Thu, 09 Apr 2009 22:32:56
Considered the "Thinking-man’s metal band," Queensryche has always challenged its listeners with a uniquely calculated, intelligent and prog-minded breed of music. With complexities that cover multiple levels, the band has proven themselves to be talented as both storytellers and songwriters on classics such as Operation: Mindcrime and Empire.
On their twelfth studio release, American Soldier, Queensryche has once again upped the ante. Themed around a series of interviews that vocalist Geoff Tate conducted with generations of American veterans and soldiers, the album offers an intense and true-to-life exploration of life in and after combat; one that might hit a little too close to home for all of us. He told ARTISTdirect.com all about it in this exclusive interview.
What inspired the concept behind American Soldier?
The idea was born during a conversation I had with my dad, who is a veteran of the Korean War. I was on tour in 2006 and was visiting him in Oklahoma, where he lives. We were sitting on the porch having some iced tea on a summer day and for the first time, in my life, he starts talking about his experiences in Korea. He’s never done that before so my jaw just dropped. Luckily, I had my travel bag with me so I grabbed my handcam, slammed it down on the table and taped our conversation. When I got home, I put the tape in and showed it to my kids; "Here’s Grandpa, talking about fighting in Korea." My wife looks over at me and says, "You ought to write a song about your dad. You’ve never written a song about your dad." She was right, so I really started leaning in that direction and thinking about my dad’s experience and that lead to questions about other soldier’s experiences. Was it different for them? Like anything, once you start thinking about these questions you start looking in different places for answers and that leads to more questions and so on. Before you know it, you’ve got a couple of songs written and it just kept going and the whole process became quite a bit more involved as it went along.
From there you reached out to other soldiers and veterans and brought their stories into the mix. Was it difficult getting them to open up as it was with your dad?
One of the more challenging aspects of making this record was actually finding people to share the stories that provided the background for the songs. That was part of the reason this project took so long. The research took a long time. You don’t just meet people who fought in World War II everyday with a story to tell you. It was very difficult to get people to open up. For the first time in my life, I’ve been the one to conduct the interviews. Throughout my professional career, I’ve done thousands of interviews, but never been the one asking the questions. It taught me that sometimes people aren’t all that comfortable talking about how they feel about things. A lot of times soldiers experience very traumatic events and getting them to open up about that can be difficult. A lot times, I wouldn’t have any success at all; they would just give me one word answers or say nothing at all. Other times, especially with the guys who have really explored the emotional side of their past, they would be able to explain things very well.
What did you take from the whole experience?
It was a journey. I realized, early on, that I was operating from a complete platform of ignorance. I was speculating about everything. I’ve never been a soldier; I’ve never been to war or had a gun pointed at my face or seen someone die in combat. That’s why I wanted to talk to people who had been there and done it. That was a journey. One of things I had thought going in was that the more people I talked to, the more varied the stories would get. What I found out was, no matter which generation I talked to, no matter where the arena of conflict was, the story remains very consistent. There are commonalities throughout all of these stories because what the solider is dealing with is very much the same each time. They’re dealing with the very human concepts of survival and camaraderie. They’re dealing with separation from their families and children. They’re dealing with their own fear and trying and trying to conduct themselves with honor and dignity in sometimes very primitive environments. Those were the constants I had to focus on with the songs.
I think that common thread is what a lot of people are missing when it comes to the different opinions they have about our soldiers across different generations. Is that what you want people to take from this record?
That was one of the points I really wanted to stress with this record. If you look at the cover, it’s the soldier’s boots. What that represents is that these are their stories, their lives and their voices on this record. What I would like to see is for people to take an emotional walk in these soldiers’ boots and to sort of experience what they go through. I think, often times, the rest of us take things for granted. We don’t have to worry about an occupying force kicking in our doors and taking our children. We don’t have to think about these things. We don’t have to think about defending our ground against an invasion. We are free to pursue our dreams and our goals and somebody else is taking care of these things for us, so we take it for granted. I’m guilty of it myself and I grew up in a military family! I’m just hoping this record, this collection of stories is something we can all listen to and use to spark conversation. Also, perhaps it’s something for the soldiers to have; something that they can listen to and realize that they’re not alone. They have a huge network of other people that have experienced the same things they have experienced and that they’ll find things in this record that relate directly to them. A lot of their phrases, their terminologies and their concepts are used within the record. They’re going to hear the voices of their brothers talking about the same things they’re going through. Hopefully, we can spark conversation within that circle of people as well.