Scott Rockenfield: Long Live The Queen!

By Martin Popoff

Weirdly, acrimoniously, we’ve got two Queensryches right now, and actually, they’ve both put out damn good albums, so the chatter natters on. Probably good publicity for both entities, although one of them is going to get some bad news soon o’er use of the name.

In any event, Scott Rockenfield, Michael Wilton and Eddie Jackson, so far are winning the battle in terms of fans deeming them the “real” Queensryche, and that should solidify further with the release of a self-titled album that is squarely in the tradition of the band of yore we all love.

Filling out the band, there’s Parker Lundgren on second guitar and Todd La Torre on Tate-alike vocals—Tater Tot, if you will—an acquisition of a skilled and dynamic lead singer that makes perfect sense really, given that it’s as much about delivering live the catalogue authentically as it is crafting the dramatic, thespian, heavy, proggy and purposefully fine record that Queensryche indeed is.

So here’ a chat with Scott, who, perhaps due to his status as a serious business dude outside of Queensryche, can be a little too diplomatic, along the lines of a Don Brewer or Phil Ehart, two others from the drummer/leader/type A personality end of the spectrum. Maybe it’s not so much that, but rather a sincere high level of enthusiasm and positivity driving the band right now, after so many years at odds with the ambivalently metallic Tate stuck in a band wanting to rock harder than its lead singer.

Martin: Great chatting with you again. I guess, let’s just dive into this thing. Crazy times in the Queensryche camp I’m sure, but what is the personality of this record? I guess referencing the past catalog, what is the spirit or vibe of this new one?

Scott: Have you actually heard the new one?

Martin: Oh yes, repeatedly.

Scott: I had asked that first. Listen, the: making of the record... what we wanted to do when we kind of moved forward last year from the old regime of Queensryche, and we got Todd in the band with us, singing last year, our goal was really just to get Queensryche back to what we hoped we should be doing. And bear with me, I’m a little winded. I just ran inside after working in my yard. So that was really my goal, for live shows, as a starting point, to get Queensryche back to playing the songs and the material that, in all honesty, Martin, that we haven’t been doing in long time. And I think our fans missed that, and we certainly missed it as well. So we designed the new reign of Queensryche to focus on some of the great old classic Queensryche material, and then you kind of fast-forward through the years. We’ve been playing shows and doing all that stuff, and it kind of put our heads into that era for us, which I guess, the best way to describe that era, would be from our first EP in 1982, essentially up until Promised Land in 1994. And you know, those first six records for us were such a great chemistry and the energy and the creative thing that we had going, the collaboration was really cool. So what happened is playing some of that material, and getting us back to that point in this last year, put us in that headspace. So anyway, long story short, cutting to your question, as to what the record is. I think it’s kind of a combination of those years of ours, kind of in the now, if that makes sense. I think what we wanted to do is basically get Queensryche back to writing the material that we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and that our fans are really enjoying, and bring back the character of what that was for us. I think the new record is full of energy, it’s full of emotion, and it’s full of us as musicians, you know, pushing ourselves to the limit, of really having fun. And I think for us, we’re really proud of it, and I think we succeeded in achieving that.

Martin: Is there a production philosophy? What do you get out of James Barton that’s different from other guys?

Scott: You know, that’s a great thing. Jimbo was really the kind of final icing on the cake, so to speak, in the making of the record. When we got to the point of us getting all the songs written, it was when do we want to start recording, and then who with? Jimbo was really our first and only choice, and we had a great relationship back in the days of Mindcrime and Empire and Promised Land with him, back in the late ‘80s into the early ‘90s, and he’s just a great creative addition to what we do. He’s really great with music and ideas, and then sonically, he was able to help us regenerate, kind of, why our sound was cool back in that period when we worked with him. And that was kind of our goal. We liked those records, and our fans really hold those records in high regard, and the sound had a lot to do with it, I think, the production values of the whole thing. So we really wanted to revisit… Once again, if you look at the big picture, it was about getting Queensryche back to what we had steered away from for way too long. So that was kind of the goal, and Jimbo was able to do it.

