Queensryche - The Empire Strikes Back
Interview With Michael Wilton By Joe Who?

Seattle is noted for many things; coffee, rain, Microsoft, and of course progressive metal / rock legends Queensryche. The band has been creative and diverse throughout their illustrious career, and as a result of their hard work ethic, they have maintained a good solid fan base here and abroad.

Their history can be traced back to the early eighties. The first few releases of their catalog (Queensryche - EP - '83 and "The Warning" - '84) saw the band kind of soul searching for their own style and sound, giving those albums a more traditional "classic" metal style and feel.

I would say when they released their third album, ("Rage For Order" - '86) they really started to come into their own. The album was more experimental and progressive compared to previous efforts, and saw the band start to branch out musically and artistically. This album was a "blueprint" for what was to come...

What came next was an album of epic proportions, "Operation : Mindcrime" ('88). An absolute masterpiece. The concept album had it all; great melodies, progression, and dynamics. Definitely their break through album, that long time fans have always considered their best work, and that turned them into a house hold name.

As the band entered the nineties, they had their share of ups and downs. The first half of the decade saw them in fine form with "Empire" ('90) and "Promised Land" ('94). The later being a more dark experimental sounding album, while "Empire" had a more basic mainstream approach.

The late nineties saw the band lose some wind from their sails, when guitarist Chris DeGarmo, (a creative piece of the puzzle.) decided to leave the band. ("Hear In The Now Frontier" - era '97) He was replaced with producer / guitarist Kelly Gray. (He would only last for one album and tour - "Q2k" - '99) It was kind of an odd combination, that didn't really work. From there they continued on as a four piece, and released "Tribe" in 2003. Unfortunately, I'd have to say this one didn't hold up to previous "classics".

Fast forward to 2005, the band has just finished up a tour of the states, where they played "Operation : Mindcrime" in it's entirety for the first time in over fifteen years. They also plan on releasing the highly anticipated "Operation : Mindcrime - 2" later this year.

I had a chance to talk with guitarist Michael Wilton after their show on January 25th, 2005 in Milwaukee Wisconsin, and he brought me up to date on their future endeavors and more...

Wormwood Chronicles: Great show tonight... My first question is what made you guys want to bring back the Operation : Mindcrime live show now in 2005?

Michael Wilton: Well, it seemed like the right time, because we discussed doing a Mindcrime - 2. So we wanted to bring it back, but bring it back with a full presentation.

WC: The rock scene seems to be shaping up lately with bands like; Velvet Revolver, the Motley Crue reunion, Judas Priest is back etc... Did this have any influence on your decision to bring back Mindcrime?

MW: I think in general the U.S. is very trendy when it comes to bands, but over in Europe those bands you just spoke about are still huge. Hard rock and metal is always going to be around, because there's rebellion, there's good progressive playing, good musicianship, there's a lot of passion involved, and it's fun. You know?
WC: The Operation: Mindcrime live show must be a lot of work to put together. How much preparation goes into this?

MW: Well this show we changed some of the arrangements as you know and saw, so that took a few rehearsals. Bringing the keyboard player in as well, those parts had to be written. Writing a play to bring actors in, to figure out where they come in and to make it cohesive, and then to completely add new footage to the film, cut and paste. I mean, do the math. (laughs) That's a lot of hours, but I think it was worth it. Don't you? (laughs)

WC: Oh yeah, definitely. How was Operation : Mindcrime originally inspired? After seeing the show tonight, it looked like it came from a dream...

MW: That's more of a Geoff (Tate) question. That comes from his past experiences in Quebec, and I think some ideas came from when he was there. Yeah, that's more of a Geoff question. (laughs) As far as the music goes though we just kind of connected the dots and said ok we need a song that goes with this, you know? It fell together fairly easy.

WC: Geoff said tonight on stage, that you guys have been going strong since 1981. Did you ever think you'd still be doing this today? What's your secret for longevity?

