As an unabashed fan of post-Empire (1990) Queensrÿche, my admiration of multi-octave frontman Geoff Tate was frequently 'on-par' with the ministrations I so shamelessly bestowed upon Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), Michael Kiske (Helloween) and Rob Halford (Judas Priest). Carefully following the many trails and tribulations of the improbably long-running group's oft-evolving career, I ultimately found myself gravitating towards Tate following his less-than-amicable ousting. My devotion(s) continued largely unabated as he launched the aptly-titled Operation: Mindcrime in 2014, releasing The Key (2015) and Resurrection (2016) in rapid-fire succession. Recently, the ever-charismatic Tate was kind enough to speak with us regarding, among many other things, the release of The New Reality (2017), the final installment of the group's innovative and thought-provoking trilogy.
Todd: How did The New Reality come together? Once again, you assembled an all-star line-up for your visions.
Geoff: “It was a project that I had wanted to do for quite a few years. When I finally wrote the story and started composing the music, I put together a group of some of my favorite players in order to realize it musically. This is the third and final act of the story. It is the last one. It was always a project that had a shelf life, so to speak. I worked with people that I admired, people that I had worked with before, liked their musical sensibilities and thought that they could add something special to my music. I wanted to hear what their interpretation of it was. It worked out very well. ...There were a lot of great collaborations and performances on all three of the records.”
Todd: With that diverse of a group, how difficult is it for you to get everybody recorded? Was it something you were able to do remotely or was everyone in the same room together? The logistics must have been challenging.
Geoff: “We all got together and recorded all of the basic tracks in the same room together. That was really quite chaotic. It was crazy yet really fulfilling because it helped us set the music up in a chronological order. It was nice. I worked with quite a few different drummers and several bass players, getting their interpretation of the song. It was quite a bit different between them all. It was interesting to see how one did it in comparison and picking which one I liked better for the particular song or the particular section of the song. It's really quite fun to sort through. But it also can be truly maddening at times because you have seven different takes of great. How do you pick which one you are going to use? It's like 'You have too many choices'. It will drive you crazy.”
Todd: Once it officially begins, will you be touring with any of the musicians that recorded on The New Reality?
Geoff: “Some of them. Scott Moughton (Engineer and Producer at Seattle, Washington-based Triad Studios) is going to be joining me on guitar and Kelly Gray will be there. We also have Bruno Sar, who is a new musician I just started playing with. He's a multi-instrumentalist that will be playing keyboards, mini saxophone and other woodwinds as well as guitar. We have a new rhythm section, a young Scottish drummer and bass player team who are going to be joining me for the tour as well. It's going to be really fun, I think. Especially since we'll be covering a lot of ground with the different song choices. I think people will get a really interesting presentation and feel for a lot of it. I think it all becomes very cohesive when you listen to it in bulk form like a live concert.”
Todd: What type of set list will you be working with? Taking into consideration how many releases you've performed on, you certainly have a lot to work with. Will there be any surprises for the die-hard Geoff Tate fan?
Geoff: “One of the parts of the show will be a presentation of the entire Operation: Mindcrime album. It's the 30th anniversary of that record, so I'm performing it live one last time. Then we'll play excerpts from different albums as well, which will include us doing several songs from the new Trilogy albums as well. There's songs that you want to do and that's typically because I haven't played them before, haven't played them in many many years or I have something I want to do with them live that makes sense to the show. I played a benefit show (in November) in the Seattle area that was a benefit for the Mercy Watch charity. Mercy Watch is an organization that supports rehabilitation for homeless people. I put the song “Della Brown” from the Empire (1990) album into the set because it's a song about a homeless woman, so it made sense for the presentation of the show. That's where my head is at. I like to perform things that I can set up that make sense for it to be there. Of course I also have to pick songs that I think are fan favorites and ones that people have grown accustomed to hearing live. I've covered stuff from almost all of my records, but there's a lot of stuff that I haven't ever played and there's also stuff I've only played a few times. It's a lot of material. Two hundred and sixteen songs, I think.”
Todd: Outside of the musicians you utilized for the recording of The New Reality, how do become acquainted with the various musicians that you've toured and recorded with? Many of them don't appear to be 'well known'.
