Throughout rock n’ roll history we have experienced a wide variety of sound, sub-genres and influential musicians who have either inspired us as a listener, or have inspired us to tackle our own musical endeavors. Music has been a platform for awareness just as often as sheer entertainment. Sometimes it even combines both to provide the full package of social consciousness with the explosive musical sound that sparks enough energy to set a stadium on fire. Multi-platinum selling, Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Geoff Tate is known to bring that full package, but he didn’t stop at setting stadiums on fire. No, he set the whole world on fire.
With a growing appreciation for music at a very young age, Tate was enrolled into private music lessons. Only a few years later he began to play for the school orchestra and continued on his journey to becoming a true musician. Growing up in an age where genre-fication wasn’t heavily pressed, Tate was influenced by everything from jazz to classical music. But it wasn’t long before songs written by bands like the Beatles and Jefferson Airplane would introduce him to a genre that would evolve into the genre that he calls home. After playing in the school band all through high school, he began to branch out and start collaborating with other musicians. “I started playing with other people in small ensembles outside of school, playing in my first rock n’ roll band back in the ancient 1970’s,” Tate recalls. “It’s been a long, interesting journey, I’d have to say.” Although there were bands in between, his journey truly began with The Mob.
The Mob was a cover band, a band whose repertoire consisted of versions of songs by other artists rather than their own original music. Unbeknownst to some at the time, this meant that they were often playing for little to nothing. But it wasn’t the pay that left Tate hungry for more. It was the originality. “I wanted to work on original music and I was only doing a cover band for experience and the stage experience. So, I left the group and went off to work on some original music with other people,” Tate explains. “In the meantime of me being gone, Chris (DeGarmo) and Michael (Wilton) wrote some original songs. They approached me, maybe a year and half later, and asked me to sing on these original songs. I agreed to it…only if we could write a song together. That was really my focus – writing material. We wrote a song called The Lady Wore Black. This was the first song that we wrote together. It felt good playing with these guys and I really liked the material that we were working on. So, we kind of made a record.” After spending a long summer working on the demo, Tate found himself involved in other musical ventures. Almost another year later, DeGarmo reached out again with the news that there were people interested in releasing the record and that they wanted to talk with him. This “talk” would change their lives forever. The sound of their unreleased demo was an attention getter, especially for The Harris’, who were local record store owners in Seattle. Avid music lovers, they began to manage the band and push their music out to the masses. “We decided that we would release this EP that we made as its own release. We called the group Queensrÿche and produced our first record on a record company that we made with our management called 206 Records,” Tate says humbly. “And that led to us getting a really great deal with EMI Records.” Known as the label that has been on the forefront of every seminal musical movement, EMI Records helped take the band to the next level. The release of this self-titled 4 song EP quickly gained recognition both nationally and internationally. With heavy airplay and a heavier touring schedule, the band was on its way to making metal history. Suddenly, they weren’t in Seattle anymore. They were touring the world with the likes of Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Guns N’ Roses, and Metallica.
