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Queen for a Day

Geoff Tate and company want back that royal feeling

Queensryche lead singer Geoff Tate sees himself as a living example of the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for." Like any group with stadium aspirations, Tate and his Queensryche bandmates spent their early years pushing hard to become a million-selling entity. In the mid-'80s, they tried to be patient as their earliest art-metal efforts -- Queensryche, The Warning and Rage for Order -- slowly and steadily found an audience. Their ambitious 1988 concept album, Operation Mindcrime, even earned the band a few raves from critics who had dismissed Queensryche's first few releases as competent but undistinguished.

Then, in 1990, the breakthrough Queensryche had been banking on came. "Silent Lucidity," a smartly constructed power ballad from the band's streamlined fifth CD, Empire, became a hit single. Suddenly, Queensryche was selling in the millions instead of in the thousands, touring large venues and enjoying all the trappings of rock and roll success. But it didn't take long for the honeymoon to end. By the time the Empire tour finished, Tate and the rest of Queensryche -- guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield -- were thoroughly disillusioned. As Tate explains it, "After we got off the tour for Empire, I didn't sing, I didn't pick up an instrument, I didn't write a song for perhaps two years. I was just really burned out on the whole thing. And I needed to take a diversion and do something else for awhile -- just think, really, and get my house in order. A lot of what I had done in the previous ten years was to really focus on me, and everything else in my life was really in shambles."

The band found itself struggling with creative concerns -- namely, what to do when their artistic ambitions butted heads with the commercial aspirations of their management. "When we started this, there wasn't any sort of commercial basis for what we were doing. We were pretty much just writing songs," says Tate. "But there came a point where we realized, 'Hey we're getting paid for doing this. People are buying what we're doing. Oh my God, we're a commercial endeavor. Oh my God, we're not musicians anymore. We're businessmen.' How do you deal with that? We all felt very uncomfortable with where we were headed."

The recurring issues of how any rock commodity balances art with commercial success -- and how to lead a fulfilling personal life in a very public and time-consuming arena -- came to the surface in Empire's 1994 follow-up, The Promised Land. Still, it's clear that Tate didn't resolve a majority of his issues until later on. These days, though, things appear clearer to him than ever before. On QueensrØche's latest CD, Hear in the Now Frontier, tracks such as "Some People Fly" and "You" are decidedly upbeat and hopeful. Tate confides, quite cheerfully, that much of the new music reflects his life as it is today -- one that, for now, may be devoid of million-selling hits, but is never devoid of happiness.

"The stereotype is that the rock and roll musician is out on the road, writing songs, taking drugs, that kind of thing," Tate says. "It wasn't an image we were comfortable with. Living that lifestyle, it's interesting for a while, I suppose, because I've done it. But it's kind of a hollow existence."

And having a family life, says Tate, has a way of putting things into perspective. "I think having children has really sort of brought me around full circle to finding out what is really important to me," he says. "I have four children now; I'm a dad. So I've learned how to juggle -- juggling responsibilities, juggling my relationships so I keep everything running smooth."

But perhaps what's most interesting about the latest step in Queensryche's evolution is how Tate's positivity contrasts with the agitated tone of the songs written by guitarist Chris DeGarmo. On "Sign of the Times" and "Cuckoo's Nest," DeGarmo laments an age of guns in schools, church burnings and crime careening out of control. And on "Hero" he portrays a reality numbed by government intrusion and cultural dissolution. Such dire sentiments suggest that at least one person in the Queensryche camp is still struggling to find a balance in his life. Tate, however, isn't so sure that DeGarmo's take on things is so off the mark, even if it does stray from his own.

"I spent the last few years in a real dark period that I'm real happy to get out of. So, I have been tending to look I guess at probably the brighter side of life and have maybe a little bit hopeful outlook on things," Tate says. "I don't think Chris has a pessimistic view of things. I know he has two children now, and when you're raising children in this dangerous place, it makes you very protective. You tend to focus on the negativity around you, trying to make some sort of sense of it all, asking the questions."

A lyrical split personality isn't the only variation from the norm on Hear in the Now Frontier: The new CD is also considerably more straight-ahead musically than any earlier Queensryche release.

"[We] started with the demos, and they were very raw and not much production at all to them," says Tate. "It just seemed like this was the right way to go on this. We started playing around with studio effects and taking the songs in different directions, and we thought, no, let's just make a raw rock and roll album. We haven't done [that] in years."

Actually, some might argue, Queensryche hasn't done that ever. But then again, change, and even a little maturity, might just be the band's royal prerogative.

Queensryche performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, August 15, at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands. Tickets are $20 to $38. For info, call 629-3700.

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