In 2016, Geoff Tate and his band Operation: Mindcrime did a very successful North American tour with Ace Frehley and blew audiences away with a powerful set of songs pulling from the Rage for Order album, other classic Queensryche songs, and selections from OpMC’s latest albums, The Key and Resurrection. Well, 2017 has already been quite a year for Geoff Tate who has been out on the road with his acoustic/storytellers format tour, “The Whole Truth.” The shows have been receiving rave reviews for all over the world and it seems as if Geoff has found a bit of peaceful ground.
Geoff was gracious enough to take the time out to talk with me once again from a recent tour stop. As always, Geoff was an incredibly kind, soft spoken, and really funny person to talk to. We discussed his acoustic tour, the misconceptions of Geoff Tate that he’d like to put to rest, and his feelings regarding living in the now versus living on nostalgia. It’s interviews like this that make me truly love an artist even more so than I thought possible and I hope, if anything, you will get something out of this that you may not have gotten before. Read on and enjoy.
Geoff, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today! This is our 2nd interview together. Maybe I should send you some flowers or something.
[laugh] Thank you, Don.
Before I go on, I just want to say thank you for the nearly 30 years of amazing music that you’ve given me. It is truly very important music in my life. Do you hear that a lot and if so, do you ever get tired of hearing it?
Actually, no. It’s very flattering when people like what you do and they get something out of it. I like when people like it [laughs]. Who would like that? It makes you feel appreciated. I enjoy hearing it.
Is this something the early on when you started to develop and write music that you strived for or ever thought would happen?
No, actually. It was very uncomfortable for me to have people praise what I did. I’m still not really comfortable with that kind of thing. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just the way that I grew up. My mom was not the most loving or encouraging mother so I think she probably instilled that lack of confidence in me. I think it’s something that I’ve learned how to accept.
Is it the same thing with meeting fans and signing autographs?
I remember the first time somebody asked me for my autograph when we first started out, I definitely didn’t want to give them that. I felt like they would be wasting their time. As a matter of fact, I told people that I preferred not to give them my autograph simply because I didn’t feel worth to be asked for that. Of course, then people would take it that I was being arrogant, stuck up, or that I wasn’t appreciating the audience because I wouldn’t sign an autograph. That wasn’t at all what I was thinking. I was just so insecure about people asking me for my autograph. Once I looked at it from their point of view, then I was able to accept it be comfortable with it. Now it doesn’t bother me at all.
The last time we talked, the whole Queensryche name debacle was still unresolved. You have since moved forward with Operation: Mindcrime and I’ll be honest the output has been so stellar, especially the Resurrection album. Did getting past all of that finally make it easier for you to get back to being creative on your own terms again?
Yeah, very much so. It was a slow kind of feeling that took a while to really become reality for me. Once it happened I could recognize it. I don’t know if somebody could imagine this but at the breakup point, there was so much negative energy and people saying horrible things about me and questioning everything I did. Sort of like what we just talked about with someone asking me for my autograph. I felt uncomfortable about it but they turned it around like I was being an asshole because I didn’t want to give them my autograph. That’s what I felt was going on with me during that court case. People just had the complete opposite opinion of me and they would say it [laughs]. It makes you feel very self-conscious for a while and you start analyzing and looking at yourself saying, “Are they even close to being right? Am I this way? Is this the way I come off?” It’s like a process you have to go through to come to terms with who you think you are versus who people say you are.
I wanted to talk about your recent “Whole Story Acoustic Tour”. That was easily one of the most amazing shows I have seen. You looked like you were having so much fun.
I am [laughs]. I really am for a number of reasons. I think that playing acoustic in these small venues it puts in such close proximity to the audience much more than I’ve ever been. I’m not using in-ear monitors so I’m completely open and I can hear everything in the room. In-ear monitors kind of separate you from the audience. You’re only listening to the music and yourself and you can’t hear what people say or what’s going on in the room. You’re oblivious to that and in some ways, that’s very nice from a performance standpoint. With this tour, using traditional stage monitors I can hear people talking, I can hear them singing along and I can tell if their sharp or flat or if they screw up on a word [laughs]. It’s like we’re all together, singing together in the pub like they do in Ireland. It’s a wonderful feeling. I also have this wonderful band of people who are creative, energetic, and liking being there. Being around positive people in this situation that I’m enjoying is a recipe for a good time. I’m having a blast.
I’m also sorry that I let out that high note at the beginning of “Take Hold of the Flame”. I just couldn’t contain myself but I was like, “Shit it’s quiet in here.”
[laughs] That’s ok, Don. Yeah, it is kind of strange on this tour. Some people start playing drums on the tables or on the stage and it can really throw us off because they can be louder than we are. Maybe they are rhythm compromised [laughs].
