In the vast world of classic rock Queensryche are legends.
Both their 1988 ‘Operation: Mindrime’ and 1990 ‘Empire’ albums are regarded as genre defining works, and it should be no surprise to learn that with a career which has rarely let up since their formation in 1982 the band have sold over 20 million records.
Before those two highly regarded albums, the band recorded an EP and two full length records, 'The Warning' (1984) and 'Rage for Order' (1986),that contained youthful vigour and grand ideas; they laid the groundwork for what was to come. Afterwards though the band struggled to keep up the momentum. Eight albums followed ‘Empire’ with varying results. By 2007 the band seemed to have stalled, and they released a covers album, 'Take Cover', as bands tend to do when they begin to run out of ideas. A few years later 2011’s ‘Dedicated to Chaos’ found the band branching out sonically, but by doing so they alienated a lot of their core fan base.
Things had to change.
That change has now turned into an on-going soap opera of events that has burst into the public arena via YouTube clips and dozens of message boards around the globe. The information is out there for those that want to know the nitty gritty, but the short version is that lead vocalist Geoff Tate’s behaviour on and off the stage gave the band cause enough to fire him. The result of this through court orders is that both parties are now allowed to continue to perform and release records under the moniker of Queensryche until a final decision is made about the rights to the name later this year.
So far Geoff Tate’s Queensryche have rush released a quite poorly received album entitled ‘Frequency Unknown’, the front cover of which displays a fist with rings on the fingers. Those rings are emblazoned with the letters ‘FU’. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand the subtext emanating from within the artwork’s design.
The remaining Queensryche members including founders Michael Wilton on guitars, Eddie Jackson on bass and Scott Rockenfield on drums have replaced Geoff who seemed like such an essential cog within the band’s sound with a new vocalist named Todd La Torre, who had recently spent time fronting heavy rockers Crimson Glory to immense positive acclaim. Together, with Parker Lundgren who plays second guitar and joined the group in 2009, they have released their latest record simply entitled ‘Queensryche’ via the fantastic Century Media label. Unlike Tate’s record the production is fully flavoured, and the songs appear to be completely fleshed out compositions. The only telling difference that the band maybe wanted to release the record before the upcoming court date is that it runs for just thirty-five minutes rather than the hour mark that fans are a little more used to.
Maybe it’s down to this that the album adopts an all killer and no filler policy. The guitars sound bright and alive once more. The song writing is no longer bloated, and in many places you would think that this self-titled effort could have been released the year following ‘Empire’. As for Todd’s vocals, they are outstanding. They keep the feel of Tate’s original blueprint whilst injecting a fresh energy. Todd’s own style creeps in here and there to intrigue fans with a slice of what may come next.
Here at Pennyblackmusic we feel Queensryche are back on track. The new record is hardly off our iPod and we are genuinely excited about the future of the band,so needless to say we tracked La Torre down and got him on the phone direct from the United States to talk about the new record and what he feels he is bringing to the band.
PB: Queensryche’s first piece of recorded music was an EP named ‘Queensryche’, and this new album is the first to feature you on vocals. It’s also called ‘Queensryche’. Why recycle the title?
TLT: Well when we were first talking about what to call the album we had some tentative ideas and names, and then finally when we had talked amongst the band we said, "What if we just called it ‘Queensryche’ and make a very simple but bold statement, no gimmicky artwork, no slogans. Let’s just call it ‘Queensryche’ with a big ass Tri-Ryche right on the front. It’s who we are and it makes the statement of THIS IS IT!"
So that’s we did, and so far I think it’s been received in the way that we intended it to be. I’m not hearing any complaints from anyone. You know, these guys feel like it’s a rebirth for them, and that self-titled EP was their beginning. They feel like it’s a new beginning for them, so that’s why we called it Queensryche. It’s very simple and to the point.
