His Own Brand Of Insania, Part 1

Geoff Tate: Professional singer and avid wino.
(Photo credit: Sarah Prout Photography.)

For hard rock and metal fans, Geoff Tate needs no introduction. The dynamic, dramatic frontman for Queensrÿche — who have now been making music for nearly 30 years, believe it or not — has influenced scores of singers, sung on classic albums like Rage For Order and helped elevate metal into a thought-provoking art form. And he’s always a fun interview.

Just prior to Christmas, Tate discussed his wine brand Insania for a story I was working on for Grammy.com [“Eat, Drink & Rock and Roll”], and he offered plenty more to ADD about his group’s nine-month tour supporting the American Soldier album, their next release, his exploits in the wine business, his former vegan ways, the rigors of modern touring and the proposed Operation: Mindcrime musical for Broadway. (Read Part Two here.)

It’s good to hear that Queensrÿche’s recent tour did well, especially given our shaky economy.
I know a lot of media outlets have been talking about live music and saying that the whole scene is dead and that nobody cares about live music anymore, but I think that’s really false. It might be true in certain isolated places or in the country that they’re writing from, but I have to say that more people want live music. They love it. It’s not something you can replace with digital recordings. The biggest problem about live music is letting people know that it’s happening. It’s so difficult for people to find out what’s going on because the way so many websites are constructed is so convoluted, and there’s so much information, it’s hard to navigate. And there are hardly any papers anymore. That’s what I see.

What was the hardest part about this particular tour in terms of reaching out to people?
Just that, letting people know that the band is in town. It’s always the toughest thing, and I think other artists experience that same thing, too. We always talk about it when people get together. People are always saying to all musicians, “Oh, I didn’t know you were in town.” Great. Thank you, promoter!

Tate turning over the spotlight to guitarist Michael Wilton.
(Photo Credit: Greg Watermann.)

Do you think that age also plays a factor in this? Even though I’m in the media, I find it hard to keep up with everything that’s going on because there’s so much information out there. I figure as people get older they don’t follow things as much, especially those who are outside of the business. They wait for other people to come to them and tell them what’s happening.
Yeah, that’s very true, too. A lot of people get their information off TV nowadays. So unless you’re a TV star nobody knows about you.

So the American Soldier tour did well overall?
It went great. It was really a knuckle biter at the beginning because there wasn’t a lot of pre-sold tickets, and we base all of our internal economy on touring. It slowly started building, and I have to say it was a really successful tour this year. I’m very happy about that.

You have your own brand of wine called Insania that you created in conjunction with Three Rivers Winery. Have you always had an affinity for wine, or is it something that has developed throughout your life?
It’s normal in our house to drink wine, and I really discovered through touring and traveling to different countries where they have a wine culture that I had a taste for and interest in it. Over the years I got a little more interested in it and tried several different wines. My wife and I just got back from France. We were touring the wine areas and sampling different types of wine and familiarizing ourselves with smaller wineries around the country, and we had a great time. The interest just keeps growing, and we have quite a wine collection now. In fact, I have to build a bigger place to store everything I’ve got because it’s stuck in corners and closets. You’ve got to keep stuff at the right temperature or your investment goes bad.

When you fly overseas, given that you cannot take liquids on planes anymore, how do you bring everything back?
You have to ship it back. But it is difficult.

A deluge of Insania.
(Photo credit: Sarah Prout Photography.)

Do you have to use specific importers to bring wine back?
Yes, you have to go through importers and people with licenses. It’s a big, convoluted mess. Our liquor laws in the United States are Prohibition-era wine and alcohol laws, and slowly state-by-state they’re trying to repeal things and upgrade them to the 21st century, but it’s just slow going. Our state, Washington, is the second largest wine producer in the country, and we just recently had some changes in our import laws and shipping laws. It took this long. California is way ahead of us on that. Unfortunately we’re a Puritan-based society that is really stuck on religions, so it kind of flies in the face of that. Other countries don’t have that kind of background and have more of a wine culture, like France, Spain and Italy. They’re so far ahead of us in what they do. We have the resources here in this country, and there are a lot of great wine producing regions in the country, but we’re just now getting a hold on it. American wine has made quite a mark internationally. You can go to fine restaurants in Paris and see American wines on the menu, which is great. When we travel we try to spread the word about what we do, not only our wine but other people’s wines as well that are based in the country.