On this acoustic tour, you really stripped these songs down to their original bare bone element. There must have also been a strong sense of nostalgia when you were deciding what songs to work on. Was it painful, cathartic, or anything?
I didn’t really have anything like that to be honest. I don’t really associate the music with the band Queensryche. I don’t think of it in those terms. I’m not pining away thinking, “Gosh, I sure miss Eddie Jackson’s bass playing on this track.” Honestly, there are no memories like that. I don’t mean that to sound callous but I just don’t have those feelings. I mainly just thought about how I wanted to bring those songs back to where they started. Most of the music I’ve ever written has been on acoustic guitar or piano so this was kind of bringing the songs back to the way it started. I liked that aspect of it; making it stand up on its own. I also really was interested from the moment that we started rehearsing together that the sound of the band was really different. I liked that a lot. It had a freshness and an immediacy about it that I liked. I also loved that it wasn’t so distorted and so loud in volume. You can really hide behind volume and distorted guitars but when you play acoustically you have to have mastery over your instrument. The audience, you, and your band mates can hear every single note you play and every nuance and every breath. You really have to have your game on and have control.
On this tour, you had an acoustic guitar on a stand every night just in case Chris DeGarmo wanted to show up and play. Did you ever hear from him at all and if this would have happened, how would that have felt for you personally and artistically?
Well, Chris DeGarmo didn’t show up but John Moyer (Operation: Mindcrime bassist) did [laughs]. He joined us in Austin, TX for a few songs and that was really great. I think I’d be happy if Chris came by and said, “I’m here. Let’s go over a couple of songs.” Chris would never come out of the audience and just jump up there and play guitar. He’s not that kind of a guy. He would have to come early in the day, soundtrack, and run through the tracks, that kind of thing. That would be fun though.
There was such a chemistry between you and Chris on and off stage. Do you miss that connection? Not so much in just the terms of Queensryche but just sitting with an old friend, working on songs, and just playing.
Honestly, I’m just not that nostalgic about it really. Don, there’s just been so much water under the bridge so to speak but it’s hard to even find something about it that was pleasing to me. Even though it would be in my best interest to sit here in an interview and say, “Oh yeah. We were really great together. I miss that. I wish everybody would get back together and be all hunky dory again.” Honestly, I’m enjoying what I’m doing now. I like my life. Looking back on that period of my life with the band, there was so much stress all the time and so many personalities that didn’t click. We just tried to make it work for so long. Once you’re away from that scene and you’re breathing easily and your blood pressure goes down, you wonder, “Why in the hell did I put up with that for all those years?”
I remember my dad telling me once that to be over nostalgic just keeps you from moving forward and achieving things in this moment we’re in.
I can appreciate that you’ve been there and learned from the situation but your father was right; move ahead and move on with your life and keep experiencing things and live. Get away from the past. I know so many people who all they talk about is the past. It’s like the last 10 years hasn’t even happened to them. They still talk about the good ol’ days and that’s where they live in their heads [laughs].
It’s like those people who talk about how high school was the best years of their lives. I fucking hated high school and couldn’t wait to be an adult so I never got that way of thinking.
[laughs] Especially in high school where you don’t even know yourself. You don’t know what life is like. You haven’t had that many relationships. You really are an innocent so to say that was the best time of your life is an absolute tragedy.
Are there any plans to release this tour as a CD/DVD? It would be criminal on your part to not capture these shows.
[Laughs] That’s really nice of you to say, Don. I don’t really have any solid plans of doing anything in my life [laughs]. I just kind of go with what feels right at the moment. We have recorded many shows of the tour and we’re going to be recording more and filming some as well. Perhaps in the future, something like that will be released. It just depends on how much energy it takes to complete everything and put it all together and whether or not focusing energy on that will take away from something else I’m looking forward to doing. I always have to balance that out.
You have a lot irons in the fire, Geoff. You are into home restorations, you have your wine brand, you have the music. Do you sleep at all?
[Laughs] Well, I sleep kind of sporadically. I’ll sleep like 5 hours one day, three the next day, and then maybe six after that. Then I’ll maybe catch up and do an eight-hour sleep but I rarely ever sleep eight hours. It’s mostly between three and six.
I have been on a kick as of lately listening to the Empire album. It blows my mind that it will be 27 years old this August. Looking back on that album, what are your thoughts on it 27 years later?