PB: I stopped listening to Queensryche when ‘Empire’ was released way back in 1990. Personally I just couldn’t get on with Geoff’s over the top and theatrical vocals. I know that the majority of Queensryche fans would say those words are sacrilege, but I much more enjoyed the metal flavour running through the band's earlier work also. With the new record I have just that. Whichever side of the vocalist fence you sit on, musically this return to form is an utter relief for fans.
TLT: I actually stopped following the band after ‘Empire’, but I think ‘Promised Land’ (Queensryche's follow-up album -Ed)from is a really great record though. I lost interest due to the musical direction that the band was going in; it was not something that was very appealing to me, so I understand why a lot of people began to drop off the radar for them. Now with this album it’s completely different from what the band has put out in the last ten years if not more, and the people that have a copy of the record tend to be saying, “Wow, this could have come out straight after ‘Empire’”.
The style is more like the first five or six albums. This album seems to encompass the feel from the first EP through to ‘Promised Land’. Songs like ‘Spore’ are a little more progressive, and vocally it could have gone on one of those earlier records. Then you have songs like ‘A World Without’ or ‘Open Road’ which are sort of ‘Promised Land’ or ‘Empire’-ish type songs. I’m really proud of this record, but are we trying to compare it to ‘…Mindcrime’ or ‘Empire'? No. Those records and ‘Rage for Order’ were phenomenal. They are masterpiece records that deserve every bit of credit they have ever gotten and more. They were able to capture magic back then. What we are trying to do now is create our own new magic in 2013.
We are already writing songs for the next record, I was just recording tracks for a new guitar part for a new song that I have just last night, and I’ll be doing that again tonight.
PB: So you have already begun to plan the next album?
TLT: Yeah, there are already four or five songs that are in the works for the next record. Personally what I would like to see on the next record would be to have a few songs that are even heavier than anything that made it onto this record. I would personally like to have at least one song in the six to eight minute mark, something that is like a ‘Roads to Madness’ length. That’s an intense ten minute song. It’s something that can really morph into another animal and does it seamlessly under the one song title.
Also I’d like to be able to experiment with some of my higher screams that are a little more edgy and grittier. I think with this album there was some quantity of playing safe; I didn’t get real scratchy on it, I tried to sing it cleaner. It’s a very delicate balance you have between introducing a singer when all these people want to compare me to the great days of Geoff and I get that, so I can’t be too different. I can, however, still sing my way, but there were some songs where I really wanted to get it super dirty and do some Rob Halford type of high gritty screams. The song content wasn’t terribly heavy, so I guess the songs didn’t dictate for me to do that yet. So, if we get into something that is a little heavier, perhaps I can introduce a cool growl that goes into a solo or get into some really sick shit like something off of Halford. That’s the kind of stuff that I like to do.
This record is a really good starting point for the band and for me, I’m really happy about it, and overall I have no complaints.
PB: Over the years I have found myself drifting away from listening to Queensryche. The songs were not holding my interest as much as each album was released. As a fan listening to this new self-titled album for the first time, I have to tell you that it was pretty exciting. It sounds so fresh. I also noticed that you have songwriting credits on there. How accepting were the band of you contributing to the Queensryche model?
TLT: Well, ‘Don’t Look Back’ was the first song that I ever wrote with Michael, and he loves it. Out of the nine songs that have lyrics on the album I wrote the lyrics for six of them. Parker wrote ‘Where Dreams Go to Die?’ and Eddie (wrote the lyrics to ‘Fallout’ and ‘In This Light’. A lot of the drumming that you hear on ‘Where Dreams Go to Die’ was mine that I wrote as well, and the outro for ‘Open Road’ was taken from a guitar solo that I wrote for that song. I had an idea for this solo and I just thought, "Fuck it! I’m just ging to track it." So I recorded it and gave it to the guys. I said, “Hey Michael, I hope you’re not going to be upset but I put a guitar solo in the song, and if there is any melody or inspiration that you can take from it and then do your own thing with it then great, and if not then you can throw the whole thing away.” I have a heavier style of bending,so he ended up taking the notes, and he kept the overall vibe and melody for part of the solo and used it and looped it for the outro of that song.
