THRESHOLD - CRITICAL MASS - INSIDE OUT
THRESHOLD - SUBSURFACE - INSIDEOUT
THRESHOLD - SURFACE TO STAGE - NSM
THRESHOLD - DEAD RECKONING - NUCLEAR BLAST
InterviewsWith the September 2002 release of Critical Mass, British progressive metallers Threshold have managed to release yet another album deserving of bigger and better things. The thing though is that this time it might all be coming together, as the combination of a supportive label, an appreciative media and the irresistable nature of the material seem to be propelling Threshold towards breaking the barriers hitherto set before them. Having given the album his seal of approval, Ali "The Metallian" speaks with band keyboardist Rich West and discovers a well-spoken and intelligent person who is more than willing to share his thoughts and ideas. The band is rounded out by singer Andy McDermott (a.k.a Mac), guitarists Karl Groom and Nick Midson, bassist Jon Jeary and drummer Janne James - 07.09.2002
'Yeah, well we started in 1988 and since then did loads of pub gigs,' begins Rich West by narrating the band's story to date. 'We played metal in the style of Ratt or Testament. Then in '92 we got our first record deal, changed the singer which became a bit of a trademark for us, added some progressive music into the heavy metal equation and became one of the first bands doing progressive metal. Then we spent the nineties being compared to Dream Theater and changing drummers and singers every album! Finally in '98 we settled on a good line-up with the right singer and right drummer and finally stoped getting compared to Dream Theater. At that point we moved on to a bigger label, which is Inside Out in Germany, and things have gone really well for us ever since. Critical Mass is our third album with the same line-up and according to the critics it's our best one which is always nice to hear.
'This is our second album with Inside Out. Although the way it worked, the English label (GEP) we were with before, used to do all their distribution through Inside Out. So we have kinda always been with them, but now the relationship is more formal. GEP always does well with progressive rock, but one of the reasons we are not with them anymore is that we are not progressive rock! Additionally our fans weren't in England. (Mainland) Europe is the best place for us really.'
Of course there is much more to Threshold than that summary. For example, and at a guess, most of Threshold's fans are in Germany. Relates West, 'Germany is the best country, yeah, although things are changing. We have always had a core fan base in Germany, Holland and Belgium, but more recently we have found it has opened up in France, Spain, Italy and the East like Slovakia, Czech Republic, up north in Scandinavia and back in England which is the biggest surprise to us. We have always found England to be so dead for us.
'Now I think America and Canada are opening up for us because Inside Out have an American branch. So really the whole world is opening for us and it's all looking rather good for us.'
West has touched on topics which we will explore further later. First though, one has to wonder why a band as qualified as Threshold is relatively little-known. Turns out it's a question to which West has given some thought. 'Two things really which I have touched on already,' begins the keyboardist explaining. 'First one is that we were on a very small label in England which, in a way, were not the right label for us, but were the ones we found and so we stayed with them.
'Secondly we kept on changing singers. You can get away with changing other members of the band, but when you change the singer it's a fundamental change and we changed singers three times! We had singer number one, then singer number two, then singer number one again and finally singer number three. Even with singer number three the people in the band were reaching the point where they thought is it really worth carrying on?
'When you think of all the bands we were growing up with, when Genesis changed a singer, when Marillion changed a singer, I thought that it didn't do my perception of the band any good and how could we survive three? Actually with the third singer we have found a stable line-up and it's really since then that we have grown and grown. So rather than thinking of ourselves as a band that has started in 1988, we are really like a band that started in 1998 when we found Mac the new singer.'
Does the band feel that the line-up is stable at this point? No hesitation, 'Oh yeah. We had our final drummer change in 1997 when we found a guy called Johan who was drumming live for us then. A year later we found Mac. So really we have been stable for four years. We have done three albums together as a unit. It just feels like this is a new band. You can almost give it a new name as far as I am concerned. We are obviously keeping Threshold, but for me that's when we started.'
Given the band's renaissance, it is interesting to hear what West and the other Thresholders feel the western side of the pond holds for them. 'That has come with Inside Out America. The American branch also covers Canada, 'replies West somewhat tentatively as it were.' Before that USA and Canada were pretty much dead for us. Things are really picking up now. We have done quite a few interviews with Canadian magazines for this album which is a good start. We also get many emails and T-shirt orders from people in Canada. It's funny to think that people are walking around Montreal wearing Threshold T-shirts. We have never been there ourselves, but it's cool to know.'
Also new are the Inside Out re-releases of the Wounded Land (1994) and Psychedelicatessen (1995) albums. West explains. 'Well they were obviously originally released on GEP. The albums were deleted when we moved to Inside Out and we wanted them to be available again. We found that with (last year's) Hypothetical we are making new fans and they are asking about getting the earlier work. The answer would be that they can't! So we got the rights off GEP and licensed the work to Inside Out.
