INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL WILTON OF QUEENSRYCHE
CONDITION HUMAN, being the 13th full length album by Queensryche, proves the legendary metal squad is back on track. With the current frontman Todd LaTorre, Queensryche has risen from the ashes to show the band is alive and doing more than well. Therefore Metal-Rules.com talked to the band’s guitarist Michael Wilton about the upcoming album and the summer festival tour through Europe.
Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
I thought you are in Seattle, but I guess you’re in Europe.
No, I’m in Seattle.
It’s night time there ?
It’s 7:26 AM.
And Todd is down in Florida?
Todd is in Florida, yeah.
SUMMER IN THE EUROPEAN SOIL AND FESTIVALS
How do you co-ordinate the time and the schedule that Todd is coming to Seattle to work with you or do you go to Florida to work with him?
Usually we fly him to Seattle for rehearsals or recordings. Yes, we have many frequent flyer miles from traveling.
Does it bring any kind of problems when you have to get a guy from another side of the States to Seattle?
Generally no. You have to be organized with your scheduling and it has to be a worthwhile event. It’s just like when we get called out for a fly gig, we just make ourselves available and we just make sure and we get to the destination we need to go. With the Internet, he’s plugged in, we’re plugged in. So we’re always within contact of each other.
You spent the whole summer here in Europe, touring all around, doing a plenty of festivals like Wacken, Metaldays, Alcatraz, Skogsrojet – most of the festivals you have never been before. I guess it was a new experience for you to play those big metal festivals ?
Yes it was and it was quite amazing, that we’ve never played Wacken. But each one was an amazing event and what’s happening is the rebirth of Queensrÿche. We’re networking with the right people and many doors are opening for us, such as all the festivals you just mentioned. It’s all very good; we’re being asked back again, which is great. So everything is going good and rebuilding Queensrÿche in Europe, Scandinavia and in the UK.
Do you think those festivals are really essential for Queensrÿche to rebuild and reconnect old fans and get new fans, because there is a lot of people from different countries traveling to those festivals ?
It’s a great opportunity for Queensrÿche to play music at these festivals, because of all the fans of the other bands. It’s great that our music has a diversity to be able to play at Wacken Festival, and also play with Dream Theater. So we have all those elements in our music and what is happening, we’re generating lots of new fans because of these festivals. There are younger people at these festivals and they’re liking what they see and hear from Queensrÿche.
You also played with Death Angel and Armored Saint there. That’s a very interesting as Death Angel from the thrash metal scene and Armored Saint is more like a classic metal with a speed metal thing. It’s like a different kind of metal in the same package ?
Right. The whole way that was put together is our booking agent for Europe, booked those bands as well. Since we know some of the people in the bands, we’re friends with them. It was just natural that they were over here at the same time and we were able to put a few shows together with them. So I think it brought an overall good diversity in music styles with all three of those, all three of the bands. I think there was only one show where all three of us played together, and I think that was in London at the Electric Ballroom. But otherwise, it’s a good pairing. We’re friends, we all get along. It’s definitely something that we can look at in the future doing shows with.
Those kind of packages like thrash/death metal with classic metal things is really good actually, pulling different kind of audience to the same show.
It is and it goes both ways, because for Death Angel they have to play in front of Queensryche fans. So they have to maybe work a little harder and really connect with them. Same goes with us when we’re playing metal festivals. But we just stay true to our music and so does Death Angel and Armored Saint, they do what they do and they do it really well. It doesn’t really matter too much on the fans, they are just interested in great musical performances with regardless.
THE NEW 13th ALBUM – CONDITION HUMAN
Speaking of the new album Condition Human, but frankly I haven’t heard the album yet.
That’s too bad my friend.
But I will, but I’m not eager to listen to MP3s. I usually pick up the real product.
Tell about the title of the album and how it refers to the front cover?
Right. It’s kind of a symbolic art piece that we depict a pristine innocence, which is symbolized by the little girl all in white. She’s wiping away on the window and the Tri-Ryche appears, which is our symbol. She is surrounded by a vast darkness, a world of uncertainty. The symbolic gesture is; where does pristine innocence fit in such a dark jaded world these days?
Who made the cover actually?
It was a friend of Todd LaTorre’s, a fellow by the name of Joe Helm. Who did some of the art work for the last album as well, and he’s really a talented fellow. He’s in Florida as well.
Did you give him some hints or the concept, how the front cover was supposed to look like? Or did you give him free hands?
No, we had to give him some guidelines. We had to kind of direct to him visually what we were looking for. He was on the same wave length and he was quite an undertaking. He had to do it fairly quickly, like in a two week span. He was very expedient and we’re really happy with the outcome of that.