So, yes, they were all very gracious and everyone was integral to the song writing from letting me come up with drum ideas to guitars. Scott wrote guitar parts. In fact when ‘Fallout’, ‘Spore’, ‘Open Road’ and ‘A World Without’ were written, well, Scott wrote those. He did all of those parts, all of the guitars and all of the drums, and once we said, "Yeah, that’s cool" Michael then laid down his guitars with Parker, and then he made it his way. He was making it how Queensryche would play this on guitar. He would then make some changes to arrangements,and that’s how it would evolve. It was honestly a true band collaboration.
The beauty of a band like Queensryche is that they have songs that can just kick you in the balls and then have a beautiful song like ‘I Will Remember’. To have that flexibility today makes the creative process a lot more fun because you’re not boxed in.
PB: Being in the recording booth and laying down those vocals must have been an exciting time for you?
TLT: It was exciting, but there were times when my voice just sounded like shit and I would have to just say, "Well, not today guys. I’m burned out." I would have to go back to it the next day because I was really hoarse, and there was no way that I could sing the chorus’ clean. We would have to go onto something else. So there were stressful moments for me, but when it was all finally done there were moments where I was like, “Holy shit, I’m in a vocal booth and I am singing songs that are going to be on a new Queensryche album and I am the new vocalist.” There were moments where it was very surreal and it’s very gratifying. It’s hard to put it into words just what that feels like, but it’s definitely a wonderful experience and I’m beyond thankful. If I never got to do this again for the rest of my life, well, I could actually say that I made it, I’ve done it and I did something historical in a legendary band’s career. To be the new singer of this band is monumental.
PB: Having record labels vying for your signatures in this day and age must have just been icing on the cake for you. It so rare that happens these days.
TLT: It really does. I don’t know what kind of offers they were getting during the last couple of years, but from what I understand a lot of new doors have opened that were closed for several years. We have an awesome new management company who are one of the best artist management companies in the world and Century Media as our record label, which is great. They are really pushing this album well. All of the people’s resources that are connected to our team are awesome, so it definitely feels like things are reinvigorated and that there is a new enthusiasm amongst the band members that just didn’t exist before.
PB: You can hear that in the songs.
TLT: That’s what we wanted.
PB: Now at the moment you guys are in the midst of a court case with the original singer Geoff Tate primarily to gain control of the name Queensryche. Now I imagine the worst case scenario for you is that Geoff wins and gets to keep the name. You must have discussed it as a band, so if this was to happen what would your plans be?
TLT: Well, that’s a very fair question… I have two answers for that.
Number one would be that we haven’t entertained plan B that much. These guys really feel confident enough in their corporate contracts that they are the majority, and, therefore, they had every right to fire a member of the band, and there will have to likely be some sort of financial compensation for that person’s percentage of the corporation or the band name or whatever it is.
The second part of my answer would be that, if in fact these guys are not awarded the name, then I assume we will still 100% continue to keep playing and make records. We would probably have to go out under another band name, and then it would really be up to the masses to determine how they are going to support us. Certainly there is a lot of value in the name Queensryche from a business perspective, but, however, there is also a lot to be said for the guys that are playing, and it has to be said that there is also a tremendous value in that as well.
Because there is two versions right now. That’s kind of a testament to the value of who you are going to see, two bands using the same band name. So, our album has been released just now and we know what those sales figures were for the other sides’ album, and we are hopeful and quite confident that our sales for the first week will certainly exceed that, and that in itself is a testament to the fans and what they want to go and buy.
I am not telling them to not go and see Geoff; I think that if they loved Geoff in the band then they should go see him. I would never tell people not to support him and that band. It would be completely unethical and very wrong; these are not good qualities to have. I have my own personal views about what I think, but if they can find music from him that they love then I want them to support him. If they can find it in us, then obviously I want our support. If someone likes it all, then that’s great. That’s what it’s all really about. It’s about the music.
You know, Michael and Eddie have also worked their entire life and are the songwriters of these songs. They have every right to carry on with this name as a majority, and Scott has always said in interviews that Queensryche has always been about the collective group and not about any one person.
