September 16, 2016 Interview – Geoff Tate
When fans thinks of Progressive Metal, chances are Geoff Tate is one of the first to come to mind. An intricate part of the Progressive Rock/Metal landscape for over three decades now, Tate rose to the top with Queensrÿche in the ’80s, and, to this day, remains one of the all-time great lead singers in Rock history. Recognized throughout his career for his vocal ability and also for his creative work and elaborate award-winning Rock Opera, 1988’s Operation: Mindcrime, Tate has continued to explore new concepts in his music as he continues his journey in music. Recently we sat down with the Progressive Metal icon to get his thoughts on breakups, the story behind new album Resurrection, family, the state of the music industry, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in Rock/Metal for over three decades now. In that time, you have built a name as one of the leading vocalists in Progressive Metal history. Through the ups and downs, how would you describe this incredible ride?
Geoff Tate – For me it’s an everyday occurrence. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to make a living playing and writing music. It’s a fortunate thing and not a lot of people get to do that. I feel very lucky and very fortunate to have a career doing that.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, it is something very special. In recent years, you formed Operation: Mindcrime with a plethora of talented musicians. What has your experience been like working with this group of musicians?
Geoff Tate – I tend to work and surround myself with people that I like, first off, and people that I enjoy their creative input and creative energy. I like people with opinions about music. I like to bounce my ideas off of them and vice versa. It’s a part of the collaboration process that I like.
CrypticRock.com – Right, it is always good to have someone else to exchange ideas with. How is it that you chose the musicians that you are working with now?
Geoff Tate – Kelly Gray and Randy Gane are two musicians that I’ve been working with off and on since 1979. We’ve been writing music and performing together since then. Other people I’ve just recently met, like Dave Ellefson for example, from Megadeth, we didn’t know each other, but we found ourselves on an airplane flying to South America for a series of shows a couple of years back. We ended up getting to know each on the trip. We were exchanging musical ideas over the period of time that I was writing the trilogy album. I met John Moyer from Disturbed when he was with the band in 2005 out at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally where the two bands played there, Queensrÿche and Disturbed. Simon Wright, I’ve known since the AC/DC, Queensrÿche tour in 1986. So we all kind of go back quite a ways in my history.
CrypticRock.com – That is very cool. You never know who you are going to meet in life. With Operation: Mindcrime, you are on the brink of releasing your second album, entitled Resurrection. This is in fact the second part of the trilogy. Resurrection has a grand scale and it is quite layered. There is some great storytelling and elements that tie it to Mindcrime and the record is decidedly you. What is your personal process for creating?
Geoff Tate – Musically, I tend to draw on my influences, which I suppose is no different from most musicians who write music. I grew up listening to and was influenced by the Progressive Rock era of music in the late sixties and seventies. That was the first Rock music I learned to play as a young player. Of course, I took those influences and started working them into what I did on my own. With this album, I think I tended to focus on pulling a lot from that time period. Taking those ideas of song structure and instrumentation and then just modernizing them with a modern sound palette and recording techniques.
When I was in high school. I fell in love with the synthesizer, which was a new instrument at the time. My high school friend and I built our first synthesizer out of parts that you buy from a catalog, strictly because I wanted to play that Keith Emerson synth line on “Lucky Man.” You couldn’t do that on any other instrument, it had to be on a synthesizer. That really got me started playing back then, seriously. I just wanted to explore more of that spirit of song craft; getting away from the constraints of trying to write a 3-minute single and letting the music unfold without trying to force it into a commercial arrangement. That was my thought process when writing musically for the album.
Lyrically, I had wanted to make a trilogy album for quite a while. I wanted to create a little bit more grand, more open, large concept record. I thought the idea of doing it in a trilogy form would be quite interesting because a three act play or a three act screenplay is pretty classic. So the trilogy seems like a good idea, I just didn’t have an idea of subject matter for quite a few years. It hit me while I was on a hike through Spain a couple of years ago. This story came to me and I spent the month that it took me to hike the trail writing the story.
CrypticRock.com – That is quite interesting. Could you tell us a little bit more about what bands and music influenced you growing up.
Geoff Tate – I feel very fortunate because I grew up in that time, which was a pretty magical time in popular music where bands were really experimenting a lot, and the “genre” hadn’t really been invented yet; “Genrefying” everything, and categorizing things when it comes to music. There was a lot of freedom and creativity at the time and musicians were gathering their influences from a number of different styles of music and blending them together to make a unique form.
