Interview with Singer and Rock Icon Geoff Tate (Queensryche, Operation: Mindcrime)

Photo by Ronnie Yonker

By Mick Michaels

COSMICK VIEW: Hello, Geoff! Welcome to The Cosmick View. Thank you for taking some time out of your day to chat with me, it is greatly appreciated.

CV: Does being considered a Rock icon by others affect how you write songs? Is there a certain amount of pressure to deliver to those expectations or are you blind so to say, towards that type of external presumption, thus, giving it no thought?
Geoff Tate: Gosh, I think if you spend any kind of time considering other people's opinions of who they think you are or what you should be doing, then you'll probably never make a move…you know, you’ll be paralyzed. I think you just have to be certain in your convictions and follow your passions and that will lead you to where you need to be.

CV: So was there ever a feeling like “Hey I need to make another hit” or “This is what the fans want”?
GT: Well I wish I could predict what a hit would be…but I've never been able to do that. In fact, I had an interesting conversation with the president of EMI Records a couple of years ago. We met by happenstance at an event and I got talking to him about the success Queensryche had on the Empire album and I said “what was it that you guys did, you know, that made that record so successful.” And he said “you know there's no formula. We just got out of the way. We gave it to the radio stations and you know they played it and people liked it. And so we just kept throwing money at it… And you know we had a lot of money to promote it…” And that's really kind of what makes a hit a hit I think…it's repeated listenings…and the way you get repeated listenings is you have to buy them in some matter of way, you know.

CV: Artists often see themselves in a uniquely different light in comparison to the rest of the world around them, possibly in effort to maintain a centered position of angst and struggle to remain creative. Has such an approach to artistic creativity been part of your songwriting and performing career at any point?

GT: Oh wow, that's a good question.

I think that would require some time spent with a therapist perhaps to get to the bottom of it all. But I don't really know… I've always sort of used music as a way to, I guess, talk about or kind of expel my own issues. Music is a very powerful medium for us and it can definitely stir emotions in people. For instance, if you've ever watched a film and have the ability to turn the music off, most of the time, the film really is flat…music really amps up the emotions in it. It triggers things in people, in the audience especially…it triggers that same kind of emotions in the writers…when you grasp onto a melody that moves you, it can inspire quite an outpouring of things that you never really thought about before. You know it's sort of a purging so to speak. When you look at what you've done and you go “Oh that's pretty good. I might change this word here. Well this is a little overdramatic…” You know you look at it in a critical way after you've kind of created it and edited it and then, oftentimes for me at least, I'm quite surprised at what the music brings out of me.

Photo by Carl Roccia
CV: So it’s therapeutic on many levels, both for the artist and the listeners to some degree in your opinion?
GT: Yeah, yeah I guess that's my point. Yeah, thank you.

CV: Do you see angst and struggle as an emotionally sustainable, long term approach to creativity for any artist? Or is this more of a badge of honor for the young, up and coming artist to wear?
GT: Well the older I get the less and less interested I am in young artists… but mainly because I've already experienced most of the stuff that they're writing about in my own life. So I'm looking for older artists’ inspiration instead...people who have lived a longer life and they're experiencing things maybe that I'm experiencing now, to relate to.

Unfortunately, our society doesn't celebrate older people as much as it celebrates younger people. And I think that's because younger people are more easily taken advantage of, and the world will use you up to a point where you get smart enough to turn the tables so to speak.

But yes, to answer your question, angst is something that everyone feels at different times of their life…especially young people, you know… you feel that pretty intensely as you’re growing up, trying to find yourself, trying to identify who you are in a world that's always trying to put you into a category and a genre. But it's not a sustainable emotion. And it's one of many, many, many emotions that you can explore with music. And I think it's a limited way of thinking to only concentrate on anger and angst in your music or your art. I think there are so many other things you can express and so many other emotions you can explore.

