OPERATION: MINDCRIME – Taking On The Music World
Seattle, Washington-based progressive metal group Operation: Mindcrime, spearheaded by erstwhile Queensrÿche vocalist Geoff Tate, adopted its chosen moniker on September 1st, 2014 – taking its cue from the May 1988 album of the same. Debut full-length studio album The Key arrived a year later in September 2015, the inaugural instalment in a trilogy of concept affairs. Follow-up effort – and second overall – Resurrection – saw the light of day in September 2016.
“I wrote all three records of the trilogy – The Key, Resurrection, and the third one, which comes out next year – all at the same time, and recorded them all at the same time as well,” Geoff Tate remembers. “I wrote not so much sequentially. The way I work is I’ll write a story… for example, this trilogy story I wrote several years ago while I was hiking on the Camino De Santiago trail. When I got back home to Seattle, I started composing music for the entire story, so some music came sooner than others. Some pieces of the story on the albums came together at different times, so there wasn’t so much of a sequential order. I can’t remember exactly the dates. I would say probably two years ago, I guess it’s been now – somewhere around there. I think it was September or October 2014. So, it’s been a while since I worked on them (laughs).”
Inaugural instalment The Key naturally introduces the audience to the tale’s respective characters. “It gets set up as far as what’s going to happen,” the singer offers. “It introduces the conflict which happens within the group of characters involved… Oh gosh… What else?… It kind of just sets the tone for what happens next, really. I don’t like to give away too much of the story, because I like for people to figure it out for themselves as they go along. It’s kind of a revealing mystery, and the third album wraps up a lot of the questions that someone might have with the first two albums.”
And naturally, second studio record Resurrection resumes the concept trilogy following the conclusion of The Key. “At the end of the first album, the main character called H has been – we think, at that time – been killed,” Geoff informs. “His murderers leave him buried in a box in the middle of the desert, and the beginning of the second album, Resurrection, starts with him not being dead. He is regaining his consciousness, and starts breaking out of the box and digging his way out, and beginning the task of putting his life back together after being horribly betrayed and abused.
“Really, the second record is about the main character H gaining his strength back and his sense of purpose, and formulating a plan as to how he can recover the missing code from the people that took it. He never actually loses the key; he has it at all times, but just can’t use it until he gets the sequential code back again. In the overall story arc, the second album is really him coming back to life basically; him getting his life back together, and figuring out how he can get all of his life’s work back together again and continue on with his plan.”
As H returns to life, Resurrection delves into a number of themes. “There’s a lot of self-evaluation,” the frontman lists. “There’s some feelings of hopelessness, and the betrayal that he went through, and how he has to put those feelings into perspective as to how he’s going to deal with them. There’s a theme of him sort of getting his life back in order, questioning his past, the routes in the past that he has taken, questioning himself quite a bit, asking if he did the right thing, and if he’s doing the right thing, and how did he get to where he is. There’s a song called ‘Invincible’ that happens halfway through the record, where he realises that he’s strong and that he can overcome the circumstances that he’s found himself in. From then on until the end of the record, it’s about him getting himself together and moving in a constructive way.”
Lead character H is neither based on a specific individual, or a composite of different individuals. “I think it’s just a character that I needed to tell the story,” Geoff observes.
Nevertheless, the concept trilogy as a whole draws influence from the lyricist’s life as well as the man’s observations. “I think probably the biggest influence on the story for these records has just been my life, and looking at how human beings react to each other – just looking at life in general,” he augments. “I’m kind of interested in human development and what makes us do the things we do, and how we get on these certain life paths. Based upon our experiences, that shapes quite a bit of who we are and what we are. Our childhood and our upbringing really shapes quite a bit of who we are, and most of the stuff that we learn as children we question as we get older. We just accept it as reality and we go with that though, and use those tools that we learn as children all through our lives. In fact, our whole reality is based upon what we learn.
“In fact, you could say that reality is a learned experience. We learn from childhood the definitions of everything, and those definitions define what our reality is. We learn that this is a chair, that this is a dog, a cat, a tree, an apple, the sky. We learn the laws of physics – we learn about gravity – and once we learn about those things, we just accept them and move on. Hardly do we ever ask ourselves ‘Is this really real, or is this somebody’s perception of what reality is?,’ and that concept in itself is what initially inspired the main theme of the records.
“The main theme of the records is to question reality, and reality is the subject that the lead character of the story is interested in developing. He develops this algorithm that allows one to use a code, a computer program, to see a new version of reality. Due to the implications of that and what that means, he feels that it’s an incredible, valuable tool for humankind to use, because it’ll change everything. It’ll change the way we perceive everything, and because of that, that’s where the split happens within the group of people that he’s working with.
“Some want to take that tool, and they want to exploit it for wealth. He wants to give the tools to the world to use, because he thinks that it’s gonna make things better for everyone. So, there’s a split, a division. Of course, the people that want to exploit it for wealth move to take over the technology and use it for their own ends, and have him killed. So, it’s kind of a study of human nature. Why we do the things that we do, what motivates us, and how we get to where we’re at.”
Resurrection shares musical traits with The Key. “They’re similar in the fact that they were written at the same time,” Geoff muses. “So yeah, they’re going to be similar. All of the same players are involved with all three records, so there’s a similarity there. The music is designed to tell a story, so it moves, changes and morphs just like life does. Life doesn’t remain static; it doesn’t remain the same. It’s different every day, and music I think should reflect the changes that are happening within the story arc, and so it does. It gets moody at times, and it has a triumphant feeling at times. Sometimes it’s introspective and sometimes it’s downright scary and unnerving, like life can be, and definitely how life can be within the context of this story – where there’s a lot going on. There’s strife and there’s jealousy, and there’s rage and there’s betrayal, and there’s conquest going on.”