“Queensrÿche was a really famous opening act for most of our careers,” Tate embraces. “That’s pretty much what we spent our time doing. We would play the occasional headlining show, or short headline tour for a week, or something like that. But we were primarily an opening act for years and years and years.” After the 1982 self-titled release that put them on the map, the band began taking over. In 1984, they released their first full length album The Warning. Their persistence continued with the 1986 release of Rage For Order and their tour schedule as the famous opening act grew right along with them. “We got to witness a lot of different bands and their band dynamic,” Tate unfolds. “Honestly, it was a great way to be exposed to the other artist’s audiences. We found a lot of different people that way, because we would open for Bon Jovi and then we would open for Metallica. So, the difference between the bands was pretty wide. We got exposed to a lot of different rock audiences and I think that we benefited from that.” Remembering a life on tour with such an array of different characters could become a blur, but one artist in specific still stands out to Tate when asked who his favorite band to open for was. “AC/DC hands down for me! They were and they are a fantastic band. The group itself, the members, Angus (Young) and Brian (Johnson) are two of the nicest people that I have met in the business. I really admire them a lot for doing what they’ve done and keeping their personalities without losing perspective of themselves,” Tate Remembers. “You know, I never actually went out anywhere when we were touring with AC/DC where Brian didn’t buy rounds of drinks for the house. Very admirable,” he laughs. Tate is another musician with the admirable attribute of not losing perspective of himself in the industry. “Maybe it’s just being self-critical that helps you do that,” Tate wonders. “I don’t have an addictive personality, so I never got into the whole ‘losing myself into a drug or alcohol world’ like some people do. And I’m not judging them for that, but we all have our paths that we are on and my path, I feel, is one of longevity and being able to continue being who I am and doing what I do until I drop dead. I suppose I’ll be touring around even when I’m in a wheelchair. As long as I can still sing, ya know? It kind of becomes a selling point in a way. That people will be intrigued enough to buy a ticket to my show, just to see if I could still do it.” Tate’s relentless “no limit” attitude is not something that has been created over the years, but something that began when the band was starting to make a name for itself. Instead of fitting the mold of every other band in the industry, they were busy breaking it. In the latter end of the 80’s, concept albums were not an exceedingly desired commodity. But that never limited them from taking creative risks with their sound and lyrical content. In 1988, the band released their monumental rock opera concert album Operation: Mindcrime. This powerful theatrical performance, produced by Peter Collins in digital format, would go on to become one of the top 10 best selling concept records of all time. Even with the theatrical elements and well-developed storyline this album was not considered an instant hit by the fans. But the lack of immediate success never stopped Tate and the rest of the band from pushing forward. By 1991, Operation: Mindcrime had gone gold and the commercial success of their album Empire was setting the stage for new opportunities. Queensrÿche took their rock opera to the stage and performed it front-to-back. It is no surprise that by the end of 1991 this album gained the success that it deserved and went platinum. The band had also established itself by having singles rise on the album charts, gaining MTV popularity after winning the MTV Viewers Choice Award and earning multiple Grammy Award nominations. “‘No Limits’ is a slogan that I believe in,” explains Tate. “It kind of became a slogan of the band and it may have been a combination of me and Chris at the time. We talked a lot about the limitations of when you have to sell your art. You have to put it in some sort of box in order for people to understand it, or in order to sell it. That’s the way that we are wired to think, in terms of compartmentalization. We talked a lot about the confines of that box and we realized that we had to create a box around ourselves, but we wanted to at least create a box with a lot of windows, so to speak.” This mindset kept the band powering on through thousands of sold-out live performances in over 46 countries, selling over 25 million albums worldwide, having eleven gold and platinum plaques and so much more to add to their roster.
But after a lifetime in the Queensrÿche limelight, Tate was ready to take on a new experience full of fresh chemistry and creative freedom. “I spent 30 plus years working with the same people when I was in Queensrÿche. And when I was finished with that I was looking for a situation, or multiple situations, to kind of expand my horizons,” Tate discloses. “I wanted to work with different people, different producers, and different musicians. I wanted that collaborative experience with new people.” Tate discussed his vision with his record company and urged them to keep him in mind for future opportunities. In the meantime, Tate continued his musical journey with his band Operation Mindcrime and released a three part concept album that took the metal scene by storm. Eventually, the President and A&R director of Frontiers Records, Serafino Perugino, approached Tate with the Sweet Oblivion project, which would give him the collaborative freedom that he desired. Tate worked alongside Simone Mularoni of DGM and his group of musicians on the self-titled debut album to give die-hard Queensrÿche/Geoff Tate fans a sense of familiarity in a new musical setting. The sophomore album, Relentless, was handled by Italian metal maestro Aldo Lonobile (Secret Sphere, Timo Tolkki’s Avalon, Archon Angel), who Tate describes as a fantastic producer, guitarist and writer. Other