Geoff Tate is known as a man with a big voice. Throughout his 40-year career, the former Queensryche vocalist has seen and experienced many ups and downs in the industry. In the late ’80s / early’ 90s, Queensryche sold millions of copies of the OPERATION: MINDCRIME and EMPIRE albums, and the band toured around the world successfully. In 2012, Tate was fired from Queensryche after spending more than 30 years with the group. He created a new version of the band and released the album FREQUENCY UNKNOWN in 2013. This situation soon led to a lengthy legal battle between former colleagues. In 2014, Tate finally lost the right to use the name Queensryche and renamed his band to Operation: Mindcrime. The group released three studio albums, also known as Trilogy, from 2015 to 2017. Currently, the 61-year-old musician is a busy man. Tate regularly tours with his solo band, and he also records and performs with the German band Avantasia, led by Tobias Sammet. I met Tate last month in Helsinki just before he started his sold-out three gigs tour in Finland. Read and learn what Geoff Tate is up to in 2020.
THE OPERATION MINDCRIME TOUR
Last week, you closed an essential chapter in your career when you completed the Operation Mindcrime tour, which lasted over two years. Are you going to put that album to rest now, or do we see more Operation Mindcrime gigs in the future, for example, at the next anniversary?
Yeah, the 40th anniversary [laughter]. Yeah, I’ll be in my 70s [laughter]. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll probably be doing it by then, but I’m glad I had the chance to do this one. It went a lot longer than I ever anticipated. I’m very happy about that. I think we did 28 countries and 26 months of touring. It’s a long, long tour. As you said, we just finished it two days ago in Australia. The last show was in Melbourne, which was a great show, actually, a really fantastic show. So, I’m happy to end it on a high note and in a good place and in front of a very enthusiastic audience, so that was good.
So, once you decided to celebrate the album Anniversary, what was the original plan? To tour like one year, maybe?
Yeah, I thought it would be probably, maybe, a year, yeah, maybe a year. I just didn’t anticipate the demand for it. Promoters kept asking for it, and they kept expanding the cities. So, it’s hard to say no especially because I don’t know if I’d ever do it again.
THE ALBUM TRILOGY
Another essential thing you completed a few years ago was the Operation Mindcrime album trilogy. (New Reality was released in 2017). I remember that when you started writing it. Then you said that trilogy was going to be one of your most ambitious work to date. Now that it’s done, and some time has gone by, how the whole thing went, and is there something you’d still like to do with it?
I’ve always wanted to play it live. I just can’t figure out how to do it, because it’s so long [laughter, yeah. It’d be a very long show. But maybe someday I’ll do a series of small shows, maybe film it or something like that. I’d like to do something like that with it. Yeah, I’m glad I did the whole project. I’m glad I got it out of my head, and I’m glad it came out, yeah.
Was the Trilogy thing something that you had planned for a long time in advance?
Yeah, it was. And it was very therapeutic sort of a series of records to make, so. It was the first time out of Queensryche making my own music, and that really felt good to immerse myself in that project.
How did you feel about the feedback the albums received from the fans and critics?
Well, I don’t usually read too much about that. So, I don’t really know what was said about that [laughter], honestly.
When you promoted THE NEW REALITY, you announced that “the album would be the last for the band.” You said, “This group of musicians was put together specifically for this project…this is the last album of the trilogy and the last album for Operation Mindcrime”. So, does it mean that Operation Mindcrime band doesn’t exist anymore?
Well, it never was a band. It was just a project. And it was a group of people I put together the record the music that I had, and it was very fun. A fun project to do because of all the different personalities and all the different players and the scope of it. It was just a lot of music. So, it was challenging, but also very fun. We had a lot of good times making the record. But it never was a band. In fact, when we toured, we had all kinds of different configurations of those people involved, depending on who could dedicate their time to it at specific times. I think there’s a lot of people who always want to put the title band on something. There are bands. Yeah, definitely. Queensryche was a band. But everything doesn’t have to be a band. It could be a project, a group of people getting together, it can be one person, it can be two people doing the whole thing. But Operation Mindcrime never was “a band band”.
But it wasn’t a solo project either, so, basically, you’re saying that it was a group of people who did three albums together under the name Operation Mindcrime?
Well, yeah. Yeah. That group of people.
SWEET OBLIVION AND FRONTIERS
Last summer, you released an album under the name the Sweet Oblivion. I was totally blown away when I heard the album. It is an excellent record, but is it just a one-off project put together by Frontiers, or something more?
