Interview conducted August 12 2015
Interview published September 19 2015
"I would rather listen
to a CD that I didn't quite get the first time
The progressive metallers Queensrÿche
release their new album, Condition Hüman, on October 2nd and this
album also marks their second effort without their former vocalist Geoff
Tate and consequently their second with new vocalist Todd La Torre. Metal
Covenant talked to original member and guitarist Michael Wilton
to take a closer look at the album's direction and of course I just had
to ask him a little bit about the singer swap as well.
"It was inevitable that
change was gonna happen."
Tobbe: Is it relieving to be involved, to
a far greater extent, in the songwriting process nowadays than what you
were when Geoff was still in the band?
Michael: Oh yeah. You know, everything is open
to anybody in the band, to write music and to be as creative as they
want. There will be no creativity stifled in this situation. So yeah,
it's really great that you have everybody contributing to the songwriting
process and that just adds so much to the building and layering of the
songs and, you know, they are just what they are. We're just in a great
situation right now and there's not so many distractions anymore. We're
really just focused on touring and making music and just making people
aware of Queensrÿche.
Did you listen just a little bit to the older records before you started
the songwriting process?
Michael: Yes, of course. You know, we are the 3
guys that started this whole thing 30+ years ago, so our DNA is imprinted
in this and it's just a matter of rekindling that creative spirit and
getting out of a cookie cutter pop format arrangement situation. Sure,
we listened to some of the older albums and just, you know, got the
spirit of those albums and kind of pushed us in that way of being a
little free in the creative process. Back then we were writing as a
band and now, in this day and age, we're writing as a band again, so
we wanna capture that energy again.
Tobbe: Is there something with this record
that you have intentionally changed musically from your last record?
Michael: You know, change is something that Queensrÿche
has always done. We've always evolved from each album and we wanted
to bring that back into this album. We didn't wanna do a carbon copy
of the last album. We greatly respect that last album, but this one
is a different album and we needed to move in a different direction,
you know. Everything was set in place and we got the right producer
[Michael "Zuess" Harris] for this body of music and we just
decided to really, you know, write this music and create the depths
in the music and just have the musical freedom in the arrangements and
really just take it in a different direction. You know, in non-traditional
directions to not be so normal.
Tobbe: As a whole I think that the last
record was more made to sound like what you did up to the Empire album,
whilst the new one is standing more on its own. It undoubtedly sounds
like a Queensrÿche album though, but I think it's rather different
from the last one.
Michael: Yeah, and that's important, because, you
know, when we want people to listen to Queensrÿche, we want them
to go "Oh yeah. That sounds like Queensrÿche guitar work."
or "That sounds like Queensrÿche bass work." and we're
meeting lots of people that frankly have not even cared about Queensrÿche
since the Promised Land. So now there's a whole rebirth of Queensrÿche
and a lot of popularity and they're checking it out. We want them to
feel like "Okay. Yeah, this sounds like Queensrÿche. That
Queensrÿche that I knew.".
Tobbe: Yeah, I remember them. But I think,
once again in comparison to the last album, that Condition Hüman
is kind of an album that takes more effort from the listener than what
the last one did, because the last one was a little bit more catchy and
this one needs a couple of additional spins to build its momentum.
Michael: Yeah, and as Operation: Mindcrime did,
and as Rage For Order did, as The Warning did, and as Promised Land
did. You know, it's just when you build the songs with so much depth
and so much creativity, it's just a different animal, with different
time changes, key changes, false endings, segues. You know, for me as
a listener, I would rather listen to a CD that I didn't quite get the
first time, that at each time I listen to it, I find something new about
it that makes we wanna hear it again, and again, and again. And pretty
soon you start grabbing your favorite songs and discovering these nuggets
and layers and to me, those are the ones that I cherish the most. You
know, when a song just hits me immediately, after the 3rd song I'm done
with it and it's not as rewarding.
know, like a Rush album or a Soundgarden album, it's like you get it
the first time a little bit and the more you listen to it, you start
discovering more and more things and you start discovering, you know
"Hey! Song 8 is really cool too, besides song 1.". You know,
that kind of thing and I've always loved that with hard rock, metal,
progressive metal, progressive rock. You know, all that stuff. Yeah,
it's a different animal.
Tobbe: What do you think that this new record
can add to Queensrÿche's already nice catalogue of records?
Michael: I think for the listener of Condition
Hüman, it's a good variety of songs, that are eclectic, that are
progressive, that are hard rock, that are epic. I think there's a good
diversity of everything, that's really intriguing. I mean, the last
song on the album is almost 8 minutes long, so it shows that the band
is taking chances again and not doing the industry standard.
Tobbe: How hard would it actually be to
really recreate what you did in the past, in the 80's? If you really wanted
Michael: Well, you know, it's always fun to go
back and listen to the way I played guitar back in my mid 20's, but,
you know, I've progressed my musicianship to where I'm at right now.
But I think it's more of the spirit of writing as a band and complementing
the song and only putting in what the song needs or wants. That's what
we used to do.
