By Mike Weatherford
Not long ago, Queensryche was staging multimedia rock operas about brainwashed political assassins. The band still paints in big strokes, but the flights of fantasy have turned to cold reality.
The band’s new album “American Soldier” is a boots-on-the-ground look at the soldier’s life, told in part by running audio clips from soldiers themselves. The concept album started with singer-songwriter Geoff Tate interviewing his own father — a career military man — and grew from there.
“Only the people who have been there and done that really know what it’s like. The rest of us are just speculating,” Tate says. “The best way to understand something is to talk to people who have actually done it.”
Casual conversations evolved into formal interviews with cameras and microphones, some eventually finding their way onto the album and music videos for the songs.
“As I started writing for the project, I realized sometimes their actual voices were so much more effective, and quite a bit more moving than any sort of words I could put down. It kind of hits you in the gut,” Tate says.
The singer interviewed veterans of different generations, and found such common themes in their narratives that one track, “Unafraid,” blends one vet talking about Vietnam with another talking about Kosovo.
“If you’re a soldier, you hear your life in these songs and you recognize yourself,” Tate says, citing a “commonality” in wide-ranging themes: “The human aspects of what it’s like to be a soldier. The issues that you have. Fearing for your life. Managing your fear. Struggling with honor and duty. The loss of colleagues and friends. These are huge things every soldier goes through.”
Tate says troops tell him the album is “a communication tool, in a sense.”
“A lot of soldiers come back and bury a lot of their feelings and emotions about what they experienced. They come back different people, a lot of times. It’s always difficult for families to understand that.
“They kind of want to pick up where they left off, and now Dad or Mom is different and they don’t want to talk about it.” The album “allows people to bond over the music.”
There’s a risk Queensryche — best known for the FM hit “Silent Lucidity” and the “Operation: Mindcrime” concept album — is restricting its focus too much for widespread appeal; initial sales of the album lagged behind comparable numbers for “Operation: Mindcrime II” in 2006.
But Tate notes, “almost everyone knows somebody or is related to somebody in the military.”
Internally at least, “American Soldier” seems to have refocused the ambitious Washington-based quartet, which had personnel changes and released one of those cover-tunes albums (2007’s “Take Cover”) that are usually a sign of creative desperation.
“The whole project made us all kind of set aside the ego,” Tate says. “We approached the music from the standpoint of trying to write for the song and get the emotions across. It’s not about how fast you play the guitar. … It’s about trying to convey this emotion to an audience (and) tell the story the best way possible.
“It’s all about us really restraining ourselves and trying to treat the subject matter with a dignity and an elegance it deserved.”
The album was based on experiences Tate collected as an interviewer rather than firsthand. But that could change next summer. “We never actually played in a war zone before. But we’re in negotiations now to have them fly us over to Iraq this July to play for the troops.”
Queensryche will play The AMP on Wednesday and will have a full video production. Gates at 6 p.m. Tickets $20.
Mike Weatherford is an entertainment writer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.