Breaking the Silence: Queensrÿche Fans Glimpse Behind the Band’s Veil of Secrecy
Before I begin: For those of you who are in the know regarding the various stories and details of the recent Queensrÿche drama, feel free to skip ahead. For anyone who’s in the dark about the back story leading up to the recent firing of longtime ex-singer Geoff Tate and the subsequent legal battle over the name that has ensued, I’ll refer you to the following links: firstly a detailed and brutal statement by Queensrÿche guitarist Michael Wilton that served as his declaration in court and is an unflinching look at the private, internal decay of a once great band, and secondly, an excellent straight to the point chronicling of recent events (both legal and publicity related) after the firing of Geoff Tate. They’ll get you up to speed better than any summary I could write (which is what I first attempted to do which in turn made me bang my head against my keyboard in frustration — the fall of Queensrÿche is a long, long, story, and trying to condense it into the space of one article was frankly making me begin to hate writing).
My trajectory as a die-hard Queensrÿche fan began and ended with Chris DeGarmo, the band’s original guitarist and primary creative songwriting force. It was he alone who penned “Silent Lucidity”, the top ten hit that was what initially drew me into the band’s discography, albeit a few years after it was considered a “hit”. I was hooked from that point on, and began to scour the then early internet for interviews new and old, and any other information I could glean about the band. The interviews with the band, usually with either DeGarmo or Tate or both, were as equally engrossing as the music. These were intelligent, coherent, thoughtful rock musicians who throughout their career projected that image not only through the depth of their work, but in the way they spoke about their work. Their lyrical themes would invite far more intricate, and complex questions from interviewers than say Warrant would (clever as it may be, there’s no misinterpreting “Cherry Pie”).
DeGarmo gave the best interviews, and writers often noted on it — he was naturally thoughtful, polite, and modest — a relatable guy who was at stark contrast to the usual braggadocio character types most often found in rock and metal circles. The only contrast more disarming than that was the fact that his compositions were often the very opposite of his low-key character: dramatic, sweeping, aggressive, and epic. Tate was similar in attitudes, and though I favored him a bit less than DeGarmo, I admired the hell out of his unbelievable vocal abilities, and saw through his natural ease with DeGarmo the powerful guitarist/vocalist dynamic that often characterized many artistically successful bands. With DeGarmo at the songwriting helm, Queensrÿche experienced their classic era, and while some Queensrÿche fans will debate the end point of this era, I consider it to range from 1982-1997, the time span of their eponymous debut EP through the Hear in the Now Frontier album.
In 1997, DeGarmo exited the band and caused shockwaves in the Queensrÿche fan community. There was no reason given, no explanations forthcoming from either DeGarmo nor from the other band members. The band had always been a tight-lipped bunch about its inner workings, only allowing journalists to see what they chose to make viewable. Problems were kept internal, and only discussed in the press with cursory nods to there being disagreements, but that all was well presently, and since the original line-up had remained intact since the band’s inception, most everyone considered that to be a perfectly valid explanation. But now there could be no avoiding the speculations that something had clearly gone wrong within the Queensrÿche camp to prompt its primary songwriter to exit so abruptly, and fans developed their own theories and waited with bated breath to see how Queensrÿche would continue.
His immediate replacement, Kelly Gray, was in my opinion as well as many others, an unmitigated disaster. A childhood friend of Tate’s whose claim to fame was serving as producer of grunge second wavers Candlebox’s multiplatinum debut, he was an ill-considered choice. His guitar tone was muddy, infused with unnecessary wah-pedal effects, and he proceeded to butcher DeGarmo’s crystal clear, fluid, and elegant solos with his own turgid interpretations. The album he participated in via performing and songwriting, Q2K, was near to abysmal, and I grew disillusioned and impassioned in my criticisms of the bands direction. There was a brief ray of hope when DeGarmo returned to participate in the songwriting and recording of 2003’s Tribe album. He was featured on half the albums songs, which were not coincidentally the better half — but any hope of a permanent reunion were dashed when he immediately exited the band once again with no words of explanation from either party. What the hell was going on? I decided enough was enough and stopped hoping for the best. Other bands who harbored noticeable influences from classic era Queensrÿche, such as Kamelot and Therion, were filling the void that the Rÿche had left in me, and I started considering myself a Queensrÿche fan in exile, a fan of the past.
