Interview With Queensrÿche Drummer Scott Rockenfield

By Andrew Bansal

With new singer Todd La Torre, Queensrÿche have returned as a rejuvenated entity. They’ve already played some great gigs with this new lineup, giving the fans exactly the kind of Queensrÿche show they always wanted from the band. Most recently, the first album since the reincarnation simply titled ‘Queensrÿche’, was released via Century Media Records and has received a positive response from fans and critics. A couple of days ago, I had a chance to catch up with drummer Scott Rockenfield to talk about the band’s new success, about his drumming, and more. Check out the conversation below and look out for Queensrÿche as they plan to visit your town very soon with a hell of a live show.

Let me start this by talking about the latest piece of Queensrÿche news that came out, the Billboard Chart #23 position. How do you view that? Do you see that as some sort of validation for all your efforts?

Yeah, it certainly feels good. We are so proud of ourselves. We were so happy making the record and had such a great time, we felt like we really succeeded in making a record that we were excited about. It’s been a great last year doing that, but to have it come out and get the response from the fans and the media, and like you’re saying about the chart positions and everything, it’s kind of a Wow factor right now for us, Andrew (laughs). We haven’t felt this way in a long time, so yeah, it’s quite humbling to be honest after so many years of working in Queensrÿche and its legacy. To have it now and after what we’ve gone through in the last year as well, it feels great that we’ve done a good job and what we set out to do.

One thing I was slightly confused about when you put out this album was that it’s self-titled. The first Queensrÿche EP which came out in 1982 was also self-titled. So, what the reason for doing it this time? Was it simply because you wanted this to be a new start for the band?

Well, you know, it really was a new start for the band. We were talking about what to call the record and what it meant for us, it really became the easiest thing for us to do, to just call the record Queensrÿche. After everything we’ve done through and the transition we made last year with getting Todd in the band as our singer, it was a great way to re-establish Queensrÿche for us and for our fan base. It also tied into what we felt we did best back in those days, which was really focussing on great music and good chemistry together. So yeah, it was a great simple statement for us to make.

With the success the album has had, it makes we wonder whether it was ever intended to be a ‘commercial-sounding’ album or all this just happened on its own.

I think our goal was just strictly to write really great songs that we liked and felt good about. When we feel like we’ve written a great song, we feel the things that mean most to us, like great performances on everything that we played, great song structure, good hooks, good melodies, and good lyrics. So for me, what we ended up with was a great-sounding Queensrÿche record that has some really strong, catchy music, lyrics and melodies on it. So I think we’ve got a combination of everything. There’s a commercial aspect to some of the songs, there’s an epic, cinematic side in some of our material, for which Queensrÿche is very well known through our career. There’s metal stuff and rock stuff, and I guess we’ve just been able to get everything into this one album.

I was at your CD release party at the Viper Room in West Hollywood on May 1st. You played one new song there called ‘Redemption’. You went from the song ‘The Needle Lies’ to Redemption and then to ‘Take Hold Of The Flame’, which is a pretty big transitional jump. How are the new songs fitting in with the older ones in your opinion, in the live setting?

You know, it’s actually going almost better than what we expected, to be honest. It’s interesting when you make a record after so many years of being a band. You’ve got this legacy of all these great past records that our fans obviously like to hear material from when we play live. But we got really lucky on this new record because it seems like all of our fans are asking to hear almost every song on the record at the shows now! So what we’re doing is adding new songs as the shows are going along here, and the response is phenomenal. They are really enjoying what we’re doing. Redemption has been part of our show. We also have ‘Fallout’ now which we released as a single a few days ago, and we’re also playing ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ in the set. People are just going crazy for ’em, and I guess it’s because they know the songs now. They’re listening to the record so much that they’re really familiar with the material and really excited that we’re playing it live.

For me, seeing Queensrÿche at the Viper Room still kind of feels a little unreal. I mean, that’s such a small venue that local bands from LA play headline shows there. But did you enjoy playing that small room, going back to the roots of what Queensrÿche was at the very beginning of the band way back when?

Yeah, certainly. Listen, that was probably one of the smallest rooms we’ve played in a long time! The cool thing was, it all worked out so perfectly for us. It was a great choice and we felt really good about it after we got done with that. It was an intimate thing to offer to some great people in the media who came down to the show and a lot of special guests that got in. To just give them that, the band playing right in the corner of the room, it speaks a lot of words, I guess. People enjoyed that. It was a plan, and we wanted to do it in a place like that in front of a small bunch of people to show them what we’re doing, letting them hear the record, and hanging out with them. And it’s awesome to hear that you were there. You are one of the very few people who got in and got to see the show!

Yeah, exactly! So, drumming-wise, what kind of a challenge is the new album presenting to you, specially on stage?

Well you know, that’s a great question because we’re adding more of the new ones to the live show now. I basically did most of the drum recording six months ago, and I made up a lot of it in the studio. It was very spontaneous and energetic, and just right there. We did a lot of things just as I was playing. I was writing new ideas in my head and playing. So my point is, now that we’re playing them in the live show, the biggest challenge for me is that I have to learn everything that I played on the record (laughs). On some songs I’ve gone crazy on the drums, like there’s a song called ‘Vindication’ which we’re going to start putting in the show. It’s got crazy drums and I have to figure out all the little things that I played in the song. So that’s always a fun challenge and I’m chuckling because I have to learn my own stuff (laughs). But it’s fun, it sounds really great and I’m sure I’ll do a great job at recreating everything that I did. The fans are going to enjoy it when they see it.

For the album itself, you’ve written a lot of the songs. Out of the 11 songs that ended up on the album, you’ve written or co-written at least nine of them. That’s a big chunk compared to whatever you’ve done in the recent past. How did you feel getting back in the songwriting game to this large extent?

