Michael Wilton: “We are artists and we like to experiment, but you cannot go so outside the box that you loose your core audience. We need to have a balance of progressiveness, but not for the sake of progressiveness. It is something that is built into the songs that is interesting to us, as artists, but you have to make it so that it translates and connects with people”
‘Digital Noise Alliance’ is alweer het zestiende studioalbum van Queensrÿche en het vierde met zanger Todd La Torre. Het is een topalbum in de typische Queensrÿche stijl van progressieve metal met heel imposante vocalen. Enkele afspraken gingen niet door, maar uiteindelijk waren we toch in onze nopjes om de gelegenheid te krijgen om met orgineel lid en gitarist Michael Wilton te spreken. Wat heeft hij niet allemaal meegemaakt met deze band uit Seattle? Hij blijft er ogenschijnlijk erg kalm onder en antwoordt erg relaxed op onze vragen.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 7 oktober 2022
Great to talk to you on behalf of the 16th Queensrÿche album ‘Digital Noise Alliance’. The previous album ‘The Verdict’ came out in 2019 when times still were normal. What happened next after that release?
Obviously we know what happened here in the US. There was the pandemic and it definitely decimated the music industry. It was a time for us I think, to just sit back and write an album and write material for the future. In 2021, when it was safe to travel and to meet, that is when we started meeting to record the new album. That was in January 2021. Not knowing what the future was going to be for hard rock and metal bands, was tough. A lot of bands already had new albums to go, but when they released it, they could not promote it by touring, so that was a problem. Fortunately I think with our schedule of writing and slowly starting playing shows in the US, we were able to get out. First of all we were fortunate to go on tour with Judas Priest in the US and that was great for us. It was a great springboard to get back into the industry. Also we recorded the latest album. So it is a matter of adapting to the conditions, the touring conditions, for bands to tour, it is a challenge now, just because of the high prices. To hire a tour bus is twice as much as it was in 2019. The cost of diesel is really expensive. It is a challenge now to tour, but we were fortunate that we have been able to tour, to make things work. That is kind of a summary of what we have been doing for the last three years.
Did this pandemic make you think of life in a different way?
Right! Obviously, when there is a pandemic, you think about your health. You just have to be smart about it. So we were smart and safe, we got our vaccinations and we were able to fly and travel and now it is slowly rebuilding here. A lot of clubs and theatres shut down, so there is less places to perform.
That is a challenge if you want to organize a tour of course…
Exactly. I know that next year, in 2023, we are looking at going back to Europe and the UK, but prices are really expensive there now as well. So it is a matter if we can make ends meet. Queensrÿche used to come to Europe twice a year, so we are working on that. I mean, we have offers, and we have offers for South America as well. It just has to make sense for us. Hopefully the big festivals in Europe are happening. That is the future for us, getting to the UK and Europe. You cannot predict what’s going to happen for all the countries economies, so sometimes it is a real challenge to make it work.
There were some line-up changes, but I am glad that you have found a permanent drummer again in Casey Grillo (ex-Kamelot)…
Casey has been with Queensrÿche now for five years. He is a great drummer. He works great with us. He recorded all the drums on the new album ‘Digital Noise Alliance’. Todd now just wrote the lyrics and sings.
Guitarist Mike Stone came back. That means that you have a buddy from years ago at your side. Was it different making the guitar parts now?
All the basic guitar structures were written pretty much when we invited Mike and he recorded on three of the songs. It is great to have his input and his ideas. He is a really nice guy to get along with and now he has been accepted back in Queensrÿche by the fans and we are having a great time right now. It is exciting for Queensrÿche right now and there is a great chemistry in the band.
I am happy to hear that! Next question is about the title. ‘Digital Noise Alliance’ seems a weird title for a band that doesn’t send files, but meets in person to write songs…
(laughs) As the songs have been built, from my guitar riffs and ideas that I had, the writing process was done. We had everybody in the room. In the past songs were sent via e-mail and it takes time. This album was very spontaneous, very improvised and built with everybody in the room, also with the producer. Every morning we had our coffee, we talked and then I said: hey, I have got an idea in my head. And I tell Zeuss the producer to turn the recorder on. I record the guitar riff and then Casey plays on the electronic drum kit, Eddie plays the bass part and Todd comes up with the melody. The songs were built that way, back to what we did in the early eighties. We were all in one room, showed everybody our ideas and everybody would learn them. That is kind of what we did today, only a bit more in a modern sense, because we have pro-tools computer, so we could record the ideas. In that way we could go to a certain part of a song and then I would come up with another idea and then we start on the next one. So we probably worked out five ideas a day. When we had our fourth meeting, we had more than twenty songs.
So there is a lot of material to be used in the future then, or do you just throw that away…
Yes, it is all good material. We had to pick 11/12 songs and then concentrate on them. So we did that and then went to the studio in January 2022 and we recorded the album.
It sounds very organic and fresh. Maybe it is because you were together in a room and used some of your old equipment…
I think so, because a lot of it was spontaneous, a lot of guitar riffs and I am the original guy (laughs). I have these memories of the past and it is sentimental playing. Also on this album, we used all my old Marshall amplifiers into the torpedo captor. I still have them all, I have amps from the eighties and the nineties, so we used those on the recording and that led to the vintage feel of the album.
