|Crossroads: Scott Rockenfield - Queensryche's Drummer|
Pivotal moments in musicians' careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
by Mark E. Waterbury
Photo from Queensryche.com
For Queensryche, the label deal was the easy part. It was merely a matter of getting their first demo into the hands of the right person and then securing a seven-album deal with E.M.I.. Of course that was 1981, and there has been a prodigious amount of change in the music business since then. Queensryche didn't just rely on having that piece of paper with the important signatures on it either. They worked hard, toured constantly and made sure that they not only cultivated a fan base, but kept them happy. That helped bring them to their apex in the early 90's with the multi-platinum selling album "Empire" and sold out tour dates around the globe. It has also kept them going through the recent quirks in the music biz, to a point where in 2003, their ninth studio album has been released, and they are touring again in a package deal that has become one of the most successful tours of this year.
Queensryche was formed in Seattle long before the music world turned its collective heads in that direction during the grunge explosion, with singer Geoff Tate, guitarists Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo, bassist Eddie Jackson, and drummer Scott Rockenfield. "The funny thing about our formation is that Queensryche was the first real band most of us were ever in," Scott recalls. "We had all known each other for years and once we decided we had the right guys to do a band, we just sat down and started doing it. We made the instant decision that we were not going to do other people's music; we're going to do our own and get real serious about having fun making music for ourselves. That gave us an instant chemistry and the goal of wanting to evolve our music." The band recorded a four song demo immediately, which included "Lady Wore Black." Before they had even played their first show, the demo gained the attention of A&R reps at E.M.I. Records, who signed the band to a whopping seven-year deal, releasing the first full length album "The Warning" in 1984. Although this may seem like a dream come true, Queensryche knew that the hard work was in its infancy. "It was a building process all the way. We put records out, made marketing plans, worked hard, talked to the press and did as many interviews as possible. Then we went on the road and we toured the world. We spent a lot of money trying to do things on a pro level and do things smartly as well as associating ourselves with the right types of people. It was a lot of work and we didn't have any other lives beyond music, and in the early days we toured almost 24-7-365 days. And that got our name out and built our fan base that has stuck with us with every record we have done."
After their second full release "Rage For Order", Queensryche's brilliant concept album "Operation: Mindcrime" resulted in supporting slots for Metallica and Def Leppard. After performing in front of so many people on those tours, MTV finally began to take notice, and then in 1990, "Empire" hit the streets. A bit more streamlined but still carrying Queensryche's undeniable style, the album produced hits like "Silent Lucidity," "Jet City Woman" and "Another Rainy Night". It was their first platinum effort which resulted in their first headlining arena tour. The tour included a full presentation of the "Operation: Mindcrime" album complete with video montages. "'Empire' really did it for us - everything was like a staircase that we never gave up on. The headlining tour enabled us to put a more visual way of presenting ourselves the way we wanted to. We were really interested in the multimedia aspect of performing, more of a presentation then just playing music. It ended up being more like the "Empire-Mindcrime" tour and it worked real well."
The next two Queensryche albums "Promised Land" and "Here In the Now Frontier" did fairly well, but did not sell quite as good as "Empire". The legion of the band's loyal fans stayed with them as they continued to tour across the globe and were there when the new millennium was ushered in with "Q2K" released on Atlantic Records. The new album brought the first roster change in the Queensryche camp with the departure of guitarist Chris DeGarmo. "That was a turning point when Chris left," Scott recalls. "It was a time for us to reflect and see what was going to happen. We were the same five guys for seventeen years, and he let us know that he was burned out and had other things to do. The four of us sat down after he left and tried to figure what it meant to us. What it meant was that music is really what we all want to do. We want to play music and we're going to keep going. It was the beginning of a new era for us." Kelly Gray, an old friend who was actually being considered as the producer for "Q2K", came on board as the new guitarist for the album and tour.
The time frame after the "Q2K" tour found Queensryche switching to another label, Sanctuary Records. Sanctuary released the double CD "Live Evolution" in 2001, and in the fall of 2002, the band was back in the studio, joined for some of the recording and the writing by Chris DeGarmo. "The music industry is changing so much these days that it's not that important to be on a major label anymore. Sanctuary is about as close as you can get to a major without being one, and they like to let bands do and be what they are. They understood what we are and wanted to give us the ability to keep doing it." That type of ideal fits in well with Queensryche's musical mantra of doing things a bit differently with each album in a progressive envelope-pushing way. The first studio release on Sanctuary "Tribe" is certainly no exception. "We fell into a nice pattern when we made this record. Geoff had these unique observations of what was happening in the world, from various tribes to what was happening in the U.S. after 9/11. He kept a journal of his experiences and thought it would be interesting to make that the theme for the record. We fell into this nice back and forth brainstorm of creating tribal music in a sort of Queensryche way. It was fun writing complementary music to support those themes and the dynamic of the record. We always let things come from within when we do a record and write what we are feeling at the time."
"Tribe" was released in late July, but by that time, Queensryche had already embarked on a more unique tour than what they did in the past. They decided to create a type of mini-festival, co-headlining a tour for the summer with prog rockers Dream Theater, bringing Fates Warning along as the opening act. "We've had fun doing it and we found out recently that this is one of the most successful tours this summer. In this day and age, being out there and actually succeeding, making the fans happy and selling the shows out which make the promoters happy, is not an easy thing to do, but we tried to put a good collection of bands together, go out and have some fun and not charge an arm and a leg for the show. We give the fans something they'll remember." The show also includes a finale where all the members of Queensryche and Dream Theater are on stage together for two or three songs.
Queensryche will be back on the road as headliners in the fall and are planning something special and secretive for the winter. Whatever their plans are, it will be in line with their philosophy in the twenty plus years of their existence. "That chemistry we built in our formative days has carried us for years," Scott notes. "We're still going now so something is working. The biggest thing for us was persistence. One thing is that we also never released an album until we were completely satisfied with how it came out - making sure that we liked it and we did something a bit different, and that is success for us. Doing something a bit different also keeps our fans on their toes, and our fans have been awesome in giving us the freedom to do different things. They support us and keep us going and it's extremely gratifying that they give us that kind of freedom. Everything starts with the fans and if you please yourself but also please them, then everyone is happy."
Scott Rockenfield's advice for musicians: "Believe in what you do and then do it. It can be difficult because it can take longer and be harder work then you think it will be. Just do what you do and what you believe in and be persistent to get other people to understand what you are doing. Don't get caught in the trap of trying to be something that you're not just to be successful, because you'll end up chasing your own tail. At least if you do what you want to do, you'll be happy and then you just hope for the best."