Long before the mutiny in Queensrÿche that ended with his ouster from the band, Geoff Tate had locked himself away in a studio working on Kings & Thieves (his second solo album). The first album stretched Tate’s creative boundaries, but left many fans confused. This time out, Tate had to prove that he can still rock and further needed to make an album that would ensure Queensrÿche fans stuck around for the party. Tate sat down with PureGrainAudio’s Mitch Lafon to discuss his very tumultuous 2012 and his plans for the future.
Your new album Kings & Thieves is sure to please your fans. How did it come together?
Geoff: Very quickly actually; probably the quickest album I’ve ever made. It was one of those records that just flowed. It was just very live and immediate. I started it January 2nd and finished it July 15th (2012).
You had mentioned to me after your first solo album that you had every intention of making a second one. Was this put together before all the upheaval in Queensrÿche or because of it?
Geoff: I started making this record January 2nd and I got through most all of it before the Queensrÿche thing blew up. It was already in the works, put together, worked on and pretty much done by that time (except for the mixing).
Is there any benefit or anything positive about leaving the band? Has it re-energized you as an artist whereas you can create your own vision (by yourself)?
Geoff: Yeah absolutely, I feel reborn. I feel free and very positive… Very up. Not having to work with limitations. I’m free to call my own shots and make my own decisions. I’m free to work with who I want to work with and at what time I want to work and for how long. I don’t have to compromise. The list is endless.
It must also free you in terms of fans’ expectations. When you make a Queensrÿche album, at the end of the day, there’s a certain sound associated with it, but you (as Geoff) can go out and make a country album, a jazz fusion album… You’re free to do what you want without anyone holding you to a certain sound.
Geoff: Oh, absolutely and I love that aspect of it. When Chris DeGarmo and I first started writing songs (way back when) our motto was ‘no limits’. We didn’t want to be boxed in by other people’s expectations or who they thought we were. We wanted to be free to imagine whatever kind of music we could come up with, but over time you have some successes… A certain record has some success and a large percentage of people, now, only want you to do that. That’s all they have a stomach for and if you deviate from that, now, you’re evil.
I don’t understand that way of thinking at all, but I know that it exists. It’s a conundrum because you want to be able to imagine and create, but a percentage of your audience says, “no don’t do that. Don’t imagine and create. Just do what you did before.” But to get what I did before, I had to imagine and create. Don’t you see how it works? “No, I just want you to do what I want you to do.” Well, I’m sorry, but I’m not writing for you. I don’t write for other people. I write for myself and every artist that creates does that.
So, it must have been frustrating to be in Queensrÿche and have people demand Operation:Mindcrime II, III, IV and V… Now, you don’t have that issue so that’s got to be a relief.
Geoff: I’d rather not have that fan (honestly). Somebody who thinks that way…
Check out the song: “Dark Money”
But you did…
Geoff: Unfortunately, but there’s no way around it. What I say to people that have a mentality like that is, “we did that. Come out to the shows and we’ll play that for you.” But really Mitch, don’t you just get sick of it all?
As a Queensrÿche fan, I have to say that my greatest disappointment was Operation:Mindcrime II. Not because musically it wasn’t good, but because you caved in and you revisited something that didn’t need to be revisited. I much preferred Promised Land and Dedicated To Chaos. Are you planning ahead to a third solo album and beyond or are you thinking, “I’ll give it a year and Queensrÿche will come calling to get me back.”
Geoff: Oh, no. I never want to revisit that.
So, what is the plan for Geoff Tate the solo artist?
Geoff: I don’t really have a plan, Mitch. I’ve never had a plan. [laughs] Honestly, I’m having a really good time touring now with my solo band. I’m creating new music on the spot. We’re jamming (first time I’ve ever been able to do that in a band). We just make stuff up – live. It’s improvisation. Who’d have “thunk”? It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years, but never could do it with the Queensrÿche guys because they couldn’t play without a click track. So, it’s freedom and it feels so good to be able to be spontaneous. If you have an idea, you can work it out and just do it. I love that. If I have any kind of plan, it’s to make another record. I know that with Rudy (Sarzo), Bobby (Blotzer), Glen (Drover), Kelly (Gray) and Randy (Gane), we’re going out as Queensrÿche in April and tour. I don’t know if a record will come out of that.
