On Friday, September 18, Geoff Tate’s new band, Operation: Mindcrime, will be releasing its long-awaited debut album, The Key, on Frontiers Music Srl.
Perhaps one of Tate’s most ambitious recordings to date, The Key examines what one might do if they discovered “the key” to changing the way we view the world, the way we look at time, the way we travel, and could essentially change the human condition… for better or for worse.
Fresh from the creative mind of Geoff Tate, The Key features a dozen songs and marks part one of an epic musical trilogy that initiates that very question within a web of international politics, the world economy and social ethos.
“Music is a personal journey, and all you can do is write what moves you,” explains Tate. “That’s what passion is – it’s so difficult, yet it’s such an important human emotion. There are moments on this record that really impact me, the questions raised and the music those questions are set to. I don’t know if it will have that same effect on everyone else, but that’s where my passion and their passion meet. I do this because I love doing it. I love touring and I love playing live, performing with like-minded people in front of like-minded audiences, and being there in the moment together when all of our passions collide.”
Rock Confidential caught up with Geoff Tate to discuss the story behind The Key, the non-typical structure of Operation: Mindcrime, and what Tate hopes listeners will take away from his music.
When you decided to move ahead with Operation: Mindcrime, how did you know you wanted a group of like-minded contributors and not necessarily a normal band project?
I started experimenting with that idea when I put a band together to tour a couple of years ago. I didn’t really want to be in a band again. I’ve done that for so many years and I wanted to create a project where people were able to come and go. The kind of people I wanted to work with were the kind of musicians that are interested in playing in a lot of different areas and a lot of different kinds of music. I wanted to give them the freedom to do as many projects as they wanted to do with other people, and I wanted that freedom, too. This seemed to be the best way I could do it. So far it’s worked really well. Everyone is free to take on other projects and do other things and we come together when we can. I’ve got a large array of people to pick from for a touring band as well. Some people may only play a part of the tour, some may go in and out and some will play the whole time. It just depends on what they’ve got going on.
It had to be inspiring to have so many people add their musical interpretations to the story you’ve written.
It’s a fresh environment. In a way it’s reminiscent of the jazz scene of the 30s and 40s in America. All these great players would get together and do a project together and they would split off, do other things and then come back together and do something else. It’s fun that way and it keeps things interesting. I like it when the drummer I’m playing with has just got off a tour or finished recording a record with an artist that does a completely different style of music and they bring those influences into what I’m doing. I love that.
The first part of the trilogy you’ve written is The Key. You’ve mentioned the songs are not laid out to tell the story in a linear fashion but they are all part of a puzzle. Are there specific stories on each album or will you need all three albums to complete the puzzle?
You’ll need all three. It’s one long story that takes three albums to tell. The first story, The Key, sets the story up and introduces you to the four main characters. It illustrates the conflict that arises between the four figures. The second album continues the conflict and hints at a resolve. The last album will come to the conclusion.
Is the story completely written now or are you still writing?
It’s all laid out. The story is written. The first album is getting ready to be released. We’re mixing the second album now. The third album is pretty much written. We’re working on the last couple of tracks now. I hope to have the whole thing complete by the end of October.
Will you tour for each album or wait until they’re all released?
Right now I’m planning on touring for each album. The first tour is being put together now and I think it begins in Europe in late November through the holidays. Then we’ll be touring in January and February for the States.
Did you approach Frontiers with the idea of doing a trilogy?
I approached them with the idea and they loved it. It’s what they’re into and they’re right on board with everything. So far it’s been a really great relationship, although I haven’t met anybody in person. They’re based in Italy but I’m planning on going there in September for some meetings for the record release. It will be fun to put the face with name and the voice.
As you write for an album that has a storyline, is it a challenge to write a song that could be released as a single and stand alone without the context of the other songs?