Martin: It sounds like a record where the drummer has a lot of say in the writing. There’s a lot of cool drumming, drums are kind of front and foremost. Have you noticed that? Does it feel like a very percussive record?

Scott: Well, you know, it certainly does, and you’re very kind, and I appreciate the comments there, Martin. I’ve got to be honest, for me, I had fun again. I haven’t actually had this much fun, and been enthusiastic about our new material in a long time. Which is one of the big picture things, like I said, we wanted to get back. So basically I feel like I got back to what I am good at, and what I enjoy doing. I was big part of the writing process for this record, and having fun with the guys in the band. But also just being allowed to be, you know, the right person for the drums. Whether a song just needed a really good solid performance or whether one of the songs needed for me to be insane, like maybe the song “Vindication,” is kind of insane in the drum department. But everybody allowed me to be what I wanted to be. I’d play something and they’d sit back and go, that was really cool, type thing (laughs). And I think all of us were able to do that. Just kind of become what we used to be together.

Martin: You know, and I noticed in the guitars and the riffing, there is this sort of—and it’s not completely unexpected—but kind of a doomy vibe. And I’m wondering, was Michael into kind of darker heavy metal in the early days? Where does that come from?

Scott: (laughs). No, we were definitely into heavy metal in our early days, you’re right. Listen, it’s all, once again, all part of revisiting, and getting back to what we really were like. Listen, I was a big heavy metal fan and still am. I loved bands like Iron Maiden and Rush and Judas Priest, and then some of the current ones as well. We really want to get some of that back. You know, we haven’t made a big rock/metal/progressive record in a long time. Certainly not like this new one. And we add the dark twist and keep things on the edge of that, because we’re just fans of it. So I guess it comes across in what we’re doing right now. Certainly from Michael… Michael also likes to write in some really great, dark, haunting modes and everything, so he was able to bring some of that to the table as well.

Martin: Have you been able to sort of pinpoint or notice what Parker brings to the table?

Scott: Well, that’s certainly... it’s getting more and more able to pinpoint. He’s been a big part of what we’ve done in the last, almost six years now that he’s been playing with us, and as a performer, re-creating all the Queensryche catalogue when we play a live show, it’s great. He’s absolutely been really good at doing all that. But for him to come in and really start adding musical creations was kind of new for all of us. I mean, he walked in one day, and the first actual rock song on the record, which is called “Where Dreams Go To Die,” that was all Parker. He wrote that whole song, he wrote the lyrics and the riff and the melody, basically dropped it in our lap one day, and said, what do you guys think? Which was good for us. We were like, great. It was just great. And he did so many other things and was just a very enthusiastic kid. Look, Martin, he’s half my age. I get to relive my musical youthful enthusiasm through Parker now. Which is awesome. He’s a great kid.

Martin: Is it scary when you look at these young guys, like what they can do on their instrument, versus the old guys? And do you feel that way about drummers when you turn on YouTube and watch some 14-year-old kid in Indonesia or whatever?

Scott: Yeah, well (laughs), I do that on occasion, for sure, and there’s some great stuff. And it always crushes my ego (laughs). It’s like where did these kids and performers come from? I guess they were there; that type of thing has been around forever. It’s just now we have YouTube and we can see it. I love it, and think it’s an absolute inspiration, for me, and listen, I’m still a sponge. I might be 50 years old now, but I’m a total sponge, where I can want to find out what I still need to do in life. So I’m good, I’m good. Hopefully one of these kids doesn’t knock on the band’s door and they all think that he’s better than I am.

Martin: What is the dynamic in the studio without Geoff in there? Like what was Geoff’s role in the later years, and how is it different with him not there?

Scott: Well, it’s really been great, to be honest. On a few different aspects. On a friendship situation that we have going right now, with Todd, as the newest guy in the band. We just have such a great friendship; besides working and doing things with the band, we’re constantly hanging together now. We’re on the phone all the time; we’re talking about stuff that has nothing to do with music or anything, because we’ve got a relationship together, all of us now. Now when you put that into the studio, it just makes for a much better working relationship. Much better synchronicity when it comes to making music together. We were all just firing on all of our cylinders. Our machine was at top speed in such a great productive way. It’s like a dark cloud, Martin, that’s been taken away from the things we’ve been doing.

