I remember now...
I can't recall the first time I listened to Queensryche. It was either 1987 or 1988,
likely either Rage for Order or Operation: Mindcrime. But once I did,
my musical world was never the same. Like many, I was into Bon Jovi and
Whitesnake at the time. But when I heard Queensryche's powerful blend of
expert musicianship, operatic vocals and more serious and thoughtful lyrical
content, I was hooked for good.
At the time, I had no idea who the musicians were – I didn't care. All I knew
was that the music spoke to me. One of many fond memories was being
12 years old, just starting 7th Grade in fall 1988 and "speaking the word"
of how great Queensryche was to all who would listen. I got made fun of by
guys who were into Def Leppard and some other acts that were more "pop" back then.
But as 1989 came around and the video for "Eyes of a Stranger" debuted and exploded up the charts on MTV, those same guys stopped me in the hallways to tell me that I was right about Queensryche and how much they rocked. It felt good during those awkward pre-teen years to be vindicated. Anyone who is reading this can probably share a similar story. The point is, Queensryche meant something to those who discovered them. In an era where popular hard rock consisted of simplistic, poppy guitar riffs with messages about tits and ass, Queensryche straddled the line between progressive rock and heavy metal and made you think with their lyrics.
Over time, Queensryche would go on to huge mainstream success and like many bands of their era, would suffer once the grunge movement – ironically coming out of Queensryche's hometown – took root. Ultimately, the original five-member lineup of the band would fracture in late 1997, as guitarist Chris DeGarmo departed, leaving fellow axeman Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson, drummer Scott Rockenfield, and vocalist Geoff Tate to fend for themselves.
The four would go forward with a host of replacement guitarists over the years. While the appeal of the music those lineups produced depends on individual taste, most fans would agree that Queensryche was never the same. The band's sound was a songwriting mixture of Tate's progressive leanings; DeGarmo's sense of melody and ability to put together complex, interesting arrangements; and Wilton's aggressive guitar riffs. (Not to mention a very underrated and nuanced rhythm section between Jackson and Rockenfield.)
Much has happened to Queensryche in the years since DeGarmo's initial departure and the original lineup's aborted reunion attempt in 2002-2003. Most notably, Jackson, Rockenfield and Wilton kicked Tate out of the band in 2012, resulting in a vicious lawsuit between Tate and his former bandmates. Ultimately, the rights to the name Queensryche ended up in the hands of the three remaining founding members of the band, and a new lead singer took up the formidable task of replacing Tate.
With the drama that ensued from the lawsuit and many years of conflict between the members, I've found that the history of Queensryche's original lineup has been swept under the carpet to a degree. While fans can look up the basics of Queensryche's history on Wikipedia, the account is written for an audience to surf in, grab what they need and go. The passion fans had for the band in the 1980s and early 1990s isn't there, and the nuances in Queensryche's story isn't represented in that account.
My hope is that AnybodyListening.net changes that. This site is written with the goal of connecting the reader with the feelings they had when they first discovered Queensryche in those early years of the band. And if you came on-board after the original lineup disbanded, this biography might give you a taste of why Queensryche was so different than their contemporaries during their peak and just why the band was heralded by fans and peers.
Someone once told me that fans had a "romantic view" of how a band creates music. Technically, that person was right, of course, but doesn't music exist as a release for both the artist and the audience? It's a business, but for those who develop a rabid affinity for a particular work, the words and music speak to them on a level that can't be properly described.
The music the original lineup of Queensryche poured out of their souls did that for me, you, and thousands of others across the world. As Queensryche now finds itself without two of the three primary songwriters from that golden period, I believe it's important to have the original band's story preserved and presented.
So kick back, throw on the EP, The Warning, Rage for Order, Operation: Mindcrime, Empire, Promised Land, Hear in the Now Frontier, and those moments on Tribe where Queensryche was fully reunited, and travel back down the roads to madness with me. Take Hold!
Chapter I - Before the Storm
Editor's Note: The first two sections of the narrative draws heavily from Northwest metal historian Brett Miller's personal account of Queensr˙che's formation, first published in the late 1990s and later hosted exclusively by AnybodyListening.net. Miller was close friends with Chris DeGarmo in high school and was a highly-regarded musician and promoter in the Seattle area. Thank you for your generosity, Brett.
The musicians of Queensr˙che derive from a host of local Seattle area groups in the late-1970s. Michael Wilton founded the band Joker in 1978 with friends from Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash. Chris DeGarmo joined Joker in 1979, marking the first time the future Queensr˙che guitar duo would join forces.
Joker was fronted by Paul Passarelli, who was considered the "David Lee Roth" of Bellevue according to Brett Miller, a northwest metal historian. Passarelli currently fronts the Mike McCready (of Pearl Jam fame) UFO tribute band called "Flight to Mars."
Around the same time, Geoff Tate – then known as Jeffrey Wayne Tate, or "Jeff Waterfall" – came onto the scene, fronting the band Tyrant. Tate impressed the local metal crowd with his operatic wails, reminiscent of Rob Halford of Judas Priest, and a versatile four-octave range. Tate was classically trained by the late Maestro David Kyle, a world renowned vocal instructor and teacher. Joker and Tyrant both entered a local "Battle of the Bands" at Lake Hills Roller Rink in Bellevue. Joker was dismissed in the first round, while Tyrant (also known for guitarist Adam Brenner) advanced to the finals.
Tyrant featured a variety of Van Halen cover songs and Tate was especially noticed for Tyrant's version of the Rainbow classic "Man on the Silver Mountain." Tyrant would lose to Ridge, featuring vocalist Ted Pilot, drummer Ken Mary and guitarist Ed Archer. Ridge would change its name to Fifth Angel a few years later and sign a seven record deal with Epic Records.