Guesting on the composition ‘Taking On The World’ are vocalists Blaze Bayley and Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens, formerly of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest respectively. “I never thought of them at all when I wrote the song,” the songwriter remembers. “That wasn’t in my mind at all. I didn’t think of adding them to the song until the song was written. I was listening back to the song and the story arc and where it was, and then I thought ‘Oh.’ Blaze was in town, and I started talking to him about the project that I was doing. The idea just hit me, like ‘Hey… Why don’t you sing on this record?’ We’ve known each other for quite a while, and it was fun.
“So, that just kind of started it. That’s kind of the way my life is. Things come about, and I find myself in a situation, and just kind of go with it. It’s called improvisation. You see that there’s a situation involved that you could involve yourself in or somebody else and it feels right, so you go with it. It was great; it was a wonderful recording experience. We had a great time doing it.”
Blaze Bayley and Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens guesting on the track ‘Taking On The World’ led to the Trinity tour package which unites the pair alongside Geoff, the Trinity tour package visiting the East Coast of the United States from mid-November until late November 2016. “We had such a great time singing together that we talked about how it would be fun if we toured, so we started leaning in that direction and seeing how we could put something together for touring,” he reveals. “So, we came up with the Trinity idea, and that’s coming up. I’m looking forward to that. I’m playing material that I wrote with Queensrÿche over 30-some odd years. I’m singing that, and of course Blaze is singing the songs that he performed with Iron Maiden over the years, and the same with Ripper and Judas Priest.”
The mainman hopes to expand the Trinity tour package across several territories. “Our biggest challenge is that all three of us have different schedules, and have different touring commitments,” he stresses. “The challenge is getting us all in the same place at the same time (laughs), which is quite a job. So yeah, we’re looking into expanding the touring.”
In the interim, a music video was issued for ‘Taking On The World’. The clip was filmed at Bubba’s Roadhouse Bar & Grill in Geoff’s hometown of Monroe, Washington. “The roadhouse is not far from where I live,” he shares. “It’s owned by a friend of mine who has a lot of live music at his venue, and he’s a real wonderful supporter of live music in the area. It’s called Bubba’s Roadhouse, and they have great food as well (laughs).”
Further music videos to promote Resurrection might potentially be filmed. “There might be, yeah,” the musician ponders. “There might be one more coming out. I’m not sure yet.”
As was the case with The Key, cover artwork duties for Resurrection were handled by Randy Sappo. “The cover art is a frame of the comic book that we’re putting out in conjunction with the third album,” Geoff tells. “There’s gonna be a comic book of the entire trilogy, and the covers for The Key and Resurrection are both part of the comic book.”
Albeit devising thematic musical concepts throughout the years, the vocalist has never lent thought towards authoring a book of fiction. “No, never have,” he confirms. “Maybe one day, when I retire (laughs).”
Having yet to retire, Operation: Mindcrime’s third studio full-length is due to arrive in the future, concluding the trilogy. “I can’t really talk about the third one yet,” Geoff cautions. “I’d really like to refrain about talking about the third one right now. I know it’s coming out next September – I can tell you that (laughs).”
Following the completion of the trilogy, the singer hasn’t worked on other studio material, per se. “Mostly what I’ve been working on is the live performances that I’m getting ready to do,” he divulges. “I’m getting ready to do a real interesting tour, starting in Europe in early December – in Cork, Ireland, actually. We’re doing five weeks in Europe, and then after Christmas we move to South America, and then we start in North America after that. It’s an acoustic tour. It’s kind of a storytelling, intimate show where I talk a lot about the music that I’m performing and the stories that correlate with the songs that I’m performing. I’ve had a lot of life experiences; I’ve been doing this for 35-plus years, and I’ve travelled to a lot of countries, and met a lot of really interesting people on the way.
“So, I’m gonna be talking about my life in the context of the music that I’m performing. I’m bringing a band of acoustic instrument players with me; we have two acoustic guitars, a cello, a violin, a mandolin, and me on saxophone, and everybody sings as well. So, it’s a real, full sound that we have. I’ve been rehearsing with that, and rehearsing with the music for the presentation that I’ll be giving in December. The music actually covers almost all of my career, really.”
Geoff harbours plans to film footage from said performances. “I think it would be interesting to film,” he reckons. “There are definitely plans to do that. I film almost all of the shows that I do. I have an extensive catalogue of filmed live performances (laughs). Of course, video technology has changed over 35 years quite dramatically, so I have stuff that was filmed in 1985 on video camcorders, and then I have stuff that was filmed in contrast to that on GoPro cameras. It runs the gamut (laughs).”
Boasting a career spanning four decades, the prospect of penning an autobiography seems nigh for the frontman. “I’ve thought about it,” he admits. “I just haven’t had the time. To do something like that requires a real focus, and obviously my focus has been on writing music and touring really over the last few years. Picking up after the split with Queensrÿche has really been kind of a transition in my life. It’s taken all of my focus to reinvent myself, to a certain extent.”
Operation: Mindcrime aside, Geoff intends to resume his solo musical endeavours. “Yeah, I do,” he discloses. “I plan on releasing more music in the future. I definitely plan on that.”
Resurrection was released on September 23rd, 2016 via Frontiers Music Srl.
Interview published in October 2016.
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