When a group is trying to break into the business, there are plenty of ways to get attention.
It can get a jump-start by self-recording its first album and distributing it online.
It can build a social networking force the same way.
If it makes the right contacts, it can even get a synch licence in a videogame.
Such tactics are normal.
But when Queensrÿche made these moves decades ago, eyebrows raised. While critics have revered the act for its songwriting and performance skills-resulting in 20 million-plus album sales worldwide, according to Roadrunner Records-the Seattle quintet has never been as widely hailed for its career strategies. The band recorded and distributed its 1981 self-titled debut EP (on its own 206 Records label) back when self-recording was cost-prohibitive. The band is so engaged with its fans that two of them will travel on the group's tour bus in July. Long before Metallica and Aerosmith had "Guitar Hero" titles dedicated to their catalogs, Queensrÿche released its "Promised Land" videogame, modeled after its 1994 album of the same name.
So why doesn't the band get press like Prince or Radiohead for innovative moves? "I don't know," drummer Scott Rockenfield says. "Does it bother us? No. We're already succeeding because we're doing what we've always wanted to do."
When Queensrÿche-Rockenfield, singer Geoff Tate, guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and then-guitarist Chris DeGarmo-cracked the mainstream in 1988 with landmark concept album "Operation: Mindcrime," hardcore metal and hair bands ruled the media. As a progressive band influenced by everything from Iron Maiden to John Coltrane, Queensrÿche was heavy enough to be tagged "metal," but different enough to cut through the din.
Paul Freundlich Associates VP Kevin Chiaramonte, who worked with the band while it was on Sanctuary Records, notes that no one else sounds like Queensrÿche-then or now. "The sound is unique and it's one they've worked hard to build," he says, citing the band's use of texture and sound, anchored by Tate's distinctive voice. "That's what makes them able to stand the test of time."
Queensrÿche is still honing its sound on "Dedicated to Chaos," its 13th studio title (released June 28 on Roadrunner). While tracks like lead single "Get Started" and "At the Edge" confirm that the group is still rocking, "Around the World" is anthemic and uplifting, and "Big Noize" is a mesmerizing journey. The band seems to reflect on its many sonic turns-like the gothic feel of 1986's "Rage for Order" and the gloss of 1990's "Empire." This lifelong experimentation-in all its endeavors-is the backbone of Queensrÿche's survival.
According to Roadrunner senior director of marketing Suzi Akyuz "Chaos" will be sold as a standard album, as a special edition with four bonus tracks and as a special edition bundled with a T-shirt and a lithograph. Aside from autographing 2,000 prints for the bundle, Queensrÿche signed another 4,000 posters to give away at Trans World. A video for the track "Wot We Do" is posted at Queensryche.com to inspire fans to make videos that show their own personal interests. One winner will receive a gift package that includes a private dinner with band members.
Without question, the group has an open mind about promotion. There was the karaoke-style contest where fans at select tour stops replaced vocalist Tate onstage and sang a song with the rest of the band. Grand-prize winner Vincent Solano recorded vocals for the track "A Dead Man's Words" on 2009 album "American Soldier." The band is currently auctioning two bunks on its tour bus-a chance to travel as part of Queensrÿche's entourage-in the United Kingdom July 15-24 when it performs in support of Judas Priest. The group will then tour the United States (July 29-Oct. 2) as An Evening With Queensrÿche to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Rockenfield attributes "50% of our longevity [to] nurturing fans and giving them what they deserve . . . If we don't have them, we don't have a career."
And their fans let them know-for better or for worse-what they think of Queensrÿche's recording gambles. When the long-awaited sequel to "Operation: Mindcrime" arrived in 2006, some considered it a sacrilege. Others weren't happy about "American Solider," which explored the psychological affects of war. And then there was last year's Queensrÿche Cabaret, a spate of adults-only rock shows that featured scantily clad dancers. But: "Mindcrime II" was Queensrÿche's highest-peaking album (No. 14) on the Billboard 200 since "Promised Land" (No. 3), and "American Soldier" peaked at No. 25. "Mindcrime" was aided by the group playing the album back-to-back with its predecessor on tour, with actors joining the members onstage to portray the story's characters, and "Soldier" was braced by marketing directly to the armed forces and performing for the troops in places including Iraq.
The act has weathered creative risks and the digital revolution and has remained balanced. But when former guitarist DeGarmo left in 1997 due to creative differences, there was a seismic shift. "It was a huge blow to the band," Tate says. "He was one of the major songwriters. He handled a lot of the day-to-day business between the record company and management. He was a real driving force."
Some view Queensrÿche in terms of pre- and post-DeGarmo. The last complete album he recorded with the group, 1997's "Hear in the Now Frontier," peaked at No. 19 on the Billboard 200 and sold 312,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (He also contributed to 2003's "Tribe" during a brief reunion.) Although "Mindcrime II" peaked at No. 14, it sold 143,000 copies; the best-selling studio album post-DeGarmo is 1999's "Q2K" at 156,000 copies. Queensrÿche's biggest U.S. seller is 1990's "Empire," which has sold 3.3 million copies since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales data in 1991.
Other significant events occurred at the time of DeGarmo's departure. The group's label, EMI Records, folded. The band also parted ways with Q Prime Management. Grunge knocked metal and hair bands underground. Queensrÿche pushed onward by filling DeGarmo's slot with various players (Parker Lundgren currently handles guitar) while many rock acts that rose in the '80s fell by the wayside. Instead of album sales and airplay royalties-Queensrÿche's biggest hit was the Grammy-nominated Billboard Hot 100 top 10 "Silent Lucidity"-it now supports itself with merch and by touring, playing theaters, amphitheaters and festivals. Queensrÿche has also reached wider audiences by occasionally giving up the top of the marquee to gain exposure to other audiences, supporting Judas Priest this year, guesting with Heaven and Hell and Alice Cooper in 2007 and rotating the headliner position with Dream Theater in 2003.
Reality shows, or stamping the band's name on numerous products, are established routes to getting more attention. And while some members have individual brands (see story, below), you won't see Queensrÿche-endorsed vodka or cologne anytime soon. Manager Susan Tate, who's married to Geoff and has been handling the band for about 10 years, says, "Queensrÿche doesn't want to put their name on as many things as they can. There's a quality to them, and they really care about their music. It's not about, 'How can we sell out as quick as possible and make the most money that we can?' " She thinks that what really keeps Queensrÿche ticking is that its members still love what they do. Her husband's comments about the track "Get Started," about a relationship that's only getting warmed up after 20 years, reflect that passion.
"I don't think of myself as winding down. I feel like I'm pretty vital and I've got a lot of ideas," he says. "I'm still deeply in love with music and playing in the band and performing, and I'm not slowing down."