The opening track ‘In Extremis’ instantly puts you in the Queensrÿche universe. Very impressive…
Thank you! With that one we thought you kind of get a taste of everything that you are going to get on the album as well as it is very exciting. That is why we decided ‘In Extremis’ to be the first video and the first song on the album.
In my feeling, around the fifth song ‘Behind The Walls’, you get a kind of mood change. Suddenly it gets more ominous, it gets darker and it gets more atmospheric. Do you also see that this way and was it done on purpose?
That was one of the first songs that we worked on and I think it is just a heavy guitar riff that really lends itself to the Queensrÿche style. It is a song that just keeps on building up and I remember, at the end of the song, we didn’t know what to do with it. Zeuss, our producer, told me and Mike Stone: ‘hey, why don’t you guys come up with a double solo?’ We did that.
Lyric-wise it is also kind of haunting…
Yes, it is a very powerful chorus and we got such a great response and reactions on our video on YouTube. So many people want to hear this song live, so I think we are going to get this song playing in our set list.
I think ‘Forest’ is also a very special song. Can you tell a bit more about that?
Sure. That was one of the last guitar riffs that I had. It is a very simple kind of guitar piece, it has five guitar chords in it, probably the simplest thing I have ever written. It was a song that we built together in the studio, musically it was just leaning on a vibe. When Todd came up with the theme and the idea, it was more like I wanted him to sing with his natural voice, not high screams or anything like that, to show his diversity with his lower voice and then about the subject matter, it is a subject that connects to so many people. So many people are dealing with loss in their families or significant others. Just the feeling of them lingering in your mind, it is a powerful subject and it is something that is really connected with so many people.
The line that struck me was: ‘yesterday is a memory and tomorrow is too far away’.
Yeah everybody feels like that once in a while.
I know that Todd wrote the lyrics, but is there another song you like to talk more about?
A lot of the songs deal with kind of the dark, depression that people deal with, but the song ‘Sicdeth’ is more a tale of convicted killers and the atrocities that actually happened and what the person thinks and how their lives flash in front of them and how it affects other families. It has a lot of – polarizing I guess – viewpoints of what a killer might feel.
Does the title in any way refer to DNA?
When we came up with ‘Digital Noise Alliance’, we had to do research on internet and make sure nobody had released an album with that title and then the acronym that we took with it ‘Digital Noise Alliance’ sounded very cool. I think just the idea of DNA immediately we thought of how we could use our tribal symbol as a stranded DNA. It turned out really cool and everybody loves that album cover. ‘Digital Noise Alliance’ kind of deals with what everybody’s going through right now, especially in the United States. It is noise on the internet, it is people putting their viewpoints and not letting you decide what you want to believe. They are swaying you with digital noise, it is all hypocrites and people who are charlatans going around. It is all around you. It is just being advertised and put in your face on the internet.
It was the third album that you worked with producer Zeuss at Plan Z studios in Massachusetts. I guess it was familiar and I guess that was just what you needed after this strange isolation time: working with someone you trust and already knew…
Zeuss brings the glue to the recordings. I mean, he knows the past and he knows how to bring the best performances out of us. This is the third album we have done with him and we have built this trust. I trust him with my guitar parts if he gives suggestions or maybe wants to change something. I respect that and I will make the changes. I mean, he just knows how to bring the best out of us and I think this album couldn’t have been done without him.
That is a big compliment for him… but he started as a fan and therefore he might understand your drive and passion and what you want to achieve. That is very important.
It is, because we are artists and we like to experiment, but you cannot go so outside the box that you loose your core audience. We need to have a balance of progressiveness, but not for the sake of progressiveness. It is something that is built into the songs that is interesting to us, as artists, but you have to make it so that it translates and connects with people. And he is just so good at that. He knows when there needs to be lots of musicality, progressiveness: he knows when you have gone too far and you may have lost the listener. So he is so in tune with what we do and I think it is great that we can work with somebody like Zeuss for this record.
Even though Queensrÿche was always labelled as progressive metal band, I don’t think it was ever focused on virtuosity only. It has always been about melodies and important vocals too.
Yes, Queensrÿche music has bits of everything. It has bits of metal, bits of hard rock, bit of progressive rock, bits of everything, but all the songs have melody. They are all built around the song. Melody is important to us.
Do you listen yourself still to a lot of music? Old music or new music?
A little bit here and there. You know, I think we tour so much and we travel so much. You are concentrating on what songs we are going to put in our set list. It is only once in a while that we start hearing something. Mostly from a friend, saying hey, did you hear this band? We get to listen to it, but we are so damned busy. It is like I don’t have the time to search out all these new bands and I know there is great music out there, but I guess… I got a business to run. Let’s say that I rely on my friends to play me new cool music. (chuckles)
Was there something you discovered during the pandemic?
I like bands like Gojira. They are good players. I just search out bands like that, a little more musical.
What are the plans for the near future?
In October, after the release of the album, we will be touring with Judas Priest for eight weeks and then in the beginning of 2023 we will do a headline tour in the US for the new album.
Do you have contact with the members of Judas Priest by now or are they in an ivory tower?
Yes, it is great to be able to play on their tours with them. We love it. We have toured with them a few times before and we have a good relationship with them. When we work together it is a good pair of music I think and we are really looking forward to meet them again.