One of progressive metal’s most astound groups, Queensryche has been capturing the attention and ears of the world for over the past 3 decades.
Between the band’s masterful combination of dueling guitar solos and powerful operatic lead vocals, Queensryche topped the rock charts throughout the 80’s and 90’s, with such now iconic songs as the Pink Floyd-esque “Silent Lucidity” and “Queen Of The Ryche”.
More recently, Queensryche recaptured the music world’s interest with news of new lead vocalist Todd La Torre joining the lineup, replacing longtime member Geoff Tate, as well as the announcement of a new studio album set for release in late Spring of this year.
I recently was given the opportunity to sit down with lead guitarist and founding member Michael Wilton to discuss the band’s upcoming new album, the history of the band, and that second band named Queensryche out touring with Geoff on lead vocals.
William: You’ve been with Queensryche since the beginning. How exactly did Queensryche first get it’s start?
Michael: Well, you know back in the early 80’s, we were all kind of part of a musical direction in the Seattle area. Just through mutual friends we happened to get together, through different garage bands that we were all in, and we all began creating our friendship and learning our crafts. We were all basically 17, 18, 19, and that’s basically how we met.
Then we made the decision to kind of follow the footsteps of what was happening over in the UK and in Europe, the heavy metal explosion over there, and we began writing our own music and sometimes when we played events we would play other people’s music, like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Accept, etc. So that’s kind of how we got together, but it was just a mutual friendship, and we built an internal structure in the band and moved forward.
We were very dedicated to what we wanted to do, and caught a good break with our EP that we made during graveyard hours, because we worked during the day, had day jobs. And those four songs went on an EP, which we hooked up with local management, and then a small distribution deal. Then next thing you know, we’ve got an article in Kerrang magazine in London, under the “Armed and Ready” featured band of the month. Then things just kind of exploded for us.
William: Going back through the band’s early years, if I made you play favorites, what is your favorite Queensryche album from those days?
Michael: Well, when you say “favorite album”, that’s kind of hard to say, because they’re all kind of like children in a sense. They’re all different in their own sort of way, but definitely the first five albums that Queensryche did. Those are the ones that sort of stood the test of time, obviously, and where our engines were running on full. We were pretty much at the top of our game, touring the world and growing with each album. I mean, they’re all very special in their own right, so it’s kind of hard to just say which one’s my favorite. For different reasons, I like different albums.
William: Alright. You were talking about how Queensryche quickly rose in success. Recently, things have been coming to light regarding hardships within the band. If you had to help pinpoint it, when did things really start to change for the worse?
Michael: I would say the first thing that happened on this bus ride was my good friend, Chris DeGarmo, decided to leave the band. That was back in ‘97, and that kind of put us in a strange situation. We tried different incarnations of Queensryche with different guitar players, and things started going good. I think just as people grow, the roads that everybody created and we were taking started going the opposite way. A bit of it is just lack of communication, and I think that’s kind of the killer. But I’d say for the last three or four years, the bus has just been kinda slowing down. It was time for change, lots of bands do this and they do it for a reason. You know, recharged energy, better balance with creativity, and in a 30 year career that’s bound to happen.
William: Looking out over all of the albums released so far under the Queensryche name, which do you feel was “The Last Great Queensryche Album” and why?
Michael: Well, if you’re looking at “record sales”, I think “Empire” was our biggest selling album. So, if you’re looking at it as sales, than that’s sort of the epitomy of where Queensryche collided with popular opinion, rather than being a speciality band. We were lucky to collide with MTV at the time where MTV was playing videos, we toured with some great bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, and that really sparked the whole sales figures, it was great for the record company, and everything was really cooking back in the early 90’s.
William: There have been some details about Geoff Tate writing all of the material for the band’s past couple of records. What was the last Queensryche album you had a strong part in creating?
Michael: Well, we had an album called Tribe, and that was back when we were co-managed, when his wife started managing the band. I think that was the last album where it was a good creative output for everybody, and consequently we managed to get Chris DeGarmo back into the fold and bring some of his songs onto the table, and we got that going. So I think that album, even though it was kind of a quiet album I think that one has some special songs on there for different reasons.
William: Was there a certain event that made you and the rest of the band finally decide to kick Geoff out of Queensryche?
Michael: Yeah, I mean basically if you look at any business, it’s built upon the strength of it’s infrastructure. Viewing this as a business end and a creativity entity, we just weren’t clicking on all cylinders. You have basically situations that grow over time where decisions are being made, and people don’t quite agree with the philosophy. In a nutshell, we were creatively going different ways. And as a business, questioning some of the business decisions. I think those were kind of going in an opposite way of what others perceive. Just trying to keep a thread into your past and keep that fanbase. Trying to keep your albums on their coffee tables and not take such outlandish risks. Any business would question that.
William: Moving forward to brighter things, how did you first discover Todd La Torre?
Michael: Well, last January when I went to the NAMM convention, which is in Anaheim, California, I was at a Seymour Duncan private party. I play using Seymour Duncan pickups, and I basically getting some hors d’oeuvres I bumped into Todd, and he said “Hi” and thought I was from the band Testament (laughs). And I said, “No, no, no. I’m Michael from Queensryche”. And he said, “Hey, I know you guys!”. Anyway, we sat down and started talking, and I basically told him that I do some other recordings for television and soundtracks, so I asked him if he would be interested in that and maybe collaborating on some ideas and licensing out some songs, and he said “Sure!”. So that’s kind of how we garnered our friendship, exchanged phone numbers and email.
