Throughout his life, Geoff Tate of the band Queensrÿche had wanted his father to tell him about his experiences serving in the U.S. Marines during the Korean War and the Air Force during Vietnam. But it had always been a subject that his father never wanted to discuss.
That all changed one day three years ago.
"I was on tour at the time and had a day off, so I was visiting him where he lives in Oklahoma," says Tate. "We were just sitting on the back porch talking, and kind of out of the blue, he started talking to me about Korea."
Not only did that conversation start to give Tate a window into his father's wartime experiences, it planted the seeds for the new Queensrÿche CD.
When all was said and done, Tate had interviewed soldiers who served in most every military conflict since World War II. Their stories became fodder for American Soldier, a CD that explores what it means to be in combat from the perspectives of the fighters themselves.
That Queensrÿche would make a concept album like American Soldier shouldn't come as a surprise to those who have followed the Seattle-based band throughout a career that dates to the early 1980s. The band's third CD, 1988's Operation: Mindcrime, was a full-blown concept album that became a signature recording for Queensrÿche and inspired a 2006 sequel, Operation: Mindcrime II. (Kind of like Bat Out of Hell, except with mindcrimes.) Other CDs, such as 1994's Promised Land, have also had strong thematic elements, although they stopped short of having the story-like structure of the Mindcrime albums.
Tate says American Soldier was a different challenge from the group's other theme-centric CDs, especially on a lyrical level.
"This is the first record that we've ever conceived that isn't about our points of view, our feelings or our perspectives or our observations," he says. "It's completely and utterly about other people and what they experienced and what their lives were like."
In creating American Soldier, Tate and his bandmates (guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield) crafted 12 songs that each examine a different aspect of the soldier's experience, from dealing with the reality of having to kill or be killed ("The Killer") to the struggles that soldiers and their wives or girlfriends face when the call of duty is answered ("Remember Me").
On tour, Queensrÿche is taking a unique approach to presenting music both new and old. Its set is divided into three song suites, one devoted to American Soldier, a second to the 1986 album Rage for Order and a third to the 1990 CD Empire (which sold three million copies and included the hit single "Silent Lucidity").
"We chose Rage for Order and Empire to present," says Tate, "because those are albums our fans have really requested a lot of songs from. What we tried to do was satisfy old fans and new fans, and also present our new record, which we're very excited about."