Anyone who follows hard rock/heavy metal knows about the split between Geoff Tate and the members of the band Queensrÿche. The two sides are still legally battling over the right to use the band name, but Geoff Tate has moved on to a certain degree — creatively. His soon-to-be-released solo album, Kings & Thieves, is as classy as it is sharp and pointed. Queensrÿche fans should love it — dare I say, as much as some Queensrÿche material. It is also more centered than Tate’s debut solo attempt in 2002.
Through all the turmoil of the last year, Tate appears confident and optimistic about what the future holds. The following is an interview with Geoff Tate, as he prepares for his North American solo tour.
This is your first solo album in more than a decade. Is there a reason for the wait — or was now just the most opportune time?
Geoff Tate: Well, yeah, I have been trying to make another album for years. Honestly, it’s really about time. Queensrÿche has always been my priority time-wise, so I just kept putting a solo album on the back burner. I made a New Year’s resolution that I was gonna do a solo album this year, so I call this my New Year’s resolution so I’m feeling pretty good about that. I didn’t quit drinking but I guess I’ll save that for next year (laughs).
As far as you’re concerned, how is this solo record different than the last one? What have you learned from the last one?
Tate: They’re really two different animals. The first solo album, for me, was really an exercise, exploring my musical influences. So there were a lot of jazz influences, R&B influences, classical influences, that kind of thing on it. But not very much rock. There are only three kind of rock tracks on the record. When I was gearing up to make the new one, I thought how I really wanted to go out and tour solo, so I have to have enough material to really put on a good show. I thought, you know, I think I”m gonna make a rock record. And I’m kind of a list-maker so I started making lists of what kind of record I wanted to make. I started looking at my rock influences, really, and those were Floyd and Golden Earring and Deep Purple and Rainbow, these kind of bands, that I have all their records and I love all those bands. And then I thought I’d make a traditional rock record with that kind of traditional instrumentation that those bands used, you know. That’s kind of my thinking going into it, really, to make a solid rock record and one that I could play live — one that could balance out my material that I have solo-wise.
You have said that your goal with this record was to make a solid rock album. You made it a conscious effort to make it more rock than metal? … whatever metal is nowadays (laughs).
Tate: Yeah, I don’t know. People say that to me all the time and I don’t know. You know, it gets really difficult because of the time and era I grew up in, rock music didn’t have all these genres. And so it was a very creative time because artists didn’t have to fit in this little tiny niche of a box. We were all just making rock music, you know. And somewhere in the ’90s it started getting all specialized, I guess, or trying to.
And when you’re writing songs to fit in that little box that you’re talking about, it can definitely ruin the nature and natural progression of it.
Tate: Oh yeah. Absolutely. You don’t want to go into anything with that kind of detail as far as what you have to conform to. You just want to let the music come out of you.
How does a singer who is the face of a well-known successful band effectively create a separate space for his or herself with a solo career?
Tate: I don’t know (laughs). I don’t really know. I think you just write what you feel. At least that’s the game plan I’ve always followed. Just write about what’s important to you and create the music that you love. And that way your passion will be there. And hopefully the audience picks up on that passion and they feel similar things that you feel. For me, music has always been about communication and expressing myself and hopefully connecting to other people with what I’m interested in.
It can be, I’m sure, kind of liberating in a way. You don’t have to pass it around and see what other people think. You just go for it.
Tate: Yeah, definitely that, you know. I can only speak for myself but starting out with Queensrÿche so many years ago, you know, we were all just kids coming out of high school. We didn’t really even know each other and we had a lot of success very quickly, and, you know, you’re kind of stuck with each other to a certain extent. You’re dealing with each others’ personalities, each others’ own musical abilities and limitations and that kind of thing. So, making this record, I have to say, was very liberating because I didn’t have to deal with anybody else. I can pick the people that I wanted to have on it. I could work with people that I wanted to and not sacrifice or compromise on areas that I’ve had to in the past. I think that shows in the fact that I wrote this record very quickly — which is what I do. I am a writer, I write all the time and I move pretty fast, you know. I like to put out a record each year. And with Queensrÿche I never could do that because I always had to wait for the other guys, you know.
You never had writer’s block?
Tate: I never had that, no. I think it’s just because I don’t believe in it. I read this book years ago called The Artist’s Way, which really helped me out a lot. It talks about the discipline of writing and it is a discipline where you actually have to go to work everyday and you have to sit down and write even if you write something that’s really not worthwhile. At least you are following a discipline and keeping the flow going, you know. So that’s what I do. I work probably five days a week, sometimes six, but most of the time five days a week. I don’t wait for something to happen. I make it happen, you know (laughs). And so the result is I can do a record and turn it around in a year where a Queensrÿche record, I’d be waiting two to three years.
