After fronting prog-rock leaders Queensryche for decades, Geoff Tate was ready to expand his circle beyond the same dozen faces he had been working with since the ’80s. Label formed group Sweet Oblivion was the answer to quell both Tate’s desire for something fresh while also allowing him to embrace the operatic metal vocals he has always been known for.
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“It’s an interesting project for me,” Tate told American Songwriter. “It has kind of an interesting background. I worked with the same people for 30 plus years when I was in Queensryche. And when I finished with that, I was talking to Mario from my record label Frontiers. I said, ‘look I’m really interested in doing collaborative work with other people.”
Sweet Oblivion features an evolving cast of artists and is an experimental project pitched by Frontiers Music president and A&R head, Serafino Perugino. The group originally featured drummer Paolo Caridi, guitarist/bassist Simone Mularoni and keyboardist Emanuele Casali on the self-titled debut in 2019. The forthcoming record, Relentless features producer Aldo Lonobile, who also plays guitars and curates a majority of the songs, alongside Tate with bassist Luigi Andreone, keyboardist Antonia Agate and drummer Michele Sanna. Lonobile, very familiar with Tate’s work in Queensryche and overall vocal style, wrote songs perfectly setup for his soaring vocals.
“He was very open minded musically like myself, and we got along famously,” Tate said about Lonobile. “We had a lot of really good connections on writing and also with the mixing. I feel very happy that it all worked out so well.”
The effortless connection between Tate and Lonobile allowed for the perfection of songs like “Strong Pressure,” “Another Change” and “Aria,” which Tate co-wrote with Lonobile and features lyrics in Italian. “Strong Pressure” placed early on in the track list puts Tate’s strengths front and center, presenting his immaculate projection, syncopation, and range while reminiscent of some of Queensryche’s most beloved deep cuts like “The Lady Wore Black” and “Resistance.” The similarities between Sweet Oblivion and Queensryche were less preconceived, and more, simply Tate at his finest.
“I didn’t really think about it,” Tate says about his vocals. “I don’t really sit with a plan like ‘this album I’m going to do this and that.’ It just sort of happens organically and naturally. I have one overall idea, and that is typically to do what the song requires and what I feel like the song needs to say performance wise. The lyrics express a certain emotion or feeling, or sentiment and I try to give it that feel. I guess it’s just that I’m a lyric person. I enjoy it and am affected by them, so I think that is what dictates my performance.”
As such a skilled writer and vocalist, it’s not surprising that lyrical content drives the performance for Tate. And singing in a second language certainly ups the ante, especially when he was surrounded by native Italians in his band. Tate’s affinity for Italy developed as he and his wife Susan recently started a travel business there, Backstage Pass Travel, which fueled his pursuit to write and sing “Aria” in Italian. Lonobile, also Italian, was his biggest critic.
“I spent a lot of time in Italy,” Tate said. “I rehearse in Italy. My wife and I started this real interesting kind of side project called Backstage Pass travel. We take people on tours around the world in different places, and Italy is one of the prime areas we go to for that. And I have a feel for Italy now.
“That place has really captured my heart, and I thought well we have an Italian producer, we have a record company here,” Tate continues. “Why are all the songs in English, how about one song in Italian? And Aldo said ‘well, I can’t imagine why you would want to do this but if you sing it in Italian and I understand what you’re saying, that’s a good thing and we should put it on the record.’ So, I gave him my vocal tracks and he gave me two thumbs up.”
“Another Change” paralleled the conviction in “Aria” and was accompanied by a video illustrating life’s struggles, changes, reflections, which can be digested according to the listener since Tate doesn’t like to reveal too much of the meaning behind his songs. Though there is no mistaking the lyrical force behind some of Tate’s best work- Queensrcyche’s Operation Mindcrime, which follows the unfortunate romance between characters Nikki and Mary in the 1980s as they are met with the terrors of being brainwashed into the gripping world of alphabet agency organized crime—Sweet Oblivion’s revolving members and writers offers more opinion and outside interpretation, fueling the kind of fluidity Tate seeks in his music and for his listeners.
“I think people listen with their own life filters and their own experiences,” Tate said. “And at one point in my career, I started looking at myself very critically and wondered, am I actually saying what I think I’m saying? Because people are having different interpretations, but that makes it interesting.”
Regardless of listener understanding, Tate’s influence and impact as a vocalist remains just as steadfast as it was 30 years ago. So much so that he was compelled to promote Queensryche’s Empire and Rage For Order on a 30th Anniversary tour in 2020. “It’s a really fun tour experience for anybody that loves those records,” he said.
Though Tate has never toured with Sweet Oblivion and has no immediate plans due to his busy schedule that is filled with remnants of the Empire and Rage For Order tour as well as three other projects, Sweet Oblivion is sure to remain a permanent snapshot in time preserving the image of ‘80s prog-rock while welcoming a demanded clash of thrash revivalists embracing the modern metal renaissance.