Geoff Tate, 2010

Written & Photo by: Jason Perlman

 

From what I’ve read about American Soldier and how the album was created was that you talked to a ton of veterans and then tried to interpret their stories.  For someone who’s written your own personal point of view for so long, how hard was it for you to disassociate yourself, somewhat, from what you were writing to really try to tell the story and not put your own interpretation into it too much?
That was really the exercise, was to stay out of the way and really focus on telling their story and it was really quite a different record for us and very refreshing to, sort of, get outside of yourself for a while and live somebody else’s life.  I’ll tell you, the whole exercise was really…it really happened because of the interviews.  You know, you sit in the studio and you watch these video tapes of people telling their story, or listen to the audio tapes, and you can’t help but become inspired by that musically.  It was sort of like writing to a film, in a sense, each song became like a scene that you try to interpret the emotions of that person and what they were going through, you know, musically.

 

One of the things that drew me to the band, especially when Mindcrime came out was that record really spoke to me and my point of view.  Did you think when you wrote that record that long ago that it would be this relevant? Were you more optimistic then that some of those issues that you talked about would not be still at the forefront today?
Yeah. I think that those issues are ones that are ongoing in our society.  We’re always trying to keep a handle on being involved and making the right decisions and having sort of a global picture.  It’s sort of a shocking revelation when you start looking around and you realize that nobody’s really watching what goes on, you know, and people are making decisions that really affect your life and you start asking yourself ‘Is that a good decision?’  ‘Is that really making things better?’ or ‘Who is this benefiting?’ and ‘Who put that person in charge in the first place and why are they there?  What kind of credentials do they have?’ or ‘What kind of record do they have with the decision making process?’  It’s pretty shocking, how many things get past us all because we’re all busy trying to live our lives and our dreams and pursue our goals, you know, there’s just not time in the day to watch everybody’s back and make sure everybody’s doing a good job.

 

Because of Mindcrime and Mindcrime II there’s a perception out there of the political point of view of you and the band and doing American Soldier, it seems to me like you really try to disassociate yourself from any political point of view.  Is it frustrating to see someone assume that you’re writing an antiwar record and not just retelling the stories of veterans?
Well, you know, I learned a long time ago that people interpret what it is you do in so many different ways, especially art.  You can ask twelve different people what a certain painting means and they’re all going to give you a different viewpoint and it’s the same with a song, there are so many different ways you can interpret it.  I think foolish to think that everybody’s going to get your point of view and people make snap judgments on things, inaccurate judgments on things.  I’ve had people tell me that they thought that I was a real left-winger and I’ve had people tell me that I seem like I’m a real right-winger as well.  So, where am I in that context, you know, what’s real?  I think that a lot of times people forget that Mindcrime especially is a story of characters. And the characters have a certain background and they have a certain way of looking at the world and that’s not necessarily my point of view, that’s the character that’s speaking.  During the Mindcrime tour a couple of years ago, the Nicky character, which is me, holds up this sign that says, ‘Would someone give bush a blowjob so that we can impeach him?’ People were taking that as a real leftist point of view. Well, yeah, that’s what the character is all about.  He’s completely rebellious and no matter who’s in charge of the government he’s going to be against them.  But a lot of times people forget that that’s the character talking.

 

Reading that American Soldier really started after you started talking to your dad and finding out stories of his experiences, personally, what did that really mean?  What was that like for you, personally, being able to finally hear your dad talk about things that he just never spoke about before? 
Well, it really changed our relationship quite a bit.  I found out a piece of his life that he never would share and talk about so I didn’t know that about him, I didn’t know what he did or what his experiences were like and the sacrifices he made and what his viewpoint was on things regarding war and his experience so by talking about it I got to know him better.  I saw what kind of man he was.  I mean, I always knew, generally, what kind of guy he was but this really opened him up to me.  It really was the starting point of this record…was, wow, my dad went through this and what an interesting story he had.  And there must be other interesting stories as well that people experienced in war, it must be a very difficult thing.  It really became interesting to me and then the aspect of…you know, as a kid, when my dad came back from Vietnam I was ten and he came back very much changed from his experience.  And by not talking about it there becomes this sort of gulf between you and he’s acting differently and so as a kid you sort of put that blame on yourself - ‘Well, my dad is different now and maybe it’s because of me or something I did or something I said.  Did he interpret some things incorrectly?’ and I think that happens a lot with military families.  One of the great things about this record that I’m discovering…people keep writing letters to us and telling us when we make appearances that this record has really helped them in regards to their relationships in their family with people in the family that have been in the military and have had a war experience.  It helps them understand where they’ve been, what they’ve done and what they’ve thought about it and what they’ve felt.  And it would really open things up for people, it becomes like this conversation starter, you know, people would give the record to their dad or their mom or their kids and say, you know, ‘Listen to this.  Is this what you had?  Is this what you experienced?’  And that starts a dialogue which can really work to help people repair any issues they might have had.  So, that’s a really great thing about this record that I’m really proud of.

 

Is that something that you thought about going in; how others would react to what you were doing? 
Well, I don’t think you can really foresee what will happen when you make art, you just follow your muse and your interests and you try to create something that moves you or reflects a feeling you have and my feelings were very strong on the subject and my interest was very keen on discovering more about it.  When I first started the interviews I was incredibly awkward and had a very difficult time asking questions.  It was something that kind of developed over time, I learned how to navigate the interview concept and try to dig deep because at first I was getting a lot of yes and no answers and maybes and non-committals and, man, it was really difficult to get that information out of people, as I’m sure you’ve probably experienced.  I’ve had a few of those as well but usually those, I think, may have been induced by some other substances or something…I don’t know but…I don’t know, but I learned a lot in the process and I love it when I get involved with a project where it expands my mind and my world view.

