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Interview: Michael Wilton from ‘Queensryche’

Queensryche press shot

Over the past five years American progressive metallers Queensryche have undergone a major facelift to rebuild themselves back up as the legendary act of the 80s and 90s. After a nasty lawsuit battle with former frontman Geoff Tate in 2012, both parties ended up performing under the million-dollar band name simultaneously, creating confusion and an increased decline of interest from fans. But the resilience of the rockers paid off as Tate eventually gave up the title, and with new frontman Todd La Torre, the 5-piece are better than ever with the release of two new albums including their latest ‘Condition Human.’ As part of their overseas tour promoting the album, Queensryche will be hitting our shores in October. We caught up with guitarist Michael Wilton to discuss everything from their rise back to the top, upcoming tour, to pale ales and severed fingers!

Are you looking forward to coming to Australia?

Oh yes! We were last there in 2011 and it’s going to be a great opportunity for us. We wanted to bring this rendition of the band that’s kicking ass all over the world to Australia because there’s such a great audience down there.

Is there anywhere in particular you hope to visit while you’re here?

I don’t know. We’re in and out pretty fast and the cities are so far apart it’s kind of hard to get any sightseeing in but we’re always willing to walk around, check out the cities and learn whatever we can about them.

How would you describe a Queensryche tour in a nutshell?

Queensryche is very high-energy right now; it’s progressive and melodic hard rock. We put on a great show. It’s 30+ years of songs – a setlist where you will know most of the songs. It’s just a real media-driven show depending on where we are and what we can access. It’s a full on performance and it’s been like that for a long time. It’s a big opportunity for fans to come and check out the band.

What’s been the best performance highlight since your ‘Condition Human’ tour?

The best highlight was being asked to play at the Waken Festival in Germany. There was close to ninety thousand people there. It was quite an event for us and it was really great to be with all the different bands playing there. I think that was probably the biggest moment for us so far. We’ve had lots of great times and greats shows and we’ve done great things for people but in my eyes that was just jaw-dropping. So cool.

What’s been the craziest experience you’ve ever had with a fan?

I’ve had so many crazy experiences; I’ve been doing this for over 30 years so there’s been a mile long of crazy things. For example, this one guy came on the bus and gave us a little ring box and in the ring box there was cotton and it was all bloody and there was a finger in there. It freaked the hell out of us. I immediately gave it to someone else and said “this guy is sadistic! I don’t even want to be a part of this.” It was too crazy.

What’s been the weirdest thing a fan has ever thrown on stage? Hopefully not a finger!

Haha no. We get the clothing obviously, tennis shoes, business cards with phone numbers on them and money. Probably the craziest – though this isn’t so crazy, it’s almost kind of cruel if anything but it was an outdoor show and someone in the audience had their dog with them and they brought the dog up on stage and our singer Todd La Torre was holding the dog while he was singing a song.

What made you decide to use a crowdfunding platform for ‘Condition Human?’

We were rebuilding Queensryche and someone had the idea of crowdfunding so we investigated it. We really wanted to bring in some revenue so we could get the live shows happening and this was the way to go. For me it was like, “what is this thing? What are we doing?” I was told it’s what bands do who can’t get loans from banks or record companies. We did that and it was successful and while doing the crowdfunding we obviously promoted the album and gained some special experiences and merchandise as well. Online we have hi-tech video walls. It’s nothing short of what the crowdfunding experience can do for us.

What was the overall vision for ‘Condition Human?’

‘Condition Human’ was the second album with Todd La Torre and it evolved from the 2013 self-titled album. The main thing was to solidify us as a band, solidify the writing process and really continue getting Queensryche on the map again. Now that we have toured the world it’s just a matter of keeping that vision for the next album we do. It’s gonna be the same process. We’re going to try and evolve from this album.

Todd La Torre’s vocals are really amazing. How did he end up joining the band?

There was a time when we really weren’t doing anything. Basically the band had run out of ideas and we were really whistling through the graveyard. I had met Todd at a NAMM convention in Southern California. He sang Queensryche songs and sent me a demo and I gave the demo to the guys and said, “Hey this guy’s for real, he’s pretty good. It should be something we should check into.” That’s kind of how it all started. We had two sold-out shows at the Hard Rock Café in Seattle and we went under the name ‘The Rising West.’ From that day on it went viral. We were signed to a record company and new management – everything! We had a suing battle in courts but now it’s all gone good. We’re very happy where we are and I think Todd’s now had four years with the band.

How did you first get into heavy metal?

When I was a kid I listened to The British Invasion. I was listening to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Scorpion, Led Zeppelin – all those bands back then because those were all the cool bands to listen to. I would go down to the record store and buy imported records and it was very intriguing listening to guitar harmonies and that kind of hard heavy sound. I knew it was the direction I wanted to go. During that time anything on the radio was like the Top 40 so this was super cool back then. All of the guys in the band had similar experiences and it was kind of like the framework for us. We wanted to be a more obscure metal band and when you’re young its super cool.

What are you doing when you’re not playing music?

I’ve got different hobbies but its pretty much 24-hours a day of Queensryche. When I’m at home and we’re not touring I have other endeavours. I have a beer called Whip Ale. It’s a pale ale I’ve had around since 2009 and I’m working on getting it a little more distributed and marketed. Even though I really don’t drink it’s still fun to do. So I have that business and I spend a lot of time on it. But otherwise I like to play golf and just to be at home with my family.

Is there any specific direction you hope to take the band in the future in terms of artistic development?

We don’t try and pinpoint or predict what we’re going to do. It’s more about the songs everybody has – putting together the ideas and lyrics, building it and seeing where it all goes. Hopefully where it takes us is somewhere fresh and semi-innovative. That’s kind of more or less the route. We can’t say we’re going to write ‘this’ type of an album or write ‘that’ type of an album. It’s a bit more organic.

What does the next few years hold for Queensryche?

Well I know in January we’re going to start on the next album. The record company wants their third option. I know our manager is already booking more shows for us so again next year is going to be a lot of touring for the band and recording a album. There you go, in a nutshell that’s what we’re going to be doing.

Do you have a message for your Aussie fans?

Yes. Thank you for having us back and thank you for giving us this opportunity to come to Australia. I’m really excited that Queensryche get to play for you and you get to hear this Queensryche experience. I think this is something you’re really going to like.

Queensryche 2016 ‘Condition Human’ Australian Tour

The Triffid, Brisbane
Fowlers Live, Adelaide
Prince Bandroom, Melbourne
Manning Bar, Sydney

Get Tickets HERE