GEOFF TATE OF OPERATION MINDCRIME
INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
Geoff Tate is a German-born American vocalist and musician who rose to fame in the late 1980s with the progressive metal band Queensrÿche. The band released several hit albums including EMPIRE, RAGE FOR ORDER and OPERATION MINDCRIME which is still their most successful album to date. The 90’s were a difficult time, not only for Queensryche, but for the whole metal genre. The band went through some line-up changes and released more albums including OPERATION MINDCRIME II (2006). In June 20, 2012, it was announced that Queensrÿche had fired Tate, replacing him with Crimson Glory vocalist Todd La Torre. Tate and his wife Susan filed a lawsuit in a Washington court, saying that he was wrongfully terminated from the group. They also filed a preliminary injunction in an attempt to prevent either side to use the band’s name but as a result both parties could use the name. In 2015 Tate’s version of the band released the album FREGUENCY UNKNOWN. April of 2014 it was announced that that the remaining original band members Rockenfield, Wilton and Jackson were given the exclusive rights to the Queensrÿche trademark and that Tate received the rights to Operation: Mindcrime. Tate renamed his band to Operation: Mindcrime and in 2015 Kelly Gray, Randy Kane, Simon Wright, John Moyer, Brian Tichy, and Scott Moughton became full time members. The band released their debut album THE KEY in September. The renewed band started their first European tour on last November and then Operation Mindcrime also stopped in Helsinki where they played a show in famous Club Nosturi. I met a good humored Tate on backstage of Nosturi and then we discussed about various topics including the new album, the band’s line-up and of course about the past… Read on!
First of I want to say a warm welcome to Finland. It’s been a while.
The last time you played in Finland was with Queensryche in 2011.
That’s when it was, 2011. That’s what we were just trying to remember, my wife and I were talking about today as we were walking around town. When the last time we were here and it seems to be in the summer. I’m I thinking correctly? At the summer time.
Yeah, that festival was Sauna Open Air but your last time in Helsinki was back in 2006.
That’s the last time in Helsinki? Okay, yeah. Time goes by and I can’t remember. In 2011 was at outdoor festival. What’s the name of the city and who was in the festival, do you remember? Was that with Judas Priest? The day we played.
The city is called Tampere and as far as I can remember you played with Judas Priest and Accept. But anyway I checked from my history books and I find out that the very first time in Helsinki was in 1984.
Yes with Ronnie Dio.
You still remember that tour?
I do, yeah. I remember that tour incredibly, because it was our first time in Europe playing shows. So yeah, very memorable time. First time you go some places and it is like; wow! Interesting. We were driving ourselves everywhere. So that’s another whole… When you drive around yourself, you see more of the country and you stop at little places and get something to eat and have a drink or whatever. It’s a whole different way of experiencing life, rather than being driven and you wake up in a city and that kind of thing.
Then you only see airports and boring hotel rooms.
Yeah, really. It’s a different kind of thing.
Next time you played in Helsinki with Bon Jovi back in 1986.
With Bon Jovi, yeah. That’s the tour I really remember, because I had a horrible experience. I was coming across on a ferry and I don’t remember what the ferry was, but everyone was just drinking a lot and having a great time and down at the disco dancing all night. I drink way too much. I had to go through customs at that time and I was unable to walk, I was so drunk. So they put me in a room, a concrete room kind of like this. About six men came in and they had white military outfits on and guns and they made me take off all my clothes. Put my arms and legs apart like this and straddle a table, and then they brought in Dogs. If you’ve ever had a Doberman pinscher that close to your private parts sniffing around, so bring experience. I’ll always remember that. “Laughs”
And in 1988 you toured with Metallica. I remember that their fans they didn’t like Queensryche at all and they threw eggs and stuff. Remember that?
Yeah, I think so. It could be, yeah. I remember that’s happened to us a lot over the years at different places. But I have been hit with eggs and money and bottles and bottles of urine.
Yeah, a bit crazy.
OPERATION MINDCRIME IN EUROPE
How about this ongoing tour, it started almost two weeks ago from Germany?
Yeah. About 10 days ago, yeah.
So how it is for a US band to tour in Europe when everything is a bit messed up because of terrorist threats and other crazy stuff?
Yeah. It’s pretty crazy isn’t it? I just don’t feel like you can give in the threats and mainly some people would think that’s foolish and haphazard. But I just don’t think that it’s the right thing to do, to give into people threatening you. I think you got to live life and experience it. I think that these people, these terrorist that are doing this kind of thing. It’s going to reach a boiling point where the West just says; we’ve had enough of this and it’s going to be lights out for these people. I think it’s quickly coming and I think it’s very easy to wave a gun around in somebody’s face, because it puts you in a power position. I tend to think that people with guns are cowards at heart. But who knows what will happen? But I think the show must go on, I think you can’t back down.
Some bands already cancelled tours because of this ongoing situation.
Yeah, I know. I think a lot of that’s maybe that the shows weren’t selling well, so it was a nice convenient exit.
