By David E. Gehlke
Cabaret shows, "Dedicated To Chaos", backstage fracases and legal disputes over the QUEENSRŸCHE name all feel like distant memories when thinking about the last ten years with Todd La Torre fronting the band. The former CRIMSON GLORY singer joined QUEENSRŸCHE at its lowest point in 2012 but soon became the face of a rebuilding process that has salvaged the brand and legacy of one of progressive metal's pioneering acts. The fact La Torre has been so assertive in supplanting Geoff Tate — whether onstage or online — may be as important as the four high-quality studio albums they've recorded with him. And there is little debate these four are superior to anything QUEENSRŸCHE released post-Chris DeGarmo.
The band's new "Digital Noise Alliance" LP marks the return of guitarist Mike Stone, who played with QUEENSRŸCHE from 2003 to 2009 and is also the first to include drummer Casey Grillo (ex-KAMELOT). The album is big on La Torre hooks and choruses and even tackles the ever-elusive ballad by way of "Forest". It is by no means a safe and predictable QUEENSRŸCHE album, something La Torre was quick to tout when he caught up with BLABBERMOUTH.NET as Hurricane Ian bore down on his native Florida.
Blabbermouth: It must feel good to have a settled lineup now that Casey is a full-time member and Mike is back in the fold, right?
Todd: "It really does. Casey has been playing with us for a little over five years. He's one of the nicest guys you would ever know. He doesn't complain about anything; he's really fun to be around. He's a sweet guy. He puts in the work to learn the old stuff and write new songs. Mike Stone — when Parker [Lundgren] retired from the band to keep going with his guitar shop, we were like, 'What are we going to do?' We asked Mike to fill in. We were thinking, 'Do we try to find a replacement?' We were like, 'Why would we do that? This guy is perfect.' He's a familiar face to the audience. I love that he's really worked with Michael [Wilton, guitar] on learning how the original parts went. A lot of people confused Parker and Mike Stone as playing DeGarmo's parts. The truth is Michael learned a lot of DeGarmo's parts and taught his parts to the other guys. There's a little bit of a mixture of what Michael would play that was his parts and Chris's parts. Many people think that guitar player only plays DeGarmo's parts, but that's not true. Mike Stone is a funny guy; he's really fun to tour with. Despite people thinking there's drama in the band, I can honestly say there's zero drama within this lineup. We all have a great time. One of the things I love because we travel so much. If a couple of guys are doing something else, I could say to anybody, 'Do you want to grab a bit eat?' I feel equally as comfortable and so they do with any configuration that is hanging out. We all get along so well. We're really pleased with what's going on."
Blabbermouth: You mention how well things are inside the band these days. A lot of the noise comes from the outside — especially from [estranged former drummer] Scott Rockenfield via some recent Facebook posts. Is that still an issue?
Todd: "All I can say concerning that is there was a lawsuit filed. That's being handled. What he's saying…that's just not true. It's just not true."
Blabbermouth: You played drums on "The Verdict" and mentioned how you wanted to keep a lot of Scott's style in place. How would you rate Casey's playing on "Digital Noise Alliance"?
Todd: "When I did the drums on 'The Verdict', I was like, 'Okay, what made Scott so great wasn't the technical aspect in the sense of insane rolls. He wasn't that kind of drummer. He thought in such a unique, unorthodox way that it made his drumming stand out. So I thought, 'How do I get into that headspace?' I'm not him. But I know the music so well and as a drummer, having grown up playing a lot of QUEENSRŸCHE stuff, I learned those go-to things. You have to think, 'I would normally hit a cymbal here. Maybe you'd hit a drum here.' When I did the drums on 'The Verdict', I figured I would play what the songs called for. I'm not going to overplay or underplay. There would be some signature things that are QUEENSRŸCHE-y, like alternating between the hi-hat and china cymbals, locking in the footwork with Eddie on the bass and having that signature foundation. I knew I would play some fills that he wouldn't do. I didn't care because it felt right for the particular song.
