Interview: Michael Wilton of Queensryche

Interview w Michael Wilton
By Song River
For Vents Magazine

Song River: Take us back to 1982. Queensryche history is long, and there has been so much to transpire during your ride in heavy metal. Did you ever imagine where it would all lead to now, here, with the release of this album, “Condition Human”?

Michael Wilton: Back in 1982, after the three main guys, Scott Rockenfield, Eddie Jackson and myself got together with Chris Harris “Zeus” and started a band called the Mob. We were playing cover tunes mainly from European power rock metal bands that were coming in via the import record stores. That was our influence. We didn't want to play blues licks all the time, that wasn't our sound. We loved the melodic power guitar.

From there we had a few songs written and we got this fella by the name of Brent Young to come into the studio, Crow Studios in Seattle. He sang a couple of songs for us the demo and two ended up on the EP: “Nightrider” and “Blinded.” Then we were all working during this time, as we were in our late teens and early twenties.

SR: During this time period with the 'grunge' scene and 'hair bands' plus living in the Seattle area, how did you all manage to hang on to who you were?

MW: The whole blend of our DNA, especially in the music written, it was all based on our collective, our conglomeration of all of us. We were more of a progressive rock with a bandwidth of influences from metal and pop rock. We built a huge following on this. We focused on being musicians and not rock stars. We perfected ourselves so we could show that when we were performing the songs we recorded on our albums were the same powerful songs live.

SR: You weren't just playing dress-up?

MW: No. I mean at one time the management during, “Rage For Order,” tried to change us, but that quickly backfired. We moved back quickly to being ourselves.

SR: The formula you began with has continued to work. When listening to the new album it sounds as if you reached back to your roots, but you have brought everything forward to where you are now. With the advent of post-hardcore and other styles of metal, did you ever feel like your sound of metal got lost somewhere in the shuffle?

MW: It may have become dormant. It took the material we had written and our producer, Zeus (Chris Harris), as we reached for the inspiration and created the music back then. For us it was a no brainer. We were the ones that had created the sound. Now we've brought it all to Condition Human. We are semi-progressive with our interesting musical arrangements. That is Queensryche. We fit into that mold so well.

SR: Condition Human is a dimensional album.

MW: If you listen back to our earlier albums you can hear the delicate arrangements, the different levels as a 360 degree listening experience. We like to put layers, it's like adding more color to the painting.

SR: Here in the 21st century you can download just one song. Some bands focus on a singular song because of this. While some musicians say the hell with it, I am going to create a whole album that is a complete work of art. They want to create something good from beginning to end. Is there a way to marry the two ways we've come to of creating and selling music today?

MW: I think there is. In part it is a double-edged sword though. You have one side thinking why should I write a bunch of good songs when the consumer is only going to buy one? Then you have the consumer saying why should I buy a whole album when only one or two songs are good?

Obviously, speaking for us, we have nurtured our fan base for over thirty years and stayed true. Just like any other band nowadays you have to deal with licensing, the internet. I think it's really just been a scapegoat for the industry though. People don't realize the hard times that some artists may have gone through. The writers, the performers, the management, all of it. No one is entitled to just have it free, because they think they should.

SR: Somewhere along the line the pendulum will swing, as it always does.

MW: I think people are smart enough to realize what is quality to them. What they will want to keep. Music is an art form. It needs to get into your body and be experienced. How can you do that with crappy little ear buds? There isn't a whole experience being felt there.

Of course this is even happening, this change, in the film/movie/TV industry. A new movie can come out today and a kid can go on a Russian website and download the movie to watch tomorrow.

SR: Instant gratification. However, the old adage of the best will always rise to the top still must hold true. There in lies the value no matter what form it is being presented in.

MW: I think as the kids grow older they will continue to value it and support the industry. This past decade with all the free access and ways of getting a hold of things, it is what it is.

SR: Michael I you had said something about creating an album that was more of an epic journey, like a Pink Floyd/Zeppelin style of album sometime down the road?

MW: We are creative musicians and anything can happen. It's not out of the realm of possibility. A conceptual, a theme base, maybe a movie, who knows!

SR: I am assuming you have kids Michael. Have they followed your passion in music and the arts?

MW: My kids are all grown up and out of the house now. For my daughter it was very tough having that pressure of an artistic father. My son did play in a bunch of different bands, then he saw the writing on the wall. They all thought they were going to be buds forever and tour, but then one went to college, one got married. He is now off doing something else, but he is still a very good bass player.

I'd say especially to do a band full-time these days you must have another job to pay for the band and everything that goes along with it.

SR: Or post on social media you need money. (laughed).

MW: Even though gas prices have dropped you still have to fill the van/bus. There there is the cost of airline tickets. It's a tough life. But my kids totally respect what I've done. WE came up in an era when MTV was playing all the time. We played at the Grammy's. James Brown handed me the MTV music award. Today, it's a different era, but kids are curious about it. The kids see a music video on YouTube or Vemo and go back and look up more about the bands. That brings in new fans too.

SR: The kids are reaching back.

In your line of recorded albums, do you have a favorite that stands out to you most.

MW: They are all so different, as we evolve with each recording. It's like they’re all different planets. I love each one for their own reasons.

SR: Is there a metal or hard rock band you like to listen to?

MW: There are so many of them. Currently it's Mastodon, Tool, Disturbed,. Mostly though I listen to my old school stuff. I like to keep the “Deep Purple's.” (laughed).

SR: What was emotional level of the metal sound originally based on?

MW: I think it was a youth who wanted an underground thing to like. It has now branched out into all these subcategories and stayed underground. Now you hear it coming back up as quality with the competition of listener-ship.

SR: Condition Human album cover art?

MW: Joe Helm, a friend of Todd's. He designed our backdrops and some of our other album artwork. We didn’t want to put a robot or a skull on the album we wanted something to symbolize a broader stroke of what they songs are about. The little girl of innocence looking out a wiped widow and sees out into the vast darkness of uncertainty. Where does pristine innocence fit into this world of dark uncertainty. It's just our perception, not trying to tell you how to think.

SR: And it all fits together very well. I am looking forward to seeing you out on tour and meeting you. An autographed pressing of vinyl is a must.

MW: That is very doable.

SR: Thank you for creating music and having it be the central point of what is Queensryche. Life and music is certainly a process.

MW: It certainly is. Things go in circles sometimes and you just have to wait for it to come around.

SR: That is “Condition Human” isn't it? Coming around full circle to bite ourselves on the tail.

MW: (Laughed) That is so true. Thank you Song, look forward to talking with you again.


Queensryche Website