How grunge and the marketing men killed Queensrÿche

Queensrÿche could have been the biggest band in the world but then along came Nirvana. Ed Power talks to former frontman Geoff Tate.

Geoff Tate will be performing in Cork next week.

IF it wasn’t for Kurt Cobain, Queensrÿche could have been the biggest band in the world. In the late eighties these tall-haired rockers were regarded as the future of heavy metal, evidence that the scene was ready to grow up after the cartoon buffoonery of Mötley Crüe and their poodle-perm peers.

Then along came grunge and everything changed. Irony and self-loathing were in, grandiosity and soaring ambition out. Queensrÿche’s stock plummeted faster than the pound the day after the Brexit referendum.

“When we started, genre wasn’t really a thing in the business. Rock music was all encompassing. You had different bands doing different things and it was all totally fine,” says Geoff Tate, Queensrÿche’s long-time frontman and now leader of the cult outfit Operation: Mindcrime (named after his former band’s most acclaimed LP).

“What happened was that the marketing mentality came into the business. They started breaking everything down and putting music in boxes. At that point, writers began placing us in the same box as Mötley Crüe. It wasn’t about the music — it was a selling technique.

“To be compared to Mötley Crüe… I took it as kind of an insult, frankly.”

Tate is en route to Cork for a charity performance featuring hits from across Queensrÿche’s 20m-selling career, coupled with anecdotes from his years on the road (the evening is part of his ‘International Storyteller Tour’). The event will raise funds for Music Generation Cork City’s Mahon Community Rock Hub, a facility that will allow children and teenagers in the suburb to “learn and create music in a socially-inclusive community setting”.

Much of the focus at the gig will be on Queensrÿche’s break-out 1988 LP Operation: Mindcrime. The concept record intriguingly blends Pink Floyd and Guns ’n Roses as it imagines a future dystopia in which the media cynical manipulates the population and politicians gain power through pandering to the public’s prejudices and paranoia. Did Tate have access to a crystal ball?

“It’s so true,” he nods. “I was looking at the back cover of the album the other day. There was a photograph of one of the main characters. The way he is standing, he could be Donald Trump’s father. I thought, ‘how very odd’. A lot of the story is about political manipulation and control over people — a message that will resonate even more nowadays.”

Tate departed Queensrÿche in exceedingly acrimonious circumstances in 2012. His former bandmates continue to trade under the old moniker with a new lead singer. The spat was ill-tempered and lawyers became involved. Tate is happy to have put it behind him.

“It was a tumultuous couple of years. Lots of lots of people were talking as if they knew what was going on. I’m so happy that both entities have moved on as they have wanted. It’s nice to be alive right now.”

Aged 57, he’s grateful to have seen every side of the music business — from the arenas Queensrÿche played as support to Kiss, Guns ’n Roses, and Metallica to the coffee houses he has graced as middle-aged troubadour.

“I look back at my career and it has been an interesting journey. I started when rock was the music of the time. It was very ordinary for bands to play arenas and colosseums.

“Queensrÿche started as a very sought-after opening act — we opened for all the big bands in the arenas and always felt very comfortable there. Then things started to change. We only played arenas on one tour of our own. Ever since I’ve performed everywhere — theatres, clubs, the back of flat back lorries. What I’ve learned is that where I play doesn’t matter as much as the fact people are there.”

Geoff Tate brings his International Storyteller Tour to Crane Lane Cork, Tuesday December 6

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