The post 1997/DeGarmo period also brought about a marked change in the band’s public relations. Tate was left as the band’s primary interviewee, and it was obvious to close observers of the band that something had changed. He would contradict himself across interviews, some spanning short amounts of time, and he began to participate in a form of bait and switch, in which he’d mention that the sound and vision for an upcoming album was heavy and close to (insert classic Queensrÿche record here) in an attempt to warm up the band’s metal loving fan base. When the records would come out and not be as “advertised”, his interviews supporting the album would often feature him disparaging the very style he once had promised to work with in older interviews. One could have written it off as artistic license if it had happened just once, but it began to be a pattern with Tate, one that continued up through his final album with the band, 2012’s villainous atrocity Dedicated to Chaos. By 2005 and the announcement of an attempt to release a sequel to the hallowed classic Operation:Mindcime, the band had abandoned their professional management and committed the Spinal Tap-ian sin of having Tate’s wife Susan installed as their manager. She had already been well entrenched within the band’s inner circle, having angered and brought to ruin many fan networks and communities.
I’m a frequent visitor at the Anybody Listening forum community, which over the years has naturally developed into a haven of sorts for disgruntled, shunned, and opinionated Queensrÿche fans. A place where fans who disapproved of the current direction of the band could freely voice their opinions and find others to commiserate with. I have to make the distinction you see, because the “official” Queensrÿche fan forum at their own website has for the better part of a decade suffered under heavy moderation and censorship. With his wife at the helm and her influence seeping into all aspects of band operations, Tate seemed to grow leery of the internet and its freely moving conduits of information. The official forum was censored to a point of white washing, often banning anyone with unfavorable opinions — and before long the only people populating the place were blind pro-Tate bootlickers.
The admins and community members of Anybody Listening are well-connected, sharp, smart, critical fans with keen eyes and ears who were always the first to see through the charades of Susan Tate, as well as the comical level of hypocrisy and backtracking committed by Geoff Tate over the years through various interviews and public statements. In short, it’s the place from which to view Queensrÿche without filters, and in due time this community and its admins became the worst enemy of the Tates — who openly resented its existence, yet continued to monitor the various discussions that took place on it. And it’s where I decided to take refuge as a longtime fan of classic era Queensrÿche. As a member of this community, I’ve had a front row seat to the various intricacies, details, and speculations regarding the recent events in the Queensrÿche world.
In April of this year, the Brazil incident happened, an ugly situation before a concert in Sao Paulo in which an enraged Geoff Tate assaulted both Wilton and drummer Scott Rockenfield. The details of this altercation as well as the circumstances that are believed to have led to the confrontation are documented across the many court submitted legal “declarations” made by band members, crew, and other witnesses. The declarations, as well as additional court documents related to the Tate vs Queensrÿche case are made available to the public at the cost of an access fee, and it was the administrative team of Anybody Listening that first purchased access to these documents and made them freely available online on July 10th. They explain the Brazil incident across a spectrum of perspectives, most that paint Tate’s actions in a deplorable, and guilt-ridden light. These documents have proved to be much more than just the accounting of one night, and perhaps the only way I can adequately describe them is that collectively they are the Pandora’s Box of Queensrÿche’s secret history. In particular, the declarations of Wilton, Rockenfield, and bassist Eddie Jackson are the most revelatory of all, detailing a pattern of dysfunction for well over a decade and a half. At the heart of this dysfunction, including the primary reason why Chris DeGarmo left Queensrÿche twice, was ex-vocalist Geoff Tate and his violent, unpredictable anger — an anger that was extremely well hidden from fan and public view. In short, the information presented within these declarations was shocking.
Needlessly to say, the past few weeks have been for myself, and I think I can safely speak for quite a few other Queensrÿche fans, a lot to take in. Once I finished reading all the declarations and processed the information contained within, not only had my curiosity about many long-held questions been answered, but in some cases I felt that I had learned too much. Jackson’s declaration which contains descriptions of verbal abuse from Tate to DeGarmo as early as the recording of the Promised Land album in 1994 somewhat shatters the illusion that these two guys always had a positive camaraderie within the band. To further the point, to learn via Wilton’s declaration that Tate’s anger issues were the motivating factor to push Chris DeGarmo away both in 1997, and in 2003. There are the Wilton revelations that Tate was unhappy with the band’s rock/metal style as early as 1993-1994 and threatened to leave the band, additionally that he went through a messy divorce in 1997 that drug the rest of the band into the middle of a legal battle via subpoenas — something that caused “a large amount of resentment and hurt amongst the band members”.