You mean a live record or a band record?
Geoff: A band record. It would be really cool to see what we can put together.
I understand why you want to tour as Queensrÿche because “brand” is everything…
Geoff: It really is.
As “Geoff Tate”, perhaps you’re playing to a smaller audience, but wouldn’t you want to forge ahead just a “Geoff Tate” and free yourself from people’s expectations?
Geoff: I would, but economically it’s a whole different ball game. So, I’m in an economic place where I have to tour as Queensrÿche.
Back to the new album, Kings & Thieves. Are you happy with how it turned out?
Geoff: Yeah, I really am. It was a very satisfying record to make creatively. It was very immediate and very now. We didn’t run it into the ground from rehearsals. What you hear on the record is first, second or third take, so it was very fresh and new… Writing it on the spot and I’ve never been able to make a record like that before. I just really enjoyed it.
Has your writing process changed at all from the Empire or Rage For Order days? How have you matured as a songwriter?
Geoff: I think that’s kind of evident when listening to the stuff. I don’t think my basic mindset has changed. I still think out what I want to do in an outline form. I make a list and say “I wanna talk about this subject and that subject.” Then I start breaking it down into sub-genres of that subject… Kind of like you do in high school when you create an outline. It’s the same process really. I just find life to be very inspirational. So much to write about and so many experiences… People in your life and what they are going through. What you’re going through affects what they’re going through. Everything around us; technology is changing everything in our lives. It’s a beautiful time to be alive right now.
You talked about life being inspirational. In an interview we did a few of years ago during the George Bush era, you weren’t so positive about things and how the U.S. was going…
Geoff: I haven’t been paying attention, honestly. I’m so sick of politics.
That’s interesting because you use to tell me that you were a news fiend and had to get news all the time…
Geoff: I am. I’m still a news fiend, but now that I have Google; I can customize my news, so I don’t have to put up with all that other stuff that I’m not interested in. I can view my streamlined news. My own form of censorship. [laughs. It seems like a lot of people our age have reached this point in life where the present isn’t what they thought it was going to be and the future looks so bleak that the only thing that looks bright is the past. They want to relive their high school days. I just don’t understand that. I don’t like to look back. I’ve already been there.
I’m really infatuated with the now and what’s happening at the moment. I guess I’m at odds with my own generation. It seems like the majority of my people my age and even in their forties are pining for the good old days. They want music to be the same, “hard rock and heavy metal music rules…” Well, no, it doesn’t anymore. It’s changed and it’s got to change. Music has to change. That’s the design of it. It’s never going to be the same and I don’t want to be the same. I don’t want to be the same person I was fifteen or twenty years ago and writing about the same things I wrote about. I want to reflect the now and talk about that.
But I guess in your vocation it becomes difficult because when you go out and play live; you have to play what you wrote twenty years ago. How do you approach a song that’s twenty years old and make it fresh from today’s perspective?
Geoff: There’s a huge amount of pressure to be a nostalgia act… Just play Empire songs. No! I don’t just want to keep playing Empire songs. I want to write new music. I want to keep stretching and growing as a musician and an artist. I’m going to do that no matter how much people tell me I can’t.
But you still have to deliver it with conviction when you step on that stage…
Geoff: And I want to and that’s what I don’t do some songs from the past because I can’t deliver them with any kind of conviction. I can’t get behind those lyrics. I gave up Dungeons & Dragons when I was thirty (you know what I’m saying?)
What songs in particular?
Geoff: The first two albums. That stuff. I can’t… I understand and appreciate that some people really like it, but I liked it at the time I wrote it. But I’m in my fifties now and I don’t look at it the same way now. I don’t want to do a song that I can’t throw down with complete conviction because it’ll come across as fake.