Tyrant disbanded following the event. Brenner told Miller in an interview years later that he and the members of Tyrant "were rock kids and only played metal," and that "Geoff was trying to get us to play more progressive stuff like Yes & Genesis." Brenner would later go on to change his name to "Adam Bomb" and signed a deal with Geffen Records in 1985.
Tate wasn't the only future member of Queensr˙che without a band. DeGarmo was let go from Joker and replaced by guitarist Jeff Olson. Miller speculates that it had a lot to do with gear – Olson had high-end equipment and his own PA system, while DeGarmo had to borrow amps to play shows.
Joker's profile went up following DeGarmo's departure. The band got bookings across the state at local junior high and high schools doing heavy metal cover songs such as Judas Priest's "Hell Bent for Leather."
DeGarmo would resurface shortly thereafter, however. He joined Tempest – a band fronted by singer/bassist Mark Hovland. DeGarmo's playing ability improved during this time, as the group attracted attention by doing covers of KISS songs and other hard rock acts. Eventually, they'd be joined by drummer Mark Welling, and the trio branched out on their own, under the moniker of D-H-W – DeGarmo-Hovland-Welling.
By the time the 1979-1980 school year came to an end, however, both D-H-W and Joker broke up. Welling had teamed up with Tate's progressive rock group called Babylon and Joker simply ran its course.
Meanwhile, Wilton had graduated high school and enrolled in the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle to study music. During this time, he met future Queensr˙che drummer Scott Rockenfield at Easy Street Records. The two decided to start a band and called themselves CROSS+FIRE. The duo were heavily influenced by Iron Maiden, according to Miller.
The group began recruiting a bass player, ultimately landing a high school friend of Rockenfield named Eddie Jackson. They added James Nelson on second guitar and went on to play local parties without a singer. Eventually Wilton reached out to DeGarmo and asked if he and Hovland wanted to play. They agreed, with DeGarmo replacing Nelson and Hovland becoming the singer. CROSS+FIRE played a few shows, but Hovland quit the band due to commuting issues from the Renton, Wash., area.
It's now 1981. A singer-less CROSS+FIRE had now renamed itself "The Mob" after the Black Sabbath song "The Mob Rules." The lineup now featured DeGarmo and Wilton on guitars, Jackson on bass and Rockenfield on drums.
Miller offered The Mob, Babylon, and TKO the three prime-time slots for METALFEST '81, a show he was promoting. The gig took place on Sept. 19, 1981, at the Lake Hills Roller Rink (billing itself as "The Palace") in Bellevue.
The Mob couldn't find a singer on short notice, so they asked Tate to stand in with them for the show. Tate agreed, figuring it would be cool to sing with two bands in one night (Babylon went on three hours after The Mob). The decision delighted local metal fans. After seeing Tate with Tyrant a couple of years earlier, people wanted to hear him sing heavy metal songs again, Miller explained. He called Tate "truly a local rock star" that everyone knew as the best singer around.
Miller picks up the story here:
"Showing up for The Mob's performance, Tate nonchalantly dressed down wearing gray sweatpants and a leather vest to perform in … When he got up to play that awesome set of metal covers with The Mob, the crowd's reaction was the biggest of the night. My personal favorite song that night was 'Victim of Changes' by Judas Priest, delivered letter-perfect by Tate. The Mob also played 'Murders in the Rue Morgue,' 'Running Free' and 'Wrathchild' by Iron Maiden and letter perfect versions of "Animal Magnetism" and "Sails of Charon" by the Scorpions, among others.
I wasn't a big Iron Maiden fan myself at the time, but it was amazing how the crowd and I were absolutely swept away with their performance that night. Tate was also noticeably impressed by the reaction."
After METALFEST '81 concluded, Babylon – which had a stable of all original progressive rock songs in the vein of Genesis and King Crimson – broke up, leaving Tate once again without a band. The Mob went on to play a couple of parties with Tate, but he wouldn't commit to them. His heart was in progressive music, not heavy metal.
But the response The Mob received at METALFEST '81 galvanized DeGarmo, Jackson, Rockenfield and Wilton. The quartet hunkered down over the next several months in Rockenfield's parents' garage to hone their playing skills and write original music.
Chapter II - The EP Era (1982-1983)
The Mob spent months rehearsing and working multiple jobs to save up enough money to record a four-song EP at Triad Studios in Redmond, Wash. The Mob still couldn't find a singer, but called up Tate and asked if he could lay down the vocal tracks. Tate agreed and the band scheduled five consecutive "graveyard shifts" at the studio, Monday through Friday.
At the time, Geoff was in the band MYTH (with guitarist Kelly Gray and keyboardist Randy "Random Damage" Gane, who would later play roles in Queensr˙che's history). Predictably, Tate's MYTH bandmates were apprehensive about their singer cutting a record with The Mob. Tate convinced them that in the long-run, having professional experience in a studio would be beneficial to all of them.
The Mob had three completed songs – "Queen of the Reich," "Nightrider," and "Blinded." They also had one song with all the music complete, but no lyrics. That tune would ultimately be called "The Lady Wore Black." Tate wrote the lyrics for it prior to recording the song.
Miller picks up the narrative here:
"I was in the studio the night that Jeff laid down the vocal tracks for 'The Lady Wore Black.' He needed to set the mood, so Jeff had the lights turned off and sang with a single candle burning in the studio. While waiting for his first verse to come up, he whistled along with the opening guitar not realizing they were taping him. He told them it was not meant for the recording, but everyone agreed it was good, so they kept it. What a cool thing to have seen!
About a week or two after they finished the recordings, Chris DeGarmo showed up at a party at Brett Umbedacht's house acting very suspiciously. He came over to me and quietly asked if I wanted to hear his new recording out in the car. I, of course, said yes and we went out to the Ford Pinto wagon he had recently bought from Scottie Duehn.
