With his forthcoming release, Kings & Thieves , and an extensive fall tour, Geoff Tate is once again bringing his mesmerizing voice and unpredictable show to a theatre near you.
Interview by David Boyle
Aspiring singers dream of coming out from behind an undulating curtain and walking onto a big stage as fans go berserk in anticipation. Arriving at center stage, the performer gazes out at the myriad of heads bathed in the unique darkness of extinguished house-lights. Standing under the shafts of swirling stage beams, the super-charged vocalist raises the microphone to his mouth. It’s showtime! Concertgoers stand breathless, awe-stricken, as the frontman utters the first line of the opening number. When the king is on his mark, the audience becomes worked up into a frenzy that lasts for hours. The emotional exchange between performer and audience is surreal, dynamic and too intoxicatingly complex to be captured with words. All that matters is that fan and artist have shared a timeless connection. At concert’s end, fans disperse, taking with them the ceaseless pulse of the mighty amplifiers and a life-long memory.
Good concerts give us something to rave about now and again; great concerts become indelibly engraved in our hearts and minds. Music loyalists take pride in recalling the highlights of the rock shows they’ve attended and are always more than eager to discuss such experiences anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. The ear-thrilling guitar-riffs, the pounding of the drums, the thumping of the bass, the action on stage, the collective energy of the massive, sweaty crowd, the bittersweet final encore — these details remind the concertgoer of money well spent and an evening fully lived.
One aspect of the show, however, is always conveyed with the utmost pleasure: the poise of the lead vocalist — the man who strides confidently from one side of the stage to the other and seduces the crowd, drawing them into the momentum of the musical extravaganza, a feat which requires inestimable talent and indefinable charms. Among the many outstanding frontmen in the music business today, few have the charisma, the prowess and the complete command of the stage that Seattle’s Geoff Tate has displayed for over three decades.
The former songwriter/vocalist of Queensrÿche garned widespread acclaim with his eponymous solo debut, Geoff Tate (Sanctuary Records-2002) and was supported by a successful tour. Renowned for his willingness to explore different musical perspectives and challenge the conventions of rock singing, Tate’s first solo album showcased his revered style, his unique delivery and his ever-present range. Fan favorites “Grain of Faith,” “Passenger” and “Over Me” proved that Geoff Tate could offer his audience a fresh, dynamic sound — a sound entirely different from current standards. The album also gave Tate the opportunity to tap into his various influences, fusing together elements of rock, pop, rhythm & blues, jazz and more. With his forthcoming release, Kings & Thieves (Inside Out Music), and an extensive fall tour, he is once again bringing his mesmerizing voice and unpredictable show to a theatre near you.
Over the years, you’ve repeatedly said that you no longer feel inspired to sing selections from the earliest Queensrÿche albums, especially the most obscure tracks which have not been played on recent tours. Even if you had the inspiration to sing such Queensryche classics now — “Deliverance, “Child of Fire,” “Blinded” and “Roads to Madness,” to cite some examples — would you be able to sing them up to the level you once did, or would those notes and style of singing put too much strain on your voice?
Wow! This misconception is puzzling to me. If one starts at the beginning, my life and my interests can be traced through my music. I do admit, some of those early songs from the EP and the Warning album hold different meaning for me now, much like the “Dungeons and Dragons” of early adolescence now hold a different meaning for most adults. There are several gems on those early records that I still feel strongly about and, as most people who have attended a Queensrÿche show lately, we as a band picked every song on the set list to reflect our individual favorites and our audience’s favorites. In fact, over the years, we have conducted polls of our fans to get an accurate idea of what people wanted to hear live. I have very fond memories of playing Rage for Order in it’s entirety last year and also Operation: Mindcrime in it’s entirety at the end of our Thirty Year Anniversary Tour in December of 2011. In fact, the entire Anniversary Tour set list was comprised of songs from ALL our albums.
Singing a catalogue such as yours is grueling. Every time you step on stage, the audience expects so much of you — sometimes too much, perhaps. Given the every day demands of life on the road, how do you keep your voice in optimum health?
I practice and try very hard to keep a positive mental attitude.
Congratulations on the success of your wine, Insania! I’ve noticed that you sometimes drink it during shows. How has the wine affected your performances?
Thank you. I have enjoyed a glass of wine during the show for my entire career.
I’ve seen you perform dozens of times, and have always wondered how you come up with a set list. Provided you’re the headliner, which you usually are, how do you decide which songs to present to the audience?
Sorry, I believe I answered this question above.
Like millions of other listeners, I’m a huge fan of Operation Mindcrime 1 & 2. I saw Queensrÿche perform those albums in their entirety back in 2005. The experience was a dazzling exhibition in musical theatre and an unforgettable show from start to finish. You seemed quite comfortable in your role as singer/actor; I got the impression that you would thrive on a Broadway stage, if you chose to take that path. Do you have any plans to become a vocalist on Broadway? Could you see yourself serving your craft in that capacity?
Perhaps. At the moment I am very happy with my direction.
You’ve dabbled in the art of acting, starring in a couple of dark films. How did your preparation for acting differ from what you do prior to singing in front of a live audience?
They are two very different disciplines. I found that acting was a process of becoming someone else and music is about discovering who you are.
Given the vast amount of talent you’ve come across in your long career, are there any musicians you would like to collaborate with in the future?
There are many musicians that I respect and would love to work with. I would love to work with Brian May and Roger Taylor from Queen; I am a HUGE fan of their music. John5 and I have talked recently about collaborating, as well as the drummer extraordinaire Thomas Lang. The creative relationship is very special; some people you just click with. Once you get something rolling and it has time to develop, you protect it and guard it with everything you have. It’s fragile and delicate and, like a whisper, it can be lost in the din of pedestrian noise. I think that creative relationships also have a shelf life, so to speak; people ultimately are on their own individual paths through life. You come together briefly for a reason or purpose and then you move off, dusted with memories of the beautiful moments.
You have sung the national anthem on many occasions. That’s a tough song to perform live, even for a seasoned professional who’s confident and comfortable in his abilities. Does that gig come with extreme pressure? Have you ever been nervous about singing the anthem, knowing the public has very high expectations?
I love singing the national anthem. It’s a very inspiring lyric and the melody is engrained in our collective conscious. It always gives me goose bumps when I perform it. It’s really not that difficult to sing. What is difficult is the environment in which one is performing. It’s typically not set up properly for the singer. In the past, the equipment was antiquated and underpowered. Now many stadiums have in-ear monitoring set up so the singer doesn’t have to suffer with a 2 to 4 second delay bouncing back at you and throwing you off.
How extensively will you tour in support of Kings & Thieves?
My tour begins in October and runs through December.
How did you conceive of the name Kings & Thieves?
Originally it was a working title for one of the tracks on the new album. I quite liked the phrase and when I saw the beautiful finished artwork that Anthony Clarkson created, I thought the title fit perfectly.
What concepts or themes are you trying to show with the cover art for Kings & Thieves?
I simply wanted to exhibit a more stylized version of my family crest with my symbol placed on it. The cover art, as well as the music, represent who I am.
How do the themes on your new/solo release differ from your work with Queensrÿche? How does the process feel for you as a songwriter?
How the themes differ is a judgment call and best left for the audience to decide for themselves. I believe people experience art in their own way and I would never presume that my, or anyone’s, opinion mattered regarding differences. Making Kings and Thieves was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had working on a record. I really was able for the first time in years to work at my own pace, which shows how quickly the album came together and is now ready to be released in just over one year after the last Queensrÿche album. It was also invigorating to work with positive, happy people who were enthusiastic about creating music.