How seriously do people take a wine brand from a rock star? When people find out that they’re drinking something from the singer for Queensrÿche, what is the first reaction that you get?
I think very interested, until they taste it, then they go, “Wow! This is serious.” It’s a very well done wine, very elegant. In fact, we just had a really interesting experience. The band played a cruise ship that went to the Caribbean [around November], and they had these events planned. They asked us if they could do a wine tasting, and I said sure. I brought some cases of it onto the ship, and had this big wine tasting for all the guests of the ship. It was a fantastic event, then afterwards the captain invited us to have dinner with him. It was this beautiful gourmet meal, and they served Insania as the wine for the meal. On this Italian-based cruise ship, they had a master sommier. There are a handful of guys that have this title, and they’re incredibly well-trained wine connoisseurs. After a couple of courses of wine, my wife said I should get the master to sample the wine and tell us what he thought. I said, “Oh honey, this guy is a huge pro. What if he doesn’t like it?” They had all these guests there, like 75 people. She had a few drinks and got her courage up and asked him to sample it and tell us what he thought, and he loved it. He gave it a rave review in front of everybody, and we were just sitting there sweating. He’s from Italy, and they have this centuries-old wine industry. He was very kind and loved it. He finished his glass and asked for another one.

Queensrÿche circa 2009.
(Photo Credit: Greg Watermann.)

It seems like a lot of bands have been jumping on the cruise bandwagon of the last few years. It has become the hip thing to do in the last couple of years. Is it a lucrative business? Does it feel strange to do cruises, kind of like playing Vegas?
I love playing Vegas. It’s just another avenue to play music live, and we’re all about that. We’ll play anywhere. We’ve played music on the back of a flatbed truck. We’ve played it in the middle of the desert. We’ve played it on street corners and radio stations and coliseums and soccer stadiums. Wherever you can play, that’s what you do because you’re a musician. The cruise ship thing has opened up as a venue, and the fans really love it because they save for a year to get the tickets. They go for a week and enjoy themselves and get to see their favorite bands play. It’s a really great atmosphere actually. We had a fantastic time, and I’d definitely do it again.

The Insania insignia.

Did the fans get to meet and mingle with the band on the cruise?
Yeah. You’re stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean. It’s a big ship, but you still see everybody. You’re in the same restaurants and clubs, out by the pool or on excursions off the boat onto the islands. Sometimes you book the same event. We went on this waterfall tour in Jamaica where they took us up in the mountains. We got to swim in these beautiful, exotic pools of water and waterfalls, and there were fans with us as well. It was a really good time, I have to say. It’s no big deal hanging out with fans. We do it all the time. We do meet and greets after every show, where we have 50 to 75 members of the audience come back and meet the band, take photos and sign autographs. It’s just part of what we do. Some bands don’t like that, but for us it works great.

Last time I spoke to you, you suspected that one of your daughters or son-in-laws may have blown out your stereo system. Have you fixed that?
I’m on my third one since then. Right now one of the channels of my new amp is blown out, and I’m waiting on the holidays to get that fixed.

Whose fault is that?
I haven’t quite pinned it down. We still have a house full of kids, so it could be any one of them. Right now they’re all guilty until proven innocent.

Geoff Tate, the happy bottler.
(Photo credit: Sarah Prout Photography.)

That’s what happens when you have a lot of kids. You could do a semi-movie remake: Cheaper By The Half-Dozen, the rock star version.
That’s what my wife says — when all the kids are out of the house in a couple of years, we’re going to sell this place and get a small condo. But where are they going to go? They’re going to come back for the holidays or say, “Hey, I’ve got to move in for six months while I get my life together.” You have to have a place for them to go. I don’t think we’ll probably ever downsize. They’ll keep coming home and bringing friends, boyfriends and fiancées. Tonight is our Christmas, so having all the kids over. It’s Yule tonight, the longest night of the year, everybody comes over, we have a big dinner and everybody stays up all night.

As far as your future with wine, is this endeavor something you would plan to continue after you retire from being a rock star? Do you see that as a viable occupation?
Oh yeah. I’d love to keep doing it. It’s a challenge to make it every year and to keep making it consistent. You have to deal with Mother Nature, the kind of grapes you get and the kind of growing season it is. I absolutely love it. This year we’re adding a white, next year we’re thinking of adding a different brand, something that’s perhaps a bit lighter. We’re definitely thinking about the future.

Part Two of ADD’s interview with Geoff Tate is found here.

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