CV: Geoff, being ranked as one of the greatest Rock and Metal singers of all time on several platforms including Hit Parader and That Metal Show, your voice has without a doubt been an inspiration to many. On the flip side, who do you credit as a major vocal influence? Who do you listen to?

GT: Oh gosh. I tend to listen to music that doesn’t have words… (laughs) I guess because I participate in that end of musical art that does rely on words so much. I like to have time to think my own thoughts and if I'm listening to somebody else talking all the time or singing or speaking, it clouds my own thoughts really. So I'm not a TV watcher and I don’t listen to the radio a lot. I guess I prefer a lot of silence, you know. I think that's because I tour a lot and I'm around loud environments…you know shows and rock music in general is incredibly loud…and airports and buses and cities. So when I'm off tour, I like to go to a very quiet place and listen to the ringing in my ears…LOL

CV: You are currently now touring, supporting the 30th Anniversary release of

the album Operation: Mindcrime. Now being 30 years later and counting, has what the album means to you changed at all? Do you connect with it differently then you did when you first released the album?
GT: Oh yeah, it really has. Time and distance lets you see things a little bit more objectively you know… and with time you look back on what you do and say “oh wow that's interesting that I did that,” you know, and the way that I did it. I don't know if I would do that now but I had to do it in the way I did it in order to get to where I am now. A sort of stepping stone of methodology I guess.

I am amazed though, when I started the tour 18 months ago, I thought it was going to be just a three month kind of tribute to the album and it would be over and then I'd be doing something else.
But it's been 18 months and 26 countries and I'm just finishing it up now, which is a testament, I think, to how the album has affected people and that there's a want and a desire to hear that album live for my fans… and I am humbled by that honestly every time I step out on that stage and there's people there (laughs) and they're shouting the words back at me…it's a wonderful feeling to know that this album has meant something so important to people that they're willing to come out and participate live. In some markets, I've been back there twice now and they've come out to me in force. So that's a wonderful compliment and I really, really take that to heart.

CV: A lot of artists talk about the feelings they had, while writing and recording an album that would eventually propel them to soaring heights of knowing that what they were doing was special and groundbreaking. Was that the feeling you had while working on the platinum selling Operation: Mindcrime? Did you know the impact the album would have?
GT: No I didn't have that… I just knew in my intuition, my gut, my heart…I knew that it was the right thing to be doing at the time and I had ultimate conviction in the words and the story itself… so much so that I had to fight for it within the band because there were people in the band that didn't share my vision at all and weren't interested in pursuing for various reasons, but it doesn't really matter anymore.

Photo by Carl Roccia
But I had to constantly push and push and push to get that album made. And then when it was done, you know, it was really good. And I think we all recognized that it was a good album. But then you give it to the world and the world does with it as the world will do it and you have no real handhold on that anymore. But it is incredibly gratifying to see that it's still very much a very loved album for all these years

CV: Many bands have been faced with producing that "make or break" album at some point in their career; Kiss and Bon Jovi are two bands that quickly come to mind.  Was Queensryche facing a similar third album situation when writing began for Operation: Mindcrime?
GT: I think it was an interesting time for us because we just changed managements and when they hired our new management they said “Our advice to you is to make the record you want to make. And don't listen to anybody around you.” Or the record companies would say if they could say anything “just make the record that you feel right about.” And that was great advice. They just turned us loose and we made the Mindcrime record at that point.

It's funny the kind of trajectory that the album had...we made this really great album that we all loved and we put it out and we went on tour and we toured like 18, 19, 20 months on the record and it sold just about the same as our last record (laughs). And our management came to us and said “Look, really great album…sales are pretty much the same as your last one. We think it's time that you go in and make a new album now. So we’re gonna pull you off the road and let's concentrate on a new record.” So we decided okay that was good advice, let's do that…we’ve given it everything we had. Then about two weeks later we got a call from our management and they said “Hey MTV is interested in a video…if you guys want to make one, they're willing to play it. We think it's a good idea and think you should do it.” So we geared up and made a video for “Eyes of a Stranger.” We sunk all the money that we had made on the road into the making of that video, put it out, and within two weeks our album went gold…five hundred thousand records, it was amazing to watch the power of television (laughs) you know, at that time.

CV: Though I find this hard to believe, but for someone who hasn't heard either the album or the band Operation: Mindcrime and is considering coming to the show, what would you tell them to expect?
GT: Well I really, really try to live my life with very few expectations and I find by that, I'm not disappointed (laughs).

Photo by Carl Roccia
I would say expect the unexpected and come with an open mind and see what you think really…that's all you can really do, I think…

Music is a thing that's very personal you know. And no matter how good the song is, and good is so relative and subjective anyway, sometimes it just doesn't get you. You know sometimes it gets you six months from the first time you listen to it. Sometimes it never does. It's all very personal and you can't expect everybody to understand what it is you're doing or appreciate it or like it or love it…but when they do, as an artist, it's a wonderful feeling.

It's funny people talk to me a lot about my music when I'm out and about, like people will come up to me…recognize me, and they’ll start talking to me about a song that they like and what that song means to them, you know, where they were the first time they heard it…what they were doing, that kind of thing…and it's always in very strange places…just the other day I was travelling through an airport in Frankfurt and I was going up an escalator to another level and a couple of guys and a couple ladies that were traveling together were coming down the escalator and there was probably 10 meters between us and they were shouting at me…”Operation: Mindcrime! Oh my God I love that album. That song blah, blah, blah was so important…” And we're passing on these escalators and I’m just waving… “Hello, thank you...hello, thank you” (laughs).

CV: What keeps you in the game?  What are the things that inspire you the most to continue to create?
GT: I don't know if it's a set thing. I guess it's just an idea… Well I have to say living in the 21st century now is incredibly inspiring to me…watching how we're globally communicating now is fascinating to me, where you know 20 years ago things moved at such a slow pace. But now, through the media, through telecommunications, we're able to communicate 24/7 all around the world and we're all comparing notes you know… in America were wondering why are we paying health care costs like this. Why is our health care system broken and in other countries it's amazing. You know like France is number one in the world, and the United States is one hundred and thirty seven. And we're wondering why is that? Aren't we the greatest nation in the world? That's an example. And that's happening in every area of our lives.

Photo by Carl Roccia
“Why is this going on here? Why is this happening here? Why are we fighting that war? You know those people aren't threatening us. They're threatening somebody's business situation that they've got going. So why am I going to risk my life and go to war so this guy can stay being a rich man… You know, why are we doing that?”

So again, these are examples of comparative observation that we're all making, all around the world, in every country. The whole thing is moving to a point where I think in the next year or two, at the max five years, we're going to see some major changes in the way things are done, the way things are sort of put in place. Think it's going to be somewhat like what France experienced with the revolution in 1789. I think it's going to be something like that, where people are finally going to know and understand that they've been taken advantage of for so long. And things are going to get real… anyway, so that's what I'm thinking about (laughs).

CV: Many people contend that we should believe in something greater than ourselves...a greater belief ensures a greater purpose. Do you agree? Are you a spiritual person?
GT: I like to think I am. I'm interested in the subject. I've spent some time reading different books and exploring different avenues of spirituality. It's interesting to me, especially the origins of it and how these very primitive people tried to explain their existence.

The ironic thing is that thousands and thousands and thousands of years later we're still doing the same thing. Trying to explain why we're here…you know…what are we supposed to be doing?

I mean the concept of work and the way we live our lives is a construct that people have invented… the concept of time is something that's invented, it’s not real, it’ just somebody’s explanation and their attempt at explaining how things work. And funny enough, we've built this entire life and this entire world around these really ancient, flawed ideas that were invented by primitive thinkers. And now, we're at a crossroads where we're moving into a whole different world, a whole different way of doing things now. And we're putting a lot of these old ancient ideas that are very outmoded and antique…we're putting them up to pasture… you know with respect, they are ideas that they don't service the same way anymore.

CV: So do you think that's going to be something where the current generation or something that the next generation is going to do to carry the torch for to make such a change?
GT: Well I think my parents grew up with a form of brainwashing, like we’ve all experienced brainwashing, it's just part of being human…we were inspired or taught or brainwashed by our previous generations.

Photo by Carl Roccia
My parents’ generation grew up believing that Communism was an evil thing and Communism was the same thing as Socialism. Socialism was an evil thing and we went to war over it and people died and it was serious to them. And now we looked at it as Socialism really works in a lot of ways, in a lot of countries and people are benefiting from it. So is it really an evil thing? Well, my parent’s generation would die saying yes it is.  But I think my children and my kids’ generation…I think when my parents are gone, we're going to see sweeping changes by this next generation. When I'm gone, their kids will make sweeping changes too because a lot of these ideas that we hold on to are, again, they're the things that were taught to us by people that were spreading the ideas and those ideas we're taught to them. And oftentimes a lot of the ideas that we have were ideas that were put in place by people who were trying to win, or keep control over us or people at the time. Like think how long it took for England, for example, to finally realize “Hey the King, what's that all about? Who says he's appointed by God?”

What the hell…LOL… people would laugh at that nowadays. “What? You say you are appointed by God…who was God? What God?” (laughs) But finally one day they woke up and said “Oh, this is bullshit.” (laughs)

CV: Geoff, your career has garnished you multiple levels of success and with anything there are always highs and lows associated. With such experience, has your definition of success been modified? Do you find that certain things are more important than others as you may have once did?
GT: Well I think they have kind of revealed themselves…I’ll put it this way: success is a ladder…I'll use that analogy that you just keep climbing and climbing and climbing. You never get to the top. It's just one point, at some day, you look around and people are seeing you as successful because you're still there, LOL, you're still doing what you do. you know…but there's no, like plateau, that you get to where all of a sudden someone bestows a crown on your head and says “You're successful now…you've done it… you made it!” No, you just realize that “Hey, I've been making my living doing this for 40 years… I have a paid off house… I have children that went to college and that's all done now…I have grandchildren…I guess I'm successful (laughs).”

CV: Then there actually is something to say about being the last man standing…that there is some credibility to it.
GT: Oh heck yeah!

Photo by Ronnie Yonker

CV: So you kept swinging long enough that you become a happy man.
GT: Yeah… well I've always been pretty happy. But it's the unhappy person who is constantly measuring himself against others, you know. In our society, especially in America, we have this competitive society that is so dog-eat-dog and we don't really have an American identity that bonds us together. We don't have a cultural identity. We're all pretty much in it for the money. And that's what America was set up as. And I embrace that…I understand it. I accept it and I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with it.

It's…it's a bit, I don't know, shallow I guess, in a sense, but heck, that's what it's all about. Get in, compete, keep swinging as you said, and beat down the next guy no matter what…then hurdle the dead. That's what America is all about. And that's kind of cool. LOL

CV: It's that’s underdog mentality in a sense.
GT: But in a way, it is a bit shallow because we don't have a cultural identity…that we don't have a history…we don't have a thousand years of civilization under our belt. And maybe we never will.  (laughs)I don't know if it'll last that long.

CV: What's your take on the music industry today? There's been so much talk over the past few years…artists and the media saying rock is dead. While other artists have said that new artists today just don't have a chance to make a go of it like they did in the past. What's your opinion? Do new artists have a chance at making a living in music or has it become so diluted and pretty much open to everybody now…does the artist have a chance?
GT: Well the game has changed radically; it doesn't even resemble anything like it was when I started out. The rules are all different, if there are any rules really (laughs)… I would say as far as a genre of music, Rock is not the music of the times…definitely not worldwide. It has pockets of popularity and I for one am solidly entrenched in Rock music and I make a nice living touring and releasing albums to my market and I still tour…this tour was 26 countries. You know that's pretty respectable. I like that. It works for me.

Photo by Carl Roccia
But as far as many bands and artists making a living doing that…I don't know. It's really tough for a new band to get an audience and that's what you need in order to survive in this business… is an audience of people that are willing to support your art, buy your records or buy the tickets to see you perform. And without that, a young artist doesn't have anything other than their music.

So the challenge is getting that audience…and it used to be, when we started out, that you would go out on tour with the headliner band and they were kind enough to share their audience with you, you know. And if you were good at what you did their audience would accept you and maybe be interested in what you had to say and you'd start building from there. But nowadays there’s just so much competition and there's so many bands and artists that want to say something and tour around. How do they get access to an established artist audience? It's near impossible for everybody to do it.

So, I for one like to help out artists that I can and have certain artists that I enjoy and I like…I like what they're doing… I like them as people and I try to give them spots on my tour to share my audience with them. I think that's just the way you should do it…that's the way it was when I was starting out and I'll continue that tradition.

Photo by Carl Roccia
CV: I have talked to a lot of established artists at different levels regarding tribute acts. They're definitely on the rise and very popular. Some artists themselves even participate in tribute bands as a side avenue, saying that the fan bases, the audiences, are the ones calling for tribute bands.
How do you feel about tribute bands?
GT: Well I think it's a sad, sad situation when an artist can go to a venue and sell half a house, but a tribute band playing that artist's music can go and do three nights. (Laughs) And that's the way it is in a lot of cases…and that's a sad commentary on where we're at.

CV: Are you a fan of social media. It definitely has its pluses and minuses. We've gotten the world connected with the push of a button…which you know 30 years ago would have taken forever to make that sort of connection. Now it's in a blink of an eye. Are you a fan of it?
GT: Well I don't know if I'd use the term fan, but I see it as a very useful tool. It's something that's taken a while to understand, for me especially, how it all works and how to utilize it in a way that's constructive. It's very powerful and there's no denying it's here to stay and it's only going to get more and more sophisticated.
So I think the best thing to do is to try your best to understand it, utilize it and work with it so you're comfortable with it and keep your mind open so you can be at least on the same plane with all the changes that keep occurring…and stay abreast of all the new developments because it moves fast, the world moves fast and if you slow down a little bit and look away and you’ll get lost.

CV: You're finishing up with the Operation: Mindcrime anniversary tour. What’s next for you? When can fans expect to see a new album?

GT: Well I'm actually starting a new tour in February 2020 which is the 30th anniversary of my Empire album, which unbelievably turns 30 in 2020. So I'm going out in February to begin touring that album which I'm really looking forward to because I love that album and there’s songs on that album that I never ever played live. So that'll be a real treat for me and I think a real treat for the fans who love that album too. So that's happening a Spring at 2020.

CV: Will you be hitting some of the same venues that you did for the Mindcrime album anniversary tour?
GT: Yeah! I think I'm going to go all out. You know as long as my health stays good and I feel like I can do it, I'm going to do another world tour at that point. Then I'm going to retire after that… (laughs).

CV: You have always struck me as someone you takes very good care of themselves. I’m sure the fans don’t expect you to slow down anytime soon.
GT: Well I feel good. So yeah, I don't expect to slow down.

CV: Thank you again Geoff for spending some time talking and sharing with our readers. It has truly been an exciting and an honor. I wish you all the best and continued success.
GT: Well thank you very much Mick…I enjoyed talking with you.

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My name is Mick Michaels...I'm an artist, music fan, songwriter, producer, dreamer and guitarist for the traditional Heavy Metal band Corners of Sanctuary. Writing has always been a creative outlet for me; what I couldn't say in speech, I was able to do with the written word.  Writing has given me a voice and a way for me to create on a multitude of platforms including music and song, articles, independent screenplays, books and now, artist interviews. The Cosmick View is an opportunity to raise the bar and showcase artists in a positive and inspirational light. For me, it's another out-of-this-world adventure.

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