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Kerbyís Exclusive Interview With Geoff Tate

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Monday, March 17, 2008 @ 11:04 AM

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Talk about longevity.

It would be hard to find a band that originally came to prominence during the 80ís with a brighter outlook and post Nirvana history than Queensryche. Sure, Metallica can still headline stadiums, and if Guns and Roses ever reunited, their popularity would obviously be fucking tremendous, but as far as bands from that period who never really took any time away from music, its undeniable that Queensryche can hold their own with anyone. They still sell out theatres, fans come to their shows, and QR continues to produce work that is discussed and listened to by thousands. A relentless touring schedule always puts the band in close proximity to their supporters who tend to be extremely focused on their adulation of the groupóa band whose music, to many people, represents a special time for them. Obviously, as he discusses here, the member of QR who probably hears the most fan testimonials would be vocalist Geoff Tateóa singer who hasnít lost a step over the years and has continued to belt out the standards like a heavy metal opera singer complete with power and multi-octave range.

Queensrycheís latest studio offering which finds them out on the road is Take Cover--a collection of covers from artists as diverse as Peter Gabriel, U2, Black Sabbath and the Police. The eclectic mixture of songs present on the album should come as no surprise to those who hearken back to the round of interviews vocalist Geoff Tate did in support of his self-titled solo effort in 2002 when he championed such unlikely influences as Hall and Oates and The Police as having been inspirational to his music. To many, those associated with metal should always be limited to the clearly defined parameters of the traditional hard rock/metal lineage, but Queensryche has seemingly made a career of consistently trying to challenge these notions while also giving the listeners a sense of floating outside the boundaries of what hard rock can be.

As of late, the bandís rendition of Pink Floydís ďWelcome to the MachineĒ has been getting substantial airplay while thrusting QR back to the forefront of the genre and solidifying the group as both a touring and commercial force. What anyone acquainted with the band should know though is that at least part of the Rycheís longevity can be traced to the fact that the group is always in the public consciousness for trying something newówhether it might be touring the whole Mindcrime record or presenting a theatrical version of the album or maybe even writing a sequel to the seminal offering. For their stellar work ethic and desire to innovate, Queensryche has been rewarded with a fan base that is typically open to the changes they have seen both stylistically as well as in regard to personnel over the last two decades. With over twenty-five years behind them, there is no reason to believe there arenít at least another ten in the future for the Ryche as it rolls to a town near you.

KNAC.COM: How much thought was given when selecting the songs to be covered on the new record to not always go with the obvious choice?

TATE: You know, really the way we decided was that everybody in the band just picked a couple of songs. They just brought them in with an idea for the arrangement ahead of time, and then we just sort of went with what everybody picked. There really wasnít too much thought that went into it.

KNAC.COM: Really? So everybody just basically got a couple of tracks to choose and everyone in the band was sort of amenable to recording them?

TATE: Exactly. That was the only criteria, really.

KNAC.COM: SoÖyouíre telling me that nothing was really out of bounds then?

TATE: No, everybodyís got a pretty extensive record collection, so the tastes of the band run the gamut, really. It was just a matter of everyone picking a couple of songs they thought the band could do.

KNAC.COM: I know you have a particular affinity for Hall and Oates, and other bands that arenít considered normal rock-god fare. How hard was it for you personally to narrow your choices down to a couple of songs?

TATE: Well, that is sort of why we chose to do it the way we did. We sort of saw that it would be a never-ending battle or decision making process if we tried to think about it too much, so we just decided to each pick a couple of songs and roll with it.

KNAC.COM: I can imagine that if you are having a significant internal dialogue about what two selections you want individually, one figures you could multiply that tenfold for the band---if thatís the case, that type of situation could go on forever and be really counter productive, couldnít it?

TATE: (LAUGHS) Itís kind of like picking a set list for when we play live. Itís difficult to decide what to do. I mean, certain songs we just have to do for our core audience. That leaves some of it for what we individually want to play. Those decisions almost come down to like a poker game--ĒIíll play this song if you play these two songs.Ē Everyone is either trying to get a song either on the set list or if its what they donít want to play, taken off the set list.