'Then they thought that while they are doing it, let us then make the best package that we can. Wounded Land is repackaged, has an extra track, a nice slip case, a longer booklet and a multimedia section. Psychedelicatessen is the ultimate re-release package as far as we can see. It has a bonus disc in which is a complete live album. The entire album was remixed from scratch from the original master tapes to get the sound up-to-date. We added two bonus tracks, two videos, a big multimedia section, a bigger package and a bigger booklet - anything we could possibly think of. It's great for the fans who get all the extra stuff, but it's also great for us because we have all these things lying around like photos and videos and we don't have anything to do with them, apart from having them sit in our cupboard, so it's really nice to have them all in one package. When we are old men we could look back... it's nice. It might sound silly, but as a musician it's nice to have this kind of a diary of your life.
'I love the new sound on Psychedelicatessen. The original mix we did in '94, we were never that happy with. We were kinda young and didn't really know very much. We did our best, but when it came to remixing it, it sounds fantastic and it was really a joy to do.'
The keyboardist seems suitably delighted, so this writer did not bother to point out how technology's big disadvantage is its rate of obsolescence. One more note on the topic is regarding the altered cover artworks. 'It's intentional,' answers West laughingly. 'While we were delighted with the Wounded Land cover and the booklet is the same, although the slip case is slightly grayer; Psychedelicatessen on the other hand we were never delighted with. We thought it was OK. It was done by the same artist as Wounded Land, but we thought it is not quite of the same quality. So we asked our current artist, a German guy called Thomas Ewerhard, to touch it up and make it look more like what we do now. He worked with the colours a bit and made the whole thing look more professional. So it was very intentional.
'We will be re-releasing our third album, Extinct Instinct, and we have similar issues with the cover on that so we have to get our artist to work quite hard to pull the whole thing together. We have been trying to find some bonus material for that release as well. It was a funny period for us. We did a tour and we did have a bonus track which we will use. Yet, nobody took any photos! It's funny. Every tour we've done we have journalists writing us saying here are photos and here are scans, but for that album nobody has pictures. We don't have a video for it either, so it's hard to have a multimedia section for it. We are really working hard to work out what we are going to put on this thing to make it a worthwhile release. I mean, we could just reissue it, but it would be nice to make it a special edition and put on all the extra stuff. We are all looking in our lofts and in our filing cabinets. If any fans have anything in their cupboards please post it. The album is expected sometime next year.'
This is an amazing flurry of activity from a band which has gotten little support from its homegrown media. One is curious to know how Threshold has survived and grown in such a hostile environment as provided by the abysmal British media. 'We didn't,' utters West. He is candid, 'we just ignored England completely and every year we did a European tour and half the time we wouldn't even bother playing England.
He continues, 'what we found, and it's really hard to analyze, is that England is very different from the rest of the world in the way it treats music. As far as the big people in England are concerned, they brought progressive music to the world in the seventies and they brought heavy metal to the world, along with other things, in the eighties. When it came to the nineties they didn't want prog and they didn't want metal and thought they had done that. They wanted something else. So they brought the world Oasis, which wasn't such a bad idea I suppose, and Spice Girls which was. It's just that they wanted something different. It seems that throughout the nineties you couldn't hear progressive or heavy metal on any radio stations in the whole country. The same happened with the magazines and the same happened with TV - it was impossible. It seemed that when the decade turned and the year was 2000 suddenly the attitude of England changed. It was as if it's been enough distance now since the original progressive rock movement so they can start being interested again. In the same way that the seventies fashions are all coming around again, in a more refined way, it seems that bands can again be doing more interesting music and because it's so departed from the seventies you can get away with it. Suddenly bands like Dream Theater and Threshold are finding markets in England which they couldn't find before. It's a promising time and all these magazines that you say... I remember reading a review of Threshold in one magazine that started off by saying that when you have to wait two minutes for the first vocals to come in you know you are in trouble! I thought to myself, 'then you should not be reviewing this, should you?' Now we are getting so many good reviews in England and we just played a very good festival (Bloodstock). We are even occasionally getting on the radio, although most of that is controlled by computers which are controlled by major labels which are controlled by a million dollars. So that will be difficult forever, because it's too commercialized now.'
'The other issue is that the world music scene is dominated by money and so if you are not on a major label then you don't have a lot of hope anyway. So we know that Dream Theater have a chance because they are on a major label and that a band like Threshold and everyone else haven't got the same chance because unless you have the huge corporate machine behind you financing the whole thing you can't afford to be on all the play lists. The whole thing is so money-based. We are fortunate that there are enough other ways, like magazines which still have some freedom, the Internet still has some freedom and so people still have a chance to hear what we are.'