You recorded the album in your home town, Seattle, at Uberbeatz Studio with Chris Harris. How was the working with Chris Harris?
This body of music that we had created was more suited to someone, that had more of a modern grasp in the industry. Because it was such a large body of music. We recorded 15 songs, Zeuss was the perfect guy for it. What he brings, we knew he had done work with Sanctuary and he had just finished recording an album with Rob Zombie. In speaking to him before the recording, he was very interested in expanding his horizon with the different types of bands. He said; Queensryche was a great way for him to put his fingerprint on. We talked about him and he knew he’s a fan of like the first six albums. His idea was after listening to the songs he goes; I really want to bring back that magic, the way you recorded the instruments. But do it in a 2015 modern situation. We really wanted to really portray our deep rooted influence in our instruments. For example like my guitar playing and if somebody listened to that 25 years ago, and then somebody listened to this album in 2015. I would hope that they’d go; that guitar work sounds like Queensryche. So it was kind of, what he did was really bring me arrangements into our deep rooted past. But in a modern way of 2015, so it sounds current. That was really his forte and his hard work and excellence, it really worked out well.
Do you think it’s a little bit challenging because some people are always saying that the old school stuff is great because of the analog technique and it’s better than modern technique. Do you have to find a balance between them?
As far as sonically we discussed with Zeuss and we said; we don’t want the overlay compressed metal sound. We want something that’s a little more warm and something that’s not so brick walled in the industry standard these days. I think when you do listen to the CD you are going to go, the sound and the way it was recorded it’s not ear fatiguing. It’s like something you can listen over and over, and that’s just the way Chris Harris mixes. It’s not overlay bright, it’s not overlay compressed. It’s right in the pocket and it sounds really good.
Right. This was recorded; the drums and bass were recorded at Uberbeatz Studio. We know the owner and he’s a good friend of us and they have a good room in there. So that was good and then all the guitars and the vocals were done at Watershed Studio, which is my home studio. That primarily, what was nice about Chris Harris was he had all his equipment in racks. So he could mobiley go to Uberbeatz and when he was done there, he could move his studio to my studio and plug in. So that’s another added value with Chris Harris, is that he can mobiley record you. So it’s not like you have to go to a studio where he lives, or you can go anywhere and he can bring his set up and record you there.
You mentioned about your own studio. What kind of studio do you have there? Do you record with other bands there or it’s just your private thing?
I’ve recorded a few other things in my, it’s more or less my project studio. I recorded the Soulbender CD in here and some of my other stuff and then I’ve recorded my son’s band in here. But yeah, it’s not open to the public. It’s more kind of a private situation, definitely.
The previous self titled album, in my opinion, was done very quickly under a certain pressure, because you had to show the fans and people out there that Queensryche is alive and doing well. This you had more time to focus on writing and composing the new material. Is that true or I’m my mistaken?
No, you’re pretty much right. What happens is like, once we got the 2013 album recorded and we began the marketing on it and the promoting. We toured on that for almost two years. So for us it’s, once we get on the road we start writing. So we’ve been writing music for the last two years while we were recording. We get a lot of ideas from the traveling we do and then when we get home, we just kind of bring it all together and we put it on a server. Like Dropbox or Hightail or something like that. So everybody gets pinged on their computers and everybody has their demos there and import them into their sessions, and we can start working on them. If you look at it we had a lot of time to pout these songs. I think before we started we had over 20 demos, that were being built that we had to talk Century Media and management and Chris Harris. Then we just nailed the 15 that they felt were ready to record. But yeah, definitely when you’re in a situation you get the one done. You have a record deal and Century Media exercised their second option, so we were motivated to write on the road. That’s kind of what we do.
I got the impression that it was a way more relaxed feeling, atmosphere in Queensryche to work on the new material and to record album in your home town than last time ?
Last time, Jim Barton did a great job. He took us under his wing and he was able to make the recording as present as possible during a very chaotic time. There was lots of uncertainty happening in the business, there were two Queensryches. It was pretty crazy. But Jim Barton was amazing how he brought the band together to record that album during that time. The process he did was really great and it was seamless, but just everything that was around us was very distracting.
PROMOTION AND LABEL
As for promotion and the videos, last time you did two videos and one short movie Ad Lucem. So I can’t help asking that; if you’re going to make promo videos this time or even a short movie this time?
We have plans to release two or three videos on this album, they will be in October when the album is released. I think we have one that was live that we’ve taken some camera footage from the Wacken Festival, and then we’ve already done some filming for another song that just needs to be edited. Then the record company has plans for doing maybe one or two more videos. So yes we’re definitely filming some more videos and they will be released when the record comes out in October.