It doesn’t have to be like Proust where you’re waiting for that certain thing to trigger it.
Tate: Yeah, yeah, waiting for all the stars to align and the Gods to speak in your ear, you know (laughs).
A lot of singers from popular bands have gone solo. Do you think any particular singer has done that well?
Tate: Of course, Sting is the prime example. Steve Perry had a couple of great solo records when he left Journey. I think Paul Rodgers as well. He did pretty well for himself. There’s probably more if I really start to think about it. Lately, someone like Gwen Stefani comes to mind. She’s done really well outside No Doubt.
I’ve always thought of your voice as classy, and this album cover of Kings & Theives emphasizes that so well. It has a very classy feel to it.
Tate: Well, I love it. It turned out really nice. I wanted to have cover art that helped express me. I was staring at the wall one day in my studio and I have this family crest of my surname and it had this classical shield and that kind of thing and I thought that would be kind of neat idea for an album cover. I floated it by the record company and they came up with this beautiful rendition, a kind of stylized family crest.
An album cover nowadays … you may think with MP3s it’s not important but I think it is. But I’m the kind of guy who still buys vinyl so …
Tate: Well, we’re from that generation, too. But, yeah, you know, the artwork is very important. It’s an advertisement and it’s a way to create an image to surround the artist.
The last album had your photo on it but this seems to capture you. It’s better than your photo actually, it just works.
Tate: Well, I think so, too (laughs).
As far as the songs, what are the tracks you are most proud of and why?
Tate: I like them all. They’re all kind of special to me. It’s all written this year so it’s all pretty current with my experience and my lifestyle, things that are happening with me, things I feel strongly about. There are songs about trust and betrayal. One of my favorite topics is the relationships between people and how people treat each other and how misunderstandings happen and how you can rectify those things. There are some more political-oriented songs about class struggle and class differences that are starting to happen more and more in the United States and the big money that dictates all the big decisions that are made. It’s kind of a lot of stuff really. Even some bondage songs (laughs).
Well, not only are the songs heavier but the titles themselves are harder-edged. I mean, “The Way I Roll” almost sounds like an urban song, you know what I mean? Right away you get that impression that this is an album that’s going more for the jugular.
Tate: Again, I think it’s the mindset going into it. I think with every record an artist typically has a couple goals that they want to create with the working situation. For me, one of the things I wanted to do was just to make an immediate, raw kind of record. When you listen to it you realize it’s not slick or overproduced or anything like that. It’s just pretty raw. It’s us sitting in the room playing music together and recording it. And a lot of what you hear is first, second, third takes where the vibe was there and we got it as far as it went. I didn’t want to rehearse to death. I didn’t want to take the life out of it.
The songs do seem like they kind of separate each other, where they have their own kind of concept going.
Tate: Yeah, I think so. At least that’s what you try to do when you’re getting together an album of tracks. Sometimes you want to create a constant vibe of feeling throughout the album which I think is very difficult to do. And sometimes you want to have a lot of variants and have a collection of all kinds of things. And sometimes you’re writing a story and it all the songs have to relate to each other somehow. I think, again, it kind of goes for the mindset you’re going for.
As a songwriter does it bother you that listeners sometimes misinterpret what you’re trying to say?
Tate: Honestly, I don’t think you can even presume or suppose that someone is going to understand what you are talking about. I really believe people hear music differently. Some people can listen to an orchestra and can pick out every instrument, and a melody line that a particular instrument is playing. And what other people hear is a wall of sound. So that’s a big difference right there. From a lyrical standpoint I think people relate to the lyrics based upon their own personal life experiences. If you’ve experienced the tragic loss of a child and you are writing about that, unless somebody has really experienced that they’re not going to take it the same way. Or even understand what it is that you’re talking about. So I think years ago I came to that conclusion in writing a record where people would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, that song you wrote … God, I love that song. It really speaks to me, and I love the lyric line. I really understand what you’re saying there.’ And then I’ll start explaining what I think they’re saying and it won’t line up at all. At first I was kind of like ‘Wow. I must be a terrible writer’ (laughs).
I was backstage after one of our shows years ago and this young man came up to me and he had tears in his eyes. He said, ‘Thanks so much for what you do. I love your music. And this one song you guys wrote … man, it means the world to me.’ And he explained the whole situation. And I said, ‘What song are you talking about?’ He said, ‘Oh. Silence in Tennessee. I just really love that song.’ And I didn’t have the heart to tell him that that wasn’t the title (laughs). That’s what he heard and that’s what meant a lot to him. You know, gosh, that’s cool.