Oh, it was definitely put together by Frontiers, yeah.
How much did you take part in the writing and planning of that album?
So, it’s another Frontiers project album, which also means that we are not going to hear any of those songs live?
I don’t think so. Yeah. I would say “never say never”, but I would say not likely. It was an interesting situation to record the album because I’d never met any of the people involved with it. I just talked to them over email, and we traded ideas back and forth, and they put it together in a studio far away. I recorded everything I did in various places around the world where I was traveling [laughter]. It was all hotel rooms and backstage venues. It was an interesting situation, working like that, you know? It is kind of a new way, and it was very productive because you only communicated about music. You didn’t spend hours of time telling jokes, or entertaining stories, or watching a football game or anything like that, together. You were just talking about music.
It was all about to get it done, right?
Yes. “Well here’s the bar eighteen to twenty-four, I think we should modify it, and this is my idea. I’m sending this over to you now. Stick this in the master and see how you feel about it.” And so, they’d cut in the part and, “Oh, that’s great. But what if, in the end, you extend it two measures?” “Okay.” So, I’d write that and send it over. And so, we’d built the whole thing differently than oftentimes you do, being there personally. So, it’s more about how well can you communicate. It took us a long time to make the record because we didn’t work on it every day.
As you said, it was a new way to work. But, do you prefer to work more that way in the future, or with somebody face-to-face, the old school way?
I guess it depends on who that person is [laughter].
WORKING WITH AVANTASIA
Another thing that has kept you busy lately is Avantasia. You’ve toured with the band several times already, so it must be something you really enjoy?
How you end up working with Tobias in the first place, and were you aware of Avantasia’s concept and music before joining the band?
Well, he asked me to be involved, and I had, of course, heard the first album way back. And I liked that. It was very easy to listen to music that I found wasn’t very foreign to me. It was all classically-based music, and so he contacted me and said, “Would you be interested in singing some songs on my record, and I said, “Show me the songs. I’d like to hear what you’ve got.” And I loved what he gave me. It was for the GHOSTLIGHTS album, and I sang “Seduction of Decay” on that and loved it, loved the whole album actually. And I absolutely adore their music. I’m just a huge fan of everything they do, and I wish I could sing all of their songs [laughter].
I’ve always liked Avantasia’s musical concept. It is a kind of rock opera mixed with different elements and spiced up with many musical layers. There’s a wide variety of vocalists, styles, characters, musicians, and the music is very cleverly written. I would say that Tobias is a genius.
Yeah. He’s actually quite brilliant of a guy. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a fantastic singer, such as endurance and power, to sing the way he does. It’s very strenuous music to sing to, and he’s a smart man. He’s not a big strong guy he has such heart he throws into his performance all the time, that it takes over. And he really does have a strong will. And he’s probably one of the nicest, most real, down to earth musicians I’ve ever met.
When Avantasia is on tour, it’s a massive show. There are a lot of people involved, it’s a rock circus on wheels. What’s the most challenging thing when you’re doing Avantasia tours?
The biggest problem of touring with Avantasia is staying sober [laughter]. Honestly! [laughter]. We all drink a lot. Yeah, like a lot.
Well, the German’s are known for their drinking skills, for sure “Laughs.”
They’re probably the most underrated drinkers in the world [laughter]. If there was a contest for drinking, I think they would always be at the top. And the nature of the show– like for me, I sing four or five songs in the space of three hours. And so, as you are waiting you have a drink, and you socialize with everybody in the van, and you wait your turn. And then you find yourself, “Oh, it’s my turn.” So, I’ve got to go out and sing. And then you come back and have a few more drinks, and it’s difficult to stay sober enough to perform [laughter] well. And these are fairly big stages they’re playing on, so you have to run around a lot, and there’s obstacles and stairs and ramps and things like this. So, if you had too many drinks, you could end up in the hospital [laughter]. So, you’ve got to be a professional and gauge your drinking [laughter] with your performance [laughter].
You’re going to tour with Avantasia next summer again. Is it going to be the same band you had on the “Ghostlights” tour? I guess that Ronnie Atkins won’t be with you this time because of his health issues?
He’s coming back. I think he’ll be back on the stage with us in the summer. But then we have Bob Catley, Eric Martin, and Jorn Lande. He’s an amazing singer. And we have Herbie Langhans on backup vocals, and we’ve had a young newcomer singer named Adrienne Cowan from America. Really great singer. And then we also have Ina Morgan. I think I mentioned everyone?