Geoff: “I just keep myself open to hearing what could happen. ...For example, a friend of mine, Felipe Andreoli, is a fantastic bass player. I had some contracted gigs in Brazil and I said 'Felipe, I need a band in Brazil that can play my music' and he said 'Leave it to me. I'll find you the best band you've ever heard'. I thought 'Well, okay' because I really trust his musicianship and he's a great player. I flew down and he had assembled a monster band for me. When I walked into the rehearsal room, we rehearsed for one day together and they knew every song on my set list inside and out. The only things we had to change and work on were some of the vocal harmonies. They weren't quite sure about them, so we started singing together and worked it like that. They had everything else completely perfect and it was absolutely amazing. It was the easiest gig I've ever done with a new band. My point is that you learn to trust the abilities of the people that you know. You learn to go with recommendations from people like Felipe. He had to speak to Bruno and Bruno's fantastic. We played together at different gigs and he's great, he's fantastic. I'm playing keyboards live and he's also playing keyboards, so we were doing a double keyboard thing and we both play saxophone, so we're going to be trading off on some of the saxophone parts from the album. And he can also double on guitar, so we have three guitarists. It's so great.”
Todd: How would you describe your relationship with your former Queensrÿche bandmates? Has it been better?
Geoff: “We haven't spoken since 2012 when they fired me. Yes, we haven't spoken a single word. It's just been crazy. There hasn't been anything, really. People keep asking 'Are you going to get together for a reunion?', but I don't know. The door's always open on my end. I'd never say never to it. Something like that could be really cool in the future at some point. ...That's if everybody had the right frame of mind and right head space to do it.”
Todd: Now that the cycle from the trilogy is complete, do you have any solidified ideas for your next recording?
Geoff: “I don't really know that at this point. I'm not even thinking about another album right now for a couple of reasons. Basically, with this last group of records, I was living and breathing this group for three years. I remember the feeling when I turned this last one in to the record company. It felt like a huge weight was off my shoulders because I had finally finished this thing that I started so long ago. I'm so happy with it turning out the way it did and being finished so I can enjoy the lightness I feel right now. I no longer feel like 'I've got to get this finished', which is something I do to myself, I think. I have a very serious drive when I get an idea to bring it into fruition and make it happen. I'm in true sponge mode right now where you soak up everything from your environment, think about a lot of things and take a lot of notes. ...Typically, out of those notes comes an album.”
Todd: Lyrically, where did you draw your inspiration for The New Reality? While the entirety of the trilogy obviously focuses on the future, were there specific aspects of our society that inspired you to create the trilogy?
Geoff: “I am fascinated by the times I live in right now. It's always been a hobby of mine. I'm an armchair social scientist. I like studying the human journey. I'm a huge history fan and I'm a futurist. In fact, I enjoy Science Fiction because I like seeing the great strides we're making in communication and science right now. It's a very fascinating time to be alive and all of these things work their way into the topics that I write about quite often. One of the things I wanted to really talk about a lot within the confines of this particular project was to look at the concepts of reality and time. When we think about time, we really need to remember that time is entirely of our invention. It's a construct, a human construct. It does not exist naturally. It's something we made up. This time that we invented was created by incredibly primitive people, right? But we've taken the idea and passed it along generation after generation and we've always accepted it as truth. But what we're finding out now in the twenty-first century is that there is no single truth. Truth is something that has many different angles, many different levels and our truth changes over time. It used to considered okay to own a person, but now we look at that and we say 'No, that's not right. How could we even have thought that?' We also used to think that women weren't intelligent enough to vote or have anything to do with politics or even work outside the home, really. All of that has changed. ...Now, when we look back at the people that thought that way, we view them as primitive.”
Todd: It truly is fascinating when you analytically look at the various eras of history and attempt to comprehend the mindset of society. It's astounding that an entire generations of people were comfortable with such mindsets.
Geoff: “If you look back at the Kings and Queens of Europe, they convinced millions of people that they were appointed by God to lead them and to be the leaders of the population. Now, when we look at that scenario with our twenty-first century eyes, we go 'Oh my God'. ...They convinced a lot of people. That sounds ridiculous now. It's like 'Who would buy that?' But we're in the same boat. We're in the same position now, especially in America. We're in living in a time where everything's under a microscope and we're questioning our practices. We're questioning our society and how it all functions. It's a time of reckoning and it's a time of re-drawing the boundaries. ...I wanted to get some of these ideas across within the album and the story line. The hero, my main character in the story line, discovers an algorithm that turns into a computer program that allows the user to see reality in a new way. A different way from the one that we've been taught before. Because of the success of this and humans being what we are, there's a jealousy that occurs and the people that are around him try to take this technology away from him. They try to become rich and famous from it and then they try to kill him, but he fights back. Along the way, he is able to re-invent himself and finally gets to launch the software. Now, on the last album, the world is finally embracing the new reality of what life would be like with a new pair of glasses on. I find those topics incredibly interesting to discuss and I love other people's opinions about them. It really does define where we are all at right now. That's where my head was at when I was putting together the trilogy.”