You also mentioned that the songs on this album were written to be played live. You mentioned that you wanted it to be raw, that you wanted to capture that kind of sound, and you have played already [for this album's tour], you’ve played one gig, in Temecula, California. How did it go?
Tate: Pretty well. It was kind of one of those special nights. It was outdoors, and that area of the country is really beautiful on a summer evening. We played kind of a bizarre show. They originally booked me to play an electric set. So I began putting my band together and rehearsing and all this stuff, and a week before the show they said they didn’t want it to be an electric set, they wanted it to be acoustic. And then it was a big hassle and runaround to figure what to do. So finally I called about doing it half acoustic, half electric. And they liked that idea and we made that happen. So it was a very different gig. I’ve never done something like that before in all my years.
I was gonna ask you if it felt weird going onstage as a solo artist but I guess it was weird for other reasons.
Tate: Yeah, absolutely. It was weird on a lot of levels (laughs). And to make it even weirder, during intermission the venue was having an auction to try to raise money for a particular foundation or program and we had this guy on my microphone having a 45-minute auction. And that was very strange (laughs).
The band touring with you, are there going to be any members from the new Queensryche lineup there?
Tate: Rudy [Sarzo] and Glen [Drover] and Bobby [Blotzer] will be joining me on the Queensryche tour which begins, I believe, in March. But Kelly Gray, who played guitars on my solo record, is in the [solo] band and also is in the new Queensryche. And Randy Gane on keyboards. And then I have Chris Zukas on bass, who is actually my son-in-law and a great bass player, and he played on the record as well. And Jason Ames who sang on the record with me and is an old friend and a co-writer. And Donny Evola on guitar as well. It’s three guitar players which is just amazing. And then we have Doug McGrew on drums who is a really old music friend of mine from 30-plus years ago. In fact, he and my former guitar player used to be in a band together before Queensryche started out. So, we go way back.
You must be psyched about going on tour with Alice Cooper. Did you ever tour with him before, with Queensryche?
Tate: Yeah, I had. Many times with Alice. I know him very well. We’ve golfed together before. He’s actually been part of my life for almost as long as I can remember. Alice Cooper was the first rock show I ever went to. I saw him on the Billion Dollar Babies tour.
Did you tell him that?
Tate: Oh yeah. I said to him, ‘Hey, Alice, the first time I ever went to a rock show was your show on the Billion Dollar Babies tour.’ And he said, ‘Oh. Sorry.’ (laughs) I don’t know what he meant by that, really, but … He’s a good guy, Alice.
So the next year looks pretty exciting. You’ve got the solo record out. You’re going on a solo tour. And then the new Queensryche tour in March. You’ve got to be excited, right?
Tate: Yeah, the future looks bright, and the present is really great. I’ve been rehearsing the band every day. And getting ready to leave next week, actually — the bus rolls out of here and we take off.
Some of us are pretty sick of all the Queensryche gossip but besides that … (laughs) I am so done with it. I’m sure you are, too.
Tate: Yeah. It’s a really disappointing end to a really glorious career. It definitely isn’t the way that I envisioned having the last few years of our career ending up as. I mean, we are all in our fifties, right? And this is so insane that these guys would trash this name that is so well-respected around the world. We have such a legacy that they would take it and grind it into the dirt like this. It’s so disrespectful.
It’s happened before, in music history, with other bands.
Tate: Yeah, it’s just a strange thing. And again it comes back to what I had said earlier to how people perceive things differently — music, life, whatever. Some people just don’t have a clear vision of where they’re at and who they are and what the world is about. And they make these decisions that are incredibly short-sighted and hurtful and damaging, you know. It’s just real tragic.
Plus, with the internet, one thing is said on, say, Twitter and it travels at the speed of light. Kind of scary in a way.
Tate: Well, you know, it is because there’s so much anonymity on the Web. You know, you can be anybody. You can have multiple internet accounts and you can carry on a conversation with yourself in order to push public opinion in some direction. Most of the people who are the most ill-tempered and crude on the internet are people who never sign their own names. Maybe it’s a telling cultural sitaution that we’re in now. Nobody wants to take responsibility for their actions.
There’s a conceptual album right there to be written.
Tate: Absolutely. On one hand, I guess, a guy like me at my age you can get really bitter and cynical and curmudgeonly about situations because you start pining for the good old days when it was a lot easier. But, at the same time, you can’t get stuck in that rut. This is also a wonderful time of opportunities. So you figure out how the game works and sort of weave yourself into it.