Michael Wilton Taking Back the Flame

By Jeb Wright

Queensryche is back with a new vocalist, new material, and a live show full of blood, sweat and guitars!  The naysayer that said this band could not survive the departure of vocalist Geoff Tate had never met Todd La Torre.  They also had no idea how much fight was left in this band.

This group of musicians had something to prove.  Four years down the road, they have not only proven they belong, they are gaining respect and new fans.  Tate is gone and the band not only survived… they thrived.  Queensryche is rocking as hard as they did on Rage for Order.  This is a band on fire!

We caught up with guitarist Michael Wilton in his tour bus during the Streets Gone Wild Festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma to chat about the new singer, and the new life in the band. 

Jeb: I have done many interviews with Queensryche but they have all been with Geoff Tate.  I was inspired to talk to you because I saw Queensryche live at the Moondance Jam in Minnesota last July and Todd plus band blew us all away. 

Michael: That is what happens at every show.  It is unbelievable.  Of course, when a change is made like this you have fans that are so passionate and everything.  We knew we were up for the challenge.  Every show you’re proving to guys with their arms crossed and by the end of the night their jaws are dropped. 

It is not the old Queensryche but I like this new one.  It is a rebirth of Queensryche.  It is something that, after four years now we’ve been doing this, people are getting that when they see the name of the band they see Todd [La Torre].  They see the band.  We’ve reached that point and status in this climb that we’re doing again.

Jeb: The new album gave Todd songs to sing that are his.  He is not just singing Geoff’s songs. 

Michael: It is his identity.  His representations of the songs live are to the ‘T”.  They are to the CD or the record, however you want to look at it.  It is not somebody trying to spin his style or anything.  Todd knows all the nuances and he knows everything about it.  It was obviously an influence. 

The fans, let’s face it, the last few years the fans have been wanting to hear songs from the earlier records.  We did the Return to History Tour.  We went around the world doing that and it was songs from the EP, Warning, Rage for Order and Operation Mindcrime.  We did a couple of songs from Empire.  This year, we’ve done a different set list because people wanted to hear a little more of what Todd can do with the Rage, Empire and Promised Land era of Queensryche. 

We just came back from Europe and we had great success… it is amazing.  We’ve gotten to that point to where he can represent all of your favorites from back in those days and now we are putting out new music which the fans are really excited about.  They like the integration of how it works with the classics and that is really important because you don’t want something completely different to throw them off.  When you are at a show and a band plays a song that is 180 degrees different from what they do, you just want to go get a beer.  This is captivating.  You have the DNA and the proven assets in the band writing together as a band again.  It translates in the new Queensryche as that is the way we started it.  We’ve gone full circle in the sense.

Jeb: How did you first meet Todd?  

Michael: I was at the NAMM convention in Anaheim and I ran into Todd at a Seymour Duncan extravaganza party.  He introduced me to his buddy as Eric Peterson of Testament.  I said, “What?”  He goes, “I’m so sorry.  You’re Michael Wilton of Queensryche.”  We sat down and talked because he had some questions.  He introduced himself to me as a drummer.  He’s played drums his whole career.  He’s only sung the last eight years.  That is how I met him… as a drummer.

When everything exploded and everything happened he got ahold of me and he said, “By the way, I can sing Queensryche.”  I said, “Really?  Send us some demos.”  That is really how it all started. 

Jeb: How did getting this group together change the attitude from when Geoff was in the band?  From my view point, you brought back the Metal. 

Michael: It was new energy.  It is an energy and it is a Queensryche with different ingredients that work.  The chemistry is there and we are all kind of inter-related as musicians.  We are more focused when we are doing new music and we are more interested as to where it will grow.  It is not just one guy who is a little bit out there.  We’re very cohesive on all of the decision processing.  What it has done is that it has brought the band back as a band.  When you’re a band of guys and we get along, personally as well, it is fun.  That is what’s cool.  The fun is back in the band again. 

Jeb: As a member of the old guard of the band did you expect this to happen?

