Geoff: Lots of things. They have me doing multiple days of press. They even have me working on Sundays. I am doing press to radio, TV, talk shows. Also I'll be singing the National Anthem at the Mets Game.
The Gauntlet: I would try to catch that at one of the local sports bars, but I don't think we get Mets games unless they are playing a LA team.
Geoff: They usually don't televise the national anthem being sung. Sometimes for the bigger games they do.
The Gauntlet: That is odd now that I think about it. I guess the national pride is over.
Geoff: Yeah, the patriotism is being oversold.
The Gauntlet: So is that the reason for Queensryche revisiting Mindcrime II?
Geoff: Well, there are a number of reasons. For one, it has always been a fan favorite. And two, the original Mindcrime was conceived as a part one with the ending being opened. Nikki was left in prison. The way Chris and I always worked was we trade off doing records. We'd do one record as a concept record or themed record with more grandiose musical ideas. Then we'd follow that with a more mainstream pop/rock album.
The Gauntlet: Last year Queensryche did an "Operation: Mindcrime I" tour. Was this to see if the fans were into the saga and wanted the story to end?
Geoff: I had a couple of reasons really. We had to kind of test the waters to see if there was interest there from our fans. There was thankfully. For us, it was about wrapping our heads around the story and music again. We have always been about progressing with each record and trying different things and trying to evolve the band with each record. We are not into looking back at all. So this was to do the conclusion to this record. We had to look back to see where we were in order to move forward with this record. The tour was a really good exercise in relearning what we were trying to do back then. Then we could jump in and finish the story.
The Gauntlet: With the original Mindcrime album, each song had the same sound and feel to them. With "Operation: Mindcrime 2" each song has a different feel.
Geoff: What we tried to do with it was try to make it an extension of the first. We tried to straddle the timeline of eighteen years and be conscious of making a modern recording while being respectful to the original recording and sound. We used a different drum kit on each song for this record, and we change guitar amps and guitar combinations throughout this record. This makes it more of a multi-dimensional recording like a modern recording should be. We did take some of the musical themes from the first record; some melodic lines and some of the progressions from the first album and wove them into the fabric of this album so there would be a familiarity to the listener. If you listen to them back-to-back, it transports the listener back to the feel of the album.
The Gauntlet: So from the start, you planned on making it a continuation of not just the storyline, but also of the music.
The Gauntlet: What was the writing process like?
Geoff: The writing process was kind of interesting. Mike, our guitar playing lives in a different state. And Jason lives in San Francisco. They both flew out to my house and live there for four months. At that time we started recording and writing. It was about a four month process. We did nothing but the album. We didn't shower or shave. For the most part we just sort of lived in our pajamas. We just sat around in bathrobes and slippers and wrote the record. It was a really creative highpoint for me to be so immersed in it. After about four months, we had all the material together and then we launched to recording. That took longer. The whole thing took about eighteen months. It took considerably longer than "Operation: Mindcrime I".
The Gauntlet: If you had the chance to redo "Operation: Mindcrime I", would you do it differently?
Geoff: The times have changed so much. Mindcrime was one of the first of a handful of digital recordings released on a major label. It was really unique at the time as digital recordings were still in their infancy. I remember playing it for the record execs after we had it mixed and mastered. I remember them freaking out on the sound of it as they weren't used to hearing that brittle digital sound. Every ones' ears were tuned to analog at the time which had a much warmer sound. Technology has changed and recording has changed. We don't use a studio like we use to. Our recordings are now done in our home studios now. It's a whole different way of operating. We can get so much more detailed. Back then we had an economic time clock back then.
The Gauntlet: I remember being in middle school being mocked because I listened to Queensryche. Everyone else was into Duran Duran, Wham!, etc. Although I didn't fully grasp the concept of the lyrics your songs conveyed, I knew there was something there that had depth and meant something and wasn't like all the bullshit out there.
