Geoff Tate: Operation MusicGeneration

Ahead of his acoustic show on the 6th of December in the Crane Lane, raising funds for MusicGeneration Cork, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with prog-rock legend Geoff Tate about music education, his new album, and his Cork connections.

In over thirty years of life on the road, Geoff Tate, formerly of prog legends Queensrÿche, has seen and done it all. Now performing solo and with his band Operation Mindcrime, named for his former project’s career album and its sequel, the man is cool and collected as he speaks over the phone regarding his Cork date on the 6th. Taking to the Crane Lane for an acoustic show that runs through material old and new, Tate speaks on the process of rethinking his tunes for the stripped-back idiom.

“I’ve done acoustic presentations before, I really enjoy it. It’s kind of like a return to the beginnings of the song. Most songs, in my experience, start with acoustic guitar or piano, in terms of composing, so it’s a return to the origins of the song, which, to me, is very honest. I’ve got a wonderful group of Irish musicians backing me up on this tour, in Ireland and through Europe. It’s a band called the Band Ana, from Cork, who are a wonderful band, wonderful musicians. It’s an interesting setup: there’s three acoustic guitars, a cello, violin, mandolin, and percussion. And we all sing. It’s a very big, full sound, and a really unique way of presenting my music and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Tate is a man with a Cork connection, and eagerly discloses his fondness for the Crane Lane in particular. “I’ve actually been, many, many times. I visit Cork City quite a bit, in fact, one of my favourite late-night places to grab something to eat is Arthur Mayne’s, there, connected to the Crane Lane. It used to be a chemist’s, a long time ago, and it’s a nice little spot.”

Proceeds from Tate’s show are to go to Music Generation Cork City, the city’s youth music education programme. Tate outlines the importance of music education to him, and the importance of its role in a well-rounded education. “Y’know, when I started playing music, back when I was nine years old, we had music in schools then. So, I grew up in a music programme. I played in the school orchestra, school band, jazz band, then started writing and composing my own music while still at school. Personally, I think music is a wonderful education, you know, it develops a discipline of mind, and of body, it takes a lot of discipline to master an instrument. You have to really dedicate yourself to it. So, it’s very beneficial to someone, growing up, to learn an instrument.”

Carrying on in the same vein, Tate goes on to speak about his observations on the relationship the Irish have with the artform and expression of music. “I’m always impressed at the level of musicianship I find in Ireland. I’ve been to sixty-four countries, while touring the world, and I’ve never seen the level of musicianship anywhere that I’ve found in Ireland. It seems like the Irish culture really relates to music, they cherish it, and they value it. Programmes like MusicGeneration are fantastic for keeping music education alive, and keeping kids in music.”

Operation Mindcrime has just released, and is now touring, new long-player Resurrection, the second part of an overarching narrative trilogy of concept records. Its creation was inspired by travel and expansion of horizons, says Tate. “It’s quite a piece of work, I have to say. I’ve been interested in the idea of a trilogy musical project for many years now. It all started when my wife and I were travelling in Spain, hiking and walking the Camino del Santiago, the trail that goes across Northern Spain, about a 500-mile trip, and took about a month. And while I was walking the trail, I got the idea for the story for the trilogy. I wrote the whole thing during my time in Spain, and then composed all the music when I got to Seattle. I wrote and recorded the whole trilogy at the same time, with the same groups of musicians. It was a wonderful experience because it was one of those creative waves that just lasts and lasts, and it was kind of sad when it was over. I’m happy it is finished, and that the next record is due next September.”

Resurrection‘s status as a concept record, or rather, part of a triptych of same, presents a series of unique challenges in and of itself, demanding triple the recording time, the attendant budgets for recording, press, manufacture, physical distribution and factoring in cuts for digital distributors. Was it a difficult pitch to make to record companies whose circumstances have arguably been straitened by changes in the industry? “Not really an obstacle. I presented it to Frontiers Music, which is based in Italy, and they loved the idea. They handle a lot of artists, have a fairly large roster, of different kinds of musicians, probably more oriented towards what you would call progressive rock. So I think this was something that they could relate to. They were excited, and I’m glad, because I finally got to realise my dream of presenting this trilogy.”

The hot topic in Ireland’s music industry at present, following several big band splits, is the impact of streaming services on the bottom line of an artist or band. Tate’s perspective is obviously different, coming from a commercially successful band like Queensrÿche, but the issue has not escaped his notice, either, noting the changes that the industry has undergone. “Yeah, I’ve been releasing records for over thirty years, so I’ve seen the industry change radically. Live streaming and piracy has dramatically changed the industry. It’s really gutted it, taken the economy out of it, put people out of business. I suppose everything changes, and you have to be able to adapt to the new world, but it is a shame that somebody couldn’t figure out a way to make it all work, so that you could keep selling your product. It’s not easy to write music, it’s not easy to write albums, and it’s not easy to sell albums. It’s a shame the model couldn’t have been improved on and made work. For example, I was signed to EMI Records, one of the biggest record companies in the world, and they had thousands of employees. People’s families relied on the work they did for the label, and now there isn’t even an EMI.”

Tate’s connection to Ireland originates in Cork, and when asked for interesting road stories from his various excursions here, he instead, surprisingly, reveals the extent of his ties to Cork’s music scene and their personal nature. “My wife was in a village in West Cork several years ago, a place called Glengarriff. She went to a pub there, called Bernard’s. There was a young band playing at the pub, and my wife was so impressed by the band, that she brought them over to the US to play support when I was in Queensrÿche. They played two tours with us, a band called The Voodoos. The band did really well, people loved them, they made a record and then they broke up. Which is unfortunate, but that’s how my connection to Ireland really started. Two of the band members, Nick and Tim, ended up marrying two of my daughters. They’re now my son-in-laws”, he says, laughing. “Kind of bizarre. Cork City and surrounding areas have become a second home to us. My wife and I travel to West Cork quite a bit, and it’s become a place we’ve really fallen in love with.”

Some light chatter on 2017 to finish the conversation turns into a rumination on the never-ending tour that Tate finds himself looking at for the year. “There’s this tour, with the Band Ana, over the next couple of months, around Europe, they’re gonna be touring with me. After that, I’m off on a cruise ship called ‘Shiprocked’, it goes down to the Caribbean, for a week of dates aboard that ship, which is really kind of a paid vacation, it’s wonderful. After that, I’m off to South America, then on to a marathon North American tour in February until Summer. Sometime in the Fall after the release of the next album, I’ll start up all over again. The show that never ends.”

Geoff Tate presents his catalogue of songs acoustically on December 6th at the Crane Lane Theatre, with support from Fire & Water and Mark Daly. Tickets are €20, and all proceeds go to Music Generation Cork City.

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