Interview: Queensryche vocalist Geoff Tate talks about the making of “American Soldier”


Queensryche (photo by Greg Waterman)

Queensryche (photo by Greg Watermann)




Queensrÿche vocalist Geoff Tate’s first “interview” for what became “American Soldier” was with his father, a military veteran who served in combat in Korea and Vietnam. From there, Tate went on to interview countless soldiers, from various generations and conflicts, about their experiences.

 “It started just with people I met at airports, filling stations, supermarkets and backstage at shows,” Tate said, during a phone interview to promote the album. “People would give me the number of someone they knew who had an interesting story.

“I got kind of obsessed with it,” Tate said. “I started seeing soldiers everywhere.”

For “American Soldier,” Tate drew on those interviews (and letters) to tell the story of young Americans in combat. The stories are harrowing, heartbreaking and true: The songs, which often use the soldiers’ own words, address the fear of combat, the act of fighting and killing in battle, separation from family, devotion to duty and comrades, the death of friends and the guilt of having lived while others died. 

For Tate – who has been interviewed thousands of times since Queensrÿche released its first recording in 1893 – interviewing people about often painful experiences was not easy.

“This was the first time I’d ever been on the other side asking the questions,” Tate said. “At first, I didn’t know what to ask … Some people could actually speak very well about their experiences, while others were like pulling teeth.”

The interviews were an emotional experience and cathartic for many of the soldiers.

“Quite a few of them mentioned that – that  they hadn’t really talked about it before and they thanked me at the end,” Tate said. “Overall, that’s the function of this record – to get (military personnel) to talk about their experiences, because the rest of us don’t know.”

Tate and Queensrÿche are not strangers to challenging, difficult concepts. But Tate said giving the stories the appropriate musical performance was difficult.

“It was a (hard) lot of the time, because we wanted to treat the whole thing with the respect and dignity it deserved,” he said. “It was a first for us as a band to act as biographers … to take ourselves out of it.

“In some ways, it was enjoyable to do that – to not have an opinion and let their words tell the story,” Tate said.

Despite the ambition of the project, Tate said he never felt overwhelmed by the work.

“I can’t really remember feeling that was. It was more about trying to be honest about what I was hearing back and trying to interpret what they were saying in a musical sense … and trying to paint the picture without grandstanding,” he said. “It’s so easy to get focused on your own ego … We tried to stay away from that on this record. We didn’t want to take the listener away from the emotion of the song.”

For a subject some might find controversial, the songs do not have a political slant. “American Soldier” is neither anti-war nor a diatribe in support of American foreign policy. Geopolitical questions are neither asked or answered: Instead, the album is almost first-hand reporting, with soldiers recounting their personal experiences.

“Sometimes, the political side of things tends to cloud the issue,” Tate said. “What I found was the soldiers aren’t political … It was easy to not get caught up in that, because if they’re not political, why should I be?”

Tate said the interviews revealed the level of personal sacrifice soldiers have made. “We have a tendency to take the military for granted,” he said. “We’re free to live our lives and pursue our dreams … We don’t think about someone watching out back.”

After the recordings were complete, Tate took the songs back to the soldiers and veterans he interviewed for their reaction.


 “All of them appreciated the fact that they were involved with it and they thought we told the story very well and we captured the essence,” Tate said. “Most were moved by it and surprised … When you hear a song back and you’re hearing your own story being told, it’s very intense. They all mentioned how different that was.”

All of the soldiers and veterans were unassuming and humble about their experiences, he said.

“They’re doing their job. They’re doing what they signed up to do,” Tate said. For many, combat was a dramatic introduction to adulthood, Tate said.

“A lot of these soldier, they go from being very young people , 19 or 20-years old … sometimes their most emotional or traumatic experience was prom night – and the next thing, they’re in a fire fight in Somalia, losing their best friend,” he said.

“Not one of them ever said they regretted their experience. Sometimes, they had lost limbs or been damaged mentally or emotionally, (but) they’d managed to put those experiences in perspective.”

Tate said he hopes listeners come away from “American Soldier” with a better perspective of people in military service.

“Those of us who haven’t been to war … it kind of helps us understand a little better,” Tate said. “A lot of us are guilty of taking it for granted.”

Hopefully, “American Soldier” will also be a vehicle for soldiers and veterans to begin opening up about what they did and witnessed in combat, Tate said.

” The soldiers told me a lot of them feel very alone in their experiences,” Tate said. “(The album) is a way for them to … see others have experienced the same thing and help them talk about it with their families and have some closure.

“I know when my dad came back from Vietnam, he was very different, incredibly so,” Tate said. ” … I think when you listen to this record and hear the songs, it helps you understand (soldiers) a little better. The more we talk about things as a society, the more we have the ability to understand each other, and that’s a good thing.”

Queensrÿche will begin a U.S. tour on April 16, performing “American Soldier” in its entirety and the entire “Empire” and “Rage For Order” albums on alternate nights. For full tracks from “American Soldier” and tour dates, visit Queensrÿche’s MySpace page here.

Here’s the video for “If I Were King” from “American Soldier.”


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