 

Going through this process of, maybe not just interviewing, but, trying to write from someone else’s point of view.  Is this something that you foresee maybe trying to expand in the future or do you think that the next piece of writing is going to go back to really what you have to say?
Well, I’m working on that.  I’m working on a project right now that is pretty much my world view in sixty minutes and it’s all based around things that piss me off and irritate me. It’s a bit of a rant.  But for Queensryche, we tend to focus more on worldly subjects.  We’re working on another project right now but it’s really in its infancy.

 

You mentioned doing this for twenty-some-odd years and now that you’ve got, obviously, a ton of material and I’m sure that every show you go to there are people who want to hear things from every record, from the most obscure to the most popular.  How hard is it, or is it now, somewhat easy to put a tour together and say, ok, this is what we’re going to do, let’s go do it?
Well, I tell ya, it’s always a challenge when we get ready to tour deciding on what we’re going to play.  This year we hit on a real good idea, we actually asked our fans through our website what they wanted us to play, in conjunction with the new album and they picked two of our records – Rage For Order and Empire.  So, what we did is we made up two separate set lists that comprised all the songs from these three records and what we do is we alternate every night.  That way, when people come to multiple shows they have the ability to see and hear all the songs from those three records and that seems to really be going over well.

 

Were you surprised at all by the fans response to what they wanted to hear?
Not really surprised but I think all of us were excited about the challenge of breaking out a lot of this old stuff and re-familiarizing ourselves with it because we have this band thing where we’ve finished a record and nobody ever listens to it - ever.  It becomes one of the things you put in your collection and you never reference it anymore and unless you forget how to do something, but that doesn’t happen very often.  In fact, kind of a comedy moment for us was when we had set a date to get together and rehearse for the tour and so we show up and come to find out no one has referenced the older material, you know, nobody’s listened to it which is kind of surprising yet not surprising.  We started playing it any way and it was amazing how much of that stuff you retain in your head.  Stuff you haven’t even thought about in twenty years, all of the sudden you remember all the parts and you’re playing it like you just played it yesterday.  Pretty amazing…how the mind works.  Yet I can’t remember my phone number.

 

I guess that’s a problem with having very intelligent fans is that they can actually point those things out. 
Yeah, a lot of people can… I like that fact.  I celebrate the fact that our fans are, for the most part, pretty responsible, intelligent people who dig what we do and they reference, they live and breathe it.  To some of them, of course, it’s the background music to their life.  They remember what they were doing the first time they heard a particular song.  That’s a wonderful thing, especially when you’re performing and you see the reaction you get from people and what that song means to them.  To me, music has always been this incredibly powerful communication tool when you talk about things that are important to you or bugging you or the things that you love and celebrate that other people might feel the same way about that, it’s sort of an acknowledgment.  Yeah, we’re all different but we’re all very similar in a lot of ways.

 

Obviously, as you just said, your music to speak and communicate a message or at least what you’re feeling or the stories of these soldiers.  I’ve seen a ton of music out there that really doesn’t relate that much at all.  Do you think that there’s a place for both or do you really think that music should have a certain commentary to it.
Well, I’ll tell ya, pop music just really changed over the years.  When I was growing up people really took it seriously.  The late sixties and the seventies were a pivotal point in our country as far as the youth becoming involved with a social situations and politics and things like that.  The music was of that generation and they were talking about things that were important and they wanted to see change, they wanted to see things better and then somewhere along the way it all got kind of trivialized and put into a context of vulgarity.  Pretty much, every song was about sex and dancing and I think definitely that that kind of stuff has a place, you know, but, man, can’t we think about something else other than that?  Why not use this beautiful art form to really talk about issues and make things better?  The more we talk about things the more we have the ability to really understand and know the different perspectives and the more we understand about a subject the more we can work to change things and make things better for people.

 

I don’t want to get too deep into this because I think we could probably spend five hours discussing this and although we’d be on the same page, we probably won’t get anywhere, but because you’re in the industry or however you want to phrase it, do you think that the artists do have something to say just that maybe the labels aren’t…or the radio aren’t playing them or do you really think that sort of where it’s gone that there just aren’t as many artists who want to do that or feel that or feel the need to do that?
I think that there’s tremendous pressure on artists to not say anything but just to make cute little dumb songs about catchy wordplay with a tremendous amount of pressure on people, musicians.  And, you know, radio doesn’t care anything for music, never have, they’re not about music, they’re about selling advertising and, so, you always have to remember that, that they’re not out to break in new artists or leaping to better the industry.  They’re just selling advertising time and trying to appeal to a demographic.  And record companies are basically gone.  The whole industry has been gutted by piracy.  If this kind of piracy happened in any other industry there would be government subsidizing, there’d be lobbing going on…I mean, we’re talking a 95 percent loss in sales due to downloading.  It just hasn’t changed over the last ten years, it’s gotten worse.  You know, the same thing is happening now to the movie industry and the book industry and pretty soon there’s not going to be any royalties being paid for intellectual property.  I don’t know what that’s going to do to the state of things.  It’s pretty scary, but at the same time, my perspective, of course, is based on someone that has made a living doing this.  So now that whole structure that was in place that worked so well for so long doesn’t exist anymore so you have to find ways of making a living other than what you’ve normally done and that’s exciting and challenging but, at the same time, it’s pretty scary, too.

 

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