What can a band do after splitting up with a frontman they were associated with for three decades? Well, they can throw in the towel or search for new opportunities. Luckily, Queensrÿche didn't give up, found a worthy replacement in Todd La Torre and have now released their third record since the ugly divorce with Geoff Tate. The making of "The Verdict" took them a bit longer than usual, but the album sounds heavier compared to the previous two, the songs have more energy and you can clearly hear more of the classic Queenrÿche vibe in them. Michael Wilton explains why.
It took you a bit longer than usual to release the new album. So, were there any specific reasons behind this prolonged period between albums?
Well, the main reason is the success of "Condition Hüman". We were able to tour on that for like three and a half years, and obviously, you take advantage of that. When you put out a new record you want to promote it as much as possible. So, we found ourselves just constantly touring and on the road and you know, when there's a demand for the band that's a good thing. But on the flip side, sometimes you need to start planting the seed, to get ideas going and to start getting demos done and things like that. And that's kind of the new normal for bands these days, because let's face it, not very many people buy music anymore and so the bands have to tour all the time, so you have that going against you as well. So that's basically the reason why it took so long, it's just that we were touring on "Condition Hüman" for so long.
"The Verdict" is overall much heavier than the previous two releases, it sits more on the metal side as opposed to the prog-rock side and the songs seem also a bit faster in general. Did you feel the previous releases were "too soft" for today's standards?
I don't know. I mean, we write what we write and if it falls into a certain category, then that's cool. But I think what you're asking is how did we come up with the songs for "The Verdict" and where was the inspiration for "The Verdict". And I think a lot of that basically is from touring. I think these days if you're going to play your music, you're not going to hear it on the radio, so you might as well write music that's going to perform well live. And obviously, the more energetic songs always get the fans going and they love that. And so, I think that may've had a little bit of something to do with the influence of the writing of the tunes, because we might as well write songs that are going to be fun to play live.
Same as previously, you have worked with Chris Harris, but the album sounds nothing like its predecessors. Did you just instruct Chris what you were looking for sound wise?
I think it's more of just a bonding of the band, you know? There's more of a confidence factor, everybody's more comfortable in their writing and I think it's just generally more natural as we've progressed as friends and as a band, that the music has gone the direction that it has. Like I said, we just kind of want to write music that's fun to play live. But on the flip side of that, Queensrÿche is known for the three-dimensional music as well, the headphone experience. So, we always definitely pack our productions, if it's heavier or not as heavy it's always going to have that kind of production quality.
It seems to me that the guitar parts are more thought out this time around and you've got more of those signature trade-offs between the guitarists on the album...
"The Verdict" I have to say was a lot more on the spot recording. It was more improvised just because we didn't have all the songs ready. So, the pre-production became more of a "finish writing the songs" production. A lot of that was written on the spot, you know, double solos, riffs, all that stuff was conjured-up in the moment, which I think makes "The Verdict" so special.
The song-writing style on "The Verdict" is closer to the old '80s Queensrÿche style than it's been in years. Was it something you did consciously?
I think this one is more organic in its approach as far as the drumming and the as-a-band writing the songs, it's more like how it used to be in the early '80s when DeGarmo and I would get together and trade off riffs and ideas and write off each other. I think a lot of this has just come a full circle. When you're writing music as a band and it's not being dictated by somebody, it's more exciting and it's more fun. So, I think it's definitely got more of that, the '80s feeling, the as-a-band approach.
Weren't you tempted to write another concept album?
You know, sequels are usually not so good. Look at movies, it's always the first movie that was the best one. Why do a concept album that the critics are just going to judge and tear you apart because it'll never touch the classic of "Operation: Mindcrime". So, you know, we've done that, we did it and we're obviously always trying to reinvent ourselves and be interesting. It's just too soon.
OK, last question about "The Verdict". What's the meaning behind title?
"The Verdict" kind of summarises, in a broad sense a lot of the lyrics that are in the songs, not to say exactly per se, but more in a broad sense, I think. If you look at the whole package and the album cover artwork and everything, you see something is out of alignment. The scales of justice are not equal. There's a storm brewing, you know, uncertainty, there's a hooded guy that's holding that, and that all kind of reflects a lot of the song-writing. And "The Verdict" is just a strong statement, it's like, "The Warning", "The Verdict", it's good.
I've got a few questions about the band's past now. The self-pressed edition of your debut EP sold over 40,000 copies, which was crazy even back in the early '80s. I suppose you must have been watching in amazement how well it was doing?