Martin: What is the latest on whether Geoff is actually just using the name, with nothing attached to it, just Queensryche? What is the very latest news on that?

Scott: Well, the latest news on that, what eventually will happen is, there’s an official legal court date, where a judge will make a final decision on the name and the brand Queensryche, and hopefully at that point, you know, the right decision will be made, and all we can do is kind of just keep moving forward and doing what we do best. You know, right now, our confidence for what we’re doing is just pretty high, and feeling pretty good about the fact that we are the three core members that even started it before anybody else did, and we are carrying on the tradition of Queensryche that so far, it seems like our fans are enjoying now, and have wanted us to do in quite a long time. So we feel really good, and we don’t really focus on the darkness out there. There’s a lot of stuff that’s out there, that can tire and bring you down if you worry about the drama and everything that’s going on. But other than that, we feel really great, and focus on going forward, and writing more songs.

Martin: When you guys first started, there really wasn’t such a precedent outside of Rush or something of anything considered progressive metal. What were some of the main things that were coming into play besides the usual Priest And Maiden for you guys?

Scott: You know, maybe what happened for us was the collective interest of all of us, into different styles of music. Maybe it became something for Queensryche. I mean, it certainly did. Our influences absolutely became what we injected into the band. But there were a lot of similarities between all of us. We all loved Iron Maiden, we all loved Judas Priest and Rush, and even bands that expanded more beyond that like The Police and Genesis, who were bands we were fans of. Pink Floyd, you know, being a great cinematic type of presentation for what they did was a huge influence on everybody. The list goes on and on. But I think if you took those specific examples that I just gave you, and you threw them into one pot, maybe that’s what Queensryche ended up becoming. I mean, it still is who we are together. I think there’s a lot of progressive elements on this record, and there’s a lot of metal on the record—and a lot of the cinematic as well.

Martin: I’ve got to ask you, what did you think of Geoff’s record, and the other guys... did anybody decide to not play it or try it, or how did that all work?

Scott: I can’t speak for everybody else, but I’ve only heard a few little things that have ever kind of traveled around the Internet, to be honest. But other than that, I’m just not really interested, to be honest, Martin. It’s not really something I care to focus on or even acknowledge. Listen, Queensryche was never about any one person. It’s always been about the group and the entity creating a chemistry together, and then creating music from that chemistry. Everything was always about the team, so it’s never been about one person. For us, we still feel like we’re the majority of the team.

Martin: It’s funny, I remember asking Rob Halford once what he thought of the Ripper albums, and he’d said he never heard them. And I’m thinking wouldn’t you be like totally curious, you know, just for curiosity’s sake, right?

Scott: Well, you know, like I say, you can’t run away from everything presented to us on a daily basis on the Internet, friends and Facebook and all that. But like I said, I don’t really have the time or the need or the desire to focus anymore, just on the one little bit that I have heard. Things are going so well, and we’ve gotten such great feedback from the media and our fans, and every day it’s getting better and better. And for me, that’s such a great energy, that’s all we really need. I don’t need any other negatives in my life right now.

Martin: Do you have any outside businesses that are demanding enough that they take attention away from the band a fair bit?

Scott: Well, that’s a huge loaded question (laughs).

Martin: I know you’ve got the film stuff.

