Exclusive: Former Queensryche Guitarist Chris DeGarmo and His Daughter Discuss Creative Collaboration
When Chris DeGarmo was a kid, he happened to find a guitar tucked beneath the couch at his house. Although his grandparents had bought it for his brother Mark, he wasn't interested in it. Chris' random find turned out to be a profound event in his life: It unlocked a creative impulse that led him to become a musician and co-found progressive rock band Queensryche.
During his tenure in the group his successes included co-writing the landmark 1988 concept album Operation: Mindcrime and penning the 1991 Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hit "Silent Lucidity," which has soundtracked life-changing moments for many people, from first dates and weddings to births and funerals.
Although he just turned 52 on June 14, Chris has never forgotten that magic of discovering music. And as a father, he naturally wondered if his daughter Rylie and younger son Preston would also pick it up. So when Rylie, 22, joined a vocal ensemble while she was in high school, he kept tabs on her activities, but he didn't push her about it -- he'd shown her a few things on the piano when she was younger, but he never gave his kids formal music lessons.
"There's something really cool about 'I discovered this, and it's meaningful to me,'" says Chris. "I thought there was chance [Rylie might pursue music], and it was no biggie if it didn't go that way."
Just the same, when she heard him noodling on an acoustic one day when she was around 15 and said, "Wow, Dad, that's really cool. I think I've got something for that," Chris admits, "I'd just been waiting years for that."
That was the spark for them to start casually collaborating as time permitted between Rylie's school schedule and Chris' profession as a private jet pilot, which he embarked on after leaving Queensryche in 1997. Years later, their shared love of music has resulted in their debut recording as The Rue.
Available at TheRueMusic.com, the six-song EP was created in Chris' basement studio at their Seattle home. It's driven by Rylie's voice (she has a clear, confident tone and precise phrasing that belies her age) and graceful melodies backed by less-is-more instrumentation: Think adult alternative pop/rock in the vein of Tracey Thorn's Love and Its Opposite.
Its pristine sonic quality makes The Rue's laid-back, ruminative qualities shine on tracks like the soothing "My Illusion" and the bluesy, unwinding "Fool Me." Accompanying visuals reflect the music's unfettered quality: For instance, Rylie's video concept for "Love Song" perfectly captures the daydreamy isolation that the track invokes. (It was coincidentally directed by her uncle Mark -- the same one who unknowingly dropped his guitar into Chris' hands.)
Rylie says she was "kind of raised on The Beatles and Led Zeppelin and some classics," and she started gravitating toward jazz, namely Billie Holiday, when in early high school. "That's also kind of where the confluence of my dad and my musical interests sort of started happening too, and that just spiked my interest in music even more, the fact that I could make it with my dad," she recalls.
A lot of young women wouldn't feel comfortable singing about love and longing when their dad is backing them on guitar. But Rylie, a French studies major who's currently residing in Paris as she completes a marketing internship, describes their relationship as "best buds." Their playful affection for each other was apparent as they talked with Billboard via conference call from two vastly different time zones.
"The things that he and I talk about anyway are loaded enough and intriguing enough and fascinating enough and challenging enough for me that I can go there, and I don't need to write about risque stuff that tends to sell," says Rylie with a laugh. "We don't sing about [things like] twerking."
The pair essentially collaborates by having Rylie devise vocal melodies and lyrics, with Chris using the guitar to try to "create a musical picture" around her. He feels that the sound of The Rue is also a metaphor for the personal relationship they share. "There's not a bunch of window dressing and high-production value," he says of The Rue's style, "but it's heavy on an emotional connection and [has] a directness to it."
So far the pair has done just a few low-key gigs. But since she's nearing the end of her formal education, Rylie is "stoked" to see what's next professionally with The Rue.
"Music is my favorite thing in the world. It's the stuff of life for me, and it's my soul's content. I feel so alive and happy and functional when I'm making music, and I would love to pursue it," she says.
Chris is "really proud" of The Rue and supports Rylie's desire to move it forward, even though he's kept a very low profile since leaving Queensryche. His last musical release was a brief reunion with the band for 2003 album Tribe, and it's possible that the last formal interview he did was in 2001 with this writer in support of post-QR project Spys4Darwin.
A potential return to the spotlight provokes long-simmering questions about why he left Queensryche, since his initial departure was attributed to creative differences: After the group fired singer Geoff Tate in 2012, a subsequent lawsuit (which Billboard covered extensively) revealed that the band's interpersonal relationships had been suffering for decades. Asked if he cares to elaborate on why he left, Chris' response is a polite "No, thanks."
However, his decision to live a more private life didn't affect his desire to make music. Through all these years, he's happily created it at home for his own enjoyment. "I love it every bit as much as I did when I was 18 and I decided that's what I want to do for my life," says Chris. "It's a part of me. It's every bit a part of me as it ever was."
Regardless of whether The Rue becomes a major sensation, or if Rylie ever starts working with other musicians some day, the DeGarmos know they will always share the bond of writing songs together. "I think it's an amazing, sacred thing that we have, regardless of where I go with my music otherwise," says Rylie.
And as she explores what life has to offer, she's already got a mode of rock star transportation at her fingertips.
"Rylie's ready to take over the world," her father says cheerfully. "And I'll fly her wherever she needs to go."