Michael Wilton (Queensryche)
American progressive metal band Queensryche has been playing the club and festival circuit across USA and Europe for more than 30 years now. The band, best known for their crowning concept album ‘Operation:Mindcrime’ had gone through a series of personnel changes and bad blood in the last few years, before Todd La Torre (ex-Crimson Glory) joined, taking over from Geoff Tate as the band’s front man. A few hours before their historic first ever appearance at Wacken Open Air, we caught up with Michael ‘Whip’ Wilton.
HB: So how are you doing today, Michael?
MW: I’m doing really well. Just got to Wacken from Cologne, Germany where we played a packed house. Voracious fans… We’ve been doing quite a bit of shows on this tour in Europe, really filling in the dates. What’s great about this tour is that we are playing festivals as well as our own shows. We played in Luxembourg the other day in a castle with Dream Theater, which was great. Bang Your Head was great as well. Arch Enemy was there, with Jeff Loomis who is also from Seattle. We played at Pratteln (Switzerland) and Metal Days in Slovenia as well. Fear Factory was there; I know Dino and I’ve hung out with him a few times. Anvil from Canada was there; they are a real fun band. It’s been really positive – we’ve been very busy but we are just trying to utilize as much time for Queensryche as possible.
HB: After the ‘turbulent’ past that the band has had, how do you feel about the response from the shows? I mean, Queensryche had the great albums and had the dip in musical output as well. Now you’re back with good music, packed shows…
MW: Well, it’s kind of comparable to a company – you get rid of the fat, bring in some new blood and you rise. It was a needed time; things weren’t clicking. The way the business was being done wasn’t right. We weren’t seeing eye-to-eye with everybody, and the creative element was being stifled. A change was needed. It was like the restructuring of a business. It has been a lot of hard work – rebuilding the business, rebuilding the brand, proving to the fans that we have a legacy.
HB: There is an emotional attachment as well…
MW: Oh yeah, you have fans that are so passionate about the music, and when something like this happens, it’s a travesty for them. You have to convince them and win them over again, and we are doing that show by show, album by album. You don’t get any justice off Youtube or phones – people recording at concerts. It’s just attrition; hard work and belief. We have a plan. A business plan. We have a good management team, and we stick to the plan. Good things are coming.
HB: I’m off the firm belief that a band is a business and you run it like a business if you want to succeed.
MW: Exactly. And if you run off course, you can tank the whole business.
HB: Coming back to where are are. This is the first time you’ve played Wacken…
MW: Yes! It’s the first time we’re playing Wacken in our 30 year career as well as a lot of other festivals in Europe. Some big ones and some small ones. It’s really eye-opening; there are so many festivals in Europe! And that’s what’s great about Europe. You can play pockets every year. Central Europe, then come back next year and play in Spain or Eastern Europe. It is really important for us to rebuild our relationships with the promoters – the people who want us to play. It is just as important to develop that as it is to develop the relationship with the fans.
HB: And the only way you can do that is to come and play shows, do a good job, get the fans happy, put some money in the promoter’s pocket. It doesn’t happen overnight either.
MW: Oh yes, definitely. The promoters in Cologne and Essen were really happy because we packed the venues and they must have sold a lot of alcohol, haha.
HB: Do you see a difference in the age group of the fans at the shows?
MW: Yes! It’s almost as if the hardcore people who have been there since the 80s, their kids are coming to the shows. Last night (Cologne), we had two kids, maybe 12-13 years old, right in the front with their mothers. And it’s the same in the US. Teenagers who have heard the band from the internet and have come to check us out. It’s great for us.
HB: So how does it feel to be playing and composing music with the new, younger members of Queensryche?
MW: With Todd (La Torre) in the band, we have a musical crossover with Crimson Glory. He is younger as well, and we’ve got Parker (Lundgren) on guitars, who is 28 years old – he wasn’t even born when ‘Rage For Order came’ out! It’s a mix of the old blood and new. The whole dynamic of song writing has changed. It used to be: 4 guys writing music and handing it somewhere to a person. If he liked it, he liked it and if he didn’t, he didn’t. Now, it’s a whole different dynamic. Todd, first and foremost is a musician. He is an accomplished drummer, he can play guitar and bass, some keyboards… The communication between everyone is as musicians – not someone who just writes lyrics. That changes how everyone writes. It doesn’t matter if I write lyrics or vocal melodies or if Scott (Rockenfield) writes guitar parts, everyone contributes now.
HB: And it all comes together…
MW: And it all comes together. It’s built. Everyone puts their DNA into it and that’s exciting. We can see it grow. It starts as a verse and maybe a chorus, something very basic, and it takes the minds of everyone to see beyond that and see the potential of an idea and to build it. We are all different, but are all on the same path creatively, so for us, it’s great. We have plenty of ideas, and we are already writing for a new album!
HB: The one coming out in October (Condition Hüman)?
MW: That’s already finished. We’ve already started writing the next album!
HB: That’s great! I heard ‘Arrow of Time’ a few days back and it sounds great. A throwback to Empire, and a logical next step for the sound at the time.
MW: The new songs are a little more inspired by say, Rage For Order. A little more experimental in terms of structure. Not the standard pop-structure – a verse and a chorus and fade out. On this album, it’s different. The new music is very challenging. ‘Arrow of Time’ is probably one of the easiest songs that we could put together and play live. It fits right into our set. Someone we spoke to said it reminds him of ‘Speak,’ something from Rage For Order maybe.
HB: On Rage For Order, you worked with Neil Kernon, and it fit very well for the time and the sound. The new album has Chris ‘Zeuss’ Harris.
MW: Working with a producer is so much more than just wanting someone. You’ve got to see their time schedules and what they have. Working with Zeus has been great. He is in-tune with technology and knew our catalogue and got the best performances from everybody. What happens when you write is, you get married to the sound, and you need an outside opinion that you trust. Zuess had great ideas and really worked with us. During some of the recordings, we had one-off shows, and we brought him out with us. He set up his studio in the hotel and recorded music on the road. He has a mobile capability for recording, which is very positive for him and very important today. A lot of bands don’t want to pay for big studios, and this helps both him and us. He has a good grasp of the music, and a very modern outlook, yet kept going back to the older catalogue for reference.
HB: I’m really excited for the album. You’ve really built it up for me! Now, Michael, we’ve got time for just one more question. So I’m going to ask you: if you had to recommend one Queensryche album to someone who had never heard your music, what would you recommend?
MW: That’s a tough question. I’d say ‘Rage For Order’ and ‘Operation: Mindcrime.’ Definitely these two.
HB: And those are my two favourite Queensryche albums. Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us, Michael! Have a great gig at Wacken today.
MW: You’re welcome and thank you!