Queensrÿche guitarist Michael Wilton and singer Todd La Torre sat down with Kim Monroe at the Showbox before their show there in November. Check out the video above or read the interview below*.
Kim: How about talking about the record. It’s been out for just over a year now? Last October it came out?
Michael: Yeah, I believe so. Yeah, we’ve been touring on the Condition Human album all over the world. I mean, we just came back from Japan. We did the Loud Park Festival. We flew to Australia and did four big shows in there. It’s all about rebuilding all the contacts, and getting Queensryche out in the world again.
Kim: Yeah, that had to be kind of … You guys had other things that you were doing for the time being while other things were being sorted out. What were you doing?
Michael: You know, it was a big transition so we had some hurdles to go through. It was needed. It was time to retool the machine, basically. We’ve been just rebuilding the band for the last four years. We’ve been touring quite a bit. We’ve put out two albums since then. The fans are totally supportive of the band and Todd. Todd’s killing it now.
Kim: Well, Todd’s an incredible singer. Definitely not a step missed as far as I’m concerned.
Todd: Thank you.
Kim: How did you guys get together? I read what was kind of an interesting story that it was not even a blind audition, or anything, just kind of baptism by fire.
Todd: Yeah, I mean, the short version is, we met at the NAMM convention in California at a dinner event. We ended up talking for a good hour, hour and a half, exchanged info. It was initially about doing side music. It wasn’t even about Queensryche. Michael sent me some songs, and I started writing to them and sent him one, and it really piqued his curiosity. He had seen on YouTube a lot of things I did with Crimson Glory. It’s a band I sang for. We just built a … Had a connection there. At that point, the former singer was kind of touring on a solo thing so there was a lot of down time, and the band was more or less shelved for a period of time that allowed these guys the opportunity and the want to do something in the meantime. That was where the incarnation of the side project called Rising West started.
Kim: Right. And West, what did that…
Todd: That was initial for Wilton, Eddie, Scott, and Todd.
Todd: Parker, I don’t think had, during those first talks, agreed to do the side thing. He really wanted to be a part of it, of course. We did that. We sold out two shows at the Hard Rock here in Seattle. Then things got really bad in what was going on with them and it was just kind of a lateral transition. It wasn’t something really planned. It wasn’t open auditions where the band was looking for another singer. In fact, we had conversations where it was, look, we’re going to do this and then when Queensryche resumes then, you know, I’ll be out with Queensryche. There was no talk of me even coming into that band. Again, it just happened, and it was ugly, but we got through it.
We’re writing the third record with me in the band now. We’ve established a lot of connections that, from what I understand, were broken connections. It was a disconnection between people in the industry. We’ve gotten really great praise and support from the band’s peers. That’s always encouraging. These are people that don’t have to say that, but they pull you aside and they express their support, and that’s always nice. Of course, the fans of the band seem to feel and express that they have their band back. We’re really kind of honoring the legacy of the band while still creating new music and trying to show that we’re still relevant, and we’re not just playing the classics and not creating new music.
Kim: It had to be kind of interesting, I was thinking, the first EP came out in 86?
Kim: 82, so you went through all of that and it was hard rock and metal and then Seattle became grunge. What was that like for Queensryche at that time?
Michael: Well I mean, you know, we had a really great run in the 80’s and 90’s, and this happened like overnight. I think we were on tour and this explosion of grunge happened. For us it was … You know, we’ve built a … Years and years of touring, a fan base that followed us anyway, so it wasn’t just that grunge changed the music it was like the whole industry was starting to change. It was the beginning. Technology was coming into the factor and everything had kind of gotten a little stale, I think. You had a new crop of kids that wanted something different, right?
But for us, we’re anchored in that metal, progressive metal, hard rock, and there’s always been an audience for it. For us, it was just concentrate on the music. All the outside chatter, let it do its thing and we’ll just keep doing what we do.