musicians appearing on the album include Michele Sanna on drums, Luigi Andreone on bass, Antonio Agate on keyboards and featured guitar from Walter Cianciusi and Dario Parente, who also appear in the Operation Mindcrime live band. This ensemble of Italian musicians sparked an idea for Tate during his songwriting alongside Lonobile and he was called to pay homage to a country that has stolen a piece of his heart. So much so that he invites people to travel there with him and his wife, who created “Backstage Pass Travel” as a side business. This travel company is equipped with “tour manager” Susan Tate, who oversees all of the operations, booking of accommodations, day plans and evening plans. It also includes a rockstar crew, most of which have toured with Tate musically, who accompany guests all over the world to places like Italy. “There’s just a lot of Italy going, so I just thought, why not do something for the Italian fans too? Why not sing a song in their language,” Tate says with obvious gratitude. “I brought the idea to Aldo and he was a little hesitant. He even said, ‘well, if I can’t understand what you’re saying then we can’t put the song on a record.’ That was his failed attempt to try and inspire me to do a good job, I guess. But, it worked. I got the two thumbs up and the song made the record.” Relentless was released on April 9, 2021 and fans are already looking forward to more from Sweet Oblivion. “I think that we have a third one (album) to do as well,” Tate teases. “I have no ideas right now about how, or when, or who is going to be involved with that, but it’s a surprise.” What also might come as a surprise to fans is that the entire Sweet Oblivion album was recorded in the virtual internet world. Although this could scare off some, Tate has fallen for the idea of recording virtually. “I have been working like this for a number of years, so it wasn’t different for me from that perspective. With today’s technology we’re just able to do so many new things,” Tate explains. “The only reason that we hung out and worked in recording studios 30/40 years ago was because that was all that we had to work with given the technology at the time. And now we’re working with the technology at this time in the comfort of our own studios and then file sharing back and forth. We just make great music. It’s a great way of working, because you can be in your own customized recording studio having it just the way that you like. You are set up for your comfort and your own creative input. Your writing partner can be in the same situation in their own place, even on a different continent. And you’re still working. You’re still communicating that work just like you would if you were in the same room. You’re sharing your ideas back and forth, as well as bouncing them off each other to come up with what you both like. It’s probably more efficient now than it was back then.” Leaving the typical distractions of a full recording studio behind, Tate seeks inspiration from within rather than finding it externally. “The thing that’s really distracting about the studio is all of the talking,” Tate continues. “The constant being around each other and needing to fill the space with stories and that kind of thing. Admittedly, sometimes a conversation can be inspiring, but in my experience most of the best inspiration comes from being in a solitary type of environment where you are able to figure out your own thoughts.”
Tate has been known for decades not only as a powerful singer, but as a thought provoking lyricist. His work has been known to inspire musicians from all around the globe spanning multiple genres. The lyric writing process that has brought him this notoriety is a simple, yet profound one. “I take a deep subject and I try to encapsulate it in a way that’s more understandable, or more digestible. Or, I take a deep subject and try to put it into a story sense where the listener is learning something by the experience of the character in the story. Rather than just like preaching to people, ‘Thou shall understand what I mean.’ That kind of force feeding never quite worked for me” Tate confesses. “I think that all songs have the same process. Whether I get to the conclusion is a different thing. I struggle with it. Just like writing music, it’s a process that requires time. You have to actually sit down and think about what you’re doing. And sometimes when you’re working on a piece of music, or a lyric, you are going to work on it all day long. Even when you’re not sitting in the studio, you’re thinking about what it is that you’re trying to say and picking the right phrase or picking the right descriptive word,” Tate continues. “I could be in the kitchen making a sandwich and all of a sudden oh…Oh…OH and then I’m eating my sandwich while running to the studio to write down the word that just popped in my head. That’s something that you’re kind of constantly working on. So, I guess my process is just being willing to spend the amount of time it takes to accomplish a task. A lot of people want instant gratification and if they don’t get any kind of results in an hour then they give up on that idea. But I don’t think that works, at least for me. I’m just getting started out after an hour.” This is the kind of attitude that places Geoff Tate as one of the most influential musicians in metal history. From being inspired by great musicians to becoming an inspiration to so many new musicians, he urges music fans to keep music alive during this time of uncertainty. “I would suggest to everyone to go out and see your favorite artists perform before it’s too late and before they’re gone,” Tate encourages. “There is nothing like a live performance. We have seen, this last year especially, how empty your life could be without music, without going out and witnessing the arts. Whether it’s music, or museums, or art galleries, or spoken word, or plays, or something like them. There is something in our makeup that makes us crave that kind of input. We want to feel something. We want to feel inspired. And art gives us that. Art gives us inspiration.”