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Former Queensrÿche Singer Says Band Name Was a Burden

Geoff Tate
Geoff Tate
Ron Dukeshire/Rockstar PR

Geoff Tate has always been seen as one rock 'n' roll's archetypal frontmen. As singer of Queensrÿche, he sold more than 20 million albums worldwide and sold out shows in dozens of countries. Tate is ranked in the top 20 on Hit Parader's 100 Greatest Metal Vocalists of All Time, and comes in second on That Metal Show's top five hard rock '80s vocalists.

When I saw Queensrÿche perform with vocalist Todd La Torre at the National Association of Music Merchants in January, the only talk in the insanely packed crowd before the band went on were conversations and debates about the lineup and Geoff Tate's absence. One argument ended up with two girls getting into fisticuffs. The topic was creating as much buzz as the House of Blues' heavy whiskey pours.

It only reiterated that though the band's influence and Tate's talent will always be undeniable, so will the drama that encapsulates the current state of the band. There's been a lot of confusion about the state of Queensrÿche, so read on below for the condensed version of how both versions of the band are at peace today.

The original Queensrÿche lineup consisted of Tate, guitarists Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo, bassist Eddie Jackson, and drummer Scott Rockenfield. In 1997, DeGarmo left, and two guitarists later (Kelly Gray, Mike Stone), we have the talented Parker Lundgren, who came on board in 2009. In 2012, Tate was fired after a handful of backstage fights and arguments between the members on tour. He was replaced with Todd La Torre (Crimson Glory), and Tate and his wife, who served as Queensrÿche's manager from 2005-2012, filed a lawsuit that the singer was wrongfully terminated.

The result was that both parties were allowed to use the named Queensrÿche until a final decision on who gets primary use, either through a court ruling or settlement. Founding members Wilton, Rockenfield and Jackson continued to tour as Queensrÿche with singer La Torre and guitarist Lundgren, and even released an eponymous album in 2013. Founding member Tate formed his own Queensrÿche version during this time, consisting of Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake), Simon Wright (AC/DC, Dio), Randy Gane (Myth) and Kelly Gray (Queensrÿche 1998-2001, 2012).

Finally in April of this year, a decision was reached outside of court -- much to the relief of confused fans. Wilton, Rockenfield, and Jackson were awarded the rights the Queensrÿche trademark when they all came to the agreement to buy out Tate's share of the Queensrÿche name. The deal also entails that Tate is the only one with the rights to perform Operation: Mindcrime and Operation: Mindcrime II in their entirety. Fitting, since he just spent the past year touring and performing the Operation: Mindcrime album (the band's 1988 record that's seen as one of the best concept albums of all time) in honor of its 25th anniversary to sold-out audiences everywhere.

He can't use the TriRyche logo, and can only refer to himself as the "Original Lead Singer of Queensrÿche or "Formerly of Queensrÿche" for a period of two years. In July 2014, he and his lineup embarked on a "Farewell Tour" that spans 22 dates, and is seen as Tate's remaining performances as Queensrÿche "starring" Geoff Tate.

Since this interview, it was announced that Tate's band is moving forward with the name Operation: Mindcrime after the farewell tour. Operation: Mindcrime will head into the studio this September to begin recording a trilogy project that Geoff's been working on for the past two years.

Up on the Sun talked with Tate about his upcoming trilogy album, Arizona wines, and Save the Music.

While it's great that this case never went to court, how did the process of the settlement affect you with your former bandmates?

I am really glad it is settled and that we can all move on. The process was difficult for me; it was a long, involved process. But now it's clear sailing.

For this farewell tour, you'll be performing your favorite hits and rarities for fans. Can you touch on two or three songs particularly close to your heart that will be on the set list?

Well, Queensryche has a pretty involved catalog. Fourteen albums, and 150, 160 songs, something like that. So what I've done is create a set list that spans our career. Songs from all the different Queensryche periods and time, and presenting them in one show. I think it's going to be really fun, actually.

Moving forward after this tour, will your future performances pretty much embody the concept albums Operation: Mindcrime and Operation: Mindcrime II? [this interview was done before the announcement of the band's name Operation: Mindcrime]

No, actually. I just finished a year-long tour of 25 years of Operation Mindcrime, so future projects after this farewell tour which ends in September, I will be going into the studio to record a new album that I've been working on. I'll be focusing on new music for my future endeavors.  

What are you most looking forward to, moving forward with your music?

I am looking forward to the freedom really, of being able to create music without, um, a predetermined moniker. Queensrÿche is a definitive name, and it's hard for people to get past just the name of it and look at that music with a less judgmental viewpoint, I suppose. So now I will have the freedom to create music how I envision it without the strings attached. I've been working on a trilogy project, and it's one of my biggest and most ambitious works to date. I'm telling a story, and I got it down to 37 ideas that needed representing to complete the story. One record wouldn't cover it. I'm hoping to release the first part sometime next spring.

You said a few years back that you don't ever want to be in a perceived "band" again, and that you want to work with different groups of people moving forward. Are there any ideas or concepts brewing for collaborations?

Yes, there is. There are so many things that are too early to talk about unfortunately, so in a few months there will be more announcements. But there are a lot of things brewing.

Fans' desire to want their favorite band's original line-up is inevitable, as you've seen with your own experience. Since that's a topic you aren't a stranger to, what is a band reunion you'd like to see?

I honestly don't promote band reunions. I think there's a certain chemistry that happens with a certain group of people during a certain period of time. Over time, that group of people change and then it's time to move on and change and do different things. I think the only reason bands get back together typically is to tour. If they got back together to make music I would promote that. But typically, bands get back to together for touring reasons.  

In 2010, you and your wife launched a brand of wine. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Well we first started it in 2007. It's a passion of mine that turned into a hobby turned into a business. We enjoy making it. We'd just got back from France and we had toured around the country to different wine-making regions. Actually, from the southwest all the way to the northeast, going to the little small wineries and vineyards. I love doing that. I think it's a fascinating study -- what people make, given the ground they have to farm from. I love tasting all the differences of the grapes and what they have to offer. I would definitely continue creating Insania [Wines, Tate's brand].

In Arizona, a lot of people wouldn't think of it, but there's a budding wine scene. It's really young. But there are some bold flavors.

Oh sure! You have the same climate as Sicily and southern Italy. The Zinfandels that hang on the vines longer that need more time to ripen and intense heat and sun would be good. Plus you can control the irrigation. It could be a cool set up for future wine.

As mainly a vocalist, if you could master an instrument, what would it be?

Oh man. Well, um, gosh. Master one instrument... I don't know if you could ever master an instrument. You know, I think that "mastering" something tends to say that it's the extent of your imagination. I think an instrument is there to help you realize your imagination; it's an extension and a tool to be used to tell a story musically. So I am going to say that I don't think I could master an instrument. I play saxophone and can create melody but I can't play how Charlie Parker played. I'm not able to grasp that imagination. And I'm also not that interested in becoming a master of it. Tough question. I enjoy a lot of instruments.

In today's world you can create music with all sorts of different instruments and actually not even play that instrument. You can do it with a keyboard, and sample different instruments. Most people can tell if you're playing a real violin or a sample violin. So I typically use a keyboard, and create layers of sounds with different instruments with it.

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