About to see out 2018 as he began it, Geoff Tate is taking to the road once more to celebrate 30 years of Queensrÿche’s monumental ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ album. With the last twelve months seeing the singer perform the fan’s favourite, Geoff is now looking forward to celebrating one of his favourites; landmark 1990 release ‘Empire’. We sat down for a chat with the Seattle native to talk the recording of ‘O:M’, plans for a deluxe reissue of their best-selling album, and the arrival of new music. Breaking the silence; Eamon O’Neill
Hi Geoff, how are you today?
I’m doing well. I’m travelling, and I’m in Germany right now. I was born in Germany, and also my wife is German, so yeah, I guess I’m kind of connected.
You started off 2018 celebrating 30 years of ‘Operation: Mindcrime’; how did you enjoy that first run of dates?
Oh, it was great, yeah. I think I started touring in January, and it’s been a heck of a year, I’ll tell you.
You’re finishing the year with another round of ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ dates; are you looking forward to getting out there again?
Yeah, I am actually. It’s a wonderful album to perform, and it’s a fan favourite. Every few years I like to take it out on the road and tour it, and this is the 30th anniversary, so it’s the perfect time to do it. I hope I’m around long enough to dust it off again on the 40 year anniversary!
It’s such an iconic album; did you know exactly what you were doing when you went in to record it, and did you realise that it was going to be as successful?
You never really know if you’re going to have a hit on your hands. A lot of stars have to align for that to happen, and we were very lucky of course, when the album did become very popular. We had a good solid record, and we also had a very functioning record company behind us at the time – EMI Records – and we had millions of dollars in promotion. And we had MTV playing the videos, and radio stations all over the world playing the songs, so there was much more of a chance that the record was going to be a hit record with all those things in line. Nowadays of course, it’s a completely different story because the whole industry has changed.
The album, musically is absolutely solid; would you put that down to the individualperformances, or did the producer pull that together?
Yeah, you know, I think the whole band was really on fire at that whole project at the time. We were really living and breathing it. It had a lot of special meaning to me especially, but I think the other guys really got into it once I explained it to them and they saw where it was going. Everybody could sort of wrap their head around it and yeah, I think everybody in the band just contributed amazing performances on that album; just stellar performances that, luckily, will live on forever.
It was you and guitarist Chris DeGarmo who wrote the bulk of it.
Yeah, musically it was. I wrote the story for it, the concept for it; developed the characters for it, and that kind of thing. And I wrote the title track ‘Operation: Mindcrime’. And then you have song structures, you play them for your guys and you say; “Here’s my idea; I want it to go kind of like this”, and you give it to them and they put their signature on it, their energy into it, and their style and performance. They really add to it, a lot, and the song really becomes a new kind of animal when you get other people involved. So yeah, it was a wonderful experience making that record. Just from the beginning to the end it was really a special time.
Was it difficult to put together; were there various drafts; did you have sequencing problems, or anything like that?
I think looking back on it now, it did come together very easily. It was very planned out. I had started with the story in mind; I knew exactly where I wanted it to go. But it had to kind of grow on its own, and that story did grow on its own over, I guess, the six months of time that we spent recording it. It became a lot more fine-tuned and streamlined, and I have Peter Collins to really thank for that as a producer. I think he did a fantastic job guiding the whole project, and keeping us all in balance with other. You have a project, and kind of like what you said; there’s a lot of details to think about; how to hook it up, how to sequence it, and how it’s all going to flow, because it has to tell a story, right? Peter was very good about corralling everybody in, and making sure that we had great performances and that the story always made sense. No one strayed out of bounds too far, which can happen, and that’s why we had him there in the first place, because he’s an incredible producer and really knows how to bring a project into focus.
Your own performance on the album is incredible; but I think it was Joe Elliot who said that you don’t realise that 30 years later, you’re going to have to be repeating it night after night.
Yeah, especially now, 30 years later, at 60 years old. Hitting that every night is definitely a challenge, yeah! And there are some of those nights where I think; “Damn! I wish I would have maybe approached this a little differently 30 years ago!” [*laughing*]
Are you aware that Bruce Dickinson said that one of the reasons he left Iron Maiden, was because he’d heard ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ and thought it was much better executed than ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’?