There was so much to listen to with bands like Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Triumvirat, and Camel. These bands were really pioneers in a new kind of music, and they had an arsenal of new musical instruments at their fingertips, as well with the modern electric guitars and new amplifiers that were coming out. Of course the brand new technological marvel, the synthesizer, was just in its infancy, so there were all these new sounds to choose from and write with. It was just a very interesting time and I was heavily, heavily influenced by the music in that time period.
CrypticRock.com – Those are some fantastic Progressive Rock bands to be influenced by. In regards to Resurrection, has work already begun on the final part of this three album collection?
Geoff Tate – Oh yes, it’s almost done. It hasn’t been mixed yet, or mastered, but it has been recorded.
CrypticRock.com – Well, it will be exciting to hear what fans think of Resurrection once it hits September 23rd. It will be equally compelling to hear the final chapter once it is released as well. You have quite a big family with four daughters. How has being a father changed you as a person and as a musician?
Geoff Tate – Well, when you’re a dad, there’s a lot of responsibility. Being a father to children is a huge responsibility that I really took very seriously and still take very seriously. Now I have 6 grandchildren as well, so things are really picking up around here; quite a tribe. I never really wanted kids, I never even thought about having kids, and then I started having kids and that led to more kids and more kids. Now I’m this grandfather figure, which took me a little bit of time to embrace, I have to say. I wasn’t really comfortable with the title. Probably because I had my own vision of what grandpa meant, and I wasn’t that guy. I didn’t see myself as that guy, so I had to invent a new version of grandpa, one that I was comfortable with.
CrypticRock.com – Being a parent is certainly a gift and no doubt life-changing. As mentioned, there have been triumphant moments in your career, and like anyone, trials and tribulations as well. That in mind, are there any events which have occurred in your life that at the time seemed like a failure, but now you see was a gift?
Geoff Tate – I don’t have many regrets in my life, really. I think you do things because you feel passionate about it and you’re interested in what you’re doing so you pursue that. Some things lead to… you know, you pick up a book because you’re interested in reading the subject, the book leads you to another book, and that book leads you to another book. Before you know it, you have a library filled with a topic that you’ve explored quite extensively. Life is kind of like that, it’s filled with all of these experiences; the things that you go through, you learn from it. You learn what pleases you, what doesn’t please you, and what’s important to you.
I think the older I get, the more sure I am that I know nothing. So much of life that we value seems less valuable to me the older I get, especially stuff. Gathering objects and buying things, awards and presentations, things like that just sit in a box in my life. What’s really important is the day to day interaction with the people I love and care about. That’s the most important thing to me, and that’s what I think will live on in their lives as well, the people you interact with. Achievements and what other people think of you and that kind of thing is less and less important to me.
CrypticRock.com – That is a very interesting point to make. Having said that, what would you want to be remembered for?
Geoff Tate – Well, I have a lot of music. Eighteen albums worth of material, 200 plus songs, and I’m still going, so I would like to be remembered for my life in music. What I’ve written about, how the music made people feel, that kind of thing. Yeah, I think I’d like to be remembered for my art, in a public way. Your family remembers you differently, of course, because they have a daily interaction with you and life with you, so it’s a different kind of thing.
It’s funny you know, I’m pushing 60 now and people I’ve known all my life, like Gene Wilder for example, passing away is odd to me and it keeps happening every month, people passing away. It just doesn’t seem right that they’re gone already. Life is going by and it goes by quick. You’re 20, snap your fingers, your 40. 40, snap your fingers, your 60. 60 you’re dead, you know, it’s crazy.
CrypticRock.com – Life is uncertain, short, and can fly by in the blink of an eye. You mentioned Gene Wilder, is there anything you wanted to say about his passing?
Geoff Tate – I wouldn’t know what to say. I definitely enjoyed the man’s work. A couple of films that he was in were very memorable to me, mostly Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). That was a brilliant film, his character was brilliant. It’s just odd when people that make an impact in your life pass away like that, so suddenly, it feels weird. I don’t know really how to describe it. I suppose it will come up in a song somewhere, someday for me.
CrypticRock.com – It is a difficult feeling to describe. Perhaps it reminds us of our own mortality, because many times, we look at people that have an impact on us as invincible. Having put your issues with your former bandmates behind you, what has helped you to move forward in such a strong and positive way?
