Queensryche’s Michael Wilton Talks ‘Condition Human,’ Scorpions Tour + More
Queensryche will release their 14th album on Oct. 2 via Century Media Records. The effort, titled ‘Condition Human,’ harkens back to some of the band’s heavier progressive side and energy featured on their early recordings like ‘The Warning,’ ‘Rage for Order’ and their breakthough 1988 concept album Operation: Mindcrime.
We caught up with guitarist Michael Wilton, and in previously published segments from our interview, he fondly looked back at the band’s Empire album, recalling Queensryche’s most commercially successful endeavor, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. The guitarist also opened up about the band’s split with former singer Geoff Tate and how his new project Operation: Mindcrime is releasing an album just two weeks before Queensryche.
In this portion of the interview, Wilton goes in-depth on the band’s new album, working with producer Chris ‘Zeuss’ Harris, touring with The Scorpions and more. He also explains how frontman Todd La Torre is hitting his stride with the band and clears the air about misconceptions surrounding their PledgeMusic Campaign. Check out the interview below:
What can fans expect from Condition Human and how is it different from your last album?
What the fans and the music discerning public can expect is the traditional evolution of each album of Queensryche and this one is not a carbon copy of the last one, it is an evolution of that one. Which in terms of our perspective is basically, we had more time to work on the music, we had more time to get the right producer, which was Chris Harris aka Zeuss, who had just finished Rob Zombie’s album, and was willing to take on the project.
The songs offer a good diversity of the writing, of all members, of the current Queensryche. So, it is a band operation and we keep it that way and we showcase that in this album ‘Condition Human.'
The album harkens back to some of Queensryche's earlier albums with its heavy guitar work and progressive musical complexity. Can you explain those aspects of the album?
In the beginning of all the demos written for this album ‘Condition Human,’ they were all going in a certain direction, which everyone really accentuated and with Chris Harris, aka Zeuss, involved… he had the vision because he was a long time Queensryche fan and by saying that, that means he was a big fan of the first six albums and then kinda lost sight of the band. He wanted to really capture the magic and musicianship in the recordings of those early albums.
We completely agreed, but we really wanted to make this a 2015 recording showing the band is current and be more discerning on our roots and really bringing to the fold, you know that either the three guys that started the whole thing for the beginning and if you’ve been away for the past 15 years, hopefully you’ll recognize the guitar playing, the bass playing and the drumming.
So, we really accentuated and borrowed some high energy from the past and really achieved it in this album. Plus having more time gave a little more depth to the songs, a little more of a progressive element and some say a little bit heavier, but more of an eclectic approach as well. So there is a lot of instrumentation, a lot of layers, lots of guitars, drums and everything and the vocals are encompassing with what Queensryche is all about.
The album is full of guitar harmonies and dual leads, which have been a part of the band’s sound from the beginning. How do you approach bringing that unique sound into songs and arrangements?
That’s one thing that is signature about Queensryche and that’s something that Chris DeGarmo really brought into the music in the early days and we’re just continuing that aspect. You know rather than show how many scales we can do in a guitar solo, we try to keep it melodic and something that you’ll remember as a melody and then we double it and it’s just something that we’ve always done in Queensryche, kinda of like mini songs inside of songs and mini melodies within melodies. It’s kind of the way we view arrangement and writing songs in Queensryche.
“Arrow of Time” is the first single off the album. Why did you decide to lead with that track?
“Arrow of Time” is actually the first song on the album. In talking with the record company and management it was the ample choice to put up on Soundcloud for the fans to give a listen and also for us to perform it live, which we did, on the European and U.K. tour that we just finished. We’ll be performing that as well. We also took video footage from the Wacken Festival in Germany and we have on the cutting room floor all the video and audio for “Arrow of Time” as well.
So, the song has done a really great deal of positive impact in the industry for us. The single is a plus situation for us because it is an energetic song and it fits in the set list we are playing live currently and when people are at our show and they hear that song, when they purchase the new CD and the first song they hear, maybe that will spark a memory, they’ll go, ‘Oh yeah I remember seeing that live.’ It’s been a great way to start promoting and marketing a new album.
Todd La Torre seems to have hit his stride with the band. Can you explain what he brings as a frontman and how he has grown since joining Queensryche?
Todd La Torre is really doing an amazing job with the band. He’s really matured over the past two years and gotten more comfortable singing the songs and as far as the last recording he’s really grown from that process and really brought to the ‘Condition Human’ album his ‘A’ game and it’s more about representing Todd.