It is an ordeal for the musicians out there to be caught in the web of commercialism so adverse to what many would perceive as real talent and musicianship. 'Yeah it is frustration because I feel that I was born to be a musician,'declares my interviewee.' If a band like Threshold were around in the seventies or eighties they would be number one everywhere. I don't mean that in a cocky way because I could talk about a hundred bands like that. There are many bands that are doing music which has more complexity, the lyrics have more depth, the music has more depth and there just is more music there. I don't mean it in a cocky way - not at all. yet you feel that the stuff you hear in the charts have nothing to do with music. There is a slight fashion element, but that's only because the marketing men have paid millions of pounds to tell people it's fashionable. If we had the money behind us and were on a major label we, along with any of the other bands, doing what we are doing would have a chance to be number one all over the world. There is some really good music in the progressive metal scene, but for some reason the majors are still not getting behind it. They know what they want to sell and more often than not what they want to sell is to ten year olds. The ten year olds have more expendable money; grown-ups have mortgages. It all comes down to money, doesn't it? It's sort of a shame. I am not bitter, just disappointed. Think if the world was less of a money-driven place, we would all be in a better position to play our music to the world rather than be trying to make a living.'
This response brings me directly to Threshold's new album Critical Mass. Taking things a step at that time what does the cover depict? 'It's a couple of things,' he begins to explain and continues,'but it's mostly meant to be the definition of 'critical mass' in a nuclear physics perspective which is, and I am not a physicist, when at some point a nuclear reaction happens it is because something has reached critical mass at a nucleic level. What you are looking at is a nuclear particle - as far as I am aware (laughs).
'It also could be representing a sun because the lyrics of the album describe how a person can have an idea and he tells his friend and then it becomes a bigger and bigger idea until so many people agree with it that it reaches a critical mass of people upon which it becomes a religion, a cult or a political party. It's like a new universe is formed. The thing with Threshold's lyrics is that we try to keep everything so they have more than one meaning. I think our artists have been able to follow that route and give us something that covers more than one angle of we are trying to say.'
Yes, there is a concept at work. Elaborates West,' sort of, I mean the one I described about a religion or a cult follow the lyrics written by Jon Jeary who wrote half of the lyrics. He is on a continual journey trying to explore philosophy and religion and to discover what is true. With every album we get asked if we believe in this particular theory or that theory and the answer is always 'no.' It's just that our bass player is exploring. This time I am getting so many questions about reincarnation. Yet even before the album is recorded Jon has moved on to some other idea!
'The other half of the concept are the lyrics that I wrote. They are about pursuing dreams and visions. I believe that everyone is born with a vision inside of them and a dream which they are created to do. For me it's being a musician. As a child everyone seems to know what they want to do, but when you get older you lose that vision. You settle and you get satisfied with going to work, coming home and watching television. Then you do the same tomorrow because you have to because you have to pay the rent or because you can't think of what else to do. More often than not people are scared to come out and do what they believe in because people say you can't afford it or they say it is stupid. Everyone feels held back by these things and it's the end of your life and you haven't done what you wanted to do and it's so sad. I have been through that these last few years because I have always been compromising thinking I have to do this to pay the rent and be respectable and that's nonsense. So now I have managed to throw all of that away and now am doing what I want to do and that's fantastic. My life has turned around and I recommend it to everybody.'
He is almost doing the band full-time now. West Takes up the story,'Yeah, pretty much. I have left the country (UK) a few months ago for Czech Republic. It's a beautiful country and we are living in cheap and the air is fresh and the people are wonderful.'
'I am building a studio in the house at the moment where I will be recording an album with my wife, who is a singer. The band is called Farrah West. We haven't decided on a label yet. At the moment we just want to get the music done. So, yeah, everything is coming from the music now which is what I always wanted. How long it will last I don't know because the Czech Republic is going to join the European Union soon and all the prices will rocket, but for the moment it's working out really well.
'In England I used to live near Heathrow Airport, an area surrounded by three motorways and an airport and the air was awful. You would wash your car in the evening and go out in the morning and it is completely disgusting again. Here I haven't had to wash my car since I got here as the air is so fresh (laughs). It's a totally different place.'
The band members might be living apart, yet the band dynamics remain undisturbed. According to West, 'Mac lives in Germany, three are still near Heathrow and one is in London. I would never have thought of it except that when Mac joined the band he was already living in Germany and we found that it worked.
'We are not the sort of band that gets together every week to practice or to go drinking. We all got older, have our own families and have our own lives. So we tend to get together when we have rehearsals, recording or when we are touring. The rest of the time everything is by e-mail! Having seen it work with Mac I said, 'well, I can do that.' In fact since moving here I have more time for the band. I don't live in London and so I don't have to afford living in London. The whole philosophy there now is charge as much as you can for everything and the government is worse than everybody. It's a very expensive place to live, whereas here the whole philosophy seems to be just be nice to everybody and it's lovely.
'(UK prime minister) Tony Blair talks a good talk, but he doesn't walk the walk and it is so depressing to see the whole country slipping so badly because he doesn't do anything about the things he says.'
He is an American lap dog. 'Maybe, but I personally think he wants to be the president of Europe. I am serious. Watch this space, I wouldn't be surprised. I think if he's got his powerful ally America, then he's a very powerful player to go into Europe.'
Returning to Critical Mass, the keyboard player is asked whether the album's drumming is actually a drum machine. Seems not actually.'Oh it's drums. Our drummer is the most amazing drummer. I love the drum sound. If you listen to different productions, if you listen to Images And Words (Dream Theater) and you think maybe that's a bit too mechanical and then you listen to something else and think that it's too organic. Then somewhere in the middle is a good sound.
'If you listen to productions by Andy Sneap who does everything from Nevermore to Mindfeed and you think, 'yeah, he's got it. That's a good sound.' We try the same philosophy and be somewhere in the middle of the organic and the mechanical. So you think we have done a little too mechanical? We didn't try to. Those are real drums.'
In other words you are affirming that the album features one hundred percent human drumming? 'Oh yeah, but I think we've over-processed the sound and that's what you are thinking. We have heavily gated it to make sure the sound is nice and tight. I personally find it a bit too floppy when you don't have a good and solid kick drum and snare drum. You lose the whole energy from just a few beats being slightly soft. To each their own. We have never had that criticism before I must say.'
With time running out and West scheduled for another interview there is time for one more question and so the opportunity is taken to inquire about Diamond Head with whom Threshold recently played a show. As a fan of the old Diamond Head material was the band up to par one wonders. 'I didn't catch the show,'West informs me.'They were chatting away backstage for ages with Bob Catley of Magnum. They all seemed like really nice guys. They seemed to be having a really good time. I couldn't tell you about the music as I never knew much about them!'
As for Threshold,'We have done two albums now with Inside Out and I vaguely remember when we joined them they spoke about doing a live package. What would be really cool would be to do the definitive Threshold double live album and a DVD package. Next year is going to be ten years since we released our first album and so it's a good time to put out the first ten years. As I said earlier we are releasing Extinct Instinct and more pressingly we are touring Europe from London to Slovakia. We are off to America in November at the ProgPower USA. I am looking forward to that as we have never done America. We are hoping that while we are there we could do a few more shows, but we will have to see. I would love to play Canada and I even have family in Toronto. It's a dream of my wife and I to live and travel one year in Canada and another year in Australia.'
Fans of involved yet accessible progressive metal should check out Threshold's latest album Critical Mass. The band's web site can be found at www.thresh.net.
Metallian thanks Peter Klapproth of CMM and Bob Snyder of Inside Out for facilitating this interview.
"A regular paycheck would be nice, but there is something about poverty and freedom... they go together." The interlocutor is none other than the articulate keyboardist Richard West of British prog metal phenomenon Threshold talking to Ali "The Metallian". The man is calling in from his Surrey, England home on the occasion of the release of a new album called Subsurface which is the winner of Metallian's Album Of The Month award for August, 2004 and with that setting the tone nicely the chat weaved in and out of music, politics and the band - rounded out by singer Andy McDermott, guitarists Karl Groom and Nick Midson, bassist Steve Anderson and drummer Johanne James - and its upcoming activities. - 22.08.2004
METALLIAN: Richard, I take it some things have changed and some things have not changed since we spoke last.
WEST: I have moved out of the Czech Republic and back to England. I was hoping that music would support what I was doing, but it didn't. A royalty cheque can take years. We are still waiting for money from Critical Mass. One just can't live like that. I had to come back to England just to make some money from doing studio work. I am hoping that now with the new album and upcoming shows we can make some money. You can work out how much money is coming roughly. What you can never work out in this business is when. We went to the Czech Republic waiting for a cheque two years ago and we are still waiting for it. In the end we maxed our credit cards and we had to come back. We still have our residence there, but we can't afford to go!
METALLIAN: Isn't the band receiving money for its back catalogue in the meanwhile?
WEST: It's a funny old business. I'll just say that. It seems that the system isn't as good as it could be. I can't say too much because the problem with the worldwide web is that everyone sees what everyone says. Needless to say, the first three letters of the word contract seem to be quite important.
We have always said since the beginning that we do the music because we love the music. It is true and it is a privilege to do this stuff. We are not out there selling a million albums. To do that you have to be on a major label which is spending a million dollars promoting you. We are not in that big and high circle of finances. We are at this low level and, you know, it's fun to do. I think the biggest mistake anyone could make is to have too high an expectation for his life.