Geoff Tate – Probably my wife. She has given amazing amounts of love and support in this transition period, helping me talk through a lot of the frustration I felt during that period of time. It’s funny, I was just talking about this the other day to somebody. Looking back on things, my life really hasn’t changed that much. I’m still writing music, I’m still making records, and still touring. I’m still working with the record company and artists, developing artwork, and putting the merchandise together for the tour, and getting the tour bus ready to head out on the road. Nothing has changed except for the people that I am playing music with. Absolutely nothing, it’s bizarre (laughs).
You think your life is going to change utterly. You think, “Oh my God, how am I going to get through this,” but you are already through it. It just takes a second to be over it and on with your life. It’s not even like a hiccup. It’s weird. It’s kind of useless getting yourself worked up about things when, really, everything is workable. Every problem has a solution, you just have to get over yourself for a minute. You get on with life and you realize that you didn’t really have much to do with those people anyway. You saw them in a very limited manner for certain parts of the day, or the month, or period of time, and you have very little to do with them anyway because they weren’t really friends, you didn’t see them on a regular basis. It’s like out of sight, out of mind.
CrypticRock.com – So, at some point it becomes more of a business relationship where you all have to be at the same place at the same time at certain points, and then you live your separate lives.
Geoff Tate – Exactly, and now I marvel at how quickly and easily I can work without having to wait months and months for somebody to understand a musical section and practice it and be able to play it. I can play it myself, get done with it, and move on to the next section. Or waiting for someone to decide if they can go on tour in February. You don’t have to wait for that.
CrypticRock.com – Having steered Queensrÿche towards tremendous success, is there anything about today’s music industry that makes your job of steering Operation: Mindcrime toward the same goals easier or harder?
Geoff Tate – Well, I don’t really have the same goals. When you have a band like Queensrÿche for example, you have to take care of everybody financially, keep everybody working and keep the ship moving in a direction because you’re responsible for all these people, their whole family structure, and that kind of thing. It’s a big job. Now, I really just have to take care of me, and it’s so much easier. I don’t have to work so hard all the time and have stomach aches worrying about is this goal going to be met and that sort of thing. It’s a lot less stressful, which I really enjoy.
CrypticRock.com – How do you feel about how the industry has changed over the years and how the focus has shifted in terms of how you reach your audience?
Geoff Tate – Really, what the difference is, is that the economy got taken out of the industry. I really wouldn’t even call it an industry anymore. It doesn’t resemble anything as to what it was. For example, to sell a record, when we had the Empire record out, EMI was spending six million dollars on promotion for that record. Six million dollars. The promotional budget for modern records is like $2,000 (laughs). It’s not even in the same solar system.
You’re kind of on your own all together to market your record, sell it, talk about it, and to make arrangements for everything. Record companies don’t do that anymore. They don’t have the capital to spend that kind of money because they don’t have the sales. For guys like me that grew up in that system, it worked really well, it was a beautiful system. It employed thousands and thousands of people and provided work for people to support their families. The artist and everybody made money, which was great, but now it doesn’t do that anymore.
There are very few people that can make a living doing this. People from my era can because, of course, we can tour and we have an audience out there, scattered across the world. But for new bands out there, it’s really difficult for one to gain an audience and it’s nearly impossible to tour. It’s economically impossible. I hear it all the time from bands I meet at shows, how can we get on tour? Sorry, I can’t really help you, not everybody. You can take a limited amount of bands or artists with you at various times on your tour, which I do, but it’s up to them what they do with it..
Hopefully they have come out with enough CDs to sell on the road and generate interest in what they do. Will they record another record, will they go out on another tour, who knows. As a band, you really have to handle stuff, where, back in the day, the record company did a lot of that for you. They made the appointments and the scheduling, they gave you your support, they help fund your records. We signed a deal with an escalating recording budget, it just keep getting bigger and bigger over the years, but that’s just unheard of nowadays. You don’t need to spend $300,000.00 to make an album, that’s ridiculous. Technology has changed that. Technology has done amazing things in this time we live in. It is so fascinating because of how easy it is to talk to people worldwide now, you can really get a good consensus of things.
For instance, it used to be that you were so isolated living in your country and you pretty much just knew what was going on in your area, your demographic, your region. Very few people knew what was even going on in other parts of the country. Then it started opening up and people became a little more aware. It’s really strange to the rest of the world that, as Americans, we don’t barter. We just accept the price that’s on the sticker and we just pay it. Other people in the world think we’re crazy for that. Why on Earth would you do that, that’s a starting point of negotiations, but we’re uncomfortable with that. Other places in the world think it’s crazy that we allow our police force to hunt down our citizens, like what are you doing ? You allow guys with guns to hunt you. They stand there on the highway and point radar detectors at you and try to get you in a speed trap. You know, it’s bizarre.
