Geoff Tate Interview: Queensryche Releases 'Empire' 20th Anniversary Edition Remastered
Ranked 14th on Hit Parader’s list of the 100 Greatest Male Vocalists of All Time, Stuttgart, West Germany native Geoff Tate began his musical career with the progressive rock band Myth on lead vocals and keyboards.
The singer joined Queensryche (then called The Mob) in 1981 and the rest, as they say, is history. Tate has a four-octave range, which goes from the A below C up to the A above high C.
"We actually share a lot of commonality with Pink Floyd. Our first producer was James Guthrie who was part of the production team for The Wall and The Final Cut. Of course, we’ve worked with Michael Kamen who did a lot of the orchestration for Pink Floyd. Paul Northfield who also worked with Pink Floyd as an engineer over the years and he has worked with us. We’ve recorded albums in the same studio as them as well."
Queensryche partnered with Capitol/EMI for the November 9, 2010 release of an expanded 20th Anniversary Edition of the band’s triple platinum-certified breakout album Empire.
The new 2-CD and digital packages both include the remastered album, featuring six hit singles, including the #1 smash “Silent Lucidity,” as well as 13 bonus tracks, among them 10 previously unreleased live performances recorded in 1990 at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. The 2-CD package is presented in a lift-top box with five postcards, a foldout poster and a booklet featuring photos from the band’s personal archives.
Since forming in Bellevue, Washington in 1981, Queensryche has sold more than 20 million albums around the world. The band continues to tour.
Tate has four daughters: Miranda, Sabra, Bella, and Emily. His wife Susan serves as the band’s manager.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Geoff, you have a beautiful voice and a four-octave range. Did you have formal training when you were younger?
Geoff Tate: I did. I studied voice. I thought maybe when I grew up I’d be an opera singer and I’m kind of still waiting for that (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have a vocal coach that travels with you?
Geoff Tate: No, I’ve never had a traveling vocal coach or anything like that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you prepare for a concert by drinking hot liquids?
Geoff Tate: Yeah, hot tea pretty much keeps me going. It’s always a bit of an adjustment traveling and going to all those different locations and climates. I do pretty well even though I’m a sea level guy. I live in a pretty wet environment most of the time.
The only places that really get me are the dry dessert climates. I recently returned from two weeks of shows in Iraq. That’s a real desert there. I mean, there’s dust in the air all of the time and you just can’t get away from it. Your whole body kind of shrivels up (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): We’ve got the humidity down here in the South.
Geoff Tate: I like humid weather myself. That’s a singer’s choice, nice humid weather.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you come from a musical family?
Geoff Tate: Well, my aunt was an opera singer with the Cincinnati Opera for years. I think she probably influenced my classical tastes early on. When I was a little older I got very interested in rock music. Yeah, all of my family was into music.
Music back then was taught in schools. There was access to it and good music teachers. I played in the school band, a jazz band, and later in school started forming my own bands.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think it is terrible that many arts programs are being removed from schools.
Geoff Tate: I do, too. I think it’s definitely going to have an adverse affect on their culture. It’s rather intrinsic in nature that people want to express themselves through art and music and it’s always bonded people together.
Music is a form of communication, of celebration, and ceremony. You take that out of school context and it’s definitely going to have an affect and I don’t think it’s going to be a positive one.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I interviewed Carol Channing not too long ago. She and her husband are on a mission to save the arts in public schools, which I think is commendable.
Geoff Tate: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Queensryche’s music is called progressive rock, but there is also a classical music influence.
Geoff Tate: Oh yeah. I think if you took everyone in the band’s record collection and put them all together we’d probably have every record every made. Our diversity in music backgrounds (classic, jazz, R&B, soul, early rock) is one of the first things that drew us together as people. We try to bring in all of those influences into what we do in some respect, into every song that we write.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Pink Floyd has also been a major influence on the band.
Geoff Tate: We actually share a lot of commonality with Pink Floyd. Our first producer was James Guthrie who was part of the production team for The Wall and The Final Cut. Of course, we’ve worked with Michael Kamen who did a lot of the orchestration for Pink Floyd. Paul Northfield who also worked with Pink Floyd as an engineer over the years and he has worked with us. We’ve recorded albums in the same studio as them as well.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Interesting. Was this totally the record company’s idea to reissue Empire?
