When I first became acquainted with multi-octave vocalist Todd La Torre courtesy of Progressive Heavy Metal icons Queensrÿche, my admiration for the former Crimson Glory frontman was immediately ‘on-par’ with the praise I’d bestowed upon Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) and Rob Halford (Judas Priest). Once officially at the helm, his arrival it would signal the beginning of a much-welcomed artistic rejuvenation, beginning with the release of Queensrÿche (2013). Not surprisingly, once he announced the release of his full-length debut Rejoice In The Suffering (2021), many of the group’s notoriously rabid constituents immediately took notice. Recently, La Torre, always a man of many words and interesting stories, was kind enough to speak with us regarding both his newly-launched solo career and the continued struggle of following in the footsteps of the embattled Geoff Tate.
Todd: What made now the right time to release Rejoice In The Suffering? Is Queensrÿche temporarily on hiatus?
Todd: “The pandemic ground everything to a halt, so there wasn’t any more touring. …In March when it all got started, Queensrÿche were still writing, but hadn’t sent any of the new songs over at that point, so I had nothing on my plate, which made it the perfect opportunity to be able to focus every single day on these songs. When you’re traveling and you’re doing it in little pieces, it can take forever and it’s hard to focus your mind on things. The pandemic and the downtime provided the perfect opportunity to dig into it. …We had already written the title track several years ago and then we also had some of (the tracks) “Apology” and “Hellbound And Down”, but for the most part, I would say ninety-nine percent of it had been written during the break in March of 2020.”
Todd: In hindsight, it’s amazing that you were able to complete Rejoice In The Suffering with only the assistance of (guitarist/bassist) Craig Blackwell. Was this your conscious decision or a side effect of your creative process?
Todd: “Yes, it was just Craig and I. I was like ‘Hey, dude. Let’s pick back up where we were. We’ve got to get cranking on this record’. I wasn’t even thinking about anybody else. It was like ‘I can do the drums and singing and you can do the guitars and bass.’ I actually asked Jeff Lords of Crimson Glory to play bass on it. We gave him a couple of songs and he’s just so good, but he was afraid to commit to all the deadlines that I had. I’m like ‘Look, because he has another band called Dark Matter, I was pretty confident Jeff was going to play bass on the record (Encipher, 2016). But he was like ‘Look, you have a deadline and I’m afraid to say yes because what if I can’t pull it off because of work or the other obligations I have’ and I said ‘No problem’. So I said to Craig ‘Why don’t you just play bass like you’ve been doing on the demos and we’ll just re-track everything for real.’ It really was just Craig and I that wrote and recorded everything. …He was the guy that I knew I wanted to do it because we’ve always wanted to do more stuff together. We’d done a song here and there, but I was like ‘No, man. We’re going to do a whole record. I’ve been talking about doing a solo record for years and now’s the time. Let’s do this.’ We just buckled down and we had so much fun doing it. And trhere was no pressure. It was like ‘I don’t care if anybody likes this part. We like it and we are going to do it’, so we ended up doing whatever we wanted.”
Todd: What was the inspiration behind the title Rejoice In The Suffering? It’s certainly thought-provoking and quasi-oxymoronic. Am I correct in understanding there are bigger picture themes at the epicenter of everything?
Todd: “The title track has to do with my dad’s suicide, so the title is very specific to that song. I thought it was a really cool title and when we were thinking of names for this record, I kept going back to that one. I thought it had an interesting sound to it. If you take the imagery of the dragon in a circle and start digging into all of the meaning of that and how multifaceted it could be in the many aspects of our lives… For example, a lot of people are benefiting now from the suffering of other people before us all. The Civil Rights, for example, and certain equalities that we have now that we didn’t have, although there’s still work to be done, obviously. It’s a yin and yang type of a thing. I thought it was a really cool sounding title and the artwork encompassed those ideas, so that’s why we went with it. …So track number ten is an apology about that. I’ve always imagined, because of the significance of the date that he did it, that it was obviously planned. And I always tried to imagine what his very last day was really like. You’re there brushing your teeth and you’re looking at yourself in the mirror and you’re maybe making your breakfast or doing whatever. Then you go get in your car and you leave your driveway, ya know? Whatever the particular situation happened to be, I tried to re-create that last day through his eyes. …At the end of the song, you can hear me saying ‘You never even said goodbye to me’. That is what this is all about.”