"Casey approached it the same way. We said, 'Listen, you're never going to be him. I'm never going to be him. That's okay. You played in the band for five years. You know things that are distinctive, but feel free to utilize those things. We want you to be you.' Casey is a phenomenal drummer. He's got a big background in jazz and fusion. He does things differently than you would hear on a QUEENSRŸCHE record. That said, he was very particular about crafting parts for these things. They are memorized, written parts and I think he did a really great job. You can hear some cool stuff on 'Tormentum'. He does this kind of jazzy, weird fills, this really cool, abstract playing that shows some of his drumming style. I think he delivered on the record. I know what sounds good. I'm a drummer of 30-plus years. I think I have a good ear to say, 'This fits the song.' He did a great job. You're mindful of what the QUEENSRŸCHE things are, but don't try to be that guy. Be who you are. This is QUEENSRŸCHE as it is today and you should be able to go further in showing some of your styles, too."
Blabbermouth: This is a predominantly hook-laden, big-chorus album. What led you down this path?
Todd: "'Nocturnal Light' and 'Realms' were the only songs crafted before we got together. Michael had some ideas, so the songs were formed as a team. Eddie [Jackson, bass] wrote those songs exclusively. Then Mike Stone came in on Eddie's two songs and crafted the guitar parts to sound more in the QUEENSRŸCHE style. Eddie's a big pop guy. He helps out with choruses. For example, 'Behind The Walls' was written by Michael and I — we wrote that together. Instead of singing over the whole chorus [sings chorus], I thought instead of making it a big, melodic thing where I'm walking over the guitar. I thought less is more would make it better and make the vocals stand out on his own. The hole is where the guitar is and you have the call and answer. It's very prevalent in QUEENSRŸCHE music – think of 'Jet City Woman'. A lot of songs of QUEENSRŸCHE are structured that way. Hopefully, people like the choruses."
Blabbermouth: The ballad "Forest" took some time to catch on with me. Where does those type of songs sit with you? Do you like doing them?
Todd: "It was one of the last songs we had. Michael had this really simple acoustic thing. It's one of my favorite songs on the record. It's because there's so much rock and hard rock and metal — this was such a deviation from that. I was thinking everyone is going to lose a parent. How do you cope with that? We're at the age where our parents are in their '80s or close to, or some of us have lost parents already. My dad is gone, and my mom is still alive, but the clock is ticking. I wanted to approach the vocals with this very breathy, airy approach, very soft, melancholic, creating a nice harmony in the verses with an ALICE IN CHAINS and PINK FLOYD vibe. I love that song because of its simplicity and the space. If you watch the video, you understand what it's about. It was a bold move to put it out as a second single. We decided, 'Hey, most people are going to expect another rocker.' Every band out there is heavy. There is so much heavy rock stuff out. I thought it would cut through all of that traffic. This is something totally not that. I thought we should lead with it. The band agreed to do it second. I think it was the right move. It resonated with so many people saying, 'I just lost my mom two weeks ago. I'm crying as I type this.' It really touched a lot of people. Then 'Behind The Walls' came out and it was back to the rock vibe. We all are really happy with that decision. It's a deviation from everything on the record. It stands on its own merit. I think the record has a lot of diversity to it."
Blabbermouth: You've fronted QUEENSRŸCHE for ten years and have been outspoken on social media about various issues. Are you ever afraid of the backlash? Do you find yourself becoming more comfortable speaking out as time goes on?
Todd: "There are times when I will speak as a band member and on behalf of the band. Like what we're doing and the creative process. Then there are times when it's like, 'Hey, this is me speaking. This is not a general consensus of the band.' But I'm a human being. I'm not going to be muzzled. The band doesn't control what I say or how I say anything. I'm my own person. Look, there are things that I think are right and wrong. There's always this pushback with, 'Hey, keep your religion or political ideals out. Don't talk about it. Shut up and sing.' First of all, that's probably the most un-American you can say when you try to stifle someone's free speech. I listen to things that are plausible and things that have empirical backing. My wife is a scientist. We're a household that firmly believes in peer-reviewed research and data. Instead of Googling something: 'Oh, I researched something.'"
