QUEENSRYCHE – TODD LA TORRE & MICHAEL WILTON
INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY ARTO LEHTINEN AND MARKO SYRJALA
Queensryche has been in the headlines during the past few years because of major changes in the line-up. As the legal case is nearly over, it is time to look to the future for what it holds for the legendary band. The band has started working on the follow-up to the self titled Queensryche album and at the Sweden Rock festival Metal-Rules.com got the great opportunity to talk with the founding member and guitarist Michael Wilton and the vocalist Todd La Torre.
THE RISE OF QUEENSRYCHE
Queensryche has been in the headlines in recent years because of changes in the line-up and legal matters, but the fact is that you have released a new album last year, and have toured frequently around the world. So you’re really a hard working band nowadays.
Wilton : Yeah. Right now it’s kind of in a re-building process. So, it’s a matter of just, we are just getting certain routing for this year and we are actually really building for 2015. We plan on having a new CD out, so a full world tour, where we play… You noticed this year we are not hitting all the festivals here…
La Torre : Because we are writing and going to be recording.
Wilton : We are saving ourselves for the next record and… But there is lots of plans and obviously we’ve had a lot of the business things that we’ve had to take care of. And so, as far as everybody in the band. We are going to be touring quite a lot in 2015. We are going to do a fair amount of shows this year as well, but we are really looking at hitting some places around the world Queensryche have never been.
La Torre : Yeah. We’ve got a lot of new territories. We have South Africa, India, China, Japan. A lot of Latin America, Australia, New Zealand… And then really hitting more of Scandinavia and a lot of territories throughout Europe.
As you say you are still in the reconstruction of the band, but which is more important: try to make a good record, played on the radio, or try to do as much touring as possible?
Wilton : It’s both really. We’ve gotten some advice from management and they basically said, “Don’t try and write for radio. Just write a killer album, just whatever comes out make it kick-ass. Make it a bad ass Queensryche record and don’t worry about radio.”
La Torre : There is already an established fan base, a million plus. So, if we write music that feels genuine to us, keeping in mind those elements that the real fans are eager to hear, to us that’s a winning combination. If we can get something that’s a little more commercial picked upon radio, that’s a bonus. But as you know, all of the bands rely on touring, selling their merchanise So, the strategy, going back to what Michael was saying earlier with why are we touring extensively this year compare to how we will in the next two years, is a lot of that strategy is playing in relation to when the new album will come out, playing different markets at the right time, better time slots. It’s a business also, so we have to be very mindful of – Do we play this mark, do we play this show. But maybe if we wait six months, we can play a better pay, a better time slot, a bigger exposure – What makes more sense? So, we are not desperate to just go play any show. We flew all the way here for this show, we leave tonight. But it made sense for us and the relationship we have with Sweden Rock to come here and do this for tonight, it made the most sense for us to be. We have other shows right when we go home.
Wilton : I think it’s also that kind of a recipe for disaster for a lot of bands, because when you are relying just on touring you are hitting the same markets every time. And it’s called “burn out”. You just overplay and you don’t move anywhere, your value lessens because you are seeing too much.
Many older bands have become a nostalgia act as they just play the same songs year after year with the same show.
Wilton : We don’t want to become known as an nostalgia act. Obviously we are making new music, we are doing new CDs where else those type of bands are just playing their hits from the past. And so, for us it’s one show at a time. We have a lot of work to rebuild all around the world, to get the excitement factor, the energy back and just the quality of musicianship up to the level that we feel really excited about.
Do you feel that social media is a really important tool for example YouTube, when you put the teaser of the album there was a huge rush, lots of people checked out that Because I guess it gives more people to check out the band than the normal radio play, because nobody listens to the radio nowadays.
La Torre : That’s the age we live in is social media. I mean that’s where people go; you are not going to hear Iron Maiden on the radio. There are stations that would play something, but you are not going to hear Iron Maiden in rotation in The US.
You can hear it here in Scandinavia…
La Torre : Yeah. But for the sake of conversation, social media is a very utilized tool that everyone relies on now.
Wilton : It’s so convenient. I was on Facebook on my News Feed and someone had posted the new songs for the new Judas Priest. So, instantly I clicked a little box and I was listening to a couple of their new songs. Otherwise I’d probably take a little longer, so the convenience factor is definitely there. The social media, you can get to what you want faster. You have less work to do, and that being said everybody is doing it now. So, you have ways of making yourself more known to everybody. And do that, is like Todd said. You put pictures; you’ve got to get people interested. If you don’t do anything they are going to go to somebody else’s band page.
You have already been demoing the new stuff for the next album and some vocals have already been done. So, at this stage would you describe to us the material compared to the previous one?
