Queensryche’s Todd La Torre On the Rock and Roll Aspect

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Queensryche are bound and determined to eradicate the past decade of their history, by boldly revisiting their classic sound throughout a collection of dynamic, guitar driven new compositions that comprise up their upcoming self-titled album release.

And you can attribute most of the credit to recently appointed lead vocalist Todd La Torre.

His bolstering vocal range and similar sound allows him to boldly tackle the band’s earlier material live, and help attribute a powerfully nostalgic sound throughout these new tracks while also adding enough personality and uniqueness to his performance to allow Todd to standout and become his own.

To the fans who have been desperately waiting for a new Queensryche record that actually sounds like Queensryche, then you can literally count down the number of days on your fingers until their new album drops on June 25th.

I recently sat down with Todd to talk about the new album, the story behind the track titled “A World Without”, and what exactly is rock and roll.

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William Clark: You’ve talked about how you’ve actually been a fan of Queensryche for many years. What was it like, sitting down with these musicians that you’ve looked up to and writing new music?

Todd La Torre: In the beginning, it was very surreal. You know, it’s hard to put into words what that feels like, when you are staying at the guitar player’s house, or you’re finally in somebody’s house and working on music. These are people you’ve seen in music videos, and you’ve shared a lot of your life experiences to their music in your car or your house. And, you know to finally be in such a close proximity and start to develop a friendship, it’s really hard to put into words what that experience is like. After time goes by, a little bit of that feeling goes away because they’re just normal people, and that “star factor” kind of goes away. You know, it’s still there, but I don’t see those guys like I used to because the dynamic of the relationship has changed. There’s an actual relationship now, whereas before they were just people I admired. Now they’re people I admire still, but are my friends that we can talk about everything together.

William: There is a significant, classic Queensryche vibe throughout the entire new album. What was the chemistry like during those sessions?

Todd: The chemistry was wonderful. It was very easy to get along with everyone, and everyone had their own ideas and creative elements that went into making each song. It was really stress free, and everyone was able to have ideas that went outside of their instrument. You know, I was able to contribute on a little bit on some drumming ideas for something, Parker wrote lyrics to a song, Eddie wrote lyrics to a song, I wrote a guitar part, Michael wrote melodies, we had ideas for all kinds of things. So, the chemistry was great, and it almost felt like I had been working with these guys for much longer than I have. So, we’re really anxious to work on the next bunch of songs for the next album, which we are starting to do now.

William: Who came up with the idea to have Queensryche’s new album self-titled?

Todd: Um, I can’t remember who thought of it first. I remember Scott telling me about it first, he had talked about it. At first, I didn’t know what to think, but it made sense. It was very simple, to the point, and I liked it. I thought it was a very simple but bold statement, and so far everyone who’s listened to it has gotten that same sentiment that was initially described to me by Scott. It took a day or two to have it really grow on me, but once I got the message behind why, it made sense and it was a great place for me to start with me being the new singer. And these guys feel almost like it’s a rebirth for the band. So, I thought it was pretty cool, and I like it.

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William: Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new album. The opening instrumental, “X2”, is a great way to kick off the album, it has some menacing symphony work and deep vocal parts. Is that you in the beginning of the album, and are you saying anything specific?

Todd: (laughs) You know, I knew people would want to know that! And I can’t tell you! It’s part of the mystery! But, you can credit Scott for that composition, he’s involved in doing film scores and stuff like that. He’s great with all those different sound effects and cinematic ear-candy, we like to call it, you know?

He’s really great with that, I think it’s a really great way to start off the album and it transitions right into the first actual song very well. But yeah, I’m glad you like it. It’s really cool, it has some vocal stuff, and yes that is me, but you would have to figure out where’s it’s from and that kind of thing. You’ll hear part of that deep talking, if you will, and that’s me from somewhere else in the album. But yeah, it’s a great opener.

William: One of my favorite songs off of the new album is “A World Without”, it’s sort of like a heavier, darker “Silent Lucidity”. How did that song come together?

Todd: That song was originally written by Scott. When I got the song with no vocal melody or lyrics, it was already titled “A World Without”. You know, a lot of times an artist will just save a file with a name or some sort of reference when they come up with an idea, and I just liked the title. So I literally wrote the lyrics and the melody around the title, in what I think was like thirty minutes. I know it was less than an hour. It was quite late, late at night or early in the morning, and I got up, opened up my laptop, I played it and started typing as I was feeling the melody.