KNAC.COM: Iím sure making any record is a difficult process, but would you agree that making Mindcrime II might have been even more arduous, and if thatís the case, wouldnít it be the perfect time to come out with a covers album? Just something for you guys to have fun withÖ

TATE: The covers thing kinda came about in a weird way. During sound checks we kinda goof around a little bit playing cover songs and other peopleís songs. Weíll play this game where someone will play a riff and weíll try to name the tune it goes or play the song they started. Itís kind of a fun exercise. One night, a person from Rhino was there and suggested that we record the stuff. It seemed like a fun idea, and really we didnít spend a lot of time doing it. It was a really, quick, fun recording session. That seemed to be really what we needed to do at the time--have some fun.

KNAC.COM: Can you picture any of these cover songs sticking in the set list three or four years from now?

TATE: I dunno. It might be fun. I dunno--I never really thought about that.

KNAC.COM: There is a Peter Gabriel song on the record, and I was wondering what your take was on Genesis. Here is a band that had artistic credibility with Gabriel, but didnít break really big until Phil Collins took over vocals. At that point though, the critics hated them, and they werenít taken seriously by many. Is a band that sells that many records destined to be criticized by the media and long time fans as sellouts?

TATE: I kind of enjoyed all the different eras. I loved what Peter Gabriel and Genesis did in the early days. Of course, I was really into them at that time--Iíve also like what he did solo. I also liked what Genesis did with Phil Collins--some of that is really inventive and Iíve also like what Phil Collins did as a solo artist as well. I just think that those guys individually are just incredible musicians. What theyíve done music wise is just wonderful stuff.

KNAC.COM: With bands on this record like Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, is it simply a matter of running through songs that you like, or do you still hold a certain reverence for these groups? Do you still get star struck in certain respects?

TATE: Uhhh, yeah. Yeah. On this last tour with Black Sabbath, especially. They put out three albums that were incredibly influential for us. We were referencing their songs when we were talking about writing our own. That would have been back in 1980 or 81. In fact, we called our band The Mob from ďMob RulesĒ. It really gave us a pleasure to watch those guys up close because I havenít seen them play since the Black and White Tour in 1980 or so. I learned a lot watching Toni Iommi and Geezer Butler play together. Those guys do something special that Iíve never seen anyone do together. They have this way of filling up space in a song and switching between chords and individual notes that Iíve never seen. Itís really unique. They bend notes the same way with each other and itís sort of a harmony thing that is really an integral part of their sound. You canít really copy something like that. Itís just got to be something that they do instinctively--itís really interesting to watch. They have a keyboard player, Scott, and he was telling me that he has a hell of time with them because keyboards donít bend like that--they donít bend in and out of pitch. They are tuned to a specific note. When he first started playing with them, he said he had a hard time because he always heard himself out of pitch with them, but thatís part of their sound. Yeah, Iím star struck definitely. Those are the kind of people you admire a lot. You meet them and most of the time, itís a pleasurable experience, and other times, itsÖnot. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Itís interesting to hear you say that. Iíve heard many people tell me that they donít want to meet certain musicians because they donít want to risk having a band encounter and having it change their perception of the music.

TATE: Exactly. I can understand that.

KNAC.COM: To hear a musician say that they sometimes meet someone whose music they enjoy and it doesnít live up to their expectations is definitely a revelation of sorts. Would it impact whether or not you would want to listen to their records again?

TATE: Hmm, no, and the reason why for me is that Iíve been in those shoes and I know that its not easy to be on all the time. Iíve been on tour and sometimes itís difficult to be on and be personable to people all the time. Sometimes it could be a case of you having a bad day or maybe the person is a little overzealous.

KNAC.COM: Overzealous meaning the person is giving you an enormous bear hug and kissing you on the forehead?

TATE: Yeah, that can kind of get to youÖ(laughs) I donít really let that shape my view of the person, but most of the time Iíve met artist or musicians, it has been a fairly positive experience.

