REVIEW: Queensryche – Speaking in Digital: A Conversation with Queensryche (1986 promo)

QUEENSRŸCHE – Speaking in Digital: A Conversation with Queensryche (1986 EMI America promo interview LP)

Here’s a nice little rarity for you, a full-length Queensryche interview disc from the Rage For Order era.  Promos are a funny thing for reviewing (and this is our second Queensryche promo review).  These records were never made for sale, therefore nobody reviews them.  Nobody…but us.  Is there any rock knowledge or collector’s value to be gleaned from this disc?  Let us find out.

It’s an attractive record, Geoff Tate’s digitally distorted face in black & white.  No Try-Ryche, but a neat digital Queensryche logo.  The interview is conducted by radio DJ Ralph Tortoro.  A very low-key Geoff Tate begins by answering general questions about the beginning of the band and their independent EP.  Chris DeGarmo is a bit more engaged and adds the details.  Shy Michael Wilton speaks up only on occasion.

You’ll also get bits and pieces of music:  Snippets of “Queen of the Reich”, “Warning”, and “Gonna Get Close to You”.  There are four full songs too:  a massive “Screaming in Digital” (so hot on vinyl!), “I Dream in Infrared”, “Chemical Youth” and “The Whisper”.

Interesting things I noted while listening:

  1. They hadn’t settled on the name Queensryche for the band until they had to print up the first EP, forced to make a decision.
  2. Maiden was one of their favourite bands to cover according to Chris.
  3. Tate clearly didn’t like being called “metal” even back in 1986.
  4. “NM 156” from The Warning is hailed as the track that showed the way of the future of Queensryche.
  5. Steve Harris loved The Warning and asked for Queensryche to open for Iron Maiden.
  6. Rage for Order is a “loose concept” album, examining order over three levels:  order in relationships, political order, and technological order.
  7. Other questions remain unasked.

The new digitally enhanced Queensryche of 1986 was destined to confuse people in the short term, gradually winning over fans as time went on and people “got” the album.  If you want to deepen your understanding of its themes, this record will help.  There’s more too; we won’t tell you everything.  As a fan, you should be able to decide if Speaking in Digital is the kind of thing you want in your rock and roll reference library.  The young, shy Queensryche interviewed on this LP are as cold as the machines that are striving for order in the lyrics.  It’s a dry but interesting listen.

3/5 stars



BRENT DOERNER: Cranking the Decibels (Exclusive interview!)

This is another old one.  I did this interview back in 2007.  Brent Doerner, who had quit Helix in 1990 and again in 1993, was about to dip his toes back into music again with a smoking hot new band called Decibel.  I met Brent at a Helix show at Molly Bloom’s and we kept in touch.  Brent rejoined Helix in 2009 staying until September 29, 2012.

Brent Doerner:  Still Cranking the Decibels

One of the most iconic images in Canadian rock is from the music video Rock You, by Helix.  You know that image.  The guitar solo kicks in, and the guitar player emerges from the water, Gibson in hand.  Anybody who has seen that video should remember that solo.  It’s just one of those things:  an image that’s etched into our rock and roll memories.  It clearly stated who this band was, and what their purpose was.  They were here to rock you.

That guitar player was Brent Doerner, who played on and wrote many Helix classics.  Brent Doerner left the band in 1990, but never quite left the Helix family.  He rejoined the band briefly for their It’s A Business Doing Pleasure album, and has made guest appearances on many of their CDs since leaving the band.  If you picked up a CD like Back For Another Taste, B-Sides, or even the recent Rockin’ In My Outer Space, you’ll hear Brent playing.

Aside from these guest shots, Brent’s been fairly quiet musically until now.  He took up a lucrative career in carpentry, moonlighting as a country guitar player in various bar outfits.  Honing is chops via his newfound love of country, Brent felt the urge to write some songs.  In late 2006, he was ready to make some noise again.  The result is Brent Doerner’s Decibel, which is both the name of his new band and new album.  It’s an album he’s very proud of, and justifiably so.  For him, it’s all about songwriting.

“If you don’t write good songs, it ain’t gonna fly baby,” he says after inviting me in for a beer.  Brent’s passion for songwriting is nothing new.  While Paul Hackman and Brian Vollmer wrote the majority of Helix originals, Brent did write (and sing) some of their classics.  Continuing about the art of songcraft, he stresses if you can’t write, “that’s it, it’s over.  You can be the best players in the world, and it won’t save you.  A lot of guys could play like the wind, or drum like the wind, [but can’t write].”  Focusing his writing, the result was an album of what Doerner calls high-energy rock.

Decibel is a record of unique songs.  The lyrics are fun, out of leftfield, and catchy.  The guitar playing is hard, with the smoothness picked up from his country gigs.  Some of the songs are quirky, bringing to mind vintage Guess Who.  It’s been a true labor of love for Brent Doerner, who’s been working on these songs for the better part of a year.

“I was bound and determined, come hell or high water, to make an album.  I bought a 24 track, one of those digital things, and I said, ‘I’m making an album, I don’t care how I do it.’  I still had all my guitars, or some [at least], and I just started writing.”  He also hooked up with his new band, consisting of Shane Schedler on lead guitar, Chick Schumilas on guitar, and Dan Laurin on drums.  There’s even a smattering of guest appearances on the CD.  Perhaps most exciting is a guest shot by Brent’s twin brother, and ass-kicker on the drums, Brian Doerner.

Interestingly, with Brent playing guitar, the band has three guitar players.   Brent tells the story:  “We kind of like the idea of three guitars in the band, with a bass player and a drummer.  I met these other guys, Shane, Chick and Dan, when I was living alone in my house.  I was writing songs, and going at it with a vengeance, really.  These guys kept coming by to my house and saying, ‘We got all these songs too!’  I got to their hall, with some beer, and I sat down, and they blasted away for a friggin’ hour, just earthquake volume.  When they’re done, they say, ‘Well what did you think of the songs?’  And I said, ‘Well I didn’t hear any songs, just all this music.’”  The band responded with, “Well we did the hard part.  You just have to write the melody and the lyrics!”

Brent continues, “But they were bound and determined in the end that they wanted three guitars.  And what’s happening with me when I lead sing is, I stop playing so I can sing, because some of this stuff I can’t sing and play over it.  I can sing and play over a lot of shit, but it seems that I can’t sing and play over some of the stuff that I wrote!”  Brent points out On Bended Knee (one of the album’s highlights) as one in particular that is hard to sing and play at the same time.

Even though Brent’s been singing since 1978 with Helix (that’s him on Billy Oxygen and Crazy Women, among others), he wasn’t too keen on singing this time out.  “I didn’t really want to be the singer.  We kind of looked around for singers.  That’s how we got Hills (Hilliard Walter) on one song and Shane on the other.  I was trying to sing Dancin Frogs and I knew I was failing.  I’m not that great of a singer, really.  So he came in there, and I was making Hills nervous by standing there, because he’d never even heard the song before.” Deciding to leave Hills alone for a moment, “we went outside for a smoke, came back and he was done.  Three takes, he’d never heard the song before, I thought that was pretty friggin’ good.  And he picked his own melody, he didn’t follow what I tried to teach him.  He roughly, loosely followed.”  The improvised vocal is one of the highlights of the album.  Hills Walter is well known in the Kitchener music scene for his strong soulful voice and versatility.

The aformentioned Dancing Frogs is one of the coolest, most unique moments on the record.  Surprisingly, according to Brent, it almost didn’t make the album.  “I didn’t want to present it to the band, because I didn’t think it fit the rest of the album.  We were short songs, we wanted 12 and we only had 11.  I had this one sitting around for a while, so I sang it, and they said, ‘That’s fuckin’ cool!  Put that on there!’  So we just tried to make it a little heavier, play some double leads…there’s no lead solo in that song. Instead of playing a big fancy lead solo, we threw in a couple ‘oogha’ [car] horns!”

Brent thought that the vibe of the song evoked the classic image of the dancing frog from the Warner Brothers cartoon One Froggy Evening.  “You can just picture the dancing frog with the top hat and the cane!”  The song is subtitled The Zamboni Song because Hills actually drives one!  “We’ve got the best damn Zamboni operator/driver/singer/lead vocalist in the country, man!”

Doerner reveals that he’d like to get Hills into the band, full-time, as a bass player.  “He’s got some screwed up hours on that Zamboni though.  He’s got to go in at like 4am or 5am!”