Tobbe: So nowadays, what inspires you?
Michael: What inspires me is just creative freedom
now. It's not like I have to write a certain style or anything. I just
go with the flow, you know, and for me, if I'm on the road and in adverse
conditions and whatever, that's usually when some great ideas pop out.
So then it's just a matter of getting those ideas documented. You know,
as I get older, it's like if I don't get that recorded or anything,
I'll probably forget it.
Tobbe: Your last album was kind of short.
It was only 35 minutes to be exact, which I nevertheless quite often think
is good though. This one is about 53 minutes and am I correct when I believe
that you guys took this matter under consideration when you started to
work on Condition Hüman?
Michael: Right, and I think that's inherent in
the song arrangements, you know. It's like, it's not traditional. Instead
of doing two choruses to end the song, "Let's just do one chorus,
and let's develop a new part in there, and let's take it around the
corner and add something else to it and make it special.". So the
writing arrangement, I mean, it was "Let's just see where this
can go.". It's hard to describe, you know, when you have that feeling
that you've nailed something. It's just, everybody goes "Yeah!"
and that's it.
When somebody looks back at this Queensrÿche album in the future,
what do you want them to see?
Michael: Well, I want them to say that the rebirth
of Queensrÿche produced some great music and I want them to say
that those were exciting times for the band. Will this record be timeless?
I don't know. It's weird, because it's so personal to me. I have to
go on what other people hear, you know, and other people with great
ears, that I trust. But that's kind of what I would like.
Tobbe: Do you think that Queensrÿche
eventually will be known for like 3 different time periods? You know,
the classic one, and the second one when the band kind of was slowly torn
apart, and a third one with what you are of today?
Michael: Right. I think it's the evolution of
the band. We've been in it over 30 years and we've seen different variations
of it and now we're pretty solidified in this. You know what it shows?
It shows that the name, that the Queensrÿche name has become an
entity. It is what it is and it will always be there. Queensrÿche
has never been just about one person. It's been about the entity and
I think the entity will live longer than we will.
Tobbe: So what about Todd's performance?
Besides being a great vocalist, what has Todd actually brought to the
table that wasn't there earlier?
Michael: Oh, well Todd's a musician, you know.
He's an accomplished musician. He's a drummer. A very accomplished drummer.
If he's hearing a drum beat, or maybe a hi-hat beat, you know, he can
be descriptive and tell Scott [Rockenfield] "This is the kind of
beat I was hearing in this song.". If he's talking to me and saying
"This is the way I kind of wanted the guitar part to go in this
song I'm writing and I'm looking for something a little more dominant
seventh, you know, in the key of E-flat.". It's descriptive, you
know, so it expedites the communication. He's on the same wavelength
as everybody and just the communication is much faster, it's better
described and thus, you know, it's more efficient.
Tobbe: You know, with his singing style,
it takes a lot of effort to perform what he is doing live. Are you sometimes
worried that his voice will break down during tours?
Michael: Obviously on this last stretch of shows,
we did 21 shows in 23 days, we could see that Todd's voice and his health
was starting to deteriorate just a little bit, but he managed to get
through all the performances. This is no easy gig, singing these songs.
We've been performing these songs, with Todd now, for a little over
2 years and he's become more confident, and he's more comfortable on
stage, performing the songs, and his voice has just gotten stronger.
I know we're not gonna put him in this kind of a situation again, because
a voice does needs rest and we can't be doing 7 in a row's anymore.
You guys did, for a long time, hang on to what Geoff wanted to do, with
records and stuff. But for how long time had you been thinking of going
separate ways with him before you actually fired him?
Michael: You know, it's just one thing just led
to another and it just got to the point where nobody was seeing eye
to eye, and music directions were all in the wrong way, and it was just
time for a needed change. You know, you can't pinpoint exactly when
things went wrong. It's something that gradually kept growing. You know,
me being a hopeless optimist, always thinking "Well, I think it
can get better. I think it's gonna get better.". The problem is
that it never does. It was inevitable that change was gonna happen.
Tobbe: Did you have any kind of plan B,
if things hadn't worked out with the singing swap and your fans had abandoned
Michael: No, I don't think that way. I only knew
what the fans wanted and I only knew what I wanted and what Scott and
Eddie [Jackson, bass] wanted, you know. If the fans hadn't been there
to back us up and support us, yeah, I don't know what would have happened.
Tobbe: But isn't it a little bit funny,
because I believe that like 99 percent of the people were on your side
during this odd situation? Why was that, you think?
Michael: You know, there's just a lot of reasons.
You can't just pinpoint any of it. Maybe the song selection. You know,
the tours weren't satisfying to the fans. You know, just a lot of things.
When they heard the energy and just the determination and the fire with
Todd, I think just a light went on in everybody's head and "Wow!
Tobbe: Things perhaps may have looked differently
if you hadn't gotten such a great replacement as Todd is actually.
Michael: Yeah, I know. It's miraculous that I
actually ran into him and met him.
of the album Condition Hüman