Q&A: Queensryche's Geoff Tate

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Best known for their 1988 concept album Operation Mindcrime, hard-rockers Queensryche opt for something complete different on their new studio album, American Soldier. As its title implies, the CD is all about war, told from a soldier’s point of view. Singer Geoff Tate put on a journalist’s cap for the album and interviewed soldiers who had fought in battles ranging from Vietnam to the Iraq War and used their stories for the album’s lyrics. While the whole thing comes off as an ad for the National Guard, Tate says he was surprised to discover that so many soldiers were actually anti-war, although he maintains American Soldier is neither pro- nor anti-war. Tate discussed the album and the umlaut-lovin' group’s May 6 show at House of Blues. —Jeff Niesel

Your father was the initial inspiration for American Soldier, right?
Yes. I grew up in a military family. I was actually born on a base in Germany. So growing up, I was always talking to my dad about his war experiences. He would never tell me much about it. It wasn’t until I was visiting him in Oklahoma a couple of years ago in 2006 when we were touring the Mindcrime shows and had a day off that he started telling me about Korea out of nowhere. I grabbed the video camera and recorded the conversation. That was the initial thing that sparked my interest. It got me thinking of not only his story but that of other soldiers.

What made you want to talk to soldiers from so many different eras?
I was trying to get an overall feel for what that life is like and what the experiences were like. At first, I didn’t know what I was looking for but the more I talked to people, the more it became clear to me what areas to focus on.

This is obviously a much different writing strategy. What was that like?
Yeah, it was a difficult. To get people to open up and talk about things is tough. You get a lot of one-word answers. You have to patient and keep digging and ask the same question in a different way. That part of it was really challenging. I walked away from the whole experience with a deeper respect for journalists and their job. Normally, when you write a record, you’re writing from your experiences. This is the first time I’ve written about somebody else’s life. We were acting as biographers. Using their words and sentence structures was very different.

You said there’s no agenda to the disc but is the album anti-war or pro-war?
Well, one of the things I was surprised to find out was that most of the soldiers I talked to were anti-war. That made a huge impact on me, considering the sacrifices they make. If you listen to the lyrics, there’s not a pro-war or anti-war stance. It focuses on what the soldiers go through, which is essentially managing their own fear and trying to establish a commitment to discipline and honor and separation from their families. This is what all soldiers face in all wars, at least from my limited knowledge.

You’ve said soldiers defend their country with honor. But as we’re learning now, that hasn’t really been the case with all the torture that went on in the prisons.
Well, you know, unless you’ve been there and done it and had hands on personal experience in that area, you can only comment from complete ignorance. Whether you agree or disagree with war, I don’t think that will change the fact that there always has been war. I think personally that there always will be. People aren’t equal. We’re not born into equal economic brackets. We don’t have equal intelligence or emotional depth or physical abilities. All those things are variable. When you have somebody who has something that has something and somebody that doesn’t, there’s a coveting that happens. With that imbalance, you’ll always have conflict. You have to have a prepared and willing military presence to ensure that quality of life.

But there should be a code of behavior even in war for how you treat prisoners.
Yes, there should be a code of ethics, but that shouldn’t hinder you from getting the information you need.

I understand that mentality but some people who were tortured had nothing to do with terrorism.
It’s a fine line, and it’s tricky. When I say you have to do what you have to do, you’re looking at protecting and caring for millions of people who live in our country and how do you do that and conduct yourself with restraint. Yes, there does need to be a code of conduct and punishment for people who don’t uphold that code of conduct. That’s one of the things that soldiers struggle with. What do you when you have a gun at your head? Can you reason with someone who has their finger on a trigger? I don’t have the answer.

Would you let the National Guard or any military organization use a song from the album for a commercial?
I think it’s something we’d have to review. We always review it and see if it’s something we believe in. We’d definitely approach it with an open mind, though.

How would you say American Soldier compares to Operation Mindcrime?
Mindcrime is strictly fantasy. This is a different thing. This is real people. Both are done in a sense of telling stories. For me, that’s a powerful medium that hearkens back to our primitive state.

With its different lineups and sounds, Queensryche has been through so many changes, what’s the constant?
Well, let’s see, it’s a matter of being interested and challenged. Our lineup has stayed pretty much the same — keep changing out the one guitarist. That’s kinda fun. You get to work with different people. Musically, it’s all about challenging ourselves and keeping things interesting.

What’s the set list like for these shows?
It’s pretty cool. We’re doing something different. We took a poll and asked the fans what albums they’d like to hear. We’re presenting Rage for Order, American Soldier and Empire in their entirety over two nights. We alternate back and forth.

I think in Cleveland you’re only doing one show, so what would that be like?
The shows are similar, so we start with Rage for Order set and play quite a few songs from that and segue into American Solider and play a few songs from that and finish up with the Empire album. We have new video that accompanies the songs. We also have an image distortion machine that’s kinda cool.

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