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Everybody Listening: Queensryche-Tate Lawsuit Sets Web Ablaze
According to a Queensryche statement Billboard referenced when breaking the news of Tate's departure on June 20, the band has sold 30 million album copies worldwide since forming in 1981. Its best-selling album in the United States is "Empire," which is certified three-times platinum, and contains the Grammy Award-nominated top 10 hit "Silent Lucidity." The quintet is best-known for its 1988 breakthrough concept album "Operation: Mindcrime."
The reason for Tate's departure, attributed to a quote from Rockenfield, was "growing creative differences" during the past few months. Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre was named as his replacement. The news came after weeks of speculation that began with rumors of a then-unconfirmed physical altercation that occurred among Tate, Rockenfield and Wilton before showtime at an April 14 concert in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Todd La Torre, center, in a newly released photo of Queensryche. (Photo: Mike Savoia)
Rolling Stone published a sit-down with Tate on June 26, where he gave his side of the story. He also spoke to Billboard in an interview published July 6. Billboard was reviewing the defendants' legal documents to report on their version of events when the paperwork went viral July 10. Queensryche declined to comment for this article.
Tate stated in both interviews that prior to a band disagreement in February regarding moving the group's in-house merchandising to a third party, nothing seemed amiss. In documents filed in response to Tate's complaint, the other three claim tensions have existed as far back as the creative/recording period of 1994 album "Promised Land," due to Tate's attitude toward his bandmates and conflicts about songwriting credits. Later factors that contributed to the problem included being "forced" to accept Susan as the band's manager and unhappiness with her business decisions, along with Tate's insistence on creative control and throwing tantrums if he was crossed. The results, according to the trio, have been a distancing from the core Queensryche rock/metal sound that has alienated fans and eroded the group's brand value. To them, the final straw wasn't just an argument about switching merch companies, but also the discovery that Tate, without their knowledge, signed an animated film deal based on "Operation: Mindcrime." Although the deal called for 20% of soundtrack and merch profits to be split among the four of them, Tate would also receive such compensation as a $10,000 upfront option payment.
In a reply declaration in further support of the injunction, Tate explained that he owns the copyright to "Mindcrime" storyline (about a junkie who becomes an anti-government assassin) since he conceived it and wrote the story. Wilton's declaration notes that DeGarmo contributed to the story outline. According to BMI.com, which tracks Queensryche's publishing, DeGarmo, Wilton, Jackson and Rockenfield have songwriting credits on the album.
The singer told Billboard his bandmates had "tried to make bad business decisions" throughout their career, a charge the threesome lobby back at the Tates. One example is the departure of guitarist Mike Stone, who filled DeGarmo's position after performer Kelly Gray originally replaced him. According to Wilton, Susan fired Stone for being too demanding and hired current guitarist Parker Lundgren, her daughter Miranda's then-boyfriend, without Wilton hearing him play or giving the three defendants a say in the decision. A request for comment from Stone was not received by press time.
Tate told Billboard there were no "creative differences" in the group and that since "day one" of being in the band together had asked them to contribute more to songwriting. The threesome (who have co-writing credits dating back to Queensryche's earlier recordings, Wilton in particular) counter that they contributed demos, but Tate often rejected them or started singing on them, then abandoned them. Tate also asserted in his complaint that he's the chief songwriter, and the defendants "chose not to be involved in certain Queensryche albums and songs, and had to be replaced by studio musicians" on "multiple tracks." Their position is that Tate only writes lyrics, not actual music, and the reason hardly any of the parts they recorded were used for 2006 album "Operation: Mindcrime II" was because Tate and producer Jason Slater took control of what music would be used, and the Tates deliberately shut out Wilton and Rockenfield from recording, according to Jackson's declaration. His document describes "the same disrespectful, controlling negativity" from the Tates and Slater during sessions for 2009's "American Soldier."
The only claims of the trio that align with Tate's is that he's entitled to severance in the wake of his firing, except that it shouldn't include sole rights to the Queensryche name, and the aforementioned tensions over compensation stemming from songwriting royalties. Tate's declaration in support for the injunction says complaints from the defendants about songwriter royalties "reached a fever pitch" by 1997 due to them having fewer credits than Tate and DeGarmo, a major contributor who wrote "Silent Lucidity," and their attitude contributed to DeGarmo quitting. Wilton's declaration notes that after the success of 1990's "Empire" is when resentment over credits started emerging and they were indeed worse by the late '90s. He and Jackson also claim that Tate's demeanor toward DeGarmo helped push him out the door.