All the way through with Threshold we have been thinking, "yeah, we are going to be the biggest band. We have written great songs. We really believe in this. It's going to be massive, but ten years down the line we are still on an independent label scrapping a living. Sometimes you don't get heaven on earth. I am still hoping for it. Obviously, we've got a new album coming out. We have 'albums of the month' in different magazines which is big. I don't see many bands doing that, but practical reality is what comes back in the sales figures. We'll see what happens. People are downloading stuff now instead of buying it, which you can understand because there is a lot of rubbish out there. I think a lot of sales ten years ago were people buying an album because they heard one song. Then they find they didn't like the album and end up taking it to the second hand shop. People are now avoiding that financial trap by checking it out on the internet first. Even though it is illegal you can see why people would do it. Everyone has so much tax to pay these days. It is a shame too because the record companies are making less and they lower the rate they pay the artists. The artists are at the bottom of the food chain and things get hard for them. All respect to all the bands that are still going. It is hard and you have to do it for the love of it. We are going out on tour next month and we'll just enjoy every second of it.
METALLIAN: You say that, but even when the labels were officially doing well and there was no internet around to facilitate downloading, artists were not getting dealt with fairly. The system has to be fundamentally flawed.
WEST: Well, that's true. There are probably too many people who want to do music. That is what it comes down to. The major labels are always desperate enough to find someone who will sign a silly contract that doesn't give him any money. That's always happened.
I also think we were a little underachieving in the early years. We signed to a very small label playing music that was completely unfashionable in England. We were the only prog metal band here. When we should have been growing and becoming like Dream Theater, and bands like that, we ended up having problems with singers and about six drummers. We should have had consistency and shopped for a major label, but instead we were infighting and trying to stay together. Now we are in out late-30s and been going for ten years. That is not the sort of the band that gets signed by a major label. They are looking for the latest fifteen year old that is going to blossom into a fantastic seventeen year old. Then they are going to get dropped by their eighteenth birthday. We can make the best album in the world, but we are not major label fodder. They are dropping artists by the week, aren't they? To labels, their balanced books is more important than the world's culture.
This is turning into a very moody and negative interview. Let's talk about something cheerful.
METALLIAN: Let's talk about the new album, shall we?
WEST: There are negative messages on there (laughs). We are British. We are just negative all the time (laughs again).
METALLIAN: One of the first things that hits the listener upon taking in the album is how it is more blatant in every respect. You have always put a premium on being ambiguous and letting people think for themselves. Things are a little different this time around.
WEST: I think that's mostly correct. Threshold lyrics are often quite open to interpretation. It is not entirely clear what the subject is and people have a preconceived idea in their heads. Let's take the first song Mission Profile. People are angry with Bush for going into Iraq and they think that must be a song about Bush going into Iraq which it isn't. A few Americans have e-mailed us and they are getting excited about this wonderful anti-Bush song. Then they are off to Michael Moore's page. It's a song about capitalism and how it's getting into a bad way.
With Threshold we have always allowed for some interpretation and that is especially true with the last song, The Destruction Of Words. One could read it as the end of capitalism or the end of a person's individual life or getting to heaven and finding that there is nothing there. It has separate levels. Even when we are writing the songs we know there are separate levels because we want them to work on more than one level. We don't want them to have a song about Tony Blair, for example. We want it to be a lot more open that. I think there is a lot more value to that. I don't want to preach to anybody about my views of the world, but I do like the fact that we give people the platform to think about things. With the culture we have now you are working for some tedious job which you can't remember what the point of it was. You make money, give it back, go home, watch these tedious programs, you don't know what the point of them is either, but they seem to keep you mildly entertained, but never did your brain switch on and tell you to do something about it. That is really what the album is. It's a wake up call. Whether you are fed up with the record industry or you are fed up with politics we are all individually responsible for this world. If we put somebody like Bush or Blair in power to do a job, we have put them there. We all have our responsibilities, but we all sit back and tend to think that there is no point in thinking about it because there is nothing we can do about it and that is so wrong. We have this responsibility. The tiniest thing I can do is write some lyrics that makes someone get up and believe that we can change things, whether it's changing something in their office or changing something in their nation, then bring it on. Let's get people thinking again. The world is full of really intelligent persons who know they are being deceived, who know they are being mistreated, but they won't do anything about it. I think it's about time we do something about it.
METALLIAN: Let me challenge you. People recognize the problem, but what is the solution? What is the alternative?
WEST: I am not personally proposing anything in any particular political arena. That is not what I want to do. A man with a little knowledge is so dangerous. Let's take globalism or globalization and this whole idea that Socialism did not work on the national level. This is what is happening in England right now. They couldn't get Socialism to work in England because Capitalism is too strong. So they are trying to bring it across Europe, but no individual country is going to agree to it because they all like Capitalism. So they've set up the European Union and the European Parliament which is accountable to nobody, yet its sets the rules for the whole of Europe and they are trying to brig Socialism that way. So obviously my solution to that is to get rid of it, but I have no clue how to do that. I don't know enough about the issues to go in there and change anything. The whole point of the album and the wake up call is that if you are working in politics then at least do something good. Let's try to do something good for the world, rather than for our pockets. The whole point is change what you can change rather than thinking you can't change anything.
