Take Cover in our interview with Queensrÿche singer Geoff Tate
Joining the swelling ranks of classic rock luminaries regurgitating hits of a bygone area Queensrÿche marches forth with their offering titled Take Cover. Like Tesla’s Real to Reel” Def Leppard’s Yeah or Shaw Blades Influences, the Seattle quintet have mapped out a diverse set of songs that reflect their high school tape collection. Housed in apocalyptic cover art that depicts the five band members in gas masks under a darkened cityscape, one would think the disc to be more sinister in song selection. Yet only Pink Floyd’s “Welcome To Machine,” Dio-era Sabbath’s “Neon Knights” and U2’s ”Bullet The Blue Sky” reflect the darker side of the band. For the most part Take Cover has a more progressive almost experimental feel to it moving from the funk-infused O’Jays “For the Love of Money,” the layering of Queen’s “Innuendo” to the operatic “Odissea.” With such an eclectic mix and the rumor of another concept record in the band’s future we hailed Geoff Tate from the comfort of his San Juan Island home to reveal the secrets of all things Queensrÿche.
“During sound checks,” begins Tate “Stone and Michael like to play ‘name that riff,’ and sometimes the whole band joins in. That’s really the way this album came together. Kevin Scurlock from Rhino (records) heard us messing around one night and suggested we record a couple of covers done our way with our stamp on them.” The concept came independent of other ‘80s bands on the covers wagon and though similar in design has a much wider scope in musical and emotional delivery. “We grew up listening to big area bands with huge stage shows and records that you played all the way through,” says Tate. “When picking these songs we wanted ones with a wide scope that worked well next to each other. We got together and started playing our picks to each other, and then we selected our favorites.”
As expected, the band members chose songs that matched their instruments. Geoff Tate, trained in opera, brought in the epic “Odissea” originally performed by the Italian duo of Carlo Marrale and Cheope. “I have sung ‘Odissea’ many times before. I belong to the opera and thought it would make an interesting piece for the band to work out. We like to think of our music as modern opera and it worked well with Mike Stone’s suggestion to do ‘Heaven on Their Minds’ from Jesus Christ Superstar.” Other vocally challenging numbers were Queen’s “Innuendo” and “Synchronicity II” by the Police. Guitarists Michael Wilton and Mike Stone embraced Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Almost Cut My Hair,” and the folksy Buffalo Springfield number “For What It’s Worth.” a song they often play acoustically on morning radio shows while touring. Bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield went for funk and groove in the O’Jays R&B “For Love of Money” and the thunderous Sabbath track “Neon Knights.”
“We’ve known Ronnie for years,” continues Tate. “We were deeply influenced by both Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules. You can hear it all over the first EP with songs like ‘Queen of the Reich’ and ‘The Lady Wore Black’ so ‘Neon Knights’ was a must for this record beside the guys just nailed it.” Tate goes on to say it was the band’s close association with the dynamic singer that brought the two bands together this summer. “My wife and I were out one night with Ronnie and his manager, Wendy. We reminisced about touring together in the early ‘80s and his contribution to our last album Operation Mindcrime II. The conversation turned to the Heaven and Hell tour and he extended the invitation to join - so we did.”
When asked if he was nervous about the risk in covering several unorthodox songs, Tate was quick to respond. “I don’t understand risk. I have been performing for 26 years so for me there is no risk just the excitement of a challenge. Songs can be played in a number of different ways like the way we did the CSN&Y song “Almost Cut My Hair” it has these wonderful guitar parts that Michael and Stone can play back and forth. The only risk would be in not doing the songs justice.” There is also a strong political understatement in several places throughout the disc. Tate comments, “There are ‘test of character’ moments. It weaves through the songs and in the order they’re sequenced on the disc. We start with this doomy “Welcome to Machine” and end with my rant during ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’. We rarely play covers live but that night we locked in on ‘Bullet’. I don’t remember exactly when or where we played this but everything came together musically. I had a lot on my mind and wasn’t shy with my social commentary.”
The band was adamant that they keep their reputation and maintain their standards. “Years ago,” Tate tells us, “Management was talking about making us into action figures. That’s where we drew the line.” Yet, like all bands 25 years old there have been struggles. “There was the rumor I joined Journey a few years back,” laughed Tate. “I’m good friend with Jonathan Cain and when I was working on my solo record I recorded several original songs with Cain and Neil Schon. We’re all good friends and the songs came out great but there was never any talk of joining them.” One thing Tate is sure of is the future of Queensrÿche. “The next album is going to be another concept piece not in the same line as Mindcrime, but just as textured and thought-provoking. We grew up listening to albums played on a turntable from beginning to end. The album format has space for good story telling and when you would go see the band live, with an elaborate stage show, it made the whole experience complete. We’re going back to that vibe.”
Website: Queensrÿche, Rhino Records