Geoff Tate has been rocking audiences around the globe for over three decades. Instantly recognizable from his amazing vocal work as the former lead-singer of Queensrÿche, he has spent the his life immersed in music. Tate has sold more than 25 million records at the helm of Queensrÿche, the band he fronted for 30 years from their inception to 2012, earning three Grammy nominations, five MTV Music Video Award nominations, and one MTV Music Video Award along the way. After parting ways with the band he had founded, Tate soon found himself rising from the ashes with what would become his most ambitious project to date — Operation: Mindcrime. Operation: Mindcrime continues in the spirit of the historic album of the same name, spawning concepts as grand as the music, and intertwining the intensity of Tate’s iconic past with the provocative, progressive mindset that made him one of music’s most resolute forces and frontmen.
Operation: Mindcrime exploded onto the scene in late 2015 with their debut album, ‘The Key.’ Masterminded by Geoff Tate, the album served as the first entry of a musical trilogy containing a dynamic story which would unfold across three different albums. The band returns with the second chapter of the unique tale of September 23, 2016. ‘Resurrection’ continues the story that began on the first album, picking up with the near death experience of the lead character known as H and his subsequent recovery of the missing encryption key. With the Key finally in his possession, H has everything he needs to finally launch his long awaited project called The New Reality. Or does he? With Resurrection, Operation: Mindcrime aim to answer some of the questions that were posed in the first album, while delivering their most diverse and challenging material of Geoff Tate’s already colorful career.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Geoff Tate to discuss his journey as an artist, the challenges he has faced along the way, the making of Operation: Mindcrime’s ambitious trilogy and the other projects that lie in store for him in the months to come.
Over the years, you created an amazing body of work. I want to start at the beginning. What drew you to music originally and ultimately made you pursue it as a career?
Well, I was 9 years old when I first started taking piano lessons. I wanted to be a musician as far back as I can remember. My earliest memories of music are things like Christmas carols and things like that. I heard pop music on the radio and I heard a song by Jefferson Airplane called “Somebody To Love.” That song got me! I loved the guitar work in it and I told my parents I wanted to play guitar. They said, “You can but you have to take a year of piano first.” That was really good musical advice because piano is a great learning instrument. I started taking those lessons and I never looked back! After I started learning piano, the world started to open up for me because I got to learn different classical pieces and started playing in school bands and becoming aware of all the great composers and their works. That led me to more contemporary music and jazz band in high school. It was a long line of being exposed to various types of music.
I’m sure you are asked about your musical influences often. However, I was curious to know if there was anyone behind the scenes giving you the extra push you needed musically in a mentor role?
I had a music teacher named Mr. Stratton who was pretty instrumental to me when I was first starting out. I was in elementary school band at the time and he was really a wonderful teacher. You know how some teachers can just present the material to you, while other teachers inspire your imagination about the material? He was really one of those teachers who got you thinking about things musically. Later, I had other teachers who had significant impacts on me. Bob Lion was real important in my musical career. He was a very inspirational teacher as well.
You have a distinct and recognizable style. What went into finding your creative voice early on as an artist?
I think it was really dictated by my musical influences. I was lucky to have grown up in the period I did. The ‘60s and the ‘70s were a real breakthrough time in music where bands and artists were really exploring what could be done with music. Bands like the Beatles were taking classical themes, show tune musical themes and folk songs and blending those into a new form of music. It was a time of real innovation. I grew up in that time and was truly inspired by the bands that were doing that, especially the prog rock era of bands like Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant and Supertramp. These bands were incredibly inspirational and instrumental in my musical development.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Ya know, I don’t really look for it. It finds me! [laughs] I don’t have a problem being inspired at all. I work almost every day on music. Lately, I have been working quite a bit on finishing up this trilogy project. It’s something I love. It’s a labor of love and something that never gets dull to me. I can always find something interesting to do or experiment with and there is always new technology to understand and learn how to use as well, which I find incredibly fascinating.
You mentioned the trilogy you have been hard at work on, which is what brought us together today. How did the idea for this trilogy get sparked?
I have always liked the idea of a trilogy to tell a musical story. It makes sense to me and is a classical three-act structure that writers use in plays, films and presentations. I thought it would be the perfect thing to explore a musical concept album with, a story in three acts, so to speak. I had been playing around with the idea for quite a few years but just didn’t have the story. Several years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Europe. We hiked across Spain on the Camino De Santiago pilgrim trail. It is a 500-mile trek across northern Spain. When you are hiking a lot like that, there are lots of hours of solitude that go by where you are just thinking. That is where the story happened. Once I got back to Seattle, I started composing the music to fit the story and haven’t stopped to take much of a breath since! [laughs]
It seems you are always challenging yourself with new material. Did you have goals or aspirations for this trilogy?
I wanted to really pull from my progressive rock roots on this project and really explore the bands and music that influenced me to become a musician. I think that is really quite evident on a lot of the tracks on the two albums so far. I played a lot of the instruments on this record. I also composed a lot of the music, lyrics and vocal melodies as well, so I have a lot to do with the construction of the albums and the writing of it all. On past albums, I haven’t played so much of the instruments but I have written the song and then let other people play. With this new album, I played a lot and I really enjoyed myself quite a bit on that!
You assembled a talented group of musicians for Operation: Mindcrime. What do they bring out in you creatively?
That is a good question. Whenever you have a musical collaboration, there is push and pull, in good collaboration. I will use Kelly Gray and Scott Moughton as examples because they are the two people I have worked the most with on these projects. You play something you have written for them and you hope they get a feel for it right away and that they find it interesting. Sometimes, they find it interesting enough that they want to write to it. So, you hope they become interested in the piece you are writing to become involved with it and, if they can, add something to it. As a composer, sometimes you want people to be part of it and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you want to reinterpret what you have written and give it their twist and sometimes you don’t and you like it just the way it is. It is actually a wonderful position to be in for me because I can give them a song and say, “Well, I like everything about this but I would like this part to be different. What can we do here? Do you have any ideas?” Hopefully, the ideas will start happening and they will say, “Oh, we will change the key here … ” or “I have a part that might fit better here. This is a new section in B flat. Let’s see how that works.” Those kind of ideas and suggestions are always really, really helpful.
There is no question you’re a prolific songwriter. How has the process changed for you over the years?
I would say with the advent of the technology we have today, it has drastically changed everything. You can get so much more detailed in your writing, presentation, recording and mixing. You can get into it on such an intricate level than you ever could before. To me, that is a major change from the way it used to be.
Each project presents a unique set of challenges. What are the biggest obstacles you faced while breathing life into this record?
It has really been the amount of material. Typically, I have taken two years to three years between releases and with this project, it has been one a year. That is a lot of work to do in a year period, where you also have six months of touring in there as well. As you travel around, it becomes more and more difficult to record. The challenge of the amount of material and the deadline of when it has to be released has been the biggest challenge I have had to work with.
When it comes to the songs, I am sure there are those that come easy and others that are harder to nail down. What can you tell us about that in regard to this album?
Yeah! You know, that is true. Some are easy and some are more challenging. Some are more involved and some are more simple. It really depends on the track. I think challenges are good and I enjoy them. I enjoy the challenge of writing a song or a part. There is a song on this record called “Into The Hands of The World” that was very challenging to write because it is a multi-themed piece. A lot of times when you write a song there is one major part and you do variations on that part to make up the different parts of the song. With this track, “Into The Hands of The World,” it’s like four different, drastically different, musical pieces all working as one. The challenge was to link those all together so they made sense, writing bridges in and out.
You have been hard at work on this trilogy. What can we expect from the third act and are you looking beyond that release to whatever might come next?
Yeah, the third is mostly done. We just need to mix and master it. I have been taking a bit of a break from finishing to let my ears rest up and get a different perspective on it before we wrap it up, which will probably be later in the year. Right now, I am concentrating on getting my things together. I have a couple of different tours I am putting together now. That takes a lot of planning and work to get it all operational and up and going.
You show no signs of slowing down when it comes to creating music. How have you evolved as an artist along the way?
I think that if you listen to the albums I have been part of, you can see quite an evolution. I think I am getting more and more adventurous with what I do. I have been getting out of what I have done in the past and I’m stretching toward some other things that are quite a bit different than what people know me for, which I think is a good thing!
Is there a secret to success when it comes to sustaining a career as an artist?
It’s really no secret. I think if you believe you are successful, you are. I tried to explain this to people in the past. There is no ladder of success that you climb. You are just there. There are no steps you climb or platform you reach to be at the pinnacle of everything. It’s not that way. Success is a state of mind. I think the most important thing you can do in life is find something you like doing and then do it. Enjoy your life, enjoy what you do and find pleasure in a positive existence within whatever it is you are doing for a living.
You have seen the music industry change exponentially through the years. What is the best part of being a working musician in this day and age?
It is definitely challenging in today’s industry, what is left of it. I think it has always been challenging to sell records but it is even more challenging nowadays to do that because there are so many different forms of entertainment that grab people’s attention and their hard earned dollar. That is a difficulty and a challenge but, again, it is a good challenge! It’s definitely one I am happy to be part of! I like that aspect of it. You have to figure out how to make the whole darn thing work. It’s like a crossword puzzle with all these missing pieces. Once you get one piece, it kind of leads you to another piece and so forth.
You mentioned some of the tours you have in the works. We are definitely excited about TRINITY. How did that come about and what excites you about the shows?
Blaze Bayley and Tim “Ripper” Owens, who I am performing with in Trinity, are old friends. They are both incredible singers and really, really interesting personalities. The three of us get together and our chemistry is very infectious! We have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs. We like loud music, so we are bringing that on the road. This is one of my dream tours and one where I have always wanted to do this kind of thing. Luckily, these guys were able to work around my schedule and vice versa. We found about 10 days or so that we could tour together, so we are going out as the ex-singers tour — The Trinity. I’m doing material from my days in Queensryche. Blaze, of course, is doing his material from Iron Maiden and Ripper is doing the material he did with Judas Priest. We are just going to go out, throw down and have a great time!
You already have my money, Geoff! I will be there for sure and it sounds like a group of tremendous shows in intimate venues. My final question for you is — What is the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
I don’t know. What I can say about music is that it is a personal journey and we can all find something about it that inspires or moves us. That is not a journey that can be dictated by anyone other than yourself. The music has to connect with you in its own way and we all hear it differently. For me, I think it is interesting to look at an artist’s life’s work, what they have done and where they have been. Typically, the songs they write should be an example of their life, what their interests are, what moves them and what their emotional state is. All those things can be witnessed through an artist’s music. I would think my journey is interesting.
I definitely agree! Thanks for being an inspiration, Geoff! We can’t wait to see where the future takes you!
Thank you, Jason! Talk to you soon!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.