For their first several releases, Queensryche were viewed as a very talented metal band that refused to settle into a comfy little rut. They changed their sound slightly with each release --- not so much so to confuse their steadily growing following, but enough to satisfy their considerable ambition. No one expected what they would do next however. 1988 brought us Operation Mindcrime, a concept album in the tradition of The Wall or Tommy. The band's audience was duly impressed, lifting the record to Platinum status. Fast forward to 2006 and the band has visited the scene of the crime, as it were, releasing Operation Mindcrime II. I spoke with vocalist, lyricist and conceptualist Geoff Tate this week to find out what the record is all about.
antiMUSIC: One of the things that has really illustrated Queensryche, at least in my mind, is your mindset for always striving to not repeat yourselves. The difference between the EP and The Warning was great and then from there to Rage to Order was another great leap. The first Operation Mindcrime was obviously a huge undertaking and you moved on from there. What prompted you to go back and sort of recover a previous period for you?
Geoff Tate: A few things, one: the original was always written as a part one. We intended to come back and make a sequel one but through various reasons and politics within the band, we ended up not approaching it for 18 years. But you know, that coupled with the socio-political climate in the country mirroring the '80s very closely, it just seems the right time, feels right. Yeah, well coupled with those two instances that was really the motivator for this. Mike Stone who came into the band a few years ago he was a huge Mindcrime fan, that's what he grew up on. He contributed quite a bit to this new record.
antiMUSIC: The new record starts off with Nikki being released from jail. Can you tell us in terms of the story what happens from there?
Geoff Tate: Yeah, kinda encapsulate it. It takes place 18 years later and Nikki is released from prison and he's been put away and isolated and sort of scenario for a long period of time. And his only outlet has been through the American television; that's how he's viewed the American culture and we all know that watching television 24 hours a day probably skews your outlook quite a bit (laughs). Anyway he's built up an incredible hatred for Dr. X who he blames for this predicament he's in. So he goes on this all-out manhunt to hunt this guy down and kill him. The album deals a lot with the concept of revenge, what that does to a person, how it motivates you and completely guides every moment of your life in a sense. And then the second half of the record is sort of a study of morality, what drives us to do what we do, and how we live with the consequences of our decisions.
antiMUSIC: How did you go about assembling the story? Did you have it laid out in your mind pretty much when doing the first record?
Geoff Tate: No. No. Not at all. I started a file on my laptop years later. Actually called Nikki, and go there and do character sketches and that kind of thing over the years and it really was just a lot of random thoughts and passages, and chapters. Things like that. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I kind of fine-tuned it and opened it up one day and realised there was a story there. A worthy story to conclude the big story.
antiMUSIC: I know you read quite a bit. Did you read a lot of pulp fiction or use any other literary inspiration to get into the mindset of writing this story line?
Geoff Tate: Not really. No. I kinda built this character up in essence from my own personal experiences, my own social outlook. Probably more of a philosophical outlook based upon my life, what I've been through, people I've known. Nikki's kind of a composite of a bunch of different people in my life. He has sort of a personality that's kind of common with people…that economically-challenged lifestyle, that they have this sort of inability to be happy, have a huge void in their life that they're always trying to fill with consumer goods of any kind, They're just trying to fill themselves up, because they feel so empty. I think it's a lacking of spirituality that makes people feel that way. And also there's a common mentality also of not being able or willing to accept one's own action; accept responsibility for one's own actions. It's just a pet peeve of mine that drives me crazy. Nicky's definitely like that. He, of course, blames somebody else for his situation rather than owning it himself, and because of that it makes him unable to get any further in his own personal development. He's completely unable to re-imagine, re-invent himself. He has to follow through with this revenge. It's the only way out he sees.
antiMUSIC: Considering Chris was in on a lot of the first record, were you freer to implement your vision this time around?
Geoff Tate: Freer? Hmm. Well I never considered Chris to be you know a limitation at all. He was always good about brainstorming on an idea. Mike Stone has sorta taken over that role now. Me and him, as being really good at being able to take an idea and we run with it and build on it. And I think it's very important when you write music to be able to hang together, sit around and talk about stuff. That's how a lot of music is created, simply by talking about, "okay I need a song about apathy Give me a couple of chord progressions that you think sounds like apathy." You throw out a couple of different ideas and we try something different: a twist on one and then all of a sudden BOOM we have it. That would turn out to be something like "Circles" on the record, which is that point in the story where there's a huge sort of melancholy that settles over Nikki and he's unable to focus on what his direction is because he's just accomplished everything that he's ever dreamed of (laugh).
antiMUSIC: How did the inclusion of the duet with Ronnie James Dio come about?
Geoff Tate: Simply a brainstorm. We wrote the song. And of course when you write a song like that with two voices, you have to find that other voice, so Doctor X needed a voice at that point. And Ronnie just came to mind and he'd always been one of my vocal idols, you know, and I've worked with him several times over the years in different areas, touring mostly, and he's just an incredible person, the kind of person that you want around when you're doing a project because he brings a lot of positive energy to it. So I'm glad he said yes. He was very interested in and came up to San Francisco where we recorded him and we just had a wonderful day with the studio work. He's a legend. Just an absolutely phenomenal singer.
antiMUSIC: When you presented the stage version of the complete Mindcrime last year, did it match what you saw in your head?
Geoff Tate: Yeah. Quite a bit. You know, when you do a stage show it's actually so challenging, so fun to dream all this stuff up. I worked with my friend Christian Sorenson who's a stage actor and designer, and again we'd sit around and dream up all these ideas and figure out how we could do them. And once you dream up an idea the next challenge is making it happen. Laughs. Building it, making it functional.
antiMUSIC: Most rock shows are fairly unscripted, save for a set list, and they allow for a fair bit improvisation and interaction with the crowd which changes shows nightly. Was the rigid format of doing a stage presentation of a concept record sort of stressful knowing that things had to run in a very specific order and you couldn't run out and start talking to the crowd?
Geoff Tate: Well you know, it's a whole different animal. When you're talking about rock being spontaneous, well yeah they are because there's no staging, no acting there's no set pieces coming at certain times, no film to be synced up with the music. There's none of that. There's just four or five people playing instruments. It's a whole…it's apples and oranges.
antiMUSIC: You are planning on doing a complete show with both records. Do you think it will work better as a complete concept, wrapping up the story line?
Geoff Tate: Better or worse, I'm not sure at this point. (laughs) I think it's going to be very cool. I think if we can do it like the first presentation, I think it's going to be very good. Chris and I have just begun working on it last month and we've got quite a bit of the show scripted out all ready. We hope to have it done and ready for presentation sometime this summer.
antiMUSIC: What are the plans following the release of the record? Are you going to do some shows prior to putting together the epic show?
Geoff Tate: Were going to Europe in June to play the festival dates there, without any kind of fancy production or anything. Just pretty much just a music presentation. Then we'll be starting the real tour, a headlining tour in the states in August.
antiMUSIC: Hopefully to Canada?
Geoff Tate: Yes we will be coming to Canada.
antiMUSIC: That's all the questions I have, Geoff. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about the record or the band?
Geoff Tate: I think you've been really concise but detailed. Thanks for a lot for this.
Morley Seaver and antiMUSIC thank Geoff Tate for speaking with us.