The Australian Queensrÿche Tour in 2016 will be a gig that every metal head can’t afford to miss. We have been fortunate enough to see Queensrÿche on our shores twice, the first being in support of the Operation Mindcrime II album and then as “best of” tour split into different suites across their expansive career in 2011. However, this will be the first tour since vocalist Todd La Torre replaced Geoff Tate in 2012. This current line-up has two albums under their belt, the self-titled Queensryche in 2013, and the latest release, Condition Human in 2015. The latter being a sincere return to Queensryche’s hey day, as an album that not only drips with melody, but is laced with thought provoking lyrics and straight ahead metal song structures. Condition Human is a fantastic metal album and is the product of a band that is firing on all cylinders once again.
The band has struggled with popularity since the release of Q2K in 1999 and spiralled around 2009 with the release of American Soldier. However, Queensrÿche have an unprecedented history and an unprecedented back catalogue, the envy of many a metal outfit, with the release of such masterpieces as Rage for Order 1986, Operation Mindcrime 1988, Empire 1990 and Promised Land in 1994. To now jump ahead to 2016, the now established line-up including Todd, the released Condition Human and now, the impending Australian tour, I caught up with Michael Wilton, founding guitarist, to discuss the upcoming tour and how the band has navigated themselves throughout their thirty six year career.
I asked Michael to begin with just what Australian fans should expect from the upcoming shows, “Well you know we haven’t been to Australia since 2011. You will see a revitalised line-up of Queensrÿche that is really kicking ass all over the world and blowing people away. We are firing and we are delivering the energy that our fans and our music deserve. And you know, it is something that we really want to bring to Australia as it has been nothing short of jaw dropping and high energy across the globe. I can’t wait to see our Australian fans again and to deliver!”
So how has Todd fitted in to the live experience of a Queensrÿche show? “He is doing just amazing. You know it was a miraculous find that I happened to run into the guy and meet him the first time. The timing was impeccable. He has just integrated into Queensrÿche with no real effort and no fuss. He is incredible and respectful to the music as well. As a personality and a friend he is easy going and he bonds with the members of the band. We are a bunch of brothers again with Todd in Queensrÿche . He has put his whole energy into the band and we have all benefitted from it.”
We moved our conversation now toward song writing and in particular the latest release, Condition Human. How do you complete the song writing process in the current line-up and did things change when Todd entered the band? “Well yes the song writing changed immensely you know. In the previous situation it was outside writers and people changing parts and it was kind of a bit stifling in the process. To fast forward it has been amazing as everyone is contributing to the writing and it’s unbelievable. Everyone’s ideas are thrown in to the pool and they are considered and used. It is an established band again, a rebirth. So far it has been reinvigorating and we are excited to write again. There is a lot of material over the years that got pushed aside and now we can pull it all out and rework it. It really is an exciting time for writing in this band.”
Condition Human to me is reflective of all things that are brilliant about Queensrÿche , but how do you Michael, reflect upon on it now that it is nearly a year old? “I think it is an evolution in the career if Queensrÿche . It was taking a different approach from the last album and really micro scoping the influences of the band. It also reflected how we recorded the old albums, and I think they are so special and worked because we created them that way. This method was brought to discussion by the band and the producer, Zeus. He wanted to bring that magic back in to the recording and make the band more cutting edge and new, but keeping the roots of old. The three guys who originally started this thing are still there and so we needed something to hone in and push it in the right way. This album has lit a fire around the world we have charted in countries that we haven’t chartered in since the 90s. The reviews have been great and very supportive we are elated and happy and have put lot of work into the album that has paid off.”
I really wanted to gauge from Michael his feelings and memories of Queensrÿche’s ground breaking releases and career and we started this at the beginning. Thinking back to the early eighties when Queensrÿche was starting to take form, what sort of a career did you see in your path ahead, or was it something that you just embraced as it opened up in front of you? “I tell you in the 80s I was a kid, and I was twenty and you know I was touring with Dio, Twisted Sister and Iron Maiden. The band was thrust into the industry and for me it was, I don’t know, it was just a whirlwind. It was a big learning process I tell you. There is a way to do things right in the industry and we had to cut our teeth on that and we learnt a lot from bands and producers. So it was such an amazing time, and you know for me it was like I couldn’t question myself and think of something else to do. I was really committed and I didn’t view it as a life-long career, I was just in the moment and it was amazing.”
When the band was writing Operation Mindcrime back in 1987-88 could you see the album you were creating, or what it would be? “No, I mean it was the whole idea of a conceptual album. It was something that we weren’t used to and it took a lot of thought. We really had to think things through. Chris and I had the music and we had to fit the story into the music and it was a learn as you go type thing. The record company were not too sure and management told us to go for it so we did. The great thing about Queensrÿche is that fans don’t know what the next album will be like. We recorded that and it was mixed over in Europe and a lot people were involved in it. When it was first released it didn’t do much but thankfully MTV and VH1 launched The Eyes of a Stranger and from here it exploded. We got on the Metallica ..and Justice for All tour and it was a great time and something that I look back upon very fondly.”
Further to this album and the release of Empire in 1990, the band commercially went to a whole new level in sales and success, how did you guys cope with this? “Not very well! You know when you collide with public taste you are thrust in to a world that you don’t understand. I think when that album came out we had six or seven videos on MTV and it burned us out you know, all of a sudden you are in the charts and your singles are going through the roof. You are going wow we are a progressive rock band and we were in the top ten. We started winning awards, we played the Grammys, just so much stuff happened in that period of time and you know it was really just a magical time for Queensrÿche .”
The bands break up with original vocalist, Geoff Tate, was well documented, or more correctly, plastered throughout the music media world as a highly intense and difficult split, and the court battle that ensued after the split only heightened this media attention and spewing of opinion. So I wanted to get an understanding of the situation with Geoff. Michael to talk about the situation back in 2012 and the split with Geoff how do you look back on this situation now, particularly seeing how well the band is moving in 2016? “It was a point where Queensrÿche were heading in the wrong direction. We needed to move away and it was not easy. It was a time of uncertainty and that didn’t go well with our families or us personally, but you know we believed in the decision we had to make. It’s now been four years you know, and we are doing our thing. It seems a long time ago that it happened now really.”
Michael thank you so much for your time today, to finish, do you have any parting message for your Australian fans ahead of the tour. “First and foremost we are very happy to have the opportunity to come to Australia again, and we are thankful that we can bring this energetic version of Queensrÿche to Australian fans. I think for all the people who haven’t seen us before it will be an eye opening event. For those who saw us in 2011, they will love the revamped Queensrÿche .”
Michael came across as an articulate and educated human being. A man who, not only is embracing is of his history, but a man who is in tune with where he is heading. Queensrÿche is a metal band who have been on the top of the world and a band who has experienced extreme lows in their career, leading up to the split with Geoff, but in 2016, they are still alive and riding a high upon their two last releases and the current line-up. This tour is going to be one not to miss for Australian metal fans bring on the Condition Human down under.
By Mark Snedden
All the tour dates and details of the upcoming tour can be found here