Geoff: Thank you. I don't know if I can say it in those terms. I think if you talk to Vince Neil of Motley Crue, he'd say his lyrics are deep and meaningful. We all have our own idea what deep and meaningful is. Our whole idea as a band was to make music interesting to us; things that we felt good about and satisfied with. We weren't consciously making statements about changing the landscape. We were just expressing ourselves musically on music we found interesting. Whether people found our lyrics interesting to them is up to them. That's the beauty of music, it's a personal experience. We all listen to music with different filters and ears. We all have different experiences with it. That's why I think writing about music, being a music journalist is the hardest thing to do. How do you talk about it? If I was a journalist, I'd say this music moved me this way, maybe it will move you too. I wouldn't get into the sports mentality of it and rate it on a chart or compare to other bands. There is no comparison. Art is self expression. It is not meant to be a competitive sport. Labels are setup with the sports mentality. They are all about sales, notches on the belt and chart positions and that kind of thing.
The Gauntlet: When Mindcrime came out 18 years ago, did you plan on the sequel?
Geoff: Yeah. It was designed that way. It was the first part in our minds and left open ended with Nikki being put in prison. The way Chris (guitar player) and I work is this. His real love of music is creating pop music ala The Beatles. He likes really stripped down simple versions of songs with hooks and melodies. I like that too, but it's not my real passion. I like that too, but my real passion is theme records and concept pieces with big subject matter. We made this agreement to flip flop each record. We'd do "Mindcrime" and follow it with an album like "Empire" with pop songs. Then the next album would be a theme record followed by pop songs. That's what we did for quite a few years there. When we released "Empire", it kind of got in the way in the sense that it became so huge and it really changed our lives so drastically. It led us to record "Promised Land" which is about that change. "Promised Land" became the replacement to doing "Mindcrime". This put the sequel to "Mindcrime" on hold. It became a priority for me because my life became so different at that point so I had to comment on it. So the sequel to "Mindcrime" just got pushed back. I began working on it. I had a file on my computer and kept going back and forth adding to it doing character sketches and 'what ifs'. The file kept growing over the years and about 2 years ago I was looking at it and realized I had a story finally.
The Gauntlet: If you recorded "Mindcrime II" when you originally planned, it would have been released about 12 years ago. Would this have changed his views and the story? He would have been in his early 30's instead of mid 40's. That's got to change anyone's politics and social values.
Geoff: I think definitely. It would have had a different set of goals and criteria to leap through. You are different in your 30's than 40's and I imagine I'll be different in my 50's too. It could have been a different album. I think I am glad it has been this long. It really helps me as a writer to give that character more perspective and more of a big picture outlook. Or else it gives me the ability to look at the big picture and define the character in more of a precise way.
The Gauntlet: You mentioned after "Empire" and the successes it brought that your lives changed. Do you think you would have had the time to settle down and really develop the character? Labels love to get the follow up to a big hit on the market right away.
Geoff: No, probably not. I probably wouldn't have been able to go into it as indepth.
The Gauntlet: With the passing of Michael Kamen a couple years ago, did you have doubts of finding someone who could take over the orchestral arrangements and bring what he did to the songs?
Geoff: Yeah. It was very sad. We opened up the master tape box for the original "Mindcrime" to analyze and listen to it, we found the original sheet music to 'Sweet Sister Mary' that he wrote. It had his hand written notes and everything. It was really a sad moment for me knowing that he wouldn't be there. He was such a joy of a man to work with. I love that guy. He was so original and unique. Man, I just really miss him.
The Gauntlet: How did you go about picking someone? He Michael had a great sense of melodies to his arrangements.
Geoff: He had that real interesting and unique sense of melody and his picking of different instruments. He was one of a kind. With every project, you pick people you enjoy working with and who can add to it, not just a name only. You need someone who can get into the spirit of the project. Our producer, Jason, was friends with a composer named Ashif Hakik. He is Arabian and Fijian. Talk about cuisine, he is also a good cook. He is a composer and arranger based in San Francisco. He was really a great guy to work with, and had a lot of ideas. He spent about two months working with us.
The Gauntlet: Listening to the album, I can hear some similarities to Michael Kamens work.
Geoff: We gave him some parameters and had him listen to the original "Mindcrime" and some songs from "Empire". We told him this was the area we wanted him to operate in. We didn't want to cut frequency response from the guitars or interfere with the vocals. It's gotta be thick and have interesting melodic parts. The next meeting, we got together and started making notes, working on melodies and shaping from there. He used Michaels style as a blue print to get started with. It worked really well. Our goal was to make this album reminiscent of the original and carry the story.
The Gauntlet: With the tour, will you do the songs in order from Mindcrime I through the second Mindcrime?