Songwriting wise, Brent is really turned on by writing lyrics.  He likes to find inspiration in a variety of places, writing down phrases that catch his eye, and figuring out a way to work them together into songs.  On Bended Knee, he says, was inspired by Shakespeare.  The Sum of 2 People was pieced together using math phrases he found on the internet.  “I worked really hard at getting unique titles.  I’ve never heard a title before even close to that, and I want unique titles so I can have unique songs.  When I wrote it, I wrote the chorus first because I liked the title.  When I have my chorus I can go ahead and write my verses because I know what I’m going to be writing about.”

He strove to make the song unique musically as well as lyrically.  “I used 6/8 time, and four unusual chords put together in repetition.”

In general, Doerner likes a little humour in his lyrics.  “There’s no killing, there’s no blood, there’s no death in the lyrics anywhere.  If anything there are tongues in cheeks, all over the place.  I just couldn’t picture myself singing about death and destruction, I’m not that way.  A lot of these songs are love songs in a funny way.  Dancin Frogs is a love song.  That guy frog really likes that chickie frog!”

It’s not all just lyrical fun with the Decibel boys though.  There’s quite a lot of instrumental goodness going on too.  A song that Shane sings called Never Turn Yer Back features a neat bass part actually performed by Brent.  “I play that.  I play the intro and the exit on that.  That’s from me being a guitar player, it sounded cool on bass.  We had a bass player play the rest of the song.  Mikey (Mike Benedictine), we had him come up from Hamilton, for free, drove up here, learned the songs and recorded a couple of them, and drove home, just to say he was going to be on this record.”

On an album of many highlights, A Body For You stands out.  The riff came from Chick.  “When I met Chick, he had that, and the intro too.  A Body For You is the first song I’ve ever written on all my albums that I didn’t write the guitar part to.  I wrote the lyrics and the melody to Chick’s guitar lick, except the chorus.  So I was just going, ‘Wow!  I’ve never tried this before and it’s working!’  He’s just all rock, Chicky.  He only wants to write high-energy guitar rock.  He doesn’t want to get too fancy.  And you’ll notice there are no slow songs on the album.  Let somebody else put slow songs on their albums, thanks!”

For the fans who like to try to figure out the licks, there’s a lot going on with this record.  “The other guys in the band were getting brain cramps figuring [the songs] out.  I was using double-stop country style, double picking, and they had a hard time getting on to that.  It was a new technique to the rockers!  And that’s what got me into the rocking again, was learning something new.  I kind of got tired of the rock for a while because I wasn’t learning anything new.  And then I got into the country, and I got fired back up again.”

Brent’s been listening to a lot more than just country.  He lists some of his favourite newer artists:  Audioslave (he loves the character in Cornell’s voice), Shinedown, and Evanesence among many.  The last three CDs he bought were Nickelback, Cheryl Lescom, and (of course) Helix.  In particular, he’s inspired by Kurt Cobain, although he missed the Nirvana train the first time out.  “I was doing my country thing at the time, so I wasn’t really listening to Nirvana.  And I now know why Nirvana is so popular.  I really like his songwriting style, his lyrics.  Why are they still on the radio?  You hear them every day like you hear Led Zeppelin every day.  And there’s gotta be a reason.”  The conclusion, he reasons, breaks down to the core once again:  good songwriting, unique songwriting.  These are goals to which Doerner aspires.

Rock and roll thrives in the live setting.  Brent Doerner is eager to get out there and play some gigs.  He had a blast at the Helix 30th anniversary show, when he joined his old bandmates for some of his classic songs.  However, it didn’t come easy.  “I practiced a lot for that gig because my guitar playing was really rough, I hadn’t been playing enough.  When I knew that I was going to be playing in front of a whole bunch of people…I mean, the songs I wrote on those Helix albums, I don’t run them over every week!  I had to run over them a bunch of times to remember my own songs.  I don’t play my own songs all the time.”

And will we hear any Helix at Decibel shows?  Billy Oxygen, perhaps?

“I wrote that one.  We’re talking about playing it live.  We only have nine songs that we put on the album, and I wrote Billy Oxygen, and I wrote Crazy Women, so we were thinking of adding those two to the set.”

