Queensryche, Todd La Torre Interview – Getting Personal on ‘Rejoice in the Suffering’

2021-02-02

Todd La Torre of Queensryche, posted on railroad tracks on a dark day. La Torre has a new solo album out, "Rejoice in the Suffering."

Todd La Torre of Queensryche – Story by Anne Erickson, courtesy photo

Todd La Torre of Queensryche joins Anne Erickson to discuss his debut solo album, “Rejoice in the Suffering,” and more in this in-depth interview

Todd La Torre has spent years fronting Queensryche, enriching the band’s sound with his powerful, deep vocals and passionate lyrics. Now, La Torre is coming up on a new milestone– the release of his debut solo album, “Rejoice in the Suffering,” this Friday (Feb. 5) via Rat Pak Records.

“Rejoice in the Suffering,” with its metal-heavy textures and roars, showcases a different side of La Torre than he presents in Queensryche, proving he has a wide range of vocal styles at his disposal. La Torre spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio about the personal meaning behind his new solo album, the status of a new album with Queensryche, the state of rock and metal music and more. Read the full interview below, and listen to the conversation via the YouTube player and Audio Ink Radio podcast on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.

Anne Erickson: It’s a very exciting time for you, because you have your debut solo album on the way, “Rejoice in the Suffering.” That’s a great title. Tell me about the meaning behind, “Rejoice in the Suffering.”

Todd La Torre: I didn’t initially plan to call the record that. That was the first song that Craig and I wrote. The initial writings for this record were kind of surrounding dad’s death. He committed suicide back in 2014. So, it was me kind of purging and getting out some of these emotions and feelings. There are things in there, obviously, that people wouldn’t understand. They won’t know what some of the lyrics mean or what they’re referencing. That title kind of has to do with the events that surrounded some of the personal toxicity and turmoil that was surrounding my dad’s death. So, that was where the title kind of came from. It wasn’t such a nice thing, let’s just say, but you know, when I titled that song that way, I just loved it.

And then, when we finally got done, I remember initially earlier on, I was like, we had so many songs, and I said, “I still think this would be a really good album title.” Then we came up with the ouroboros. That’s a very ancient symbol, and it just kind of tied in with the artwork really well. It’s more personal than I probably want to reveal all the details, but I can just say that a lot of that surrounds my dad’s death.

Was it hard to get personal and write music about the experience of your father’s death? 

You know, it wasn’t. It was therapeutic to be honest. I mean, there are moments where… Because the song “Apology” is also about that. The song “Apology” is kind of- if I had to see what my dad’s last day would be like through his eyes, that was kind of the storytelling of the song “Apology.” There were moments where it was difficult, but it was also very therapeutic to just get this stuff out and sing it and kind of purge. It was all good, though. It wasn’t, like, bad. It was comforting to me.

The album’s first single, “Vanguards of the Dawn Wall,” is so brutal and heavy. It’s different from what fans usually hear from you. Tell me about your decision to go in this heavier direction.

Well, that track, Craig had some music for that, some riffs for that. I was feeling like that vocal style, that song, kind of needed something really kind of harsh and shrill and aggressive. Then, I was watching- had seen a really great documentary called “Free Solo.” I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but you should totally watch it. It’s a documentary about a guy that climbs El Capitan at Yosemite National Park, and he free climbs this mountain, if you will, with no ropes, no harnesses, no nothing. It’s pretty nuts. And, then I watched it a couple of times.

Then, I saw another documentary called, “The Dawn Wall,” and this is what they call one side, one face of this wall. I guess that’s where, I think, the sun hits it first or something like that. But, nevertheless, these two climbers climbed it, and I was really kind of going down this rabbit hole of all these amazing climbers. Because, I typically write my content and subject matter (about) geopolitical or social issues or things about religion or whatever. This was a total shift for me. I was like, I want to write a song about these climbers. So, I just wrote that! I think we wrote that song in a couple of days. Then, for the video, I have some friends that climb out in the Pacific Northwest. One or two of the climbers actually has climbed and knows Tommy Caldwell, who was one of the climbers from the documentary, “The Dawn Wall.” So, I said, “Hey, the next time you go out and climb, just capture some footage of you guys climbing.”

So, they did. And I said, “Send it to me. I don’t care if it’s raw cell phone footage or anything; just let’s just do this.” So, at the end of the day, it really just kind of captured the spirit of climbing, not necessarily like just those guys that climb and what those documentaries were about, but that’s what the song was written about. It’s definitely a punch-you-in-the-face, full-throttle kind of a non-stop, heavy metal track that definitely threw people, I think, a curve ball. (They) weren’t expecting me to sound like that, but it’s gotten good feedback overall. So, I can’t complain.

You did such a good job with the heavy material. I think that was the surprise, because a lot of people try to shift their genre, but you really nailed it. 

You know, thanks, but this is stuff that I’ve always been into. It’s just, people only see that one side of me through Queensryche. So, they don’t get more the heavier side of what I do or what I can do. This was just very natural for me to write and sing this style and do that. Again, it’s just a whole other side of what I do and what I like to do. You guys just get to hear it for the first time, but I’ve been singing like this for 20 years.

Do you think any of your solo music will bleed into the new material that you do with Queensryche?

No. They’re apples and oranges. They’re totally separate things. I don’t write guitars, really, in like a Queensryche way. That’s not where I shine in Queensryche. I think my lyric writing and my vocal phrasing and delivery and that sort of thing, that’s kind of my asset to the writing process for Queensryche music. I would never try to push this kind of style or sound into Queensryche’s music. I don’t really write music- I mean, I co-write stuff with them, and I might have a guitar riff idea or something, but they’re totally separate things, and I would never, never want to pollute the waters of Queensryche what I’m doing! (Laughs)

It’s great that you have this outlet with your solo material, where you can do music that’s totally different from Queensryche.