Much like the soaring wail at the beginning of Deep Purple's 'Highway Star,' once I heard the opening chords of 'Queen of the Reich' and Tate's soaring opening note, my jaw dropped to the floorboard.
I couldn't believe how professional their recording was. How well thought out every part of it was down to the sequencing and segueing between songs. After the end of 'The Lady Wore Black,' I couldn't find the words to say to Chris, other than to say 'it was awesome.' None of the local bands in town had ever recorded anything that sounded this good out-of-the-box."
Once complete, the EP generated a lot of local buzz in the Seattle scene. The Mob spent almost a year shopping it to labels, but came up empty. Eventually, Kim and Diana Harris, the owners of Easy Street Records, convinced the four members to sign a management contract with them.
At that point, The Mob also changed its name to "Queensr˙che" due to another band having the rights to "The Mob." DeGarmo, Jackson, Rockenfield and Wilton chose the new name after a song DeGarmo had written called "Queen of the Reich," changing "reich" to "r˙che" in order to avoid any association with the Nazi Party.
Queensr˙che had the EP pressed on its own "206 Records" label. The EP sold thousands of copies through word of mouth and the underground, finally attracting the attention of magazines and major labels. Queensr˙che pressured Tate to leave MYTH, but he was reluctant out of loyalty to MYTH. However, after the Queensr˙che EP received a stellar review in KERRANG!, album sales shot through the roof, which convinced Tate to leave MYTH and join Queensr˙che.
The band secured an opening slot for Zebra for two shows in Portland and Seattle during late June 1983. EMI Records came calling quickly afterwards, signing the band to a seven-album record deal and launching Queensr˙che's major-label recording career, leading to opening slots for headliners Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, and Dio in the fall of 1983. They returned home for the holidays to start work on the band's first full-length album.
Chapter III - The Warning Era (1984-1985)
Once Queensryche returned from supporting its debut EP, the band had plenty of material written for its first full-length record, The Warning. The band hooked up with noted Pink Floyd producer James Guthrie and recorded Queensryche's first album in London, England. Inspired lyrically by world events and George Orwell's "1984," the album showed a more progressive sound than the EP, while retaining Queensryche's core heavy metal roots.
The recording sessions for The Warning also marked the beginning of Queensryche's relationship with the late composer Michael Kamen, who led the orchestration on the album. In addition, working with a high profile producer like Guthrie led to a number of surprise visits to the studio, including Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, and Jimmy Page - the latter being a huge thrill for guitarist Chris DeGarmo, a big fan of the Led Zeppelin guitarist.
The tour supporting The Warning had Queensryche on the road from August 1984 until July 1985, concluding with a number of headline appearances in California, where they would debut "Neue Regel," a song written on the road for the band's next album, Rage for Order. While primarily touring as an opening act (Queensryche again supported Dio, and also toured with Kiss and Iron Maiden, among others), a strong underground fanbase developed outside of Queensryche's Seattle home, leading to sporadic headline appearances during the year.
Chapter IV - The Rage for Order Era (1986-1987)
Queensryche's 1986 release, Rage for Order, employed an interesting three-tiered lyrical theme, along with an equally layered and complex musical structure. Heralded by fans, Rage for Order is considered by many to be one of the defining albums of the sub-genre now known as "progressive heavy metal." It was produced by Neil Kernon.
Kernon said in an interview with this author in 2007 that drums for Rage for Order were recorded in an office park in Bellevue, Wash. He explained by recording it in such a large space with a mobile recording truck, it helped give the record a "big bashy" drum sound. Kernon brought in Le Mobile truck from Montreal that he had used on many live albums and several other studio albums, including Kansas' Drastic Measures, and Dokken's Under Lock and Key.
"We wanted [Rage for Order] to be uncompromisingly cold sonically," Kernon said.
Queensryche already had most of the material well-constructed and arranged before the band hit the studio. But EMI Records was focused on getting a lot of radio airplay out of Rage for Order. What could have been a tense artist versus business situation was mediated by Kernon, who had the job of working with the band to balance what they wanted musically with the label's demands. A few tweaks were made to the song demoes and a decision was made to cover a track by Canadian singer Lisa Dal Bello.
"[Pre-production] took a while, during which time I slowly emphasized to them the importance of concise songs for radio. There was no need to trim all the songs down to 3:45, but we needed several to be able to have an album campaign with some legs," Kernon said. "So, we all talked about it and decided that we'd like one more song that was quirky and had single potential. We didn't want something that was out and out poppy, but something that had the potential to be dark and weird, but was still catchy. Lisa [Dal Bello's] song was suggested and we all loved that idea. We chose "Gonna Get Close to You" over "Wait for an Answer," which Heart went on to record a while later."
Kernon's favorite cut from Rage for Order, however, was -- and continues to be -- "Screaming in Digital," featuring the point-counterpoint lyrics of a man and a computer with artificial intelligence that has developed a personal relationship with its owner.
"There was something magical about the vibe to that song for me -- really nasty, tense, hi-tech," Kernon recalled. "I think it symbolized [Rage for Order] for me. The only thing I had to suggest for that song was to make it longer - the demo the band played me was less than half the length of the final version, so we needed to flesh it out a bit. I still love that song."
Kernon also played keyboards on Rage for Order, recording the parts for "Screaming in Digital" and "Neue Regel." But some of his fondest memories were from recording the sound effects.
Kernon, in his own words:
"One of my favorite [moments] was in recording 'Chemical Youth.' While Whip and I were tracking his lead guitars I had told him that shouting through the guitar pickup could make an interesting sound. So, once the [lead guitar] had been completed, we set about tracking some shouting through the amp via the pickup. Michael, in his inimitable way, decided to do an impression of Vivian from the Young Ones and started shouting 'Neil, you bastard' at the top of his voice, while I recorded the result onto some blank tape for use at a later date.
