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Queensrÿche’s Todd La Torre Talks ‘Vintage Perspective’ & ‘Modern Production’

History may repeat itself, and that may be a given some 16 albums into a career, but with Queensrÿche, their musical history is merely the backbone to where they are at today – and it is more than welcomed even within their four-decade-spanning evolution.

It has been a milestone year for Queensrÿche. The rock/prog band from Seattle just celebrated its 40th anniversary, while singer Todd La Torre is marking his 10th year in the vocal slot. To top it off, Queensrÿche just released Digital Noise Alliance, an inspired album that sees the band moving forward but incorporating the guitar harmonies and melodies that have not been as prevalent on recent albums and harken back to the band’s late 1980s, early 1990s days. 

Queensrÿche consists of La Torre, founding members guitarist Michael Wilton and bassist Eddie Jackson, returning guitarist Mike Stone, and drummer Casey Grillo. The latter has been touring with the band the past five years; Digital Noise Alliance marks his first studio recording. La Torre’s dynamic vocal range – his high notes are the envy of many of a singer, Wilton and Stone playing off each other, Jackson’s pulsating bass lines, and Grillo’s creative foundation show the band is more than the sum of its parts. All told, Queensrÿche’s chemistry and the superior song quality make Digital Noise Alliance easily the band’s best output in more than a decade.

Fans can hear a new song mixed with classics and latter day material when Queensrÿche opens for Judas Priest on Tuesday, October 18, at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island.

Six-string harmonies and melodic runs and riffs, propel the flowing memories on “Chapters” and the dynamic “Lost in Sorrow.”  “Sicdeth,” the heaviest track on “Digital Noise Alliance,” is propelled by La Torre’s commanding vocals. The urgent “Out of the Black” and “Behind the Walls,” with its synth flourishes, are other excellent tracks. We won’t say these are the highlights of the album because every song holds its own. The music is exciting, the lyrics deep in meaning, providing the elements of Queensrÿche’s well-earned high stature in the rock world. 

Queensrÿche entered the scene with its unique and powerful debut EP in 1983. They continued to gain fans with follow-ups The Warning and Rage for Order. The band broke through on a wider scale with legendary concept album, Operation: Mindcrime (1988) and Empire (1990), which featured crossover hit, “Silent Lucidity.” The band released several additional albums before La Torre joined in 2012. The new singer gave the band a spark, moving them in a heavier direction that pleased both fans and the band itself. 

Whether you’re an old fan, newer fan or somewhere in-between, make sure to arrive early at the Long Island show and catch Queensrÿche’s set. The band will leave you wanting more, and you’ll get it next year when they embark on a headlining tour supporting Digital Noise Alliance.

We recently phoned Todd La Torre.

This year marks your 10th anniversary in Queensrÿche. Does it seem like the time has flown by?

Sometimes it feels like a decade and other times it feels like its maybe six or seven years. It’s been a long time, just playing hundreds and hundreds of shows and touring. Now I’ll see things online, like a memory from seven years ago, and I’m like, “Damn, has it already been seven years?” Time just keeps on ticking.

How were you personally, and the band, affected by the pandemic?

You know what, I loved it. I’m always gone so to be just home and not have to go anywhere was good. I wrote my first solo album during that time and that was a great utilization of the downtime. It sucked not getting paid for a year-and-a-half, but I was fortunate enough to where financially it didn’t cripple me. I got to be home with my wife and our dog and see my mom here and there. It was nice to be home for an extended time. 

It was kind of a reset for everybody, just thinking about priorities. Everybody’s just work, work, work. The real important things in life kind of get thrown by the wayside and I think it put a lot of things in perspective for a lot of people, to really put focus on the relationships and what really matters. Despite the horrific nature of what was going on and people dying, it was horrible, there were positive aspects for us.

We did not do anything until right when the vaccines started to happen. We all got our vaccine shots. That’s when we decided to get together in a room. We felt that we can be safe and traveling and that sort of thing, for everybody to get together. In the beginning of ’21 we did about three or four writing sessions and each session was anywhere from 10 to 14 days at a pop. We all wrote these songs together in a room like a real band does.

