Anyone who watched this year's MTV Video Music Award show knows how popular Queensryche is these days. Not only did this Seattle-based quintet win the "Viewers' Choice" award for its "Silent Lucidity" clip, but it crushed the competition while doing so. Clearly, this was a band that had found its audience.
Or had it? Although "Empire" -- the album from which "Silent Lucidity" was taken -- was Queensryche's fifth album in seven years, many listeners took it to be the band's debut. And while some fans will recognize "Operation Livecrime" -- the album and video that arrive in record stores Tuesday -- as a concert recording of the group's 1988 album "Operation Mindcrime," for others it will seem like completely new material.
All of which puts the band in a position guitarist Chris DeGarmo describes as "pretty weird." But as he explains over the phone, during a tour stop in Edmonton, Alberta, it's normal that some fans would latch onto a band earlier than others.
"Some people seek out bands that aren't really on a mainstream sort of awareness level yet, and other people only hear about them once they're on their favorite radio station," he says. "It just depends on what type of a music fan you're talking about."
That's particularly true in this case. Queensryche's music may sound like typical heavy rock (although the songs on "Empire" are considerably more adventurous than most), but the band's lyrics are worlds away from the usual want-you-babe cliches of most hard rockers.
"Empire," for instance, is a stinging indictment of post-Reagan America, from the help-the-homeless message of "Thin Line" to the attack on partisan politics in "Resistance," while "Operation Mindcrime" comes astonishingly close to creating an American, rock and roll equivalent to Orwell's "1984." It's amazing stuff, but not the sort of thing usually heard on pop radio stations.
Yet as the success of "Empire" proves, pop fans will listen to such songs -- if given the chance. Trouble is, says DeGarmo, they're not given that chance often enough.
"It's silly to say that just because a song has substance, people won't find it entertaining," he points out. "Escapism works as a theory for people enjoying entertainment, but I don't think that it's an absolute. There's plenty of film and music out there that has a lot of substance to it, and has found a big audience."
Still, it wasn't the merit of Queensryche's music that finally earned the band a break, but the size of its audience. As DeGarmo explains, "Our fan base continued to expand and expand, and the pressure on these people to give us a shot mounted as well. They really can't ignore the fact that once an album has sold half a million copies, as 'Mindcrime' did, that a certain percentage of their audience would like it.
"So somebody finally gave us a shot, and apparently people didn't turn off their radio -- luckily for us," he laughs.
Obviously, it helps that Queensryche balances its big ideas with sturdy, evocative melodies, as with the gentle, brooding "Silent Lucidity." But, says DeGarmo, part of the reason the music fits so well with the words is that the whole band is involved in the creative process -- even if most of the songs are written either by DeGarmo or singer Geoff Tate.
"We very rarely start out with a blueprint out in front of us before the songwriting begins," DeGarmo says. "We'll get together and start kind of comparing notes on what we have, and it just kind of falls together.
"I really think part of the reason the projects have a solid feeling to them is just that the band is very solid. We're different people, certainly, but we parallel in a lot of ways. Everybody has known each other a long time -- we kind of grew up in the same place -- so there are a lot of similarities going on there.
"Plus we communicate well," he says. "Oftentimes, a song is discussed before it's really even played. Somebody will say, 'I've got this idea for this song; this is where it's going, this is kind of what it's like musically.' And the song kind of gets written through conversation, with everybody knowing where they're going to be going with it before we really sit down and start working out the music of it."
That may seem an odd way of going about things, but DeGarmo believes that it explains how Queensryche's music can put complex ideas across so simply. "If the song is about something, we sit down and talk about what the song is about, and then try to paint the musical picture," he says. "Everybody tries to imagine that state of mind.
"If you can start by sorting out ideas, just communicating in conversation, that's great," he adds. "I love it when we can get together like that, and not just have to go, 'Well, I don't really have any ideas, but here's the music.' When you can sit down and connect mentally together on what you're going to do, it really makes the musical process of it much easier."
When: Thursday, Nov. 7, 8 p.m.
Where: Baltimore Arena
Call: 347-2010 for information; 481-6000 for tickets