By STEVE MASCORD
BICKERING can be good for business. In a recent interview, Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson revealed the band was advised by a publicist to play up the fact the members hate each other.
But the schism in the ranks of Seattle prog metaller Queensryche has arguable taken the trope to a new level. Former singer Geoff Tate, with his new project Operation: Mindcrime, even penned a song called “A Smear Campaign” (“Listen, who-ever is trying to bring you down/Is already below you”).
During this Hot Metal interview with Michael Wilton ahead of an October Australian tour, the guitarist makes reference to the band being “damaged goods” before the arrival of Tate’s replacement, Todd LaTorre, who he says “doesn’t just stand on stage”. He talks about Queensryche being “a band again”.
These verbal jabs are not unusual – but one aspect of the split remains unaddressed. Guitarist Parker Lundgren wasn’t just in a band with Geoff Tate; he was his son-in-law, married to Miranda Tate. On one level, you might regard this as a personal matter. But on the other, it was a relationship the group was happy to discuss at the time.
Following the principle that once something is public, it stays public regardless of changing circumstances, we ask Wilton a question many fans have no doubt pondered: how can Geoff Tate be in one version of Queensryche and his former (previous reports indicate a divorce took place before the band split) son-in-law in another?
Wilton, 56, hesitates before answering. “Well, I mean, Parker is obviously … yeah … that whole situation has displaced him from that. So he’s not part of that family anymore. He’s doing his thing with us, he’s single, having the time of his life out on the road being in Queensryche. He made the right choice.
“It’s all good but … choose your battles. What do you want to do? He chose this battle and he wanted to be with us, to be with Queensryche.
“We try not to delve too much in the personal aspects because it gets complicated.” (continued below)
It is, indeed, an awkward subject, but one which humanises the ugly split that resulted in a legal settlement giving drummer Scott Rockenfield, bassist Eddie Jackson, La Torre, Wilton and Lundgren sole use of the band’s name and Tate the sole right to play 1988’s Operation: Mindcrime album in full.
But it’s a narrative that gives the acrimonious split a human face.
Wilton is on much better terms with another Queensryche departee, original guitarist Chris DeGarmo. Like such figures as KISS’ Vinnie Vincent and White Lion’s Vito Brata, DeGarmo has taken on an almost mythical reputation because of his complete removal from the music industry and apparently lack of interest in returning.
“Chris and I are friends, definitely, and our families are friends,” Wilton says.
“We do stuff together all the time. I play golf with him all the time, actually. He’s really good at it but, yeah, as far as the music thing you’ll have to talk to him and get his perspective on it.
“He’s happy doing his gig, flying up in the air. He’s a pilot and that’s something he always wanted to do as a kid. As far as getting back in music? I don’t know. You’re going to have to ask him.”
When I comment that this sounds like something is afoot, I get a knowing chuckle and nothing else.
Wilton was heading on a completely different path as a child – he was a ‘base player’ not a bass player – until one gig (and perhaps a toke) changed his life.
He recalls: “Before I became a musician, I was a jock. I played baseball, I played football, I did all that stuff in school. I got on one of those select travelling baseball teams and toured Europe.
“I was actually pretty good. I played second base. I had quick hands and good eyes. I guess that’s a good attribute for a baseball player.
“Yes there was (a moment that changed things). It happened when I was in high school and I went to the Black Sabbath concert. It was the Never Say Die tour where Van Halen opened for them. I’d never seen them live and they opened with a song called “On Fire” and that moment … I think I was a bit hazed at that concert too but it just amplified the surroundings … but when that song started and I saw him on stage I knew that’s what I wanted to do and that was the decisive moment.
“I thought ‘this baseball thing, it’s all so political and it’s all who knows who. I’m going to be a musician’. But it’s more political and who you know in the music industry than it is in the baseball industry!”(continued below)
Not being a so-called ‘Hair Band’ kept Queensryche commercially viable further into the nineties than some of their contemporaries, who still blame Kurt Cobain for the collapse of a flourishing – and very lucrative – scene. As a Seattle resident with a front row view of the Grunge explosion, Wilton sees it differently.
“Let’s face it, the industry got stale, you know? We knew those guys in those bands and I was totally happy for them. I was, like, ‘right on! This industry needs a shot in the arm!’”
The way Wilton tells it, Queensryche’s own shot in the arm came via the arrival of La Torre, a 42-year-old previously with Floridian band Crims
“It’s a lot of fun again,” he enthuses.
“With Todd La Torre, it’s a rebirth of Queensryche. He’s got an awesome vocal range as well as (being) an accomplished musician. He’s a great drummer, a guitar player and he’s definitely a shot of adrenalin in the arm.
“He doesn’t just stand on stage. He moves around, has a good time. He’s very energetic. You can tell when we play live, the band is playing together and clicking like we did a long, long time ago.
“It’s going from a situation of being damaged goods back to a position of respectability in the industry. That’s something we worked very hard at – we’ve been touring our asses off for the last four years, rebuilding the damage that has been done. We’re still doing that.”
Given the toll of the process on personal relationships, including a marriage, it is perhaps appropriate the album Queensryche are currently touring to promote is called Condition: Human.