By Ruben Mosqueda //
"I'm a true believer that albums need time for people to absorb them, appreciate them and fall in love with them"--Geoff Tate
"You know this might sound funny but I really had no idea about that---the label is responsible for that. I have no power over that," said Geoff Tate when asked about his latest effort The Key being released around the same time as his previous band's Queensryche's new album. "I had the idea for the story while on vacation last year with my family while hiking 'El Camino De Santiago' in northern Spain. It was a wonderful break from the number of tumultuous years," reports Tate.
To the hard rock and metal audience you know what transpired between Tate and his former band mates over the course of the past three years. "The matter of the name was settled. They (Queensryche) compensated me for my work and my involvement---we’re all square on the legal end of things. I will retain the right to perform Operation: Mindcrime in its entirety. I thought about it and what better name to call this project? It's one of the albums that I'm best known for," says Tate. Oregon Music News caught up with Geoff as he prepared for Operation: Mindcrime's European tour. Sadly there's been dividing lines amongst the Queensryche fan base some have remained with the Queensryche and another segment have remained with Tate---there seems very few that have remained neutral. "I don't have time for that. I'm moving forward, they're moving forward---let's leave it at that," says Tate when asked about the dividing lines amongst fans.
The Key is a concept record. You’ve been synonymous with concept albums. What the story behind The Key?
You’re right--- this trilogy. I’m doing three records; we just released The Key, and then the second (record) has been recorded and is in the mixing stages. The third one are nearing completion--by that I mean that it’s almost written. Frontiers (Records) hopes to release an album every 9-12 months so Operation: Mindcrime will be busy for a while.
As I said there will be three albums The Key introduces the four main characters of the story. The synopsis is there are four main characters that develop a technology that allows the user to interface with another reality. They learn that the reality that they’ve known and grown up with is one of many. It’s through this technology, they’re exposed to a completely different way of looking at themselves, each other and the world. There’s conflict within the four characters. Some want to develop the technology and construct the technology into a program or something that you can sell and benefit from financially. There are others in the group that want to give it to the world, because they think that technology is so important that it should be shared. The Key introduces us to the characters, exposes us to the beginnings of the story, and sets the stage for the conflict that arises between the four.
I love to tell stories---I love concept albums. I grew up listening to albums like Sgt. Pepper’s that was the first concept record that I ever heard, and Yes,’ Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans, Genesis, Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Those albums influenced me dramatically growing up; as you know I’ve taken elements of all of those bands and cited them as influences throughout my career.
Was the original idea to do a trilogy or was it just too difficult to get the entire storyline into one or two albums?
It was a challenge. I looked at this as a crossword puzzle. I developed the original concept then I began to work on the backstory, subplots and characters. The music then worked around that framework. One of the things that I like to do is assign a melody figure to a character and reproduce that again time and time again in different ways. I think of an album as a film---I see the songs as scenes; they set the tone and the atmosphere for what takes place.
I like what you did on "The Stranger" where you introduce the heel or villain.
That's exactly right. That's what I tried to do on The Key is assign them those themes that I was talking about earlier. That track introduces the bad guy who is a hit man. I tried to capture how calculated, his lower confidence and how closed down emotionally he is. That's what that piece of music is trying to say about that character.
The first video clip is for the song "Re-Inventing the Future" which should please the fans as it has this classic Geoff Tate vibe to it.
"Re-Inventing the Future" has an interesting backstory to it. Last year I was traveling to South America for a on-off show and I was seated next to David Ellefson from Megadeth. We didn't know each other but we had something like 18 hours to talk. We talked a lot about music and all the various projects that we're working on. So about week after we'd met he sent me an email with song idea that he was inspired to write after our conversation. It was at that point that we started to have a dialog about working together and that's how he wound up playing and also co-writing several tracks which will be featured on the trilogy.
You ended The Key with the track "The Fall" which is a musical cliffhanger. Is this was great way leave people on edge, no?
Well, I certainly want them to want to listen to the second record! (laughs) The first record ends with "The Fall" which is also the beginning of the next record.
Are you one that checks out what fans are saying about the album online? Do you care to even do that?
(pause) I don't go out and search for accolades about myself, that's what you mean? To me music is a very personal experience. I think it's that way for most people; you find artists, you find song you find albums and you go on a musical journey. People are either going to like it or they aren't going to respond to it---that's based on their own personal make up. You have to take into account their personal experiences, their background and how intelligent they are---a flurry of different factors. No one hears music the same way---we all have different personal experiences attached to it. I'm a true believer that albums need time for people to absorb them, appreciate them and fall in love with them. I think that is one of the simply things that we forget in the modern age where everything is 'now, now, now!' Instead of reading stories we take sound bytes and make those into headlines.
People's opinions have become more public in the modern era.
Oh, God you're right. I can't tell you how many times people critiqued our records---in fact I think it goes back to our very first album. I have to point out that even Operation:Mindcrime when it first came out wasn't well received because it was so different. It took a little bit of time to work into people's heads. If you talk about that record now you'll find that it has become one of the fan favorites. I think once people got it they were like "What's this?! I Like this! It's not like the stuff they did before!" (laughs)
When you issued Frequency Unknown you received a little bit of flak for the artwork and then for the mix of the record.
(laughs) What's wrong with the artwork?! (laughs) Yeah, really it was kind of a mess wasn't it? You know art is art. There is no best there is not worst---there is just art. It's all in people's perception. Personally, I don't think U2's War album sounds that good at all. It's really hard to listen to that album from a production standpoint---millions of people love that album. It's just one person's view point.
I think what happened with Frequency Unknown; the people that own the record (Deadline Music) got cold feet. Someone said "Oh, I don't like the mix on this." By that I mean people close to the record company--that person said "I can do a better job mixing it if you give it to me to remix." So what it came down to is that they (Deadline Music) didn't stand by me, they didn't stand by the project; instead they passed the record along to people to remix. Well, by doing that it reinforces the idea that it sounds bad! (laughs) They couldn't let it be for what it was---instead they opened a can of worms.
To me The Warning album sounds terrible to me. When that album was made we had gone so far over our budget that EMI (Records) took that out of our hands and gave it to Val Garay to mix without any input from us. They put it out when they needed it---with that mix and we went with it. We had to at that point.
Last thing, how did you get Jamie Chamberlin on board to work on the music videos for The Key?
You know Jamie? He was a friend of a friend--- he had just worked with Jamie and his film company Black Dahlia Films and we were introduced. He was incredibly easy to work with---he's a very intelligent and creative guy. I like having this synergy with people I always have to ask myself; "Does it feel right?" We all got along well with him. I think it was a great collaboration. Just look at the videos---you'll see it.