By the time we were ready to play again I was ready to be back with the guys to perform and have fun on stage and get paid and do all the fun things that we do together as a band. It felt weird – the first time we played in front of an audience… a little bit strange. It took a few shows to feel like back to where we were and to get used to the, “I’m in the spotlight and everyone’s staring up at us” feeling. That feels so weird when you’re not used to doing it all the time. It was nice to get back out there and we’ve been working our asses off ever since it opened back up. 

The band sounds very inspired on Digital Noise Alliance. What was the band’s mood heading into the writing and recording of the album?

Before we started, I hadn’t seen Michael Wilton in like a year. It was like, “Dude, I can’t tell you how good it is to see you.” We just gave each other a big hug. When all the guys got together, it was like on the human level. It was just such a refreshing, warm feeling that we were just so excited to be around each other. It was like, “Let’s have fun and start making some music,” so maybe that translated somewhere into the creativity. The fact that we all wrote together as a band, we played off each other in real time? Maybe that’s translating. I think all of those elements lent itself to a very creative time. We had a lot of stuff to write about, reflect on, observe, and report about, so there wasn’t a shortage of subject matter. It was a good experience. It’s a fun record, we’re proud of it, and hopefully people enjoy it. 

Do you think there’s more of a focus on guitar harmonies and melodies compared to other, recent Queensrÿche albums?

I think there might be more harmony guitar solos, and, sonically, Michael brought over all of his old amplifiers from The Warning to Promised Land. I think you’re getting a sound that we didn’t have on the last several records. Using all these old amps, it kind of lent itself to this very warm kind of old school sound where you can really hear guitar tone. It’s not all this gain and drop tuning and all this stuff you hear from bands today. You can really hear the guitars. It’s like you’re next to him playing through a Marshall. It sounds real because it is real. I think that benefitted the songs from a vintage perspective but with modern production and fresh songs.  

Queensrÿche has been around for 40 years. What are the challenges of embracing the band’s past but at the same time moving in new and progressive directions?

It’s not different from any other artists. If you’re a painter and you have great works of your past and you have a certain brushstroke or style or characteristics of your artwork, its like… how do you not paint the same painting even though you’re utilizing the same skillset? There’s elements that are very characteristic of the band’s sound and we utilize those so that’s just the way that stuff sounds. You can rip yourself off and say, “We did this before on this and maybe we should visit something like that again in a different way.” It’s hard, especially for those guys that have been doing it for 40 years. 

How many songs can you write where they don’t sound like the same stuff? Iron Maiden have a very signature style and sound and they don’t really change from it, but they’re one of the biggest bands in the world and they just do what they do. You do have to be mindful; you don’t want to sound like a dated band. But the fact is that Queensrÿche is a 40-year-old band. You play to the strengths and come up with some new ideas and a nice modern production that hopefully translates into something fresh but has that common Queensrÿche sound. It’s a tough thing to do. It’s just not easy. 

Queensrÿche are often called a thinking man’s band. What does that mean to you, lyrically and musically?

I think that Queensrÿche, for a long time, was a very forward thinking band. They were one of the first bands to run video before anyone was doing it. Pink Floyd and Rush were doing it, but Queensrÿche was one of the first bands to introduce those big screens onstage. That wasn’t a popular thing back then. The concept album of Mindcrime that they wrote was ahead of its time. People didn’t even understand it, including myself as a teenager. I didn’t really grasp it. I was used to hearing a band play a collection of songs and they just stopped and the next song started. They had these interesting links and interludes that were weaving in and out of one song into the next. Then that ship started to sail in a different direction and that changed when I got in the band. You started to get more of that core sound again. They were able to write freely without being stifled. Vocally, I wanted to do vocal acrobatics and sound like the Queensrÿche that I loved as a fan.

Do you plan to play any new songs on this tour?

