Washington-based heavy metallers Queensrÿche, forming back in 1982, have come a long way since first bursting on the scene. 15 studio albums, an EP and world tours later, the band are going strong on the wave of latest effort Condition Hüman (2015).
We caught up with founding guitarist Michael Wilton to talk the upcoming Aussie tour, playing with long-time favourites Scorpions and reflecting on his over 30 years as a musician.
You guys are returning to Australia in October, your first tour here in nearly a decade! How’re you feeling about it?
I think it’s going to be wonderful. We’re going to do a good setlist. Everyone wants new and old songs, the hits… Hopefully we’ll be able to play around 95 minutes or more, depending on the other bands.
There’s plenty of layering melodies and crafting songs within songs on Condition Hüman. How has the band’s creative process evolved from early days?
The whole album was great. We worked with “Zeuss” the producer [Rob Zombie, Hatebreed] and it was so great to get him involved, to reach out and look at how we did things in the early days and then keep the album modern.
Now talk to us about the album artwork, it’s very cool stuff.
Each song is its own little story, and the album cover encapsulates hidden images or breadcrumbs that relate to each one. The artwork, with the little girl, depicts a pristine innocence surrounded by the darkness of a jaded, unpredictable world.
You guys had a massive U.S. run with Scorpions last year, which is exciting because you’ve been fans for a long time. What was touring with them like and why do they resonate with you?
It was so great. When I was young, I listened to them and they helped me grow as a guitar player and musician. I loved the old albums. Once we started touring with them, their setlist was incredible, playing songs from when I was 19 or 20 years old, as well as all the hits and new songs. They’re obviously in their sixties and still performing like youthful people. They asked us back on this tour, so we’re going to have fun and we’ve got a residency in Las Vegas. So it’s just a great combination, the chemistry of both bands… It’s a great experience to tour with a band you grew up listening to.
How has your relationship with the newer band members Todd La Torre [vocals] and Parker Lundgren [guitar] evolved?
We’ve all evolved as musicians, and to bring Todd La Torre and Parker Lundgren… Obviously it’s a bit of a shock for them to get involved at first but it’s just blossomed well the whole way, seamlessly integrated into what we want to do. They have the chemistry, bonding power, friendship and no egos with anything. They want to work hard, do it all. We were very lucky to run into these two characters and they’ve been so great, so we’re still grateful for that.
What challenges have you guys had working together?
We went through the biggest momentum-changing challenge of my life, which was going through the lawsuit. Coming out in the bright light of the tunnel was great, and we’ve been moving on in the right direction. The biggest challenge was to regroup the guys, to make this Queensrÿche again. We were like “Let’s put this in the mainstay, get new fans and tour the world like we did in the old days.”
Speaking of rebirth, you guys got to play festivals in Europe and the UK like Wacken and Metaldays; you’ve even been invited back! How does it feel?
Oh it’s great. It’s building the bridges and keeping those connections positive. We give the fans and promoters what they want and it’s just a great time. That’s why we’re reaching out to other countries and behold, we got Australia, Japan, Indonesia…
That’s how you do it, continually build good relationships and stay true to your nature as a band.
You were a huge listener of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest growing up. How did that shape the musician you are today?
I was totally listening to bands with dual guitars, it was just so interesting and new to me. I thought “Wow, this really keeps the songs melodic and the solos are interesting…”, and it was fun trying to figure out the harmonies. So I just cut my teeth on those, lots of albums. It was so great to hear harmonic double solos and we kind of did our spin on that. Instead of just doing typical major thirds, we’d mess it up and do octaves, fourths, fifths, sevenths…
We make it something that people can remember, so it’s always great to have a double solo because it creates a different melody inside a song. If the song just dictates a single guitar line, that’s all good as well.
Reflecting on over 30 years, what have been some of your personal highlights?
I think just convincing myself that I could do this when I was 18 or 19 and staying with it. When we first got signed a record deal and were out on the road opening for Dio, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Judas Priest… that was a milestone. Then in the late ‘80s we really connected with the mainstream in the USA, mainly due to VH1 and MTV who were playing our videos and shot us up there. Those were great moments when the band was firing out of all cylinders. Then getting awards, playing the Grammys and award shows all over the world… Also going to Iraq to play for the troops was very special.
So there are just so many things in my career that I can one day look back on and go “You are one crazy mofo to do all that stuff”.
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