"He was crouching on the floor screaming this insult over and over again when the door burst open and in rushed several of the studio staff, the studio manager and receptionist etc. all looking very alarmed. We just looked at them standing there, and they just asked 'Err…is everything ok? We thought there was a fight going on.
"I was [also] apprehended by the Vancouver police while recording Geoff doing burnouts in his car, in the underground parking lot of our hotel. They said we had to stop as there had been some concern from tenants. I was, meanwhile, armed with loads of mobile recording gear, all strapped to me, so we assured the cops that we'd stop, but instead waited a while and did more once they'd left. By the way, all of these bits, the tire-squealing and the shouting were all used on the album."
The tour to support Rage for Order had Queensryche opening for some big acts, including Bon Jovi and Ozzy Osbourne, even if the band didn't quite fit in stylistically with those bands at the time. Queensryche also brought a sixth musician along on tour – keyboardist Randy "Random Damage" Gane. Tate's former MYTH bandmate played off-stage. The tour spanned approximately seven months and by the end, Queensryche were able to squeeze in some headline shows that further expanded its fan base. That included two sold-out performances on Feb. 13-14, 1987, at L'Amours East in New York, one of the more high profile clubs in the Big Apple for hard rock and metal acts.
Chapter V - The Operation: Mindcrime Era (1988-1989)
After toying with themes on both of its previous albums, Queensryche finally tackled a full-on concept record, delivering an album and story fans and critics put on-par with legendary recordings such as Pink Floyd's The Wall and The Who's Tommy. That album is the much-heralded Operation: Mindcrime.
Operation: Mindcrime is considered a heavy metal masterpiece by most critics and recently landed in the top 100 prog albums of all time, as voted by the readers of Prog magazine. The album features Geoff Tate's operatic vocal range in full effect, displaying the tension and emotion of both Nikki and Dr. X. Ripping guitar leads by Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton – both solo and harmonized – are in abundance, while Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield's pounding rhythm section enhances the story's drama. Lyrically, the concept was the brainchild of Tate, who got inspired during his time living in Montreal during 1987 and his observations of a terrorist group while in the city.
Operation: Mindcrime begins with the spoken word cut "I Remember Now," where the main character, Nikki, reflects on his memories of getting involved in a revolutionary group led by "Dr. X." Throughout the opening salvo of "Anarchy-X," "Revolution Calling" and the title track, Nikki becomes an assassin and protester for the organization. As the story progresses, Nikki starts a relationship with a prostitute-turned-nun named Mary.
On the album, Tate and a local singer by the name of Pamela Moore sing the vocals of Nikki and Mary, respectively. Moore was contacted by Queensryche to record the vocal parts for Sister Mary after the band discovered her doing radio and television commercials for a music store she was working at part time in the late 1980s.
In an interview with this author, Moore categorized the experience as "a whirlwind." She remembers getting a call from DeGarmo about the part of Mary and then flying to Montreal the next day, where Operation: Mindcrime was being recorded. Tate and DeGarmo explained the album concept and the Mary character to Moore, handed her a cassette of the song "Suite Sister Mary," and the next day she cut vocals for the track.
"Geoff's vocals were already recorded, so I recorded my parts separately," Moore said. "I think the first time we ever sang the song together was when I toured with them on the [Building Empires] tour."
"Nothing can ever compare to the adrenaline rush you get singing in front of so many fans," she added. "It was then I realized how fortunate I was to have been able to participate in something so special."
As the Operation: Mindcrime storyline moves along, the bond deepens between Mary and Nikki. Dr. X then orders Nikki to kill both the priest and Sister Mary, fearing both had too much knowledge of his revolutionist plans. Mary dies, but the band was coy on how it happened. Was it Nikki? Did someone else kill her? The answer was revealed in Video: Mindcrime, a home video (later re-released on DVD in a special edition of Operation: Mindcrime). If you let the video go past the credits, the answer to the riddle can be found.
The approximate hour-long tale concludes with the epic "Eyes of a Stranger." At the end of the song, Nikki brings the story full-circle, saying "I remember now," harkening back to the opening track, leaving the listener to wonder whether the events actually happened or, as some have suggested, they were just all in his mind.
It was around this time in Queensryche's career when the group started being dubbed "the thinking man's metal band." While the moniker was complimentary in nature, many band members scoffed at the nickname, thinking it pretentious. But the descriptor is still prominently used by journalists when describing Queensryche today.
Editor's Note: A later lineup of Queensryche went on to release a sequel to Operation: Mindcrime in 2006. While Geoff Tate spearheaded the project and claimed in promotional interviews that a sequel to the story was "always planned," that was not the case. The band emphatically stated in interviews from 1989-2005 that Operation: Mindcrime was a standalone story.
Touring for Operation: Mindcrime was a challenge. At first, the record did not sell well. Opening for Def Leppard and then Metallica, the band could not (and ultimately did not, until the next tour) perform the album in its entirety. It wasn't until a video for "Eyes of a Stranger" appeared on MTV that listeners caught on to the story. The video rocketed Queensryche to mainstream attention and the band went from being an underground secret to the rising stars of heavy metal and hard rock in a span of three months.
By April 1989, the band was headlining its own shows across Europe, Japan and the West Coast of the United States to crowds in the thousands. The setlists drew heavily from Operation: Mindcrime, featuring all of the record except for "Suite Sister Mary" and various segues. But the live shows were notable for the performance of songs such as "Prophecy" and "London," which would not be played again by the original lineup of the band.
