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The Verdict Is In: An Exclusive Interview With QUEENSRYCHE Guitarist MICHAEL WILTON

By Travis Failey, Planet Earth Contributor
Thursday, January 23, 2020 @ 8:33 AM

"...it's not like we're resting on our legacy of past hits, we're still forging forward, and that gives us an avenue to tour and spark some interest in up and coming power metal kids."

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Live Photos By Travis Failey

KNAC.COM: We're here with Michael Wilton from QUEENSRYCHE as they are getting ready to play Jannus Live in beautiful Downtown St. Pete. How's it going, brother?

WILTON: It's going great. I am loving the weather and it’s way better than the cold, rainy, snowy Northwest. So, QUEENSRYCHE is very happy to be down here in Florida.

KNAC.COM: Congrats on all three albums with Todd and of course your success in the industry. Can you tell us how the last 7 years has been?

WILTON: Well, thank you. It's been quite a process through the last seven years rebuilding the band and with Todd being the new frontman. It's been a lot of shows, obviously, proving that we are QUEENSRYCHE, and it's something that, over time, we knew the fans were gonna be there for us, but it's more of convincing the industry and the promoters and the people that don't have their nose to the grindstone per se, it's something that we attribute all this hard work and touring to is, keeping the longevity of QUEENSRYCHE alive and showing the fans that we can kick ass.

KNAC.COM: Well, I think that the proof is in the pudding with the last two albums in Condition Hüman and The Verdict. Both of those albums reached #1 on many people's top ten lists for their respective years. What do you attribute that to?

WILTON: I think it was just anticipation and the buildup that happened. On Condition Hüman, we toured on that album for almost four years, right? So, it was obvious that this was going to be an album that, well, in the QUEENSRYCHE tradition, we try and stretch the limits and not go back and repeat the past. So, to come up with something that's a genuine snapshot of where are at creatively, there was a lot of anticipation. But I think as a band and the chemistry that we have and the growth of songwriting capability in the band now, we're at a different level than we were with Condition Hüman. For us, we just believe in what we do and the whole creation process was fun because it's a band. Everybody's ideas are put into the pot. And it's something that as a band, I think, the energy that facilitates us, it shows to the crowd.

KNAC.COM: QUEENSRYCHE has also been known to touch on some topics from a political and religious avenue including "Blood of the Levant" from The Verdict. Is the current political climate providing the band a trove of material?

WILTON: We reflect on what we see in our travels and what we surround us with. And if we take a topic, it's more from a viewpoint of asking a question and letting the listener determine what they want. So, if we talk about PTSD or the war in Syria or just checking out of humanity in your mind, it's stuff that we responsibly write about, but we're not on a soapbox on any side.

KNAC.COM: With this tour, your residency with the SCOPRIONS and the upcoming cruise shows, any chance we will see a live recording come out anytime soon?

WILTON: Yes. We have a hard drive full of live songs, which we have been acquiring as we've been touring. So there's a plethora of live material. If the record company wants to release something, we can do that audio-wise. In 2020, touring is gonna be a little lighter than 2019, which was basically 100 shows and touring all over the world. So, there's gonna be more brainstorming and more coming up with ideas and the beginning stages of writing the next record.

KNAC.COM: In regard to new material, how important are online outlets like KNAC.COM to getting out to the masses your new music and tour dates? I'm sure it’s not getting a ton of airplay on Sirius/XM and especially terrestrial stations.

WILTON: Right. It's such a different business and different media compared to back in the days when there were big record companies that kind of paved the way for bands' successes. So, now it's something that you just have to take advantage of what's out there. There's so much stuff on the internet that you have to be aware of so you've got to hire people just to manage that. So, if, for instance, KNAC is promoting our tour or saying kind words about that, we have somebody that's gonna follow that and obviously propagate that.

KNAC.COM: I compare Todd coming into the band like when Scott Travis or Ritchie Faulkner came into PRIEST. Both of these guys at separate times invigorated the band. What effect have the younger guys had on the band?

WILTON: Well, I think it's great.. It adds an injection of energy and effervescence I might say. And it's great because as you have the elders, me and Eddie, you'll have other audiences that are fans of KAMELOT for Casey Grillo, and Todd's past, and Parker has got obviously a younger crowd that follows him. We see that in the shows. We get lots of young kids when we're not playing “21 and Over” places, and as well as people that have been there since the early 80s. It's a big mix of people. And it’s also just staying current and we're continually putting out albums. So, it's not like we're resting on our legacy of past hits, we're still forging forward, and that gives us an avenue to tour and spark some interest in up and coming power metal kids.