Either way, a Decibel show is sure to be a good time, if the band’s rehearsals are anything to judge by.  “It’s too much fun, I tell you, when our band gets together it’s like the friggin’ Decibel Comedy Hour.  Do you think you can get a word in edgewise?  We get together, it’s just a friggin’ laugh.  I don’t know how it can be so funny, but it is, every time, about anything.”

Be sure to catch Brent and the boys live.   Pick up the CD.  Play some air guitar to it.  You’ll be glad that you did.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Queenryche – Evolution of a band

I conducted this interview with Eddie Jackson of Queensryche in October of 2001.  My first interview ever.  Eddie gave me over an hour of his time, and told me afterwards it was a lot of fun.  This interview was first published on Global Bass.

rycheProgressive metal fans have had much to celebrate recently. With a slew of new releases both on CD and DVD from many high profile bands, there is plenty to be excited about. One of the most exciting of these new releases is ‘Live Evolution’, the very first career-spanning live album from Seattle’s Queensryche. It was recorded over two nights this year, with the band playing some songs unheard in fifteen years. Queensryche has been a leader in its field since its debut EP in 1983, and was well overdue for a definitive live album.

Since the beginning, bassist Eddie Jackson has been there providing the solid grooves and very melodic runs. We recently had an opportunity to speak with Eddie about his band’s extensive back catalogue of songs, and being a musician in general. Picking songs for this double disc was a natural process, as Eddie explains:

“The set list was pretty much just a group effort there. Individually we all came up with certain songs that we thought we would like to perform that night. But you know, at the end of the day, it was putting out something that was gonna be something different from what we usually do, and that [something different] was to go back several albums and perform some of these songs from ‘The Warning’, [and] from ‘Rage For Order’. Because a lot of the time these past few tours we’ve been focusing  from ‘Operation:Mindcrime’ forward. With the exception of maybe “The Lady Wore Black” or “Take Hold Of The Flame” from the earlier albums. But this time around we just wanted to give them something…you know, you figure it’s a live album, a live DVD, let’s give ‘em something refreshing like some of the older stuff.”

Interestingly, the band decided to arrange the shows on those nights, and the album, into suites. Each suite contains songs from a pair of albums, and are played roughly chronologically, a very different approach for a live album. Eddie comments:

“We just figured, OK, we’re going to put together a set list and then we came up with the idea, ‘hey, why don’t we put this together in suites?’ Starting from the beginning to the present. The first suite was the songs from the first couple of albums, the second suite from the next following set of albums, and so on. It was just an idea that we put together, and we thought it would be kinda fun to do. It definitely makes sense when you look at it and then when you hear it.”

When they hear the new CD and see the new DVD, fans will be able to relive the evolution of the band’s sound in the space of a couple of hours. No album is ignored, and such rare classics as “NM156”, “Screaming In Digital”, and “Walk In The Shadows” are rolled out on stage. Even so, Eddie explains that some songs just didn’t make the cut. “One of them was “Enforcer” [sic, “En Force”] and “No Sanctuary”. And I can’t remember the other songs, there was just a handful, not many. The thing is, it’s really tough to sit down and try to perform everything that we have on paper. Because first off, we’re limited for time, and second of all, we’re limited on disc.”

“It’s a long set, it was just [an effort] to put together a good variety of songs that will not only please ourselves but also the fans. And again, if we were to play all the songs that we had written down on paper, heck, we’d be up there like three or four hours!” Not that many fans would complain if they did indeed see a four-hour show!

As many fans are aware, Queensryche’s last studio album, Q2K, represented their first and only lineup change. Guitarist Chris DeGarmo left the band and was replaced by fellow Seattle native, and friend of the band, Kelly Gray. Before joining Queensryche, Kelly was known primarily as a producer. “He’s done producing work with a few bands, Candlebox, Dokken, Sven Gali, just to name a couple of them. What’s the other one, Second Coming. He’s a very talented individual. Not only is he very talented when it comes to playing a producer role, but also as a musician. He’s a good songwriter, a good guitar player.”

Is having a producer in the band a relief?

“That guy, he wears many hats. It’s kind of a blessing in a way to work with someone like that because you’re killing two birds with one stone. Being a guitar player, a writer, but also coming in and helping us produce as well as mix.”

