The 1980’s are one of the most memorable decades in the history of rock and heavy metal music. Bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Queensryche were all making their mark on the music scene. While there was a wave of British heavy metal bursting onto the charts in the U.S., Queensryche, a band based out of Bellevue, WA has been going strong now for over 30 years. Despite a change in their frontman with the departure of Geoff Tate, Queensryche has never backed down and in fact have remained one of the best heavy metal bands of all time. With lead vocalist Todd La Torre replacing Tate in 2012, there was speculation that the band would fall short like many have once there is a huge line-up change, but this was not the case for Queensryche. As they continue to progress and tour and put out hit albums, one might even say it’s as if La Torre has fronted the band all along. With the release of their 14th studio album on October 2nd through Century Media Records titled Condition Human, Michael Wilton (guitar), Todd La Torre (vocals), Scott Rockenfield (drums), Eddie Jackson (bass) and Park Lundgren (guitar) of Queensryche can revel in their ongoing success and rest be assured, they have no plans of slowing down. Last week, Screamer Magazine was able to sit down and do a phone interview with guitarist, Michael Wilton. Wilton is one of the original and founding members of Queensryche so we had a lot to talk about.
In the early 80’s, Wilton says “I met Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield through our mutual interest in hard rock music so we decided to start some cover bands, one of which was called Crossfire. From there, Chris De Garmo got involved and we put together our own demo of songs with a singer named Brent Young. We recorded at Crow Studios in Seattle and eventually we did the recording at Triad Studios which got us the EP and that was basically five guys in their teens and 20 and 21 years old just having fun, working day jobs and recording late at night putting something out.” According to Wilton, at that particular time they were mainly interested in the music coming out of Europe and the U.K. so they were always going into the import section of record stores. “We would give the owners of the record stores our tape and they loved it and then we pressed it into the EP basically and it sold 60,000 units and got a great review article Crane Magazine which was in the U.K.” Wilton tells us. That was the turning point for the band and doors began to swing wide open for them. Next thing they knew, EMI was offering them a multi-record deal and offers to go on tour.
“To go from a garage band at 19 years old to being full fledged in the music business was just pretty amazing but it was all timing and things were just at the right time for us to take our chances and make our music and put it out there. To do that today, in this day and age, it would never fly.” The music industry has truly changed since the 80’s. With the internet, there is a mass flood of music out there in the world so it is more difficult to stand out. “I think in these days it will be harder to get a record deal if that’s what you are looking for” Wilton advises. “Because the competition and the business is all about who you know. But, if you’re good and people love your music, you know how to play your instruments and develop a following, that’s a good start. It’s something you have ambition and passion for and you don’t mind taking the long road, which very few musicians are willing to do, but for those that are really wanting to do it, there will always be a path for them in the music industry.” Along with the lack of record deals being offered, social media has become the biggest vehicle for newer bands to gain a following and has become a direct link to the bands and artists. Wilton expresses his neutral feelings about the subject. “It’s just a different version of what we had when we started. Things just seem to go in circles and the internet is more of a world wide situation and back in the 80’s it was magazines and interviews over the phone and everything was more isolated. Now, it happens in real time and you have to be able to multi-task and monitor all of the social media sites you’re on and your own web pages so for young or new artists, it is a bit easier because of the internet. You can get a following and make music really easily with samples and computers so you basically don’t even need to know how to play an instrument, you just have to learn how to do it on the computer. On the road, the biggest obstacle is whether or not the wi-fi is working properly but once we get online, we have all of the applications for Twitter and Facebook and all of the other sites so we do our best to update them as much as we can.” Luckily, they have someone who oversees all of our social media which is a 24/7 job and takes a lot of time which bands do not have, especially when they are on tour or in the studio recording. Wilton had some encouraging advice for us to pass along to bands just starting out and a few rules to follow such as not burning any bridges, be careful who you trust and believe in your music. “Once you know your music and you’re satisfied with it, it becomes a matter of how to market yourself which can be done online or through word of mouth or going to concerts and putting flyers out. There are so many ways to get yourself going and avenues to do. As long as you believe in your music and you love what you do, there’s a place for you.”
Earlier in this interview we had brought up record labels and how they have changed since Queensryche first came out. Back then, there was a plethora of major and independent labels to choose from. Now, there are mainly three major labels: Sony, Universal and Warner, and the other ones either have gone away or have become sub-labels to one of those three. Recently, Century Media Records was purchased by Sony and the question was how does it affect a band when something like this happens? Lucky for Queensryche and the other artists on Century Media, Sony owns RED Music and Distribution. RED has been one of the distribution companies that Century Media has used for a while so not much really changed as far as the contracts were concerned. Being on a genre specific label like Century Media, with and emphasis on heavy metal, it provides people that specialize in what you’re about, according to Wilton. “Major labels have all of these different departments and pockets of people who work with you along with ten other bands so for us, because we have been doing this for so long and have two albums out through them, we have more attention on us so in that sense it’s great” Wilton tells us. “We don’t get swallowed up like we would at a major label. We are a unique band, we always have been so it suits us, we like the more independent labels. We aren’t really a metal band, we’re not a pop band, we are kind of like a melodic, hard rock, progressive band that’s stood the test of time and still going strong. I think we would survive on a major label but Century Media gave us the chance and requested us back with another option so it’s good when a record company wants you back.” Going more into detail about Century Media Records being bought out by Sony, the curious thoughts are what does that mean and how does that impact a band. Do they become nervous about the unknown or is it simply just a matter of knowing there are deeper pockets for distribution? Again, in this case, Century Media has already been affiliated with RED Music so we asked Wilton what his thoughts were on this subject and perhaps this could be an educational thing for other musicians and bands if they ever come across being in this situation. “It was going smooth and then we heard about the sale of the label and more than anything we were shocked and while there was a little concern, once we met the people at Sony RED, they’re just letting Century Media still run things on their own. When this happened in the past with Roadrunner Records, that was scary.” Wilton did say he really likes the fact that things still have the special, independent vibe but now everything just says Sony/Century Media and that seems to be the only change. So far, Wilton and the other members of Queensryche are more than happy with how things have gone and are continuing to maneuver.