Todd is an incredible asset to the band. He is a true musician. He can play drums, he can play guitar, he can play keyboards and what happens in the writing process is that he can communicate to us a detailed explanation of what he might be hearing. So he says, ‘Michael, I think we need a ‘C minor 7’ in there,’ I know what he is talking about. So basically he expedites the communication and communication is key in a band and I think any person that’s in a band can agree with that. Once the communication is flowing among the band members, everything that is involved in the recording starts happening smoothly and it really proceeds with everyone involved.
‘Condition Human’ is not a concept album, but there seem to be some thematic elements on the album. Can you tell us about the lyrical themes on the effort?
‘Condition Human’ kind of entails how human nature is working this day and age in a highly technological advanced society that’s moving at a very fast pace. All the songs are basically like little stories and ideas that are all intertwined and kind of the human value our systems of how we handle everything and it just touches on the humanist part of our existence basically and how we are battling and adapting to what’s happening in the world as it is right now. So, it’s just our perception and our point of view. We’re not trying to change the world, we’re not trying to tell you what to do. It’s just our perception and analysis through some stories and ideas that we have in the songs.
"Bulletproof" is a stand-out track on the album. The 6/8 time signature in infectious. Can you tell us a bit about that song?
Queensryche writes a lot of songs in 6/8 time. So that is a song that Scott Rockenfield wrote and something that we all worked on, especially Parker Lundgren. On that song is one of my favorite solos by Parker. It’s kind of a more traditional pop song arrangement and it really just hits with a really big chorus. It’s kind of more reflective and inspired by more of the ‘Empire’ era. So, it’s really a strong song and it hits people hard on the first few listens.
‘Condition Human’ is the longest track on the record at over seven minutes. It’s also the last song on the album and a great way to wrap up the effort. Can you explain the genesis of the song?
I started writing that song two years ago, right after we recorded the 2013 album. It was something I just kept working on and it kept growing and growing and I started working on that with Todd in the demo form and we just kept expanding it and building ideas on it and I think it almost got up to 10 minutes long and then it came time to you know hone in on the 15 songs that we were going to record for this album with Zeuss and everybody we kinda scaled it back to just shy of eight minutes.
It’s a song where in this day and age where everybody’s wanting three-minute songs, you gotta have a three-minute tune on the radio otherwise they’re not going to accept it. Queensryche used to write epic long songs, you know “Roads to Madness, “Suite Sister Mary,” you know it was something that I thought, you know how cool would this be, especially on the last album where all the songs are really short in length and I said let’s give them a good eight minute tune. You know it was called something else in the demo form and we decided with Zeuss to call it “Condition Human” and to end the CD with it.
For fan going to see you on tour with The Scorpions, what can they expect?
Everyone in the band is really excited to be touring with The Scorpions because back in the early days when Eddie [Jackson], Scott [Rockenfield] and I were in our teens, I mean that was one of the band we used to listen to and we used to aspire to because we were into the whole metal invasion coming from Europe and the U.K. ... They were very much a part of our formative years and you know I have all their records and some of their CDs and I’m just a big fan.
At this point in your career, how hard is it to write a set list for a concert?
It’s really tough because you want to represent the accredited discography that everybody wants to hear and then you want to market and promote your new music as well. So, I don’t know, we don’t have any long performances in the opening slot for The Scorpions and then you have the whole thing of is the audience going to be there, you know when you go on. So we just have to calculate for maximum impact.
What are you touring plans following your outing with The Scorpions?
We will continue touring. It’s a bit spotty, it’s kind of live dates here and there through November and December and I know we start back up in January. They’ve already started booking those shows. There are plans for us to go back to Europe and the U.K. in the summer again.
We will keep posting on QueensrycheOfficial.com and our Facebook as well all the new tour dates. Yeah we’re going to be touring on this album probably just as long as we did on the 2013 album. You know, we were lucky to tour the world for two years on that album and that’s kinda the cycle these days in the record industry. They want albums every one-and-a-half to two years. That’s the future, we’re going to get out and promote and play. There are lots of opportunities, the doors are opening for Queensryche and we’re taking advantage of reconnecting with every body around the world.
There has been some confusion about your 'Building Empires' PledgeMusic campaign. Do you want to clear the air?
Yeah, the PledgeMusic was something that we put together to promote all these special things that we have and a lot of this is geared toward the start up of the tour and it’s a good way to help fund the band.
What I said was in this day and age record companies aren’t giving huge advances anymore right... so I think that got changed to no advances or something. Yeah I got a call from the record company on that one (laughs). By the way we’re kinda closing down the PledgeMusic schedule, I think there’s only a couple of unique experiences and packages for people right now on it.
Many thanks to Michael Wilton for the interview. Queensryche will release 'Condition Human' on Oct. 2 via Century Media Records. The album is available for pre-order in various bundles here. Queensryche are out on the road now with The Scorpions; click here for their tour dates.
Watch Queensryche's "Arrow of Time" Video