As one can hear on the new live album, Kelly Gray’s addition has not changed the band’s onstage sound. The fit was very natural according to Eddie. “We just kind of let it happen. We really didn’t sit down and try to educate him into, “This is what Queensryche sounds like. This is what we want you to play like.” We just let him have free reign over it and not really…if you think about it, he’s not coming in to replace Chris. He’s coming in to replace a guitar player. By coming in to replace Chris, that can be a little tough on someone.”

Eddie also explained that because of this natural approach, he did not have to make any adjustments as a bass player, although the band’s sound did change on record regardless. “Kelly has a little more of a bluesier background as opposed to Chris’ style. But I think you can tell, Q2K without Chris, stylistically it’s a little different than the songs Chris has worked on. I think he compliments Michael [Wilton, guitar] quite well stylistically and again he’s a very talented guy.”

Various members of the band are taking advantage of their position at the moment and are slowly putting together solo projects. Eddie has not yet done so, but he explains, “I’ve always wanted to do something like that, kind of like step away from Queensryche for the day and then do something on my own. I’m always coming up with ideas and I eventually would like to put something together like that.”

Eddie describes some possible sounds:

“My listening taste of music is so eclectic. It’s like from Abba to Zappa. I love pop rock, I love hard rock, I love jazz. I think one of the last albums that I actually bought was the Rob Zombie Hellbilly Deluxe. I mean it grew on me like fungus! It’s just got some angst and attitude. Stylistically that would be a fun little approach.” Eddie explained that he also loves funk music, and that could be a possible direction for his solo project, should the mood take him.

A few things you are virtually be certain to hear out of Eddie in the future are sonic experimentation on the bass, and his singing voice. With regard to the latter, Eddie’s interest in singing “rivals” that of playing the bass:

“Yeah, I love singing! And I’ve noticed since Chris has left, I’ve had to cover a lot of his parts, and I’m telling you they’re up there sometimes. But still, it’s something that you don’t really think about. Through all these tours that we’ve been performing on, I’ve never realized how much he actually sang.”

As far as sonic experimentation goes, Eddie gave us several examples from the past:

“We actually created some of those sounds ourselves! Yeah, you know at the very end of ‘Walk In The Shadows’? That big ambient reverberated sound? At the very end, ‘Walk in the shadows…walk with me! POW!’ That’s a door slamming in a parking garage!” This continued onto later albums like Promised Land, where soundscapes were created by “banging on top of these big garbage cans.”

As far as bass goes, Eddie finds himself inspired by other bass players’ sounds more than their playing: “There’s a lot of bands out there with a lot of talented bass players, . . . and I go, ‘How the hell did he get that sound? That is so cool! What is he running? Some sort of an effect? I wonder what he’s using!’ You’re just reaching and guessing.” This sonic experimentation can be best heard on such Queensryche albums as ‘Promised Land’ and ‘Rage For Order’, although on ‘Operation:Mindcrime’, Eddie’s been asked by many fans about his bass sound: “I’ve had guys come up to me, and they go, “Hey, how did you get your bass to sound like a truck?” I go, “What? Where’d that come from,” you know? So obviously there’s a little bit of fretless in “Promised Land”. And “Real World”, there’s some fretless on there. So heck, you know, some 5 string here. I’ll experiment with anything. I think I really love approaching the sonic end of it, trying to come up with a really cool sound, something that’s very distinctive.”

One additional thing Queensryche fans can look for is a reissued ‘Operation:LIVEcrime’ on  CD and DVD. Out of print until recently, this album has been reissued with two bonus tracks. “Those are with the original lineup. Those two songs, “Road To Madness” and “Lady Wore Black”, those were recorded at the time LIVEcrime was recorded.”

Finally, fans of Eddie Jackson and Queensryche know that he enjoys placing jokes and riddles inside their releases. From the backwards text he put in as his album credits on the new disc, to some visual pranks he planted on the band’s Promised Land CD-ROM game a few years ago, Eddie likes to have fun. He uses words like “goofy” and “silly” to describe his attitude from time to time. Pay attention to Eddie Jackson at all times. You never know when he’s testing you to see if you’re watching. Pay attention to Queensryche as well. It is a very exciting time to be a fan of the band, as they celebrate their past on ‘Live Evolution’, and look to their future.