And basically, I was just emailing and sending my personal tunes to him to see what he would do with it. We got a mutual friendship going, and I liked what he was doing. And my tunes, these were a composition of tunes that weren’t even touched for Queensryche, because I guess they were too heavy or whatever. And the whole thing just kind of blossomed from there. Then in the course of events and what transpired, I just introduced Todd to the band. I mean, he was a fan of Queensryche, and obviously I found out he could sing like Queensryche. He’s very passionate, and he’s a drummer as well, and plays guitar. So there was this musicianship that I really latched onto.
William: What is it like, working with Todd as compared to working with Geoff?
Michael: Well, obviously you have a renewed energy. The chemistry within the band is renewed, and it’s got a different dynamic now. Basically we want to rock, we like the hard rock element, we like a bit of the progressive element, we want to collaborate with our fanbase and really make this a situation where we listen to the audience and hear what they want, and we build upon that.
Queensryche has always been a touring act, that’s what we did in the early days. We were a guitar duo band and toured the world, and worked our asses off to get the respect of the audience. And I think that we’ve come full circle and we’re at that point again.
For the following years we’re going to work our asses off and get the respect of the audiences again, and just really show this new energy and this new chemistry with Todd La Torre as our new front man. And you know what, it’s just a lot of fun again. In the past, it was just becoming “This is a job. This is just a business, this is a job”, and there was no fun in it. It’s come back to how we started out in the beginning, a bunch of guys having fun, working hard and doing what they love.
William: I think that’s great. What are your thoughts about that other band named Queensryche going around, with Geoff on vocals?
Michael: You know, I try not to step on that subject too much. Obviously I’m aware of it, but I really do not pay too much attention to it. So I can’t really say, other than I’m really stoked on what we’re doing. I think what we’re doing is rebuilding the brand, rebuilding the business and just surrounding ourselves with fluent people who are willing to push us in a positive direction. In our previous situation, everything was being done by a family, basically, and it was kind of a one-trick-pony situation.
Now, it’s like you’ve got to use your contacts and your friends in the business to push your business, and to help you generate positive growth. That’s kind of what I’m consumed with at the moment, and that other stuff is being taken care of on a legal aspect, and we’re all good with that. We’re really concentrating on rebuilding the business, rebuilding the brand and showing the fans who have been waiting so long to see a good hard rock show that we’ve got it.
William: Speaking of things you’re currently doing, Queensryche is back in the studio. What is your objective for this first studio album with Todd manning lead vocals?
Michael: Our objective with this album is to rekindle a band writing together as a band, and utilizing the strengths of the creative forces of everybody in the band, to contribute, and just to make a CD, an album, that’s just an honest representation of the band. We’re not going to try and sell you some outlandish or exaggerated claims, this is just an honest collection of songs that we think really represent the creative dynamic of the band. Todd is very capable and very talented in that aspect, like I said before he’s a drummer, he knows melody incredibly, he’s a guitar player as well, and that as a band of real musicians it’s really exciting to create.
So, people are expecting us to write this and write that, but you know what, we’re just going to give you ten honest songs, maybe fifteen, who knows? We’re at ten right now, and that’s bringing back the energy in the five. That’s the first and utmost what I want to see in this recording.
I want to see each guy in this band smiling and going, “Yeah. That was killer”. I want everybody really just being proud of what they did, and I don’t want any dictatorship or anything happening. I want the band to really grow and push the envelope, and really discover real things about their creativity and their talents.
William: How will the new Queensryche album compare to such recent outings as American Soldier and Dedicated To Chaos?
Michael: I think it’s going to be it’s own animal, I don’t think it’s going to be anything like those. As far as the last album, I don’t even know what guitar parts of mine were used. You know, American Soldier had some good elements, some great moments, but I think first and foremost there’s got to be a thread to your lineagy, to your past albums. And I think that is what we’re trying to capture, I think. We’re doing the inevitable, 180-degree flip flop, you know?
We want to recapture elements of our past, but yet show progress in our writing ability. We’re progressive people, so in that aspect you know you’re going to get a little of the past albums, and by past albums I mean the first five. And then a lot of new creative energies, so I think it’s going to be quite a contrast to the last few you just spoke about.
William: What is your reaction to mostly positive fan response you’ve received for the new album’s trailer?
Michael: The trailer was just to give a tease to the fans who wanted to know what was going on, some of those were just demos that we had been creating, and we put that into a final cut rendition. You know, it was just a teaser, we didn’t know it was going to take off the way it did. And people are trying to dissect it and base opinions on 5 seconds of audio. Pretty crazy! (laughs)
But, we’re really excited, and can’t wait for people to actually hear those songs in their finished format. In this day and age, you’ve gotta embrace the whole media thing, and keep current and keep in people’s faces. You know, it was just a little gamble that we did, put it up there and hit a home run.
William: Are there any working titles for the new album floating around?
Michael: You know, I think we’ve been so busy and consumed with writing and trying to figure out the names of songs, and with all the other decisions we’re having to make, we’ve sort of left out that option. We don’t know what we’re going to call the album, I’m sure we’ll have many discussions, but I really don’t have any ideas at the moment. Maybe some fans can come up with some names, I don’t know! (laughs)
William: Are there any tracks that you’re working on that really stand out at the moment?
Michael: Well, they all stand out for different reasons. But, there’s a couple of tunes on here that my friends are going to hear it and are going to go, “OK, I get it”. There’s a song called “Vindication”, and there’s a song called “I’m Redemption”, I think will really grab the Michael Wilton aspect of Queensryche.
William: I’m sure that the new record is something all fans are going to keep their eyes out for. Is there anything else that Queensryche fans can look forward to in the near future?
Michael: Yeah, we’re constantly typing in new tour dates. Check out QueensrycheOfficial.com, for all the new ones that will be coming in. We’re looking forward to finishing this album in the next few weeks, and promoting the hell out of it across the world. So just make sure it’s the right Queensryche, OK? The band!