Todd: Vocally, who are your primary influences? Who do you draw from the most? When listening to your work with Queensrÿche, it becomes very clear you incorporate an array of ‘not-Metal’ influences within your delivery.
Todd: “On the record, obviously, my Metal influences are (late Black Sabbath and Dio frontman Ronnie James) Dio, Iron Maiden and Queensrÿche. And then I’m also into some Thrash as well. I’m a big fan of Metal Church, Overkill and Testament and I also love Slayer, there’s a lot of different textures. When I would do something, like the middle portion of “Hellbound And Down”, I approach it by thinking ‘This guitar riff sounds like Slayer How would this all sound it if were done by Slayer? What would (Slayer vocalist/bassist) Tom Araya do? So I would phrase something thinking in that headspace. When we did (the track) “Vanguards Of The Dawn Wall, I was thinking ‘I really hear an Overkill style vocal over this music. This is not an Iron Maiden or a Queensrÿche style. This is Thrash’. …I have a lot of different influences depending on the music. I’m a huge fan of (Pop/R&B artists) Terence Trent D’Arby. I also love Heart and I have listening to Steely Dan today. The first song I put on today was “Right Down The Line” from Gerry Rafferty (from City To City, 1978). It reminds me of growing up and being a kid, so it was bittersweet. …It also made me think about my dad and I got a little choked up. With the beautiful weather in Florida and me being nostalgic, I remember being a kid and that song playing at home.”
Todd: Can we take a moment to discuss the early aspects of your career? What inspired you to become a singer?
Todd: “The first time I heard the Iron Maiden song “Can I Play With Madness” (from Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, 1988). When I heard that vibrato and that delivery… It was kind of operatic, but it was also powerful and it happened to fit with that type of Heavy Metal sound. I distinctly remember hearing that vibrato from (vocalist) Bruce Dickinson. It struck something very profound in me and that was the beginning of me really getting into the whole vocal thing. But I was a huge fan of and I still listen to Dokken. Back For The Attack (1987) is one of my all-time favorite records. I still listen to Ratt all the time and I just listened to Mechanical Resonance (1986) from Tesla, so I think as far as Power Metal and that big vibrato, that all came from Bruce Dickinson. It’s what really drove me deep into all the Iron Maiden catalog. I discovered Queensrÿche and that type of delivery later.”
Todd: As a multi-instrumentalist, which discipline was focused on first? How did this progression present itself?
Todd: “The drums. I started playing guitar when I was ten and then at thirteen, my dad bought me my first real drum set and I found the drums so much easier to learn. Guitar has always been hard for me. I play guitar, but I’m not a shredder. I’m more of a rhythm player, but I do play some very slow, melodic leads. I’m not a technical player and I use it more as a songwriting tool. I was a good guitar player first and then a drummer. I‘d always liked singing, but I never saw myself singing in a band and I never tried to be the singer of any band. …The first band I joined as a singer was when I was already in my 30‘s in 2010 which was when I joined Crimson Glory.”
Todd How did you initially become involved with Crimson Glory? Prior to joining the group, were you familiar with their work? I imagine an audition of that magnitude would have necessitated a great amount of preparation.