With that song, “Midnight Lullaby” is the intro to that song, and there’s a story. The story behind the song is a man whose wife dies during childbirth for their baby. And so, in the beginning of “Midnight Lullaby”, you hear this baby being rocked, and then you hear this wind-up toy, which plays this very creepy, haunting lullaby, like a little child’s toy. And then comes the song. And so, there’s a lot of metaphorical things, like the wife in the second verse. The guy is smoking a cigarette, and the wife becomes the cigarette, and she’s the smoke he’s breathing in. So, she’s closer to him in this way then she ever could be in the flesh.

So, there’s a lot of those little lines, like “The tickle in my throat, your way of reaching out”. It’s kind of an out-there idea, but it’s something that has always fascinated me, what happens to us when we pass away. And so that touches on, you know, the idea of reincarnation and what can happen. It’s a really cool song, it’s really dark, and when we wrote it the song had a lot of deep guitar parts, and then Michael came in and added some really cool parts to the song.

He added the guitar solo section to the song, and then of course the orchestration that Scott worked very hard on made it more epic, in my opinion, because of that orchestration. Rather than just rock guitar, you have these heavy orchestrations on top of that. We’re really proud of it, I’m glad it’s being received very well. It came together super fast, aside from the orchestration it’s one of the songs that came together extremely fast.

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William: I caught Queensryche on your current Return To History Tour, when you came to the House of Blues in Orlando, Florida. I loved how you focused on bringing out a lot of deep tracks, such as “Roads To Madness” back into the set list. Whose idea was it to play those songs live?

Todd: Well, when I first joined the band, or actually when I first met the guys and we started rehearsing for the Rising West shows, they asked me, “What do you like? Because we know so much of it, what do you want to play?”. And I said, “Honestly, these are the songs that I really love”. And they were like, “Yeah! That’s a great song! That would be really cool to play!”.

And then at rehearsal, Michael would play part of a song, and then Scott would get in there, and before you knew it they were playing songs they hadn’t done in I don’t know how many years. And they were smiling like kids again, and we were having a great time digging into the songs that were in the early catalogue of their work. And it’s resonated really well with the fans, all the hardcore old school fans know it.

And it’s been a lot of fun, we’re still working on old stuff right now to be able to change the set list up and produce some really obscure things. We all kind of said at the same time, “That would be fun, let’s try that!”, and once we did it that it started to gel really well and we’ve been doing it since.

William: During that show, I noticed how the band really focused on those first four albums to draw from and add to the set list. Does the rest of the band really have any intention or desire to play selections from Queensryche’s later catalogue?

Todd: You know, there’s a couple of songs off of ‘Promised Land’ that we’ll probably do, but anything past ‘Promised Land’ I doubt that we’ll play. A lot of that material was already played by the band before I joined, and most of those songs were not going so well with the fan base, in my opinion. And I think that the general consensus is that the EP up until ‘Empire’, and even ‘Promised Land’, is the music that the fans connect with the most. And those are the songs and the time period that most represented the core sound of what Queensryche material was about.

I know it was still Queensryche on those more recent albums, at least some of them, but when they started bringing in all of these outside writers, that’s not really Queensryche writing anymore. And that was reflected. So, I think we’ll stick with the favorite years.

William: At the Orlando show, you had David Van Landing from the Michael Schenker Group come onstage and sing “Eyes Of A Stranger” with you. How did that collaboration come together?

Todd: He is a very close friend of mine. I knew he was going to be at the show, and we talked. When Michael Schenker was in Seattle, Parker and Michael came onstage and had a lot of fun, so we thought it would be a lot of fun also to have David come out. So I called him up and I said, “How about you come onstage and sing this song with me, and we can trade off and it would be a lot of fun”.

He said he would sing that song, and so we just did it. We didn’t even really rehearse, just in the dressing room I said, “OK, you sing this verse and I’ll sing that verse”, and we just did it! It was kind of a last minute thing, and we had a lot of fun doing it. I know he had a lot of fun. So, that’s how that happened.

 

William: I think the fans have greatly appreciated how big of a role you’ve played in making Queensryche a class act again, taking cell phones from audience members and videotaping the rest of the band performing on multiple occasions.

