Everybody Listening: Queensryche-Tate Lawsuit Sets Web Ablaze

Crumbling Empire

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.

Geoff Tate Signs Solo Deal

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."

Q&A: Ex-Queensryche Frontman Geoff Tate Discusses Split

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."

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