June 25th was a date on the minds of not just Queensryche fans but anyone even remotely paying attention in the world of hard rock and metal. As the days counted down to the release of the new self-titled album, fans both casual and hardcore waited to hear the results of the band’s new production with longtime associate “Jimbo” Barton. The band and new label Century Media did an excellent job of teasing the album with snippets, followed by complete songs but none of it compared to actually hearing the finished product start to finish on a quality stereo. The band, with new singer Todd LaTorre and without longtime vocalist and self-appointed spokesman Geoff Tate, has achieved something pretty rare with this new album and the fans have spoken. The new full length “Queensryche” on Century Media Records has shifted more than 11,000 units already, cracking the top 25 and obliterating the other “Queensryche”‘s latest album in the process. It manages to be a total rebirth in terms of spirit and energy while also being a true salute to the band’s identity and metal roots. Long story short; the band has a new lease on life and the album and resulting tour have made it a rewarding, exciting time to be a fan of Queensryche. Given the unbelievable levels of internet drama surrounding the divorce with Tate, that is no small accomplishment. I checked in with longtime guitarist/songwriter Michael “Whip” Wilton to get the lowdown on the album, track by track and talk a little about his bandmates in the process, read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for talking with us Michael, we’ve spoken with Scott a while back and of course Geoff over the years but it’s nice to be talking with you today. Part of the reason I am excited to talk to you is because of an interview I did with Geoff for the “Dedicated To Chaos” album where I asked him about your musical contributions and he just slammed you, despite you having lots of credits over the years. That was my first indicator that something wasn’t right in the Ryche but it soon became abundantly clear. We’ve all seen at least part of the shrapnel from both sides on the part of fans arguing over the court case. Do you have to kind of put blinders on in terms of all that shit and just keep moving forward??
Michael Wilton: Yes. We’re being gentlemen. We’re being professional in the press. That’s how we’re doing this. There’s no mudslinging going on and asking a pertinent question like that will get a pertinent answer. We’re speaking with our music, we’re excited about the new album and if you listen to it, what you hear in terms of the songwriting, is all of us. I wrote quite a bit on the new album.
LRI: Well, the reason I brought it up to Geoff to begin with was because you actually wrote quite a bit back in the day….”Empire” comes to mind.
Michael: Yeah, definitely.
LRI: As a total outsider, it sometimes looks like some of the albums after “Promised Land” sort of suffered as a result of you guys kind of “keeping the peace” with Geoff in terms of creative control. This album just floors me in terms of the songs that were all brought to the table this time around, do you at all wish you had made the change years earlier??
Michael: Well, obviously the first thing that affected us was when Chris DeGarmo left the band. That produced some tension and creativity differences between us but we were still like “Well, let’s give it a shot” so we gave it a shot and in a nutshell, we started building it again and it was positive so we started on with some good managers. So it started moving again but the direction and creativity were kind of different and not really like the first four or five albums. It just didn”t have that chemistry.
LRI: I wanna go through the album track by track with you, I’m as excited about it as anyone but I also wanna ask you about the title and cover art which struck me as simple and perfect. Was that something that was in mind from the beginning, the idea of a rebirth?
Michael: The title and cover were just staring us right in the face, it’s the iconic symbol of the band and what better way to signal the rebirth of Queensryche than with a bold statement like that. As far as the creative elements go, we were always throwing around different titles and creative art elements as far as what we could do, how many songs, all of that is a big joint effort. We just felt that the title, the art, all of it, represented that rebirth to us and to the fans as well.
LRI: The album starts off with the atmospheric X2 which perfectly just sets the tone for a minute before going into “Where Dreams Go To Die” the next track, a song which is more of a builder than a burner. The fact that Parker (Lundgren, guitarist) brought that song to the band is amazing since it is so quintessentially Queensryche.
Michael: Yeah, it just goes back to the fact that this whole entire process has produced a rebirth of our initial chemistry. Parker has been a big part of our growth and has been a great contribution to the band. He’s really grown as a guitarist and a writer and the song “Where Dreams Go To Die” was brought to me as a demo and I just thought it had tons of possibilities and potential and we kind of arranged it and moved a few parts here and there. I think Todd did the first scratch drums on there and we were really happy with it and Parker was really stoked and happy with it as well. From there, it went to Scott Rockenfield and we got the real drums on it and started recording it. It’s always been a really strong song and it has different moods, peaks and valleys in it but I agree that it’s very, very Queensryche and it’s great that Parker nailed it.
LRI: It’s pretty telling that Todd and Parker seem to have a grasp on “what” Queensryche is about as much as the guys who started the band all those years ago.
Michael: It is and it’s just been a seamless integration. I think everyone is just so enthusiastic and that environment just encourages that, I think that’s what that is. I think it’s great to put your own influences and spin on the writing but it’s ultimately gotta stay true to the strengths of the band and by the strengths of the band I mean the past and those first five albums.
