It Still Sounds Like Home -- As Music Evolves, Queensryche Always Remembers Its Roots
by Tom Phalen
Hear In The Now Frontier

Special To The Seattle Times

In the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, the section on Queensryche begins:

"Formed 1981, Bellevue, Washington."

You won't find many contemporary bands functioning after 16 years, particularly with the same lineup it started with. And you certainly won't find another, at least in the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, that was birthed in Bellevue.

Bassist Eddie Jackson and guitarist Michael Wilton were barely out of their teens when they hooked up in Queensryche. The two still live on the Eastside, in Kirkland and Redmond, respectively. The other members, vocalist Geoff Tate, guitarist Chris DeGarmo and drummer Scott Rockenfield, make their homes in the Seattle area. All except Jackson are married with children.

With a new album out this month and the launch of a tour scheduled for the Gorge on June 21, the band is enjoying a resurgence.

But family and home still loom large in Queensryche's collective consciousness.

Deep roots

"I just like this area," says Jackson, who can readily name almost every restaurant over the past 20 years that's been in the building that is now Juanita's Royal Garden. "It just works for me."

Wilton, a pyrotechnic player on stage, nods quietly in agreement.

"Our roots are pretty firmly planted," he says.

"We tour a lot," says Rockenfield, "We've been doing it for a lot of years, so it's nice to come home. Home is here for me. I've always grown up with a strong family around me, and they're still here."

The group met at Bellevue's hip but long-gone Easy Street Records. The store's owners, Kim and Diana Harris, were their first managers and set up the band's independent label 206, which released their self-titled debut EP (extended play) recording.

"That's a collector's item now," says Tate, smiling. The liner notes were filled with dedications to family members and friends. Most of the band still lived with their parents and rehearsed at home. They eschewed playing clubs and dances for writing and refining the original material that eventually went into the EP.

When the international recording company EMI heard the band, it was signed almost immediately. Tate's soaring voice, Wilton's and DeGarmo's dueling guitars and the Jackson-Rockenfield rhythm section were worlds ahead of most metal and heavy rock then being released. Queensryche was signed to a seven-album deal.

"That never happens now," says DeGarmo. "It has its good and bad sides, but it was very flattering they thought that much of us. And they've never interfered with our process. You hear horror stories about bands getting their records rejected, but it's never happened to us."

A stripped-down sound

The band's sixth album, "Hear In The Now Frontier," was released two weeks ago and entered the Billboard Top 200 chart at No. 19. The new music is stripped down from the band's earlier releases, forgoing the big concepts and arrangements of "Operation: Mindcrime" and "Promised Land" for a more primal and personal vision.

"It was a natural rebound after all the more elaborate projects we'd done," says DeGarmo. "We didn't want to be too predictable. Those other albums fit the ideas, so they worked then.

"But as we've gotten more mileage behind us we've come to realize the songs that have to stand up by themselves. We got into this `house of cards' theory. We wrote and arranged the songs, and when they were finished, we started pulling out the cards - the instruments or effects or parts - of each `house,' each song. The idea was to get it down to the point where any extraneous elements were gone. It was a minimalistic approach that spread like a virus.

While the new album may be simpler, the stage show will remain as elaborate as ever, using lots of lighting and film effects to embellish the performance.

"We aren't rehearsing for the upcoming tour right now so much as figuring out what visuals to use," says DeGarmo, completely surrounded by stacks of gear in the band's Seattle rehearsal space.

"We have a huge backlog to draw on, plus we're filming new things. It'll be a big show."

DeGarmo says the band's change in style, from bombastic to more basic, has been a natural evolution rather than an attempt to follow trends.

"If you try to follow trends, you're already too late by the time you get there. It'll have passed. Some bands create a version of themselves, then they regurgitate that. I think our approach is more in parallel with people. People change, it's inevitable. The reason we have the longevity we have is we're moving ahead.

"We started very young, but I think we've always been liquid. We're a song in motion that hasn't found its ending yet."

Eastside Update is an occasional series checking back on people and issues in the news.

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