"IN OTHER WORDS..."
An Interview with
on the release of his first solo CD
by Shelly Harris
trying to be varied. We're trying to take our music as far as it can go and not
say, 'We can't do this because that wouldn't be heavy metal.' We'd like to say
that this band has no limits -- that's sort of our motto ..." -- Geoff Tate
That prophetic statement, made by Geoff Tate in a seminal Queensryche-related interview I did in '84, could just as easily apply to the powerhouse vocalist's current, first-ever solo album (Geoff Tate, an amazing fusion of red-hot passion and modern art, to be discussed in the interview below) as it has to Queensryche's own career. But -- Oh! -- the wonder in how some things manage to stay the same ... while also always changing ...
Of course, though the 20 year ride (thus far) has been a "long" and glorious one for Queensryche -- a band always respected for their steadfast integrity, and artistic vision and confidence -- it has seldom been an easy one. Part of the band's unique creative chemistry has always been the tension between the diverse influences and artistic proclivities of the equally strong-minded individual members ... And, thankfully, that combination of the heavy with the melodic, along with a melding of the various broad-minded musical visions and concepts of all the band, led them beyond the charted waters ... but not without also running them into the breakwall on an ongoing basis.
Then, as has been well-documented, guitarist Chris DeGarmo, who had been the primary rudder of the ship in more ways than one, left QR suddenly and unexpectedly after 97's Hear in the Now Frontier was released. It was a reeling blow which the band still appear to be recovering from to this day, even after the '99 release of Q2K, as might be evident in the following interview with Tate, who is on tour this summer ('02) supporting Geoff Tate.
Though some who are not familiar with Tate's artistic philosophy and diverse influences may be surprised at the range of styles evident throughout his eclectic, boldly experimental, and elegantly artful solo album, the result does sound like Queensryche in some respects -- not only because of that highly distinctive voice (here more subtle and restrained on many of the tracks), but also because it certainly must represent the part of the complex creative framework of QR that IS Tate.
This candid interview (which touches on details of the solo album, the creative process, the current state of Queensryche, and other diverse and oft-philosophical items) took place the morning after Geoff and band's appearance in Chicago. There at the House of Blues, his show included a two hour-plus set that was notable not only for its intimacy, but also for Tate's relaxed, palpably happy demeanor, and the way that several of the songs from the new album had an especially potent energy live. ("On The TV," "Helpless," "Over Me," "Flood," "In Other Words," to name a few.) I will add that Geoff Tate could be seen almost ... dancing while up onstage up there, too, but you'll have to get the album to find out just why!
Rough Edge: Well, I'm surprised you're not tired after that show last night -- it was great, Geoff.
Geoff Tate: No, I feel fine, actually ...
Rough Edge: Well, I know you're right in the middle of the tour right now, too, aren't you?
Geoff Tate: Yeah, well, it's 35 dates. It started in Seattle and now we're heading east, and we'll head south, and head back west again and end up in San Diego.
Rough Edge: Yes, I saw that ... And I want to ask you about the new album, too, because when I talked to you last -- back in October -- you were working on this solo album, and you told me some pretty intriguing stuff about it, so I made sure to get a copy of it as soon as I could. I did a review on it, actually, after listening to it at least ten times, but I should have waited because now I've listened to it 30 times ... (laughs) ... and I keep discovering new things!
Geoff Tate: Oh good!
Rough Edge: Yeah, it is good! To me, it is really one of those that opens up in layers ...
Geoff Tate: Uh-huh, yeah ...
Rough Edge: And, at the show, it seemed like you did almost every song off of it ...
Geoff Tate: Uh-humm, yes, we did do every song!
Rough Edge: That's what I thought ... I actually went down the list, and I thought I heard every single one of those! (laughs) But actually, it was very interesting to me how some of them come off live -- some of them even have a more powerful impact live -- especially that one that's been released as the first single -- "On the TV." Also, it seems from the show last night that you have a more personal touch with the audience on this tour, in the interaction and doing the more detailed introductions to the songs and so forth ... like "This Moment" -- which really does have a retro vibe to it.
Geoff Tate: Uh-humm, yeah ... We kind of modeled it after the Roy Orbison type thing from the 50s ...
Rough Edge: Yes, it does have almost an "American Graffiti" type vibe to it ...
Geoff Tate: Yes, exactly, exactly ...
Rough Edge: I just want to verify this ... Are the same guys that played on the record also the ones in your touring band? [guitarist Jeff Carrell, guitarist Scott Moughton, keyboardist Howard Chilcott, bassist Chris Fox, and drummer Evan Schiller]
Geoff Tate: Umm-humm -- that's right!
Rough Edge: Since I have a promo copy of the CD, I don't have a breakdown on the songwriters. Did you work with numerous collaborators on that?
Geoff Tate: No, pretty much it was Howard, and Evan, and Jeff, and myself ... And Scott contributed on one song, and a gentleman called Rocco Tolan.
Rough Edge: Was that the guy that you came across after listening to a few CDs that were sent to you from a large stack you were moving out of a corner?
Geoff Tate: Uh-humm ...
Rough Edge: Yeah, that was an interesting story! Which song did he collaborate on?
Geoff Tate: Oh, that was actually "Helpless."
Rough Edge: Oh, really? I love that song! That one is my favorite on there ... But otherwise, were the songs all brand new collaborations, or were they generated from some past pieces of things you might have had that you may have put together or refined ...?
Geoff Tate: Yeah, they were pretty much collaborative stuff that everybody sort of threw in. We changed stuff -- arrangements -- and sometimes on some of the songs, actually, we started out writing together and came up with one thing, but then when is came time to go into the studio -- after listening to it for a couple of months and analyzing it -- I wanted to take everything and kind of deconstruct what we had. The way I approached this record is that we kind of wrote too much for each song, so we had a lot of stuff going on -- and we recorded it all -- and we just deconstructed it for the mix. We took stuff out and chose just the basic things that were necessary to make the songs work. It's kind of neat way of working, because it leaves a lot of room for vocal melodies to sit in, and also it breeds the kind of an openness that is atmospheric and hypnotic, you know? I really like that about it, rather than trying to fill every measure with as much playing as possible, which is more the Queensryche style of writing a song. You know, with Queensryche there is always a lot of guitar playing going on. So, this was really an effort to do something different from what I had been involved with.
Rough Edge: You are right, of course, in that these songs are different in the sense that they aren't "guitar-driven," as Queensryche typically is. And I knew that it had to be deliberate -- coming at the songs in a new way ...
Geoff Tate: Yeah, it's more of a contemporary musical approach. It's like the rhythm moves the song, the rhythm of the drums and the bass guitar, and the guitar is more of the melodic instrument, very much stressing what the vocals are doing, you know, that's where the stress is, on the vocals ...
Rough Edge: Yes, and you're definitely right about it being very atmospheric -- and moving! ... I didn't have a lyric sheet, and I couldn't figure out all the words -- and the listener always puts their own spin on things anyway (laughs) -- but I know you do have a unified, central theme in that all the songs seemed to be relationship-oriented, you know, the ups and downs ...
Geoff Tate: And ins and outs. Yes, well, I do think relationships are the most fascinating and important subject matter. You know, without a relationship, you're really nothing as a person; you're just sort of starting out as a human. And relationships test you and they push you, and they definitely lead you to growth as a person, and without them, you're just an empty shell. So, there's lots of interesting ways of looking at it that you can write about. Definitely, at this point in my life it is a very important subject for me. You know, I have children I have relationships with, and my wife, of course, and the people I play music with, and my friends...and they are all my muse, my subject matter ... So, I'm always pulling something from it, and noticing certain things and observing ... It's just fascinating to me. And the music we were going for, we wanted it to be intimate and thought-provoking, and atmospheric, and all those things it turned out to be, and it was really a fun project to be involved with.
Rough Edge: I knew when you were working on it last fall, you sounded very enthusiastic talking about it ... And I guess it must really be a liberating feeling to do things that don't really have any preconceived boundaries ... It seems like you felt a freedom in doing whatever it is you wanted to do, didn't you?
Geoff Tate: Well, I always do; I only go into it with the simple, selfish indulgence of pleasing myself. (laughs) But, the limitations come from the within the chemistry of the band or the group that you're writing with ... and every group has its edge or its limits of what it can do, or what it can accomplish. So, this was really refreshing to me, because I was working with a group of people that you could sit in a room and brainstorm with. You could say, "Oh, that's kind of a cool musical line you've got there." For a song like "This Moment," for example, Jeff had this guitar riff that reminded me of a 50s song ... And we were sitting around talking about what to do, and brainstorming: "What would that sound like coming out of the dashboard of 1956 Thunderbird? Yeah, Yeah! On a moonlit night, you're sitting there with your girlfriend, and you turn on your radio and that comes out ... What would that sound like?!" And Howard, finds the sound on the keyboard, and he starts filtering it and twisting it and turning it until he's got what we've been talking about -- it's called "brainstorming out" the music. And so it was really refreshing working with these guys, because they are very elevated musicians. I became a better musician playing with them. It's kind of like starting out on a basketball team. I remember the coach saying, "Look, if you want to get better, you've got to play with guys that are older than you, and better players, because that pushes YOU to become better." So, I really experienced that on this project ... I was really able to stretch out myself and explore areas I had never done before ...
Rough Edge: And maybe that you'd been wanting to for a long time ...?
Geoff Tate: Yeah! Exactly, exactly! That's what I'd always wanted to do -- stretch out musically and push, you know? That's kind of always been my role in Queensryche -- I'm the unpopular guy in the band, because I'm always unsatisfied with what someone brings me. I'm always going, "Well maybe you could do it better ..." You know? (laughs)
Rough Edge: Ahhh ... and so, are you considered "the perfectionist" then? (laughs)
Geoff Tate: Ahhh, Yeah ...( laughs) ... because I'm not the "rock guy." I didn't come into the band with influences in metal and hard rock, like the other guys. So, I'm always pushing in bringing in some of the musical influences that are completely opposite, and trying to mesh them with their influences ... So, yeah, I'm always the unpopular guy. (laughs)
Rough Edge: You know, the thing is, with any group of people, once you've been together for a long time, you start getting into patterns of working together and relating to each other that are very hard to break ...
Geoff Tate: Yes, Uh-huh ...
Rough Edge: And that's no matter who is! So, in that respect alone, I can see why this would be a breath of fresh air for you ... But what kind of feedback are you getting from people -- especially Queensryche fans, although I know they are pretty open-minded, right ...?
Geoff Tate: Yeah ... the Queensryche fans have been liking it a lot. And I have been getting some really great reviews -- I just got two really amazing reviews in Billboard magazine. I got a "No Star" rating from a metal magazine ... (laughs) ... which I was kind of expecting!
Rough Edge: Were you?! (laughs)
Geoff Tate: Yeah ... But it's kind of cool, you know ... Well, it's a different edge for me. You know, I've been involved with Queensryche for 20 years, and done some really satisfying musical pieces with them ... And will continue on making records with Queensryche, but this is a direction I'm very interesting in experimenting with and going with as well. And it gives me a .... You know, it satisfies a part of my creative side that I don't really get to indulge in, so I'm really looking forward to making more records.
Rough Edge: I guess that the fact that you are able to have this sort of outlet for a part of your creativity that has been frustrated ... Well, it might make it more invigorating when you do go back to Queensryche ...
Geoff Tate: Yeah, that's the idea. (laughs) I keep hoping!
Rough Edge: Yeah, Yeah! (laughs) Well, I did read a quote where you said you were anticipating it being more laid back on the road this time...and it's probably for some of the same reasons that you've already mentioned even with regard to the songwriting solo versus QR. But, because this is a solo project, do you also feel more pressure on you in particular on this tour ...?
Geoff Tate: No ... I don't really feel any more pressure. Actually, I'm having such good time playing and being out here on the tour that I really don't feel much pressure at all -- It's just like being on a vacation! (laughs)
Rough Edge: Well, that's good, because I know it's also a lot of hard work, too!
Geoff Tate: You know, the Queensryche camp, since DeGarmo departed, is a very volatile bunch of people who are like a dysfunctional family. So, it's a very stressful sort of relationship. And so, in contrast, this tour, this situation that I'm doing solo-wise, is a vacation in comparison. So, it's good that you have a vacation, so that when you go back to work, you approach it with recharged batteries, or renewed vigor -- whatever you want to call it, you know? (laughs)
Rough Edge: In our last interview, you had also mentioned that when Chris left Queensryche, it was a major blow not only because he was your friend, or the fact that he was also the band's lynchpin songwriter, but also because he had been handling much of the business end of things, too. At least I think that's what you said! (laughs)
Geoff Tate: Yeah, uh-huh, that's right.
Rough Edge: And since someone also had to take up the slack for that, I'm assuming that a lot of that fell on your lap....
Geoff Tate: Yes, unfortunately! (laughs)
Rough Edge: So, did you recently have to do some major brushing up on all the business-related things, too?
Geoff Tate: Yeah ... It's just been a real adjustment period, you know. Then Kelly [Gray] was in the band, and that was a huge adjustment, getting used to his personality. Oh, man! -- you know? (laughs) It's just been a few years here of big, big adjustments and sacrifices, and a lot of water under the bridge already ...
Rough Edge: Uh-huh, and I can see that was a traumatizing time ... And now you're kind of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel ... ?
Geoff Tate: Yeah, uh-huh ...
Rough Edge: Now, I know that Kelly is no longer in the band ... So, have you decided exactly what you're going to do about that in the future?
Geoff Tate: Well, what we're planning on doing -- well, actually we ARE doing -- because we're working on a new record right now, is, instead of bringing another guy to join the band as a songwriter, we've opted to collaborate with other songwriters, and write songs with them and not actually have them join the band. Then Michael (Wilton) will record all the guitar parts in the studio, and for live purposes, we might have to have a guest guitarist join us. I don't know, I kind of opt for not having another guitarist join us onstage, and doing different renditions of the songs for once, rather than playing them exactly like they are on the record, which is kind of the Queensryche way of doing things. So, we haven't come to that bridge about the live show yet ... We're still at the recording stage right now.
Rough Edge: I don't know if you want to comment on this or not, but I did just check out the Queensryche website, and one of the most recent news items was a post by you. I didn't really know what it was about, but it was regarding the WMMS radio interview. I wasn't sure, but it seemed to by a sort of conciliatory statement by you ...
Geoff Tate: Oh, I was doing an interview with them the other day, and they took some comments I made ... Well, I was talking about the dysfunctionality of the band, and making a few sarcastic remarks, like the band only communicates through their lawyers and managers, you know, because we're so dysfunctional. For some reason, Rockenfield [drummer Scott] got it in his head that I was putting the band down or something, so he got upset about what I said, and went online and made some comments to the opposite of that. And so, it prompted me to have to call him and the rest of the band, and get on the conference call while I was in Detroit, and say, 'Look, I wasn't trying to hurt your feelings or anything; I'm just talking about my perspective, which is we don't talk, we don't communicate, and this is a very dysfunctional group -- you know, that's my truth. I don't want to argue about this online.' I said, 'Do you guys want to do that?' And they said, 'No -- we don't want you to talk about the band.' I said, 'Oh, okay -- peace. I won't talk about it.' It wasn't meant to hurt anyone's feelings. It wasn't meant to be a mean comment to hurt somebody; that's just the way I see it. I was just being honest, you know? I don't think there's anything wrong with being a bunch of dysfunctional people in a band. Some people, some bands, work well that way. Look at The Who: they used to get in fist-fights every day! That's just the way they work; they're a volatile bunch of personalities. I mean, it's not all candy and roses in every group....
Rough Edge: Yes, and it has been noted that sometimes that kind of tension can actually inspire a certain level of creativity that wouldn't otherwise be there...
Geoff Tate: Exactly, exactly. So, I didn't see anything wrong with it. But, I made an agreement that I would watch what I say to people and the press, so as not to cause a problem within the band. So, I went on www.Queensryche.com, and apologized to them, I think -- I can't remember exactly what I said.
Rough Edge: Yeah, it sounded to me like you did, and you also left it on a positive note, saying something like, a good thing might have come out of it in that at least you were all communicating ...
Geoff Tate: Oh yeah, that's right, yeah ... And at least we were all talking, and that was the first time we had all talked in about a year, I think.
Rough Edge: That explains that; thank you for telling me ...
Geoff Tate: Well, there were all these rumors, everybody kept asking me last week: 'Is the band breaking up?' And I'd say, 'No, dude, we're not; we're making a record right now!' I was just explaining something about the chemistry of the group, and it got taken out of context by my own band members! (laughs)
Rough Edge: Yeah, yeah, but you know sometimes there can be more sensitive feelings at certain times, you know ...?
Geoff Tate: Yeah, yeah ... you're right.
Rough Edge: But, how are you working on a new album if you haven't all really been talking to each other in a year?!
Geoff Tate: Well, we have producer and an engineer who's kind of coordinating it all. And so, everybody sort of records their part for the record, and gives them to him, and he pieces them all together, and puts the record together.
Rough Edge: Yeah, I know that different producers work in a different manner, so I see what you're saying...
Geoff Tate: Yeah, yeah ... Different albums are made different ways, as I'm sure you know ... And Queensryche has never been that kind of band that sits in a room and writes a song together. We've never done that. We write individually, then we piece the records together.
Rough Edge: Yes, I knew that your system was a bit different, and often complex, and you would even put stuff in archives and sometimes revisit that for ideas...
Geoff Tate: That's right.
Rough Edge: I know time is tight right now, but I have two or three other miscellaneous questions to ask, too -- Will that be okay/
Geoff Tate: Yeah -- sure!
Rough Edge: In another interview you said some things, which I totally agree with about some of the difficulties new bands coming out have that didn't exist 20 years ago ... For example, when Queensryche started, your whole approach and thinking was very unusual, even in those times. Not playing out and honing your songs for a couple of years, before you even put that first EP out, "Queen of the Ryche." Now, that wound up making a huge impact when it came out ... and you got a record deal from that. But, if you were just starting out now, what approach would you take to try and make your mark in the music business?
Geoff Tate: Well, I get asked this a lot ... (pauses to think) ... Well, I'm kind of an extremist. I approach what I do completely from an artistic standpoint, rather than a commercial or commerce-driven standpoint. So, I'm always going to answer this in the same way: Follow your heart. Play your music, and if you're a musician, that is what you will do. If you're not a musician, you will have a day job, and that will be your concentration. Musicians play music; that's all they do; they don't do anything else, and they shouldn't do anything else.
Rough Edge: Yes, but in some ways it is a lot harder for new bands than it used to be, to get enough support or attention to their work to survive ...
Geoff Tate: Well, in some ways it is also easier now, too. There's much more media, and there's generally more outlets for music to be heard. But it is more difficult for a young artist or a young band to have the record label support like it used to be. It used to be that a label would sign a band, and it was commonly known -- it was common practice, that they probably wouldn't become successful commercially or well known until their third or fourth record. And the band would tour and tour, and they'd would gain an audience and they'd be able to sell out venues in cities, even if their records sales weren't big, because they had an audience that they'd built by touring. Nowadays, you see bands that are selling millions of records, and they play small clubs. And you know why? People don't come out to see them; they don't have a loyal audience. It's a whole different kind of approach now. Because there's so much competition, so many people that want to be rockstars, and there's so little criteria for them to live up to as musicians now. Pretty much anybody that can push a button can write a song now. You know? Now, whether it's a really great song and will stand up to the test of time, is a whole different judgment issue ... But that doesn't stop the record company from using that a marketing tool to sell that to anyone who wants to buy it. But there's so much competition because anyone who wants to do it, can do it. It's easy now to be a rockstar. But because there's so much competition, record companies don't have to invest their time and energy into the artist anymore. They get six months to prove themselves, and then there's someone else who's going to step up to the plate, you know? Whereas, when we first started out, the record label signed a band for three or four albums, and the label had to put the money into it, to make it work.
Rough Edge: Yes, I know exactly what you mean. And I remember you telling me before that even Queensryche had never really played into the marketing game, in the way that your label might have wanted you to do. You weren't ever the most marketable band ...
Geoff Tate: Yeah, we changed with every record, and we weren't a constant commodity. Our only constant is we've tried to write good music all these years, and we were considered, in the industry, a very integrity-oriented band and one that came up with quality music. We've changed images, and we've experimented with different styles within the hard rock genre. But we are kind of difficult to market, because we're not so easily identifiable as an image.
Rough Edge: Yes, and, as you know, one of the primary principles of marketing is to identify your audience, and then to anticipate -- to zero in on and satisfy -- their needs ... And that has always been contrary to the Queensryche philosophy, hasn't it?
