Geoff Tate, Interview – Sweet Oblivion, Defying Genre Labels and More

2021-03-22

Geoff Tate sits in his studio in front of a black and white keyboard.

Geoff Tate – Story by Anne Erickson, courtesy photo

Geoff Tate joins Anne Erickson to discuss his new album with Sweet Oblivion, “Relentless,” and more in this in-depth interview

Geoff Tate is one of the most prolific voices in progressive metal music. Whether he’s singing leads in Sweet Oblivion, Operation: Mindcrime or with his solo music, fans know they’re going to get powerful, dynamic vocals and lyrics during Tate’s performances.

Tate is coming up on the release of his sophomore album with Sweet Oblivion, “Relentless,” out April 9. Ahead of the album’s release, he spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio about “Relentless,” what makes a legendary vocalist and his favorite memories from his time fronting Queensryche. Read the full Tate interview below, listen via the YouTube player and hear it via the Audio Ink Radio show on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.

Anne Erickson: Congratulations on your sophomore album with Sweet Oblivion, “Relentless.” I’ve heard the whole album, and it’s really remarkable. How much of the writing on the record was influenced by the experience of the past year and the pandemic?

Geoff Tate: I think “I’ll Be the One” is one song that’s very influenced by the pandemic and the impact that the pandemic has had on individuals and couples and families. I guess the spirit of the album has a lot to do with the pandemic, since I was on lockdown making the record and basically couldn’t travel but five kilometers away from the house every day– it’s against the law, because it’s locked down. So, it was really a matter of staying inside and reflecting.

Do you feel that having this record to work on – and your music, in general – has helped you through this lockdown period?

Yeah, because I’m a traveling musician. Although I release records and have been pretty consistent about that, I spend a lot of time away from home. In 2019, I believe I was home 23 days in my own house. So, yeah, it forces you to do other things. I feel pretty good over the last year. I’ve been very productive. I finished one record. I have three other records in the works in various states of completion. I sold one of my homes and downsized and bought another house and downsized again and pretty much got my life in order, because over the years, I’ve just been putting stuff off in hopes that I’d have some time in the future to take care of things. Like, I had four storage warehouses full of stuff that I just kept cramming stuff in there, and, will I get to it all one day? So, this was the year I finally got to it all and cleared all that stuff out. So, I feel good about that.

You’re considered one of the greatest voices in progressive metal. What do you think makes a legendary vocalist- the stage show, charisma, style or something else?

I have no clue. I have no idea- those are other people’s opinions, and everybody has them. So, I have no idea what they mean or what they expect or anything. I just do what I do, and I do enjoy doing it. I have to say, I love my job. I love traveling around and performing for audiences. I love the one-on-one with the people and meeting up with different fans and talking music. I have my own wine brand, and there’s a lot of talk about that when we get together with fans. Then, of course, we do the backstage pass travel thing where we take fans and other people traveling, and that’s a really great time. It’s a lot more fun than I ever thought it would be.

Going back to “Relentless,” what do you hope fans take away from the release?

I haven’t really thought about that. I don’t really have expectations, honestly, writing records and especially writing songs and putting records out. It’s an entirely selfish endeavor, absolutely. It has nothing to do with anybody else. It’s something that I’m driven to do and feel I must do. So, I do that, and I guess some people like it, and some people don’t. It’s really out of your control as an artist. You do what you do, and people either are interested in it or they’re not.

When live music is finally back, do you think it will back to how it was with people being close to each other and moshing and everything, or do you think that it’s going to be different going forward with everything that we’ve been through?

Well, I hope it returns to the normal that we all knew. I really do. Although, over the last year, I’ve done a few live shows in different places that have opened up. Recently, in December in Florida, I did a show that was very well attended, but of course, the rules are that you couldn’t sell the whole thing. It was half capacity. So, people were really spread out, and that didn’t seem to detour people’s enthusiasm for being there or for experiencing the music. I wouldn’t have known that there was a pandemic in place by people’s reactions. It was all very enthusiastic, and people had a great time. I had a great time. Then, I’ve done a couple of other shows. We had to spread out two shows over three days. I did two shows in one day, because we had to spread them out so thinly. The audience had to spread out so thin. That was kind of strange, but it was cool and fun. Then, I just did a show in the Seattle area here around Valentine’s Day that was 25% capacity but very enthusiastic audiences. I think that when it all comes back, I think people are just going to be back at it and experiencing live music and having a good time. It’s going to be- it might not be the old normal, (but) it might be a new normal that we aspire to. But, I think it’s going to be back to a state of people being in the presence of each other.

People got to know and love you in Queensryche. Do you have a favorite Queensryche album that holds a special place in your heart?

Well, I’m very proud of all the music that Queensryche made in my time with the band. That’s how we really pushed a lot of boundaries with our music and were very progressive in our presentations. I have very special moments that I feel are special moments from my point of view of actually making the records. The “Promised Land” album that we made in ’93 and came out in ’94 was very special to me, because of the way we did it, living on a remote island and building our own studio. That was an incredible experience, I thought. Working on the “Warning” album in London and living there for a year, making the record and working all the high end studios in the city and being involved with the music scene at that time was incredibly exciting.

And, the last album I made with Queensryche, “Dedicated to Chaos,” was one of my favorite sounding records and a record I feel really proud of, because everybody in the band was contributing to that record. It was really a band effort- one of the first band efforts, well, first and only band effort we ever had. So, I felt really great about that, too. But, yeah, there’s high moments, I feel, special moments, I feel, for almost all the records, really. Because, I think as a writer, as a musician, with each record is a success, because you started with nothing and you made something at the end of the day, and that’s a wonderful feeling.

How crucial do you think Queensryche was influencing and pioneering the whole progressive metal genre?

Well, I’ll put it this way: There wasn’t a progressive metal genre before us. How about that? (Laughs) Actually, I’m kind of against genres. I’ve never been a fan of genre-fication or putting artists’ music into little boxes. It really has only one purpose, and that’s to sell it, you know? So, the danger of putting a band or an artist in a box like that is that fans get expectations based upon that little box. Often times, if you step outside that box or put your toe outside that box, you get massively criticized, and it’s not accepted, because that’s not progressive metal or that’s not metal or that’s not hip hop. Everybody puts their limitations on what the art can be, and that’s a dangerous precedent that gets set. It’s a dangerous attitude when you start limiting the thinking or trying to limit the thinking of people, and that’s where you get into, fascism and, ultimately, monarchies and that kind of thing.

What’s next for you the rest of this year and into 2022?

Lots of touring. I’m booked solid up until past Christmas. I think I’m booked into 2022. So, I’m going to be on the road coming to a town near you.

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