KNAC.COM: Iíve also heard plenty of musicians say that although they realize that meeting a fan is something that person will carry with them throughout their life, it doesnít change the fact that they are having a bad day and donít feel like smiling through the fiftieth handshake they are supposed to do in Cleveland. I meanómaybe, I donítí feel like talking about the guitar solo on the fourth track off The Warning.

TATE: (laughs) Well, Iíll tell you--that conversation hardly ever happens. We hardly ever talk about the music in detail. Itís usually that they want to talk about when they met you or when they saw the band or what it meant to them at the moment. Itís cool. I like hearing those stories. Itís kind of interesting that when you meet five thousand people that four thousand of them might say the same thing.

KNAC.COM: That is kind of interesting because when I was talking to Mike about the interaction he would get with the fans, he told me that his conversations were really technical. Guitar enthusiasts can probably be that way though.

TATE: It has always been interesting to me how people hear music. Some people donít hear any detail at allóthey couldnít tell you a verse section from a chorus section or even make out individual instruments. They just seem to hear it as a wall of sound. Other people though are very detail oriented, and that always amazes me.

KNAC.COM: How much of that is productive to consider when writing a song? Does it even matter?

TATE: Well, I never really write songs based on what I think other people will think of it. I always just take into account what Iím thinking about it or what Iím trying to say with it. I always just look at it as personal expression. I donít really care what other people think about it. When other people present other ideas, thatís cool.

KNAC.COM: I know weíve spoken on many occasions about politics, and I know you have plenty of opinions. What Iím wondering is that if music is a forum for expression, how could politics be off limits? Many people will want to say they donít want to hear an actor or a musician or a plumber talk about politics, but if thatís the case, who does get to talk about it?

TATE: (Laughs) Really. I think the people who have that attitude where they donít want to hear anyone elseís opinions should probably just put earplugs in, you know, or cover their eyes so they canít seeótheyíd be a lot happier.

KNAC.COM: Have you taken any personal satisfaction with regard to the general consensus that Bushís tenure as President has been a failure or does it just leave you with a sense of disgust that it took this long?

TATE: You know, I think that people really want to believe that they made the right choice. They donít like to think about the fact that maybe they got sold something that they didnít want. I respect people for supporting their decision and waving their flag and doing what they do and believing in their choices, butÖsometimes, I think people should be able to feel comfortable eating crow. Basically, people need to know that a wrong decision was made and make a conscious effort to make a better one next time.

KNAC.COM: Do you ever hit a point though where as an individual you just say, ďI donít want to write about this anymore. I donít want to comment on it because it isnít getting any better. I did what I could do----Ē Or, do you just dig in and decide that you will express yourself as long as there are indignities going on that inspire you to speak out?

TATE: Honestly, politics is kind of boring to me now because it has turned into kind of like this sporting event. Iím not really into competitive sports anyway. Anything that even sounds like a competitive sport, I just kind of avoid. I think our political system has turned into that, and I think thatís a shame. I donít know how to do it any different, but I think that a lot of people hold onto that idea that ďIím gonna vote Republican or Iím gonna vote DemocratĒ no matter what. Thatís a mistake.

KNAC.COM: Doesnít that attitude lend itself to political gridlock and an inability to look at specific issues?

TATE: Yeah, I just donít think thatís a quality way to look at it. You have to look at the person and see what theyíve done as well as what they could potentially do for the country. Every time there is an election, itís a big decision, really. I donít think a lot of people are that qualified to make that decision, honestly. In order to make that kind of decision, you have to look at many different angles and positions, and I donít think most people have the time or interest to desire to spend thousands of hours looking into it. It takes time to go through all the material and read all the information that is out there from all the opposing sides and then make a decision based on that.

KNAC.COM: Couldnít you make the argument that the reason why that is, is because we as a country have prospered for so long that as the modern empire, we have gotten apathetic with regard to our own democracy? Does a society ever turn around when it starts to go in that direction?

TATE: (laughs) I think one of the things we have in this country that is sort of a challenge to get over is the overwhelming feeling of entitlement that we have. I donít know where that comes from whether it is just our success as an economy or our success in general or what we do, butÖI donít know where that comes fromóitís a crippling thing though to always think you deserve something without actually having to work for it.

KNAC.COM: I think an extension of personal entitlement though is the lack of personal accountability that exists in society as well. No one is ever at fault for anything they either do or donít do.

TATE: Well, you see that all time with a lack of accountability especially when it comes to something like white-collar crime. The way the attorneys have structured the law, itís really the little guy who pays. You know, when you go from these big cities to the small towns, why are these guys paying the highest gas prices around? Why are they paying more? Obviously, there isnít an economy there that can support those kinds of prices. You go into the city and the prices are considerably lower. I donít know. That kind of stuff sort of irks me.

KNAC.COM: I know you said you werenít into competitive sports, but you recently did sing the national anthem at a Seahawks game---so youíre acquainted with the atmosphere. Do you think itís convenient that we have distractions like the NFL or the NBA or major league baseball to distract us from more important issues? Is it a distraction thatís intentional?

TATE: Thatís a good question. I think there is room for all sorts of entertainment, and I certainly wouldnít condemn anyone for being a football fanóI think if thatís what theyíre into, thatís cool. Personally, I think balance is an important component to a lifestyle. You just need to be able to balance your love of football with your family life or whatever. You just need to be able to give it equal attention. Like all entertainment, we all sort of use it as a form of escapism from our drudgeries or our difficulties or whatever.

KNAC.COM: What does it say about a society though when it is an absolute fact that you could get 75 thousand people to scream at a football game, but you canít get 75 people to attend a meeting about a cityís school system.

TATE: Exactly. I think that is kind of human nature though. Not to sound elitist or anything, but there is a leadership kind of personality, and there areÖa lot of followers. I think that is just the way human nature is.

KNAC.COM: How much of an issue would it be for you to allow Queensryche music to be used for advertising purposes?

TATE: I think it would probably depend on the product or the situation. I enjoy clever advertising when they match something up really well with a song or an idea. I think there is definitely an art to that. Actually though, I havenít been approached with anything, so Iíve never been in that position to make that decision. Then, there is also the monetary end of it as wellóif they are gonna give you a million dollars for something, and if itís a lean year or things arenít looking so good--put it this way, Iíd hate to be put in that position.

KNAC.COM: I always wonder if Jim Morrisonís stance on never using his music in order to sell a product would have changed if he had lived to be 55 or 60. Is it easier to be idealistic when you die young?

TATE: I think the thing Iíve learned in all of my years is just to never say never because circumstances and situations are always changing. When that happens, you have to go back on what you said which is always somewhat embarrassing. When Morrison made those statements, he was a very idealistic young man, and a lot happens during your life that can change your perspective from your 20ís to your 30ís to your 40ís and even the 50ís and 60ís are radically different.

KNAC.COM: Is it fair that that the Janet Joplinís and Jim Morrisonís of the world get to always have that elevated status with regard to worldwide acclaim when they didnít have to age? I mean, they never had to deal with the type of ups and downs that a career that spans decades invariably does.

TATE: I agree in the sense that they were never tested. I think the test of life is something to be applauded and someone who checks out early Ėespecially to suicideóis a cop out. They didnít have to go through the test of fire. They got to get out early. The immortality with respect to certain people isnít so well deserved. There are a lot of people out there benefiting from keeping people on the covers of magazines after they have been dead for 25 years or soóthat is what makes them legends is the media coverage.

KNAC.COM: Isnít there a perception though that if you really mean it, youíll die for it by the age of 27? If you donít, then somehow your work isnít quite as authentic.

TATE: Yeah, itís a strange world. (laugh) I wouldnít trade all of what has happened to me since that time for a spot on a magazine. I have children who are my responsibility---I take that very seriously. I need to be around in order to take care of that. I also have a responsibility of as a musician to continue to express myself for as long as I can. Whether itís a song by Kiss or a song by David Bowie or Bob Dylanówho is always importantómusic is always important in the culture of human experience. It helps drive our culture and shapes how we think about things. If art isnít available in a culture, that culture will fail.

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