La Torre : Obviously the material does change, sometimes quite significantly from the demo to what you hear on the album. So, it might be a little premature for us to tell you what it sounds like. I can tell you that a couple of the songs that we’ve worked have progressive elements, almost OPERATION MINDCRIME era or a little later. But they don’t sound dated and melody. The most important thing that we focus on first is melody. I mean for Michael too, but for all of us melody is the most important aspect, and there are a lot of bands that are great instrumentalists but not great songwriters. And to me personally, a great song has you singing that melody. No matter if it’s heavy or light, a good melody always wins. So, that’s our main focus especially when Michael writes something, “Hey, this is great.” It can have a heaviness to it, by the time I get it I’ll say, “Hey! Check this melody out.” It might soften it up a bit. So, how can I make it a little more aggressive? How do I sing it? How do I phrase it? What are the lyrics that are being told? So, it’s a marriage between the two.
Wilton : But I think there is a balance, true we write for the song but it’s also bringing back the element of musicianship. Making the songs interesting to listen to, for people, for musicians as well. Not in the sense like Dream Theater I think, but it’s more… The old albums that we used to do, Chris and I used to intertwine guitar parts that almost were songs in themselves. And trying to bring that back, make the parts, everything interesting. That when you go back and you listen to it, you hear something different every time you hear it. I think that’s kind of where a lot of the fans want us to go on a lot… It’s like we always strive for that. It’s like, you don’t want to write something and listen to it once and then put it aside, just work on the next one. Hopefully you want to listen to it a few times and pick out everything in it.
You mentioned the old days when you were working a lot with Chris De Garmo on the songs, so have you got any feedback from him?
Wilton : Yeah. Chris and I are still really good friends. Dare I say we golf together. And I was with him a couple of weeks ago. So, he’s always wanting to know what’s going on and he congratulated me, shook my hand. Goes, “Michael well done on this CD.” So, he was really happy and he met Todd and he was really impressed with Todd. So yeah, we are in contact with him. But he’s doing his thing, he’s a pilot. He still plays music, he still writes but that’s where it stands right now.
Do you think the creation, working on the new music is much easier at the moment, cos let’s say now “the situation” is over that it is more like a relief for you and you can focus on the music now, because the legal hassle is over now ?
Wilton : Well, it’s not completely over yet but it’s for the most part. The main part of it is done. And still we have lots of inspiration and it’s all about managing your time, multitasking, doing business situations. We are multitasking, touring like here. It’s just really taking advantage as much free time as we can to write music. But true, I think some of the songs on the last CD definitely were filled by the situation as I say and lyrically as well. But this one, I think it’s more of just really creating what we are feeling now and it’s kind of early to say, but it’s going to be definitely an interesting one.
Right, but what’s going to happen after August when and he(Tate) has to give the name away…
Wilton : Well, obviously it’s going to be less confusion in the marketplace. And that’s the main thing, because that’s what has really confused a lot of the fans. And above and beyond that, we are just going to move on. We won’t think of that anymore.
You have spent two years with that…
Wilton : Yeah. I’m ready to move on.
LA TORRE TALK
Todd, when you were touring in Crimson Glory I guess it’s the first time when you got the taste of how the touring life is?
La Torre : A lot of it is run the same, but Crimson Glory was really very self-managed and we did a lot of the late work as the band members ourselves. And Queensryche it’s much larger organisation, and we really just focus on our job. And so, we have our management team, we have tour managers; we have production people, lighting people, monitor guys, our techs. There is a kind of a protocol and chain of command that helps run the organization. So, when you are on a bus you are doing your shows, it’s similar in many ways. And it’s nothing against Crimson Glory, it’s just that wasn’t the band that really did a lot and didn’t tour a lot. So, the foundations of those business dealings weren’t implemented like they are in Queensryche. So, it’s more efficient in Queensryche.
Michael, Todd came out of blue in the Crimson Glory thing, that there was a huge wondering “ Who is this guy with this great voice?”, everyone was blown away. But how did you discover his skills and capacity to sing? When did you hear the first time? Did you hear some clips or something?
Wilton : The whole way it happened is so magical. It’s like, I met him just because we had a mutual interest in music and stuff and little did I know that he had this amazing voice and was influenced by our former singer as well as Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford. And to tell you the truth, there is so much going on that I was probably mentally half-way there. But in shock, that just kind of happened. One thing led to another, when Todd did some private Queensryche songs on YouTube for us to see. I got those and I immediately sent those to the guys, and from there it was like. We didn’t have a lot of options, everybody felt this guy has the voice he has, the nuances of the old days and we just went with it. When something is going good, you just let it happen.
