Geoff Tate - Autumn 2018

Released in 1988, Queensrÿche’s Operation:Mindcrime is often considered to be one of the greatest heavy metal concept albums of all time. It would go on to win Album of the Year for both Kerrang! and Sounds music publications and eventually rack up millions in worldwide sales. But this was entirely justified. The record is simply genius both from a pure ‘track by track’ experience and also the overall concept that holds each of those tracks together. 2018 marks the record’s 30th anniversary and we catch up with the man who’s vision and unwavering passion spawned the 15 tracks that would tell the tale of Nikki, a protagonist and recovering drug addict who becomes disillusioned with the corrupt society of his time and reluctantly becomes involved with a revolutionary group as an assassin of political leaders. Geoff Tate continues to be the spellbinding vocalist that brings Operation:Mindcrime alive and throughout 2018 he has been celebrating this incredible album by performing it in its entirety across the world. He’s completed one UK tour already but November sees him returning for part 2 of the celebrations. We catch up with Geoff in Germany where he is resting up and getting ready for the upcoming tour. The mild and sunny German weather provides Geoff with a relaxing sense of contentment, and we can’t help but feel a little jealous as we frown beyond the double-glazing at the torrential British rain. However, it’s easy to contain our envy when we are sat talking to one of the most gifted and important rock vocalists of both the 20th and 21st century. We just hope he brings some of the nice weather with him when he begins his UK tour later this month. He has a made a promise to do so and with the loyalty that exists within the rock circles we believe this promise to be legally binding… 

You are coming back to the UK for the second time in 2018 as part of the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the incredible album Operation Mindcrime. But before we talk about the tour I would like to focus on the music. It’s been 30 years since 1988’s Operation Mindcrime. Does it feel like 30 years?

You know, some days it does and some days it doesn’t. It’s strange. It’s a weird thing getter older and looking around at things you know and things you are very used to, and then also seeing the things that have changed. You don’t know what’s up or what’s down because things have changed, except this constant reminder to pay attention to what’s going on around you, because things change so quickly. I’ll be gone on tour and I’ll go home and go to my favourite restaurant and the entire city block will have gone. They’re making changes and building new stuff. It’s a weird feeling to have a lot of things being so changeable all the time, you know? I guess the older I get, I want things to kinda remain constant but they just don’t! (Laughs!) When it comes to the music it’s an interesting kind of revelation for me to play this album. Every night playing the show it’s brilliant to play the music and to see the audiences coming out and enjoying the music as much as they ever did. I’ve got this great band who plays this music with such enthusiasm that it’s quite infectious to be around and it definitely comes off to the audience that way as something very refreshing. When people play it the way my band does, they play it from the heart, with real precision. And I’m happy with that because when we got together I said ‘Well look, I’m doing this tour and I want to do it a certain way but I want to give you guys the ability to kind of present the music the way you feel it’ because I think it works well when you give people the freedom to do that. But they all felt that they wanted to present it in its original form and they wanted to play it like the recordings were made. So that’s cool too. I enjoy the fact that they took it so seriously and wanted to play it with that kind of perfection. 

Absolutely! And I think it’s really interesting that the band wanted to stay true to the original music because we can’t understate the success and importance of that record. It was - and continues to be – musical perfection, not just for the quality of the individual tracks but also because the concept itself was ingenious. What are your memories of creating that album and the whirlwind of success that followed?

Well I have quite a few memories actually. It was a very pivotal time in my personal life and it became a pivotal time for the band as well. It was one of those kind of record where it had a beginning. It had an origin, and those origins were that I had started working with Queensrÿche and wanted to a concept based record at the beginning and we sort of began working in that direction. I guess The Warning album was our first real test experimenting with themes and theme orientated  music, and I kept pushing the guys to go in this direction that I had envisioned, or at least that I had wanted to try. It took us a few records to get there but when we did it was really an enjoyable process! Everybody, once they got a hold on what we were doing, they really jumped in and participated fully as much as they could given their personalities and instruments. So the concept idea kinda came to me quickly and in a rush. I remember I had gone to the corner store to get some groceries – I was living in Montreal at the time – and across the street from the grocery store was a Catholic church. It was a snowy, dark, cold night in Montreal and I’m standing on the corner before I went into the grocery store and I could hear choir music coming out of the church. It sounded so beautiful that I just wanted to go in and check it out. I sat down and listened to the choir practice and when they finished up and I was just sitting there deciding what I wanted to do and boom! This idea hit me! I grabbed my notebook and pen out of my coat and started furiously writing these ideas down that were flooding in on me. Then I went home and continued working all night and into the next day and immediately had written the outline of the story and started putting together some of the musical ideas for it. The first track was the title track, Operation: Mindcrime, the riff just kinda came to me out of the blue. It became a 6 month project that I worked on solo until I went back to Seattle and met up with the guys where I presented them this idea. Then we all started working on it together at that point, but it was a real flood of images and ideas and words that just hit me all of a sudden. I love it when that happens – it’s happened to me several times throughout my life but that was the first big one that happened.

It’s wonderful to hear how that one chance event created an inspiration for something that would become such an incredibly successful album. Even now 30 years on, it’s an entirely gripping experience.

I find that those kind of situations are interesting because as a writer you have these ideas in your head, in the back of your head and in your subconscious, and there are things you are thinking about for a while, and then all of a sudden there’s a catalyst that jolts them into reality. You don’t ever know what they’re going to be but of all of a sudden – boom! – all these ideas that you’ve got in your head that you’ve been sitting on just kind of  flood out and you write it all down or you play it all down and record it. It’s an interesting process and when you recognise that it’s happening, the best thing you can do is get it out of the way and let it happen, and try to put yourself in a situation where you’re not going to be interrupted or have to stop, because often times once you stop before you get to a certain point, you can never get back there again. It’s best to get it all out for as long as that takes and then start piecing it all together and working on it from there.