Michael: Well, we believed in what we were doing and we are positive people.  We had a vision of where we wanted to go.  We built a big strategic team around us like we did back in the ‘80s.  We kind of networked everything and got a business plan, basically.  We asked, “Where do we want to be in one year?  How about ten years?”  We have some smart people behind us that are looking at an ever-changing musical industry and how we fit into this.  We have a wide array of ages in this band with some guys cresting 50 , and some cresting 40 and we’ve got one guy cresting 30 [laughter]. 

Jeb: What is next?

Michael: We just came back from Europe and we did a couple of festivals in the States.  We are going to Tokyo and we are playing Loud Park.  We have a little tour in Australia we are doing next.  After that we fly back here and we decompress for a while.  In the fall we have a tour in the States with Armored Saint.  The last show is December 16th and that is pretty much the end of the Condition Human tour. 

Jeb: Classic Rock Revisited will be present at your Sacramento 11/16 show with the Saint… we will have an upcoming concert report.

Michael: To conclude with that, in January we want to start putting together all of the demos for another album.  We’re doing a few shows and then we are doing that Monster of Rock Cruise.  When we get back from that we want to be in the studio and get writing again.

Jeb: So next year we could see a record!

Michael: We’d like to see a Fall of 2017 release. 

Jeb: Where is the live album and video?

Michael: We have plenty of material documented.  We have the entire making of the first album and Condition Human professionally shot. We have not had time to put it together.  Record deals… live albums are not typically what they want.  We do have the performances and it is easily accessed.  I think that would be something really good to do.  We really want to somehow focus on doing kind of a documentary of the rebuilding of Queensryche. 

Jeb: You nailed it early on when you said this band has gone through a rebirth. Does the music have to stay a certain way for the next album?

Michael: No.  Basically everybody has their ideas.  The ideas get put in The Cloud and everybody has access to that folder.  We’re in a high tech digital age and we use that.  It is more convenient than everybody having to drive across town and traffic… everyone has kids.  Now it is like, “Put them on Dropbox and download them into your file and work on them.”  That is how it all gets started and how it all gets organized.  We all download them and we all work on them.  That is what we’ve been doing.  Obviously, we come up with melodies for vocals and sometimes a lot of lyrics.  There is such a load on Todd and there is so much pressure on him.  He is under the microscope all of the time.  He does a great job.  The writing, once it gets started, it just starts going. 

As far as like ‘style-wise’… I have no idea.  No one has any idea.  That is what’s cool about Queensryche albums… you don’t know what you’re going to get next.  I guess we leave it up to chaos!  Whatever is happening at that moment we build and we will see what it is.

Jeb: Is Queensryche an intelligent heavy metal band?

Michael: I don’t know.  I don’t think we’re a stupid band [much laughter].

Jeb: I think they are a smart bunch... 

Michael: There are a lot of elements into everybody’s personality.  We touch on Metal.  We touch on Progressive Rock.  We touch on Pop Rock.  We are really kind of the Power Metal band that is melodic.  That is where all of our influences are pulled from.  It is safe to say that all of the writing is going to be there.  We will not all of a sudden be listening to country music and start pulling influences into the music from that. 

Jeb: Last One:  Are you worried at this point about the legacy of Queensryche, or are you more concerned about ‘right now’?

Michael: Queensryche is not doing the legacy thing.  We are putting out albums.  Our stuff is getting played on the radio.  We are still very much in the game.  There is still a lot of life in us.  There are a lot of bands that just want to tour and play their hits.  We want to keep making records.  We want to hit the big festivals.  We are doing some festivals where a lot of the kids are 25 years old and they are getting a taste of Queensryche and it is really cool. 

Jeb:  Thanks for doing this chat.  I’m excited, as I was hoping to focus this interview on the new energy surrounding Queensryche.  This is exciting for your fans.

Michael: It is exciting for us as we are a band again.  I’m not going to say it is easy.  There are a lot of arguments and a lot of ups and downs and different opinions and everything.  For the most part, it is moving along like it should be.