LRI: The next track is “Spore” which really just stood out to me immediately as sounding so amazing on headphones, in its entirety as opposed to the teaser samples that were made available. There’s a lot of great interplay between all of you guys on “Spore”.
Michael: Yeah, the teaser samples that were made available which you are talking about on sites were demos and weren’t the finished, mixed masters and they obviously were compressed as hell. I think people have really heard the difference when you actually play the mixed and mastered tracks on this album, especially with some good headphones. I mean, the production values have always been a big part of Queensryche, we like to make things sound very good and part of that is about the headphone experience as well, there’s definitely some ear candy in there on “Spore” as well as the whole album. That’s also just kind of always been the philospohy of the band, like “Ok, we can rock this and do this live” but always wanting to also max things out in the studio as much as possible without getting too pretentious and while still having fun with it.
LRI: “Spore” manages to exemplify what the whole album basically achieves which is to be heavy, very heavy yet filled with plenty of hooks and melodies.
Michael: Well, that’s just it, that’s what it is. We’ve proven ourselves as musicians obviously and we’re not gonna fill a song with as many kickdrums, guitar solos or bass solos as possible. For us, it is all about taking that initial idea and molding it and creating it, as a band. It’s like putting a piece of clay on the table and everybody is sort of putting their own little touch on it and shaping it. That’s what’s exciting about this band now, the whole “believing in the song” aspect is what it comes down to. The fact that you hear the heaviness and the catchiness in it is mostly due to the fact that in our experience it should always be about the song.
LRI: “In This Light” is a mid-tempo rocker that is one of many tracks which would be perfect for radio or video. It was written by Scott and Eddie but sounds like it has a lot of Todd in it although the lyrics could relate to almost anyone.
Michael: That song does have a real personal bent to it but yeah, it could mean a lot to anyone. Todd really put in a ton of emotion and passion into the vocal for sure though and we’re very happy with the end result of that song. I think it’s great not only for radio but also will be a great live track.
LRI: The next song, “Redemption” was the first real window into the new Queensryche for a lot of people and there’s been lots of conjecture about it’s meaning but isn’t it also kind of a track about some of the themes Queensryche has always been about?
Michael: Yeah, in a nutshell it’s all about redeeming your inner qualities as a human being and standing up to the man per se. That song is obviously very riff-orientated in terms of guitar. I think that was the second song we approached on this new album and once Scott layed down the demo track of the drums it just flowed effortlessly. Through my eyes and my opinion, it’s kind of like taking a song like “Empire” with a hooky riff that kind of gets you to the chorus. That was kind of my map for “Redemption”, I wanted a riff that was infectious, that kind of stays in your head for the verse and wanted to marry it with Scotty Rock on the drums and Eddie on bass. Then it was a matter of adding some Parker in there before having Todd bring the catchy chorus.
LRI: “Vindication” is a song which you could obviously read a lot into regarding the current goings on with the court case and all of that. Musically it just smokes right out of the gate and rocks in ways that Queensryche just hasn’t in years and years. Did you have aggression like that stockpiled over the years, waiting to come out (laughs) ??
Michael: It is a burner, it’s something that I had brought to the table, I’ve written songs like that in the past, so it’s not uncommon in our history. It’s funny….I was really focusing on the drums on that track, I thought “My god, Scotty’s really playing like he did back in the old days”. That’s what is so special to me about “Vindication” when I listen to it. Also, those lyrics were penned by Scott so I’m sure he had some demons in his mind to avenge or vindicate when he sat down to write that one.
LRI: When I reviewed the record I mentioned that my absolute favorite moments on the album were the segue “Midnight Lullaby” and “A World Without” which, to me, provides this total flashback to everything I loved about the original Mindcrime era. What contributed to the atmosphere on those tracks?
Michael: That song, “A World Without” is certainly atmospheric and epic and that’s Scott Rockenfield doing all the orchestration and the implementation of the violins and cello certainly add to that. Jimbo added so much to the album as a whole but also to that song which also features Miss Pamela Moore as a guest vocalist which was a great little addition that I think added a lot to the atmosphere you’re speaking of. That song is something signature of Queensryche, the taking of something cinematic and leading you into those lush soundscapes. “Midnight Lullaby” and “A World Without” definitely have all of those elements and it’s very thought provoking, kind of dark and creepy at times but it’s one of those songs that I think our fans are really diving into.
LRI: How much did Jimbo Martin’s production impact the sound of material like that?
Michael: Well, what’s great about Jimbo is that he stayed in contact, at least with me and we spoke often about what was going on in the band. When it came time to work on the new album, he was the obvious choice. Jimbo already knows us, he already has relationships with us and he knows what makes us tick and how to push our buttons to get the best performances out of us. There are a lot of great producers out there but in terms of working with Queensryche it was a pretty easy decision who to use.
