Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime – 25 years on
“I never was a metalhead. Personally I was always more into David Bowie and Depeche Mode,” the banshee-voiced Tate once admitted. “Eddie [Jackson] and Scott [Rockenfield] were huge Maiden fans, and you could recognise our influences on our first two records. We had a screaming, high-pitched singer and all the right ingredients to be a heavy metal band during the early 1980s, but I recognised early on that there was already a great band called Iron Maiden.”
In 1982 Queensrÿche released their self-produced, self-titled debut EP on their own 206 record label. It sold 60,000 copies and led to a deal with EMI. “We must have been walking under a lucky star,” Tate said years later. “But before I knew it I was signing on the dotted line and flying home to Seattle a rock star.”
Working with Pink Floyd producer James Guthrie on 1984’s full-length debut The Warning wasn’t exactly sticking to the accepted denim-and-leather plot, nor was an – in hindsight, highly regrettable – image revamp that saw them wearing pantomime shoulder pads and satin cloaks and, circa Rage For Order, in Tate’s case even a Woody Woodpecker-style hair quiff .
DeGarmo would later admit that Queensrÿche had “teetered on the edge” of extinction in 1986. Similarly, Tate later said that the follow-up to Rage… needed to “recapture the street-level feel” of the debut EP that had catapulted them to fame half a decade earlier.
“What I probably meant by that was that we’d been experimenting with a considerable amount of hairspray and various unusual accoutrements,” the singer chuckles. “We knew that we needed to present ourselves in a wiser way, maybe start letting the music do the talking instead of the image.”
“Were we under pressure to deliver sales?” Rockenfield follows up. “Until that point we’d been consistent, but I suppose we were rising much slower than some people had hoped. Making a full-blown concept album was viewed as a radical thing for us to have done, but we’ve never been known as a band to go with the flow. We’ve always been kinda dangerous in that sense.”
In fact, the seeds of what eventually became Operation: Mindcrime came to Tate quite unexpectedly. At the time, he was living in Canada, and in friendly contact with members of a political activist group.
“I wasn’t part of their organisation, but I was sorta guilty by association,” he now acknowledges. “I knew some people who were part of it all, and they talked a lot – especially over a few drinks. It’s funny, when you’re a musician people sometimes converse with you more freely than they would to other professions.”
Tate initially worked alone on the basic storyline of what would later be described as a “thematic album about manipulation through drugs and the media”, before selling it to the rest of the band. But Chris DeGarmo was the only other band member to share the singer’s enthusiasm and Tate had to persuade each of the other three on a one-on-one basis.