Kim: Because what I think a lot of people who are outside of Seattle don’t realize is this is really a town bred in rock. You know grunge was just kind of like after the fact. This was always a rock town.
Michael: I think so. I think Seattle’s, as far as a musical community, is very diverse.
Michael: There’s all types of great alternative music. It’s a great jazz scene, blues scene, but when we started it was all about the hard rock, the metal. We wanted to do what was happening over in Europe and the UK.
Kim: So who were your inspirations then?
Michael: We were listening to like Iron Maiden and Dio and obscure bands like Tygers of Pan Tang. Krokus.
All those bands from back then, but a lot of the bands that had two guitar players. That’s what we were really fascinated with. That you could write songs that kick ass and have dual guitar leads. That was super fun as a guitar player.
Kim: Right, and Todd, you grew up in Florida. What were you listening to? What inspired you?
Todd: Oh man, a lot of different stuff. My mom, she was a huge fan of a lot of the R & B and Motown stuff. So in the house, she was always listening to like Teddy Pendergrass and … Oh gosh, just so Michael Jackson and George Benson and Al Jarreau and into jazz stuff. Then, my dad, they were divorced, but when I’d go to my dad’s there was a lot of like Earl Klugh and Steely Dan and Billy Joel and that kind of stuff. I was exposed to a lot of that in my very young years. Then when I got into rock I was a huge fan of like Tesla and Dokken and Ratt. Those were like my bands.
Kim: The classics.
Todd: Then it morphed into Testament and Anthrax and Slayer and much heavier things. And, of course, Iron Maiden – alongside of Queensryche – those were my two favorite bands. Once I heard that kind of operatic power metal kind of singing it just captivated me and I was always really drawn to those kinds of vocalists.
Kim: So I have a question for you. As I was thinking about this, I read an interview with Roger Daltrey recently. He was making the claims that Rap music actually had more to say than Rock right now. It made me think, because I have a 14-year-old who plays guitar, and the things he likes are a lot of the 90s stuff but he loves The Who and he loves The Stones. He cut his teeth on The Beatles. It makes me wonder for the next generation, who’s going to carry the mantle?
Todd: I think that kind of a statement … I’m sure there are parts of that that are true. It’s a broad statement. I think it’s really broad. There are a lot of rappers that have a lot of conviction in their lyrics that deal with social issues and injustices. That’s where it spawned, right?
Todd: The Gangster Rap and all that stuff- a lot of that they felt that their experiences weren’t really heard outside of where they lived. It’s since then morphed into…You still have people that are creating great lyrical content, but there’s a lot of garbage out there. There’s a lot about- all they talk about is the women and the cars and the money and the diamonds and all this materialistic nonsense.
I think that even now that … I think people just don’t care. I think that it’s fun and we’re a very disposable society and we don’t like to listen to things in their entirety. We like sound bites. I wouldn’t say that Rap’s run its course. It made a way bigger impact than I think anyone ever thought it would. That being said, if you listen to a lot of commercials today, they’re still playing Rock. You’ll hear AC/DC songs, Judas Priest. You will hear Bon Jovi. You’ll hear Loverboy. That stuff in many ways is timeless, and it’s not tied in with the trends as much as a lot of the Rap and Hip Hop stuff is. Certainly, it’s done huge things but I think a lot of Rock and Metal … I think that there’s a lot of great commentary in those lyrics.
For Roger Daltrey to say that, certainly that’s his perspective but there are so many bands out there that fall under that Rock umbrella that have a lot of great things to say. I’m sure he would likely agree with that; maybe that was just a very broad, brushed statement.
Queensryche is always been known for political, social, against the grain, scratch your head and make you want to think lyrically. We still … We write that way today. I love the days of Van Halen and Ratt when they talked about- it was fun, happy, uplifting, good times music.
Kim: The excess of the 80s.
Todd: A lot of stuff is very angry and dark, and that has a place too. You don’t hear a lot of those fun happy times in rock like the great days of the 80s and the early 90s.
