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Members include Chris DeGarmo (born c. 1965), guitar; Eddie Jackson, bass; Scott Rockenfield, drums; Geoff Tate, vocals, keyboard; and Michael Wilton (born c. 1965; attended Cornish Institute of Allied Arts, Seattle, WA), guitar. Group formed in 1981 in Seattle; toured Japan, Europe, and the U.S. as opening act for artists such as Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Metallica, Quiet Riot, and Dio, c. 1983-91; toured U.S. as headliners, 1991--. Addresses: Management-- Q Prime, Inc., P.O. Box 3070 Uptown, Hoboken, NJ 07030.
Combining social consciousness and non-sexist lyrics with high-energy and guitar-oriented music, Queensrche has become known as an intellectual heavy metal band. Seattle youths Chris DeGarmo, Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield, Geoff Tate, and Michael Wilton formed Queensrche as teenagers in 1983 with a definite agenda in mind: turning their strong passion for playing music into an original heavy metal band. Since then the group has pursued their musical dreams with as much passion as their playing. After spending years as opening acts for other bands, Queensrche released their ambitious 1988 concept album Operation: Mindcrime, which won critical and popular acclaim and was compared to the Who's Tommy and Pink Floyd's The Wall. Queensrche went on to headline their own concerts, bringing their progressive heavy metal music to sold-out audiences.
Queensrche started when DeGarmo and Wilton united with the intention of creating an original band. Many hours of jam sessions went into developing a unique brand of guitar playing. Wilton had briefly attended the Cornish Institute of Allied Arts in Seattle, Washington, studying music theory, among other subjects. "I can attribute a lot of the obscure [musical] things that I do to some of the things that I learned at that college, like how to play ... all these really different, weird African tribal rhythms and everything," Wilton told Steve Peters in Guitar Player. "It made me see things in a different light. I don't know if it actually makes me play any better, but knowledge never hurts. It helps for musicians to accept different forms of music and see the values in them."
Wilton and DeGarmo were meticulous about putting the band together. Both were serious about music, and they wanted the other members to have the same commitment. "We were looking for people who shared the same sort of passion, who were willing to stick it out to get there," DeGarmo proclaimed to Daina Darzin in Spin. The other members chosen were vocalist Tate, bassist Jackson, and drummer Rockenfield. The band has kept these original members throughout it's career.
Beginning in the early 1980s, the hard-working band began to see some success and performed as opening acts for more established groups like Iron Maiden, AC/DC, and Def Leppard. The work was difficult and, inevitably, frustrating. "Basically, you're just trying to not get things thrown at you," Tate was reported as saying in Spin. Tate also felt that their message was not connecting with the hyped-up fans. "It's difficult when your lyrics are going over people's heads, when the audience is going, 'What are these guys talking about?'"
Around the time of Queensrche's album Rage for Order, the band decided to try a new strategy: market a visual image. It was a decided departure for the no frills rock and rollers. Creating a gothic vampire image achieved using layers of lacquered hairspray and thick makeup, the band took to the stage. Tate admitted in Spin that "we failed miserably." In addition, their record failed to sell.
For a while it seemed that Queensrche would be forever assigned to the job of opening act. They had played for some of the biggest names in the heavy metal world, but they seemed to be relegated to the role of bridesmaid. That changed in 1988 with the release of their album Operation: Mindcrime. Peters, writing in Guitar Player, called the record "a chilling tale of brainwashing with distinct Orwellian overtones." Built as an "aural film" about a political assassin, with references to government scandal and lying that made reference to behavior in President Ronald Reagan's administration, the album fell into the favor of fans, going gold within four days of its release. Critics likewise paid attention, calling the band progressive and dubbing them the "thinking man's metal band."
While some might have considered this description to have a negative impact on the heavy metal circle--where superficiality and glitz often reign supreme--Queensrche was generally pleased with the label. "We don't try to ram messages down people's throats," DeGarmo explained in Guitar Player. "We just bring up things we're interested in and hope that people will think about it a little bit. We're just trying to promote some thinking." Wilton concurred in the same article, saying that "we try to write music that reflects the information we're absorbing at that point in our lives. We're like human sponges: That's why some songs have social impact."
A well-played video for the single "Eyes of a Stranger" and an opportunity to host MTV's heavy metal showcase, the "Headbanger's Ball," also increased the visibility and popularity of the quintet. "Silent Lucidity," a ballad, became a top-ten single. Record label EMI's vice president of marketing Robert Smith commented in Billboard that with Operation: Mindcrime "Queensrche has lifted itself from opening-act status to a powerful headliner role."
The band found it difficult to come up with an album to follow the success of Operation: Mindcrime. "We decided that everybody was trying to do sequels, in the movie business as well as the music business," Wilton commented in Guitar Player. "That probably would have been the easy way out, but we decided to do something completely different.... We didn't want to be labelled a concept band."
The next album proved definitively that Queensrche was not a concept band and at the same time put them over the commercial edge. Empire, released in 1990, was a more personal look at the world. The title track examined the problems of gang crime in Seattle. "It's about how tough it is for kids to find something to do with their lives when they're tempted with all the big bucks they can make selling drugs," Tate explained in Spin. "Resistance" mourned the excessive cancer rate around the former Hanford nuclear plant in the state of Washington. And the story of a homeless woman was sung on "Della Brown." Empire was a resounding success, going double platinum. Following its release, the band took their first headline tour of American arenas in 1991, playing to virtually sold-out crowds.
Though Queensrche has a distinctive sound, they change themes and techniques with every album. Asked if this created any stress on their band, DeGarmo replied in Guitar Player: "The band's open-mindedness has allowed for diversity among albums.... We're trying to paint an atmosphere with each song, and I always try to get different sounds out of a guitar." In fact, this ability to change their themes and sounds has accounted for much of the group's popularity; Wilton feels that it is what distinguished them from other bands in their field. "We've put ourselves in more of a universal category," he related in Guitar Player. "I don't consider us a heavy metal band; we're more adventurous. We tend to experiment.... We're not afraid to do that for the sake of keeping an image, because I don't think we really have an image. Our music is the image, and we feel we need to keep the music fresh and interesting."
Grateful for their success, Queensrche is happy that they didn't have to alter their approach, or "sell out," to achieve prominence. "We're fortunate that just being patient and persistent has finally paid off," DeGarmo told Guitar Player. "We're also happy that we've stuck to our method of madness. We haven't had to alter the game plan too radically to get there."
by Nancy Rampson
Gold record for Operation: Mindcrime, 1988; double-platinum record for Empire, 1990.
- Selective Works
- Queensrche (EP), 1983.
- The Warning EMI, 1984.
- Rage for Order EMI, 1986.
- Operation: Mindcrime EMI, 1988.
- Empire EMI, 1990.
- Operation: LIVEcrime EMI, 1991.
- Billboard, August 16, 1986; June 10, 1989.
- Guitar Player, November 1991.
- Melody Maker, November 17, 1984.
- Spin, June 1991.
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