that signed us. We have one of the biggest booking agent for around the world that has taken us on. We have Century Media which is a fantastic record company for us to be on and they’re very enthousiastic. So, as you can see, Nicolas, my point is that we just feel so good about it and that we think that the best decision will be made in November.

There’s one interesting thing that Tate told us, it’s that he thought that the current situation is good for the fans because they get twice as much music. Do you agree with that?

No, I don’t actually. We’re all wanting the best for Queensrÿche and Michael, Eddie and I feel that the best thing for Queensrÿche is to have the original members playing the old material for the fans and making new records that sound like Queensrÿche. We feel that’s what’s best. To have competing Queensrÿches in the market place, all it does is create confusion for the fans, unfortunately, and that doesn’t help Queensrÿche on either side. I think the best thing is going to be to come to a final decision on this all thing and for Queensrÿche to move on.

You told me earlier that you were already writing new music. How does it sound like?

(Laughs) Ah, well, you have the new records, do you? Did you listen to all of it?

Yeah, I have!

OK, so, the new music is sounding like that. It’s our chemistry. It’s a lot of fun because, now we know what we can do together with Todd. It’s so exciting because we’re all so excited. So it’s a great beginning for the next record and then the next one. I think that we’re just going to keep making the best music that we feel we can. And it could be another twenty years! (Laughs)

Does this mean that we’ll already have some new music next year?

Ah, you know, I think anything is possible. I think we’re very excited about making new music and we’re just going to keep doing it. We have to tour around the world, we have shows that start next week, but we have a lot of opportunities to keep writing. So, yeah, I think we’ll have a record out sometime next year, that’s probably a fair guess.

Do you have plans to come to Europe?

Yes, we certainly do! So thank you for asking that. We’re doing shows in the united state through the summer and October is when we’re going to do a full European tour for the entire month and I believe France is part of the list. So yes!

Interview conducted by phone on June, 13th 2013
Transcription: Spaceman

Official Queensrÿche’s website: www.queensrycheofficial.com

Album Queensrÿche, out since June 25th 2013 via Nuclear Blast

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