Geoff Tate recently kicked off the 2022 Empire 30th Anniversary Tour in the US, where he’s performing the classic Queensryche albums Empire and Rage For Order in their entirety live with his current band. For this week’s Q&A, we’re bringing one back from the archives of 2021, when Metal Contraband’s Chelsea spoke with Geoff about his Sweet Oblivion project, his lifestyle and recording during the pandemic, the Insania Wine brand, and more. Check it out below. 

It’s been a while since you and I have chatted for an interview, I think the Metal Hall of Fame in 2020 was probably the last time, and honestly, after the way this past year’s been going, that seems like ages ago. How have you and your family been doing through all this?

Oh, I think like everybody, we’ve all been going through an adjustment period. It’s been a unique time in history, you know, we’re all affected by it on a number of different levels. People have lost their jobs, or have a shifting relationship with their job. For me, it’s been the first time in…I don’t know, thirty years that I’ve been in one place for so long of a time. In 2019, I was home for 23 days of the year, so I spend most of my traveling on the road in different place every day, and I’m used to that, and being off the road has been like that Groundhog Day movie, you know? Every day you wake up, you’re looking at that same clock, that same table, and you’re going through this routine – I’ve never lived that way. So it’s weird for me, and I’ve had a bit of a struggle trying to figure out how to live like that. But I’ve managed to do a lot this year work-wise, I’ve completed one album and I’ve got the second one nearing completion, and I’ve got two others in the works. So I’ve got a lot of music ready to go for release over the next couple of years, been doing that, mostly. 

That’s great you’re keeping active in the music world even though you’re not able to physically get out there and tour – you’ve always seemed to keep busy with other bands and projects outside of your own. Of course, one of the latest ones is the new Sweet Oblivion record, the second album, Relentless. So how did the Sweet Oblivion band and project first come about? 

Well, I asked for it. *laughs* After finishing my time with Queensryche, I was looking to work with different people and try some different musical endeavors. I had signed up with Frontiers Records to do a three-album set of Operation: Mindcrime trilogy records. I was talking to Mario from the record company one day, and I said, “Yeah, I really want to try something different, work with some different people, especially producers, engineers, and other musicians. If you have any ideas on that, or something comes across your desk, let me know”, and he said he would, then we kind of went our separate ways, and I was off doing my own thing. A year or two later, he called me up and said, “I have an idea, and it’s called Sweet Oblivion”, and he told me what his idea was for it, and I thought it was great. So I started working with some Italian writers and producers, and thus we have Sweet Oblivion. There’s two records, I did one a few years ago, and now this one. There’s different musicians and producers on each record, the only constant is me *laughs*. So, it’s been really fun and an interesting journey, working with international musicians and players, I’ve been enjoying it. 

That’s funny how the only constant is you, so having a different cast of characters on each album, how did you go about following up on the first record?

We did it in kind of interesting way, that maybe a lot of people would find strange, but it actually makes a lot of sense. We worked in different studios in different continents and countries, and we meet together in the studio of the internet, passing our files back and forth to create the songs. And it’s actually an interesting and fun way to work, you’re able to sit in the comfort of your own studio that you’ve created, your happy place, and live the way you want to live, and still work together. It’s efficient.

Especially when you’re working internationally. In recent years, bands have been going for more of the remote style of recording, sending files back and forth, that’s increasingly more common, but it’s funny how the whole past year has made it almost mandatory, that’s the only way you can do it right now.

Exactly, and necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. But really, when you break it down and look at it, the reason we all sat in the same room and worked is because that’s the only way we had to do it. We were limited by technology of the times, and basically, the recording studio is a completely different animal now than it was then. The studio I carry around in my suitcase and set up in my hotel room every day, is more powerful than Abbey Road Studios in London, where so many great records have been made. So why go there? Unless you’re shooting a video, or happen to be in London and need the drum room that they have. It’s a new way of working, I think after the pandemic, a lot of people that have never worked this way before will continue to work this way now.

Yeah, I think that’s been one of the most prevalent message people have been getting from this whole past year, is realizing, “Hey, I could do this entire job from home. Why should I even return to the workplace?” So it’s going to be interesting to see how things develop once we get back to…“normal”, whatever “normal” is going to look like now. Companies in the industry, musicians in recording studios, everyone’s adapting their working style now, a lot of lessons have been learned for the past year. 

And I think this can be applied to pretty much everything in life. Typically, the reason why we do something is because that’s the way we were taught to do it, by whoever taught that person who taught us, and we tie things up in the idea of tradition. Tradition doesn’t always mean the best way to do something. It’s shifting the focus on how to do something in a more efficient way, which is so much better. Over the last couple of years, I bought an electric car and it’s really changed my perspective on driving and traffic, and just about everything related to automobiles has changed. The way I drive is different, it teaches you to be much more efficient. I’ve got to tell you though, driving an electric car, my stereo sounds amazing and I love listening to music in the car again. Because, man, I can hear everything. Before, there was so much engine and road noise, and exhaust pipe noise, man, you can’t hear the details in music. But now, the car is so damn quiet, the music really shines.