My personal view, and this is not just with Geoff but it goes out to any other band, and it will probably be condemned due to me saying it out loud, but for one person to call themselves the band’s name is not really fair… Look, these are the guys that not only wrote the songs, but these are the guys that performed the songs. Nobody is going to play these songs better than the guy that wrote it. Nobody is going to sing Johnny Cash better than Johnny Cash. I can’t sing Geoff, I am not Geoff Tate’s voice, I am just trying to do the best I can at representing the old stuff, and that’s why it’s so important for me to create new music with the band. Nobody is going to play Eddie Van Halen’s parts quite like Eddie Van Halen. They might do a hell of a good job, but people want to see what is authentic to them.
Geoff has a lot of great musicians that are playing with him, but I don’t think the music is being played accurately. He’s even been quoted as saying that he enjoys their interpretation of the music, so they are not playing it perfectly like the records while the guys I play with are because it’s their music. These fans are very critical and I think that that matters. I really do.
PB: Have you ever met Geoff?
TLT: I have met him two times. I met him once when I was eighteen years old. I drove to a music store, and had the band sign my ‘Warning’ CD cover, and I have a photograph with Geoff and Chris DeGarmo (Lead guitarist, 1982-1997 and 2003 - Ed). I also met Geoff about two years ago when Queensryche played their thirtieth anniversary show in Clearwater, Florida, and it was the last show of that tour. I was the last one in the line, and I went through and met Parker and Michael and Geoff and Scott, and I talked with Geoff for about a minute, and I said “My name’s Todd Le Torre and I sing for a band called Crimson Glory, I just wanted to say that you are a huge vocal inspiration to me and largely responsible for the reason that I sing in this style. I think you sounded great tonight. It’s really a pleasure to meet you and thank you for all that you have done vocally throughout your career.”
That was pretty much it. He looked at me and smiled and said thank you, and he didn’t say another word to me. He looked around as if to say is there anyone else to talk to, and then I had my picture taken with him and I still have it. That was my only verbal interaction with him. It wasn’t a conversation. It was just me complimenting him and him saying thank you. That was it.
PB: What a great story.
TLT: I’ve never told that in an interview by the way, until now.
PB: That answers my next question which was going to be were you ever a Queensryche fan in your youth? Obviously you were.
TLT: Yeah, my sister used to date this guy in high school, and he was a really good drummer, and he gave me a tape of ‘Operation: Mindcrime’. I remember putting it into my tape player. I was fourteen, I think. I played the first song which was an introduction, so I just thought, "Okay," and then I pushed fast forward, and I didn’t have that little selector where it would smart select the next song, so it went to the end of the tape and I thought, “Okay, let’s flip it over and try it again,” and then it did it again, so I realised I would have to listen to it properly from the first song. So when I did I sort of liked it, but I was fast forwarding again and I got frustrated and said, “Nah, forget it”.
A few nights later I was lying in bed and I thought that I really wanted to know what was so great about this band, so I put my headphones on, turned the lights off and just hit play. That was my first real listen to Queensryche, and I loved the vibrato as I was a huge Iron Maiden fan.
Then I went to the record store and that was when I found ‘The Warning’ record. This was an older one, but I had to see what it was like and that became my favourite album. Because I was a drummer and learning I loved it, Scott wasn’t doing these drum fills that were (fast drum roll) 'dbdbdbdbdbdbdbdbdbdbd’. I loved his placement of the drum fills and the time signatures they were doing on songs like ‘Before the Storm’. It was really captivating to me, and that’s when I became a fan of the band.
PB: I thought ‘Roads to Madness’ was the game changer on that record.
TLT: Oh, totally. It’s such a great song and we have so much fun playing it. If you go onto YouTube, it’s there. I think my best performance of that was in Regina, Canada. If you type in “Queensryche Roads to Madness”, there is one where I played in a casino and that is probably my best vocal performance of that song. We play it in its entirety, beginning to end in our set, even that fast, heavy part at the end; it’s really such a great song.