Blabbermouth: The word "research" is ruined.
Todd: "It is! If I tweet something that could be controversial, your site will have no hesitancy to make it a headline. [Laughs] Like if I said the governor of Texas is an asshole because of the mask thing or abortion rights. But I'm a human being. I should be able to say what I want freely. Honestly, I look at things in a pragmatic way. I don't vote strictly partisan. I look at each issue. I'm registered as a Democrat. There are things that I despise. I think we should have healthcare for all as a human, but we don't. But what do you call me? A socialist-commie-libtard? [Laughs] Well, pick one because there are probably a hundred types of socialism. I believe in certain things that benefit our society. That said, I'm a gun owner. I have many guns to protect myself in a way I need to. I'm not just this blue guy or red guy. I'm in different places depending on the issues.
"Going back to the initial point, I'm mindful of what I say. I own what I say. If people disagree with me, that's okay. We can respectfully disagree. If you want to discuss it, that's okay too. We live in a society that's so quick to condemn. The context is very important and a lot of times if I do an interview and I say something in a greater context, that will be just the meat of the click-bait. People don't read the context in which something was said. The onus is not on me to defend it. The onus is on the reader to read in the context in which I said something. I think I'm a pretty open guy with my beliefs and views. You know what? You're not going to please everybody. I like Coca-Cola or Pepsi. It doesn't mean Pepsi is a bad product. I just prefer Coke. You realize you're not going to please everybody. If people don't have these knee-jerk reactions and think about things, I think we have a lot more in common than differences. It's the means by which we get to that final goal."
Blabbermouth: It feels like yesterday you, Scott, Eddie and Michael hooked up in RISING WEST, then you got the QUEENSRŸCHE gig. Have these ten years flown by for you?
Todd: "Sometimes, on my personal Facebook, there will be a memory that shows us seven years ago playing somewhere. I'll be like, 'That was seven years?' Then I think, 'It's been over ten years now. We're past the ten-year mark.' Sometimes, David, it feels like definitely it's been ten years. The band has worked hard to rebuild the brand, rebuild the band. Then there are other times where it's like, 'I can't believe it's been ten years. It seems like yesterday I was learning my ropes with this band.' The bummer part of it is none of us are getting any younger. We still have so much gas in the tank. We're already working on musical ideas for the next record. Somebody asked me yesterday and they said, 'Do you think this is the best QUEENSRŸCHE to date with you?' I said, 'I think we can do much better because we have many other creative ideas.' It's like throwing darts at the dartboards. Can you land ten bullseyes in a row? That's the record you want. If we were to put together a record that was the best songs from the last four records, I think it would be one of the best QUEENSRŸCHE records next to 'Mindcrime', 'Rage', that kind of era. We're getting there. Hopefully, people like this record. I'm proud of it. I think it's really good. I would never say, 'This is outstanding! People are going to love it!' It's what we wrote during that time. We hope people like it. We got plenty more we're going to be doing. Time is never on your side.
"In closing on this topic, I think that's why we feel very thankful and fortunate to be going out with JUDAS PRIEST again. They're older than QUEENSRŸCHE. Or when we toured with the SCORPIONS. These are the highlights of my time with the band so far. You say, 'Wow, how much will these classic bands keep playing?' To be part of that now feels very special because there's going to be a time, like, for me, I never got to see LED ZEPPELIN or THE DOORS. We know people who did. That next generation will be like, 'I never could see IRON MAIDEN or JUDAS PRIEST live,' or any other bands who have been around for 40-plus years. And QUEENSRŸCHE is in that category. But we still have a lot of fun. We love touring and being together and creating new music. The best any band could ask for is still enjoying what you do and making an honest living doing it."