What about this short movie Ad Lucem? How did the idea of doing the movie come about?
You start talking to a producer and a director of video and we had some ideas, and that incorporated. We had the record company talking and it was just an idea and you meet with their filming crew and their ideas, and it’s just a matter of what the record company really wants and how we do that. To put two songs basically in a music video, it’s pretty long as far as the length of the video. It was a lot of fun to do, but when you do that you got to really devote a lot of time and someone has got to talk to the director. It’s got the whole story bold, it’s got to built and it’s quite a lot of work.
Regarding Century Media, it has a long history in the metal since the early ’90s, late ’80s. They started as a death metal label back then, but now they have a really huge catalog. Did you feel a relief when you found the new home at Century Media a couple of years ago? Or did you monitor other labels to see which is a good one to be on?
Yeah. After our first album in 2013, because of the success and the agreement to have one Queensryche name. Obviously we had a lot of offers from other record labels. Since Century Media exercised their second option, we were obligated to do another record with Century Media. Which we’re totally happy with. We’re very fortunate to be with a strong independent record label like Century Media. So I think there is other record companies that I think that would be interested in Queensryche, but we’re really happy with where we are right now at Century Media.
Century Media has a really good connection and marketing all around Europe and it’s very easy to find the Century Media bands in different countries.
Yes, it is and they’re networked with their distribution around the world, which is really a plus. They have an office in the United States, which is good. So we’re really happy with our situation at Century Media and I think it will prove to our fans and to the industry, that when this release comes out they’re going to see that this is something that’s very important to Century Media.
What about now, because Sony has bought Century Media – Do you think it will effect on you and the band in some way ?
I know that they’ve been working on a deal of the sale of a Century Media; I have no idea what the plan is. So I’ve had rumblings that Sony is not really going to do anything as far as cutting jobs and cutting bands. So I think they like what it’s doing right now, but you never know with something like that. I remember what happened to Roadrunner Records, that was kind of crazy. We were on that record label when that happened.
CROWDFUNDING FOR BANDS
As for Pledge Music – Do you think this Pledge Music and others such as Artistshare, Kickstarter are the mandatory way for bands to survive through the tough business of the music world right now? You started this Pledge Music campaign to reconnect fans and they were able to make the investment in the Queensryche Holdings.
Yeah. I think Crowdfunding is good for all bands, it’s a way to uniquely step up something that can be like an investment with your fan base. To help promote a project and this generally can go to anybody in the music industry, as long as you have a good fan base you can use something like a platform like this to generate whatever you want. We looked at this as an opportunity to invest in Queensryche, get the album first, get the unique, exclusive items, merchandise and everything. So we set that up and we were very successful with it and I think it ends in September, so we’re going to shut that down. Then as far as the equity investment, that’s something that we did in the United States. Which is kind of a compliant to the laws, business laws over there and here. For a small percentage ownership of the whole Queensryche corporation, you can get involved and basically follow the band and have some fan.
Do you think that this kind of do-it-yourself thing is getting back to the metal?
I think for all types of bands it’s a generation now of; where do you go supplement income? Do you want to start a tour? Do you want to fund a record? Do you want to do this? It’s kind of an easier way and an easier platform, than say like trying to go to a bank or try to go and get a loan from a record company or something.
You have been around 30 years and over. Do you feel that a musician of nowadays has to be a lawyer and a business manager to be able to know what’s going on behind the curtains?
There is always been a kind of an agenda for the record companies and as far as a business. How does the band retain its individuality and it’s ownership of it’s own intellectually property? To do that you need people to help you. In 2015 it’s a lot harder, because you have so much media driven content. You have so many ways of playing your music on Internet radio stations. There is a lot of streaming that’s going on and there is subscription based music that is on the Internet that you didn’t have back in the ’80s. So now you have people generating relationships with these platforms, and obviously it takes a little more time. Somebody has got to do it and it’s can be tedious work. Yeah. You definitely have to have some good management and some good people at the record company, to try and just crawl all these and organize it.
CREATING SETLIST FOR GIGS
I have seen you a couple of times ; last year at Sweden Rock and now at Wacken. I have noticed that you play older songs from the ’80s album; Warning, and first the EP, Rage for Order, of course Empire and Operation album. But as for Wacken I noticed that there was nothing from the previous album at all. Do you think that creating set-list is a little bit harder and harder, because fans wants to hear that song and someone wanna hear that song?
