Having recently reinvigorated the heavy metal character which defined Queensryche‘s earlier studio efforts, a tour de force musical identity that was seemingly long lost as the result of reckless abandon, with the assistance of newly appointed lead vocalist Todd La Torre, founding member and guitarist Michael Wilton seems particularly motivated to spend whatever time available in between the band’s demanding tour schedule within the studio.
Aside from Queensryche’s current ‘Rebuilding the Empire‘ campaign and ongoing recording sessions for their anticipated follow-up to 2013’s self-titled return to form, Wilton recently rejoined the original lineup of the short-lived side project Soulbender to record four new anthemic songs that would accompany a reissue of the band’s 2004 debut effort. ‘Soulbender II’ features these same tracks, while introducing unaware listeners to a remastered assortment of songs with the Queensryche guitarist at the helm.
Despite his chaotic daily agenda, Michael Wilton was able to sit down with MEM to briefly discuss the inspiration behind the new Soulbender effort on Rat Pak Records, the possibility of a Soulbender tour, Queensryche’s current songwriting process, and the future of Queensryche.
William Clark: The majority of guitarists who step aside from their main band to embark on a solo career or side project cite more musical freedom as the main inspiration behind that decision, however it seems as though your creative ability has only just been reintroduced in regards to Queensryche. What was the motive in reviving Soulbender?
Michael Wilton: Yeah, Soulbender is a side project that started back in 2004. Musicians need to stay visible, to keep in the press and to keep music constantly flowing in between albums and tours.
William: It’s been a decade since Soulbender released their self-titled debut album, and ten years later the band has just returned with their follow-up, ‘Soulbender II.’ What was it like reuniting with the original lineup to work on new material with one another?
Michael: Well as you know, Soulbender is from the Pacific Northwest, in the Seattle area and Vancouver, Canada, and these are my friends, so it was just a cell phone call to them to educate them on Rat Pak Records and the possibility of doing an extension of the first CD along with four other songs. We proceeded, and everybody was available at the time so it’s a matter of circumstances and timing.
So we all got together and decided to do it, and while I was on the road with Queensryche, Dave Groves, Wes Hallam, Marten Van Keith got together in the studio in Blane, Washington, at Black Horse Studios and got busy, got to work and recorded all the drums, bass guitars, some solo sections. Then when I got off the road from Queensryche, Nick Pollock and I finished up everything with the guys, and then it was a matter of just getting it mixed right and sent off to Rat Pak Records and Joe O’Brien, and we’ll see what happens.
William: Was it really that easy just making a phone call [to reunite the original band]? Because I know Soulbender has had many different lineups over the years.
Michael: Right. That changed, there was some possible new ventures into it, but they were subsided and people went their own ways. The incantation of that was not released, maybe one demo appeared, but that’s about it. We decided that the value of Soulbender was with the original guys, and if anything further is done with other individuals, we’ll probably call it a different name.
William: ‘Soulbender II’ largely features remastered versions of the entire debut Soulbender record, in addition to four new compositions. Do you feel that reissuing the band’s first effort in addition to freshly crafted material gives those songs new life?
Michael: Yeah, the whole option was if it was remastered and four new songs, it’s kind of a ‘Soulbender II.’ That being said, it was individually released back in 2004 with no promotion or marketing, and it was all done via word-of-mouth and the internet. We basically did some touring off of it, and then stopped and everybody went back to their day jobs, including me [with] Queensryche. So basically that’s where it stands, and Joe O’Brien’s viewpoint on this is “Now let’s see what we can do with this,” because there was no promotional on this CD back in 2004.
William: Is the current plan to continue writing music with the rest of the Soulbender lineup and eventually release an album of all-new songs, and do you feel that material will follow the same approach as we find on “Turn Anger Up” or “Slave to Reality”?
Michael: You know, it’s always an open corridor. We always follow the dingy path and stay away from the mushrooms up here, but as friends we get together and hammer out songs. Soulbender is a jam-along band, and it’s just all for fun. People love the music, and that’s why we continue to write music as Soulbender.
William: Briefly turning the direction towards your work with Queensryche, the band’s eponymous studio album from last year was met with praising responses from both critics and fans alike. What, if anything, are you looking to improve upon with this next effort?
