Queensrÿche founder Geoff Tate

by Dan MacIntosh

The release of Kings and Thieves, Geoff Tate's second solo album, marks the beginning of his post-Queensrÿche musical career. Tate had been with the band since its inception in the early '80s, but in June of 2012 drummer Scott Rockenfield released a statement, which said in part, "parting ways with Geoff was the best way for everyone to move forward in a positive direction." The band replaced him with Todd La Torre, formerly of Crimson Glory.

Tate spoke to Rolling Stone magazine in June of 2012, and said the band's troubles began in February of that year with disagreements over moving their merchandising to a third party, something he wasn't happy about. Tate also countered Rockenfield's contention that there were "creative differences," suggesting that he (Tate) was the primary creative force in the band.

"Well, I think it's economically driven, mostly," Tate said. "I'm a 25% holder in our companies. I think it's just business in their minds. Cut me out and then split 25% and hire some young guy that's gonna work for a weekly wage so they make more money. It's just ridiculous."

Just what caused this band of 30 years to change its original lead vocalist and main creative force depends on who you believe, but Tate and the new Queensrÿche have both moved on.

Queensrÿche, which takes its name from the pre-Queensrÿche band The Mob's demo titled Queen of the Reich, has given metal a good name by combining powerful rock & roll with equally powerful and intelligent lyrics. The group has released eleven full-length albums since its inception in 1981, most notably 1988's Operation: Mindcrime, a critically acclaimed concept album. Queensrÿche's biggest hit (and surprisingly, their only Hot 100), "Silent Lucidity," came on the album Empire, which was the follow up to Mindcrime.

With Kings and Thieves, Tate takes care of some unfinished business with the third song in a trilogy that started with the Queensrÿche track "Drive." He talks about making the album, explains how the band's big hit came together, and lets us in on the meaning of "Jet City Woman."
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): Let's just dig right in. This interview is for Songfacts, so I want to talk about some of your songs. And let's start by talking about the new album. With a title like Kings and Thieves, it makes me wonder if it was inspired by your thoughts about politics.

Geoff Tate: Well, honestly, the title was originally a working title of the song, and I couldn't quite get the title to work with the song topic. So I wrote it down and set it at the top of my song notes that I keep and kind of highlighted it, and it kept sitting there for months and months staring at me. I wanted to use it somewhere but couldn't figure out how to use it. So I finished writing the record, and I was talking to the gentleman who developed the album cover for the record with me, Anthony Clarkson. As I talked to Anthony about the cover, I wanted to use my family crest on the album cover, and he came up with this beautiful, stylized family crest for me. He had the scrolls at the top with my name, and then he left a blank spot for the album title. And I thought, "Kings and Thieves, there it is. That's where that title should go."

So it became the album title, which I suppose could raise a lot of questions: what does that mean, what's it about? I like to leave it up in the open for people to interpret on their own, really. But I think it's a very interesting title and one that could definitely inspire a lot of conversation and speculation.

Songfacts: Well, one of the songs on the album, "She Slipped Away," is a part of a trilogy that started with the Queensrÿche track "Drive." Did you feel like "Drive" was unfinished business?

Geoff: Well, yeah. Topic wise, as a writer, you're always thinking about taking a big topic and then condensing it down into a suggestible presentation. And this particular topic, it needed more explanation, I felt. Originally, it was inspired by... I don't know if this is something that you've experienced, but if you've ever been in a relationship with someone, particularly a man/woman relationship I'm going for here, the man is typically driving the car, and the woman is sitting in the passenger seat. And sometimes on these drives you get into these conversations that somehow escalate into disagreements or arguments, and they could become really heated. And as a man, you're kind of focused, and so you're trying to drive the car and operate the controls and follow the rules of the road and not wreck the car, and at the same time you're trying to answer questions or defend yourself or whatever. [Laughing] And then it just becomes a really strange arena.

So I had written a short story based on that, and then decided to turn that short story into the song, and I just felt it needed to be three songs instead of just one. So I began the story with the song "Drive" off the last Queensrÿche record, and we continued it with "She Slipped Away."

Songfacts: One of the more positive songs on the album is "These Glory Days." And I'm told that it was lifted from an age-old French proverb, but I don't know my French proverbs. Can you tell me where that came from?

Geoff: It's a very, very old saying. Basically, it goes, "Praise the god of all, drink the wine, and let the world be the world." Which says to me, respect people's ideas and their viewpoints. Not necessarily that you have to agree with them, but respect the fact that we all have different viewpoints and different opinions. And with that, enjoy life, because it's shorter. And don't sweat the small stuff.

Songfacts: And do you live by that most of the time?

Geoff: I really try to, yeah. It's become kind of a catchphrase with my family and my musical organization now. You know, when you're having a rough go at it and you're frustrated and that kind of thing, the catchphrase is, "Drink the wine." Just relax and go with the flow. Don't try to change things that you can't change.