[*Laughing*] Yeah, I heard that story. I think that Iron Maiden has been very vocal about their appreciation of Queensrÿche over the years. Steve Harris has said many wonderful things about us in the press, and Bruce as well. And we toured together a couple of times. The guys have always treated us with the utmost respect, and we’ve always had wonderful tours together. They’re really a great organisation, a great bunch of guys, and I’ve nothing but respect for them.
Moving on, and Queensrÿche’s ‘Empire’ will be 30 years old in 2020; have you any plans to commemorate that?
I sure do. I’m looking forward to that. That’s one of my favourite albums, and I’m looking forward to playing that.
So you’re look at a full album performance?
I think I would. I’d like to play every song because there are songs on that album that I have played very rarely. I think I’ve played every song on the album, but I think there are some I’ve played maybe ten times on my life, and one of them is ‘Anybody Listening?’. When Queensrÿche was together, we never really put that song in our set. We just had a hard time playing it, for some reasons; it just never jelled or felt right. And I ‘d really like to play that song again, and play it right.
Are there any plans for an expanded 30th anniversary release of ‘Empire’?
Yeah, there is. There’s a box set thing coming out for that. I’m kind of in the process of working with them on it right now. I can say from my perspective looking it, it’s going to be a phenomenal box set, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m contributing all kinds of stuff; from interviews to comments to liner notes, yeah, you name it.
In terms of the material, will it contain demos and outtakes, that sort of thing?
I know exactly what it’s going to be, but I can’t tell you exactly right now – it’s too early!
‘The Promised Land’ followed ‘Empire’, and it’s quite an underrated release.
It’s one of my favourite albums, I can tell you that. It’s one of my favourite albums that Queensrÿche did. When Queensrÿche was together we did a fantastic tour with that album; one of my favourite tours that we ever did. That was an album that was very special to almost everyone in the band. It was a very special time for us. It was the album after our most successful record, and it was a really interesting time of introspection and self-examination; artistically, musically, professionally - all those things, those areas of your life that you look back on and think; “How did I get here?! Where am I?!” Especially after the whirlwind of years leading up to the ‘Promised’ album; it was a nice time to sort of reflect, at that point. It’s a very special album.
Back to the present, and 2017 saw the release of the final part of ‘The Key’ trilogy; have you any plans to return to the studio?
You know, I am touring a lot lately, but as I’m touring I’m also working on recording, making music. I have my portable studio out with me at all times. I’m working on releasing some tracks. I’m going to do some individual released tracks over the next few months. I have several I’ve been working on and getting them ready to release. I can’t tell you when I’m going to release the first one, but I think it’s going to be soon.
It is nice to have a little less pressure, to be able to release individual tracks instead of albums?
Yeah, it is. And also, releasing them individually is kind of a neat idea because you can really get more topical with subject matter, because it pertains to the now, rather than writing a whole album and then releasing it two years after you’ve written the first song. This is like; you write a song, and then you release it within a month of writing it. It’s a whole different kind of immediacy about the music; it makes it seem more relevant to what’s going on in the world with yourself as an observer. There’s so much going on right now; it’s a fantastic time to be alive. There’s so many huge monumental changes that are sweeping across the world right now, and technological breakthroughs that are happening. It’s such an interesting time to be alive, and to be a commentator in the great discussion of where we’re at and where we’re going.
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Geoff Tate plays Dublin's Button Factory on 19th February 2019, and Belfast's Empire Music Hall the following night. Tickets are on sale now.
Geoff Tate - Operation: Mindcrime 30th Anniversary (Part 2) Dates:
26th Nov - NEWCASTLE Trillians
27th Nov - YORK Fibbers
28th Nov - EVESHAM Iron Road
29th Nov - STOKE Eleven
30th Nov - PONTYPRIDD Muni Arts Centre
1st Dec - LONDON Underworld
2nd Dec - TRECCO BAY Planet Rockstock Festival
3rd Dec - LEEDS, Brudenell Social Club
4th Dec - NORWICH Waterfront
5th Dec - HULL, O'Rileys
6th Dec - ABERDEEN Assembly