Queensryche’s Michael Wilton: “The Band Is On Their A Game”

By Andrew Catania

Queensrÿche is one of the most iconic metal bands to come out of the 1980s.  They’ve enjoyed success for over 35 years.  When they parted ways with legendary singer Geoff Tate, people wondered how Queensrÿche would survive without Tate.  In comes Ex-Crimson Glory singer Todd LaTorre to the rescue.  Todd not only was accepted by fans, but he has also reinvigorated the Queensrÿche brand.

With a stellar album called The Verdict that just came out this past Friday, I sat down with guitarist and founding member of Queensrÿche, Michael Wilton aboard their tour bus hours before they opened The Verdict World Tour in Orlando last Saturday afternoon.

How was the new music received on the Monsters of Rock Cruise?

MW:  It was a mixed audience, but it went over really well. It was piped over everywhere and it was in shuffle mode, so people kept asking “Is that from the new record?” It did really well.

The Verdict is your best album in 25 years and I’ve noted that in my review.  I know you’re trying to evolve from other Queensryche albums but we can go back to Operation Mindcrime and Empire and this album could fit right in between them.

MW: We are touring all of the time now.  You don’t get the radio play anymore like you use to and you’ve got little internet things and all that but if you aren’t going to get radio play, then play songs that you will enjoy playing live.  There was obviously a strong vibe going and pep in the right areas.

I think it’s great that Todd stepped in and played the drums for The Verdict.

MW: Yeah, he’s been playing since he was 15 years old.  That’s the whole thing. You won’t know.  You don’t want a different name or a different identity. In the sphere of Queensryche drumming. So no outlandish Mike Portnoy style or anything like that.  It’s got to be tasty and reminiscent of Scott.  There was a lot of interesting parts. All of the drum parts were written. They weren’t just jammed along, you know?

Did Scott have anything to do with this album? Did he do any of the writing? Or was he pretty much out of it?

MW: No, he wasn’t. He said, guys, I just can’t do it. I give you my blessings. Go for it.

Do you have any communication with Scott?

MW: Very minimal. Not much at all. He’s wanting to distance himself from this stuff for a while and do his own thing. His privacy is respected and above and beyond that, this is a business and we got to keep going. We’ve got to keep moving.  I can’t wait around for things like that.

How did you hook up with Casey Grillo?

MW: it was just a referral. No tryouts, none of that stuff.  I’ve had heard of  Kamelot, and they have a semi-progressive, heavy feel to them.  I said, wow, this could work. Since he lives in Tampa, Todd knew him. I had met Casey at the NAMM convention a few times. We got along and I thought he was a great guy and easy to get along with. So he was on a cruise boat when we called him and he said this sounds pretty daunting. Then his wife grabbed the phone and said: “He’s going to do it!” Laughing

So how long did it take him to learn the catalog?

MW: He didn’t learn the whole catalog. He learned the songs we were playing. He had to learn about 24 to 25 songs.

Is he well-versed now with all that you have had to do?

MW: He’s really kicked ass on the new music.  Todd had to show Casey. It’s pretty involved but he’s grasped it really well.  We’re doing  Condition Human in this set and that’s quite a drum part. He’s got it down.

How did the writing come for The Verdict?

MW: Since we tour all of the time, it had been over three years since we did anything. The record company was starting to say hey guys, it’s time to record an album. Our management was telling us to get in the studio. Trying to work out a schedule for Chris “Zeuss” Harris, our producer.  By the time we got into pre-production, it was just a bunch of ideas, and parts and lyrics on people’s hard drives and Zeuss was like OMG we have got to build these songs.  Besides writing the drum parts, the rest of the songs had to be built. Song by song. So that’s how we did it. Everybody was involved. Everybody gave their creative element to the songs and we were under the gun. We had to get this done at a certain time because Zeuss had another project that he had to get to.  After we did the first song, and Todd had done the drums, we sat up a mini drum kit and worked them all out.  We listened to it and Zeuss, said, Hands down, this is going to work. We thought this sounds really cool and let’s move forward. That’s how it all got started. We were all on the fence, we didn’t know what we were going to do. The idea of getting another drummer in, it’s going to cause more delays.  the album never would have been recorded.

Photo by Grizzlee Martin

You’ve been on tour for three years, it seems you guys are all comfortable with each other on this album.

MW: I think everybody has just matured into this Queensryche.  It’s been seven years now and we’ve gotten just comfortable now, especially in the live performances. There’s no apprehension at all. They’ve all been engulfed by Queensryche. Their souls have been sucked in by the machine. (laughing)

I think back when Todd first came into the group and you guys had one version and another version going on.  People were like there’s no Geoff, there’s no Queensryche. When I heard Todd for the first time, I thought it was Geoff. I thought, who is this?

MW: I know. Imagine, the pressure on Todd.