There were more recent revelations too, such as the underhanded attempt by Tate to sell the rights to Operation:Mindcrime to a film company for a future production, in which Tate directed that information of the sale be kept from other band members, and payment of upfront monies to be made payable only to Tate himself. Rockenfield, Wilton, and Jackson’s declarations go into lengthy detail about the various ways the Tates’ kept them out of the loop regarding pertinent information relating to expenses, bookings, and business deals. It paints the picture of paranoid control freaks in both Geoff and Susan, and regarding the latter, a wife who was concerned with keeping her husband happy above her duties as the band manager. A portrait of self-delusion, Geoff surrounds himself with yes men both at home with the friends who crash at his house, and those that he insists on taking on tour with him — all on the band’s dime, despite the other members protests. The attempt to remove Susan from the position of band manager, as well as her daughter Miranda from the band’s internal merchandising business is met with blackmail-esque threats from Geoff. Jackson describes the Tates unwillingness as a mix of greed and nepotism, citing that “Geoff refused to go along with the idea because his wife and daughter were on the payroll”. In essence the Tate family was double, even triple dipping from the income made by the band as an organization.
I could go on and on, but that is merely a taste of the depths to which these published declarations take us down the Queensrÿche rabbit hole. Fans of a band that was notoriously private about its inner workings suddenly had access to extremely personal accounts of behind the scenes information and perspectives. This must have been a significant decision for the band members involved as well, for even though the declarations were necessary to fight against the Tates’ motion for an injunction to prevent the remaining members from continuing under the Queensrÿche name, it is widely believed that the band knew that this information would inevitably leak out in some form. Fan reaction at Anybody Listening has in many ways mirrored all of my feelings on the explosive nature of these revelations: shock, disgust, curiosity, morbid fascination, and in many ways for myself, a welcome relief to finally understand some of the truths behind the head scratching decisions this band has made in the past decade. It also justifies for myself a personal mistrust of Geoff Tate and his questionable allegiance to the genre that catapulted him to fame, as well as partially absolving the remaining band members of guilt in the degradation of the Queensrÿche legacy. Suffice it to say, I’m relieved to know that they hated Mindcrime II as much as I did and that they were not in favor of creating the sequel.
Not all fans were happy about the reality of these revelations coming to light, thinking it to be detrimental to the band’s already deteriorated image as too much dirty laundry to be aired publicly. Most hovered somewhere around the middle, such as Anybody Listening site owner/administrator Samsara who remarked:
It’s bittersweet. The documents are public record. As the guy who pretty much unleashed them into the mainstream, on one hand, I felt like I was doing a public service. Showing folks the depths of the dysfunction. On the other hand, I felt bad, because while I knew some of that stuff (some of it I didn’t), I remember what it was like when the veil of secrecy was lifted and how I felt. It opened a window into reality that I really wish never existed.
In regards to whether or not this new information would taint perceptions regarding the band’s classic era legacy, Anybody Listening admin Lucretia represented the prevailing opinion amongst the community:
Not at all. The classic lineup of this band is still my favorite musical entity ever, and in-fighting between band mates is a common thing. Now, as others have said, it does color my view of Geoff Tate in the post-CDG era of Queensrÿche. He used to carry himself as a classy, intellectual person who cared about his fans. I’ve been hearing bad things about Geoff for years, and had some negative personal experiences with Susan myself, but I had no idea that it was as bad as the court documents allege.
Interestingly enough, despite the mixed feelings towards the content of the various published legal documents, most fans are in favor of the current incarnation of the band (featuring Crimson Glory vocalist Todd La Torre) adopting a more open approach to its fans and public via social media and other means. Evidence of this becoming the new norm in the Queensrÿche world post-Tate-dictatorship can be seen through the active Facebook presence of La Torre, Wilton, and second guitarist Parker Lundgren. I’ve been following their posts myself and have been pleasantly surprised to see just how much the social media format has enabled a normally quiet guy like Wilton to come out of his shell. The effort on Facebook seems to be led directly by the newest band members La Torre and Lundgren however, who have taken to answering fan questions and comments as well as posting a great number of pictures of the new lineup hard at work.
I find myself nodding with approval when I see things like that, and in particular when I see concert footage of the new Queensrÿche on stage playing classic era gems with passion and enthusiasm and ear to ear grins. A few nights ago Queensrÿche headlined the Halfway Jam festival, and listening to the filmed footage of the gig with the headphones on and eyes shut often tricks my brain into thinking I’m listening to a long-lost concert video from the late 80s. La Torre is not quite a dead ringer for Geoff Tate — though indeed very close — but he brings back the fire and the passion that the original material is so full of, and that Geoff Tate’s degrading vocal capabilities over the many years have been unable to reach again. When I watch the videos, I see a united band, much like the long-reunited Iron Maiden. I see a positive environment for Chris DeGarmo to hopefully one day make his reappearance with the band in some capacity, even if it’s just in a creative role in the songwriting process. It’s the slow climb up from the depths of darkness for a band that is slowly beginning to resemble the one that seemed to drop off the face of the earth in 1997. And yeah, I feel confident in actually saying out loud for the first time in well over a decade that I am a Queensrÿche fan.