Queensrÿche's Todd La Torre Loves Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Iron Maiden

Queensrÿche is a band that has had its fair share of ups and downs, especially in the past decade. Since its birth in 1982, the American metal act has released 14 studio albums, one of which was ’88’s Operation: Mindcrime, considered one of the best concept albums of all time. With more than 20 million albums sold worldwide, three Grammy nominations, and hits like “Silent Lucidity,” Queensrÿche entered its most tumultuous period ever in early 2012, when, after a highly publicized backstage altercation, vocalist Geoff Tate was fired (he then proceeded to sue the band). Todd La Torre was hired as the new frontman, and for the next few years there was a legal struggle over rights to the Queensrÿche name. In the meantime, Tate created his own lineup, featuring former bandmate/guitarist Kelly Gray and musicians from such bands as Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, and Dio. Both bands continued to tour and write. 

In 2014 a settlement was reached, resulting in the founding members (Scott Rockenfield, Michael Wilton, and Eddie Jackson, currently in the La Torre lineup) being awarded the rights to the band trademark. Rounded out by guitarist Parker Lundgren, La Torre’s transition was organic and professional. Since he had seen Tate as an inspiration early on, he grasped the ability to cleanly sing the higher notes, and learned how to really sell a song as a vocalist.

Some fans have struggled with wanting to choose a “side,” and the media has certainly fed into the drama, regardless of the fact that both bands have continued to tour successfully and write and record strong albums. I first saw the band with La Torre in January 2015 at a House of Blues NAMM performance. The house was packed, and everywhere you went was the debate, La Torre vs. Tate. After the performance though, I was blown away at the energy, and fresh perspective that the lineup brought to the crowd. La Torre truly connected with the fans from the stage, and his charisma was undeniable.

La Torre has been with the band since 2013, and if there was any doubt about him, it should be erased with the band’s October 2015 release, Condition Human. It hearkens back to Queensrÿche’s early heavier vibe, but with a reinvigorated, fresh feeling.

New Times talked to La Torre about playing a mix of the old classics and new music on their current tour, and his love for Iron Maiden and documentaries.

Queensrÿche is performing at Marquee Theatre in Tempe on Tuesday, January 12.
New Times: It seems like the chemistry is really great in the band right now. How do you think that is apparent on the new record?
Todd La Torre: We all wrote the music together as a band and everyone’s input was respected, recognized and implemented. I think that translated in the music as everyone working as a group.

Do you feel like you’re still in that mentality of having to do damage control with the band?
There’s no damage in the band and we all get along great. There’s no tension — which is good!

Well, obviously you’ve been in the band for a couple years now, but I mean in terms of the Queensryche name.
Oh, I see what you’re saying! Well, we’re aware of what happened back then and the musical direction and all of those variables with the old singer. We take the approach that it’s one show at a time and we’re doing our best to show everyone at each show that they really want to hear collectively. We’re also playing some new stuff off the new record. As the tour goes we’ll be changing things up within the set. We’re trying to re-establish the name and the brand within the industry. And things are definitely positive and are moving up in the right direction.

As a fan, I’m actually surprised that it’s still a issue that’s discussed so often. It doesn’t seem that relevant anymore.
Everything that happened with the former singer is old news with us. It’s over. It’s been three and a half plus years already. You know, people just lie to gossip, and everyone has an opinion. And with the days of the Internet, people feel like they have to express that. It’s rare to see positive stuff compared to the negative crap people like to talk about. But people who come to the show sand people in the industry who are our peers — they all get it. When people like that tell you they feel things have improved you value that feedback.

What’s your proudest moment on the new record?
Geez, that’s a hard question. Um… I think just the complexity of the songs and the writing format of the song structures. Everyone really shines individually and collectively. It makes for a really good, solid record.

What song off the new record do you like to perform live the most right now?
Well, we just started playing the new stuff and there’s a lot of stuff we haven’t played yet. We just started playing “Bulletproof” and “Guardian.” We’ve bee playing “Arrow of Time,” and we’ll be adding “Eye 9” within a matter of days. "The Condition Human," the title track, would be a lot of fun to perform live, but we haven’t done that yet. It’s a long song and we’d have to take out two songs from the set to that. That’s what we had to do with “Rose to Madness,” which is like a 10-minute song. We had to take three songs out. It’s a difficult trade-off, sometimes.

So what are some other passions that you maybe love as much as music?
I love watching documentaries. I’m a huge documentary buff; a lot of my interests outside of music revolve around a lot of social issues and ideological issues. Different perspectives, culturally and … I like a lot of philosophical stuff. But one of my favorite things to do is to watch documentaries.

Do you have a favorite you’ve recently watched?
There’s so many I’ve watched lately; but I watch a lot of lectures too. I watched a really good documentary about —  actually, it sounds funny — the bottled water industry and the lack of regulation for it. It was all about drinking water. It sounds kinda boring to some people but I was really interested in it. I like watching lectures too by people like Sam Harris, who's a neuroscientist; and [Arizona State University professor] Laurence Krauss, who's a cosmologist; and Richard Dawkins — you know, these are people who are at the forefront of science and secularism. Just interesting perspectives on different things. I love sciences and learning about the observable, natural world around us.

If you could be a fly on the wall for the recording of any classic album, what would it be?
Oohhh.. that’s a good one. Maybe… well, one of my all-time favorite records is Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron Maiden. I would’ve loved to oversee that production.

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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise