The idea behind Queensryche's latest concept album, American Soldier, started with a conversation singer Geoff Tate had with his father.
A career military man who was with the Marines in Korea and the Air Force in Vietnam, the elder Tate never really talked about his war experiences with relatives.
"That's a common thing amongst military families," says Tate during a recent phone interview. "You grow up and you don't really know your parent fully. That's a big part of their life that you haven't talked about."
It inspired Tate to not just get his father to open up, but to preserve the stories and reminiscences of other veterans. He interviewed dozens of them — from World War II heroes to those on active duty in Iraq.
American Soldier emphasizes Queensryche's glossy thunder under audio samples of troops recounting their thoughts in a variety of subjects: the battlefield ("Middle of Hell"), loss ("If I Were King") and readjusting to life at home ("Man Down"). Perhaps the most haunting statement comes from Tate's father: "People sometimes lose the vision of where we came from. They're sitting in the lap of luxury in a country that was built on over 3.5 million deaths."
"I think it's been received really well," says Tate of the album. "Not many people are too far separated from someone in the military in our country. It seems people either know someone in the military or they're related to someone who's serving or has served. I think the album speaks to a lot of people. It either tells a story they're familiar with because they've lived it or one they were curious about because they know someone who has lived it."
Tate admits going into the research process for American Soldier with an old Hollywood perception of the military, where troops are gung-ho for combat.
"I found it to be completely the opposite," he says. "Everyone I talked to was incredibly conscientious, very anti-war, but concerned with upholding the honor of the military and defending our country — and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for it."
Ultimately Tate wanted to give veterans an opportunity to tell their stories in their own words in what he calls a "powerful medium."
"Music really speaks to people on a whole different level than, say, television," he says. "It's an ancient way of communicating."
Since its release in March, Tate also has learned of a special byproduct from American Soldier. It's started a dialogue between many veterans and their families.
"People have written me saying, 'Thank you for making this. I finally got to know my dad. I finally understand why my son came back and it took so long for him to assimilate back into the mainstream,'" says Tate. "That's always a good thing when art can be used as a way for people to communicate or relate to each other."