Queensryche Is Back, Full Of Reflection
by Patrick MacDonald
Promised Land

Geoff Tate was doing a little housecleaning.

The lead singer of Queensryche, wearing all black as usual, was pushing a vacuum cleaner back and forth over a carpet in the band's new headquarters/studio, a former coffee-bean warehouse in an industrial area of North Seattle.

Tate, soft-spoken and thoughtful in person, in contrast to the intense singer/screamer he is on stage, shut off the vacuum and greeted a visitor with a firm handshake and a half smile.

"This is it," he said, looking around the cavernous brick warehouse. On a carpeted area in the center of the concrete floor, the band's equipment was set up in the round. Except for a few boxes, a forklift and some other equipment, the rest of the room was mostly empty. In a corner, a parade float featuring a larger-than-life figure of a young Elvis Presley, clutching a microphone, stood silently. It was left by the warehouse's former renter, Tate explained. "The hips swivel," he said with a laugh. "He's kind of like our mascot, our totem."

Tate went to look for the switches to some of the room's lights - only about a third were on - and to put on a pot of coffee.

Chris DeGarmo, the lanky, long-haired guitarist and the band's chief songwriter, along with Tate, arrived, a sheaf of papers under one arm. "I see you found the place," he said with a wide grin.

Suddenly the windowless room went dark.

"Wrong switch!" Tate yelled from somewhere. A few lights went on, then off again. "What are you doing, Geoff?" DeGarmo asked, laughing. Big halogen lights on the high ceiling faintly flickered to life. "These'll take a minute to come on," Tate said from somewhere in the darkness.

Queensryche's new place is part of the band's renewed life. Two years after its last concert and four years since its last album, the 3 million-selling "Empire," the band is back in action. Its eagerly awaited new album, "Promised Land," released today, is expected to debut high on the charts next week, likely landing at No. 1.

The band is rehearsing for a tour, set to begin early next year, and is preparing elaborate "Promised Land" visuals to go with the show, and to be used in videos and a CD-ROM. Most of the footage was shot on San Juan Island, where the band rented a waterfront cabin to shape and polish the material for the new album.

"Promised Land" is Queensryche's most personal statement. Unlike "Empire" and its predecessor, "Operation: Mindcrime" - also a blockbuster - it's not a concept album, and is not about such external concerns as politics. It's the result of time spent in introspection over the past two years. It's Queensryche looking inward rather than outward.

One of the most powerful songs on the album is "Bridge," DeGarmo's frank and startling examination of his relationship with his father. The song is his no-compromise rejection of an attempt at reconciliation.

"I think it was finding myself in the role of father all of sudden" - DeGarmo and his wife had a girl during the band's hiatus - "and thinking of all the responsibility that comes with that, and how much I really want for her. I really want so much for her. I think it's so important, the foundation."

His father, who had abandoned his family when DeGarmo was a child, died during the recording of the album.

"We kinda never . . ." He stopped in mid-sentence. "The song really says it. He just called me out of the blue after 28 years. . . . Like nothing had ever happened. He had Lou Gehrig's (disease) and I think he hit a point of reflection himself. He's my dad, but there just wasn't . . . I couldn't just instantly be his best friend, because our relationship lacked that foundation."

Tate, cradling a mug of steaming coffee, joined us during an awkward moment of silence. We all headed to the business/reception area of the building to talk about the new album.

Tate said he and his wife had bought a house, a fixer-upper. "I've been using my carpentry skills," he said. "I've been putting in plants, making a garden. It's been fun.

"The last 10 years we've been doing this album-tour, album-tour thing," he went on. "Personally, I started living my life with blinders on. Everything had to do with the band. I had no connection with my family. I had no friends. It was time to reconnect."

Home projects

Each of the band members - the others include guitarist Michael Wilton, drummer Scott Rockenfield and bassist Eddie Jackson - acquired his own recording equipment and began working on songs at home, Tate explained. They passed the tapes around and decided which songs would end up on the album.

If there's a theme to the disc, "it's figuring out yourself, where you're at in life," Tate said. "Soul-searching, I guess, trying to figure out why things are the way they are."

The title cut, "Promised Land," about America's fast-paced consumer culture, is a group effort.

"It started with this percussion thing that Scott had put together," DeGarmo explained. "It was very interesting and atmospheric. That was just one of those songs where somebody said, `I have something that will work with this,' and then someone pulls in something else, and it kind of fell together like that. I love it when that happens."

The other group effort on the disc, "My Global Mind," is a powerful rocker about the role of the individual in what the song calls "the Information Age."

Most of the other songs, all by DeGarmo and Tate, alone or together, have to do with splintered families, consumer culture and finding one's individuality.

The first single is "I Am I," the album's hardest rocker, a self-affirming song by DeGarmo and Tate.

"Musically it's sort of unlike anything we've ever done before," Tate said. "It's kind of like a new statement - here we are again . . ."

"And look, it's different," DeGarmo chimed in. "The song is talking about identity, and the examination of self. This is the essence of the album. It's the starting point for this material that we're presenting. Musically and texturally speaking, it's a strong statement.

"I hope this album causes somebody to question the road that they're on, to this supposed Holy Grail, their own grail, whatever it is," he went on. "I hope it makes people think about what really means the most to them."

Twelve years after it started in a basement in Bellevue, "the thinking man's heavy-metal band," having conquered the world of rock, has stepped back and taken stock of itself. And challenged its listeners to do the same.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.