Kim: I think there’s a good possibility you won’t for the next four years. Just saying.
Todd: You always wonder what is on the cusp of… I don’t know.
Kim: Although, when politics are in such disarray, that’s when they say some of the best music gets written.
Todd: Of course. For us, we try not to express … We’re all people and we have our own views. I haven’t said publicly anything about the political arena and what’s happening in our country and globally. Each of us has our own ideals. Queensryche from a band and an artist and a business perspective, if we can say something that gets you thinking, or maybe fires you up but we didn’t tell you what to think but just “to think”, then I think we’ve done our job because it’s a very polarized world right now. People are hypersensitive and very quick to throw the “F-U” in your face and just, get rid of you as a friend and you see it on social media all the time. Unfriend me if you like this guy. We don’t want any part of that. We just say, “Look if what we … We will talk about things that are happening.” In music, it’s interesting. Some people say, “Just play your music and don’t talk about that.” To me, that’s a great disservice to what America really represents.
Kim: I agree.
Todd: It’s being able to express. It wasn’t that long ago people were expressive, and their ammunition and their weapon was music through protesting the Vietnam war, whether you were for or against it, it was still a great conduit for people to express. If you can do that in a healthy way, disagreements promote healthy dialogue and you evolve and change by just being open minded. You’re not going to convince everyone but if everyone was open minded to another side, then we all probably have way more in common than we don’t have in common.
Todd: We all want the same things. It’s just, “How do you get that?” How do people’s perspectives shape how they see things? I’m sure that we all can get along if you just really look at what the end goal is. Music, for us, is a great release. It’s a great outlet. Music, for us, from other bands, is very much our therapy.
Kim: Michael you said you guys were writing now, working on another records? Are some of the things that are happening right now shaping some of the things that you are writing? The first thing, I have, to be honest, one of the things that popped into my head because I mean Operation: Mindcrime is just genius, timeless, goes down in history. Then, of course, there was the sequel to it. I almost wonder, is it time for a third one, is it time for her to come back? Have you ever thought about it?
Micheal: A lot of people suggest that, but I think-
Todd: You mean for that story line?
Micheal: Who’s to say that we’ll come up with maybe a thematic or conceptual album, but that one is parked.
Todd: Should be left alone, I think.
Micheal: Yeah, should just be … It’s a timeless endeavor that is just so special to people. Usually, sequels are not-
Todd: As good.
Micheal: -as good in the movie industry and in the music industry.
Kim: I mean it absolutely was such a powerful statement, remains so.
Micheal: I think it’s more of our surroundings, what we’re feelings, what we’re going through, how we’re impacted by certain things. It all kind of filters down into a creative artist way of expressing what’s happening, rather than being so blatant and in your face.
Todd: Yeah ambiguity is good.
Micheal: I think, if something can have different meanings to everybody, I think it’s more fun for the listener.
Todd: I was just watching a thing, on a side note, on youtube. I can’t remember the name of the channel. It was kind of like a behind the music kind of thing type thing. Howard Jones, which is an artist I love from the 80s, I was watching his video during this interview and it’s the song, You Can Look At the Menu but you just Can’t Eat, you know that song, what is it?
Kim: Things can only get better.
Todd: No One is to Blame, so he talks about a line in there. I can’t remember the line right off the top of my head. He mentions a line and I thought yeah what did that line mean? He said, even today, that line is still having a new meaning. It’s funny when you write something and you think you know what that means, where it came from and then you maybe read an article, the songwriter, and actually I just wrote it because it rhymed. It didn’t mean anything. People feel let down, but the fact that there is that, it’s open to interpretation is great. There’s a lot happening in the world, there’s so much content to write from. For me, I write most of the lyrics in the band. Of course, anyone can write and I’ll sing whatever, I don’t stifle anyone’s lyrics, but usually my inspiration comes from sadness, it comes from tragedy, it comes from darkness, it comes from bad things. I always try to find a twist, to find the way out. A positive spin on the end because I don’t think I’ve ever written a happy song in my life. It always stems from something really sad that, it just taps into people, you know? If you can come out with a positive angle than you know all the better.
