Exclusive Interview: Scott Rockenfield from Queensryche
If you’re a rock and metal fan there’s no doubt that you’re familiar with Queensryche. With breakthrough albums like Operation: Mindcrime and Empire earning the Seattle quintet platinum albums which placed them on regular rotation on MTV and rock radio the band was everywhere. You couldn’t escape them. Throughout the years the line-up has changed. After going through a couple of guitarists to replace founding member Chris Degarmo, the band have settled on Parker Lundgren. Until the summer of 2012 the line-up consisted of singer Geoff Tate, guitarists Michael Wilton, Lundgren, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield.
There has been a shake-up within as Geoff Tate was asked to exit the band due to ‘creative differences.’ Queensryche played a pair of shows in June as Rising West with Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre. The gigs were a smash and sold out both nights. This was just a taste of what was to come as La Torre took over on vocals when Tate exited. Fast forward to December 14 when Rock Confidential caught up with Scott Rockenfield who caught us up to speed on all things Queensryche.
Scott, it’s a pleasure to finally get you on the phone. I’ve been looking forward to it. I’ve been a fan going back to the Rage For Order record. I caught the second show you guys did as Rising West in Seattle last June. Some things have transpired since those shows took place. Geoff Tate is no longer in the band and you guys have elected to press forward with Todd La Torre on vocals. It also appears that amongst the Queensryche fan base there’s been a split; there’s the ‘Queensryche camp’ and the ‘Geoff Tate camp.’
I recently conducted an interview with Geoff (Tate) for Oregon Music News and I received an email from the person who handles the news feeds for a website of a major TV and radio personality that stated that they wouldn’t be running the interview due to the negative feedback that they had been receiving regarding Geoff Tate related coverage. What’s your take on the fan reaction to the split? I know the fans are rabid, passionate and very protective of the band. I’ve even received ‘hate mail’ and I’m a fan like them.
It’s been a major shake-up for Queensryche in the last year. The fans have seen this transpire…here’s where we’re at as a band. Michael (Wilton), Eddie (Jackson) and I are the three main corporate owners in our ‘Queensryche Corporation’ so to speak. Ever since things started to go in ‘not such a good’ way back at the beginning of the year, we had to make some decisions and move on. We did that. We did that under the guise that we were the majority owners of the corporation and that we wanted to continue doing what is best for Queensryche. To us ‘the best thing’ for Queensryche is promoting the brand of Queensryche; making music, playing shows, giving the fans and our audience what they have come to expect from us. We wanted to do that and have ‘fun’ doing it. That’s a long story condensed very short so we can get to the point. That’s what we’ve done and that’s where we’re at now. Our fans are sitting back and seeing what is going on and they get to pick and choose what they want to do. The fortunate thing for us Ruben is that we’ve carried on and the support around the world by our fans; whether they are old-time fans or new fans or whatever it is has been extremely overwhelming.
The fans are supporting us. They continue to support us and they are praising all of the shows that we’ve done and they are looking forward to the ones that are coming up. They are also eagerly looking forward to the new record that we’ve just started recording as of last week. We hope to have it out in the first quarter of next year. Listen, for us it basically business as usual. We’ve put aside what we’ve had to deal with in the past eight months and we’re moving on with business. What is business? Business is pushing Queensryche and promoting that. Is there a kettle of stirred up stuff going on out there? Yeah there is, for sure. For us it best not to focus on that stuff rather focus on what we do best and that is to continue what we started out doing 30 years ago; which is Queensryche. I think the defining factor at the end of the day, whether it comes to playing our shows or making a new record, the deciding factor will be the fans. If you don’t have the fans’ support you’re not going to have anything. Thank goodness that we are blessed that the fans have really supported us, so much so that we’ve been able to continue to do what we’ve always wanted to do – be ourselves, make music and play shows.
Another thing on the past and then we’ll move forward. Since I asked Geoff this I figured I’d give you a chance to also answer the same question. You mentioned the ‘brand.’ That exactly how I termed it to Tate when we spoke a few weeks ago. With two ‘different’ entities using the name Queensryche out there how much damage do you think it will do amongst the casual fans?
I think the fortunate thing is that there’s not going to be a lot of time where we’ll have to worry about it. In all honesty in legal aspects there’s a termination where they’ll be a deciding time. In theory it’ll be on a particular date in November (2013).I’m not too worried about it to be honest with you, because we’re just doing what we do best. We can’t control what’s going on right now because it’s being handled legally. Knowing that has given us the ability to not worry about it, you know what I mean? You can’t worry about things that you can’t control. We feel strongly that the court will find that we have the right to use the name Queensryche and that we’ll be able to carry on and promote the brand of Queensryche. I think that is also what is happening with the fans. It makes us very confident and makes it stress free. Our shows are selling out and the anticipation that the fans have for the new record which we’ve just started is great. We just put some ‘teaser’ music on the internet for them to sample. The response has been very positive and that has helped give us the confidence to carry on. Is it a weird situation? For sure, but there’s a lot of weird things that happen in life and we just have to deal with them as they come. There’s strength in numbers; Michael, Eddie and I, our guitar player Parker (Lundgern) and Todd (La Torre) are feeling pretty good about ourselves. We might be a little cocky but whatever, right? (Laughs)
No, that’s fine. That is as long as you deliver. If that’s the case that’s going to be forgotten about.