Michael: Well obviously this is the next step for Queensryche, so having the process already done once on the last album, the thirteenth album of Queensryche, we have definitely generated a cohesive togetherness as far as writing and creative elements that can be cohesively put on the table, as everybody is involved to make decisions and can give their viewpoints on songwriting. That being said, it makes it for a much better, tangible group of people to get together and get creative, because everybody’s not hindered or in any capacity stifled from bringing their creative elements to the table. Todd La Torre is a great musician as well as a vocalist, so that adds something really great to the menu. We talk together as real musicians – music theory, everything. It’s a very cohesive unit right now.
William: Does having an open mind at the helm of Queensryche in the form of Todd La Torre become beneficial when writing new material, especially after establishing this current lineup with a full-length album?
Michael: Absolutely. The writing process moves forward, you have obviously more time under your belt on this, as we’re not under [a ton] of amount of stress or anything other than following up the last CD. With all that, you just move forward and really concentrate on the strengths and the creativity of all the individuals, and that’s what we’re doing: bringing it all together, a collective bunch of songs that will not be hurried by anybody. So that brings us to a collective pool, like I’ve said before, that’s really great and a lot of fun, I have to add, to write with these gentlemen right now and to really see everybody blossom in their creativity.
William: If you’re comfortable with throwing out track names this early in the album’s development, what songs do you feel are in a good enough position that we might find on the next Queensryche album?
Michael: Well I mean as far as the next Queensryche record, we’re forging forward with obviously the standard that we wrote and that style of writing in the first five or six Queensryche records. We are not limited to any genre; Queensryche is a bit progressive, a bit of hard rock, a bit of metal, a bit of dynamics, but keeping the common thread and not straying too far, and that’s important, to respect the roots and where you came from. So we keep the common thread from the first five or six Queensryche albums, give it a blast or injection of the future as we’ve aged like fine wine, so… it’s a matter of just taking the album to the next step. At this moment in time, there are no tentative titles or song names that can be spoken about right now, they’re just working titles, and we are hoping to get this recorded by the end of the year and have it released in Spring 2015, followed by a 2015 Queensryche World Tour.
William: Queensryche’s recent ‘Return to History’ world tour showed the band placing particular emphasis on some of the band’s earlier efforts and deep tracks from albums such as ‘The Warning’ and ‘Rage For Order.’ After you come out of the studio with a new effort ready to hit the shelves and once again head for the tour bus, is there any chance we’ll see selections from ‘Promised Land’ or ‘Here in the Now Frontier’ find their way into the set list?
Michael: Yeah, I think song selection is always up for debate with everybody, but definitely. We were at a point in time where Todd, our vocalist, was only familiar with the first few albums. You know, that we have had time and experience, he’s obviously had time to listen to the album you mentioned, ‘Promised Land.’ Sure, there’s all kinds of possibilities, and even with some of the latter CDs that we put out, certain songs that may be special gems to the fans. We won’t hesitate to take a look at that, and what’s great about this is that the fans have open arms as far as the new music and placing all the new Queensryche music into the live sets, and that’s important because the blend is there and you have the proven assets of the band writing, so the DNA is in the musicianship. It just melds together in our set list, but with a lot of songs that everybody wants to hear, it’s kind of a challenge to do that in 90 minutes.
William: Sure. You talked about possibility incorporating songs from your latter albums into the set list. Are you suggesting that songs from ‘American Soldier’ or ‘Dedicated to Chaos’ might be performed live in the future?
Michael: Well, the possibilities are endless. I think we’ll probably gravitate towards songs that were written by the founding members, but we listen to the fans, and that’s important. You want to listen to what they’re saying. If you get a major flux of people that are demanding songs from ‘Promised Land,’ then we’ll investigate, we’ll look at it and see how it works into the set list. That’s what’s great about being in a band, people have really open minds about playing songs from every era of your career.
William: Ending on the topic of touring, in between with your activity with Queensryche do you believe we’ll see a future Soulbender tour?
Michael: Soulbender was mainly made to write music and have fun, you know, jam tunes. We’ve tried to tour a little bit, it’s kind of tough since everybody has their day jobs, including yours truly, and we definitely leave the door open. It’s got to be the right circumstances, I’ve actually already had plenty of offers and it’s just a matter of timing, getting everybody together… it’s kind of like herding cats. It’s a grueling task to try and get everything lined up right. I leave that door open, but it’s definitely got to be the right circumstances.
William: I know you’re under a time crunch today, but I appreciate you sitting down and taking the time to answer our questions.
Michael: That’s all good, and I appreciate you. I want to thank your listeners, your readers and your friends for supporting Queensryche and the endeavor of metal and hard rock music. It seems these days that it’s kind of gone underground, and it’s great that you guys keep the flame going.
William: That’s our goal, and thank you.