Operation Mindcrime: Readies Second of The Key Trilogy

by Martin Popoff

Geoff Tate’s Operation Mindcrime band (featuring fully three members of pre-Queensryche band Myth plus one ex-AC/DCer!) has just completed tour dates for their debut album, The Key. After a string of effusively received shows, the dauntingly pro six-piece is skittering back into final touch-ups for the second record of the promised trilogy of albums Geoff has vowed will happen quickly.

“Yeah, I wish I could move faster,” laughs Tate, speaking to Classic Rock Revisited backstage at the band’s Toronto date. “I just can’t. Touring just really slows you down. Yeah, it’s too bad. I’m trying to figure out a way to get around it, but the travel time, city after city, it actually wears you down, where you don’t feel inspired to write music.”

Geddy Lee says it takes a piece of your soul.

“It kinda does. Yeah, you just get burnt out. Especially in America. If you travel in other places in the world, it’s almost better, because it’s unique and different. America is all so the same—everywhere. In fact, even Canada, it’s the same, the same shops, the same stores, the same shopping, the same sites. Oh, another mountain range. Another lake, oh, isn’t it beautiful? No, it’s not beautiful anymore. You get kind of... it’s a soul-sucker. You have to kind of find ways of keeping that at arm’s length. Drinking doesn’t work (laughs), which is unfortunate. But I wish I could figure out a way. I guess the only way to do it is not tour so much; just do limited dates.”

But the band has indeed knocked off record #2. Although not quite, cautions tech man and Flying V-wielder Kelly Gray. “We’ve got work to do. We’ve got things we’ve got to get done. You know, these records are complicated. You think you’re kind of done with something, but you’re not. You have to redo a few things. The first one, with all the motivation, will fly out pretty good, but then all of a sudden, here now is a comparison record with it. And you’ve got to go, ‘Oh, okay (laughs). Is that going to work? Are we going to be able to do that?’”

More hopeful is keyboardist Randy Gane. “Yes, we are finishing mixing up the second album, and the third album, I believe, is well on its way to being written. I’m not sure; that kind of goes into the post-second album plans, and I’m not concentrating on that.”

As for the second Operation Mindcrime album, “It’s going to be more experimental, I think,” figures Randy. “Some of the tracks that I worked on heavily, I think are, yeah. We started to dabble in some areas that Queensryche had never played. And we’re just kind of moving off a little further into that direction.”

“I guess that depends on who you’re talking to,” chuckles the man at the mic, Geoff Tate, on whether the second instalment is more experimental. “I think musically it’s just another step in the direction that we went with The Key. Story-wise, it kind of starts getting deeper into the characters and what’s happening within the story. I really love the second album. I’m quite enamoured with it. I like the first one quite a bit, so, we’re happy with that one too.”

A big part of this band is of course Kelly Gray, which Geoff is all too willing to acknowledge. “Kelly? Well, Kelly has years and years of engineering and producing experience, which is fantastic. He’s invaluable in that area. He’s a guy who can... he could fix your EQ problem, he can set your gear up so that it works perfectly. He can play your guitar part, he could sing your part for you, he can fix your car (laughs). He’s just like a MacGyver kind of guy. He’s fantastic. He’s an incredible asset to any organization. Kelly grew up with all of us. He grew up in the same neighbourhood, went to the same schools, yeah. Randy and Kelly and I started playing music in 1979. That’s when we started writing, actually, forming our own thing.”

Which makes for excellent communication. “Yes, well people that work for us for the first time are perplexed,” continues Tate, “because they say that we don’t actually finish a sentence, that the other person goes... it’s like shorthand, you know? There’s a lot of that. We have really, really similar and complementary musical tastes. And Kelly and I are probably the more ambitious sort of musical junkies. We search out unique stuff, and we try all kinds of different things. Randy is more of a traditionalist, so he kind of reels us in a bit when we’re getting too out there, you know? Plus he’s a really disciplined musician, a schooled musician. So we’ll pile up minor on top of major for 17 bars and it doesn’t bother us, but he’s cringing. He’s like, ‘No, no, you can’t do that.’”

And then of course drumming for the band... it could be Brian Tichy, but at least for the purposes of this tour (and some of the record being promoted), it’s Simon Wright, known for his work with Dio and AC/DC. In fact, back during Rage for Order, Queensryche toured with the likes of Bon Jovi, Ozzy, and AC/DC.

“That’s where I met Simon,” says Geoff in closing. “You know, that was a band that were so enormously big, and they were just guys that liked to hang out in the pub and drink beer and write music. And that’s what they are—nothing more than that, that I saw. They were damn cool, down-to-earth guys. And Brian Johnson, every night, he would hold court in the pub, in whatever city we were in, and he would buy the drinks for the entire place, everyone, all night long. He wouldn’t let you buy a drink. You were off-limits for pulling out your wallet. It was fantastic.”