Chapter VI - Building An Empire (1990-1992)
Queensryche saw some mainstream success with Operation: Mindcrime, and naturally, many fans assumed the band would write another concept album. Well, you know the old saying about assumptions. Queensryche went the opposite direction and wrote individual songs that stood on their own merits instead of a storyline to connect them to each other. The result was Empire, Queensryche's highest-selling album to date at more than three million copies worldwide.
In an approach spearheaded by guitarist Chris DeGarmo, Queensryche maintained its high level of musicianship and integrity, but somewhat shed its heavy metal roots, catering to a more mainstream hard rock audience. In stark contrast to Operation: Mindcrime, Empire featured much warmer guitar tones and a bigger atmosphere, appealing both to audiophiles and critics.
Numerous magazines and media outlets lauded Empire for maintaining Queensryche's musical complexity and intelligence, but delivering something accessible. Promotion of Empire was heavily backed by EMI Records from the outset and the band publicly appeared quite satisfied with the recognition the album received. For some, however, Empire was a shocking shift in style. The more hardcore heavy metal fans were soured on Queensryche's move away from aggressive guitar riffs and songs in favor of the more melodic style of hard rock that was popular at the time.
Although not known at the time, not everyone in Queensryche was happy and confident in what they had just produced. In September 2014, 24 years after the initial release of Empire, writer Malcolm Dome unveiled an unpublished interview with DeGarmo from July 1990 in England. Titled "Queensryche: The Dark Empire," DeGarmo reveals to Dome his frustration with his bandmates and uncertainty about what they had produced.
"Whenever we finish a record, I think it's time to leave. Or we should split up," DeGarmo told Dome. "I am drained, and fed up. I don't have the energy to deal with the other guys. I get annoyed with them all, because I feel they've let me down. But then, I also think I've let them down. Is that the way all musicians think? It's that love/hate thing we have, isn't it? Empire is maybe the worst album we've ever made, or the best. I can't judge it."
Most revealing in the interview is that the reader can see the seeds for DeGarmo's eventual exit from Queensryche are firmly planted. He relates to Dome that his father left him and his mother when Chris was young and wonders if he continues the same lifestyle of trying to be the best he can be, will he follow in his father's footsteps.
When questioned by Dome about his future, DeGarmo admits he's not sure what the next few years will bring.
"The way I feel right now, I don't know if I have a future, and I am not talking about just as a musician" DeGarmo said. "I am not suicidal. But I have doubts. Real doubts. I don't even know why I am talking like this – it won't make me feel any better. Probably by tomorrow, I will be upbeat and shiny again. But I always question whether I want to carry on as I am. Maybe I will pack my bags, walk out of this hotel, out of this life and start all over again. But I've not done that so far, so why would I do it now?"
DeGarmo continued on with Queensryche following the interview, his comments unknown to the general public at the time.
In total, the band released six singles from Empire: the title track, "Best I Can," "Silent Lucidity," "Jet City Woman," "Another Rainy Night (Without You)" and "Anybody Listening?" Each single had an accompanying music video and the songs received heavy airplay on MTV. "Silent Lucidity" went on to earn the band a Grammy Award nomination.
The "Building Empires" tour kicked off in Europe in November 1990, and didn't conclude until early 1992 – a span of more than 180 shows. The almost 2.5-hour spectacle featured the Operation: Mindcrime album performed in its entirety, along with a good dose of the Empire record and a couple of older tracks. Using a huge stage, laser show, synchronized video and other amenities, Queensryche concerts were no longer simple gigs. They were multi-media productions.
Once Queensryche got off the road, Empire continued to sell as "Anybody Listening?" was released as a single, including a promotional video. The band then turned its attention to performing various one-off gigs and award shows until June 1992.
Most notably, Queensryche performed an acoustic set for MTV Unplugged on April 27, 1992. The aired performance included renditions of "I Will Remember" and "The Killing Words" from Rage for Order, "Silent Lucidity" and "Della Brown" from Empire and "The Lady Wore Black" from the EP. Unaired footage of the show reveals multiple takes of all five songs, plus renditions of "Anybody Listening?" from Empire, Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," Simon & Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair," and a humorous teaser of "Suite Sister Mary" off of Operation: Mindcrime.
Queensryche also appeared at the Rock the Environment benefit show at The Gorge, in George, Wash., on June 6, 1992. The band played an assortment of material, including an electric version of "Anybody Listening" and, for the first time since 1989, a rendition of "No Sanctuary" from The Warning. They concluded the evening by performing in a jam session with members of fellow Seattle natives Alice in Chains and Heart.
Chapter VII - The Promised Land Era (994-1995)
Despite Queensryche's huge commercial breakthrough, from the end of 1992 through 1994, times were difficult for some of the band members. While a couple of the guys enjoyed well-earned vacations, others struggled with personal demons and a whole host of family problems. Rumors circulated that the band had even broken up during this time period - with Tate admitting later that he felt he was close to leaving the band.
Eventually, all five members of Queensryche got together in a log cabin in the San Juan Islands called "Big Log" to write and record what would become Promised Land. It was revealed in 2012 that the Promised Land sessions were filled with tension between DeGarmo and Tate. Both Rockenfield and Tate had gone through divorces and rumors floated that DeGarmo helped put a roof over Tate's head during the time period, which could have played a role in the disagreements.
As artists, difficult times usually mean a well of ideas to draw upon, and Queensryche was no exception. The lyrics of the Promised Land album connected in a theme of self-examination – the idea of someone reaching the pinnacle of what they are told is "success" and realizing they left a lot of their lives behind attempting to reach a goal. Musically, If Operation: Mindcrime was Queensryche's heavy metal conceptual opus, Promised Land was the band's nod to Pink Floyd and cerebral hard rock.