Geoff: Absolutely. We are going to be presenting it in sort of a musical opera, theatrical style with actors portraying different parts. The set on the stage is changeable and changes depending on the scene and what's happening at that point of the songs. There will be video screens to help visualize the story. Will be all surround sound. It's a very cool show. Very emotional, very dramatic. We did a portion of it last fall to test out the waters. It was always interesting to me to watch and gauge the audience reaction. Like Mary's death scene. It is incredibly graphic and very intense. We use in ear monitors to hear ourselves. During her death scene, I am offstage and would turn my monitor off to hear the audience. It is always amazing seeing them shout things at her. The reaction to the death scene is very traumatic. Some people are so reactive to it, they can't watch it and leave the show. It affects people in a different way in different cities. It's a very effective show, very intense.
The Gauntlet: Queensryche never really got much airplay except for "Empire", yet the band has been very successful. Do you even care if you get the videos on MTV or any airplay?
Geoff: I like making videos because it's a visual thing. We actually make a lot of our own stuff. We have our own production facility. We just finished the video for "I'm American". It was amazing to shoot yet very frustrating. We came up with a concept which I thought was very clever. We had all this pirated footage from Iraq that soldiers shot but were supposed to release. They sent it over and emailed it to us. We put it together and sent it to the label. Everyone was excited for it. We were getting ready to release it and the label called us up and said 'guys, we can't release this. Our legal department just watched this and says it is full of lawsuits'. We had to completely change the whole thing around. It was a nightmare. The final thing turned out pretty cool and I'm happy with it. It is just amazing these days with the censorship in this country being at an all time high. We don't have freedom of speech anymore. We don't have all these ideas that make America great. They are all being taken away one by one. A large segment of the population thinks these things are wrong and our freedoms should be obliterated.
The Gauntlet: Do you care if Queensryche gets into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame?
Geoff: I don't care about getting into the Hall of Fame or chart positions. I don't care about the accolades. It doesn't really mean anything to me. What means the most to me is I can sit in my studio on a sunny fall day. I can have an idea for a song that started at breakfast. I can start laying these tracks down and write a song. A year later the album comes out, then I'm on tour, maybe in a foreign country like Turkey at some outdoor festival on the edge of the Black Sea singing to a Muslim audience singing a song I wrote a couple years ago. I am standing there singing my song and looking at them singing back to me. Even though we are from two different countries with different backgrounds and philosophies we are singing the same words. We are connecting on the words on the words of the music and being moved by the same medium. That to me is what it is all about. Nothing else matters. It is all about communication. It's about understanding each other and why we do the things we do.
The Gauntlet: Why do you think Queensryche's music has such a worldwide appeal with many of the songs themes being based in the US?
Geoff: I don't really know. My theory is that our music itself is based in classical music or variations of blues and jazz. Those musical styles are really old and they were originated in other countries and other civilizations. Maybe the structure touches people in different parts of the world and different ways. That's and interesting question. I think I am going to have to be obsessive about that and find out for you.
The Gauntlet: Alright, a follow up interview! I understand you are involved with the Save the Music Charity Foundation.
Geoff: We will be riding Beull custom bike, Mike Stone and I. We were sitting around listening to the album and lamenting about going on the tour and not being able to ride. We started talking about that and Susan brought up that we need to find a way to work with a charity and ride our bikes. The more we talked about it the idea started escalating. We got on the phone with Eric Beull who is a friend of Stones. Beull is already designing the bikes in his head before we got off the phone and he got the whole thing rolling. So now we get to ride a lot on this tour. We will be riding between cities and riding with people who donate money to the foundation. At the end of the tour we are auctioning off the bikes and the proceeds go to the foundation. Last summer, we toured as a support band with Judas Priest on their reunion tour. Stone and I took our bikes on a trailer and we rode most of the summer on the bikes between cities doing 600-800 mile trips. It was really fun. It's hard and exhausting. Although the buses are spacious, they get confining after a while. If you are used to having alone time, you gotta get on a bike and clear your head. And at the same time have a little adventure. Although highway riding isn't really an adventure. I am looking forward to doing one though. Eric, Mike and I are talking about doing a ride in Central America where you actually have to carry your own gas cans and spare parts as there are no towns for hundreds of miles. We are planning a rough sketch on where we'd go and hope to go by the end of the year. We are thinking of documenting it all for a documentary film.