Todd: Awesome. Yeah, that’s great to hear. Those are actually things I did in Crimson Glory. One of the first times I did that I was with Crimson Glory, and I just thought, this person is only capable of taking pictures from this one spot, they can’t move around the stage because they’re upfront and can’t move to the sides without losing their place of where they’re standing.

So, give me the camera, and I’ll walk around the stage and I’ll get pictures that I know you’d probably like to have. And I just did it that one time, and they were so appreciative of it. I thought, “How cool would that be, if someone did that for me?”. I have fun doing that. It’s kind of become something that I always do at a show now, and it’s gotten positive attention. I never did it for any of that attention, I just did it! To do something cool for people, and it’s getting noticed! (laughs)

William: Whereas Geoff Tate, during a recent performance from his Queensryche he took a cell phone from the hands of an audience member and pitched it out to the crowd. I sat down with Geoff and brought this occasion up, and he said that this was just “rock and roll”. How do you respond to that?

Todd: (laughs) Aw, what do you even say to something like that? Rock and roll is stage diving, I guess if you wanted to throw something off the stage you could throw yourself off and crowd surf! That might be rock and roll. I mean, I wasn’t at the concert, so I don’t know. I guess it would be kind of hard to justify that, but I wasn’t there. Maybe the guy was provoking him? I have no idea why he did that, it’s not something that I would ever do, but I’m not in his shoes. I wouldn’t say that’s rock and roll, I think there’s other cool things you could do. I know one time in Greece, I crowd surfed, you know? And that was awesome!

But people can be weird. I’ve had fans come onstage and want to stage dive! (laughs) People get so caught up in the moment and the energy that they’ll do things spontaneous, and I guess maybe that incident is the reciprocal of that. Getting caught up in a moment, and reacting or doing something. I don’t know. I’m not gonna put him down, I’m not going to say anything bad about Geoff Tate as a person because I don’t know him personally. I just know what I do with fans’ cameras, and I have been doing it for years. So, I don’t really have anything negative to comment regarding that situation with him. It’s just not something that I do.

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William: Moving back to the topic of your new album. Are you happy with the reception you’ve been receiving from critics and the fans so far?

Todd: Yeah, really. Select people have been given a copy of it to listen to, and a lot of times; well, I don’t want to say a lot of times, but sometimes a record will only have one or two good songs on it. I mean, we’ve all purchased an album because of a song we heard and we really liked, but the rest of it we didn’t. The interesting thing with this album is so many different people have their own favorite, which is really cool.

For example, you really liked the song “A World Without”, another interview that I did the person’s favorite song was “Open Road”. Another person said their favorite song was “Spore”. So, I think it’s a really honest, fair assessment to say that there’s something for everybody on this record. There’s a lot of great moments, they’re good songs, the only criticism is that it isn’t a very long album. But that’s OK, some of the greatest albums written are very short, even shorter than this album. We tend to focus on good content, we didn’t want to have ten more minutes or fifteen more minutes of music, just to say that we could.

We had other songs that didn’t go on this record but will go on the next one, because they weren’t quite finished. They needed more time, we were touring and at some point you have to say, “This is good, we’re done, let’s get this record out and we’ll work on the next one”. And so we’re glad that the material we wrote made it on this one, because it’s better and we weren’t forced to have more songs on that record. Let’s just put out these songs, keep working and put out more material.

You know, we’re just going to continue writing songs and putting records out. And so I think overwhelmingly, there’s a really positive response. It’s a great time for the band, it’s a great beginning and starting point for me, and compared to many of the past albums the band has done, the critics are saying that this is likely the best album Queensryche has put out since ‘Promised Land’. Or even ‘Empire’.

So, that’s a huge compliment, we’re very flattered, and we hope that when it’s in everybody’s hands that it will be received well. Sometimes it takes a few spins, you’ve got to keep playing it, and you’ll pick up elements of songs you didn’t catch the first time around. I think from beginning to end, it’s a good ride.

William: Agreed.

Todd: It’s not too long, and you’re don’t feel like you’re missing too much. If the listener wants more, than I feel like we’ve done our job. If somebody feels like they’re skipping tracks, or when the record is done they don’t want to listen to it again because it was so long, we don’t want that either.

 

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