Todd: “One of my really good friends (late Jon Oliva’s Pain axeman Matt La Porte) was a really great guitarist who worked at a local place called Seminole Music. I’d known him for years and years. …It’s funny because he came to an upholstery shop I had because he wanted some seats done and said ‘Hey, do you play guitar? I’m in a new band and we need another guitar player. Do you want to do it?’ And I said ‘I don’t know how comfortable I would feel on stage being a guitar player in a band. I really only play for myself.’ The band was Circle II Circle and he asked if I wanted to be the second guitar player and I declined. I said ‘What about a drummer?’ and he said ‘Well, (vocalist) Zach Stevens played drums on the record and we already have another drummer’, which was Chris Kinder. Nevertheless, he ended up moving on to play with Jon Oliva’s Pain. …It’s all a story that’s really hard to condense, but that there was another local band here that was doing a lot of covers material. Somehow, I got coaxed into getting up and singing “Wasted Years” by Iron Maiden (from Somewhere In Time, 1986), and they really liked it. This was before tribute bands were everywhere and they were like ‘Hey, if you want to do a Maiden tribute band, this is a guy that could do that’. So I ended up going into that music store and Matt La Porte asked how I was doing. I said ‘I’m thinking of starting a Maiden tribute band as a singer’ and he’s like ‘Really?’ He wanted to hear what I could do and he had this piece of demo music and was like ‘Let me see what you could do with this’, so I did. And now it’s on YouTube and it’s called “The Welcome Experience”. It’s a shitty sounding demo, but he loved it and was super impressed. He asked me if I knew of Crimson Glory and I said ‘No. I’ve heard of the name, but I don’t know any of their music’ and he said ‘Well, they’re right here in Sarasota over the bridge. …They are playing this festival in Atlanta called ProgPower USA and they’re doing a memorial type show for their singer Midnight that passed away.’ So he introduced me to them and he basically said ‘Dude, this is the guy you need to have singing for your band’ and they were like ‘Yeah, whatever.’ So I somehow got invited to their rehearsals because they had sixteen singers that were going to sing all of these Crimson Glory songs, meaning you were going to have two guys on each song. I ended up filling the role of one of those voices that. And then Wade Black, who actually was their singer at the time, showed up and we ended up doing (the song) “In Dark Places” (from Transcendence, 1988). When I sang my part, I went to give the mic back to Wade to let him sing the next part, but he never looked up at me. The rest of the band were like ‘Keep going, keep going.’ I think it was kind of evident what was happening in the room. They were like ‘Wow, this guy is really sounding a lot like Midnight.’ So they invited me and I put in all this work in trying to learn their songs to help with the rehearsals and then they finally said ‘How about if you’re one of the guest singers?’ and I was like ‘Really?’. I was really nervous. And they had me up as one of the guest singers and that was how I met Crimson Glory. My first ever performance was at the ProgPower USA doing the song “Mayday” (from Crimson Glory, 1986) with (vocalist) Kelly Sundown (Carpenter), who’s awesome. And then I did “Dragon Lady” (from Crimson Glory, 1986) with (vocalist) Andy B. Franck from (German Power Metal stalwarts) Brainstorm. After that show, (guitarist) Jon Drenning kept in touch and he said ‘You want a write songs’? and I said ‘Sure’ That led to the guys saying ‘Wow, this is something special that’s happening here’ and I basically became the singer of Crimson Glory. I was in the band for three years and we did two tours. That’s then when I met (Queensrÿche guitarist) Michael Wilton at NAMM at it all took off from there. But that’s how I met Crimson Glory. I’d never known their music and I didn’t know anything about them, so when my friend said ‘Immerse yourself in everything Crimson Glory’, I was like ‘Why?’ and he’s like ‘Just do it. I can’t get into it right now’. I didn’t know what he was trying to do, but do know that I was never trying to be the singer of that band or any band other band. I only has the idea ‘Maybe I’ll do a Maiden tribute band’ because I can do a pretty good Bruce Dickinson.”
Todd: How did you initially become involved with Rising West? Once officially onboard, was it ever insinuated that it could lead to a permanent position in Queensrÿche? Regardless, it must’ve been an incredible experience.