Yeah, it is. I never think in terms of singles. I have never picked a single on any record I’ve ever done. That’s always been a collective decision. It’s strange what people pick and their reasons for picking a song to be a single. Not that singles matter anymore, because we’re not being played on radio stations. That was a real epiphany I had a while back. For so many years and so many records I’ve always thought in terms of adhering to the commercial radio format of songwriting arrangements. I realized that radio stations don’t really exist anymore – not the way we grew up with them. So I can do anything I want musically. I can write a six-minute track. I can wait two minutes before I get to a chorus. That was a real revelation to me and it really influenced a lot of the writing on this record.
I’ve had some of the craziest things come up when discussing singles with record labels. When Operation: Mindcrime first came out the record label wanted to release “Suite Sister Mary”, a 10-minute-long song, as a single to radio. I said, “What’s your reasoning behind this?” They wanted to break the song into three separate pieces and release three separate singles of the same song. That’s just bizarre. People get these ideas – something grabs them and they get inspired by a song and want to do something with it. You never know as a writer how your stuff is affecting people. Everybody hears and experiences music differently.
Did you share the story with the musicians involved in the recording of The Key? I would imagine you would want their reaction to the story to be captured in their performance.
Yeah, definitely the writers that contributed were given an outline to read and then they could come back to me with questions. In some cases I would say something like, “Give me three or four musical ideas that make you feel angry.” They would come back with their ideas and we would really work on the piece that captured the right emotion with the lyrics. Then we would work on regret, hopelessness, happiness. That seemed to work really well when you can give someone an emotion that they can write to. You would get all kinds of variances, too. One person’s happiness may be another person’s melancholy.
Can you tell us more about the story of The Key?
It’s a pretty deep subject. I don’t want to give away too many topics related to the story because it is a bit of a puzzle. I’d like people to be able to put it all together as the albums are released and speculate on what’s happening within the story. But, the central theme of the first album is a discovery that’s made that allows people to see reality in a different way. For instance, as a parent we begin really early with our child programming them and defining what everything is. We define the sky, the ground, the chair, the table, a dog, a cat. We grow up with that and continue that programming as adults. We define what our reality is. That definition is something that’s pretty locked down, although it changes over time. We used to think, collectively in large parts of the world, that black people were animals. That changed over time and the reality has shifted. We used to think women couldn’t make any decisions regarding lifestyle or politics. That has shifted. We used to think it was better to drive at 55 miles an hour. Those are just random examples, but to make my point it’s the reality that we’ve created. This discovery, this invention is a computer program. It allows someone to install the program into their computer and have a new viewpoint in order to experience reality. What that means, in societal terms, is all the limits that our reality had around it has shifted and changed. Space travel, for example. We’re limited in where we can go because we need a fuel source to get us from point A to point B. With a shift in reality we realize we don’t need to use fuel in order to get to where we want to go. That opens up a whole new panorama of possibilities. This discovery is a major thing. It can dramatically impact the world as we know it. The developers of the program realize it’s potential and a conflict arises between the four main characters. What do we do with this? It’s such a major discovery. Do we market it and sell it and get filthy rich or is this such an important discovery that we need to share it with the world? The first album explores that and sets up the storyline and introduces you to the characters. You see a conflict begin and that carries us into the second album – which I won’t talk about right now.
There are certain topics, phrases and chord structures that are immediately identifiable with Operation: Mindcrime. Will the same be true for The Key?
I hope people will dig deep into it. There are lots of different key phrases and musical themes that will lead you like breadcrumbs to the story if you pay attention. There are hints on the Operation: Mindcrime album. You can piece the story together by reading the lyrics and listening for the musical cues and certain sound effects that are representative of the story. The Key is similar in that respect. Some people will just listen to the music and get into the vibe of the track or the album in it’s entirety and not really dig deep into it. Some people with a curious mindset will dig deep and piece together the story and have all sorts of different theories about what’s going on. I enjoy that. One of my guilty pleasures during our meet and greets while on tour is talking to the fans and getting their perspectives on different songs and what they experience listening to certain songs. I love hearing those stories. I’m amazed that they care enough to be there in the first place and secondly that they have such strong opinions about things. I’m really anxious to hear people’s opinions about The Key when I tour and see if they come close to putting the story together correctly in their own mind.