I think so. I think time kind of heals everything. I like the way you just put that and I think that’s exactly what we’re doing. Every day for us, gets better and better. We just focus on what really makes us happy and what makes us happy is making music. The cool thing about making the record right now Ruben is that we’re immersed in that. It’s a really good vibe for us right now. We’re working with “Jimbo” – James Barton who worked with us on our Mindcrime, Empire, and Promised Land records. We haven’t worked with him in almost 20 years now. There’s just a really great energy going on and the chemistry is real high. Our goal is making the best Queensryche record that we can—that’s our challenge. We’re excited about it and we’re up to the challenge. When you have the type of vibe that we have going on it’ll take you out of the dark and into the light.
Since we’re tapping into the new music, how involved is each member in the songwriting process and how does it differ from previous writing sessions?
That’s a great question! I have a great answer! That’s exactly why we’re excited and there’s all this enthusiasm behind the new album. We’re finally…let me back up. Unfortunately, over the course of the past, many records that we’ve done hasn’t been a complete ‘band’ effort. We’ve run into a lot of conflicts of musical tastes or directions that we should take. I think the band has suffered because of it. It was something that wasn’t always done with the music always in mind. That’s why a lot of this has transpired and turned into what it did and we had to move on. Our goal has always been for Queensryche to this particular type of band. One thing we wanted to do was to revisit what that was and that to us is what made Queensryche – our classic material. Why were we so excited then? Let’s find that ‘excitement’ again. We wanted to do that for a while but we haven’t been able to do that. We weren’t ‘allowed’ to do that is probably a better way to put it. In a nutshell that’s what we’re doing. So to answer your question, all five of us – Michael, Parker, Eddie, Todd and I are all writing the material. It’s a huge collective effort. We’re all playing the material and then with “Jimbo” in the fold as our producer and engineer – he’s like the sixth member of the band. The chemistry level is huge and that’s something that we haven’t had in a while. I think that’s what the fans are excited about and the anticipation is so high. Having said that—it’s a hell of a lot of pressure! Whatever, we’ll get through it! (laughs) We’re having a lot of fun. Last week in the studio was really a lot of fun.
How would you describe the direction that you’re going with the new music and album? Progressive, contemporary rock influences, ‘classic’ era Queensryche? Or perhaps none of the above?
That’s a great selection of choices that you’ve given me to pick: A,B, or C. I think the best way for me to describe it is that it’s in a ‘progressive/hard rock’ direction. “Jimbo” described it really well when we were in the studio last week. We were immersed in it really working hard and brainstorming; driving the ship home so to speak. He said, “I think you guys have combined your first five records into what you’re doing now.” So that’s from our EP all the way through Promised Land, which coincidentally was the last record that we worked on with “Jimbo.” So I think if you stuck all of those records into a musical blender and you’d get an idea of what the music we’re working right now sounds like. There are elements from all of those records that have made it on to the new music. I think that’s a good way to describe it. We have wanted to revisit this great history of ours that we just haven’t been able to do for a while. We have great lyric content, great songs, great melodies and great performances by us; the song crafters and mechanics behind it all. I could go on forever about it because I’m so excited about it. I could play it for you right now on my speakers but afterward I’d have to kill you! (laughs).
Well, I don’t want to die quite yet and I also need to have this make it onto Rock Confidential! One of the things mentioned by Todd in a posting on his Facebook page was that he was open to including different vocal techniques on the new music. He said that he’d like to use some death metal growls? That surprised people. I’m a fan of some of music from that particular sub-genre. I think that would be interesting. So would it be safe to assume that you’re open to incorporating different types of influences aside from those mentioned by you previously?
