Queensryche Interview with Michael Wilton
Queensryche had a number of rough years around the split-up with Geoff Tate and the following legal. Now the band is back on track, full of energy and fresh ideas. Their two last releases – the self-titled ‘Queensryche’ (2013) and ‘Condition Human’ (2015) saw them return to old strength. I had a chat with founding member and main songwriter Michael Wilton about their upcoming tour in Australia and life in the post-Geoff Tate era.
Marc: Your latest album ‘Condition Human’ is out now for about 6 months. You have played the new material quite a bit by now. How does the new material work for you in a live situation?
Michael: It works great. It integrates seamlessly with the first six, seven albums of Queensryche. The fans love it. It blends tremendously with our older stuff. You can tell that this has been done by the original writers.
Marc: With the distance of about 6 months, what is your view on the album now?
Michael: With all the reviews that we have received all over the world, this album is going great. People love it. They think it fits in with where the first five, six albums have been. We’re very, very happy with how it’s been received by the Queensryche fans. The older Queensryche fans are now coming back to see the band. So it’s all going straight ahead positive and we are very happy with that.
‘When I look back now it was worth it. If I had given up the fight I would have never forgiven myself.’
Marc: What’s your personal view on that album? Is it a logical continuation from your earlier work?
Michael: Personally it’s an evolution for Queensryche. We obviously did that from the self-titled album in 2013. On this one we really honed in on the more traditional, semi-progressive elements of Queensryche. And everybody recognized that as kind of ‘The Warning’, ‘Rage For Order’ and ‘Operation: Mindcrime’. Of course, I have the DNA. I’m the one who wrote those songs. So naturally the producer Zeuss wanted to pull back out and really spotlight that into the recording. So I get that when people say, ‘wow, that could fit right into after ‘Promised Land’ or right after ‘Rage For Order’. That’s because you have the original elements and the DNA of Queensryche.
Marc: Your career spans more than 30 years. How has you songwriting evolved over the years? Has it changed or is it still like you did it back in the 80s?
Michael: I’m definitely someone who is trying to push myself. Over the years I hope people realize that there is some refinement. For me, when I write, it’s more of an unconscious endeavor. I don’t really have control over it. I’m more a right-brain type of person than a left-brain person. I’m very visual and very matter-of-fact when I write. That’s the way I have written since 1982 and I still do it to this day. That’s what I do. As you get more refined you find ways to bring in numerology, you know, the left brain, and pattern and things like that. That kind of makes it all cohesive. My songwriting, I would hope, has just become more refined. In the beginning that’s how Chris DeGarmo and I wrote. He was a little more analytical and I was a little more progressive and kind of creatively out there.
Marc: So technology hasn’t really changed the way you write songs?
Michael: Yeah, the way I attack it is still the same. As far as technology goes, this is just a convenience factor. Whether it’s a dictaphone, whether it’s a computer, it’s all about convenience and how fast you get the idea documented. That is the main focus. When you have something ready to go you want the fastest, technology-driven setup so you don’t forget what you have in your brain, especially when you get older like me.
Marc: You are well and truly into your touring cycle. Last year you played a very successful tour with the Scorpions. How was it for you personally to be on tour with a band that you listened to as a teenager?
Michael: It was amazing. It was just a wonderful experience. Finally to get on a proper tour with the Scorpions was probably one of my all-time highlight of my musical career. It was just amazing. Their song selection was varied. Especially when they played the older songs which I remember I grew up on and cut my teeth on these songs. Just hanging out with the Scorpions guys was amazing. They were really nice, easy to get along with and they are a lot of fun. I think we have a great relationship with them now because we will be touring with them in the next month. We’ll be doing a bunch of shows with them and then a residency in Las Vegas. It’s great that they asked for us to come back. I think it’s something in my career that really stands out.
‘When I write, it’s more of an unconscious endeavor. I don’t really have control over it.’
Marc: In October 2016 you are going to tour on Australia. What can your Australian fans expect for the shows down under?
Michael: First and foremost our last tour in Australia was in 2011. So the fans will be getting a rebirth of Queensryche with Todd La Torre, our powerhouse vocalist, just destroying the universe and blowing people away. It’s gonna be the first time that you are going to have Queensryche down there with kind of our reformulated rebirth. So far, so good. The offers are continually coming for other countries. It’s fitting that we come back to Australia. It’s been a while so a lot of new fans maybe haven’t seen Queensryche. It’s a different show. There is a lot of energy on stage. You can tell that the band is playing together incredibly. The whole energy of the band is like it was back in the good old days. I think we’re really gonna enjoy the show when we come there in October.
Marc: You have released 14 albums, some of them regarded as absolute classics. How hard is it actually for you to put together a set list especially when come back to a country you haven’t been to in a while?
Michael: That’s a very good question because it’s always such a strategy-driven scenario. You have to take into consideration where you’re playing, you have to take into consideration the tour that you’re promoting, you have to take into consideration the venue that you’re playing, whether the promoter wants to hear certain songs and you have to take into consideration what the fans are saying on the internet. We have to ingest all that and have to put a 30+ year legacy together that fits into 90 minutes or so. That’s not easy. Mostly we try to represent he first six albums and we try to put in some of our newer music to seamlessly fit into the set. With every tour we change things up, maybe a few songs here, a few songs there but there are always the big, popular songs that the average concert goer wants to hear. So you always have a little bit of give and take about what gets put into the set. We like to consider everything and get ones in there people maybe haven’t heard in a long time and get things in there that are refreshingly new.
Marc: Things seem to have settled down since the split up with Geoff Tate. You appear to be hungry and focused on fresh ideas. With that distance, what are your thoughts when you look back at that difficult period?
Michael: Even though it’s been four years ago it’s been a trying and difficult time for me and the band members. It was not an easy thing to go through. But such is life. You have to evolve and you have to move on. We never gave up our fight and where we want to take the band. So far everything that we dreamed of doing has come through to fruition. We are still at the point where we take one show at a time. We have to prove to people who we mean business and that we’re back with a new energy. That’s what we expected. The fans have supported us. You know, most bands go through a lot of changes, lots of business changes and sometimes management changes, sometimes record label changes, sometimes personnel changes. Queensryche is about the entity of Queensryche. Queensryche is so powerful, just the name and what people conjure up when they hear that word and see that name. For me it’s about the integration of the creativity and how it works together. If it’s firing on all four cylinders I think people will be very pleased. I can tell you that at a lot of the shows there are people at the back that don’t even know it’s a different singer. You get to a point where people haven’t seen you play live since the ‘Promised Land’ album. But they’re coming out, they’re curious. In the last four years it’s been great because with the youth of Parker [Lundgren] and Todd La Torre they bring a lot of younger fans. So we have a lot younger fans who are following the band now and they don’t know about the old albums. It’s kind of a great thing that you have people since the first EP and people who just have been with you since the 2013, self-titled album. It’s been a real growing option. I don’t wish what we’ve been through with anybody because I can’t describe how painful it was personally for me and my family. But you know what, if I look back now it was worth it. If I had given up the fight I would have never forgiven myself.