Queensrÿche puts new spin on old ‘Operation’

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First Posted: 6/3/2013

Frontman Geoff Tate has been performing Queensrÿche songs for over 30 years, but he’s still just as excited to sing them now as he was then – maybe even more so.

With a new lineup and a new album called “Frequency Unknown,” Tate anxiously discussed his current musical direction with The Weekender in anticipation of the next leg of the “Operation: Mindcrime” 25th anniversary tour, coming to Brews Brothers West on Tuesday, June 11.

THE WEEKENDER: You have one of the more distinctive voices in metal. Do you have to train consistently to keep it in good condition?

GEOFF TATE: Yeah, well, I have to sing a lot. (Laughs) The voice is a muscle, you know, and you have to keep working it out. I start pretty early in the morning. When I get up, first thing I start doing scales and humming and that kind of thing and getting my voice up to par. By mid-day, I’m singing fairly loudly and carrying on. It’s an all-day kind of thing.

It is rather challenging, though, when you’re touring because it used to be that you’d go out on the road and you had a show and pretty much you just waited until that point in the day, which is usually evening, before you actually had to sing. But nowadays, the industry being what it is, you get up at four o’clock in the morning for a six o’clock radio show where you have to perform…and then have another appearance later in the day where you’re doing things, and then you have a sound check and a meet and greet and a sound check party, and then you have your performance and then you have another meet and greet after that. By the time you get to bed at night, it’s two or three in the morning and hopefully you don’t have a radio show to do at six again the next day.

W: Did the changing music industry affect the making of “Frequency Unknown” at all?

GT: Oh yeah. It used to be that you’d go to your mailbox and there’d be a sizable check in there every three months; it just doesn’t happen anymore. Even on your back catalog, the record sales have dwindled to amazingly low numbers now for everybody, not just Queensrÿche.

W: What went into the writing process of this record?

GT: I write all the time, and I have a back catalog of things that haven’t been released yet and I’m working on constantly, so with this record, “Frequency Unknown,” four of us got together to write the record… I thought, “Wow, wouldn’t it be fun to include a whole bunch of great players to interpret these songs? Wouldn’t it be fun? Wouldn’t it be challenging? Wouldn’t it be kind of something new to do?” I’m always kind of looking for new ways of doing things, new ways of recording, new ways of experiencing the creative collaboration. What started out as a really inspirational idea, quickly the reality showed itself in that, if you want to use really great players, great players are in-demand, so it became a scheduling challenge to get everybody in the same place at the same time.

W: Is there a particular tour with Queensrÿche that stands out as one of your most memorable?

GT: Well, they’re all very memorable. Every tour is different and unique. The tour I’m on right now is very different because I’m playing with all these different people; some of them I’ve never played with before, and that’s a wonderful experience. I love that. I love collaborating on music with people, especially really great players that give the music their own interpretation.

As a writer, you have an idea of what you’re trying to get across when you write a song, and then you hand it to somebody else to play and they have a different interpretation, and sometimes, at least in my experience, that interpretation is quite different from your own and you’re pleasantly surprised at how they seeit and how they view or how they hear it. It’s refreshing.

Of tours I’ve done in the past, the “Promised Land” tour in 1984 was a real special tour for me. It was our first experience with putting on a theatrical presentation where we had multiple sets and we had film screens with imagery that interacted with the audience. We broke down that fourth wall between the performer and the audience for the first time, and I really, really enjoyed that.

W: Does playing “Operation: Mindcrime” straight through each night bring back any memories from 25 years ago? Does it make you nostalgic at all?

GT: I guess I’m not very nostalgic as a person. I enjoy it immensely, playing this album on this last leg of the tour. It’s actually the first time that “Mindcrime” has been performed live, and by that I mean the musicians actually playing the instruments. With Queensrÿche, we were always very limited. We had grand ideas and we didn’t want to limit ourselves in the studio by saying, “We can’t do that live, so let’s not do it on the record.” We didn’t want to think in those terms, so when it came time to play the music live, it would require more people on the stage performing than what we could afford, for example, and so what we did was we went the click track route.

When we first started doing this, it was a much more primitive kind of method, but the click track would dictate the song and then we had flown in parts, sections like orchestra and backup vocals and things like that, on tape that would play to fill out the sound and make it sound more like the record. On the plus side, it was very economical to do that.

But on the downside, it didn’t give us any room to experiment with the songs. We couldn’t improvise… You’re not even listening to each other play anymore, so you lose that human element of a band that’s coming together and you’re not playing with each other anymore.

With the presentation I’m involved with now with the guys, we’re playing everything live… It’s a much more organic presentation of the music, which for me is incredible because I haven’t had that before. It’s a whole new frontier. It’s a whole new feel to the music, which I find to be incredibly exciting.