KNAC.COM: Let's go back in the time machine. When you guys found that your original band name THE MOB was taken, was there any other options other than QUEENSRYCHE at the time and was there any pushback from any of the other band members in regard to the name?

WILTON: I think there may have been a few, but it was like in the 11th hour that we had to come up with a name because it was going to press. So, Chris had this dream of a crazy lady and put two and two together, he called her the Queen of the Reich, and put the name together. And we spelled it crazy because we thought we were cool back then, being 19 and 20 years old. And also back then, when you're buying LPs and everything, we go, "Wow, there's not too much action here in the Q section versus like the S section." So, it was nice.

KNAC.COM: MAIDEN has Eddie, MEGADETH has Vic Rattlehead and so on. You guys have used the Tri-Ryche symbol since QUEENSRYCHE’s inception. How important has it been in helping define your brand?

WILTON: Well, it's great. It's almost become its own entity. People see that and they need to go, "Oh, that's that band from Seattle". And for us, it's endless what we can do with it in the marketing and t-shirts.

KNAC.COM: How about tattoos?

WILTON: Even tattoos. Every album cover, scrims on the stage, on our guitars, and we just blast it out. And that symbol is everywhere. So, it's something that's just been a part of us. And it's in the early inception days on the EP, when you look at the back and you see the border and you see the corners, you kind of see the beginnings of it.

KNAC.COM: The original members of QUEENSRYCHE were all from the Seattle area. Did anyone in the band see the wrecking ball that was “grunge” coming?

WILTON: We were so busy touring and just being QUEENSRYCHE that when that hit, it was a big fashion statement in Seattle with the flannel shirts and more easygoing lifestyle. But for us, it would've been silly to try and emulate that. We knew who we were and we just forged through it, you know. We stuck to our guns. And I think that, it comes down to the songs. You can put all these fads aside but it's all determined by the songs that you write.

KNAC.COM: When the band was putting together Operation Mindcrime, was there any question in your mind in regard to doing a concept album?

WILTON: Well, that's kind of the advantage of being in QUEENSRYCHE because the fans want you to experiment. They want you to try different things. And that was something that everybody thought was a good idea and once management and record label approved and everything, we went for it.

KNAC.COM: When the band was in the studio recording the release, did you realize how impressive the material was? It’s always in the greatest concept album discussion.

WILTON: Well, we knew we had something very special but it's just a bonus for it to have been so many fans favorite album and to have been put in books about metal music.

KNAC.COM: Let’s talk a bit of gear for a minute, ESPs have been your go to for years now..

WILTON: Yeah. I've been ESP for over, I don't know, 25 years. So, I still play those guitars, and I love the company. It's a good bunch of guys. And they're roadworthy. I've got my own signature model and they work on the road and it's something people recognize. And as far as the other gear, I use a Kemper amplifier processor. It's this German amplifier processor that profiles amplifiers basically. It takes a snapshot and analyzes an amp, and then saves it into its hard drive, into its memory, and it's very accurate.

It has three-rack spaces. I can put it in a Pelican case with a wireless unit and ship it all over the world and I get the same sound consistently every night.

KNAC.COM: And that's important in a live show setting. Speaking of live shows, you guys are going back out with KISS on their cruise in the fall. You guys are coming around full circle because you toured with KISS on The Warning release and you also went out with MAIDEN for the "World Slavery Tour". What did the fans and the bands treat you like back then?

WILTON: It's something that I think, generally, we were treated really well, and we obviously learned a lot in the business, and those bands were very generous to have us and we really appreciated that because it's just a wealth of knowledge to meet those guys and tour with them. And that's something that helped the band grow and become a little more professional when we were in our 20’s.

KNAC.COM: It was also a crazy scene in Los Angeles during your 20’s with a lot of drugs, partying, and women but your band was able to stay out of the negative spotlight. Was it happening behind the scenes and the fans were just not privy to it?

WILTON: For us, it's like we're just guys that are inviting you to our party. Our personal demons, those are all in check but we're not perfect.

KNAC.COM: Even back then?

WILTON: Even back then, but it's something that, yeah, we didn't propagate. It's not something that we wanted to advertise. So, it was more of just a private thing. And we were probably pretty much a boring band as far as the partying was concerned.

KNAC.COM: In wrapping up, I would like to thank you for providing not only me but your fans the continued soundtrack of our lives.

WILTON: Well, you're too kind. Thank you very much.

QUEENSRYCHE continues to be road warriors in support of The Verdict. For a list of tour dates near you: http://www.queensrycheofficial.com/tour-dates/

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