But it's the threesome's version of what happened in Brazil that contributed most to the Internet uproar. Tate discussed with Rolling Stone how he "tried to punch" Rockenfield and "managed to shove" Wilton after the defendants told him during a pre-show band meeting they'd fired Susan and Miranda, who was acting as merchandise director, and a guitar tech who's also Miranda's husband. He said he "just lost it" when Rockenfield taunted him with the comment, "We just fired your whole family, and you're next."
The three claim that they did inform Tate at the meeting they had fired those three employees, but that they also confronted him about the "Mindcrime" movie deal. They contend that before showtime Tate deliberately knocked over the drum kit and then, unprovoked, punched Wilton once and Rockenfield twice in the face. He also allegedly threatened Jackson, shouted obscenities, had to be restrained by security and spit on them and their equipment during the show, along with delivering threats of further retaliation before they played at the May 12 M3 show and the Memorial Day weekend Rocklahoma concert if anyone came near him while the band performed onstage.
Rockenfield charges this wasn't the first time Tate struck him, referring in his declaration to a 2007 incident where Tate "proceeded to smash my laptop on the table and then hit me in the face while spitting on me and pushing me around the room for approximately 15 minutes" after becoming angry about something. Jackson also references this confrontation in his declaration. Tate, in a declaration in further support of the injunction, says the incident in question regarded him discovering Rockenfield selling personal merchandise in the merch booth at a Queensryche show without discussing it with the band. Tate claims he "shut the laptop screen down" to get Rockenfield's attention since he was ignoring Tate, and "did not spit on him or push him."
Rage For Order
Correspondence between the parties' lawyers indicate there was, at some point, a willingness to attempt a negotiation to settle things quietly. The defendants' attorney, Thomas T. Osinski Jr. of Osinski Law Offices, wrote in a letter dated May 31 that it was in everyone's best interests to do so "with a mutually agreed position for public consumption." Osinski indicates the trio preferred not to vote Tate out, but they had scheduled a shareholders' meeting for June 5 if they felt they had to. (As the four principal members, each of them own 25% of the rights to band-related companies that control the Seattle group's intellectual property, merchandise and publishing.)
Tate's lawyer, Joshua C. Brower of Veris Law Group, responded in a letter dated June 5 that Tate couldn't be fired. This was due, in part, to a stipulation in a 1994 shareholders' agreement that a vote of at least 80% of the shareholders was required for expulsion. When that agreement was drawn, DeGarmo was still in the band and the five members each held 20% of the rights. When he left, his shares were distributed among the other four. However, the percentage stipulation of 80% in the agreement was never altered-meaning, according to Brower, Tate can't be expelled without his consent since the other three only hold 75% of the shares.
"All that said, Mr. Tate is open to discussing a negotiated separation," Brower wrote. None of the paperwork Billboard obtained indicated if negotiations did or didn't occur.
All of the above referenced documents are available for download from the King County Superior Court Records website. When they went viral July 10, an already divided fan base posted hundreds of comments on metal/rock news blogs and Queensryche-related Facebook pages, overwhelmingly supporting Queensryche and criticizing Tate. Contributing to commenters' irritation was the defendants' statements that pass codes to Queensryche networking sites were being withheld from them. As of July 19, for the month of June, there are four posts for the band's Facebook page, with fans only able to comment on those posts. On July 13, a post appeared advertising Tate singing the national anthem at a racing event. The same July 13 post appeared on the band's Twitter account, which, as of July 19, only contains tweets under the name of Queensryche.
The hale of comments continued the next day when two fan-shot videos of Tate spitting onstage during the Brazil show also went viral. One clip shows him standing upstage and spitting in Rockenfield's direction. The second shows Tate stepping up to the drum riser and spitting directly at Rockenfield.
Spit Flies at 3:55
When asked for comment on July 11 about the band's response to Tate's claim, his publicist, Jeff Albright of Albright Entertainment Group, wrote in an email, "Due to the nature of the lawsuit, Geoff has decided not to make further comment at this point in time . . . but stay tuned." Billboard repeated the request for comment on July 12 after the Brazil videos emerged, but didn't receive a response by press time.
Asked if he had any comment about the nature of Tate's claim, or the nature of the defendants' response to it, Gargano wrote, "Bands of Queenryche's stature are businesses, not weekend hobbies. What is overlooked in the emotion surrounding this case is that the lawsuit has been filed because of a dispute over the band's bylaws. The case will ultimately be decided by a judge, based on nothing more than how the law and legal precedent can be applied to the band's corporate structure. Sadly, no matter the outcome, the only real winners are going to be the lawyers that get to charge by the hour."
Online emotions have cooled to a degree, as more comments are appearing from readers on Queensryche-related news posts and its Facebook page that they're tired of hearing about the situation.
If the case goes to trial, the date is set for Nov. 18, 2013.