I think Todd has brought the old Queensryche songs a new sense of justice as they haven’t been appropriately sung in quite a long time.  With Geoff going around the world and performing these old Queensryche songs with Orchestras and has really turned off the fans.   Geoff was one of the best singers back in the ’80s. But I think he’s just become a hollow shell of himself. I respect him as a singer, but Todd brings it right to the stage and it’s just very much improved.

MW: And take it a step further and he stepped in and did the drums too. It’s funny how things work out. We took advantage of it. Eddie,  Parker, and everybody is on their A-level performance right now. We are at a good point right now.

Do you and Eddie ever get feedback about being the only two original members of the band? Or do people pretty much just accept it now?

MW:  You get purists, fans who have pockets of history who are loyal to what was. And that’s just the way it is.  We are doing great. We’ve spawned great fans. We have new fans who just know the three albums.

If the new fans hear something like Queen of the Reich, they probably don’t know it’s from 35 years ago.

MW: We just keep evolving.  The bottom line is about the name that’s on the marquee. Right? It’s Queensryche. As long as the entity is representing the way people want to hear it, it’s going to work.  We are doing that.  There are lots of bands that have changed over the years.  We’ve been doing this for 37 years. In lots of different ways things change. The bottom line, it comes down to the song and to the songwriting. People hear this album and think it could’ve been released between Empire and Mindcrime.   There’s a whole gamut of perception of the band. If people don’t like it, move on to another band and chill, we’re doing great over here. We’re having a good time and the band is hot right now.

What songs are in and out on the setlist for this tour? 

MW: It’s a balance of old and new. You got to appease the fans, you know? You have the legacy fans, and then you have the hardcore fans who want to hear the new stuff. That’s what we’re doing now.

How do you feel you have evolved over the last 3 albums as a musician and adapted with the change of singers? 

MW: I think there is a hunger with everybody. Everybody loves what they do. We work hard at it and as long as people want to keep hearing us,  supporting us live and buying our music we will keep doing this. When that stops, we will probably stop. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. We are playing in places all over the world now. We are getting offers everywhere. If that is any indication, I see us evolving in a good way.

What is the biggest tour you’ve done with Todd? 

MW: We were doing arenas and big places. Doing all of the festivals we’ve done. We’ve done the Carolina Rebellion and that was fun. We flew to India to do a huge festival. We went to Japan. Did Luna Park. That was awesome. We’ve been to Australia. We are hoping to get back into South America. We want to rebuild that. South America is a very passionate music-loving people.

 

Any talk of another ESP signature? Any significant changes in the tour rig?

MW: Nah. I’ve got my one signature and it does fine. As far as the equipment, we travel a lot so I’ve adapted a lot with my traveling rig. It’s more practical I guess. So when you’re traveling and flying a lot, you’re hiring speaker cabinets and drum kits from local companies that rent.  I’m using the Kemper now and love it.  I can’t say enough about it. This amp, single handily, is just incredible.  The engineering in it, nobody has been able to copy it. No one, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, no one can come up with anything like it. It’s a piece of engineering that is mind-blowing.  It analyzes every part of the sound, from the speaker cabinet, the air, every single sound that comes out it analyzes and captures it.

Do you talk to Chris DeGarmo at all?

MW: Yes. We’ve been friends since high school.

Any talk of him returning?

MW: He loves what we’re doing. He loves Todd. He loves the music and totally supports it.  He steers away from everything and rightly so. We are constantly in the press with road bumps and stuff.

Any chance Chris might just come out and play a couple of sets? As a surprise? Any interest in doing that?

MW: I don’t think he would. I think he is cemented in his ways right now. He enjoys being a pilot. He is quite busy.  The only time you’ll see him with me is on the golf course.

You’ve put out a great album and have had a great career. Is there anything you want to do that you haven’t? A solo album? 

MW: There’s no shortage of opportunities for us. It’s just about time management. It’s tougher these days. When you’re in demand, you got to feed the machine.  If I had time I would love to do that. I’ve started like two or three projects.  I started Wratchet Head.  I just haven’t had any time to finish that. I have a hard drive full of songs and haven’t had time to finish them. I’ve got a solo album that I’ve got a bunch of songs for with a bunch of guys back in Seattle.

Photo by Andrew Catania

Are you still dealing with the Pledge Music fiasco? 

MW: Yeah, we got ripped off. Big time. Six figures. I smell fraud.  We’re working every day to try and see what they’re going to come up with and what we can do without losing our shorts.  We want to make good with all of the fans. We’re not going to be making any money, but maybe we’ll pursue and get some kind of settlement, I don’t know.  The problem is, to pursue and get a settlement, it’s going to cost a ton of money.

Is there any talk of you guys doing a live DVD at this point?

MW: Possibly. We’ve got that technology. We just have to have the time to put it together.

Do you have the rest of 2019 mapped out?

MW: Yes, they are already booking shows for 2020 for us.  It’s an exciting time for us!

For our review of The Verdict please click here

For our review of opening night of The Verdict Tour, please click here

For more information and tour dates on Queensryche, please visit http://www.queensrycheofficial.com/

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