It must be beyond daunting to replace a true icon, but this is exactly what Todd La Torre has done, and done very successfully, in the last four years.
Replacing a seminal singer like Geoff Tate in a legendary band like Queensrÿche, three decades into their career must have seemed like the proverbial scaling of Everest with both hands tied behind your back, but the bands now-frontman has done it with professionalism, good humour, a deep respect for Tate’s work, and a philosophical attitude towards the reaction he would receive from fans.
We spoke to La Torre recently in the lead up to the band’s tour of Australia in October, and he was more than happy to give a little insight into the monumental task that has faced him since joining the band in 2012, and how difficult it was to step into those shoes.
“I wear boots!” He jokes, “he [Tate] can wear shoes, I like to wear my boots.”
“Seriously, he’s been hailed as one of the greatest of all time of the genre. In my opinion, he created a sound and style of singing. At first, I knew I was going to be harshly criticised. Even if I sounded perfect, I am not him. And because I’m not him, people will say you’re never as good as him in his prime’, and blah fuckin’ blah. And I say, ‘at almost 43 years old, I’m hitting notes that he wasn’t’.”
“Nevertheless, Geoff Tate is legendary, he doesn’t have to prove anything; he’s done more than most will ever even dream to achieve.”
“He carved a path for many and was very influential in my vocal styling and was a reason why I enjoy this kind of singing. I didn’t invent it, I put my own little twist on things, but that guy was very innovative and unique. He should be immensely respected for that.”
So would La Torre consider himself to have been a fan of the band before joining them? “Of course. Queensryche and Iron Maiden have been my favourite bands since I was 14!” He laughs.
It’s still a little astonishing to La Torre, to think that he is now fully entrenched as the frontman of a band that he has been a massive fan of for 30-odd years. To the extent that, if someone went back in time ten years and told him that in 2016 he would be the singer in Queensryche, he wouldn’t have thought it possible in a million years.
“I would have told them they were crazy!” He states sincerely, “if someone had have said you’re going to meet the Queensryche guys’, I would have said ‘yeah, I don’t know how probable that is, but it’s possible’. If someone had said, you’re going to become good friends with somebody in the band’ I would have said, ‘I really doubt that!’”
“And now I’m singing in the band? I’m part of the songwriting process, part of everything that’s the band. If you’d told me that, I would have slapped the shit out of you and told you-you were stupid! I don’t even know how to explain it.”
La Torre feels that this little anecdote puts it into some perspective: “When I was 18, I met these guys at a record signing,” he recalls. “They were playing the ‘Bay Front Arena’, which is where I lived, and it was sold out. I stood in line, it was at a ‘Spec’s Music’, a local music store, they were doing a signing, and I stood in line for an hour to get my The Warning CD signed.
“I have pictures of me leaning against the table, smiling ear to ear with my thumbs up, and they’re the guys in the band behind me, it was awesome! And now, you fast forward, and I’m in the band? It’s crazy; I don’t even know how to describe that. It’s surreal!”
To this humble writer and fan’s ears, La Torre’s voice walks a very fine line between being close enough to Tate’s to not cause too many ripples with the band’s existing fans, while not being so close as to be accused of being a clone. Upon hearing this, the man himself is stoked.
“I would say that that is the best comment — and compliment — that I could get,” He states gratefully, “I would consider your comment very complimentary. If you take Anthrax for example, when John Bush went into Anthrax, I loved John Bush’s voice in Anthrax, and obviously, I loved Joey Belladonna’s voice. They were so different, but for me, it worked.”
However, La Torre feels that type of situation wouldn’t have worked in a band like Seattle’s favourite progressive metal band. “I think that, with Queensryche, because the vocals were so unique, if you did an 180-degree change like the Anthrax example, I don’t think that would have been embraced. I think you have to have that operatic, vibrato — the full range with being able to hit some of the higher notes.”
“Plus the nuances, the little ‘isms’ and phrasings that were so unique to Geoff Tate’s voice, I think that what you said is the best situation you could ever ask for, or have, if in fact, I do have that position. Because I don’t want to be a mimic or a clone, I even do some death growl stuff live, in Guardian and at the end of Queen of the Ryche. I like to do a lot of that stuff too, and he never did that which is fine. I sing it in a way that it’s close, but not so close that I don’t have my own thing at the same time.”
The band is set to hit Australian shores in a month or so, their first visit for almost a decade. While he has two studio albums under his belt as frontman for the band now, La Torre promises a broad and diverse setlist, taking in many of the band’s 13 studio albums. He is even happy to name the releases they will be touching on for their ravenous Aussie fans.
“We’ll be covering eight records,” he reveals, “It’ll be the (Queensryche) EP, The Warning, Rage (For Order), (Operation) Mindcrime, Empire, Promised Land, the new one, and I think possibly something from the 2013 release.”
QUEENSRYCHE TOUR DATES
October 11, Brisbane, The Triffid
October 13, Adelaide, Fowlers Live
October 14, Melbourne, Prince Bandroom
October 15, Sydney, Manning Bar
GET QUEENSRYCHE TICKETS HERE