Listen, we really are. When we are writing and collaborating together the ultimate goal is to write the ultimate song. We approach all songs that way. It’s not always about ‘shredding’ or showing off your chops. We don’t want to deliver things for the wrong reason. We do what is best for a particular piece of music. Why is it special to us? Why do we feel that it’s important for us to work on the song? We throw a lot of stuff into the kettle when we write. We email ourselves scratch ideas all the time. They are good, bad or indifferent. We focus on ‘why.’ Why does that song need to be focused on? If it’s important for us what are we going to do to make it the best song? That helps leave things open for direction and that’s the best thing for us. It’s no surprise that because we’re fans of progressive rock and metal that what we’re doing sounds that way but within that we have some flexibility to play around with other stuff. We like to keep our creative options open. You throw “Jimbo” into the equation who says stuff like, ”Hey why don’t you try this?” It takes things in yet another direction. The truth is that is really what we do – we brainstorm. Todd has been a great addition to the band and he offers a ‘fresh’ outlook on things. His ability to do a lot of great things with his voice; he writes some great melodies and a fabulous lyricist. Todd also expresses things in different ways. He’s a great drummer, he plays guitar and other instruments. Todd is able to offer other suggestions on things that some of us haven’t thought about. So to answer the question you asked as to whether Todd will be ‘growling’ on the new record? We haven’t got to that stage yet! (laughs) Half the time Ruben I don’t even know what it’s going to be until we actually start working on the song. Right now we’re painting a picture, we have the paints and the canvas but we haven’t completed the painting yet.
I followed Crimson Glory back in the day. The first couple records are essential. There’s clearly a Queenryche influence there. How did you find out about Todd and were you familiar with his work with the band or know about Crimson Glory?
Yeah, I think all of us had some history and knowledge of Crimson Glory by all means. I know I did. I didn’t know Todd personally until we had a chance to meet in February (2012). I knew of him and I knew about what he was doing with Crimson Glory. How this came to fruition is that Michael knew him and they had reconnected just prior to that (February 2012). Michael brought up who he was and what he had been doing. That’s how Todd came into the fold with us. He’s got a great history. Crimson has and has had a great following in the U.S. but more so internationally. Todd just seemed like the perfect fit for us. Once Todd got into the fold it was like we had been doing this all along. He was a welcome addition because he fit in well with what we had done in the past and what we want to do in the future. He’s kind of like a kid in the candy store. It’s become like this brotherly thing. Like I said when we first started talking – I really can’t complain.
As you begin work on the new album, have you thought about how much music is too much music? As a music fan there are some very good albums released these days but one of the things that often happens is that bands ‘overdo it.’ They’ll throw 14 songs on an album when it would have been a stronger album with the best 10 songs. Is that something that you’ve thought about? I know we were talking about the ‘pressure’ earlier and delivering the best ‘product’ is the ultimate goal.
Oh, we welcome the pressure. We actually probably instigate it on ourselves constantly. We hold a pretty high bar for what we want to do. Listen, we haven’t been able to hold that high bar on ourselves for a while. We haven’t been allowed to do that. So now we really want to focus on that. It’s interesting that you brought that up because we had a conversation about that. We’re never going to put anything as filler on the record. I think that is what you were describing. We’re going to do the very best collection of songs that we feel is the best we can release to the fans. We were in the studio last week as you know, we booked out 5 days. Last week we mainly focused on getting all the drum tracks recorded in a really nice studio here in Seattle (London Bridge Studios). We went in with 10 songs ready to go without knowing what we’re going to get. Are we going to get going to get three songs in the five days? Were we going to get one song or what? We got nine out of the 10 done! They’re great drum performances. I’m not trying to pat my own back but thank God that “Jimbo” was there because we feed off each other really well. Needless to say it was incredible. The point that I’m trying to make is this; the last track that we did that night just didn’t get to that bar that I was talking to you about earlier. We bailed on that song. The next phase is to continue recording the guitars, and the vocals. That’s where we’re in the recording process right now. Then we’re going to look in to another set of songs. We’re always writing. So to answer your question, nothing will wind up on the record unless it has the ‘holy cow factor,’ as “Jimbo” says. That’s where we’re at.
I’ll ask you this last question and then I’ll let you go. I’m going back into the past and I know you want to look forward. I asked Geoff this so I feel that it’s only fair that I give you the opportunity to respond to the same question. How do you get past a break up like this? You founded this great band with Geoff. You grew up together and now the relationship has ended.
Yeah, it’s not fun. It’s basically a ‘glorified divorce’ on a big scale. It was basically time for us to move on. We had had different and creative directions that we were interested in. Michael, Eddie and I were on the same page as to where we wanted the band to be as Queensryche. Geoff didn’t. He had a different idea of what was important to him. It wasn’t just overnight. This had been building over a period of time. Things just got to a point when we wanted to have our say regarding the band and band business. We were on one page and he was on another. That’s unfortunately how it went. We all make choices. He didn’t want to be a part of how we wanted to continue to do things and we made a choice that it wasn’t for us. We decided as the majority that we would move on and Geoff could move on and do what he feels is best for him. That’s basically where we’re at.
Hey thanks for the interview Scott. What a way to end 2012 with a bang – literally because you’re a drummer!
(laughs) Hey right on. 2012 is coming to a close and 2013 will be quite interesting. Thank you and happy holidays to you and your family.