You mentioned that you happened to have with you and notebook and pen. Is that something you still do now so that you are always ready to capture the next idea?

Yes. Well I was a Boy Scout and the Boy Scout motto was always Be Prepared! (Laughs!) I have a note book with paper and pen, and I have several different kinds of recording devices with me at all times so I can quickly dictate or sing something into a player. If I’m around a piano I can knock out the melody or chord progression that comes out really quickly. I always have a little satchel that I carry around with me that has all my vital stuff that I need! (Laughs!)

So the celebrations began in the UK earlier this year when you toured Part 1 of the 30th anniversary tour. Unsurprisingly this was a hugely successful sold out tour. What were the highlights for you?

Oh gosh! Well, all the shows were really well attended and there was a really great feeling in the air. It was a bit nostalgic in the sense that there were a lot of people in the audience who felt that this was their album and they wanted to be part of it again and see it again. So there’s a lot of grey-haired peopled out there! (Laughs!) A lot of people brought their kids which was interesting. I guess a lot of people share their music and their musical choices with their kids and it’s great bonding time. I’ve done that with my kids too. The band played really well and there was a great spirit in the air. It was a lovely tour with a lot of energy and a lot of smiles which is a good thing. 

So you’re coming back to the UK for another tour, and this is quite an extensive tour that will see you perform 15 consecutive shows – and these shows will be immediately after you play 11 shows in Germany. Playing consecutive shows is always a challenge for any musician but for a vocalist 26  shows sounds like an incredibly punishing schedule. How do you prepare for and survive a tour of this magnitude?

Well I’m kind of an anomaly when it comes to that sort of thing. I get stronger as I go. It’s like an athlete I guess. You develop these muscles - you know, the more you use them the better they are. As long as you don’t mis-use them then you’re okay. I don’t like to take days off. I like to keep the tour rolling and the energy levels up. I thrive in that kind of environment so for me it’s not that difficult, you know. As long as I don’t get sick! If I get sick then it changes everything. Then it can become a real nightmare because now instead of throwing yourself into the performance, you’re a little reserved because you’re being careful and having to approach certain musical passages differently because, say you’ve got pneumonia or something like that, and your whole heads full. That affects you’re vocal chords and the way you would approach a note so you’ve got to change it up a little bit. It becomes a little bit more challenging that way. But I’ve been lucky. I’ve only missed 6 shows in my entire career. I’ve only had to cancel 6 times so that’s a pretty good record I guess.

One of the hardest things about touring must be being away from family. However, you will have your daughter Emily joining you in the UK with her band Till Death Do Us Part – a phenomenal band I have to say who I believe are doing something really special and really different. What does it mean to have Emily out on tour with you?

Well, I agree with you (about the music). They’ve had one record out and they’re working on their second and I’ve heard a few tracks that are just stellar! I’m in love with that one as well and it’s not even out yet! I think she’s got a very special project there and I really, really like the band a lot. It’s been wonderful watching her grow as a performer and see her get her confidence and experiment with finding out who she is and how she delivers herself. I can remember throwing my hands up in the air and saying ‘Either you want it or you don’t’. But her Mom worked with her just tirelessly to get her confidence level up and to help with the crippling stage fright she had at one point. She could barely even stand on a stage. Now you would never know it looking at her – the way she performs with just complete abandonment. She’s got no kind of fear at all! She’s just fearless! She has her mother to thank for that because her mother never gave up on her like I did. I just figured ‘Either you’re going to do this or you’re not. There’s no half way. You can either want it so badly that you have to do it….’ and that’s what she’s become – that performer who has to do it. That’s who she is. It means a lot having her out and she also joins me during the song Sweet Sister Mary and plays the part of Mary and just nails it every night. She’s just really good! 

It’s really interesting to hear that backstory because when you say she had a crippling stage fright, you would never know! I just think she creates a really intoxicating mood with her gorgeous vocals. She is doing something really special here and this will be a real highlight for the tour.

And that’s not all! There is an opening act before Till Death Do Us Part who’s a fantastic musician and personal friend of mine, Mark Daley. He’s an Irish singer-songwriter and he’s just put out his first album and it’s a stellar album, just beautifully done. My friend Kelly Gray, who used to be with with Queensrÿche, produced and recorded the album with Mark, so he’s opening for the whole tour and I’m really looking forward to that too. He’s a phenomenal singer-songwriter. 

Finally, as 2018 draws to a close, what plans are emerging for 2019 and might this include new music?

I have some new music that I’m planning on releasing, I believe in 2019, but primarily my focus is going to be on touring in 2019. I’m finishing up my touring at Christmas and then taking break. I think I have a month of dates in January/February, and then I begin what I think will be quite an odyssey performing with (German Supergroup) Avantasia. I will performing with them on their 2019 world tour in 2019. I sang some songs on their new record Moon Glow. So it should prove to be quite an interesting tour! They’re going everywhere possible so I think I’ll be living out of a suitcase for the next year.

As our conversation draws to a close we reflect on what incredible year 2018 has been to celebrate one of the most important rock albums ever made, Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime. Geoff Tate touring the UK and playing the album and its entirety is truly a gift that can’t be refused. There may not be any tickets left for his imminent UK tour but it’s with the highest of recommendations that we urge you to track down any last remaining ticket that might be available. This truly is a show that should not be missed!

Enjoy the video below for Eyes Of A Stranger, the closing track from the album, as a reminder of what made this record so special.