Songfacts: One of the things that you said about making this album, that before you went in you wanted to just make a rock album. Did that affect the way you wrote songs? Did it change your mindset as far as how you created the songs, knowing that you had the intention of making it maybe a less-eclectic, stylistic album and more of a straight ahead rock album?

Geoff: In a sense, yeah. Typically, when I sit down to write a record, I'm an outline-maker, so I'll grab a piece of paper and a pencil and jot down an outline of what I want to try to achieve, whether I want to write this record within a given timeframe or I want it to sound like this or that, or I want to cover this subject matter, that kind of thing.

And I really wanted to make an album that would translate live real easily in a very impactful way. So I went about it by keeping the song structure to a rock format, which would be easy to come across. And I also wanted it to balance out my other material, my other solo material from my first solo album, which was kind of an eclectic mixture of songs but not a lot of rock-oriented songs. So I wanted this record to balance that one out so that I could play a live show and have a nice, dynamic shape to the evening. It's going to take the listener – I like to kind of set the mood and take the listener through several different moods, basically, so they can experience different emotions. You know, different songs have different emotions, and you want to kind of take people on a ride. So yeah, that was kind of my thinking going into it.

And then I was looking for what kind of instrumentation I would use. I wanted to use traditional rock instrumentation. And kind of looking towards my musical influences in the rock era, like Pink Floyd and Rainbow and Deep Purple, Golden Earring – these bands were really important to me in my musical direction.

Songfacts: When you tour, do you work Queensrÿche songs in with your solo songs?

Geoff: Yeah, I have quite a catalog of music under my belt. I think it's near 200 songs now in my musical catalog. So I have a lot of stuff to choose from, which is a blessing. And so yeah, I put together a set list of songs from my solo work, and some of my favorite Queensrÿche songs and some Queensrÿche songs that I think are my audience's favorites.

Songfacts: Would you care to comment on a few of the Queensrÿche songs that I'm sure Songfacts readers would sure like to know more about?

Geoff: Sure, yeah.

Songfacts: The one that I like best is "I Don't Believe in Love." When I hear that, I wonder if you're trying to write from a character's perspective, or was that a song that expressed how you felt at that time?

Geoff: Well, that whole album, Operation: Mindcrime, is written from a character's perspective. I did a lot of character development in preparing for that record and in giving my characters a story, a complete outline as far as their personality goes. And then I wrote the lyrics based on my outline. Kind of like what you would do if you were writing a screenplay or a book or something like that - you'd have a catalog of character traits that you'd assign to your character to give them a background and a present and a future. So yeah, it's definitely written from the character Nikki's perspective after he's been pretty much alienated throughout his life, and all his relationships have come to an end in some dramatic way. And he's really at a loss to explain why this has happened.

And so oftentimes it's human nature, after we've had a rough go of it, whether it's being jilted by a lover or betrayed by a friend or even getting completely intoxicated the night before, the next day you say, "Hey, I'm never drinking again." Or "I'm done with love, I don't believe in it anymore." That kind of thing.

Songfacts: Have you ever had people get confused and think maybe that was you speaking?

Geoff: Oh, yeah. The beauty and the torture of being a writer of songs is that people hear music differently, and they experience it differently. Listening to music, you can have somebody sit down and listen to an orchestra piece, and some people can pick out all the instruments and tell you what the melody line is doing as opposed to the rhythm structure. Other people just hear it as a wall of sound. So that's an extreme.

And then lyric writing is the same thing. Most people hear things lyric-wise based upon their own personal experiences, their own life experiences, so they relate to songs on their own life experience. So yeah, I've heard all kinds of stories. And I love hearing these stories from people as to how my music and lyrics have affected them – where they were the first time they heard a song and how it made them feel and that kind of thing. I love hearing those stories. And I've heard some real interesting ones before. [Laughing]

Songfacts: I bet you have. One of the songs I'm assuming actually is more personal is "Jet City Woman," is that right?

Geoff: Yes, uh huh.

Songfacts: Is that about your ex-wife?

Geoff: Well, I guess it is in a sense. In general, it's a song about being lonely and being away from the person that you love. And dealing with the time spent apart. It explores the idea of longing, what that is. And Jet City, of course, is the nickname for Seattle, where it all ties in.

Songfacts: But I guess that's something that you can always relate to, especially if you're a musician and you have to be away from home for long periods of time.

Geoff: Yeah. If you're a musician or somebody that travels, if you're a soldier, for example, off in a foreign land and you're away from your family or your loved ones for long lengths of time, you definitely experience that longing, wishing you were anywhere but where you were at the moment.

Songfacts: I guess the most popular Queensrÿche song is "Silent Lucidity."

Geoff: Well, it's a song that was a Top Ten radio hit, so it has a lot of popularity, yeah.

Songfacts: You weren't a writer on that one, were you?