MW: Wow, you know, for me, I just think I'm on a good ride here, especially when the nineties hit and everything changed. Now to come into these years when the whole industry is being challenged by MP3 and downloading, you just have to believe in what you do. I love to play guitar, I love writing heavy music, and I think if there's a passion for it and you can connect with people and fans - you just have to go with it. Don't fight what you're good at. (laughs)

WC: What made you want to be a guitar player?

MW: Well, dude, In high school I was either going to play baseball or play guitar. I went to a Van Halen concert, their first
concert when they we're opening up for Black Sabbath. I saw Eddie Van Halen, and I said that's what I want to do. It's that simple. (laughs)

WC: Did you ever meet Eddie Van Halen?

MW: Yeah, I met him a couple times. (Thinking for a moment...) three, four, five times.

WC: What's your favorite guitar solo from him?

MW: Wow, I like "Romeo Delight" off of "Women And Children First". There's some serious chops in that song...

WC: Some people I've talked to have said his best guitar solo is from Michael Jackson's "Beat It"...

MW: (laughs) Come On!

WC: You guys are working on Operation : Mindcrime - 2. Can you give us any details?

MW: It's a work in progress, I can't really give you to much. Be patient, we'll get through it, and get it out to you.

WC: Any instrumentals?

MW: You know, there's possibilities. I'm not going to say it's going to be like this or like that. The music is young and it's being formed and we're just going to let it go where it goes. (laughs)

WC:Will Chris DeGarmo contribute on it?

MW: Probably not.

WC: Why did you guys wait so long to make a sequel for Operation: Mindcrime?

MW: Well, there was so much other music to do. I think now with the turmoil in the country, it's just right for this. So I think this is the time to do it.

WC: Do you feel any pressure to top Operation : Mindcrime, being that it was so successful?

MW: I don't know if we'll top it, but we'll give a go at it, and make it as bombastic and intense as we can.

WC: Tonight after the show, their was a preview on the video screen for Operation : Mindcrime - 2, there was a song being played along with it. Was that called "One Foot In Hell"?

MW: That's a idea we're working on...

WC: Will that be one of the songs on the new album?

MW: Yes.

WC: Geoff said tonight during your first set that rain is a metaphor that has inspired some of your songs. Where else do you draw inspiration?

MW: A couple pints of Guiness, being that I'm a half Irish guy, you know? With me I'm just cursed. I pick up the guitar and I go into a guitar coma, and I'll just play for hours and get lost. I can watch tv and just play subliminally, and then I just go press record - I think I got something. I get endless ideas, so I just do what I do best... It is a curse. (laughs)

WC: How did you guys hook up with your new guitar player Mike (Stone) from Wisconsin?

MW: Um, I think through our management...

WC: Did you see him in a band that was playing? Did he send a demo?

MW: No. We got rid of Kelly (Gray) on Q2K, he went back to producing, and then our manager had a connection with a really cool guy, that he thought would be inspirational. So now he's with us. (laughs)

WC: Lake Geneva Wisconsin isn't to far from here. I'm trying to remember, didn't you guys record "Empire" there?

MW: Actually the riff in "Empire" was recorded in Redmond Washington, everything else we recorded in Lake Geneva. (On a side note here; I checked my "Empire" cd, and it said it was recorded in Vancouver B.C. Canada, and the album was mixed in Lake Geneva, but I'll take Michael's word for it! - Joe Who?)

WC: What are your thoughts on the metal scene right now?

MW:I think it's underground right now, and it's going to come back. It's going to be just like europe, real intense with a vengeance.

(At this point in the interview, Michael is informed by a member of the road crew that they are getting ready to leave...)

MW: Alright, I have to get going...

WC: Do you have time for a few more quick questions?

MW: Real quick, man...

WC: Do you know what happened with the 3 Tenors project with Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, and Geoff?

MW: That's a Geoff question...

WC: Future plans, any more touring in 2005, after this current tour?

MW: Oh yeah... Thanks.

Michael Wilton's Website

Queensryche's Official Website