Todd: “When I was asked to be a part of Rising West, Geoff was out touring for his solo records. Queensrÿche was pretty much shelved. They had a couple of shows left and that was it. It wasn’t looking very promising for them in the touring department and I didn’t know there were problems within the band. The thought process that was conveyed to me was ‘Maybe we can do some shows and make some extra cash. Then, when Queensrÿche is ready to resume with Geoff, it will go back to that’. It was basically all a dream come true for me to be a part of Rising West. Aside from Crimson Glory, playing with the guys in Queensrÿche and singing these songs was one of the biggest things I would ever do in music When shit hit the fan with Geoff and it was this big turmoil that I was just then finding out about. I remember seeing my name in Billboard as the new singer for Queensrÿche and I couldn’t believe it. It was playing with the guys in Queensrÿche, but not singing these songs actually under the name Queensrÿche. I was like ‘Man, who cares?’, but there was always that thing in the back of my mind where I was like ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing, though, if I actually was the singer for the band Queensrÿche?’. But that was just too far from reality for me. I would never have believed that I was even doing the Rising West shows. I would have said ‘It’s never going to happen and I’m not even going to think about it because it’s so unrealistic’. It was that mind-blowing because there was no way it could happen. The fact that it did happen still blows my mind. To this day, I still stop and think to myself ‘Holy crap! I can’t believe I actually sing for this band’, ya know? …The fact that my name is actually associated with them is still really hard to believe at times.”
Todd: You have recorded three original records with the group (The Verdict, 2019, Condition Hüman, 2015 and Queensrÿche, 2013) and have been a member for almost a decade. Are certain portions of the fans still resistant?
Todd: “I still get it. People are like ‘This guy’s a hack’, ‘He sings like a dead cat’, ‘He screams’, ‘He doesn’t sing and he has no control’, ‘He has zero stage presence’, ‘Geoff is the only voice at Queensrÿche’. …But you know what? There are also a lot of people that were like ‘Damn, he hits those high notes’, ‘Wow, they’re not down tuning’, ‘Man, I haven’t heard “Child Of Fire” in forever’ and ‘They’re playing “The Warning”, and all of these other deep cuts like “Roads To Madness” in their entirety instead of just doing a medley’. A lot of people were positive about it, but as a fan, if you take the emotion out of the equation and just look at the records, you might say ‘I was a huge Queensrÿche fan, but after Empire, I didn’t have any interest anymore. I wasn’t hearing the vocals I wanted and I wasn’t hearing the cool music that I loved them to have’. …I think there were a lot of fans who jumped ship. When I got into the fold, it was like ‘Hey guys, show me all the music you’ve got. I’m never going to tell you anything’s too heavy. We’re not going to go in an adult contemporary direction, so let’s get back to what Queensrÿche is known and loved for’. I was like ‘Let me tell you what I love about this band and let me tell you why I quit listening to your band and this is what your audience loves.’ With me, they no longer had any restraints placed on them, so they were sending me song ideas for new material that were totally killer. I was like ‘Did you just make this up?’ and they’d be like ‘Oh, no. This was stored on a hard drive. I showed this to our old singer and he thought it was too heavy.’ And I’m like ‘Listen man, show me everything you have and I’m going to give it my all.’ …I am not perfect and as we all already know, Geoff sang brilliantly on the old records.”
Todd: It’s amazing how people react whenever an original member of their favorite group is forced to ‘move on’.
Todd: “But I think that it’s worked to my advantage as well as the band’s advantage. Most people are like ‘Hey, here’s a younger guy that can hit all the notes and that’s getting all the inflections. He’s a true fan of Metal and this band and respects the legacy.’ …We’re working on album number four, but there are still people that hate me just because I’m not him. They don’t see the band as anything else other than the original line-up. I’ve always said ‘Yes, this line-up has fewer original members, but it’s putting out better music than the band did when it had more original members.’ Let’s get serious here. You know what? We’re loving it and we’re having a great time. We’re writing the new album and the stuff we have brewing right now is really awesome, ya know? I know you can’t please everybody, but I do feel as if there’s always been these targets on my back with some of the people.”