Going in depth with Geoff Tate
A lot has been said and written about the battle between singer Geoff Tate and his former band Queensrÿche. That is all in the past now and Geoff Tate is totally focussing on his new project Operation: Mindcrime. He has just released ‘The Key’ and took the time to talk about this ambitious trilogy he wrote and about his passion for wine.
Do you consider Operation: Mindcrime a new start for you?
,,I don’t think in terms of new in that respect. For me it is a project I wanted to do for quite a while, three albums to tell one story. I had to wait until I had a story to tell and that time is right now.’’
And it is very ambitious.
,,I like that kind of challenge. First creating a story and having three possibilities in order to tell a story makes it more interesting. You can go a lot more in depth with one particular subject. If you look at the ‘Operation Mindcrime’- album for example, it is not very detailed. There are big holes within the story and you use music to fill those holes and leave a lot open to interpretation and imagination. With a trilogy you go a lot more in depth with both the storyline as well as characterization.’’
Is it almost like writing a book?
,,Almost. You write the story and for me I break that down into an outline and compose music to accompany that outline. It’s almost like a film and the songs are the scenes. Music sets the atmosphere for the text.’’
What can you tell us about the theme of the trilogy?
,,We are living in a fascinating time. Technology in the communication field is so developed and sweeping social changes are happening, it’s unprecedented. Things change so quickly, everybody is commenting on events almost in real time, you can gauge public opinions in seconds now. It leads to drastic changes in the world we live in. What does it mean to me? How do I fit in? Those are constant ideas and questions we’re all faced with. For me as a writer I am fascinated by it. This album, ‘The Key’ does three things. It has to do with technology developed by four people. It is a new interface for reality, a computer programm that gives the user the ability to see reality in a different way. I mean, it’s accepted that our reality is defined from childhood. We learn as children the definition of everything, cat, tree, house and apply to their own live as adult. Imagine the impact of a technology that broke down the wall of what you think reality is and let see what could be if imagined differently. Because of the implications of this technology there is a conflict between the developers. Some want to sell it to the world and become filthy rich, some are altruistic and want to give it away because of the impact. They want to help civilization propel to a different place. ‘The Key’ introduces us to the technology, the four characters and the conflict that arises.’’
So part two and three are already finished?
,,We just finished part two and part three is 90 percent written and recorded so it’s almost done.’’
Also because you use intermezzos on ‘The Key’ as a listener you stay in a certain mindset.
,,Yeah, that’s done to set the tone for the story, to keep referring back to certain events. Kinda like in a film where they assign a melody or sound effect and associate it to a specific character or event, so that when this character or event re-appears it becomes a signature.’’
Operation: Mindcrime is a project. What criteria were you looking for in the guest musicians?
,,I wanted to work with people that had an open mind and could express themselves in a creative way rather than a destructive way. People who were excited about the music and could see the big picture of what I was trying to do and add to the conversation. I spend most of my creative life, my professional life signing everything I did under the name Queensrÿche and I don’t have to do that anymore. With Queensrÿche we got together when we were very young and we were kinda stuck together because of economics. Because of that success it keeps you in a certain position, you kinda work with what you have instead of pushing too hard to motivate people or to contribute. Having a project I don’t have to do that. I can now work with people who are pushing the envelope, adding to the conversation. I find that exciting and love it.’’
Does it mean Queensrÿche became work and this is complete freedom again?
,,It is more of this. It is that you are sitting in a group of people and there is a project to be started and you ask if there is anybody who has any ideas on how we start this and nobody says anything what do you do? You start yourself. A month later you ask again if anybody has any ideas or comments on what we are doing right now and again nobody raises his hand what do you do? You roll up your sleeves and you continue what you are doing. If I ask that same question now everybody raises his hand and comments, I like that. It’s nice to have too many choices instead of no choices at all. You roll with what feels right, for instance. There is a part on ,,An Ambush Of Sadness’’ in which Scott Mercado, who I brought in to play drums composed this dulcimer melody which was completely unexpected but he felt safe enough to bring it in. That was great because it also opened my mind and it inspired me again and so you get a dialogue. It elevated the beginning idea to a place where it wasn’t before.’’
Being a member of a band for thirty-five years you are used to write within a certain framework. Did that change?
,,No, not really, the process hasn’t changed. Well, to a certain extend it has. The boundaries have expanded of what I can and cannot write. Unfortunately if you have success in a certain field, be at music or whatever, your audience, that likes you because of that, tends to want you to do that repeatedly on everything you do from than on and that was definitely the case with Queensrÿche. It became very difficult to operate in such a narrowly defined box of expectation. So this now is kind of a bigger box.’’
What is your reaction when people say you sound a bit like David Bowie in some songs on ‘The Key’, like in ,,The Stranger’’ for example?
,,We all hear it differently. That fascinates me about music, we all hear it differently. I am trying to wrap my head around this for years. I remember being in the school orchestra and the conductor tried to explain how everything worked together, strings with brass with notes and dissonance. Some people in the group heard the rub and some didn’t. I recognized then that we all hear and process music different. People react differently to different songs. I think that what happens is that they relate on an emotional level because the music is a reflection of their past or present life and they relate to it based upon life and musical experience. Challenge, struggle, problems, people are relating to that. Their mindset is constantly shifting and growing, the more experiences you have the more you have the tendency to alienate yourself from the audience because they are not moving at the same pace as you do. If you don’t move at the same pace as your audience the ability to connect becomes challenging.’’
How do you stay connected with your audience?
,,It is a challenge. When on tour I have everyday conversations with people. We have in depth meet and greets, not the usual walk in-shake hands-walk out kinda things but everybody is there. I had beautiful conversations and I like that connecting with people and hear from them how they are affected by the music.’’
Does this influence your writing as well?
,,I suppose it does however I am unaware HOW it affects me but every external stimulant you got is an influence.’’
Do you need a certain mindset when writing songs?
,,I am kinda spontaneous. I do work every day at a specific time because that keeps me in a pattern. That being said, I always carry a device, my phone, pen and paper, because I forget a lot and want references, I done so all my life. Maybe I don’t remember everything but at least I have a sketch, a melody or a word. Writing music is diffent than writing lyrics. You may write several sentences or a paragraph and look back at it and start shaping it so it comes to a point. Does it have a rhythm? I care a lot about punctuation and that gives me a rhythm structure. Then I get on the piano and play around trying to find a melody that fits with the words. Or the other way around. This story breaking into an outline had a specific atmosphere to set the words in. Certain chords, note combinations and chord progressions cause an emotional feeling and that’s what I am looking for when setting an atmosphere. It’s all about capturing an emotional response. For me, when perform live, I never see anything, I’m completely and utterly lost in my own emotional world.’’
Besides successful as musician you are also busy in the wine business. How did that happen?
,,That happened years ago when I was a boyscout. It all had to do with a merit badge you could achieve if you create your own product. I was staying at my grandmother’s house during summer and part of my to-do list was take care of the yard. There were a lot of dandelions in her yard, which in a way is a kind of weed. I found a book about how to make wine out of dandelions and I decided to go for it. So I made my first batch of wine when I was 14 years old. I didn’t drink wine at the time, I didn’t know how it should taste but I let my parents try it and they said ‘well, it’s drinkable’. That led me into the fascination of the chemistry aspect of wine and as I got older, more of an adult, I found out it’s my favourite alcoholic beverage to drink. As I became a touring musician and travelling around the world you visit different countries and they have a culture of wine like in Europe for example so I was exposed to different wines from different countries, different types of soil conditions in different areas.’’
Photo by Geoff Tate (Official) Facebook
Do you own your own vineyard now?
,,I don’t own my own vineyard but I operate or have access to several vineyards around the world. What I do own is my wine brand which is called ‘Insania’. Now we make a red wine which is a blend and a white wine which is a blend. Actually we are making the white wine in Germany now which is really exciting. I was just over there for the harvest and I am really excited because I think we will have it out for sale soon.’’
The wine and the music world are two totally different worlds. Does the wine world give you time to relax from the hectic music world?
,,You definitely need a quiet place to think and collect your thoughts and to centre yourself, specially in this day and age where you are bombarded by the media but for me I enjoy wine. The complexity of the beverage, how it is so different from wine to wine and region to region. Take a bottle of wine, open it and an hour later it tastes different from when you opened it, it is constantly changing, it is a fascinating invention. On the business side of things, it is a product people can’t download and it is an art form as well. There is a science to it but there is also a bit of magic in the making of the wine itself. It really comes down to the skill of the wine maker. I enjoy that kind of artistry, it is very fulfilling.’’
You are going on your first European tour with Operation Mindcrime. A new band, a lot of organizing but on the other hand, you are in total control now.
,,Yes, that tour took a lot of organizing. You know my wife Susan is my manager and we have been working on this tour for many months now. We have a new agent in Europe and we are all very excited starting this new relationship. Actually, I am going to some places in Europe that I have never been before, which I love. I am really looking forward to it.’’
OPERATION: MINDCRIME – Re-Inventing The Future:
European tour Operation: Mindcrime:
Nov. 13 Memmingen, Germany @ Kaminwerk
Nov. 15 Zlin, Czech Republic @ Euronics Hall
Nov. 16 Budapest, Hungary @ A38
Nov. 17 Sofia, Bulgaria @ Sofia Club Live
Nov. 20 Geiselwind, Germany @ Music Hall
Nov. 22 Tallinn, Estonia @ Rock Cafe
Nov. 23 Helsinki, Finland @ Nosturi
Nov. 25 Warsaw, Poland @ Progresja
Nov. 27 Tilburg, The Netherlands @ Club 013
Nov. 28 Burglengenfeld, Germany @ VAZ
Nov. 29 Muenchen, Germany @ Backstage
Dec. 1 Bratislava, Slovakia @ MMC
Dec. 2 Triest, Italy @ Teatro Miela
Dec. 3 Rome, Italy @ Traffic
Dec. 4 Brescia, Italy @ Colony
Dec. 6 Zagreb, Croatia @ Vintage Industrial Bar
Dec. 8 Hamburg, Germany @ Markthalle
Dec. 9 Wilhelmshaven, Germany @ Pumpwerk
Dec. 10 Stourbridge, England @ The River Rooms
Dec. 11 Southend-by-the-sea, England @ Chinnerys
Dec. 12 London, England @ The Underworld
Dec. 13 Brighton, England @ The Haunt
Dec. 15 Salzburg, Austria @ Rockhouse
Dec. 16 Zuerich, Switzerland @ Komplex 457
Dec. 17 Bochum, Germany @ Matrix
Dec. 18 Vaureal, France @ Le Forum
Dec. 19 Karlsruhe, Germany @ Schwarzwaldhalle (Knockout Festival)