Geoff: Yes, disingenuous. That’s the perfect word.
How is it getting Kelly Gray back onstage with you? He toured with Queensrÿche a bit then stepped back into the shadows.
Geoff: It’s great, but he never really left. He’s a lurker. He worked on Queensrÿche records with us and he went on tour running sound for us. He’s always been in the organization it seems. As a player sharing the stage with him is great. We’ve been having a real fun time. We do a lot of improvisation musically back and forth.
You’re currently opening for Alice Cooper, but will there be a Canadian headlining tour soon?
Geoff: I don’t think so. We’re just doing these Canadian dates with Alice.
Perhaps in the Summer?
Geoff: I never want to say never, but right now there’s just no plan.
A lot has been made about your wife, Susan, being Queensrÿche’s manager. Are there any regrets that she managed the band? Was it the right thing to do?
Geoff: Regret on my part? Absolutely not.
What do you say to those who say, “you can’t have your wife manage the band”?
Geoff: Fuck you. That’s what I say. Fuck you. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You are talking out of your ass. That’s the thing about “people” – are they in our organization? No. Have they spent ten years doing it? No. Have they spent one minute doing it? No. Then they have no fucking opinion.
What has she brought to the table for you as an artist?
Geoff: Susan is incredibly good at “spinning plates” and keeping people on the same page and putting them into a scenario in which they can accomplish things. You deal with artists and people in the music business and they tend to generally have a character that would be defined as “flaky”. You need to have someone there that is constantly following up with people going, “you’re going to call them at what time?” Then following up to make sure they placed that call… The policeman. Susan does that very well. Plus, she’s very business savvy and has steered the band through incredibly difficult times. You know what the music industry is or what’s left of it. It’s horrible and there’s no money in it. She managed to create opportunities for the band for the whole time that she was managing them. We call it pulling a rabbit out of the hat. It’s creative management and it’s what’s needed. Giving the band work, keeping them on the road, keeping them making records and keeping them making a living.
Is she managing your solo career?
Geoff: Oh yeah. I wouldn’t have anybody else.
Check out the song: “She Slipped Away”
I find that very endearing. It’s been said that you shouldn’t mix business with pleasure, but you’ve managed to do it.
Geoff: I don’t know where that statement came from. It’s like the statement “the show must go on”. That was invented by a fucking promoter. Of course, the show must go on because they want their money, but there are times when the show just can’t go on. It’s impossible and that’s same thing with that statement about business and pleasure or never hire a family member… Goldman-Sachs huge profitable corporation – family members, hello… Family businesses are what the whole model of business was built on in the first place. So, that whole statement holds no water for me.
I find it remarkable that you two are intertwined on every level and still manage to keep it going. So many “Hollywood” marriages break up over nothing. So, kudos.
Geoff: Thanks. It’s a relationship built on a lot of factors and just like any strong relationship; it takes time to build and bond. You have to go through your trials by fire. You have to go through your low times and high times to get to where you’re going. It ain’t easy ever. It’s the hardest thing one will ever do in life; to keep a relationship with somebody throughout the years and throughout the changes that you go through… It’s very tough.
In a previous interview together, you had mentioned that you were working on a screenplay. Where are you with that?
Geoff: Absolutely nowhere.
Have you given up or do you have other priorities right now?
Geoff: I have survival priorities. You get to where something like the Queensrÿche break up happens and it completely shifts your focus to survival mode and to align yourself to priorities that need to be taken care of. So, all of my other endeavors outside of music and wine are on hold until I can get myself on track.
Sounds as though life is tough for you these days.
Geoff: As tough as it’s ever been. It’s challenging. The industry itself is challenging. Everybody you talk to is going through rough times and transitions. Nobody is having it easy. You just try to do your best and try to make sense of different world… A different economy that we’re in right now. Hopefully things will brighten up in the near future, but I’m still good. I’m still rolling down the road, playing shows and making people smile.