LRI: “Don’t Look Back” is a pretty strong song to be that deep on the album and also features a lot of that twin guitar work that was always such a signature of the early material. The album is pretty well sequenced, how do you remember that one coming together?
Michael: “Don’t Look Back” was actually the first song that I sent Todd. It had crappy midi drums on it and was maybe a little longer than it ended up on the CD, but it was basically the same format of the song. That song was kinda what got the ball rolling between us, in terms of writing. He had some lyrics and he penned that within about a week. That kind of set the tone not only between us personally but also in terms of exchanging ideas and collaborating for the record, I thought “Man, this guy is not only a great singer but he’s a great team player, he’s a musician, he’s a drummer, he’s a guitar player”. He doesn’t just sit up there and say “Oh, I’ll let you know if I like it and I’ll write some lyrics”. The guys involved and that’s what’s great and a big part of why this feels the way it does again.
LRI: Was that twin guitar attack something you wanted to sort of re-emphasize as well on the album as a whole?
Michael: Oh yeah, I mean, when Queensryche started we were a guitar band, that’s kind of where Chris and I really built from, was from that aspect, back in the old days. That was a major part of our records, of our touring. The majority of fans really liked that dual guitar tone and that still makes sense when you have two able six string slingers in the room, you should take advantage of it. We don’t want to overplay but we wanna put some double solos in there and some parts that really lend themselves to that two guitar player sound.
LRI: “Fallout” is a track that bassist Eddie Jackson not only co-wrote but also features a ton of his rumble. Has this new lineup also re-invigorated Ed??
Michael: Eddie has always had great ideas over the years and has a lot of strength and ability in terms of the melodic end of Queensryche’s songwriting. I don’t know, maybe he just wasn’t given the proper chance in the past but the guy loves songwriting and he loves his instrument. He’s very melodically inclined and was very spot on in his writing of those lyrics and hats off to him for that. I said, “Bring it on Ed, bring some more”. That song really surprised us, Scott and Eddie kind of put that all together and we embelished on the guitar parts but it ended up being a quick 2:45 of goodness.
LRI: You’ve played that one live, which had to be fun to get out onstage.
Michael: It was…it really was and that’s kind of the beauty or magic of the new material for us, just seeing the fan reaction to the new stuff when we play it live. When we played it for the first time, I really can’t say because I was really concentrating on my guitar parts (laughs) but after we played it in Dusseldorf, Germany, the fan reaction was great. People were just blown away by that song even though they hadn’t heard it before, they felt it fit in with the rest of our set. That’s always the biggest compliment, how the material goes over in relation to the classic stuff, how well the new stuff blends in.
LRI: The regular version of the album closes out with the song “Open Road” which is again fairly epic and the closest to a true ballad on the album. Did that feel like a logical closing track for those reasons?
Michael: That was a song that Scott had some verses to and we just kind of built that and it’s a bit of a long song. In terms of Queensryche’s history dating back we have a track record of putting a long song, an epic-y song, towards the end of the CD so yeah, it did feel like the natural thing to do. I think it’s a good song to end it all with because it sort of leaves you ready for the next record.
LRI: Yeah, it kind of ends on a question mark, as if to say, “To be Continued”
Michael: It does and we actually are already writing songs for the next album and getting that whole process going again but I think “Open Road” is going to be one of the fan favorites for many people.
LRI: Thanks again for talking to us, hope to see you up here in McHenry or OshKosh….Before I let you go….Is anything new on the merchandise front?? I love a lot of the band’s put out there and you yourself are behind your own beer line, Whip Ale.
Michael: We have a lot of good ideas on that front, that’s something we are always brainstorming about, one of my favorites is the “Zombie” tee shirt that we have but we are always open to new ideas and trinkets or whatever. Everyone has their own ideas and the great thing about this band whether it’s songwriting or merch or anything is that the lines of communication are wide open and everyone is able to have their own ideas. This is a fun bunch of guys and we are all supportive of each other. Whip Ale is going through it’s third re-invention or incantation, it will be available very soon and I’m very excited about that. You can always go to whipale.com or whipnation.net and get the latest on all the beer stuff.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Queensryche Unveil Video For ‘Fallout’ [Video] | PLANET 105.1 | July 9, 2013
- Queensryche Unveil Video for ‘Fallout’ | July 9, 2013
- Queensryche Unveil Video for ‘Fallout’ | July 9, 2013
- Queensryche Unveil Video for ‘Fallout’ | Q 103 - Albany's #1 Rock Station | July 10, 2013
- QUEENSRYCHE UNVEIL VIDEO FOR ‘FALLOUT | The Metal Geek | September 7, 2013