We will be rehearsing I think about three new songs and we definitely will be incorporating one, possibly two, into the tour we do with [Judas] Priest. Then when we do a proper headline tour in March and April of next year, I would venture that we would do four, five, or six off the new record. We’ll definitely be playing one new one for now. We’re going to really be supporting this record heavily.

Digital Noise Alliance is the first album to feature drummer Casey Grillo and returning guitarist Mike Stone. What do they bring to the band?

Casey is a phenomenal drummer. I know a lot of people know him from Kamelot, but he’s been playing drums in Queensrÿche for over five years now so he really is hip to the character of drumming for Queensrÿche. The alternating high hat and ride symbol, the china symbol stuff that’s effective… and he shows up even when he’s not needed. Even if we’re recording guitars he still shows up. He couldn’t be more present in the band; he’s such an easygoing guy. He’s a delight to be around and everybody loves him. He’s got chops for days. 

Mike Stone is the same way. Mike is a lot of fun to hang out with. He’s super open-minded; “Hey, try this,” or “Hey, let’s work on that.” He’s all about learning the old stuff the way it was played. He contributed to this new record, too. He recorded on the new record. He was a familiar face so bringing him back into the fold when Parker [Lundgren] retired from the band to continue with his guitar business made sense. Mike was just filling in and we [questioned] why would we look for anybody else. He’s a familiar face to the fans, he’s such a team player, he’s all about the music. What more could we ask for? We don’t need some ridiculous shred guy that just plays fast. He just has everything the band needs and more. I just think we have a very perfect lineup. There’s no drama in the band. Everyone gets along like brothers. We’re doing really good things. 

On your previous album, The Verdict, you handled drum and vocal duties. Was it a relief relinquishing the drum stool on Digital Noise Alliance?

Not having to do drum duties was great because I could just focus on the lyrics and the melodies and work with Eddie and Michael and Mike for guitar parts and that other aspect. I only had to record vocals. When you’re doing double duties it’s takes a lot out of you for months at a time. Casey stepped up to the plate and did a killer job. He didn’t overplay and he didn’t underplay. We said, “Dude, be you. You don’t have to be anybody else. Don’t try to clone anybody else. Do what is best for the song.” He was given free rein to experiment and our producer [Zeuss] and him would talk about what seemed to make sense the best and what didn’t. What you hear is the result of that teamwork. 

What have you learned from watching Rob Halford on tour every night?

The guy is 71 and he still just kills it out there. You’re hearing him do “Painkiller” and all this stuff and you’re just like, “Damn, he’s so cool.” He’s also a really nice guy. It’s pretty inspiring. I have the most respect for him. I think if I could do that even at 60 that could be pretty awesome. There’s nobody like him. It’s an honor to watch him. It’s an honor to tour with them.

A lot of Priest fans also love Queensrÿche but some are uninitiated. Do you get the sense that you are winning people over?

I do. I think if you know who Judas Priest is you’ve at least heard about Queensrÿche. Maybe you don’t know the catalog or you only know some of the hit songs like “Jet City Woman” or something and then they hear us do “Queen of the Reich” or “Take Hold of the Flame” or “Eyes of a Stranger”  and we’re putting on great performances.  It’s undeniable that the band is firing on all cylinders and doing a great job. We may not be the most energetic looking band on stage like running around and that sort of thing, but we definitely deliver on the music. 

I think there are probably people that, if we were playing in their city, would not have come to see us, and they only saw us because they were there to see Judas Priest and we were the opener, and maybe they were a little curious. I know that there’s people that have come out, we’ve had a couple of one-off shows during that tour, and somebody had said, “I saw you guys on the Priest tour and that’s why I came to this show. Because I wanted to see your entire set, like a longer show.” That’s cool that its worked out. I think definitely we’re gaining maybe fans that dropped off and didn’t even keep up with the band. They didn’t even know there was another singer, let alone for a decade. I think that we’re definitely converting some people and bringing along new people.