I think it sounds really good. That always surprises me. I don’t listen to it ever but if I hear it being played on the radio or at an event or something like that, I’m always surprised how it sounds in comparison to other songs that are played around it. I think James Barton, who engineered that record, really had something going on with the combination of the technology he was using and the different studios that he used for that album. It was pretty magical. I think also too that it was partly because of the song construction. The way that we that we put that album together sonically was quite different. We kind of looked at it as a kind of house of cards. You take the cards away until you get to the basic structure so that the cards don’t fall down. That’s the way we approached the songs. We just took out stuff that felt we didn’t need and stripped everything down to a real basic form. I think that comes across the in the sonic quality of the album.
I always wanted to know. Who was Della Brown and was that song based off of someone you knew?
She was a homeless woman who lived on the same block as I did. When I say lived, I mean that she lived outside and located herself between two buildings. I got to kind of know her because she was one of the characters of the neighborhood. I wrote the song based around her and her situation. It was also sort of a commentary on homelessness which has been a situation that has always sort of intrigued and fascinated me. Why is there so much homelessness? A lot of it I have been finding out is due to the fact that a lot of mental institutions were shut down starting in the late 80’s and they just turned people lose who shouldn’t be out walking around unsupervised. In the 60s and the 70s you didn’t really see it so much but it’s really changed since I became an adult and I’m seeing more and more homeless people. It’s really quite sad and tragic yet interesting at the same time.
One of the things we talked about last time was how Promised Land was my favorite and it was your least favorite. When you hear something like this from a fan or writer about an album that you may feel differently about, does it ever make you want to revisit it to try and listen from a new perspective?
It’s my belief that art is really an individual appreciation and music is definitely an individual journey that people take. People are going to appreciate a song or a piece of music or an album differently than another person. In my experience, that’s typically based on their own music experience and experimentation; what they’ve grown up listen to and what they’ve been exposed to. All of those things contribute to how we interpret music and how we relate to it so I’m not one to dictate how people should understand or experience it. I think people should experience it on their own and come to their own conclusions.
Geoff, if you could sing for any band for just one night, which would it be and why?
Oh wow. That’s a hard question to answer [laughs]. I would say that if I could sing for YES, that would be incredibly intoxicating to be surrounded by that music being played. The music is very complex and there’s a lot to it that I would find challenging. Also, the level of musicianship is exceptional and I would be comfortable in that group. Being able to sing with people who could sing like those guys do with the harmony structures that they have in place would be very satisfying. There’s really nothing like singing harmonies with people especially when you have a group of people harmonizing. It’s just so incredible to get all of those voices working together in concert and singing the right note at the right time in the right phrasing; ending and starting together. It’s just fantastic.
Geoff, if Hollywood was to make a movie about your life, who would play you?
[Laughs]Wow. It’s tempting, of course, to pick a superstar person that way you know you’d probably have a very good representation of who you are and what you are but it really depends on the writing; who wrote the script and how they portray you. Everybody I admire as an actor is really too old [laughs]. Older than me. I guess someone like Jarod Leto because he’s a fine, younger actor and he’s a little bit more of the rock n’ roll persuasion.
What is one misconception about Geoff Tate that you would love to put to rest?
Well, I don’t really know what a misconception is because I rarely read about myself so I don’t always know what people think [laughs]. I’ve heard people call me arrogant and I don’t agree with that. I think I’m confident in what I do and I’m confident in my ideas. Maybe people aren’t used to that. I think often times people mistake confidence for arrogance. Another thing, Don, that’s kind of unusual is that when I performed the Operation: Mindcrime 1 & 2 albums several years ago, it was kind of like a stage play presentation. I was acting the character. That character is not me. That character is a fucked up individual who’s life has been completely tormented. He’s a victim, he’s killed people, and he’s an addicted personality. He’s nothing like me. I think people in the audience sometimes thought that was me so yeah, who would like that character? [laughs] I think it can be confusing for people and I can see how that would happen. Do you see what I’m saying?
Absolutely. I mean, when I met Alice Cooper, he wasn’t chasing around a nurse and strangling her while running around with a sword and yelling at everyone. He was a very kind, warm-hearted person. I think I’d be bummed if met you and you were like Nicky (character from Operation: Mindcrime).
[Laughs] Exactly. Don, the hard part about having expectations is that you are constantly setting yourself up for disappointment. I think it’s probably a good idea to have low expectations of life and that way you’ll always be surprised [laughs].
My dad used to tell me all the time, “Always set the bar low because it’s much easier for people to raise it than it is to reach high and knock it down.”
[Laughs] That’s so true. That’s a good one actually. I like that.
Geoff, thank you so much for the opportunity to talk again. It’s always a pleasure. You’re a fascinating person and I wish you lived here in Atlanta so we could talk over wine for hours.
[Laughs] Well, thank you so much, Don. I appreciate the interview and I hope to see you when I come back to Atlanta next.