ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 19, 1991
By Steve Newton
When it comes to progressive rock bands from the ’70s, there’s no middle ground—people either love ’em or hate ’em. Fans of groups like Yes, King Crimson, and Genesis point to the musical skill involved in performing the tunes; detractors tend to cite the “pomposity” of the music.
Queensryche vocalist Geoff Tate is a huge fan of progressive music, and he’s got a theory about why so many people rail against it.
“I just find the whole progressive era and the backlash against it by the music biz to be a fascinating subject,” says Tate, on the line from San Diego. “I really think it’s a matter of economics. At that time, progressive music was enjoying a real heyday, and these were people that could really play their instruments—they weren’t mimes, dancers, and all this garbage that you have now. They weren’t rap artists—I find the words ‘rap artist’ to be an oxymoron.
“These were real musicians, but there weren’t a lot of them, and I think the industry saw that as a dead-end street. They wanted to pull more people into the music business as performing artists, so they created this backlash with the press and programmed it to happen, saying that this was pompous music, it was dinosaur stuff, and that really what’s happening is punk music—where it takes no talent at all to be a rock star. Therefore, more people could contribute and become part of it, you’d have more records to sell, and you could make more money.”
If the backlash against progressive rock happened as Tate suggests, then Queensryche went up against tremendous odds when, in 1988, it released Operation Mindcrime, a concept album that harkened back to the days when songs could be meticulously constructed along an interesting storyline rather than fleshed out with snappy videos.
A story of mind control, religious evil, and 1984-style politics, Operation Mindcrime is performed in its entirety on the band’s current tour, which comes to the Pacific Coliseum next Saturday (December 28). A highly ambitious album, it wasn’t an easy project to tackle.
“It really took up a good portion of our lives,” says Tate, “but it was one of those experiences that you look back on and think, ‘God, are we ever gonna experience something like that again?’ It was a very magical time. Everyone in the band was really into the record, and we were all very much in sync. And then when [producer] Peter Collins got involved, it all really fell together from a sonic standpoint.
“It did get a bit excessive,” admits Tate. “Like in the opening sequence, where the nurse is walking down the hall into [Mindcrime protagonist] Nicky’s room. We were figuring out the dimensions of the room, and entering these into a computer, and trying to decide what speed the reverb should be on her footsteps as she walked across the room to turn off the TV set. But looking back on it, it was important to try to create some realism. At least it was important to us.”
Before the success of Queensryche’s last studio album, Empire, and the single “Silent Lucidity”, the band wasn’t able to perform the entire Operation Mindcrime album because it was stuck in the opening-band slot, getting crowds heated up for bands like Def Leppard, AC/DC, Metallica, Bon Jovi, and Ozzy Osbourne.
“It’s difficult warming up for a band,” says Tate, “because usually the audience doesn’t know you, and you’ve got 45 minutes to make a name for yourself. But it’s very good for a band to do that, because you learn quickly about what to do and what not to do. We’ve done 14 different tours with different bands, and you learn what you want to stay away from—things like drum solos and guitar solos, and the ‘Hello you motherfuckers!’ thing. All the clichés.”
When it came time to record their breakthrough Empire disc, the long-time Seattlers followed the route taken by many of their headlining tour partners: they came to Vancouver.
“When it’s time to look for a studio, you look for: 1) location—where you want to spend a few months; and 2) studio costs. Or is that number one? Anyway, Vancouver is very competitive, you can get good deals there, and it’s close to home. Actually, we’d recorded another album there in ’86, Rage for Order, and liked it so much we went back again.”
While Vancouver may be a fave location for music production these days, Queensryche’s home town is definitely the happening spot for original rock acts. Tate—who cites Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Seattle’s own Ann Wilson as his biggest vocal influences—says he’s not surprised by how the music scene there has come of age.
“It’s always been a very music-oriented city, way back with the Sonics and the Kingsmen. We’re talkin’ 20, 30 years of rock ’n’ roll coming out of the Northwest. Heart came out of Seattle, and Steve Miller, Jimi Hendrix. We came out in the ’80s, when there really wasn’t a lot going on musically, so we might have focused a bit of interest in the area, but it’s been a natural progression, really.”