Geoff Tate: Exactly, yes. Our philosophy -- well, my philosophy -- has always been: At all cost, self-expression. And that doesn't really fall into the modern 20th Century marketing plan! (laughs)
Rough Edge: No, I know what you're saying ... (laughs)... But that's all right because, of course, over the long haul, that's the best thing anyway. But another thing I'm curious about is who you are listening to these days.
Geoff Tate: Ummmm ... I like a lot of stuff. That's one thing I've always had: a pretty wide variety of music that I listen to. I listen to everything from country and western, to jazz, to classical music. I was just listening to a Chopin CD this morning, drinking my coffee here. I listen to Massive Attack, Enigma, Staind, Prince, Bowie, David Sylvian is one of my favorite artists ... Kate Bush, and Paul Oakenfold is a new electronica guy that I really like. He did the soundtrack for the movie Swordfish, and I really liked that. He's got a new album out that I'm going to pick up today, actually, at the music store. But I like a lot of stuff like R&B and Soul. I like the old stuff, too: I grew up on the Supremes and Otis Redding ...
Rough Edge: Ahhh, yes! ... And a little bit of that definitely came out on this album!
Geoff Tate: Yeah! That's one of the things I was going for; that's something I was never able to explore before within Queensryche. I could never get those guys to play that kind of vibe ... (laughs)
Rough Edge: Yeah, well at least two or three of the songs on your new album sound very R&B vibed, you know ...
Geoff Tate: Yeah, that's what my collaboration with Jeff Carrell came up with. Actually, when we met, we were sitting at a bar in Seattle, having a drink and talking about music, and a Hall & Oates song came on the radio. And I'm a Hall & Oates fan -- so I immediately just started singing one of the lines, and then he chimes in and knows the words, and does the harmony. And we looked at each other and went, 'Oh, man! We've got to write together!' So we cruised over to my house, turned on the recording machines, and just sat there and wrote music all night. It was great!
Rough Edge: And it is really neat to hear your voice in such a different format -- with that soul groove going...
Geoff Tate: Yeah, I like it too.
Rough Edge: Also, I want to know what became of that trinity project [the "big three" vocalist collaboration with Rob Halford and Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson] ... s that kind of over with now?
Geoff Tate: Yeah, I think so. We started talking about it over dinner you know, on the tour. And, as we were talking about it, someone's manager, Halford's or maybe Dickinson's, and the managers started getting all excited about it, because they were seeing dollar signs ... (laughs) ... So, I think they might have been more enthusiastic about it than Rob and Bruce and I. We're really far away from each other musically, you know? We sort of come at music differently, and we just didn't connect together on what we could do. The ideas that I was throwing out were too wild for them, and the ideas they were throwing out weren't wild enough for me, so we weren't really clicking.
Rough Edge: It was hard to find a common ground?
Geoff Tate: Yeah! -- Which you need to do when you're writing. You need to have some kind of connection point. If you can find just one connection point, that usually brings you to another, and gets the ball rolling, but we just really couldn't find that point between the three of us.
Rough Edge: Uh-huh ... And I have another question that I want to ask that I'm sure you hear frequently, but I'm curious: Do people approach you fairly often about doing acting, and, if so, what do you think of the idea?
Geoff Tate: Yeah, all the time, all the time ... But ... Oh, you know, I'm really not so interested in doing acting, but I would like to do some Broadway stuff, though. I've been thinking about that pretty seriously lately.
Rough Edge: Oh, you'd be great at it!
Geoff Tate: Oh, do you think so?
Rough Edge: Oh, yes, there's absolutely no doubt about that, and for a number of reasons -- and especially if you had the right role. Obviously, stage presence and vocal power really count in that environment, and you already have that. Plus, you also have that very dramatic quality onstage -- apart from the videos -- and a kind of live charisma that would make you a natural at doing that well. That's why I assumed you had been asked about acting numerous times!
Geoff Tate: Well, I am going to think about that -- thank you.
Rough Edge: Oh, sorry Geoff, for holding you up here -- I think you have more interviews to do, don't you?!
Geoff Tate: Oh, that's all right; I enjoy it. Good conversation, as usual. Thank you so much, Shelly.
Rough Edge: Well, thank you, for another very thoughtful conversation, Geoff. I wish you the best, and I'll see you somewhere along the way, okay?
Geoff Tate: Okay, Shelly -- And you take care and have safe travels yourself.
(Live photos by Shelly Harris)
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Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:10 -0400.