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Queensr˙che's Wilton at Odds With Singer Over Band's Direction

By BRIAN HEATON

Queensr˙che has earned a reputation as a band that defies categorization. Dedicated to pushing its musical boundaries open, rather than building on a popular sound, the group is heralded in the industry for its brash, risk-taking style.

Ironically, it's that steadfast commitment to evolution that appears to be a source contention between guitarist Michael Wilton and vocalist Geoff Tate, as the group struggles to find a direction for its ninth studio effort.

"Queensr˙che has always been about reinventing itself," Wilton explained. "It makes it interesting as a musician. But we need to be reminded that this is a business, and with doing a 180-degree shift in style, there is an inherent risk that is involved. It's a 'don't bite the hand that feeds' kind of thing."

Fan support for the band's diverse approach has waned in recent years, as declining album sales and smaller venue bookings tend to support the guitarist's fears. Other high profile bands have experienced similar problems once they strayed too far from a signature sound. Faced with criticism from both fans and peers after the release of Slang in 1996, Def Leppard stepped back and revisited the vibe of its multi-platinum Hysteria days with the 1999 release of Euphoria. The album revived the older fan base, and quickly achieved gold status.

Convinced that a more aggressive tempo would be advantageous to the band's career, Wilton has pushed for a return visit to Queensr˙che's earlier roots – a position apparently not supported by the band's lead singer.

"I believe this album should be hard and intense," Wilton maintained. "What I have heard so far is not that. I have no desire to change Queensr˙che into an adult contemporary band. This should be a Queensr˙che album and not a Geoff Tate solo album."

Lately, the vocalist has downplayed his reputation as one of the more defining voices of the hard rock/heavy metal genre. In various interviews during the past year, Tate has revealed that he isn't a big fan of heavy metal -- the brand of rock Queensr˙che took to new heights in the 80's -- preferring the sounds of his R&B, dance, folk, and classical music influences. These admissions have caused fans, as well as Wilton, to question the future of the band.

"If a band has no passion and becomes stale, then I think it is time for things to change," conceded Wilton. "It all depends on where the loyalty and focus of the band is heading.

"I love the hard aggressive music, but I think those days are dwindling in Queensr˙che," the guitarist added. "But I will always stick to my guns and be true to what got me this far."

Looking toward the future, Wilton formed Soulbender in 2002 to satisfy his craving for a hard-hitting vibe. A straight-up, heavy metal-oriented five-piece band, Soulbender consists of Wilton, guitarist Dave Groves, bassist Marty Vankieth, drummer Wes Hallam, and vocalist Nick Pollock.

"Originally, Soulbender was just going to be a project band of mine," Wilton explained. "But when I got my musicians together, magic happened that I had not felt since the early days of Queensr˙che."

When asked about the differences between Queensr˙che and Soulbender, Wilton was adamant on stressing his new band's love of the heavy metal sound, and shed some light on how dissimilar the inner-workings of both groups are.

"For one, we all write the songs together, and love what we do," the guitarist said, referring to Soulbender. "Everyone in the band is pretty much equal, we all love metal and are confident we can add much to the genre."

Queensr˙che, however, remains Wilton's main concern. Commenting on his recent contributions to the band's on-going song writing process, the guitarist alluded that the passing of his mother has had a profound effect on his work.

"It has been a very dark year for me," he admitted. "The music I have written is just an extension of what I have been going through. What the band decides may be in a totally different direction."

With the new Queensr˙che album due in early 2003, Wilton insisted that his dedication to the group remains strong, regardless of the creative differences between himself and Tate.

"I have been pretty consumed in writing the next Queensr˙che record," he maintained. "I definitely know where my priorities should be."

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in 2002. All photos courtesy of Michael Wilton.


Copyright 2009, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.