Queensrÿche's New Regime Simplifies Sound

Seattle rockers compose more collaboratively after replacing founding guitarist Chris DeGarmo last year.

When Queensrÿche lost guitarist and founding member Chris DeGarmo

last year before recording their recently released album, Q2K,

they did more than change their sound. They changed their entire approach

to making music.

"We laid down the tracks for the album more or less live," singer Geoff

Tate, 40, said from his home outside Seattle. "There are a lot of first

and second takes, with just a few overdubs. You're hearing the spontaneity

of creativity."

That's quite a switch for a pop-metal quintet known for such complex,

art-rock-influenced albums as 1988's Operation: Mindcrime and 1990's

Empire, which sold 2 million copies. Empire's only hit

single, "Silent Lucidity," drew comparisons to progressive-rock innovators

Pink Floyd. Queensrÿche were so obsessed with perfection that after

DeGarmo and guitarist Michael Wilton formed the band in 1981 in Bellevue,

Wash., they rehearsed for a full two years before they ever recorded or

played live.

The official reason for DeGarmo's departure was "creative differences";

Tate credited new guitarist Kelly Gray for the change in the band's methods.

Gray, who is also a record producer (Blind Melon), played with Tate in a

Seattle progressive-rock band called Myth before Tate joined Queensrÿche.

According to Tate, the difference in Queensrÿche extends beyond the

way they make albums to the way they feel about themselves as an ensemble.

"Kelly adds new ingredients," Tate said. "[DeGarmo] wanted to write things

by himself, and we got away from being a band where everybody was contributing.

We feel like we're in a band again."

The entire band, jamming in one room and working off of each other's ideas,

composed most of the album's songs, Tate said. "We recognized the fact

that we had no game plan, so we went wherever our chemistry took us."

Tate would sing, improvising in front of the microphone; then he would

take the tapes home and listen to them, sometimes finding that he had

created something close to a finished song on the spot.

Queensrÿche — Tate, Gray, Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and

drummer Scott Rockenfield — have taken that free-flowing attitude

on the road, Tate said. On their current North American tour, which runs

through January, they're playing without a pre-written setlist. "We don't

know what we'll go into at any given moment," he said. "It keeps it

interesting for the players and the fans."

While past Queensrÿche compositions often dealt with complex social

issues, the band's new approach resulted in Q2K's featuring a

series of songs about relationships. "I didn't set out to find any [lyrical]

themes," Tate said. "But I seem to be consumed with relationships, with

exploring and questioning them."

In addition to this different focus, songs such as "Falling Down"

(RealAudio

excerpt) and "Burning Man" (RealAudio

excerpt) showcase a straightforward hard-rock sound. It's quite

a leap from the band's previous, elaborately orchestrated work, including

"Silent Lucidity," which grows from a melodic, acoustic guitar intro to

a bombastic ending that features multilayered vocals and strings.

Tate acknowledged that the shift could have alienated the band's longtime

fans, some of whom, he said, have labeled Queensrÿche the "thinking

person's rock band."

"I think that name is because of our subject matter," Tate said.

"Mindcrime was a big concept album at a time when bands weren't

really doing that. We were talking politics and the psychology of

relationships."

Most of the fan response to Q2K that Tate has encountered via the

Internet has been positive, he said.

"The day after the album came out, people were writing in to the Queensrÿche

message board (www.queensryche.com), saying things like, 'I'm listening

to it for the eighth time right now,' " Tate said. "With the Internet,

everything is so much more immediate."

Teresa Smith, a 37-year-old fan from Phoenix, said she wasn't sure what

to make of the album the first time she heard it. "Compared to their

earlier work, this has a very different feel," said Smith, who runs the

Empire of the Sun Queensrÿche website (www.inficad.com/~ryche1).

"But, as usual, the vocals grabbed me, and I was hooked. Q2K has

a wide variety of sounds to it."

Even if the band knows it's not likely to have another song as popular

as "Silent Lucidity," Tate said the bandmembers never think in terms of

hits. He recalled that the band hadn't even considered putting out "Silent

Lucidity" as a single until the label president took a liking to the song

and released it.

Queensrÿche hadn't even learned to play the song live, and they had

to learn it quickly for the tour that followed the gentle, majestic single's

climb up the charts in 1990. Then they found themselves playing in front

of fans who had no concept of their music aside from "Silent Lucidity."

"There'd be all these people in the front rows as we played all of

Mindcrime, this really aggressive stuff, and [they were] looking

at their ticket stubs to make sure they were seeing the right band," Tate

said. "I couldn't look at them. It was comical."