Released in October 1994, Promised Land eventually sold more than one million copies. The number was respectable, but a significant drop from the sales of Empire. Although EMI got behind Promised Land with a massive marketing campaign, it had been four years since the release of Empire – a lifetime in the music industry. By that time, the mainstream audience was more interested in Seattle's grunge movement, as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden had taken the Pacific Northwest and the world by storm.
Promised Land also wasn't as accessible as Empire, turning off fans that had jumped aboard the Queensryche bandwagon during the heights of melodic hard rock in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As a result, the support from MTV the band had received from 1989-1992 disappeared. Videos made for "I Am I," "Bridge," and "Dis-con-nec-ted" were aired just briefly in late 1994 and early 1995, leaving the band without much TV and mainstream attention.
The touring cycle for Promised Land was shorter than the one for Empire - but no less stunning, visually and musically. A few warm-up dates were scheduled for late 1994, but the "Road to the Promised Land" tour kicked off in earnest in early 1995 in Europe, concluding in late July of that year in the United States. The entire Promised Land album was performed (although not in sequence), along with familiar hits and some rare cuts from The Warning and Rage for Order. An interest tidbit for hardcore fans -- Queensryche did an instrumental cover of The Rolling Stones' "Waiting On a Friend" during a guest spot on a European music channel.
Much like the Building Empires tour, video footage enhanced the music and dramatic scenes were performed live by the band, including a second stage made-up as a bar to perform the album's title track. Tate took on a more theatrical role on this tour, expanding the stage acting approach he incorporated on the previous tour when Operation: Mindcrime was presented in its entirety.
Queensryche offered up a section of seats each night to fans that wanted to record their performances and solicited copies in an effort to release an "official bootleg" of the Promised Land tour. Despite fan outcry for the footage, no official DVD has ever surfaced from the band. Fans also were given opportunities to view the concert from the stage as "bar patrons" during the performance of the song, "Promised Land."
To tide fans over until its next release, Queensryche released in 1996 what could be the first band-related video game. Called the "Promised Land CD-Rom," the game featured five distinct worlds where players could explore the personalities of each band member. Along the way, users have to solve riddles and search for pieces of the Queensryche totem pole depicted on the Promised Land album cover. Once all pieces of the totem are recovered, the game reveals its reward – a new acoustic song from Queensryche titled "Two Mile High."
Chapter VIII - The Hear in the Now Frontier Era (1996-1997)
In 1996, Queensryche reconvened to work on songs for Hear in the Now Frontier. The sessions and subsequent album release and support tour marked the end of many chapters for Queensryche. Just as the band's seventh studio release hit stores on March 25, 1997, EMI Records closed its doors, leaving the band without a record label to do promotion and provide support. In addition, QPrime, Queensryche's management team since the late 1980s, also dropped the band.
Queensryche soldiered on, however. Hear and the Now Frontier's lead singles, "Sign of the Times" and "You," received a good amount of airplay on rock radio, as the tunes were much more accessible than some of the songs on Promised Land. The uplifting "The Voice Inside" and epic closer "spOOL" were also promotional singles from Hear in the Now Frontier.
Produced by Peter Collins and mixed by Toby Wright of Alice in Chains fame, Hear in the Now Frontier featured a stripped-down, simpler approach to songwriting, according to Queensryche at the time. Instead of demoing and tweaking songs constantly and continuing to add sonic layers, the band opted for a looser approach, writing the song, demoing it, and then recording it with minimal overdubs.
The drier production and refined songwriting process was a staple of some acts of the time. Lyrically, the album had the social commentary and intelligent bent fans had come to expect from Queensryche. Musically, while the band's long-time fans had a history of swaying with Queensryche's continual evolution over the years, Hear in the Now Frontier was not looked upon favorably by many fans that cut their teeth on the band's layered and dynamic songs.
Despite the label and management difficulties, Queensryche self-financed a large part of its tour in suppot of Hear in the Now Frontier, which started in June 1997. The stage was elaborate, featuring a giant inflatable ear as depicted on the Hear in the Now Frontier album cover. Although the band played a two-hour set, the same amphitheaters it had played in 1994 were now only half full or at times, even less. The sparse crowds were another sign that Queensryche's days headlining large outdoor venues were coming to a close.
To add injury to insult, vocalist Geoff Tate came down with a severe summer cold and blew out his voice in early July, forcing the band to cancel shows due to sickness for the first time in its career. Queensryche eventually resumed the tour and wrapped up in August, heading home to Seattle. There were no follow-up plans to tour Europe.
With no label, a short, self-financed summer tour, and an album that wasn't received well, one final change occurred during the fall of 1997. Guitarist Chris DeGarmo, who had formed Queensryche with Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield 16 years prior, announced to his bandmates that he was leaving the band.
The situation likely got even more uncomfortable later in the year when Queensryche was contractually obligated to play a few shows in South America in December 1997. The band fulfilled their commitment with DeGarmo and as of September 2014, those South American shows continue to mark the last time that Chris DeGarmo played live with Queensryche (although Chris did make a public appearance with Wilton playing an assortment of hard rock cover tunes at halftime of a Seattle Seahawks game in 2011).
DeGarmo has stayed relatively quiet about his departure from Queensryche. While officially just speculation, some well-informed sources have said Tate's divorce and his subsequent marriage to Susan Tate significantly changed Tate's perspective on the band and ultimately soured Chris' working relationship with the singer, leading to DeGarmo quitting the group. DeGarmo toured with Jerry Cantrell on the guitarist's tour in support of his debut solo album, Boggy Depot in 1998. He's contributed to other artists in a songwriting and arrangement capacity over the years as well. But DeGarmo's primary job these days is as a commercial airline pilot.