However, you are here and is this your first tour in Europe under the name Operation Mindrime. Touring must be quite different now compared to the old days?
Yeah, it’s different. It’s difficult to reach people; it’s the same way in the States. Everywhere it’s different, promoters used to be able to just put out the word on the show and the shows used to sell really well. They didn’t really have to do much work. Nowadays the world has changed and there is so much competition for information, there is so much information out there. That we all don’t go to the same place to get our information anymore, we customize our news. So it’s difficult to reach people, to tell them that you’re in town. That you’re playing a show or that you have a new record out. It’s challenging.
It’s challenging time for almost any band but do you think this tour has been a success?
We just try to do alternative kind of advertising, cross platform marketing I think they call it. Where you get the word out in a number of different ways, rather than a typical way and see if that works. We try to do a lot of Internet advertising, that kind of thing. It’s honestly not my, I’m not very good at that kind of thing. I leave that in other people’s hands, because I guess I don’t have the brain space for that.
Let’s talk a little bit about the band line up. Many band members have changed since the formation of your own band. You have had the Sarzo brothers in the band, you briefly had Bobby Blotzer and Glen Drover in the band and there were some others as well so the question is, is it difficult for you to keep your band together? “Laughs”
Drover, he bailed out right at the beginning. Something about his wife, didn’t want him to tour anymore and some problem. Blotzer, I can’t remember exactly what happened with that.
Maybe he had too big mouth? “Laughs”
He’s just Bobby. I’ve known him for, I don’t know. Since what? 1986, I think we toured together. Yeah, he’s just a character. He’s who he is. And the Sarzo brothers, we all had that. When I started putting this thing together, I wanted to make it kind of open ended. Where people could do all the other projects they wanted to do and they could kind of have different people sitting in at different times. That seems to work out really well for everybody, because it’s very difficult to get everybody to commit for a long length of time. Because everybody at this point in our carriers, we all have different things going. Like John Moyer for example he’s got the Disturbed tour coming up. So while he’s playing with us now, in his off time he’s learning the Disturbed set for the upcoming tour. It’s like that with everybody, everybody has got different projects they’re doing and want to do. So I thought this will be kind of cool, a cool way to do it. We’re just going to leave it open. You’re committing for this period of time and then somebody is going to step in and take your place here. Then they’re committed for this period of time and you can come back at this point. Yeah, great. Well, this person is leaving at this time. So it all kind of changes and I like that, I like keeping that fresh. Like when Simon steps out and Brian Tichy steps in or Scott Mercado steps in, and it makes the rhythm section feel different. It’s kind of fun playing with different people.
The current band line-up includes your long-term friends Randy and Kelly with whom you had a band, “The Myth” already in the late 70’s. Your friendship has lasted for such a long time.
Kelly and Randy and I started writing music together in 1979, and then we’ve been working together often on in different projects over the years. Kelly has toured with Queensrÿche and Randy has toured with Queensrÿche before. Yeah, we live like near each other and we’ve just been writing music all these years. I don’t know, we have a similar kind of background musically. So maybe that kind of keeps our past parallel somehow.
Are we going to hear more unreleased Myth songs released some day?
Perhaps, yeah. There’s so much music, yeah.
THE KEY ALBUM
The album, THE KEY; it’s the part one of the Trilogy. It must be really demanding to write, arrange and record such a big project so tell something about the whole process and how you did get idea to do start creating The Trilogy in a first place?
It had a kind of interesting beginning. The Trilogy idea something I wanted to do for a while, like the idea of telling an in-depth story over a length of time. You can really do a lot of neat stuff with the three albums worth of material, but I just never had the subject before. So a year and a half ago my wife and I were walking across Northern Spain on a hike, the Community of Santiago pilgrim trip and I got this idea. I started working on it and writing it and turned out to be kind of an in-depth story. That I thought; this might really work for that trilogy idea that I wanted to do. So when I got back to Seattle, I was immediately kind of motivated to start working in the studio. So I just started writing songs and putting stuff together and I broke the story down into an outline. Which is something I typically do and then start composing music for the different points in the story. So I have like the anchor points and then started with Kelly and Randy and Scott Martin on putting other music to the story, and kind of finishing off the ideas that I had already started. But that set us on a real prolific writing time, just all these different ideas were coming up. Everyone really jumped in and collaborated quite extensively on it. So summer I think around maybe February or something like that, we felt we were at a good place where we can bring other people and to start recording. So I contacted Brian of course and Simon and Scott and Carrel on the drum end and John in the bass. I said; hey, we’ve got a lot of material here together. You want to come up and will start working on it. So we made studio time for those guys to come up and just started knocking it out. Recording the tracks and getting them in shape. It was a really, really productive time period. A lot of it was due to being organized with it and knowing what we wanted to do, and having a little solid, written and stone game plan. That really helps, when you can be organized like that. So it was a big event to get all that stuff recorded, but we got great performances and a lot of really diverse interesting material. That I think really helps to tell a diverse interesting story.