Geoff Tate: They called up one day and said, “Hey, we’re going to be putting Empire out.” We said, “Why?” They said, “Well, it’s been 20 years. We think it will be a nice package and we have some ideas on how we can put it together and if you guys have any ideas on adding anything let us know.” We started looking around and found that live show in London.
Its kind of a fun album, remastered, sounds really good, and there are lots of cool extras. For people who like to collect stuff they have a few things in there that are hard to find.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there anything special you remember about making the original Empire album 20 years ago?
Geoff Tate: Well, that’s a long time to think (laughs). We’ve never been a band who really looks back. When we finish a record we kind of put it away and we don’t usually return to it, just usually go on to the next thing. It’s been kind of interesting during the new release of Empire. It kind of takes me back to that time. It’s amazing how much stuff you do remember.
I remember it being a really good writing time for the band. Everybody was very plugged into the making of the record. We’d been on a long tour previous to that, Operation: Mindcrime, which was a 14-month long tour, so Empire was the first record in quite a few years where we were actually staying in one spot for a long period of time. We were home in Seattle. I think the subject matter on the album really had a lot to do with being in one place and being able to look around where you lived to see what was going on around you. It has a lot of Seattle in it. It reminds me of Seattle.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): People have called it a “tiny” concept album.
Geoff Tate: Well, you know, you get on a writing theme and certain things just kind of fit together. We like working in the conceptual medium. We like to take big subjects and break them down into smaller bite size pieces so to speak and hopefully tell stories. I think that’s real important with music and definitely with communication. We lean toward the theme or thematic in our work. Empire has got more of a collection of songs that definitely has some pieces to tie it together.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): American Soldier was a great concept album.
Geoff Tate: Oh yeah, that one turned out well.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have said that album was not political. Do you think that one of the problems in this country is that people cannot differentiate between the soldier and the politics?
Geoff Tate: I think the biggest problem in our country is stupidity. Absolutely. It’s people being way too extreme on either side. Everyone knows (you learn this in school) that moderation is really the key to getting anywhere in life. You have to be able to balance things out in your personal life, your professional life, your political opinions, and your religious views.
That’s what America is about to me, not believing the same things or not following the same ideals, but being able to be open minded and accepting of other people’s differences and points of view. I think we’ve gotten away from that quite a bit and it doesn’t help at all that our school systems are failing and we’re raising generations of people that don’t have any kind of ability to think for themselves. We’re kind of creating this consumer culture that just buys what people sell them. That’s a huge issue, a huge problem that I see happening around me every day.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Geoff, is the song, “Silent Lucidity,” actually about lucid dreaming?
Geoff Tate: Well, that’s one of the sub themes of it. It was really about being a parent and waking up in the middle of the night by your kid who’s had a bad dream. They’re upset and you have to put them back to bed again, calm them down, and explain to them what dreams are. That’s where the lucid dreaming concept comes in. It’s trying to explain to a young child that dreams aren’t necessarily a bad thing or a good thing. They just are. You can have fun with them if you can discipline your mind to enjoy the experience while you’re there.
That song doesn’t really fit the typical commercial radio hit of love lost and gained between a certain age group or demographic, but it is a beautiful song. I think it really connected with people at that time for a number of reasons. The Gulf War was going on and people were separated from their families and loved ones. That tends to put people’s emotional radar a little bit higher than normal. Also, that album came out at the height of popularity for rock music. Rock music was the music of the times and it was on every radio station. MTV was playing rock music continuously and that song, in particular, got played more than any other record of the time.
We had a functioning record industry with millions of dollars to put behind the promotion of a record, which we don’t have anymore in today’s world. You had all the delivery mechanisms that were open and functioning and you had a company that had millions of dollars to spend on giving it to people so that’s what they did. People were really exposed to that song and that album in particular and all the albums that came out in that time. There was a tremendous focus on rock music at that time so that song has all the right ingredients.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who are your favorite singers?
Geoff Tate: I have lots of singers who I like and admire their work, starting back with some of my earlier influences like Tom Jones, Bowie, and The Beatles. Over the years I’ve expanded my tastes and my music knowledge and appreciation. I really appreciate people like Sade for example. I think she’s an amazing singer.
I enjoy Erykah Badu’s music. I tend to listen to more female singers than male singers and it’s probably because female singers are more emotive. They are quite a bit more emotional in their song deliveries. Men tend to be a little more held back, a bit more stunted emotionally I guess (laughs). I find a lot more inspiration through female singers I suppose.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you also working on a documentary about subliminal messages in media?