Editor's Note: Queensryche went through a commercially unsuccessful period from 1998-2001 with Kelly Gray – Tate's former MYTH bandmate and a successful Seattle record producer – replacing DeGarmo on guitar. He was ultimately let go from the band after appearing on one studio record – Q2k – and one live album – Live Evolution. More on that later.
Chapter IX - The Tribe Era (2002-2003)
In 2002, Queensryche was at a crossroads. The band was writing music as a four-piece for its next album while Tate was on the road supporting his self-titled solo effort. But there was disagreement about what direction the recordings should take.
This came to a head when Tate spoke to WMMS 100.7 FM in Cleveland on June 30, 2002. In an on-air interview promoting his solo record and tour, Tate said the members of Queensryche only speak to one another through "business managers and lawyers," and called the group a "dysfunctional group of guys with a lot of hostility toward each other."
The interview caused a firestorm on the Internet, with fans clamoring for further details. Eventually, the band issued a "thank you" to WMMS for forcing them to communicate again, but some – including this writer – were skeptical. In an exclusive Q&A with this author just a couple of months later, Wilton revealed that the band and Tate were at odds over the direction for Queensryche's new album.
"Queensryche has always been about reinventing itself -- It makes it interesting as a musician," Wilton said. "But we need to be reminded that this is a business, and with doing a 180-degree shift in style, there is an inherent risk that is involved. It's a 'don't bite the hand that feeds' kind of thing."
The guitarist expressed a desire to return to Queensryche's heavier and more aggressive guitar-driven roots. Tate, however, felt differently, according to Wilton. Tate spearheaded an idea to bring in outside writers to write music for the band to tweak and change, rather than collaborate and compromise with the members of Queensryche. The tension between the band members was high and Wilton wasn't onboard with Tate's creative power play.
"I believe this album should be hard and intense," Wilton said. "What I have heard so far is not that. I have no desire to change Queensryche into an adult contemporary band. This should be a Queensryche album and not a Geoff Tate solo album."
Lyrically, however, it appeared Tate and his bandmates were on the same page. Tate told various media outlets during promotional interviews that his lyrics for the new Queensryche album would be based off a journal of observations on how society had changed in a post-9/11 world, in reference to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
When Queensryche was in the studio demoing songs, word of the album's theme got back to Chris DeGarmo -- possibly through Scott Olson who was engineering the sessions and a friend of the former Queensryche guitarist. DeGarmo reached out to his former bandmates offering to collaborate. The invitation was accepted and the original lineup of Queensryche reunited to work on what would become Tribe.
DeGarmo contributed three songs he had written the music for: "Falling Behind," "Doin' Fine" and "Art of Life" and ended up co-writing two other songs with the band: "Desert Dance" and "Open." A sixth song, "Justified" was entirely written (music and lyrics) by Chris and was intended for the album, but wasn't completed until 2007. More on that later. Musically, the six songs DeGarmo was a part of during the Tribe sessions sound like a natural evolution from where Queensryche left off with Hear in the Now Frontier, albeit with a more layered and dynamic mix and with some chunkier metal riffs courtesy of the DeGarmo/Wilton guitar tandem.
Unfortunately, the reunion was short-lived. Amid a flurry of speculation, it was announced that DeGarmo had decided to once again leave the band. It should be noted that it had never been formally announced Chris had rejoined the group, only that he was working with his bandmates in the studio and was going to perform on Queensryche's European tour in support of Tribe. It stands to reason, however, that because Chris participated in a lengthy photo session for the album and he left with one song partially recorded, there could have been a more long-term, permanent reunion in the works. Rumors persist to the current day that some of the same factors that led Chris to leave in 1997 came back again, preventing his return to the band full time.
Sworn statements by band members obtained by AnybodyListening.net as a part of Geoff Tate's 2012 lawsuit against Jackson, Rockenfield and Wilton, also indicate that Tate's personality and unwillingness to work with DeGarmo regarding vocals for the record could have contributed to DeGarmo's second departure. Tate, however, filed his own sworn statement that contested the claims of his former bandmates. Either way, both accounts illustrate the dysfunction that was present in Queensryche during 2002.
DeGarmo did reconnect with Queensryche briefly in 2007 to finish the recording of "Justified," which was left unfinished during the Tribe recording sessions. The lyrics are an interesting story about a relationship with a person attempting to reconcile with someone. Many fans have speculated that the lyrics are DeGarmo's public ode to unify Queensryche and settle the differences that drove Chris away from the band. But that speculation has never been confirmed by DeGarmo or the other members of Queensryche.
"Justified" can be heard on the deluxe edition of the Sign of the Times: The Best of Queensryche compilation. As of September 2014, the song stands as the final recorded work of the original lineup of Queensryche.
Following DeGarmo's initial departure in 1997, Queensryche continued with other lineups, to varying degrees of success and acceptance. When Kelly Gray replaced DeGarmo in 1998, many in the Seattle scene recalled Gray's guitar playing as reminiscent of Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Rainbow. That was not the case when he played with Queensryche, however. Gray was not a very technical and precise guitarist and as a result, his style clashed with Wilton's.
That was a problem for many fans of Queensryche, who were used to the complimentary guitar tandem of Wilton and DeGarmo. Fans reacted harshly to Gray from the get-go, clamoring for him to be replaced. Kelly led a much different life on the road than the rest of the band, according to Tate:
From the liner notes of the 2006 re-release of Q2k:
"We were in a brand-new world, Kelly's world … Kelly lived hard and fast, and the people around him were the same. I have personally never seen as many drugs and as much alcohol consumed as when Kelly was in the band …The toll of indulgence was heavy. The band wasn't speaking, the new manager was fired, we were looking for a new record company, and three of our friends were dead. Road life is tough. It's not for everyone, and some people can't pace themselves, and then they get into trouble."
