Dedicated to his Art: Geoff Tate on Chaos and Creation

The voice of Queensryche tells us about the band's latest foray into sonic sculpture, and his worries for the future.

Queensryche. One of heavy metal’s truly iconic names. They’re a band with an almost unrivalled track record for taking chances and defining the term ‘progressive’, a band which has never put two similar sounding albums out consecutively in the course of its thirty year career. A band which has released four landmark, essential releases in that time (1986’s oft overlooked Rage For Order, which saw the band experiment with makeup, synths and memorable, singalong choruses long before most bands had jumped on the pop metal bandwagon, the titanic one-two combination of 1988’s stridently effective metal opera Operation:Mindcrime and 1990’s gargantuan Empire, and 2009’s thoughtfully affecting American Soldier, perhaps vocalist Geoff Tate’s true meisterwerk) and become one of the true venerable elders ‘of our kind of music’.

Geoff Tate is speaking to Metal as Fuck today because Queensryche are in the midst of releasing their eleventh studio album (and first for Roadrunner Records), Dedicated to Chaos; true to form it’s a massive step away from the at times oppressive, claustrophobic heaviness of American Soldier – many fans might even go so far as to question it’s right to be talked about within the confines of a webzine that calls itself Metal as Fuck.- but Queensryche are one of the reasons your interviewer is doing what he’s doing today – wittering about metal – so they’ve every right to be here. My first question concerns Dedicated to Chaos – Geoff, do you still get excited on the eve of an album’s release? Does this time take you back to when you first started out in the business?

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been that excited about it. I get excited about writing the albums, recording the albums, but we’re songwriters – we’re already writing songs for the next record as we speak, so I don’t really have that time to consider it.”

The press release that accompanies the new album makes much of the fact that Queensryche – unlike many of their similarly-vintaged peers – are still making music this late into a career that’s been successful enough not to need to keep churning out albums. Is it important, for you and the group as a songwriting unit, to keep creating new material?

“Of course. This is what we do. My head is full of music. I’m always thinking about the music, hearing the music. We definitely need to keep that process flowing; it would be easy to dry up if you don’t. Like I say, we’re always writing, individually  and together.”
 
I remarked in my preamble that there’s always a marked difference in each Queensryche release album-on-album in terms of sound; I wondered aloud to Tate whether this was very much a conscious band decision or more just a result of the process of delivering an album at a certain time?

‘It’s certainly not a deliberate decision. On any album there might be songs that are a couple of years old, but they are songs that we want people to hear as much as there may be newer songs we feel are ready to be heard as well.

If it’s not a conscious decision musically, it must be for you lyrically – you seem to be just generally mad at the world this time around?

“I’m just an ordinary guy. I have the same worries as anyone else. And these are amazing - and scary, to an extent- times we’re living in. There’s so much information available to everyone these days; we can see what’s going on politically in other countries, for good and bad we see situations developing as they are actually happening. I’m speaking to you thousands of miles away on a cell phone, it’s all parts of the same thing. The global financial crisis that’s making it harder for people to put food on the table for their families, they are all connected and reflected in some of the lyrics on Dedicated to Chaos.”

I’m interested that you mention the amount of information available to everyone these days. Even ten years ago, most people went about their business oblivious to what went on outside their own back yard. Now, whether you want it or not, you’re bombarded with information that literally puts the weight of the world on your shoulders!

“Yes. We’re living through very interesting, momentous times.”

The band is shortly to embark on a European Tour as special guests on the next leg of Judas Priest’s Epitaph ‘farewell’ tour. Given the banshee nature of much of Tate’s early recorded work I can only assume he’s a big fan of Priest, and the Meral God in particular?

“Not really. I guess Michael (Wilton, the band’s longstanding lead guitarist) would be the big fan of Judas Priest in the band. We’ve done a few runs of shows with them in the past.”

I remember seeing you on stage in London towards the end of the last century with Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson as part of something called the Three Tremors

“That’s right. And around that time we did some shows with Iron Maiden and Halford too.”

Happy times. Making up the numbers on this tour will be new Earache Signings and hipster darlings Rival Sons – are you familiar with them?

‘Not really, no”

You don’t listen to much new music?

“I’m hearing new music in my head all the time! What I really enjoy is being at festivals; that’s when I’m bombarded with new music that I wouldn’t really listen to or be exposed to otherwise.”

Our time is running out, so rather than ask any more tedious questions I throw the field open to Geoff – has he any 'listener guide' type notes for us before we get into the new record?

“I think its best for people to form their own opinions on music. Everybody comes to music from different angles, and experiences music differently.  Some people can listen to a symphony orchestra and pick out each separate instrument and know its role within the ensemble, others simply hear the wall of sound. I think it’s the best way for people to listen – on their own, and forming their own opinions.”