Scott: You know, thank you. I can tell you a little bit about everything I have going, which is kind of my ongoing Rockenfield empire, I guess. I own a custom drum company, that’s called RockenWraps, and we do a lot of custom drums and custom graphics for everybody in the world, so to speak, and some great people that we’ve worked with. I own a sound effects company that does a lot of sound effects and music clips and all sorts of these tools that can be used by composers, and that’s called Hollywood Loops, and that’s been used in films and TV music. And then to expand upon that, I’ve been composing films and video games and TV trailers, and all that, and film trailers, for a couple of decades now. So that’s kind of my main focus when I’m not doing Queensryche, scoring films or trailers for films and everything. I just finished the music for the After Earth/Will Smith film—I did some music for one of the trailers, and the Matt Damon films coming out called Elysium; I did the music for one of those trailers. So yeah, I do a lot of that, and the other guys have a lot of things as well. More so, it’s Michael, he’s got a custom beer that he’s done for quite a while, called Whip Ale, and he’s got some other bands he’s played with. I played in some other bands, just for fun and stuff through the years. You wonder if there’s enough time in the day, right?

Martin: How about some interesting lyrical themes on this record? What’s one or two lyrics that have an interesting story behind them?

Scott: Well, there’s a great vibe to the whole record. Just to give you a quick rundown on our explanation on that. Individually, there’s a couple of songs for me that are special that I like because of the content. One of them, for sure, is a song called “The World Without,” and I like that song because I wrote all the music for it and then when I gave it to Todd, he basically wrote and sang all the lyrics within two hours of getting the demo that I sent him. And it became a tune, and the concept of that is, you know, a father that loses his wife while she’s giving birth to their child, and then he has to carry on life, you know, just with him and the child, and he has all these memories of her. Obviously done with kind of a dark presentation, “World Without,” but it was a lot of fun for me. So that’s an example of a tune, you know, just a direct lyric on the record. But maybe the best way to explain the entire record, to us, you know, after we got it done, and we had everything planned and looking at what song goes next through the track listing, it ended up being a flow and a feel to us. And then we just realized that basically all the lyrics on the record, and the motion of the music, it’s really about moving forward. It’s about Queensryche, for one, moving forward, so that was a great kind of correlation to that. But just thematically, everything, to us, if we have to describe it in a short sentence is, it’s about moving forward in life. And I think that’s maybe why the last song is called “Open Road.”

Martin: Three quarters of the titles seem to reflect the story of the band in the last two years.

Scott: There are a couple of lyrics that are about all about what we’ve gone through (laughs), and there are probably some that are about life in genera. But certainly, you always... I think most musicians, even a country singer, writes about things that they’ve experienced; we write about everything we’re kind of experiencing.

Martin: What specific album do think this has the most vibe from the past catalogue?

Scott: That’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked that, because it’s really starting to define itself, for us. But it certainly is also... we’re getting the same feedback from a lot of our fans around the world, and even the media, who we talk to constantly, everybody seems to feel that this record fits right back in the era of Operation: Mindcrime, Empire and Promised Land. Coincidentally enough, those are the records that Jimbo made with us. But I think our tie-in to that is that was a period of great success for us. This record does feel like it could’ve been put out in that time. For us, maybe right between Empire and Promised Land, right in 1992 or something. We certainly get a lot of, so many fans, Martin, saying the same thing for us, that they feel like 20 years ago this record would’ve fit perfectly in our catalogue. Besides the fact that it still feels like a very current, new Queensryche record for us. So we kind of got it both ways, that we feel like we did it back then, but it’s a new record for us now.

Martin: That’s interesting. I can hear the Promised Land, but not so much the Empire or Operation Mindcrime. To me, I hear a lot of The Warning. Like, my notes on the new songs have “hiccup Scott beat” all over them. And the double leads, the twin leads, and the doominess... it just feels like The Warning in a lot ways.

Scott: Listen, nobody is going to argue, if you feel that it’s bringing you back to the 1984 era of The Warning. To be honest, there’s a lot of fans that are agreeing with you as well. So I guess all the way around, it’s great feedback for us, because we feel like that means we accomplished the goal of getting Queensryche back to the classic feel, and the chemistry that we had together back in those days.

Martin: What are your impressions of the Warning now, almost 30 years later?