Following the aborted return of DeGarmo in late 2002, Queensryche turned to journeyman Mike Stone to play guitar alongside Wilton. Prior to DeGarmo's involvement in the Tribe sessions, Stone had been working with Tate as a songwriting collaborator. After things fell apart with DeGarmo, Stone was called on again in December 2002 to play a show Queensryche had booked in Anchorage, Alaska, on New Year's Eve.
This kicked-off what is referred to by some as the "Tateryche" era of Queensryche. Stone's involvement with the band coincided with an almost decade-long period where Geoff Tate would employ outside songwriters to bring his lyrical ideas to life, as opposed to his bandmates. Queensryche released three studio albums during this period, all of which featured more songs written musically by Tate's friends and confidants – such as producer Jason Slater, former MYTH keyboardist Randy Gane, and Gray -- than the band itself.
Fan reception to this period was mixed. On one hand, people were excited to see Queensryche touring extensively. On the other hand, unbeknownst to the majority of the fanbase until years later, the essence of what made up the band was rotting on the inside. Stone remained with the band through 2008. Parker Lundgren – then Tate's son-in-law – took over in 2009. Although Lundgren would later prove that his ability was up to the task, fans were getting sick of the nepotism, as it was the latest – albeit most high profile – instance of Tate controlling the direction of the band.
Queensryche fans were treated to a reunion of sorts on Jan. 8, 2011, when for the first time since December 1997, Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton were on a stage together -- this time performing a medley of hard rock and metal hits at halftime of the Seattle Seahawks playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. The Queensryche guitar duo performed with Mike Inez (bass, Alice in Chains) and Ben Smith (drums, Heart). DeGarmo, in what was a nice tip of the cap to Queensryche fans, played his iconic multi-color tri-ryche guitar. Below are some photos of the event:
The rest of 2011 wasn't as joyus for Queensryche fans. DeGarmo did not re-reunite with the group, and the discontent over Tate's direction was growing. Shortly after the Wilton-DeGarmo appearance, Wilton and Jackson took to social media to criticize and apologize, respectively, for the output on Dedicated to Chaos, Queensryche's 12th studio album. Wilton thanked the fans for appreciating his "parts" on the record, while Jackson tweeted a vague apology. Both were removed and/or retracted later. An anniversary tour, doubling as a support tour for the record commenced, to less than stellar reviews.
A year later, Queensryche imploded. Jackson, Rockenfield and Wilton fired Susan Tate as manager and most of the Tate family members being employed by the band. Tate snapped at a gig in Sao Paulo, Brazil, striking Wilton, tearing down Rockenfield's drum kit and spitting on the band before and during a show.
Jackson, Rockenfield, Wilton and Lundgren – who had since divorced Tate's daughter – had put together a side project called Rising West with then-Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre. The idea formed when Wilton and La Torre met at the 2012 National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show in Los Angeles. What began as a partnership to write music for television ads shifted to focusing on playing the music from the Queensryche EP through Empire under a new name. The duo got Rockenfield and Jackson on-board, with "WEST" initially standing for "Whip-Eddie-Scott-Todd." When Lundgren was asked to be a part of the band, "W.E.S.T." was then noted to be a reference to the lyric line in the song "Before the Storm," that read "rising from the west." Ironically, given the situation between the members of Rising West and Tate, the name was a perfect fit for the new side project.
Rising West made its debut with a pair of sold-out shows on June 8-9, 2012, at the Hard Rock Café in Seattle. Receiving a raucous ovation from the crowds, Rising West had many fans wondering if the end of Queensryche was near, particularly after the Brazil incident. Contractually, Queensryche had two more shows to play. The band fulfilled those dates and then fired Tate as lead singer. They subsequently announced La Torre as the new singer of Queensryche.
Tate filed a lawsuit claiming he was improperly terminated and created his own version of Queensryche with Gray, Gane, Rudy & Robert Sarzo and Simon Wright to compete with his former bandmates. The two "Queensryches" released competing albums in 2013.
After approximately two years of legal filings, battles in the press, and fan wars, a settlement was reached. Jackson, Rockenfield and Wilton would retain all rights to the Queensryche name and tri-ryche symbol. Tate would have the exclusive right to perform Operation: Mindcrime in its entirety (although Queensryche may play songs from it when they so choose, just not from beginning to end as a complete work), and a sum equal to his share in the Queensryche name. Tate re-named his "Queensryche" band Operation: Mindcrime, after the album title.
In this writer's opinion, the drama over the past decade illustrated just how special the original five-member lineup of Queensryche really was. The combination of Tate's progressive rock interests and operatic vocal style, DeGarmo's sense of melody and harmonics, Wilton's metal riffs and aggression, and the underrated rhythms of Jackson and Rockenfield helped set Queensryche apart from its peers in those first 16 years.
As the original lineup's sound morphed from album to album, it followed a natural evolution. Even as Tate lost much of his legendary high range and DeGarmo embraced a simpler approach to songwriting, the combination – particularly when joined by the others – maintained an identity that was distinctly…Queensryche. The likelihood that DeGarmo, Jackson, Rockenfield, Tate and Wilton will unite as Queensryche again in the future is miniscule at best. That ship sailed years ago before greed and lawsuits got in the way.
The jury is still out on modern-day Queensryche. Other than Wilton, it's a different group of core songwriters determined to create new music in the vein of the original group's most popular eras. Fairly or unfairly, even if the next few albums from Queensryche are successful, they will be compared against the template of what the original band established. Some may bristle at that notion and declare the comparisons ignorant and unimportant. But I believe that the drum-beating for the original lineup of Queensryche speaks volumes about the chemistry those five kids in the Seattle suburbs had as a creative unit and the impact their music had on listeners.
And if you've read this far, chances are you do too. End of line…