Geoff: Correct. I didn't write that song.

Songfacts: So what does it mean to you?

Geoff: That song to me? I love that song. I think it's a beautiful, beautiful piece. And although I didn't write it, I had a lot to do with shaping the destiny of that track through my melodic contributions and the way I sang it, and also in the mixing of the song and that kind of thing.

It had a strange beginning. It started out as simply just acoustic guitar and voice. And it wasn't until we were almost finished with the record, just in the last week of working on the record, that we added all the other instrumentation to it.

In fact, our producer didn't really want to put it on the record because he didn't think it was that well-developed as an idea. He was actually putting his foot down at one point saying, "No, I think you should come up with another song. You only have so many songs for the record, I don't think you should put that on the record." I think it's a good idea that he said that because it inspired Chris DeGarmo and I to really buckle down and finish the song and actually make it into what it is.

Songfacts: Do you need that as songwriters sometimes, somebody to give you a kick in the butt to get something done?

Geoff: Yeah, you do. That's why you have that objective opinion or that person that you bring on board to be that objective opinion. Because as a writer, you do get really close to stuff. And you know what you mean when you say something or you play something. But oftentimes it might not translate that way to other people, so the producer's job is to recognize when something isn't translating or be able to recognize that the artist hasn't quite nailed it yet. And that's their job. So yeah, Peter Collins did a great job on that record with us, and I love his work, and the way he handled that whole project was brilliant. He did a really fine job at organizing everything and corralling all the different personalities within the band together to make something happen.

Songfacts: Well, I wanted to wind things up by asking about Operation: Mindcrime. I've read that you have considered turning that into a movie.

Geoff: Many times, yeah.
It's easy to see why Queensrÿche's Operation Mindcrime is often seen as cinematic material. It has all the political intrigue of The Manchurian Candidate-meets-Memento, with the added element of deadly drug addiction thrown in to further complicate matters. The main character in this story is a woebegone guy named Nikki. He suffers from severe amnesia, but what he does recall about his life scares him to death. He's addicted to heroin and is also the manipulated pawn of a revolutionary group headed by the sci-fi-y Dr. X, who brainwashes Nikki into doing dirty deeds with the trigger word of "mindcrime." Nikki's love interest is Sister Mary, the nun who is also a former prostitute. Together, the two of them try and break the chains of Nikki's death spiral, but it's a little like trying to leave a cult.

Songfacts: Well, because I just saw a great old movie called The Manchurian Candidate, the original movie, and it has to do with brainwashing and manipulating people. I was kind of thinking about that as I was listening to your music and getting prepared for this, and it just seems to lend itself to a movie. Is that process moving forward at all?

Geoff: Yeah, sure. Actually, we've been approached many, many times over the years to make Mindcrime into a film. And anyone that's ever been part of that experience of bringing an album or a screenplay or a story to film knows that it's a really long process that takes years and years and years. So because there are so many different variables, and most of it has to do with two areas: the artistic, creative end – getting the right people involved so that the screenplay is something that is recognizable, or at least as good of a quality as the original work – and secondly, money, and getting the thing funded.

So we've been close several times over the years to bringing this thing to fruition. But always in the last minute something falls through. And most of the time it's been funding. Raising the multi millions of dollars it takes to make a film is no easy task. It's kind of a shame. I wish it could happen sooner, because I see films that have come out over the last 20 years that have taken bits and pieces of Mindcrime and woven those elements into their own presentations. So it's a bit disheartening at times to see that happen. But that's what happens with art. All artists are inspired by other artists, and we take little things from everyone else and weave them into our presentation.

Songfacts: Well, this has just been a lot of fun talking to you. I was telling a friend of mine that I was going to interview you, and he said, "Oh, I've got a Queensrÿche tattoo."

Geoff: Who was that?

Songfacts: It's this guy that's a security guard that I work with. And it's just like, you never know. Because I always see him dressed in his uniform, so I never knew.

Geoff: That's happened to me so many times in the most comical situations, where I'll be out in public and somebody will walk up to me, just out of the blue, and they'll just open their shirt and they've got a Queensrÿche tattoo, or they'll lift their pant leg up. It's happened thousands of times to me in the most bizarre situations. And people that you wouldn't really think would have one, have one. [Laughing]

I think if someone's serious enough, that they really love their music enough to tattoo your symbol on them, it is very meaningful.

November 29, 2012. Get more at geofftate.com
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 2

  • John from Allen Park, MichiganMy favorite all-time band is Queensryche I've been listening to him since 1990 and the funny thing is I'm about to get a tattoo of the Queensryche emblem my first and only tattoo I'll ever have great interview mr. Macintosh
  • Shawnerz from Any, MdGreat interview. Been a fan since '83. I have the first EP. :) Glad I saw the band in Washington DC during the 2011 tour before the blow/breakup.
see more comments

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