Scott: Oh my gosh, now you’re really taking me back. The content of that whole record and what we were going through and experiencing at the time, it was a gloomy... you know, the record cover itself: it’s very apocalyptic in a way. That’s my own opinion, so take it with a grain of salt and if it works for you. We were young back then and everything was metal, and for me it was, which I love, but it just felt like great fun. So I don’t know, it’s not really doom and gloom, but it had that feel of metal meets apocalypse, I guess, in those songs. And then “Take Hold Of The Flame” was the bright candle of hope in the whole thing.

Martin: Yeah, that definitely is the big group hug moment I guess on the album. But it was a very different band from the debut EP. Any views on how you grew so much during that time?

Scott: You know, I think, it was just us, I suppose. And you’re right, between just writing the first four song EP together, and we went on tour for 1983, basically, for like six months or something, around the world, our first tour, and we came back, we already had a lot of The Warning already written. So when we went out and toured on the EP, before The Warning was ever recorded, the songs we play live on the EP tour, most of the set list was songs that were going to become The Warning. So we were out there playing shows with songs that people had never heard before because we hadn’t even recorded them yet. So for us it was just... I guess we had already transitioned to it, from the EP into The Warning. And listen, we were just diehard hungry, energetic, and we had a thing together that was on fire. We were just having so much fun getting ourselves out in the world and being the rock stars we always wanted to be.

Martin: Were you influenced at all by... you know, now there were probably 50 to 75 New Wave Of British Heavy Metal albums out, and it was like manna from Heaven for metal at that point. And also the prog bands were all doing very different, modern, exciting things? Were you blown away by all this music coming out in ’82, ‘83, ‘84?

Scott: Oh yeah, listen, it was great, because you could watch MTV and it was all about music, and what a great visual, just music station in general. I remember going to parties, and we’d all just sit and focus on MTV. So that actually became an influence. And you fast-forward right after The Warning, and we did Rage For Order in 1986, which was a complete left turn from The Warning, in terms of the musical direction. A lot of that was influenced by all of the music that we were absorbing at the time. I think that’s why there’s those great unique sounds on Rage For Order, that were technology-based. We obviously did it with the darker, less poppy orientation. But it’s fun stuff, because you write a song with that influence in your head, and just because we are the people we are, it’s never going to come out sounding like what they were doing—usually with us, it’s quite dark and heavy. And you know, Rage For Order became a great example of that.

Martin: That’s interesting, because without MTV, maybe you guys wouldn’t have discovered all those high-tech influences. If it wasn’t for the fact that all that stuff, the New Romantics that was all over MTV... I mean, metal and hard rock was big, certainly, but there was a substantial amount of electronica and synth-pop on MTV as well, right?

Scott: Yeah, there certainly was. One example I can say, even specifically—and I don’t know the time frame; I don’t when these dates were—but you know, Duran Duran was obviously big at that time, and doing all sorts of great records, but they also had some great side-projects that were happening, like Arcadia, and I love that record. They had a song called “Wild Boys,” which was a Duran Duran song, and I don’t remember when that came out, but I loved it. It was dark and it was cool, and was very percussive and drum-oriented and tribal-sounding. And I don’t know if that was a song from that era, like around Rage For Order, but I can definitely say that stuff like that was the reason why we started to delve into our own version, by doing Rage For Order. Which like I said, it just became darker and more rock and metal for us—but a lot of fun. Listen, we’re going to start having more fun with that stuff as time goes on, even from now. Just because we can. Now we know that the fans are giving us open arms to write more songs, because they’re just sucking up the new thing we just put out.

Martin: Yeah, it’s obviously a very traditional album and legacy, as well as very percussive. A lot of drum stuff on here, and they come through loud and clear as well.

Scott: Yeah, I love Jimbo, because he loves drums, and he loves working with me, and we’ve done such a great thing together. But you know, he’s worked with guys like Neil from Rush, on many records, and you know, just great drummers. So to have him always sitting in the same room with me and just on ten, loving what I can give him, as an engineer and a producer, he loves the results. He always makes my job easy. Just go in and do what I do, and it comes out as something great that I can totally work with, and vice versa. And he gets a great drum sound, and it’s become kind of my signature—percussive, clear-sounding, but the aggressive tone that is.