Michelle LaRose talks to Geoff Tate for Caustic Truths! Magazine
Photographs by Michelle LaRose
Queensrÿche has embarked on a fall tour promoting Operation Mindcrime II, the continuation of 1988’s Platinum album Operation Mindcrime. A die hard “Rÿche” fan would argue the point differences between the two albums but to the passive listener, both albums back to back would bear no seam.
The tale of the Operation Mindcrime characters is played out on stage by Geoff Tate, Pamela Moore, actors and a video screen. The story of Dr. X, Nikki and Sister Mary unfold through the music and theatrics. The question, “What became of Nikki?” is finally resolved.
Bearing one of the most distinctive voices in rock n’ roll Geoff Tate leads Queensrÿche with charisma and conviction. We were able to talk with Geoff about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll and what it might be like to live in the Kingdom of Tate.
Geoff: Yeah! It’s a wonderful, wonderful event. Eric Buell from Buell Harley Davidson has donated two custom made bikes for [Mike] Stone and I to ride. We are riding different rides across the country depending on the city we are in. Sometimes they’re around the city sometimes they’re around specific sites in the city. For example we’re doing a Wine Country run in California. We’re doing an interesting ride in New Jersey to Manhattan where they are closing off the Holland Tunnel and giving us a police escort in to town. About four thousand people signed up for that one. It’s a ride for people to donate money to the Save The Music Foundation that VH1 has which is an amazing foundation. They put musical instruments in the hands of disadvantaged kids and they also help fund school music programs that have lost their funding in various schools across the country. People can go to our website, Queensrÿche.com, at the bottom of the website there’s several icons, a Buell icon, Save The Music icon. You can click on these icons and it will give them the whole lowdown on what they can do to sign up. Even if they don’t ride they can still join us at some of the locations that we start and stop from and donate there and hang out for a while, look at motorcycles and have free food, meet the band and that kind of thing.
CT: How are the bikes custom?
Geoff: Eric [Buell] is a friend and he developed these two bikes that are designs that are based around the Ulysses model, which he developed. He customized the engines somewhat, the suspension for us, also cosmetically how they look. They have certain parts and pieces that aren’t available on other bikes. They have really interesting custom paint jobs too with Queensrÿche graphics and that kind of thing.
CT: Are you a motorcycle enthusiast? Do you have a bike?
Geoff: I am. Yeah I’ve been a motorcycle enthusiast since I was about nine. I started riding mini bikes and dirt bikes and slowly got different bikes over the years. I’ve owned about six or seven different bikes in my life. I’m thinking about purchasing a new one because I saw one at the dealership today that we stopped by that I just love. [Laughing]
CT: Nice! Was it a Harley?
Geoff: Yeah, it’s a Harley V-Rod. It’s called a Night Rod Special and it’s all black. It’s based on the V-Rod design. It’s very, very cool.
CT: You just re-released Q2K, which was “expanded and re-mastered.” How was it expanded?
Geoff: Well, we’ve added two un-released tracks that were written and recorded in the time period when we worked on Q2K. I don’t know why they weren’t put on the record because they’re great songs. Perhaps we forgot about it at the time. It was kind of a crazy tumultuous time for the band. Also we have added several live tracks that were recorded during that tour and also a special remix by James Barton who’s been a long time Queensrÿche associate in the engineering area. A song called Breakdown, which was used as a single.
CT: Operation Mindcrime II was also just released. Can you tell us about it without giving anything away?
Geoff: Yeah. It is the long awaited sequel and conclusion to the Mindcrime story, which was begun in 1988. It’s the end of the story. It gives us the ending of the story about Nikki and Dr. X and Sister Mary. We actually started writing it years ago and never finished it. The project got put on the back burner. In the last couple years I was looking through some notes and found pretty much the complete story. I just had to finish out a couple of areas with it. I brought it to the band and said, “Hey, you know we never finished this. We should think about revisiting it.” They all liked the idea and saw it as a great challenge to musically approach it again. So we did! We had a great time in the studio making it. It turned out very well. I’m very happy with it.
Geoff: It’s a vinyl release. To make it work technologically they had to make two records.
CT: It’s vinyl! Oh my God! That’s wild! [Laughing]
Geoff: I don’t even have the technology to play a vinyl record.
CT: Exactly! Where would you even get a needle?
Geoff: Yeah! Well apparently you can still find them on eBay and on the internet so there you go.
CT: You are currently on tour doing a stage performance of Operation Mindcrime I and II. Can you tell us about the show?
Geoff: Yeah. It’s performed in a stage play, opera, musical, sort of a Broadway style delivery with actors that join us to portray some of the different characters involved in the story. Film screens that, again, help tell the story. We have sets that change throughout the show depending upon what scene is going on. We’re joined by Pamela Moore who sings the part of Sister Mary. The whole thing is wrapped in surround sound, which makes it, I think, very interesting for the audience, with all the special effects and strange little things in the background that you can’t actually do with stereo speakers. It’s a very fun show to see and very challenging and rewarding to perform. It’s quite difficult.
CT: Who did the choreography?
Geoff: A gentleman by the name of Christian Sorenson who’s a friend of ours. He worked with me on putting the stage show together.
CT: You are writing a screenplay for Operation Mindcrime. If it becomes a movie, will any of you be in it?
Geoff: [Laughing] Well the screenplay’s finished. It was done around Christmas. It was written by a man named Mark Shepard who’s a professional screenwriter. I worked with him in the capacity of an advisor. It’s my story; I had to brief him on what was happening. There’s a lot more involved than I thought it was going to be. I never had any dealings with screenplay writing before. It was quite a learning experience to realize that there were so many details that had to be discussed and thought about and then of course interpreted. The screenplay was finished in December and our agent has been shopping it around Hollywood. Just recently we got the green light on the next phase of the project, which is great. It takes several different green lights to get things going. We’ve got the first of many apparently.
CT: Dr. X is now Ronnie James Dio. How did Ronnie come to be Dr. X?
Geoff: A simple phone call. I had just finished writing the song and I was sitting there basking in how smart I thought I was.
Geoff: Then the horror stuck me of, ‘Who am I going to get to sing this?’ I sat there and thought a minute about it. I thought about the voice that Dr. X would have. I wanted a real authoritative sound to the man’s voice. It had to be somebody that could sing like me, somebody that had that sort of rock-opera background. Ronnie’s name just popped into my head so I grabbed the phone before I could think it through and he picked up! I told him what I had and he said, “Well let me hear it.” So I played it to him over the phone and he was intrigued so I sent him the music and about a week later he called me up and said, “I’m really into this. I want to do it. Let’s move on it.” So we did. It’s great working with him. He’s an incredible singer, a phenomenal musician and just a complete legend. It was very difficult in the studio with him at first because I was completely star-struck and it was my job to produce him and record him. I had to be the one to ask him to give me another take. How do you ask a legend to give you one more take?
CT: You mentioned Pamela Moore. Can you tell us a bit more about her?
Geoff: Pamela’s a friend from way, way back. She’s from the Seattle area. She was in the rock scene. She has a very unique, interesting voice. When we were casting the part of Sister Mary for the Operation Mindcrime I album years ago in like ’87… I heard her sing and searched her out and asked her if she’d do it. She said, “Yeah!” So she flew out to Montreal Canada where we were recording and spent a few days with us out there. She just really nailed the part and did everything that I had hoped she’d be able to do. When it came time to put a show together of course I called her and she was available and luckily we got her for the shows. She works great. She’s an incredible singer, very passionate about singing and acting. She does a great job.
CT: Keeping in the spirit of Operation Mindcrime but not necessarily speaking of the albums… What are your thoughts on… drugs?
Geoff: Recreational drug use?
Geoff: Well… I’d have to say that anything in excess shouldn’t really hinder you be it a performance, your job, your family, relationships, that kind of thing. It takes a disciplined personality to handle recreational drugs. I can’t really pass judgment on people that experiment with them. I’ve seen recreational drug use overseas work just fine. People deal with it just like they deal with alcohol use and it works. I think there are some drugs especially the hard stuff like heroin and crack, these very, very addictive drugs that people have no business really doing because there’s such a dependency that grows out of using them that… I’ve never seen anybody come back from it, especially heroin. It’s a terrible, terrible drug.
Geoff: When I was younger I was pretty passionate about politics. I think probably because I saw the world in more of a black and white way. I believed in the information that we’re sold from our young times which is that there is a right and wrong. People don’t do this and bad people do this and that kind of thing. The older I get, it’s all become very gray to me. There are so many different opinions. There’s not really a right or a wrong anymore. Right or wrong changes depending on who’s in power. It used to be wrong to drive faster than fifty-five miles an hour now it’s right. It’s a very small example. An example like that follows suit in a number of different areas. The older I get, the more I see that the very, very wealthy and rich call the shots, our government especially. They make policies based around the good of their hive and not the good of the American public. I see the poor staying poor. I see a widening gap between rich and poor. I see the middle class paying for it all. It seems to me that the rich get away with murder and the poor spend a lot of time in prison and the middle class, again, pay’s for it all. That’s kind of my solid political viewpoint at this point in my life; I’m forty-seven years old.
Geoff: Religion is something that I think is a very personal thing to people. It’s a very individual thing. It has, for centuries, been a scapegoat for war, corruption, murder and mass murder. It’s a tragedy because it is such a personal thing. It’s something that really can’t be commercialized and passed out like it was a product, which is how I feel it’s sort of become these days. The crusades were mounted and executed with the idea, the belief behind it, at least a slogan that these were knights for Christ and they were going to conquer the infidels and take back Jerusalem. When in actuality we found out through history it was all based on commerce and money and they were going to secure these trade routes for their rich people. The whole endeavor was meant for monetary gain. I just think that’s a tragedy. I think often times what we forget about in our society is that we don’t separate religion from spiritual beliefs. To me they are two different things. A religion is something that people follow. A spiritual belief is something that people live.
Geoff: Well I believe in sex.
Geoff: I think sex is a great thing. It’s a very important thing that people share together. It’s something that everybody needs.
CT: And finally, if you were President, what would you change?
Geoff: I would never be President. Never!
CT: [Laughing] Ok if you were King what would you change?
Geoff: If I were king? I’d have ultimate power! [Laughing] Well, I would like to think that I would make just laws and try to help educate my countrymen to the point where they could compete in a society that’s based around competition. In our country especially the educational gap is widening. We’re seeing more and more and more and more millions and millions of uneducated people. Illiterate people. Homeless people. Disadvantaged mentally ill people. A huge number of people are being born with retardation due to parents using prescription drugs and the toxins in our food system. It’s really not talked a lot about. It’s a huge, huge problem. When I was in school thirty some odd years ago there was maybe just maybe one retarded kid in the class. Now you’re seeing full schools of kids that are born with Down Syndrome and this kind of thing. What’s happening? Why is that happening more and more now? Who’s got the answer for that? I want to know. I think the major responsibility of being a President or a King is to take care of the people. Pass policies that are good for people and not something that is good for just a few people so they can earn more and more money. I mean, how much money do you need? Where’s the end? If you have a few million dollars, isn’t that just enough for God’s sake? Why do you need billions? What kind of ego needs that kind of affirmation?
CT: Geoff, thank you so much for speaking with Caustic Truths! Today.
Geoff: Well thank you Michelle. I’m glad we got to hook up.