Unearthing Queensryche's "Sacred Ground"
By Naughty Mickie 
Photos By Dan Quinajon

For Queensryche fans, the past 20 years has been a blink of the eye of rock history. But for the uninitiated, the metal band's double CD release on Sanctuary Records, "Live Evolution," is a trot through the time with one of the best bands around. Not only has Queensryche survived, they have prospered, filling venues and selling records-- the dream of every musician.

Vocalist Geoff Tate, guitarists Michael Wilton and Kelly Gray, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield have been happily hitting the road and are also preparing to give their fans, old and new, more of the music for which they hunger. Sure, we know the words and can hum the tunes, and we can find all about the band's background with a click of the mouse, but what makes them tick? I had an opportunity to speak with the gracious and talented Tate prior to meeting him at their show at the House of Blues in Anaheim. (Editor's note: Check the archives for November for a concert review). The show was wonderful and so was/is Tate, as you shall see.

I first asked Tate to tell me how Queensryche got their start-- from his point of view.

"How we got together? That's 20 years ago, I can barely remember two years ago." Tate takes a deep breath, "The Seattle scene was very small and there were a handful of bands that were playing around and we would all see each other playing in different bands. I don't really know how everybody else got together, but I got together with the rest of the guys because they were already jamming together and they called me up and said they'd like to play with me. I got a demo tape and some songs written and went over there and they checked me out.''

Things moved quickly, almost too fast to consider their moniker.

"We had a four-song EP that we were planning on putting out, this was, I think 1982, and we just started our new record label, 206, and we had a deadline we were trying to meet," recalls Tate. "We were finishing up the artwork and all the details that you have to follow through with when you're putting out a record. We didn't really have a name for the band yet. It was getting kind of close to the deadline and one day Chris DeGarmo, our guitar player, walked into our rehearsal room and said, 'I think I got the name' and he said 'Queensryche.' Because we had a song on the LP that was called 'Queen of the Reich' that was about a nightmare that he had. We said, 'Queensryche, that'll do, that'll do.' So that became the name.

"It's been an interesting kind of name," Tate continues. "We've spent probably half our careers explaining to people that, one, we weren't Nazis; two, how to spell it and three, how to pronounce it. It's something probably that, if we had to do it over again, we probably wouldn't have picked that name. But when you're 17; 18 years old, it sounds kind of dangerous and cool. So here we are.''

It's obvious that everything worked out for the best, so I went back further to find out if Tate was always musical.

"I started music when I was about nine. I started by listening to the radio actually. I listened to pop music at the time, because I wanted to play guitar, but my parents said 'Absolutely no, not until you play piano first.' I couldn't understand the correlation there at the time, but I actually liked the idea so I took two years of piano and then got a guitar and couldn't play it, so I ended up being a singer,'' laughs Tate.

He had some musical training in school, but no private lessons. Tate is also one of the envied few who went directly from high school to the band that would become his career.

"I've been really lucky,'' Tate admits.

There's more talent than just his voice, Tate is a prolific penman. We compare our methods to creating a song.

"Sometimes it's a word, sometimes it's a phrase, sometimes it's a conceptual idea, a rough outline, sometimes it's a short little melody, sometimes a chord progression presents itself as you're fiddling around. There's just no one way of doing it, it just comes," explains Tate. "I think the important thing, the most important aspect of the approach, is recognizing that you have something. And then the actual craftsmanship that goes into constructing a song is fascinating work. Sometimes it's very simple and it comes together very easily, sometimes it's labor.''

Tate, like yours truly, keeps a notepad by the side of his bed to scribble down any ideas.

"Ideas find their ways to the surface right when you're either sleeping or when in that space in between sleeping and unsleeping or going to sleep,'' says Tate and I have to agree.

Despite the many naysayers of today's music scene, Tate is not among them.

"Today's music scene, it's varied, it's extremely open to all kinds of different labels, ideas. It's widespread," Tate notes. "It's healthy, I guess.''

We go on to discus the impact of the Internet.

"Really what a Web site is, is a way of advertising,'' states Tate.

He continues to tell me how important it is for fan interaction and to let them know what's going on with their favorite bands. But as for information and news, Tate has his own take.

"I'm a headline junkie. I look what's on the front page when I'm standing in line at Starbuck's,'' Tate grins.

His personal focus has changed during his downtime from Queensryche Tate says, "I used to have hobbies.''

Tate used to own a sailboat, but he sold it after he and his wife started having children. The couple found that they just weren't using the boat very much anymore.

"Gosh, what do I do now?" Tate ponders. "I really don't do anything else, just spend time with my kids or I work, that's about it.''

Tate has three daughters, one is into acting and two are into music.

"They pursue their own interests," Tate adds. "They're young, four and five and 12, so they're fairly young and the have lots of time to experiment with life in the world.''

As a parent, Tate is firmly committed to his family, telling me that he focuses on "we" rather than "me" now. But career-wise, he is spending some time working on a solo project that differs from his usual milieu with Queensryche.

"I think it's similar in the fact that it's my voice. I'm working with a completely different group of writers and players so there's a completely different chemistry." Tate clarifies his thoughts, "I really believe that music is a sort of a sum total of the people that are involved. It's like a chemical reaction that you get when you mix all the personalities together and everyone starts bringing in their own style and mixing it together. That's what becomes a really unique band or really unique approach. It's kind of following that thought process, it's very different, yet it has similarities and one of them is my writing, my melody choices and my singing, so there's a little familiarity there. There's a little different musical approach than Queensryche, it's very vocal and rhythm driven rather than main guitar driven or dominated.''

"It's got R&B and it's going back to some of my influences like David Bowie, Sting and Peter Gabriel," Tate goes on. "It's nice to hear (my voice) in a different context. Being from Queensryche, even though we have experimented a lot with our music, tried to stay out of a definite box, you still find yourself in one, just based the limitations of the group. This is a whole different group and a different kind of music bent to wallow around in; play with. It's been fun and fascinating to me to be in a working situation like this. I've never really done this kind of thing before and it's been really rewarding.''

Aside from studying with a voice teacher when he first started singing, Tate is quite nonchalant about the use of his instrument.

"You have to try to find a place to express the song in the best way you feel there is,'' says Tate. "I sort of try to not think about my voice too much. I'm more interested in the music, what I do, writing songs. I don't really concern myself with the sound of my voice or taking care of it. It is what it is.''

Queensryche has studio time booked in January and is planning to come out with a new record and another tour next year.

"We'll keep making records and touring. We've all just taken a year off to do solo projects that will be coming out over the next year." Tate grins as he confides the real reason for Queensryche's longevity, "I think we're good at what we do and we have a passion for it. I think that audiences appreciate that. I think you pick up on other people that have a passion for something; it's kind of addicting.''

Hmmm... Tate may be on to something there. Anyone for another "hit" of "Silent Lucidity"?

To find out what Queensryche is currently up to, visit www.queensryche.com and www.sanctuaryrecordsgroup.com .


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