Michael Wilton of Queensryche
It’s been a year of change for Queensryche. From the exit of vocalist Geoff Tate and the addition of Todd LaTorre to their latest self-titled release reaching No. 23 on the Billboard 200, Queensryche has reinvented themselves.
We recently caught up with guitarist Michael Wilton to talk about the whirlwind of a year it has been and what the future holds for the rockers.
Interviewed by: Roger Scales
Your S/T record was released in June and the response from the fans in the US especially has been overwhelming. You charted #23 on Billboard and most critics have been extremely favorable in reviewing the record. I believe the public has more than accepted vocalist Todd LaTorre into the band and the crowds are feeding off this positive energy that was enveloped and surround Queensryche at this time. Do you agree?
Yes. It’s evident with the release of our album the reviews have been totally positive. It’s encouraging to read what the magazines and online sites are saying but what’s great is what we have heard from the fans. That’s the ultimate approval that we look for. We also appreciate what our peers are saying as well. Other bands seem to have really accepted our direction with the addition of Todd as well.
Getting back to the S/T record again just for as moment – bringing in James ‘Jimbo” Barton to produce was a welcoming sign to the fan base that Queensryche was going to return to its core values of being a hard rock/melodic outfit again. How important was he in being able to capture that vintage sound having not worked with him since Promised Land (1995)?
It’s always been in the back our minds to work with Jim again. This was the perfect opportunity. We had kept in touch with him. It was first let’s bring him down to a show in L.A. and come see the band and he was blown away so he was like let’s do this! It started out with Scott laying down his drum tracks because we were touring at the time so it was kind of crazy initially.
As far as the relationship goes it was like only a week had gone by in between 1995 and 2013. Other than we were a bit older it was as if we picked up right where we left off. What’s great about James is that he knows how to get the best performance out of us and get the best out of us creatively. He’s just dynamite individual to hang around with while also having the respect in the industry. It was just a natural move for us.
The record wasn’t just a collection of old tracks not used on other sessions, these were all new songs and Todd was actively involved in the creative process throughout correct?
Yes. We do have tons of backlogs of songs located on hard drives but this was such a fresh union of new creativity it lent itself to writing all new songs. As a band, creatively, everyone adding their individual creativity it was exciting to watch as each song developed. This project wasn’t preconceived to create a pop record or a real progressive record or a metal record. It was let’s just put our creativity together and see where the song goes.
I think what gets overlooked a lot in this entire process of bringing Todd into the fold is the chemistry aspect of it. He can have the greatest pipes in the world but if he doesn’t fit in your band from a personality standpoint your right back to looking for another new singer. How fortunate are you all that this process did not involve auditions and months of trying to find a replacement for Geoff?
Very true. It’s just been very natural. He fits in with the guys better than any of us could have hoped for. It’s not one of those situations where it’s the singer and another band. This is a good union of guys that get along great. He’s not in his own dressing room he’s with us. He’s speaks freely in front of us and we have constant communication and dialogue. Todd is not exactly brand new to a band setting. He had a career with Crimson Glory for a while so he knows how to command the audience while on stage particularly in Europe. Yeah, you’re right, we didn’t have to hold auditions. This all sort of happened within a ripple effect. One thing led to another. One opportunity one risk led to the next.
When Todd joined the band in the spring of 2012 you briefly toured under the name “Rising West”. Was there any thought of just carrying on using that name and who came up with it?
The whole reason we did that was because Geoff (Tate) had booked a bunch of solo dates while we were at home doing nothing. We all have families, mortgages and need to keep on the road to make a living. So we decided why can’t we do that? That gravitated to “Rising West”. Todd flew out after we had already booked our first show so we had a lot riding on this. Then it turned into two shows. I remember we were rehearsing at Scott’s house the first time we did a song Parker just stopped suddenly and Scott was like “What’s wrong?” Parker then said “I’ve never heard the song sung like this. It’s just like listening to the album.” Everyone knew it was going to be good and the icing on the cake was all the fans that flew out to Seattle to see us perform at the Hard Rock Café. Two sold out nights. Every ounce of beer was gone! That right there was monumental and was a real benchmark. It went viral on the internet and then suddenly some management folks wanted to meet with us and then it was decided that you are Queensryche. Collectively we all just fell into that. The name stayed..for now.
How many new songs are you performing on this current leg of the tour and have those changed at all during the tour?