Thanks for that! I’ve been writing a lot of music for a long time, but I think the best thing that happened on this record was, a lot of ideas that I sent to the guys in the band, they liked! It was kind of a perfect time for me in terms of writing. It was inspiring for me and I’m thankful that the guys in the band enjoyed what they were hearing. Then we started to work on everything together. So yeah, for me it was a great time. I was really able to dig in and focus on writing a lot of great material that formed the main part of the record. But we were all part of that. All of us were just writing such great ideas, it was such a collective brainstorm of music when we started writing the record. I’m glad that it was so fun together. We’re actually starting to write more music right now, Andrew. We’re working on new music and the energy is really on high again as well. We’re just having a great time with it, so we’re just going to keep making records and playing shows.

That’s great, but the one thing that slightly surprised me was that your new singer Todd has co-written eight of the songs. So, you basically made him feel like an integral part of the group from the beginning rather than treating him like a new member.

Yeah, that’s exactly it! Our goal for Queensrÿche is always to make it a team effort on everything. That’s why we made great records all the way back in our early days, and had a great time making records together. That creative team energy is exactly what we did on this new record, and it’s the same thing in our live shows. We’re all equal in our ideas, in what we want to work on and how we want to do things. I think that’s really important and it makes the band sound solid on the new record and also in the shows that we’re doing. We sound very ‘together’ and that’s a great thing. Todd offers a lot of vocal and lyric ideas when we’re writing together but he’s also a really great musician. So he’s able to offer all sorts of ideas and suggestions, and it’s a great way for us to collaborate. Team effort is really a big part of what we’re doing in this band.

Another thing worth talking about here is, the album is only 35 minutes long which is kind of an old-school way of doing it. In the olden days when albums were pressed on actual vinyl records, the sound quality would stay at its best for around 35 minutes and then fade away. Was the length of this album ever a deliberate thing on your part? Some critics have even called it ‘too short’.

Not at all! We didn’t even think about the length of the record until after we were mastering it. It’s interesting, because the length never occurred to us. For us, the goal was simply to make a great-sounding record that had the right songs on it, that were of the highest quality and worked well together. It’s just one piece of music that feels really good to us and says what we wanted to say with it. I think it takes the listener on a journey. They listen from the beginning all the way to the end. Most fans are telling us that it’s perfect and when they’re done listening to it they just play it over again (laughs). So, I think we did exactly what we wanted to do and focussed on the best quality music that we could do at the time.

Coming to your drumming, you’ve been doing it from a very early age. But what I find with drumkits as compared to other instruments like guitars, basses and all that, they’re expensive! Do you think that’s the simplest reason why drummers are a rare breed? Unless you’re very serious about it, I don’t think you can shell out that kind of money for a drumkit at an early age.

Yeah, you’re right, drums are definitely expensive, specially the good stuff (laughs). If you want to choose to be a drummer, you’ve probably choosing the most expensive instrument in a band, for sure. Listen, there are a lot of great drummers out there but there are also a lot of great drummers that I’ve seen playing with buckets on the street corner for that matter! May be we can all take a lesson from some of that, to be honest. I’m blessed in my life that I’ve had a great career, felt really good about what I’ve done, and to get support from a lot of the drum companies that are constantly asking me if I need anything and if they can do anything to help me. I’m blessed that I don’t have to run out all the time and buy drums, because like you said, they are expensive!

One of the things people do as a cheap alternative is to get an electronic drum kit. Have you ever used that kind of drumkit? I believe you’ve had a real one from the very beginning.

My main focus is on a real acoustic drumkit, like you said. But interestingly enough, when we’re rehearsing and in my studio, I actually have one a pro, top of the line electronic drum kit. When we rehearse for a tour, we actually do that in my studio and I use the electronic kit with headphones on. So I use everything, to be honest, because I can and it’s great for me. It gives me a lot of flexibility. But everything you hear on the new record, by the way, is all real drums. It’s all acoustic and I played everything straight on. But listen, in all honesty even the electronic kits are getting expensive as well these days (laughs).

Coming back to the band, one person whom I’ve admired for her contributions to Queensrÿche over the years is Pamela Moore. But now with two versions of the band going at the same time, what’s going on as far as Pamela’s association is concerned? Will she be performing with you guys or with the other Queensrÿche?

Pam has been a good friend of ours for a long time. We obviously did some great things together on Operation Mindcrime back in 1988 and continued working together in the years after that. In the last year, she has performed with us on stage at probably three or four shows that we’ve done. One of them was just a couple of weeks ago. We did a show here in Seattle for our fans when the CD came out, kind of like an intimate release show in a club. Pam came up and sang three songs with us that night, and we had a great time. And she’s actually on this new record! She sang as a guest on the song ‘A World Without’. So she’s having a lot of fun with what we’re doing, she really supports everything and she’s been involved with us in the last year. She’s a great person.

Finally, what does the future look like? I guess it will be full of touring and promoting the album worldwide.

Yeah, it looks like pure hell, Andrew (laughs). But no, we’ve got great things going on. We have shows all summer long. We’re doing festival shows in the States during July and August, and then we have a bunch of shows of our own that are planned for the US for September. Then we go to Europe and the UK where we do four weeks of touring in October. We come home in November and then we’re looking at everything else after that. Basically it’s a huge world tour that our agents and everybody is planning for us right now. It’s going to go well into 2014 and we’ll keep writing new songs while we’re doing it. So that’s where we’re at.

That’s great to hear. Scott, it was a pleasure talking to you. Thanks for the interview and all the best with everything ahead.

Right on Andrew, thank you as well. The guys in the band and I really appreciate it. Listen, we’ll see you soon at a big show, outside the Viper Room (laughs). We’d love to see you come, hang out and watch the show. We’ll keep you posted on when we’re coming to your town!