PB: So you were a full time rocker in your youth then?
TLT: That vocal, the “ohohohohoh”, that real heavy vibrato always captivated me. Then when you get into the overall song writing of Queensryche they were very much ahead of their time, but Maiden were my first and then Queensryche, and then I got really into Stryper. Even though I am an atheist, I just loved Michael Sweet’s singing and his scream, not forgetting the guitar harmonies. They were just a really great band with great songs. After that it was Helloween, Testament, and I was also a big fan of Dokken. Fates Warning were also great, and these are the bands that I still listen to today that I very much love.
PB: Queensryche were always a bit different, even with their artwork. Gone was your typical metal “leather look” and devil imagery, and in was that ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ cover which looked like an art movie poster or something.
TLT: Completely, even ‘Rage for Order’ was so ahead of its time. They were talking about computers even back then. Some of their stuff was way out there with those lyrics too. The lyrics to ‘Roads to Madness’ for example are completely crazy. I remember asking the guys in the band if they even knew the words to the song and they were like, “No?” So I told them. “Stay on the course to pass/You’ll never find the answer to a place where darkened angels seemed lost and never found” and “Scream to see the light of forming figures fast behind you/Lay the past in the wind to spin and your fate will sail beyond the open plains” Wow, it’s like that is pretty deep shit.
PB: Finally Todd, before you were in Queensryche you were the vocalist for Crimson Glory…
TLT: I joined them in 2010. Yeah.
PB: Now were you a fan of theirs before you joined. The ‘Transcendence’ album from 1988 was one of those that I just loved. I would have thought that Midnight’s vocals and vocal range would really appeal to you before he passed away a few years back.
TLT: You know what, I’d never heard of Crimson Glory until two weeks before I met the band in 2009.
TLT: No shit, but yes, ‘Transcendence’ is a masterpiece. In fact their first two records of which ‘Transcendence’ was the second are without question two of the best metal records ever written. Midnight’s range was ridiculous. I wish I had his range. It was so amazing but his emotional delivery was just phenomenal. Songs like ‘Painted Skies’, ‘Burning Bridges’ or ‘Lost Reflections’ were amazing, and of course Jon Drenning’s writing and Jeff Lords’ bass playing, that whole band. Those two albums in particular are truly amazing.
It’s funny you should mention this because I haven’t listened to Crimson Glory’s music in eight months, and now I am tempted to just put it on. I really would enjoy it again.
It’s a bittersweet thing for me actually; I didn’t want to leave the band, but the fact is that they just weren’t doing anything.
PB: Yeah, they are so slow.
TLT: Dude, you don’t even know! I tried so hard to get song writing going, and Jon would blow me off and I would go for months without hearing a word, and I just thought that we were supposed to be making a record here. The fans of that band were just so amazing, so I really wanted Crimson Glory to put out a record for those fans way more than for me because those were the people that had been with that band for so long and they deserved a really great album, and when I decided to resign from the band it really bummed me out.
I have some nicely framed tour posters in my house from some of those shows, but the whole thing still makes me angry. It pisses me off to be honest with you because we had so much potential to come back and do some really great things, and all of those fans accepted me which is unheard of. I never expected the fans to accept me in the way that they did and that felt so special for me. I even got to wear the iconic mask during ‘Lost Reflections’. In fact I am looking at it as we speak. It is sitting right here in my studio. You know what, it was all part of a bigger plan, not a plan that I had but part of the evolution of my life. It was a wonderful experience and an amazing opportunity, and I have no regrets about it to this day. I am very thankful to Jon Drenning and Ben Jackson and all the guys in the band, but it’s led me to where I am now.
I wake up every day. I make my cup of coffee. I check the email, and then I fire up my studio, and then I work on music and I am the singer of Queensryche. For the first time in my life at the age of 39 years old I am able to earn a living as a musician doing what I love. I don’t have to be a millionaire. I just need to be happy, and personally for the first time I feel 100% gratified.
PB: Thank you.