Have you ever considered creating an Avantasia type of rock opera by yourself?
It could be an interesting project to do?
Could be, yeah. If I only had a concept!” Laughs”
THE TRINITY THING
Years ago, there was a lot of talk and rumors regarding a possible collaboration between you, Rob Halford, and Bruce Dickinson. That “project” was known as Three Tremors, but it never actually happened. But in 2016, you had another project with Tim “Ripper” Owens and Blaze Bayley.
Trinity. Well, the idea of Trinity came from the Three Tremors. Rob Halford was doing a solo project, and Queensryche and Iron Maiden– the three of us all were on tour together. And we all had a day off, and we were at an Italian restaurant. And it’s a big dinner. Everybody’s drinking, telling stories, having a good time. And Rod Smallwood their manager brings the waiter over and says, “What’s this music we’re listening to? It sounds like opera or something.” And the waiter said, “Oh, it’s the famous opera singer– it’s called the Three Tenors.” And Rod thought that was the funniest thing he’d heard. He stood up with his glass and he– “I’d like to propose a toast. I think that Bruce and Rob and Geoff should tour together under a new name, and we’ll call it the Three Tremors. What do you think?” And we all went, “Haha, yeah. Great.”
And there was big news and gossips saying like “The Three Tremors tour is going to happen.”
Yeah. It didn’t.
In which year did you have that discussion in the Italian restaurant?
It was the early 2000s like maybe 2001.
The Trinity tour you did with Tim and Blaze in 2016 was a great success. What was the experience like working and touring with these guys?
It was good, yeah. I’d worked with Ripper before. I met him doing something. I can’t remember what it was. Maybe a show or two in South America we did. We were on the same bill. But I’ve never met Blaze before, and we got along great. He’s very funny. Funny guy. Great sense of humor and he’s just an unusual man. He’s just very unique, his personality. I enjoyed him. I think we had a fun time on the tour. We just had a hard time putting it together because all three of us tour very heavily. And especially Blaze and Ripper too. They book like a year and a half, two years ahead. So, I don’t usually go that far ahead. I’m like a year. So, it was hard to get the three of us in the same place at the same time.
Actually, Tim is currently touring with Sean Peck (Cage), and Harry Conklin (Jag Panzer) under the name The Three Tremors. They also released a full-length album under that name.
I don’t know who those guys are, but yeah. I think Ripper continued the idea along, and he’s doing it with somebody else.
Do you see that you might work again with Tim in the future?
With him? Possibly, yeah. If the stars align.
However, the current thing now is the “Rage for Order – Empire” tour, where you perform both classic albums in its entirety. Of course, you have always been playing a lot of tracks from those albums. But isn’t it challenging to go literally back, listen, re-learn, and then perform also a couple of songs you’ve never played live before?
Actually, there are several songs on the EMPIRE album that I’d never played live before. So yeah, it was quite fun to do kind of a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to play a lot of those songs. And the tour’s gone really well, so far. I’m really, really enjoying it. It’s two very different albums because we start with RAGE FOR ORDER which is a pretty dark and moody album, right? And then EMPIRE is a lot more up, and lively and accessible. I guess it’s a whole different kind of presentation, really. So, it’s kind of fun doing that in a way because you have your dark and your light.
As you said, there are a lot of songs on the set you’ve never performed live before. When you started rehearsing the tour, were there songs you had forgotten entirely?
Oh, yeah. All of them [laughter]. All of them. Yeah! [laughter]. No. It’s funny. I just had to learn the lyrics of two songs. Everything else I remembered. And I find that with me if I write something, I remember it. If I’m not the writer on it and I’m playing somebody else’s song or singing their lyrics, I have a hell of a time remembering it.
But you don’t need to use a teleprompter on stage?
I need a teleprompter on my phone to get the lyrics on my bone “Laughs” Only in Avantasia tour we used a teleprompter. Because, man, there’s so many lyrics to those songs and most of them are over seven or eight minutes long. So, we all get really dependent on that thing. And even though maybe you’ve done ten shows, fifteen shows and you know the song, you’re not even looking at the teleprompter anymore, but you know what’s there. So, it’s a sense of security, right? And for some reason, I don’t know, on the tour, I kept kicking the teleprompter with my foot and knocking it out and it would stop working. And so, we’d all be looking at each other and go, “Oh. What do we do?”