When are the second and third parts of the Trilogy are coming out?
I believe the second one is coming out in September 2016 and the third one in the following September.
After hearing THE KEY for the first time I thought that it sounded like any other album you’ve been working on the past although line-up is almost totally different now. I started to think what are the key elements which make the music sound like Geoff Tate?
Makes music sound like me? I don’t know. I don’t really know. Other than my voice, which is kind of identifiable. Perhaps if you listen to THE KEY for example, you’ll hear musical reminisces of past Queensrÿche’s records. You’ll hear melodies that are kind of common to what I do. You’ll hear certain chord progressions that have just kind of signature sound, perhaps you’re used to hearing because we wrote those songs. When you’re a writer, you try not to rehash what you do. But there are certain things that are just, like they’re part of you. It’s the way you hear music and like you love this particular chord progression and you come up with a new melody over the top of it. So that’s a new way of doing it and its kind of similar to something I’ve done before. So it will be recognizable to people.
You’re right and when I’m listening to THE KEY I definitely can recognize certain parts and chords which are sort of familiar from your past works. “Laughs”
Yeah. It could be really cool, as long as you’re lifting the ideas from yourselves. A lot of it it’s really hard to not do, because it’s just the way your brain is wired to hear the way you hear music. Like if there is a G chord being played, there is a certain melody, a note that I’m going to go to. I just can’t help myself.
That’s what all long-term musicians do. For example Ritchie Blackmore, he’s been doing his music over 50 years and although he changes his musical styles you can still always hear it’s him because of certain licks and repeating chords. “Laughs”
Yeah. He writes really cool stuff, it’s different. It sounds like him, but if you play the songs back-to-back they sound different.
OPERATION MINDCRIME AND SET LIST TALK
The band is called Operation Mindcrime, and you’re playing the album in it’s entirely. Are not you worried that you are stuck forever in that one name, and album?
I don’t know, I really don’t know. It’s a difficult thing to transition from something that you’ve done all your life into something new. When everything that you’ve done creatively and professionally, you signed a name to. For example everything I did, everything I wrote, everything I was known for was under Queensrÿche. I never said; this is Geoff Tate. I never said that. I never signed my work by my name, I always signed it to the group. Which probably in retrospect was a big mistake.
You are not the first nor unfortunately the last artist who says about it after something unpleasant has already happened?
Yeah. But of course I didn’t really see that the whole thing was going to unravel at this point in our career. So yeah, a kind of a surprise. But you just try to do the best you can and try to get through the day and get to the next place you got to get to.
I checked what you’re playing on your set list and I was a little bit disappointed when you’re only playing three new songs but nothing from FREQUENCY UNKNOWN, nothing from KINGS & THIEVES. Don’t you believe in your own stuff enough or is there some other reasons for that?
I think I will play more of that that material in time. It’s very difficult for audiences to accept new music right away I found. Three songs is like the most people can take if they’re unfamiliar with the tracks or the album. I like to give them a song, if I have my way I would be playing an entire new album. I love my new work and I’m very excited about it, it’s all I want to play. I don’t want to play anything else, but I kind of have to and I love playing the old music. But I’m not as interested in doing that as I am in new stuff, which is understandable. But it is what it is.
The current version of the Queensrÿche performs material from the band’s first three or four albums and their new stuff but it means that there are plenty of Queensryche albums which are now totally ignored by both bands. Do you see if there’s a change that you could perform at least a couple songs from those albums in the future?
Yeah, anything is possible.
That would be great because even though some of these albums were not that big commercial successes but there are still many great songs on these albums.
It’s just half. When you’re playing a song that you love, then the audience is going; looking around the room, going to get a beer. It’s like; what do you want to hear? It’s difficult to always, for me, to pick a set-list and to figure out what it is that people want to hear as I don’t know. I tend to always just kind of go; what do I want to play or what’s the band want to play? That works to a certain extent, but often times the audience just get bored with music they don’t know. I don’t, maybe it’s because I’m a musician. I like seeing bands and seeing what they’re doing and figuring out what they’re playing and being exposed to new things. But other people don’t I guess.
Yeah, regular people only want hear the hits.
Yeah. I’m not one of those. “Laughs”
THE LAST QUESTIONS
How is your wine business doing nowadays?
Good. I just released Insania White in Europe, just last week. So that’s a bigger one in Europe now.
Our time seems to be used now but the last question goes like this. You have a really long and successful career and you have faced many ups and downs but do you regret anything?
Regrets? Yeah, a couple. Not too many regrets. I wish I would have gone, started making solo records earlier in my life. I’m one of those people that are very loyal. So I always was thinking of the band first and I have been putting all my energies into that. In retrospect, probably wasn’t such a good idea. I probably should have looked after myself a little bit more. It’s probably my biggest regret.
Okay, that’s all. Thank you.
Thank you. Good questions.
LIVE PICTURES FROM HELSINKI, 2015