Yeah, and I think because I’ve been able to get this first one out, I think that my eagerness to do things with Queensryche definitely takes a back seat, because I have this other outlet to do those things. So, I feel less inclined to be like, “Oh, I need to scream here and show people what I can do on this.” I really want to just respect what Queensryche’s sound is and not change. I don’t want to change the style and sound of what Queensryche is and should be. I very much draw a line in the sand where, you know, I can experiment and try some things that might be fitting for a Queensryche song, but as far as pushing that onto them, I feel, because I got that done, I’m more relaxed doing the Queensryche stuff where I don’t feel like I have to try to sneak in something heavier, because nobody’s got to hear that from me. Now they get to hear a plethora of styles from me on this record.

What’s the status of new music with Queensryche? Have you guys been doing anything during lockdown?

In fact, Michael Wilton is at my house here in Florida right now. We’re doing some writing together, and Zeus is here, and then Casey (Grillo) who plays drums with us, he lives about 30 minutes away. So, he’s going to come by later and just getting ideas down, songwriting, kind of the old-fashioned way, where people are in a room and you’re coming up with ideas in real time and trying new things instead of always by yourself, in your studio and then emailing an idea and then waiting for somebody to listen to it and then telling you what they think. That might take a week for one idea, to make the full exchange and talk about it. Whereas here in real time, it takes 10 minutes. So, yeah, we’re writing new material for Queensryche, so that’s all starting and happy. It’s all good.

That’s exciting. Do you have any idea when you’re hoping to release the new Queensryche album?

You know, it would be a little premature for me to say, but I would love for us to be able to put something out maybe by the end of this year. We’ll see, you know. It’ll be a bottleneck thing, because every band is going to be releasing albums this year, so maybe we come from behind like a relay race, and once everybody’s stuff is out there, Queensryche will come out with a new album when all the dust starts to settle a little bit. (Laughs)

That’s actually a good idea, because you’re right– there’s going to be so much new music out this year.

Yeah, totally. I’m glad that this record comes out in February, so it’s early in the year. Let people digest that and enjoy that for the year, and hopefully we can get in the studio, and with the pandemic, we just don’t know what’s going to happen with shows- what’s rescheduled, what will be canceled, studio time booked. It’s just kind of a day-by-day thing right now. I think for pretty much everybody in the world, actually, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen a month from now. You just don’t know.

Being the lead vocalist in Queensryche and stepping into that role, fans have really embraced you. How does it feel be embraced by those longtime fans?

You know, surprisingly, because I think when a very legendary band with a coveted singer and a sound, when they change a member, that’s a hard pill for a lot of people to swallow and accept. I’m very, very grateful for what I would consider the majority of the Queensryche audience- I think most of them have accepted this lineup and what I’ve been able to bring to the band. So, I’m super thankful. The experience is- it’s hard to put into words. Queensryche was one of my favorite bands growing up, obviously. I played in cover bands, and we played – I was a drummer in those bands – but we played some Queensryche cover songs and, you know, to be able to be on stage and be like, “Wow, these guys.” I watched Michael Wilton in these videos when I was a teenager or Eddie Jackson or whatever. We’re playing the song, and I can remember listening to this record in my car.

And now, like, the real guy that did it is standing next to me. Especially, initially that was like… I can’t believe this is happening. But, almost nine years into the band now and starting on album number four with me, you become a little desensitized. Not to confuse that with taking for granted. I certainly don’t take it for granted. But, just the experiences of traveling the world and creating new music, and then people requesting new songs. Hey, “Play this one off ‘The Verdict,'” or “I love this song off ‘Conditioned Human.'” Those are the very rewarding things where even though the fans like to hear the classics, a lot of people want to hear the new stuff that I was a part of creating. So, that’s a nice acknowledgement, that I was able to contribute something that the listeners want to hear live, as well. So, I really can’t complain.

There’s constant change in the music world, from the Internet to concerts being on hold for a long time due to the pandemic. What do you think rock and metal music needs to do as a whole to survive and thrive as a genre going forward?

Uh, man. That’s the $25,000 question right there. I don’t know. I mean, rock, heavy metal, in particular, has always been like kind of the underdog genre. The big, big numbers and sales really aren’t the same as like a big country artist or a pop artist, and unless you’re Iron Maiden or Metallica or something like that, most of these bands, 99% of them are grinding it out. And, because the industry has changed, you’re not able to just live off of publishing. You have to play live music. You have to sell merchandise. We do meet-and-greets. You have to try to get clever and be creative with supplementing the income that’s lost from those other means of income.

I don’t know what the the answer is to that, but I think that it’s just one of those styles and genres where people are always going to want to see that live, and I don’t think it’s ever going to die. A lot of stuff starts to get formulated, and a lot of these bands all start to sound the same, and it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. And then, when it becomes saturated, something happens. There’s a change, and then a needed change, and then something else comes about. And, it’s like a rebirth in that scene. Again, it’s just like in the ’80s when every band was being like the L.A. glam band, and then that had to die out. Then, the grunge thing came about in Seattle, and as much as the real rock and metal fans detested a lot of that stuff, it needed to change.

And then, here comes a whole new generation of players and music and sounds. It’s just an ever-evolving thing that you kind of roll with the punches and have to observe kind of what’s happening. Hopefully, you can sustain and survive. And, especially now with the pandemic, a lot of venues have closed. Guarantees have changed. Bands aren’t really sure what they’re going to be paid. Maybe they’re getting a piece of the door. Can they really afford a tour bus? Do they need to get in a van? Okay, we’re too old to go on a van. So, maybe we’re not going to do that. (Laughs) You know, it’s a multifaceted- so many variables involved that to give you like a nice, magical answer to that question.

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