Yeah, I mean, you have to realise we were like 18 and 19 years old back then and putting music out that was original was a big step for us. Our influences were the metal invasion that was happening in the UK and in Europe, you know? We loved those bands. We would go listen to those imports in record store and buy them all up and listen to them because we didn't want to play what was popular at the time. It was all hit music, top 40 music and we wanted to play metal music. You know, you're listening to great guitar players like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, dual guitar stuff that's really cool... So we just did what we thought was cool, because we were just teenagers, right? And what was cool, it was self-produced by a record store owner and all of a sudden it got a great review in Kerrang! magazine, in the "Armed and Ready" section of the magazine and it took off. And yeah, we sold the first pressing out, we had to press more and obviously when you do something like that the big record companies can hear that, and we got scooped up by EMI Records and signed the big record deal just because of that.
I know you were not too happy about the production of your first full-length album "The Warning" and you basically had no say in this matter?
I mean, there's two sides to that. We're proud of the music and obviously the songs and the whole thing, but I really wish the fans could have experienced James Guthrie's mix. It was more of that time, he had just come off working with Pink Floyd and it was more of that era and more of I think what Queensrÿche would have envisioned at that time to be. But as it may be, it still sells and people love the songs.
"Rage for Order" lyrics are mostly about chaos in the world, technology etc., but you also did "Walk in the Shadows", a song about vampires...
Ha-ha! Yeah, I mean that's a pivotal point in our career because that's where we really found our identity as musicians. We had matured enough that we could experiment and take chances and write about whatever we wanted to write about, whether it's surgical strike or vampires, ha-ha! It was all just a broad sense of that time and just being experimental.
"Empire" sounds quite different to "Operation: Mindcrime", even though the albums came out just two years apart. You clearly did something right, because you had 6 singles and went on your first arena tour after "Empire". So, was it the plan all along, to make the album sound more commercial, to reach wider audience?
No, the motto of the band at that time was, we considered ourselves musicians and with each recording we wanted to do something different and not tread in the same water. So, everything was a hundred and eighty degrees different than the previous recording. We had just come off a long tour and had done a conceptual album that was taking off at that time and we just thought, "Let's just do a hundred and eighty degrees and let's do something different." And that's something different is "Empire". Those songs were more accessible at that time, the general public like them and you know, our career took off, ha-ha!
You've now got three albums out with Todd, but after splitting with a cult singer like Geoff Tate, was it hard to re-start the band?
I mean we've been doing this over 30 years, right? So, you constantly have to reinvent yourself. And sometimes when things go stagnant, things aren't happening anymore, a big change is happening and you've got to believe in yourself and you've got to believe in the songs. This happened really overnight and we've been rebuilding Queensrÿche all over the world and we've been working really hard on this. It hasn't been easy, but the bottom line is, it's all about the songs.
Let's say you didn't find Todd. Did you have any other options or alternative plan in mind?
You know, it happened the way it happened for a reason and I don't think of that. We weren't trying out singers, I just met him and things just fell into place. And Queensrÿche has always taken advantage of opportunities, and if you believe in them, they'll happen in some form. So, everybody thought this was the right thing to do and we just went for it, and it worked.
I'm a bit confused with the situation with Scott's status. He's still officially the band member, but Todd is recording drums in studio and then you've got Casey on tours. So, what's going on?
Well, he had decided to start a family and took paternity leave from the band and I guess he went down that path of being a father to a child and got comfortable with that. He never gave us any indication that he wanted to come back and play live again, so I guess he's down a different path. You can't really say much more than that, you know, you'd have to talk to him. Queensrÿche is a machine and the machine moves and rolls along and if you're not there, it's going to move without you. The fans demand it. Casey's been a great drummer and he's done a great job and the fans love him and we're still moving forward.
I remember reading somewhere that in the live setting you usually play Chris DeGarmo's solos and Parker plays yours. Is there a reason for that?
It's all about practicality. Generally, I do my solos and Parker would do Chris's solos but Parker does backing vocals sometimes and sometimes doing Chris's parts is too confusing. So, we switch back and forth and it just depends on the song.
For a band like Queensrÿche, that has a huge back-catalogue, does it still make sense to invest time and money in recording new albums? I mean, you could just tour with the material you already have...
Exactly, and a lot of bands do that. You know, they're playing the casino circuit just playing their hits from the '80s. But we're a band that's innovative and we have a record company that believes in us, so we still put out new music. We integrate the new music with the legacy music and it works great. We just take advantage of all the chances we have. I mean, as long as the fans want to hear our music, we're going to play regardless. And they want to hear the new music and that's what's important. When the fans want to hear the new music, that's a good thing.
OK, you're about to hit the stage again in a few hours. What's your fave Queensrÿche song to play live?
You know, I just enjoy the performance. I love all the songs that were playing. I'm obviously wanting to play the newer songs just because they're fresher and funnier. So, I don't know. I really don't have a favourite, I just like the whole performance.