Kim: I agree with you. I think it’s really important too, to not over indulge with an audience and say, well this is what this song is about. I do think it’s more important for it to be interpreted. If there’s a song, for me, one of my go to songs is the Carry Pictures of you.
Todd: Great band.
Kim: It’s sad and it’s dark.
Todd: So good.
Kim: When I’m in that place, that’s the song. I don’t want to know what Robert Smith was thinking about when he wrote it.
Todd: No, you know what it means to you.
Todd: You don’t want that to be crushed. I completely get it.
Kim: How many songs are you in already, for the new one, would you say, at this point?
Micheal: We just started so there’s a lot of demo phases, so we’re just…
Kim: Is it hard to write while you’re on the road?
Micheal: It’s actually easier, I think, for me. You’re not home, you don’t have all the distractions of being home.
Todd: You’re a lot more distracted at home.
Micheal: It’s unbelievable, you know?
Todd: Even like talking.
Micheal: The road is like, kind of a vacation for me because of all responsibilities.
Todd: You’re re-connecting with family and friends back home and your phone is off the hook. When you’re on tour, they know you’re busy. Actually, before I started touring heavily I thought, I’m talking so much more on the road because you’re meeting all these people. I actually talk much less on tour. When I say I’m in my bunk, nobody bothers me. It’s very peaceful. As far as creativity, you can’t force it, so when you have that great idea … Michael, I think everyone has-
Micheal: I think it’s being in a different surrounding every day. If there’s a log jam in your creative process, being in a different temperature-
Todd: Unlock that.
Micheal: -different surroundings, it’s just so east to come up with the ideas. Plus, when you’re on the road, I turn myself into warrior mode.
Todd: He’s constantly recording ideas.
Micheal: I got to get ready for the road and sleeping in a bunk, it’s like doing what I do at this age it can be challenging, you know?
Kim: What it’s hard when you’re 30?
Todd: 32, but you’re very prime.
Micheal: Yeah. I think going to a different surrounding I think helps the creative process.
Kim: What are the hometown crowds like for you, still get that same rush? Is it pretty exciting when you get to play at home?
Micheal: They’re very supportive. It’s great that we have so many old school fans here that have been with us since the very beginning. Everybody here is, dare I say, a little more hipper than some of the other cities.
Kim: [joking] No.
Micheal: It’s always fun to play here, I think. It’s such a great city.
Kim: Do you get to go home and sleep in your own bed for one more night before you have to head out again?
Kim: You’re heading right out? Back to the bunk.
Micheal: Yeah, we have to go to … What?
Kim: Oh wow, how long are you going to be on the road for?
Micheal: A little over a month.
Kim: Yeah, home for the holidays?
Micheal: Yeah, I think we-
Todd: No. Well, for Christmas. Not thanksgiving.
Kim: Thanksgiving on the road, that’s kind of a bummer. That’s the one holiday I like to be at home.
Micheal: We’re always gone, you know, on certain … so, no stranger to that.
Kim: Yeah, just comes with the territory.
Micheal: We tend to go in these four or five, six-week runs and that’s pretty much by the end of that-
Todd: We’re done.
Micheal: We’re taxed. We need to recharge.
Todd: Go home.
Micheal: Yeah, go home and get your wits, decompress.
Micheal: Yeah, we love it here. It’s such a great time here.
Kim: Exactly and it’s a beautiful day in Seattle. It’s not pouring down rain. It’s that lovely shade of gray.
Kim: Todd’s like “Get me back to Florida.”
Kim: Cool. Well thank you guys so much for taking out the time. I know you guys got to get ready for the show tonight.
Todd: Thank you.
Kim: Looking forward to it.
Todd: Thank you for the interest and the support, it was great.
Kim: Absolutely, it was my pleasure.
* This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity