Leading and Legacy: Talking to Geoff Tate

Few voices in the history of rock and metal have been both legendarily lauded and applauded. Geoff Tate is one the these. As the frontman for Queensryche, Tate sold millions of records, and earned millions of fans with his piercing vocals. With a unique tone and an almost limitless range, Tate helped define what a metal singer could be. Now, with that band's status in turmoil, Tate readies the release of his second solo album, “Kings & Thieves”. The record is a modern take on the rock music that made him a star, as well as another left turn for an artist always willing to surprise. Geoff recently took the time to answer some of our questions.
You've always taken risks with your music, and unapologetically so. I respect that position immensely, but I wonder, are there any moves you've made that you look back at and think were either misguided, or not executed the way you wanted them to turn out?
Good question. Yes there are two moves that I regret; signing record deals with Sanctuary music and Roadrunner were both unfortunately disappointing. Both of these companies went out of business. To be fair, the record industry today, is going through a massive re-structuring. The market has changed so dramatically and so quickly that companies can’t keep up and are falling like dominos.
Moving on to your new album, the thing that struck me about "Kings & Thieves" is the lack of ego in the music. For being a solo album, there's very much a band vibe, and your vocals never seem to overpower the rest of the music. How important was it for you to find a balance between exploring your voice and showing off?
I gave up showing off after the first Queensryche EP.
As someone who enjoys writing myself, I'm always interested in hearing about the creative process. How did you and your collaborators go about putting together the songs on the album?
Well, I like to work with lists. Typically, I jot down ruff ideas and then form them into some kind of outline. Sort of like a punch list. When collaborating, communication is of paramount importance, everyone involved needs to understand what the focus of the writing is. What the essence of the message is, what are the lyrics saying and how can you shape the music to support the lyric idea. Then it’s about giving a performance that excites all involved. We had a lot of that on this record. Most of it was written and recorded at the same time and I think that gave the compositions a raw immediacy that I have never managed to capture on record before.
The last album we heard you on, "Dedicated To Chaos", was a very rhythm-oriented album. "Kings & Thieves" is every bit a rock record. What precipitated this shift in focus?
I interested in how you came to define DTC as a very rhythm-oriented record. To me, DTC was a modern version of “Empire”.

Kings & Thieves was a very fun record to make. I could write and record at my own pace without having to wait for people to catch up, show up and more importantly, understand what was going on.
The creative buzz was intense and the level of creative contributions and conversation was exhilarating.

Following up on that question, does "Kings & Thieves" point to where the next Queensryche album would have gone, had you stayed with the band, or was it too soon to know where inspiration would lead?
No, K&T is my solo work. It is my vision. Queensryche was a democracy. Democracy means compromise.
I remember hearing Billy Joel once say he wishes he didn't write some of his early songs in the keys he did, because they became difficult to sing as the years went on. What changes have you noticed in your voice over the course of your career, and have you had to change the way you write and sing to accommodate them?
I am perfectly comfortable with my voice. In fact, I really don’t think about it much. I am interested in using my instrument to convey the story of the song.
You're often mentioned as being one of the great rock/metal singers. What kind of pressure does it put on you as an artist to live with those kinds of expectations? Have you ever worried that the material you write may not showcase your voice well enough for your more ardent fans?
It is very flattering when people say kind things. People interpret music, ideas and events differently and through their own “life” filters. We are all evolving at different rates and levels. One never knows how one’s work will affect another, so it doesn’t make much sense to me worrying about what others might or might not think. I don’t think of music as a sporting event and I am not interested in competing.
I find that living with very few expectations keeps me always surprised.
As a solo artist moving forward, is "Kings & Thieves" a building block for the music you're going to make, or is every album going to be a different experience, chronicling the music you're interested in at any given moment?
I wish sometimes I could see into the future, but in my reality, I have no idea what is next. All music, all inspiration depends on what life throws at you. The challenge is keeping ones self open to life and all the inevitable experiences. There is a tendency, as one gets older to close down and live in the past. We often times view the past as a happier time, a time when everything seemed possible.
Are there still sounds and concepts you haven't explored that excite you to keep making music?
I have been and will continue to be a musician and songwriter. It’s in my blood. It is the way I think, the way I have trained, the way I view the world and communicate. Music composition is like a crossword puzzle, very mentally challenging and rewarding.
Do you have any final words you'd like to share about "Kings & Thieves"?
I am at this time on tour and playing a lot of this album live. The songs are really fun to play and the audiences are generally excited by the performances, which is fantastic considering that these are unknown songs that people are hearing for the first time.
One last question related to Queensryche: your former bandmates have been very vocal in recent days about Queensryche being a metal band. Do you consider Queensryche to be a metal band, or were you always a progressive band who happened to fit the metal scene at the time you came out?
Thank you for this question. This question of what “Metal” is is quite debatable and ultimately, in my opinion, a ridicules waste of time. Queensryche never fit into any scene, never wanted to. The term itself was, I believe, first uttered in the lyrics of “Born to be Wild” by the band Steppenwolf. Was Steppenwolf then a “Heavy Metal” band?
In time, “Metal” became a descriptive word used by journalists in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s to define music. The term caught on as a way for some bands and their PR people to differentiate their own music from all the other “Rock” music out there. This is exactly how the term “Grunge” came to be as well. These terms are really just marketing slogans and perfect examples of crass commercialism. As a musician, I am not interested, nor have I ever been interested in being defined. Small minds seek to define themselves and their art.
I am also not into being a “nostalgia act”. I will not conform to someone else’s idea of who I should be. I will continue to release new music.
If you want conformity and want or need to feel like you did when you were in High School, you can always visit your local Hot Topic retail store, buy some “Metal gear” put on your version of “Metal” music and bang your head to your heart’s content. Peace!
When Chris DeGarmo and I began writing the music together years ago, our slogan or motto was “NO LIMITS”. We always applied that idea in everything we did. Progression was our passion and our goal.
I still hold these values.
I believe that life is a glorious journey that is constantly in flux and my goal is to document that journey in my music. Just say’n.

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