We know the songs, but we just– it was out and it was black, we couldn’t see anything. So, I don’t know why that kept happening. Probably, four or five times I kicked it. Finally, they put this barricade around it so I couldn’t kick it [laughter]. But back to the tour, I’m doing right now. I think we’ve only done five or six shows now and it’s going great. I’m having such a great time with it. I love it. I’m so happy to be doing something other than drinking and crying [laughter]. It just feels really good. And my band is really good. I’m very happy with them. And they’re very enthusiastic about the material and they play it like they wrote it. They’re so into it. And that really helps.
When you’re doing a long tour like this, you have the very same setlist every night. Doesn’t it get boring at some point?
Well, I tell you it has its advantages. You don’t even have to think about it. You just go out there, and if it’s the same band, you’re awesome. Because you sound good, you know all the parts. They’re not self-conscious. They don’t have to think about what they are playing. They just play it. So, it feels really good.
After you part ways with Queensryche, you always used a sort of “supergroup of musicians” in your bands. The Sarzo brothers, Brian Tichy, Simon Wright, John Moyer, and so on. But currently, your band consists of young, incredibly talented, but also unknown musicians. Is it like that if you want to earn a living with music nowadays, you have to make the necessary changes so that touring is economically profitable?
Well, you have to make it economical to tour, definitely. And you have to have people that are willing to tour. The way I tour is pretty heavy. Most people can’t tour like I tour. And so, I need people that can do that. And a lot of the older guys, they can’t play that hard for that length of time. So, and they also the older you get, the more commitments you have in other areas, other bands that you work with. There’s a drummer that I play with, Edu, coming out who was a fantastic drummer, and he’s going to be joining me for the eastern part of the United States coming up next month. But that’s all he can do. He can only do that section because he’s committed to working with some other bands that he works with. So, we’re all committed to do other things. It’s hard to get people to completely dedicate themselves.
So basically, you have a pool of musicians to choose from?
I have a pool of musicians, yeah, that I pull from and use. Like in Australia, our drummer couldn’t go to that, so we used a drummer that we had used previously, Josh Watts, who’s a guy out from Spain. He sat in, went to Australia with us. So, we just kind of switch people out depending on their schedule and my schedule and yeah. It works well that way. You just have to plan for it. I would say to the guys, “Okay. Here’s my setlist and this is the dates.” And I try to give everybody a month or two ahead of time to know, at least, so they have to dedicate themselves to it and learn it. This tour is two albums worth of material. It’s a lot of stuff to learn for people. So, I gave them six months to learn the stuff. And then the smart musician who wants to make themselves invaluable would learn my whole catalog, and know it inside and out, and be ready. And so, when I said, “Hey, I want to play “The Whisper” off RAGE FOR ORDER tonight,” they’d go, “Oh yeah, I know that. Let’s just rehearse that right now.” [laughter]
THE RE-RELEASE OF EMPIRE
The EMPIRE album will be reissued later this spring, right?
Yes. The box set. Yeah. It should be coming out — I don’t actually know when it’s coming out. But I’m assuming it’s going to be coming out soon because I signed off on all of it, so.
So, what kind of role you have in this release? I mean, were you involved in putting it together?
I did the interviews for it, and I was the only one in the organization that they had contact with. So, I was the one that said, “Yeah, use that photo or don’t use that photo or yeah, you should include this.” And I had the final say in it. Which was fun. I enjoyed working with the
record company on it and putting it together.
Did the record company also discuss this project with the former guitarist and songwriter Chris De Garmo?
De Garmo? No. I don’t know if he wanted to or if — I don’t know. I didn’t talk to him about it. I know nothing. He’s so far removed from everything that it’s like he doesn’t really exist, except in our collective memory or something.
Yeah, it’s been forever since he left the band, and the music business overall.
Oh, it’s been forever. Yeah, over twenty years. My youngest daughter doesn’t even know him [laughter]. No memory of him [laughter].
However, last November you once again said that Queensryche should reunite because it would make sense, and it would be an exciting thing to do. Now that the EMPIRE reissue is soon coming out, wouldn’t this be a perfect time and time to make it happen? If nothing else but a one-time performance by the band’s classic line-up. It would be a dream come true for the band long-time fans.
I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, honestly. I don’t see it as likely happening. Again, never say never because things could really change. But I don’t know if Scott will ever play drums again. He’s a lot of medical problems and things like that now. So yeah, I don’t know. And Chris will never play again.
But didn’t Chris perform recently in public with someone, or am I wrong?