METALLIAN: Given what you are saying and a line on the album like "we've got a system and you're going to use it" the implication is that you want to work within the system.
WEST: That is open to interpretation. That particular line is specifically about Capitalism. The people who are controlling the world at the moment are saying that this is the system and you are forced to use it and you don't get any choice in the matter. That is problem number one. We put these people in power and then they say that we don't have a choice and we have to do things their way now.
That is one problem we have here with Blair, he isn't very democratic. He doesn't ask the government what we should do, he doesn't ask the people what he should do, he just goes off and does it and then says his conscience will be his judge. That's more like a dictator and it's fine if he's doing stuff than you agree with, but as soon as he does stuff you don't agree with then you think he should be accountable to somebody, preferably to all those people we have voted in to be in Parliament, but he won't do that. That is the problem. I don't know if you have the same problem in Canada, but Capitalism has become an old system now and everyone knows the system so well that they know how to abuse it and they know how to cheat the system. So you have Blair being a dictator, you have record companies not giving money to the artists; whatever context you look at you have Capitalism reaching its end. In fact, the album Subsurface was originally going to be called The End Of Society because that's how big I think the problem is. We have reached the end of this system and we need something new.
METALLIAN: What is that thing in your opinion?
WEST: My view is to throw out all the rules and laws that everyone's brought in which we have seen the tedious political agenda of the last so many years. Let's try to live the way the Bible said. There seems to be no agenda there. It should be a system based on fairness and love. I am going to sound like a hippy now. You look at Denmark right now. They have a Christian leader and everything in the country seems to be improving. Crime is down, prosperity is up and it seems to be the place to be right now. It seems that when you do things the way the Bible says, you get good results. That would be my idea. The problem is to do that you need to have people in power who totally believe in it and don't want to screw the system. Generally people go into politics for their own gain.
When we say that we've lost the art of reason we are partly referring to that and partly how we have let the system take us over. We are supposed to have the system help us run the place properly, but now the system is ruling over us and we can't do anything about it. Surely the point of any government is to serve the people not the other way around.
When you look back at early civilization people had problems and they chose a few to deal with the problems. The nation grew over the years and you end up with a government doing all of those jobs. They were put there to look after the people. You need to retrain the government to remind them that they are the servants not the masters. In democracy everyone gets a say in what's going on, but we don't get any say in England. Everything is just done. Now they are talking about putting satellite tracking in every single car. They will charge us for every single mile that we drive. We don't want that. There isn't a single person in the country that wants that. The only people who want it are the financial controllers of the government who want to make more money. This is serious and it is the most stupid thing I have ever heard. We need to find another government to do what we want instead. This is infiltrating every level of the government in England at the moment. This was one of the reasons I moved to the Czech Republic. I found the whole thing so frustrating. Life here is so expensive. You can't buy a house. As a musician it's too expensive to live here, which is why I tried going abroad. Of course, it was a rather ill-conceived idea.
Look at the war. Nobody here wanted the war. For start, it wasn't our fight. It was George Bush senior's fight. It had nothing to do with England. We don't know why we went. We were lied to about the reasons and nobody's happy about it. They are trying to get Blair to resign because he deceived everybody. People want to know why their sons had to die just because George Bush had unfinished business with Saddam.
METALLIAN: You say that, but every poll indicates that Blair will be reelected next year.
WEST: I am not sure I believe the polls. The polls are put together by the newspapers who have allegiances. Each paper is very much with Labour or Conservatives or the Liberals. When you see a poll you have to take it with a pinch of salt.
METALLIAN: Do you like it and find it fair to label Threshold an intellectual band?
WEST: I suppose so. We don't write songs about dragons and wizards and sex and drugs. We try to address weightier issues. You don't see many twelve-year olds at Threshold gigs. A journalist just told me that we are a 'thinking man's band'. He is right. The music is obviously incredibly important, but so are the lyrics for us. You have got 1,000 words on the album so let's try to use them, let's try to make them as thought-provoking as the music. If that makes us an intellectual band, then yes we are one.
METALLIAN: In that context, and I know you will try to be cagey, but let's address the cover artwork.
WEST: I like the cover because it works on so many levels. The most important message is that when you think you are seeing the truth, you are actually seeing a reflection of it. The truth is concealed below the water. Subsurface obviously means below the water. That is the basic level of it, but there are lots of lyrics throughout the album about different subjects and the cover ties in nicely. An obvious one is Opium which is about how television is the new opium of the masses.