Those who have been fans of Queensryche since the beginning surely remember the original frontman Geoff Tate, but his replacement Todd La Torre has proven to fans that he fits Queensryche like a glove, and some people have even gone as far to say that he surpasses Tate. Wilton tells us more about this subject. “Anytime you make a change, it’s a rebuilding process and even though we still have a majority of our fans who have stuck behind us and we’re touring and getting radio airplay, we still consider ourselves in the rebuilding stages and we just played along with the Scorpions to a very massive crowd and now they know who Queensryche is so now we have to prove ourselves in every show we do and every record until it becomes common knowledge. A band is a business and sometimes repairing and changes are unavoidable. Some of us are a little older now and we feel like we are starting all over again but we love what we do and the hard work has paid off. In a few years, it won’t even be a question and Queensryche will be fully accepted.” Queensryche has their hardcore fans and then there are the new ones who are just discovering the band and it progresses and grows and Wilton had expressed that he feels there is a curiosity and an awareness from the younger fans and they are gaining a lot of newer fans, some of which are the children of fans they had way back when. Traditionally, when you go to see a band you have been following for many years, you hope they play the classics. The songs that charted back when you were a headbanging teenager. Songs like Silent Lucidity, Empire and Eyes Of A Stranger are highly anticipated. But how do they fare with a new frontman? “Now, people are blown away and cannot believe the energy and how tight the band is playing and how Todd represents the songs so now we have the crowd and they love hearing the songs and Todd and now they have been requesting new music to be played” Wilton beams. “Playing songs from the new album along with the older songs is working out really well and has been unbelievable. One thing is we play the songs exactly as they were recorded, not tuned down or anything. It a resounding victory and we are having a blast doing it. Those days of uncertainty are gone and everything is going as planned and on schedule.” To Wilton, they feel like a band again. Everyone does their part and brings something unique to the table and contributing to the songwriting and the energy of the band and he is confident about things.
Condition Human was released on October 2nd and there is a lot to look forward to according to Wilton. “The goal was to evolve from the last album and give Todd more freedom vocally and we have been able to creatively bring back the spirit of the old way of recording. Layering songs and putting lots of goodies in there and song arrangements. The true reward lies in waiting until the album is done and hearing the hard work everyone put their hearts and souls into and it turned out great.” With every album, Wilton explains how they try to do things a little bit different and while he can’t pick a specific album to list as his favorite, he did confirm that he likes all of the albums they have done and they all hold a place for him. As far as the most successful album, Empire which came out in 1990 brought in the most album sales, it all depends on what you are basing it off of but for Wilton, he is happy with how things are advancing.
Wilton, who is known as “The Whip,” because of the speed his fingers whip around the fretboard was around 12 years old when he started playing music. He talks about how his father played a significant role in his musical interest. “My father has a great LP collection with all types of music from the 60’s and 70’s, so I was listening to the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Richie Blackmore. Then I went onto more progressive music like John McLaughlin as well as jazz music like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. I just kind of took it all in. Once I became a teenager, it became all about the Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen. You know, all the of those guys so that sums up my initial inspirations.” As far as current bands, Wilton seems to be very fond of Tool and Mastodon. He enjoys the intensity of their music and there is so much to ingest these days but he is preferential to more interesting and unique bands. A self taught guitar player, it was more about hanging out with his peers who were more advanced and learning from them so he didn’t really need to take lessons as he feels he was getting what he needed in the way of learning techniques and scales. Wilton did mention he studied classical music at The Cornish School Of Music in Seattle, WA and that certainly has contributed to the stunning and skilled way he plays. In learning how to play piano and classical guitar, he learned music theory but more than anything it’s his connection to the guitar and the love of the music. Fate brought him to music and his uncle who passed away had left him a guitar. Wilton admits he was a jock in school and loved playing baseball but thankfully, he went with music. Initially, he played bass but didn’t feel their guitar player was cutting it so he took the role of guitarist and the rest is history. Aside from music, Wilton also has started his own Ale company called Whip Ale and in between Queensryche, he has been a part of different side projects like Soulbender and Ratchet Head, creating different flavors of what he likes to do, but Queensryche is his main focus point.
Queensryche is in full gear as they will finish up a few more tour dates and take December off for the holidays and spend time with their families and friends. Once 2016 hits though they will be back on the road and tour as long as they need to in promotion of the new album Condition Human and it seems like every two years, the cycle comes back around so we can hopefully anticipate another album in 2017. Queensryche seems to be reborn and on their way to re-establishing themselves and going above and beyond where they have gone in the past. As other bands from back in the day are playing their final tours, Queensryche is just getting started and for fans and for all of us at Screamer Magazine, we couldn’t be more thrilled about that.