La Torre : There weren’t auditions. Some people have said, “If I would have known there was an audition, I’m better than this guy.” And I said… There weren’t auditions. This was a side thing, we met at a dinner party and we got along great at dinner. We exchanged information. Hey, we want to do this. The next thing you know, I’m getting an email from him and then Scott and we really love what we hear. And that’s how it happened.
Wilton : We were in a really shitty situation. Imagine yourself in kind of desperation, like your whole world is crumbling. You don’t know what you are going to do next. But there is this glimmer of hope and his name is Todd La Torre, and you just got to have… You just got to go with it!
Todd, you have done a lot of cover songs like Stryper, Yngwie Malmsteen etc. and I remember you once asked people on your Facebook to name, “Which song I’m I supposed to sing now?”
La Torre : I think that was about drumming.
Damn, right… It was about drumming…
La Torre : Because I said, “Hey! I just set up my drums and I’m going to start practicing again.” Here is some bands, it was like Tesla, Slayer. Yeah. That wasn’t even in the list. And so I said, “What do you guys want to hear our cover of drumming?” That was for drumming. And so, I was flooded with comments, “Yeah. Play something from Pantera or Stryper” or whatever.
I suggested Loudness “Crazy Nights”.
La Torre : Yeah. I love Loudness. Yeah, it’s a great band.
But you still enjoy playing drums?
La Torre : I still enjoy playing, yeah. I don’t play as much as I would like to, but I still play drums.
Once the album comes out, there’s going to be more touring from you guys for sure. Are you going to do just your own headline tour or do you have plans to do some co-headline touring as well with some other band/bands? Touring with some really big names, such as Iron Maiden, would be a great thing for you guys?
La Torre : We’ve looked at both options, some options make more sense to be our own show. Other options obviously, if we can get picked up on an Iron Maiden tour that would be phenomenal. So, it just depends if it makes the most business sense for… Because there are other bands that we would love to tour with. There are many great bands that we would love to play with, but when it comes down to what each band needs to make or wants to make. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out. So, we want to have a fair ticket price for the fans. And each situation, and it’s not bullshit, I’m not trying to evade answering. It really is more complex than a simple answer, some territories depending on the right venue. What’s the capacity? What’s the ticket price? Match, this that. Touring. How much is the tour bus? You are talking a 1,000 bucks a day for a tour bus. So, do we have a band that wants to buy on? Then you have rental of back line and gear and there is so much that goes in, we have to do what’s best for both bands. So, we would do either one.
Wilton : We did co-headlining with the Dream Theater one year, and that worked out well. The band that was more popular in that city was the one that headlined that night. And that worked out fairly well, there was some butting of heads but it was fun.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but the young generation are really hard to be reached if you are an older band and they don’t know you . The only way to reach the younger generation is when they see you with some other bands, right?
La Torre : Yeah. I think that Queensryche is a pioneering band and a lot of the younger kids have heard the name, but they haven’t seen the band live. So, that’s one instance. Now another instance would be another band that’s just as old or say in the 20 year mark that they could open up for Queensryche and now we are sharing our fan base with them. So, if we can help another band to grow and it makes sense we would love to do that. Because this is a genre of music that is purely supported by the fans not radio, and so we very much show our support for bands that are not as well known and obviously the legendary ends…
Many of the ’80s hair metal bands in The States – you are not hair metal band – let’s say Cinderalla for example, they only do package tours these days. They have four to six bands, whom they are playing with. Have you been thinking about doing a package tour like that?
La Torre : The reason why a lot of people do package tours, is because the one band on it’s own is not going to draw 20,000. Let’s just get real. Now, it’s a lot of fun to play in a festival setting and it’s a bigger stage, better lights, more people. And as a consumer you are getting more bang for the buck. So, you are going to go see 10 bands that you love or five bands or 20 bands over the course of how many days. So, it does make sense and it’s a lot of fun. It is a lot of fun, but this is not 1990 or ’87, where Cinderella could pack an arena on their own.
Wilton : I think we are doing enough festivals in the US and in Europe that we are reaching a younger audience.
La Torre : A lot of younger kids come out…
Wilton : So, many fans, their kids are coming out and it’s seeing the offspring of Queensryche fans. I think in the US for example, like you said, it seems more going to events like this where there is more bands. They feel more driven with their money to see more bands, pay more money and see more bands. So, there is the Coachellas and the Rocklahomas and everything. They are parking with lots of people, and that’s because this is just a good package and..
And then there are the Cruises.
La Torre : And the Cruises are doing great. So yeah, it’s an amplified concert experience. You are around people that love this shit like we do.
Wilton : For people that don’t know Queensryche, but they are playing out of festival. It’s like it’s less of a gamble if they are going to like you or not.
If they still remember that next morning after all beer drinking “Laughs”
Wilton : Right, yes.
Wilton : You are welcome.
La Torre : Thank you for your interest and we appreciate it.
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