Geoff Tate: That was a documentary being made and they asked me to participate in it. I was just giving an interview on camera. I think Noam Chomsky put that together. It’s a fascinating subject, though. People go to school, study, and are trained in marketing. A big part of marketing is communicating to people on every possible level. A consumer society is really what America is all about, buying and selling goods. We have no shared culture other than that. How do you do it and how do you do it well? How do you affect the most people you possibly can?
Subliminal messaging really works. It affects your subconscious and therefore, you watch a commercial and all of a sudden you start getting hungry or thirsty. You go to the refrigerator and try to find a Coke, but you don’t have one. You have to go to the store to buy one. People have been using it in music throughout the years, playing around with low level suggestions or a conversation or dialogue in albums. We’ve done it ourselves before.
Pink Floyd did it a real humorous way on The Wall where they recorded some dialogue backwards. When you play the record and spin it backwards it plays forwards and you can hear what they’re talking about. They’re kind of poking fun at the whole subliminal messaging idea. It’s a fascinating subject and one that I think deserves a lot of attention.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That reminds me of one of The Beatle’s albums where you could hear a message backwards.
Geoff Tate: Paul is dead, yeah.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you still in the wine business, Geoff?
Geoff Tate: Yes. I’m getting ready to release vintage number three in the spring.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Now there’s a subliminal message that makes me thirsty!
Geoff Tate: (laughs) Yeah, me too!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have a favorite blend?
Geoff Tate: With Insania, which is my brand, I’ve been trying to show what we can do in Washington State with grapes. We are the second largest wine producer in the country behind Napa Valley. We can grow any kind of grape here. We’ve got perfect growing conditions. The industry has really exploded with some incredible talent with all kind of foreign investors coming in and buying up vineyard lands from other countries and because we grow such great grapes.
I’ve always been a fan of French wines. They’ve had a wine culture for thousands of years and they’ve really experimented and tried so many different things, figured out what works and what doesn’t work. I’m very partial to the French wine and I started collecting it years ago. I met some winemakers in the Seattle area who I became friends with quite a long time ago. Just through conversations with them and wine tastings, we decided to partner up and make our own wine.
We’ve taken Washington grapes and tried to incorporate the French style of winemaking into that. We came up with the classic French varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Bordeaux, and Auerbach, and blended them in the French fashion using French oak and an aging process that takes months and months. We came up with wines that are very restrained and reserved that go incredibly well with food. They’re not really designed to sort of drink on their own, but you can. They’re really designed to go well with food, which is the French style.
We do a red and a white. They’re fine wines. Many times they’re really surprising to people because people think, “Oh, some rock musician is making wine.” They think that it’s going to be like Mad Dog 20/20 or something (laughs). But, it’s a very serious wine. We’re trying to make a world-class brand so it can compete with wines from Europe and South America.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I visited a winery last year and was surprised of all that goes into the making of wine.
Geoff Tate: Yeah, there’s a lot that goes into it. There’s picking the grapes, crushing them, and then putting them into barrels to start the age. You have to rack them and keep moving the wire around from barrel to barrel over a long period of time. Then you get into the blending process, which is a whole other thing where you actually sit for days and try different combinations of different grapes to see what you want to make. I love that process.
I like the beginning process of picking the grapes. That’s always really festive. I like that, the blending process and the bottling process. I really enjoy those three areas. I also like selling the wine and going out on the road. I go to wine shops and they buy a few cases, and then I make appearances and sign bottles. People come in, sample the wine, and we talk about wine and music and whatever else.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine); That is neat. What have you learned, Geoff, from a household of girls?
Geoff Tate: Well, the most important thing is always put the toilet seat down (laughs). That’s something you’ve got to do right off the bat.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Absolutely (laughs). Are you working on any new projects?
Geoff Tate: Yeah. Queensryche is coming out with a new album in the spring. I’m actually talking to you from the studio right now. We’re trying to finish it up before the end of January to get it to the label. We’re in the last month and a half of work on it now. It’s a very cool record, very different for us, and another kind of Queensryche experiment. It’s our first record with our new record company Roadrunner. We’re very excited about being a part of their team.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds great. Perhaps we can speak again when the album drops.
Geoff Tate: Yeah, that would be great. I could talk a lot more about it at that point (laughs).
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