We started out just playing ‘Redemption”. Then we brought in “Where Dreams Go To Die” and then added “Fallout”. In Europe we added “A World Without”. I’m sure when we go back and have some more time we might figure out how to bring in another new tune into the set. What’s great has been how seamlessly they work in this set. What’s great ironically in the past has always been play the old stuff we want to hear the songs we grew up listening to. Not just one song from one record we want to hear multiple tracks from the same record. Now it’s completely flipped. You’re giving us everything now because we want to hear stuff from the new record. That’s what we are doing. It’s been great that’s it’s been so accepted.
I have seen the official videos for “Fallout” and ‘Redemption” – are there more from this record that fans can expect?
It’s a matter of timing. We have plenty of footage backlogged. It needs a purpose, editing, needs to be put together. We are concentrating on the release of our mini movie “Queensryche: Ad Lucem” right now. There are 4 tracks that provide the score to a 10 minute plus story and those include “Spore”, ‘Midnight Lullaby”, “A World Without” and “X2”. We think that this film will make a big impact on fans. It’s not a typical video with just the band playing. Century Media and our management came up with the concept and we were more than thrilled to jump at the chance. We got to work with some great actors, a few talented new hot L.A. directors and a marvelous crew. It was a lot of work but well worth it.
Has the focus of the older material in the set list been from the EP to Empire pretty much?
It was a matter of necessity to start with because Todd only knew those records. He was a big fan of the band right up through Empire. Time was of the essence and we needed to get out and play. He knew all of those albums and ironically that’s what the fans want the most anyway. That’s not to say that we may not have Todd learn a few more songs from Empire and maybe Promised Land later on.
You’re just coming off an October tour of Europe playing in the UK, Ireland, Romania, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. Where you able to enjoy the crowds and their countries as much as the fans enjoyed your shows?
It was a pretty brutal travel schedule. We did like 23 shows in 30 days. Not too much down time. Wake up on the bus at the gig and play. Most of the days off were travel. What we did get to see was great. We did have some time off in Switzerland and got to walk around the city and it was just beautiful over there. We thought it was going to be blistering cold in Europe in October but it was pretty warm. Busy but it was rebuilding our relationship with the fans. Tons of new fans, so many younger kids at our shows which was really surprising. It was also a good mix of the diehards plus folks that were curious about the new lineup. It’s a high energy show and the crowd participation is just effortless. They just kept saying to us PLEASE come back in 2014 and play the festivals in the summer. 5 or 6 years in between is just too long to come back.
What are the plans for the rest of this year into next year? More touring? A live record or DVD project maybe or another studio album?
We have done like 60 shows this year so we do have a few dates booked for 2014. We also have some business to take care of in January 2014 with regards to the naming rights of the band so we want to get through that before we move on.
Next year will be the thirty year anniversary of The Warning. Do you think you would ever consider a performance playing that entire record?
It’s a viable concept because we are playing a lot of songs from it already. We only need to rehearse a few more and we could do that. It’s a good idea!
Hypothetical question. Fast Forward to a festival date in Europe next year or the year after or the year after that. You’re booked to perform with several other acts and one of them is Geoff Tate whether it be solo or with his version of Queensryche or whatever the band is called by that point. Do you play the gig or are you too uncomfortable with the concept of playing the same venue?
Logistically I don’t think it would ever happen. If we were headlining than we would headline the gig. Our motto right now is that we are so focused on what we are doing and we are so busy with what Queensryche is moving forward that we don’t have time to look back. Wish him the best of luck as a musician ad move on.
I’m a huge proponent of obtaining the CD or vinyl when possible of any music in my collection. I feel with a download you lose something by not having the physical product, the cover, the booklet, the liner notes, etc. Do you think with iTunes aspects of the creative process get lost in translation by not having the physical product?
I do. I have a fairly nice hi fi system and it was great to listen tour album on vinyl. There is just a different aura that happens out of the speakers listening to the record. Hearing a lot of the highs and lows that sometimes get chopped off in the digital translation. I’m old school. I like the idea in a proper environment. Just out of necessity I have an IPOD and listen to tunes on there. When I’m at home I try to treat the music with respect and listen to it in the environment where I can enjoy it the most. In this age it’s adapt or die. Whether you like it or not the digital age is here. I just read in Rolling Stone magazine the new Amazon Kindle was offering songs for 69 cents. Albums for $5.00. Music shouldn’t be used to help sell more Kindles.
Any last words to the fans coming to see you on the road and into 2014?
I speak for the whole band. We all appreciate the support we have received basically cheering us on through all of this. We give back even more what the fans give us. We are very thankful and keep checking the news for updates Queensrycheofficial.com. Keep supporting the real Queensryche and we will continue to not disappoint.