Nice, that definitely makes for more enjoyable road trips and rides then.

Absolutely.

Well, we’re talking about learning to adapt and work remotely, but one thing that can’t really be replaced is live shows, of course. I see that you have some shows coming up later this year, a UK and European run, then some shows in the US. It looks like things, at least in terms of everyone’s planning, are starting to come back up again. 

Yeah, state by state, opening at different capacity levels, and we’ve been looking to adapt to those rules and structures. It’s exciting to see things are opening up now, and I have to say that my management and my agent have been working strenuously just to organize the shuffling of dates. They’ve been working on it all this year, and we’re basically picking up where we left off. We were on tour last March when everything just shut down, so we’re gearing up to continue that tour. Of course we made commitments to the promoters, and we’ve always worked to honor those commitments, and to the fans who expect to see the show. We’re gearing up to bring that back out. 

Awesome. I think a lot of people still feel like it’s proceeding with caution, we’re all hoping, but there’s still that bit of uncertainty of whether it’s going to go on. 

When you think about it, everybody lost their shows, and so everybody’s vying for the venues now, in hopes that they’re all opening up. We have a show in the Seattle area here coming up, and we sold the amount of tickets that they’re allowing us to sell, but then there was some speculation from the state government saying that we’re going to have to roll back our numbers to those from several months ago because we’ve had an uptick in the amount of cases, so that means for us, that we’ve oversold the venue. So now it’s like, “What do we have to do?” My management’s been working with the venue to see if we’re going to have to split the show into two shows, or how we’re going to do this. But then, the governor made another announcement this past week saying, “No, it’s okay, we’re going to allow the capacity to be what it was, and we’re actually upscaling the capacity now”, so it’s all good, no more panic. *laughs*

Definitely, it seems to be getting better as time goes along. Now, a couple of years ago, you did the Operation: Mindcrime Anniversary tour, and now it’s going to be the 30th Anniversary tour for Empire and Rage For Order together, so is it going to be literally a full show of those two albums back-to-back?

Back-to-back, yes. It is a really good show, when we were doing it this past year, before the pandemic kicked in, it was absolutely stunning and I was so proud of my band for being so on point, playing so well. The audiences were turning out at sold out shows, there was just this momentum of everything being just right, and I felt really healthy and good, I was singing well, and it was really a shame when the whole thing had to be unplugged and postponed. But we’re gearing up to bring it back out, and hopefully we’ll get back up on that roll of playing at the top of our game again. 

Absolutely, and it’s an easy to decide setlist at this point, because you already know what the songs are going to be start to finish. Have you been digging into tracks in rehearsals with the band during this time?

Oh, you have to rehearse this stuff. It requires a lot of work to make it where it should be, presentable. I don’t like to go out and do things that are not perfection, I like to make it as good as I can possibly do it. I have the band fly in, typically two weeks before the first gig, and we spent two weeks just really fine-tuning it to where it should be, you know?

Good stuff. So outside of the music world, how is the Insania wine business going?

Oh, the wine is flowing, yes.

As it should be.

As it should be, yeah! People say, “Oh, I bought a bottle of your wine, I’m saving it”, I say, “No, don’t save it, drink it, I’ll make more”. *laughs* I’m looking forward to October because that’s our wine festival, when we do our harvest with the grapes, and actually crush the wine and get it rolling through the next vintage. We have a big party every year at the winery, and thousands of people show up, it’s become kind of a thing. The hotels in the area sell out, it’s crazy, and it’s all free. Maybe that’s why it seems to sell out, *laughs* it’s free. 

*laughs* That helps!

That helps, yeah. But it’s a really fun time. Last year, in October, that was the first time that I didn’t get to go to the harvest, and I of course had to Zoom call with my winemaker and talk to him about the harvest and how the grapes are looking, and he was keeping me abreast of all the developments, but it’s so strange not to have tasted the vintage yet. Because typically I’m there and I’m doing it, and I’m really involved. This last year, of course, we couldn’t do that. But I’m looking forward to getting back to Germany for it. 

Even winemaking went virtual, what has the world come to? 

*laughs* Yeah, really!

No, but there definitely seems to be a lot of things to look forward to for this year, and you’re still been staying productive. It’s great you keep people updated on social media with everything you’re doing, I just saw you posted the Pink Floyd tribute album, as well as The Prog Collective, and it’s clear you’re keeping busy with a lot of things in spite of not being able to play shows.

Yeah, well, I keep getting these offers from people to get involved with their scene and what they’re doing, and some of the stuff, I really like a lot, so why not?

Well, definitely some great stuff on the horizon, especially with Empire and Rage For Order getting back out on the road, so I’m glad to hear everything’s going well in the world of Geoff Tate, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from you later this year.

Thank you, Chelsea, and thanks for the interview today, I appreciate it.