Todd: From a theological standpoint, they also had a huge influence on what, where and why people worshiped.
Geoff: “We just came up with that but we didn't, but primitives human beings did to try to describe what it was they needed. Just like they invented God as a way of defining something other than themselves so they could, in a way, explain why we were here in the first place. ...It doesn't really mean that there is a God. It just means that it's of our invention. These things are so truly fascinating to me. It's a fascinating time to be alive, I have to say.”
Todd: During the songwriting processes for The New Reality, did you mainly work with Kelly, Randy and John?
Geoff: “I mainly work with myself and then farm out different things for different people to perform and add to. For example, I might get a piece from (guitarist) Mike Callahan and he'll say 'What do you think of this?' I'll take it, play around with it a little bit, cut it up, replay it and hand it back to him and go 'What do you think of this?' and he'll say 'What did you do to it?' and I'll say 'Well, I played it in a different time and I like it better. Maybe you could make this version work with your idea.'. He'll say 'Alright. Let me have it for a couple of days' and then he'll come back with something really cool. There's a lot of back and forth, back and forth like that. Every one of my creative endeavors has a path that it follows. The important thing to remember is that you need to let it happen and not derail everything. Let it follow it's own path from birth to a point where it makes sense.”
Todd: Aside from your voice, what other instrument do you personally play when you're writing and recording?
Geoff: “I'm a keyboard player, so that's where my musical sensibilities lie. Yes, I actually enjoy the sound of keyboards and what you can do with them. It's what my instrument is. When I'm composing a song, I typically write on piano first and then transpose it into other instruments like guitar and of course drums. I'd like to work with more multi-instrumentalists, but it's hard to find people that are talented. Bruno is special because not only does he play all these instruments, but he also has a fantastic voice. He's a great singer, so I'm really blessed to have him on the tour playing this material. It requires someone like him to be involved and make it come alive.”
Todd: Do you primarily write new material using a keyboard? I would have thought it was entirely guitar-based.
Geoff: “It's my main composing instrument. All songs from day one with Queensrÿche were created and written on an acoustic guitar or piano. This is the way it works. We come up with lyrics, we come up with a scale and then we come up with a melody and then transpose it to whatever instrument you want to play that part on. It's a great compositional instrument because you can play chords and you can also play melody. There is an instant gratification with hitting a keyboard key. It's an elaborate technique like you would use playing a guitar. A guitar is such an imperfect instrument. It takes skill to play a guitar scale, but playing it on a piano is logical and easy.”
Todd: As both a solo artist and 'leader' of Operation: Mindcrime, are you a perfectionist in the recording studio?
Geoff: “Yes, I absolutely am. I have a way that I want it all to sound and have a way that I want the chords to work together. I'm looking for a certain performance from everyone if I'm not performing it all myself. I want to do what I want to do. Sometimes it takes a while to achieve that and sometimes it happens quite effortlessly. Sometimes you find yourself with a piece of music that you've spent hours on, but it seems like minutes and you've created this thing that's really quite special and unique. The thing of it is, you really have to be able to recognize it for what it is. And a lot of people struggle with that. There's the process of letting a song go and saying 'Okay, you have done enough now.' ...You really do have let it go and move forward onto the next thing.”
Todd: Does that thought process also apply to materials you've written that ultimately does not come to fruition?
Geoff: “No, it's not a matter of letting it go because it won't work. It's a matter of letting it go when it's good enough and it's gotten to a point where it accomplishes what it's supposed to do. This is getting very segmented, but I'm talking about a musical progression that goes from one chord to the next and what happens in between. Little details like that. ...As long as you obsess on that, it's part of the deal (laughs). You've got to obsess on those things a bit. But there's a lot of detail in these records and there's a lot of musical detail in them. There's lots of instrumentation, and lots of things happening. For instance, there will be a string line melody and then that melody is overtaken by a guitar line going up a fifth. Then it will go down a third and move back to the keyboard playing the melody. All the while there's a very intricate poly-rhythm playing on the bass guitar and the drums. It's very progressive in a lot of spots. ...The music requires that level of detail and attention to detail.”
Select Geoff Tate Discography
The New Reality (2017)
The Key (2015)
Frequency Unknown (2013)
Kings & Thieves (2012)
Dedicated To Chaos (2011)
American Soldier (2009)
Mindcrime At The Moore (2007)
Take Cover (2007)
Operation: Mindcrime II (2006)
Geoff Tate (2002)
Hear In The Now Frontier (1997)
Promised Land (1994)
Operation: Livecrime (1991)
Operation: Mindcrime (1988)
Rage For Order (1986)
The Warning (1984)
Queensrÿche (EP) (1983)
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