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Q&A: Geoff Tate on Queensryche's Ugly Split, Backstage Brawl in Brazil

'These are my ideas, my concepts. Are they gonna hand it to some kid to sing?'

Geoff Tate from Queensryche performs at Bournemouth International Centre in Bournemouth, England.
JSN Photography/WireImage
June 26, 2012 1:45 PM ET

Queensryche fans were stunned earlier this month when the news surfaced that the group had fired lead singer Geoff Tate. In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone, Tate reveals that he was equally stunned to learn that he was being forced out of the group he began playing with three decades ago. "We’ve all known each other for 30 years," he says. "Our kids have all grown up together. We’ve been to barbecues together, and weddings, and divorces, and births of our children. For it to end in such a hostile way, it’s just mind-boggling. I just don’t understand it."

We spoke with Tate about his difficult final days in Queensryche, the business disagreements that drove them apart, their backstage fight in Brazil, the upcoming lawsuit over the name rights and his future plans as a solo artist. 

When exactly did the tensions within Queensryche first surface?
Well, with every band there's tensions that arise over time. You've got different personalities all mixed together and there's always that kind of thing going on. We'd never been a band that had lots of tensions. We've had challenges with making records and with personnel changes. When Chris DeGarmo left the band in 1998, it was a pretty big hit for us. But really, this new thing is kind of out of the blue. I wasn't expecting anything like this at all. 

How did this new thing begin?
I think it really began around February of this year. It mainly started with a disagreement about economics, about moving our merchandising to a third party. We had control over our own merchandising company for years and years and we ran it ourselves. It's a very successful entity, and the other three guys wanted to take it out of our hands and hand it over to somebody else and pay them more money to operate it, which just seemed liked a ridiculous business idea to me. That's really where the disagreement started. 

Where did things go from there?
It forced us into trying to talk sense into them, our manager and myself and our business manager, trying to get them to see this was not a good deal. Why were they so adamant about taking money out of our pockets and handing it to somebody else? Our manager found another company that would do it for considerably less and they ultimately went with that. 

How about musically? Were you guys seeing eye-to-eye on the sound of the band at this point?
Well, this is kind of a weird situation too. In the press release they said there were "creative differences." But to have creative differences, you have to have two entities or more offering up creative ideas. And that just wasn't the case. Queensryche has always been my idea, starting from the first record. Queensryche is about albums. It's about concepts and themes, and those concepts were mine. [Laughs] I started out with The Warning, bringing those ideas in for Rage for Order, Operation: Mindcrime . . . all the albums. I write 81% of the music and the lyrics. Of the 144 songs that Queensryche has released, I've written 116 of those. 

I am the creative energy in the band, especially since Chris left. When he was in the band it was more of a shared thing between him and I. But once he left, the burden was on me. I don't consider it necessarily a burden. That's what I do. I'm a creative person. I write everyday and I'm constantly coming up with creative ideas. I present them to the other guys and they go, "Yeah, sure, that sounds good to us." 

How did they feel about the last album?
Well, you'd have to ask them about that.

Did they ever tell you they weren't happy with it, or with the direction the band was going?
Nope. No. Nothing. 

How about the Cabaret tour? Did they like that idea?
Yep. Yep. Everybody signed up for it and we ran out and did a very successful tour with that.

So they never once said to you they were unhappy with anything that you were doing?
No, never.

So in February you started arguing about the merchandise business. How did things go from there? You played some shows after that.
We had quite a few dates on the books. The plan was that we were all going to be doing some side projects and then we were gonna do a handful of Queensryche dates throughout the year. Everybody was going off and doing their own thing this year, and then we were going to regroup in 2013 for a big tour.