With his daughter.
MORE TOUR TALK
Going back to the current tour, as you said before, the “Operation Mindcrime” tour took a long time to complete. Do you see that this “Empire” tour can last as long, or even longer?
Don’t say that [laughter]. Well, I have to say this. We just came from Australia, finishing the “Operation Mindcrime” shows, and I made plans with the promoter there to bring the “Empire” show there this time next year. So, this time next year I’ll be in Australia.
Have you been thinking that you could keep on touring under these different “themes” on different continents at the same time? We have never seen “Operation Mindcrime” gigs in Finland, and there would undoubtedly be a demand for them. So maybe you can keep doing these theme-based gigs like forever if you want to?
It never ends “Laughs”. Yeah, the promoter in Australia, he said to me, “Well, so what’s next? “Promised Land”? 30’th year Anniversary [laughter]?”
Actually, that PROMISED LAND themed tour, it doesn’t sound a bad idea at all?
I would love to play PROMISED LAND, yeah. That’s a really dark sad album though [laughter]. But yeah, that would be kind of an interesting one to play. I’d probably play PROMISED LAND with another album at the same time.
Which would be that another album that would fit together with PROMISED LAND?
I don’t know. I don’t know what that would work. I’d have to think about that.
I was just thinking that it could work together with AMERICAN SOLDIER because it’s another dark and sad album from you. What do you think about that?
Yeah, that’d be an interesting one. Wow, what a really deep, dark, heavy show that would be [laughter]. “It’s so sad. Why did I even come?” [laughter]? You might have planted a seed in my head now so? [laughter]
MUSIC BUSINESS TALK
It’s an unfortunate fact that most people don’t listen or buy any new music anymore. So, it’s much safer for the bands to do these nostalgia tours and play the old stuff. That’s what people want to hear, and they are willing to pay to listen to the old songs, no matter how great the new music is. And it’s not fair at all if you ask me?
Well, yeah. That is a challenge. Getting your new music heard, it’s always been a challenge. Honestly, what I found is that if I make a new album and release it. I go on tour, I usually only play a couple of songs from that new album and the rest of the songs are from past albums. By the time I come back to that city a year later, I can play more of the new music because they’ve had a chance to listen to the new music, and now they can understand it, and now they relate to it more. And as time goes by, and if you work more and more into your later albums as time goes by — I mean, it’s just giving them time to accept the music and to discover it. Because they’ve had like thirty years to listen to OPERATION MINDCRIME and they’ve only had two months to listen to the new album. [laughter]
I think that’s what the real fans do, but I also think that nowadays most people only know the lead single, or a few songs off from the album. They don’t even want to know or “learn” the whole albums anymore.
Yeah, or they just really approach it from a selfish standpoint of wanting to relive a certain time of their life, and they associate the music with that time of their life, which is understandable. I understand that too. But I love playing any of my music, all of it. There’s not a song I don’t like playing, so I don’t have a thing about that. I try to make an interesting tour, an interesting song selection, and that this way, I really love doing this RAGE FOR ORDER and EMPIRE thing. I love it because it’s two really cool albums that I really like and I get to focus on them only. RAGE FOR ORDER has a definite feel to it with the atmosphere that it creates, and I like that. And EMPIRE has its own atmosphere altogether, and I like that. Some albums that I’ve done are kind of like a collection of songs and they don’t really have an atmosphere. And those are a little bit more difficult, I think, to perform because they don’t have that cohesiveness. But It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try [laughter].
Let’s go back a few questions back to the fact that because people no longer buy a lot of new music, releasing albums doesn’t make sense financially. But is songwriting something that you just have to do because you are a creative artist? No matter how many copies it will sell?
Oh yeah. I have to actually. I’m not quite right unless I’m writing. Yeah, I have to, I’ve got stuff in my head always and musical ideas that are just constantly brewing. So yeah, I have to have some sort of release for it. But whether I sell it or not, yeah. You don’t make much money doing that anymore. So, it’s more like you’re doing it because you have to [laughter]. For your psyche, you know?
We have to sum this interview up now. Nostalgia is selling great, and there are lots of people who are coming to see these “Empire” shows. And after this tour is someday over, maybe we will see that PROMISED LAND and AMERICAN SOLDIER tour in the future?
I think, yeah. We’ll do it now [laughter].
LIVE PICTURES OF GEOFF TATE BAND SHOW IN TAMPERE BY MARKO SYRJALA