It’s based on whatever your situation is and set lengths, what you’re contracted for. So when you’re at festival and you’re not the headliner. Your set-list, you don’t have time for a full set-list. You only have maybe 50 minutes to maybe 60 minutes. So you have to figure out which songs are going to make the biggest impact, and which songs are going to be the most familiar to an audience that maybe hasn’t heard you in a long time. So that’s kind of how you build a set-list at a big festival or when you’re playing with a lot of bands. When we’re doing our own show, we have a 90 minute set. We generally play songs from the first six albums, because that’s what the fans want to hear. When it’s our own show, we can play and showcase the new material. For example, this last tour through Europe we played a new song from Condition Human called “Arrow of Time”. We played that every night and to all kind of audiences and it went over great. It fit in the set and we can talk about the album and actually play a song that you’ve never heard. So that was really great. I think for our own shows, I think the fans now have heard the songs that they’ve wanted to hear for so long. Songs from the first six albums and now it’s just a balance of the new Queensryche into the set-list. It will happen more and more, but it’s all determined on how long your set-list is.
Do you ask the people, your fans to give hints and what songs you should play?
Yeah. We’ve had on our media based platforms, like Queensryche Official Facebook. We’ve posted that out and for the most part we can dial in, it’s like they want to hear the old stuff.
When getting a new album out, that means you have to re-do setlists in order to have the new songs. So it brings another challenge for you.
Right. Fortunately when we’ve played songs from the new Queensryche, it seamlessly fits in the set-list. Even when we do, like we’ve played Where Dreams Go To Die. We played that in the set. We played Redemption, we played Fall Out. We’ve played quite a few songs over the last two and a half years in our private, in our own sets, in our headlining sets. But it’s really just once you decide the song that you want to play, then you got to kind of figure out in the set where you’re going to place it. Where is it going to flow? Is the song in a different key? Is it going to sound weird? You got all these different scenarios to try and figure out where to place a new song, and I think what we’ve done it’s worked out really well.
When we talked to you last time at Sweden Rock, you said you don’t want to be another nostalgia band. Whenever a band gets a new album out, and they have to and want to play the new songs. People still want old songs, but that’s a little bit nightmare situation for a band, because they have the new stuff, but fans are always to hear the old stuff. Like if you go to the Iron Maiden stuff or Judas Priest gig the same things happen.
Right. That’s your audience and you want your audience to keep coming back to see you. So obviously the hardcore audience wants to hear all the new music. The casual audience just wants to hear songs from the past. So yeah, it’s a balance. We don’t want people to sit and listen to like a bunch of new music they’ve never heard, it kind of loses the impacts. You just have to figure out which song you’re going to play that night and where it’s going to make the most impact.
Regarding the former singer of the Queensryche, do you still follow up what your former front band says in interview about his ex-band?
No. Right now we’re concentrated with Queensryche in 2015. We are doing interviews, we are doing so much press right now. We just got done doing a three, three and half week tour in Europe and we’re getting ready to go out on tour again. So my mind right now is concentrated with Queensryche.
As for the Warning album, it was recorded in England?
Were you happy with the final result of the album or were you somehow dissatisfied with the final result – How do you feel now afterwards, how the first debut album sounds in your ears?
For me personally, I was there in the recording and we were working with James Guthrie. Who was the original producer and he had just worked on the wall with Pink Floyd, and so he was very highly regarded. He was the one that introduced us to Michael Kamen, we did the orchestration on No Sanctuary and Roads To Madness. So I have actually the original mixes from those sessions before EMI took control of the album. Yeah, I have it on cassette and it sounds completely different than the album that’s out right now. When EMI took it they had a guy named Val Garay mixing the album, and it didn’t have the personality what James Guthrie did to it. So it became a different animal definitely.
Before concluding this interview, I gotta ask one last question. Do you remember when you played in Finland for the first time and with whom?
Was it Dio?
Was it Metallica?
Yeah. Late ’80s, ’88.
Metallica, And Justice For All tour?
Yes, that’s right
Yeah, that was a great tour for us. A good, great learning experience and back then the Metallica fans were just so hardcore. So it was a challenge every night for us to open up for Metallica. But yeah, those were great days. It was a great building process for Queensryche and we had a great time playing with Metallica.
I thank you for the time and I wish all the best for Queensryche and I hope to see you here in Finland, because I have seen you now in Sweden and Germany. Now it’s time to see you here in Finland.
Yes, that is the plan next summer. They’re building the shows right now, so hopefully we will play all the places that we missed on this last tour show. Yeah, we’re hopefully trying to get there and do a tour in June and July.
Thank you once again.