Compare that kind of stuff nowadays and that gets people talking and people start asking questions in a pub, or at dinner, or at social gatherings. Why do we allow a cop to put us in a speed trap or to hunt us like that, and that starts the dialogue. Well, because of two reasons, they’re going after income to get money, and the other reason is that our cars are not safe on our roads. Other people will ask the question, well how can that be? We have higher speed limits where we live in our country and our roads are what, safer? I don’t know. Are our roads not safe in this country, is that why speed limits are so low?
CrypticRock.com – It is a good question, perhaps we need to put money into our infrastructure and create jobs so that we can have safer roads and bridges. You mentioned how technology really changed everything. Through technology, there are so many bands that are recording albums these days without ever seeing each other.
Geoff Tate – You don’t need to see each other. We work in a medium where the recorded work can be passed around and you can augment it and add to it, change it, delete it, or start over. It’s an open palette. You don’t really need to be in the same room, and you can speak about it over the Internet with FaceTime and all kinds of other things.
CrypticRock.com – What about the connection of a band being in a room together and feeling the vibe, is that done?
Geoff Tate – I think it probably is in certain situations, but a lot of that is kind of a myth. I think that when you go see a band live, if they’re playing live together, there is a magic there that is absolutely evident and you can pick up on it. It is fantastic when you see the dynamic of the players playing together and you can feel it. But on record, it’s a different thing, it’s a manufactured dynamic that you can make if you are a skilled musician. You don’t necessarily need to be in the same room. Although, some recordings are kind of cool like that if the players are in the right zone and all the players know the part very well and are well-rehearsed.
CrypticRock.com – It really depends on the situation, a matter of fiance, and preference. Recently, former Iron Maiden Vocalist Blaze Bayley posted a photo of you and former Judas Priest Vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens hanging together. At first, it had people curious, but now it comes out that you three will actually be embarking on a tour this coming November. What brought on this bad-ass Metal vocalist unity?
Geoff Tate – Blaze and Ripper sing on my record on a song called “Taking on the World,” and we had such a great time recording together we started talking about wouldn’t it kind of be fun to play some shows and sing the song together, maybe sing some other stuff. The more we talked about it, the more excited we became about the idea. We looked into putting some dates together and that’s when the cold, hard reality of our lives kicked in, that we are really busy musicians and we are all on different schedules. Getting us in one place at the one time is a scheduling nightmare. So we found some times and dates in the Northeast, we start in November and we are doing a show together called Trinity.
We are kind of like the 3 ex-singers of famous bands getting together. I’m going to perform a set of Queensrÿche music, Blaze is going to perform a set of Iron Maiden music, and Ripper is going to be doing Judas Priest music, We’re going to be singing with each other on parts, harmonizing together on other songs, and will be trading off on parts and pieces. It’s really a cool presentation and very casual, intimate, and fun. When the 3 of us get together, we have a blast. We just completed a video for the song out here in Seattle. We had a great time making the video, a lot of laughs and a lot of fun, so we are looking forward to the short little tour we’re doing. I think it’s like 10 days or something. All the dates are published. New York City is the 27th of November at BB Kings.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it is going to be a killer tour. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of the genres, what are some of your all-time favorites?
Geoff Tate – I don’t typically like Horror films. Something like Blade Runner (1982) is probably my speed. I like films like that, that explore the future and what’s going on. Prometheus (2012) was really cool, I thought. Game of Thrones, I like that quite a bit. Horror films, I don’t quite care for them. I was actually in a Horror film, acting in a Horror film, a couple years ago, and it gave me nightmares (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) The genre is not for everyone. Speaking of film, do you ever see any of your works adapted to film? Also, do you have any ideas or thoughts of doing a film based on any of your work.
Geoff Tate –Well, Operation: Mindcrime and Operation: Mindcrime II has been looked at for years and tried by many people to be made into a film. So far none successfully, although there is a very famous screenwriter right now who is writing a screenplay for it, so maybe that one will see the light of day. It’s kind of interesting that album has been a part of the world for so many years now that ideas for the record, scenes from the record, and lyrics have shown up in a number of different films. It would be nice for the actual thing to be made into a film so that it would be finished.