For a long time Queensryche was a band in steady decline. Pretty much all the post Promised Land releases suffered in quality, with Dedicated To Chaos being especially lacklustre. Last year things came ahead with singer and defacto bandleader Geoff Tate being fired by the rest of the band. The remaining members recruited a new singer and they decided to soldier on under the Queensryche banner. Ghost Cult spoke with drummer Scott Rockenfield who didn’t mince words and who seems to be on a personal crusade to get the band back in the spotlights again…
The new self-titled Queensryche album is the best album in years and it feels like a genuine band effort. How do you see things?
That’s exactly what it is. Thank you for liking the album and we’re certainly proud of it. We’re feeling great about the music. A year ago things were very different, until we found Todd, our new vocalist. The whole year has been fantastic so far with sold out gigs around the world and when we started writing songs last Summer it turned out be a perfect situation for us. The chemistry we had was just so great. The new album is a great representation of how we feel Queensryche should sound like and what the fans expect from us. I think the new record fits somewhere between Empire and Promised Land.
The album feels like a combination of the songwriting prowess of Empire and the dark and brooding atmosphere of The Promised Land…
The Promised Land is one of my favourite QR records. We tried to recapture that energy we had in the Mindcrime to Promised Land timeframe and put that back in the new band. As you may know the last year has been quite a struggle for us with Geoff (Tate – former singer) and the music the band was making and our lack of excitement about it. We wanted to do something very different and Geoff didn’t want to do that. That’s why we feel so excited about the new record and we can’t wait to play the new material live to our fans.
Todd La Torre turns out to be quite a revelation in the vocal department. How did you guys find him?
We’ve been so fortunate to find Todd and that he found us. It’s been a perfect match together. What happened is that Michael Wilton (guitarist) met Todd at the NAMM convention in January 2012. None of us even heard of him before. What happened is that Michael and he became friends and they discussed doing a project together, something outside Queensryche. Micheal introduced him to Eddie (Jackson – bass player) and I soon thereafter. We talked about doing some shows together, because Queensryche wasn’t doing anything at the moment. We learned some old Queensryche songs from the Queen Of The Ryche EP and The Warning and so on and put together a live show consisting of the songs Geoff was never interested in playing live. We called ourselves Rising West and we played two shows in Seattle in June last year and they were so much fun and the fans loved it so much that we knew we had something good going on. Soon after that everything started to fall apart with Geoff and we had to make the decision to move on without him. It was just perfect timing and Todd was the perfect guy to move on with, because he can sing the old stuff just great, the fans are loving it and we love playing the old material. It was fate that we meet each other. Todd is just walking around happy all the time.
Producer James “Jimbo” Barton also played a pivotal role in recapturing that old energy again. How did he go about things?
I’m so glad that we decided to work with him again. The relation we had with him when we recorded Operation Mindcrime, Empire and The Promised Land was just fantastic. He is a great guy to work with, he knows his and he loves our music. He had a great set of ideas about our music and he’s almost like a sixth band member when we work with him. It was just magical to work with him again. He gave us the greatest sounds on the record and it works very well with our music. Besides being a great studio engineer he also has tons of creative ideas to offer, in short all the hallmarks of a great producer. In a way he’s becoming his own rock star now, because all the fans are talking about him right now and they’re so happy he’s involved again. He’s on cloud nine now, ha-ha.
Getting back to the struggle you guys had with Tate, lots of things have been said back and forth in the media. One person didn’t voice his opinion on the current situation and that’s Chris DeGarmo…
Listen, Chris is a great person and he’s still very close with us and we’re still great friends. He totally supports us in what we’re doing with the band and he’s very happy for us that we moved on. That’s the best I can give you on Chris. Other than that he chooses to be quiet. He’s a busy guy and he knows and feels that we’re doing the right thing. That’s the most important and like I said, we’re still great friends.
So when did you really started to sense things were starting to unravel when Geoff Tate was still in the band?
It’s been quite a while back to be honest. It’s been like 10 years. Things were starting to become uncomfortable. It was a slow process, but over time it became apparent that Michael, Eddie, and I were drifting apart from Geoff, especially when it came down to the music and the general direction of Queensryche. Why we didn’t take charge earlier was because the whole process was like a long and painful divorce. You know that things aren’t going right, but you hang in there, hoping things would turn around. You keep doing you best at it, but things kept getting worse and worse. It got to the point that we had to move out without Geoff. That point was the infamous spit incident in Brazil.
Do you keep tabs of what’s going on with the “other” Queensryche?
To be honest, I don’t. It’s just not important to us. We don’t really acknowledge it and nor we don’t have to, because we have so much going on. We choose to focus on the all the positive things that has befallen our band so far. We feel that we’re doing what Queensryche should be doing for a long time and the support from our fans around the world is just astonishing. We’re just moving on.
Besides being the drummer in Queensryche you also have quite a career going on as far as scoring movies and video games going on. What’s the biggest difference between scoring films and creating music for Queensryche?
It couldn’t be more different and that’s exactly what makes it so enjoyable for me. I love doing both of them. I need to be in a certain mind-set when I’m writing songs for Queensryche I need to keep account of what the rest of the band is doing and it’s basically guitar, drums, bass and keyboards. When I’m composing film music it’s really different, because it’s mostly for orchestras. I write parts for a 100 piece orchestras and record them in Los Angeles, where I do a lot of that stuff. It’s flute stuff, violins and the whole nine yards. It’s very challenging, but I love doing that to death. The great thing is that I can combine both on the new Queensryche album where I’ve written a bunch of songs, but I also wrote the orchestra pieces in some of the songs. Those pieces were recorded in Los Angeles with Klaus Badelt of all people. He composed the music for Pirates Of The Caribbean for instance. I do a lot of my work in his studio and he’s a big Queensryche fan too. I also wrote the music for one of the movie trailers for After AD, the upcoming blockbuster movie with Will Smith. It’s great for me that I’m able to jump between doing things with Queensryche and films.
Do you have a background in classical music or a degree in composing?
I have none of that. I basically taught myself to play keyboards and moved from there. The things I’ve learned is by working with a great team of people in Hollywood who also work with Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, basically the big names in conducting and music programming. They taught me a lot in writing and composing orchestra pieces. When I’ve written something I go down there and they record it for me. It’s all hands on for me. I’m not the best at this and I still have a lot to learn, but for some reason it works, ha-ha.
Finally, you’ve done a project called Slave To The System. Any chance you’ll be doing that again anytime soon?
Wow, you sure know a lot! Slave To The System, what a fun record it was to work on. To be honest, it one was one of the best recording sessions I had. Damon Johnson, one of people I worked with is with Black Star Riders nowadays. Great stuff, by the way. We’re still really close friends and I still hope we can do another record someday. We had such a great time doing that record. Still to this day many fans have that record, way more than I ever would have anticipated. It’s 13 years old by now. Great, great memories.