Our artist is a thinking man's artist. When we asked him to do a cover for this album all we said is that he shouldn't make it brown. Our last three albums have all been brown and Threshold was becoming the 'brown band'. We sent him all the lyrics and the titles and I sent him a synopsis about the album and he came back with that. We didn't really have to do anything. We changed the words actually. We came back with the words 'reflect' and 'conceal' and the artist wasn't totally happy. The only criticism we have had is that somebody thought the album was called Reflect. We thought we could cope with that.
METALLIAN: You obviously vote and participate in democracy...
WEST: Of course I do. That's the only thing we can do. In England we just had the European elections. That is when we vote for English parties to represent us in Europe.
METALLIAN: I did notice UKIP.
WEST: Wow, you've heard of them, so obviously they have made a big impact. In England people are disillusioned with the three big parties and those people voted for UKIP, which is political suicide. The party wants to go to Europe and wreck the place, but it's great because it sends the message that we are really not happy about it. They are doing exactly what I love which is they have found an opportunity to go in and say things should change. They have done it. So good luck to them. I am not sure I would vote for them in a general election, but it certainly sent a message out. The thing I can do as a musician is write the lyrics and give these interviews and try to help people to see they can change things. I am no big fish and I am not particularly clever, but if I can help somebody who is clever to get out there and change things then that would be really good. The worst thing a musician can have is an ego and the worst thing an ego can do is to present itself to other people. In England, we are very reserved people so I am never going to say that I am clever.
METALLIAN: Turning the conversation to your music, and in your estimation, how does Threshold maintain both its heaviness and melody at the same time?
WEST: I know what you mean. We write songs, you know. You hear so many heavy bands that just write many aggressive and heavy riffs and shout over it. It's just a different style. We have a musical background and we love melody. I love the old Genesis records where you just didn't know where the chords are going next. You knew it will be something that would lift your soul though. There was something unworldly about the way they wrote stuff. It was the same way with a lot of Queen's music and I think that's the template. We want to write haunting melodies. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't, I guess, but without the melody there is no point in writing the songs. As one of the writers, I know that when I am writing the melodies are the first thing I do. Even when you translate the melody into a heavy band setting, you know you still got that melody as the background of the song. You can take away all the drums and the heavy guitars, which we did on a fan club acoustic release, and you realize that you have a nice set of songs with nice melodies and nice songs.
METALLIAN: Which song is the album's highlight for you?
WEST: There are so many for so many reasons. Mission Profile is the first song that I have written with Carl - just the two of us writing it. For me, that's a real personal highlight because I wanted to write with him for so long. It's always been me writing songs and he doing songs with John the old bass player. I am proud of Mission Profile. A real personal highlight is Stop Dead because it's so quirky and it shouldn't be there. It goes all over the place. It's not metal, it's not pop, it's not prog. We don't know what it is. It just holds together and I am really pleased with that. Flags And Footprints, I have always enjoyed writing Threshold ballads. It's just a pleasure. The first album Threshold did had no ballads which I thought was a bit sad. Then Morgan joined the band and wrote the song Innocent and I was very happy. It was like opening the doors and we have been doing them ever since. So Flags And Footprints, I felt, is my best one yet.
Our songs just write themselves. When you sit down to write them you don't know if it's going to be a three-minute song or a thirteen-minute one. We see how it flows and where it goes and let it spin out from the previous section. The Art Of Reason is one of those songs that wrote itself. It couldn't be a short song. For example, we have made a radio edit of the song Pressure, but with The Art Of Reason there wouldn't be a hope. There are just too many parts that are related. It's a different level of writing. It's done when it's done. That's what I love about progressive metal. You have the freedom to do that. You don't sit down and write three riffs and a nice catchy chorus and you have a pop song. You can put so much more into our style. There is so much more room.
METALLIAN: Is the label servicing radio with a single off Subsurface?
WEST: InsideOut don't want to do singles for us. They have done them for Ayreon. They have done singles for his home country The Netherlands and I have seen them done here and there, but they are not the sort of singles that are put in every shop like major labels do. I think financially that's a huge operation and InsideOut are an independent label. It's not something they have done yet. I wish they would. Every album that we have done seems to have three singles. We think they could be number one on radio, but then reality kicks in and it hasn't happened yet.
The radio edit is a promotional service run by our street team. The label didn't want to be involved. They are doing it for free and they are doing it because they love the band. They are promoting the name Threshold. We also use them for the fan club albums we do.
METALLIAN: What is the special edition album?
WEST: The special edition is a record company insistence that we give them something extra so they can put out special albums. They have their reasons. We didn't have any stuff for them this time. We gave them some extra tracks and some video footage and multimedia bits. It's got a nice slipcase.
METALLIAN: Threshold songs have a habit of being very controlled and deliberate. The same is true for the vocals. Is that a conscious effort?