I've read lots of accounts about what happened in Brazil in April. The story on the Internet goes that you overheard them plotting to fire you and then you pushed Michael to the floor and pointed a knife at Scott. What actually happened?
Well, you know how the Internet goes . . . The way it went was, we had a gig in Sao Paolo, and before the show we had a meeting in the dressing room. I asked them straight up about the rumors I'd heard about them replacing me. I was definitely concerned about this. What kind of plan was that? Was it serious? What was going on? They said that they weren't planning on replacing me, but they had just fired our manager, our office assistant and one of our guitar techs, who all happened to be my family members. 

I asked them, "Why is this happening?" They really couldn't give me a straight answer, or any kind of answer that made any kind of business sense. It seemed like a personal vendetta against me. Anyway, the meeting was short and we went to do the show. I'm getting ready by my station, ready to go on stage, and Scott [Rockenfield] looks at me and he smirks and says, "We just fired your whole family, and you're next." I just lost it. I tried to punch him. I don't think I landed a punch before somebody grabbed me and hauled me to the side. On my way, I managed to shove [Michael] Wilton, and really, that was it. I cooled down and we did the show, and everything went fine.

There was no knife involved?
No. No knife involved. You can't really get knives into foreign countries.

How did they have the ability to fire all those people without your say in the matter?
Well, that's just it. They made up a legal document and sent it to our business manager. It said, "These people are fired." They had worked for us for ten years. It was a completely cold, inhuman thing to do. You don't do that with people. At least you sit them down and say, "Hey, thanks for all the hard work. We're disgruntled and we want to find something else." Something like that. And there was nothing. 

Did they at least explain their thinking to you?
No. It's all out of the blue. Just boom.

Do you know why they decided to push you out of the band?
Well, I think it's economically driven, mostly. I'm a 25 percent holder in our companies. I think it's just business in their minds. Cut me out and then split 25 percent and hire some young guy that's gonna work for a weekly wage so they make more money. It's just ridiculous.

You'd think they'd make more money with you in the band. Now they're going to be presumably splitting up a smaller pie
It doesn't may any sense. [Laughs] Neither does taking a very successful merchandising company and giving it over to somebody else and then paying them more money to run it. It's bad business. It's short-sightedness, and it's just ridiculous. 

The guys recently formed a side project called Rising West that was entirely devoted to playing material from the first five Queensryche albums. It seems to imply they didn't like the more recent material. But they never actually said to you that they preferred the sound the band had in the Eighties?
Hmmm . . . I looked at that forming of that band as a side project. I was surprised that all four guys went in the same direction. That didn't make such sense to me. That felt like some kind of calculated move, but I can't even speculate what they were thinking. But if they want to do a side project, I'm all about that. I've very supportive of everybody in the band doing side projects.

But this is a side projects devoted to songs that you wrote
Well, that is a little weird. I would think if they were gonna do a side project, they should probably write some new songs and present them as a group, and then play some Queensryche songs too. If they wanna do that, that's cool. But to do only Queensryche material and only material that I wrote . . . I don't know. It's kind of a slap in the face.

Honestly, I'm not angry over this. I'm more hurt by it all. This has been my life's work. It's been 30 years building this name and this image of the band. All the lyrics and the directions of the albums and the concepts, that is all from me. And to have them do what they're doing and kick me out – God, I didn't realize that these guys were those kind of people. It's shocking to me.

In May Queensryche played Rocklahoma and you told the audience that they sucked. What happened there?
Over the last 30 years I've played thousands of shows. Sometimes the audience needs some direction. [Laughs] They need to be kicked in the ass a bit, and the Rocklahoma audience this year was one of those audiences. They needed to be challenged. They needed to get called out. They needed to get fired up.

As a frontman, that's part of my gig. I do that. I am in control of the audience. I'm pushing them. I'm pulling them. I'm riding them at times. That was just me getting the audience fired up. They needed it. They were really a lackadaisical audience that looked really confused. They didn't know what they were supposed to be doing.

How were you able to keep playing shows with the band after the fight in Sao Paulo?
It was difficult. We played the show in Sao Paulo, and then we played the M3 Festival. That went fine. Rocklahoma was fine from a performance standpoint. It was difficult, but as anybody that's ever been in a band knows, the show must go on. You try to do the best you can given what you're working with.

How did they actually tell you that you were fired?
By a legal letter from their attorney to mine. 

In your estimation, do they have the legal right to fire you and carry on as Queensryche?
No. They don't.

What's gonna happen now?
Well, we're in a lawsuit right now and it's probably gonna get ugly. I filed a claim a couple of days ago. So it's all going to the legal system now to sort out who is what, and who owns what, and that stuff.

Are they gonna be able to play dates as Queensryche before this is resolved?
Well, they shouldn't. Definitely. It's a situation where, in my opinion, they're doing everything the wrong way. If there was a dispute over who is in the band, or who owns the band name, I think that stuff should all be worked out before they try to book gigs with the name Queensryche.

Are you going to form a new version of Queensryche, and possibly have two competing groups out there?
No. I'm not interested in doing that at the moment.

Just to totally clarify, from your point of view, all the differences in the band were about money? These weren't personal issues and they weren't about the musical direction of the band?
Definitely not about music or the direction of the band, because there's only me that's been pushing that and guiding that. The other guys have very little input in what Queensryche does. They just sort of show up and play shows and collect a paycheck. But two of the guys are going through some personal issues. It's not really my place to comment or talk about. I think those personal issues probably have a lot to do with the way they're acting right now. 

It would seem to many that firing the lead singer is sort of a suicide move. When people buy a ticket to a concert they tend to want to hear the original singer.
It doesn’t make any sense at all. It's typical of these guys to have a very short-sighted look on everything. Why on earth would they cancel all remaining Queensryche shows? How are they gonna survive economically? And then, by that action, you’re completely alienating the promoters, who you work with closely to book shows for you. So now the promoter is left holding the bag, and that doesn’t make the promoter want to work with you again. So here they fire everybody in our organization and don’t hire anybody to take care of the business, all the websites, all of our merchandising companies, all that stuff. There’s nobody running it right now. They locked it all up, and there’s nobody running that stuff. Then they fired our publicist, our booking agent, they canceled all the shows, so now they have no income. What are they doing?

It doesn’t make any sense at all. And that’s what’s so difficult to stomach about the whole thing. If they had some sort of grand plan that all made sense, I could understand. [Laughs] And I’m forced to engage in a lawsuit with them now. This is not something I want to do at all. I want to make records and I want to tour and live a creative life. I don’t want to be bogged down in some legal hassle. My God, but they’re forcing me into it. I have no other way to go. I can’t give up my life’s work and walk away from it. These are my ideas, my concepts, my life, that I’m writing about. What are they gonna do – hand it to some kid to sing?

If you win the lawsuit and get the name rights, are you going to hire new musicians and tour again as Queensryche?
Honestly, I don't know yet. It's too early to make any kind of comment like that.

Do you think any sort of reunion at any point in the future is even conceivable?
Again, it's just too early to comment. This is all pretty raw and new.

Tell me about your new solo album. What does it sound like?
It should be done in August. I just signed with InsideOutMusic. I'm very excited about it. The album is very hard rock. Very metal, very hard rock, very modern . . . and kind of retro in some ways too. I'm combining retro and modern styles. 

On your solo tour, are you gonna mix solo songs with Queensryche songs?
Yeah, this will be my second solo album. I'll be playing songs from both of my solo albums, and then probably a few Queensryche songs as well.

Are there any misconceptions about this split that you want to clear up?
I don't know what other people think, but with the presentation of of the band I've always tried to do different things –
different kinds of records, different influences, bringing those into the writing. And also with the live shows, trying to make them interesting and unique and different, rather than just five guys up there playing songs, I tried to create a theatrical environment for the presentation. And I think people like that. They want to keep seeing that. Without me, that won't happen. I can guarantee that. It won't happen.

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