WEST: We work to our strengths and we work to a certain sonic template. We have strayed occasionally. On the Hypothetical album I did a song called Keep My Head which I hadn't written for the band. I was writing a pop song and I wasn't thinking of the band. For some reason we put it on the album and I think we stepped outside our template one step too far. it's a nice song, but it's not really us. I think it's a question of playing to our strengths. We don't go for the five minute free form instrumental sections. We prefer structure. Maybe it's a safety thing.
In terms of how Mac works, we had actually written Clone for Damien Wilson our previous singer, but he left the band shortly before we recorded it. We learnt a lot from that about what was good for Mac and what wasn't. It is a constantly growing thing to maximize the potential of the band. I am aware of this because that's all I think about. This is my life. Music is what I was meant to do.
METALLIAN: One improvement between the new album and the last one is the drum sound. The sound is no longer artificial.
WEST: There is an easy reason. I don't know if we have ever told anybody, but when Johanne came in, he's got two drum kits, and his main drum kit was set up with his other band - I think they were recording - so he thought it would be easier to bring his cheap kit down. It sounded horrible. We did all sort of stuff to try to make it sound half-decent. We were a bit disappointed by that. This time we said "you bring in your good kit, Johanne and also buy some new cymbals," which he did. It sounded great this time and it was so much easier to record too. You can do all sorts of trickery to make things sound better, but at the end of the day if the source material is no good there is not much you can do.
METALLIAN: The album features a new member. Old habits die hard.
WEST: In our early years we were really bloodied by this. It was almost a revolving door policy. We never found the same six guys who wanted to go in the same direction musically. That was the big issue. When we had Damien Wilson - he was a great singer - but he wasn't a prog metal singer. He didn't know what it was. He had done some prog in the past, but he wanted to do folk music. He was into acoustic pop really. That is what he does. He goes into a pub with his guitar and he sings for people. There was always going to be a tension trying to make him be in a metal band. It just wasn't him. He does it very well, but we were very unfortunate in that we kept finding people who wanted to go in a different direction.
Right now we are older and the egos have vanished. We are just happy that we are in Threshold and it's a nice bunch of guys having fun together and partly we have just found the right people. We had had the same line-up since 1998. We grew as a unit and had some consistency. Jon Jeary came to the end of it really for himself. He achieved all he wanted to achieve. He didn't see a huge future with Threshold. He thought all the potential ambitions he had for the band have been realized. He had written all the lyrics he had wanted to write. He also got bored with the whole process of going into the studio, touring and was missing his family. We are all in our 30s now and I think some people get older quicker than others. He is going to be a family man.
We got a new guy, called Steve Anderson, who used to be in bands with Karl and Nick when they were at school. They go back a long way. He is a local boy and he's always been around the scene, although he was playing jazz. He agreed to come and do the metal thing as a fresh outlet really. He is an old friend so there is none of those problems of having to know someone and what they want to do. It doesn't really feel like we have changed band members. It is a comfortable unit. He has been in bands and gigged, but never recorded anything. Same with our drummer. I couldn't believe it. He is such a good drummer, but he had never been on a CD before Hypothetical!
We have been in Threshold long enough to know that nothing is sure as far as band members. We always hope that we have found the line-up. Steve is not a writer and he plays what is already written. There will be a change of personality, but Threshold is one of those bands that can lose drummers, bass players, et cetra and it doesn't make a huge difference. There is a certain momentum to the band. Steve has been with us over a year now. He is enjoying every minute.
METALLIAN: How much of John's writing is on Subsurface?
WEST: None, John left officially at the end of 2002 and he hadn't written anything for this album. The intensive writing for this album started in November of last year.
I thought that John's departure will leave a big hole with the lyrics. Over the years I have written more and more lyrics, but I had never done a whole album. So with his departure I was concerned if I would have a whole album's worth of ideas. I didn't want to be the reason that there is a hole on the album so I worked really hard. I can't imagine writing another Threshold album. What more have I got to say? I put my heart and soul into that one!
John also had his melodies, but they would also get changed often. Regardless, John put his stamp on the band and when we write for the band his template is still there. We have this momentum now. I could be completely wrong (laughs), the momentum is from Karl, Nick and myself. We will have to see.
Threshold is touring Europe in September with label-mates Dead Soul Tribe. There will be three warm up shows in the UK as well including the Bloodstock Festival. Keep your eyes peeled on www.thresh.net for more information and this space for the band's news.
England's progressive metal band Threshold, described as a "thinking man's band" by one critic, was responsible for one of 2004's best albums, the underrated Subsurface. The album was not only another tribute to the sextet's musical talents, but was another testament to the band's gift of words. Good music, good lyrics and a good disposition? Well, exploring that last attribute was one reason Ali "The Metallian" rang the band's Richard West who proved himself surprisingly both cautious and careful when tackled head-on about his views and opinions. 11.12.2004
METALLIAN: Richard, thank you for your time. Let us cut to the chase. What are your high-level beliefs as pertains to the truth in this world? You have expressed views in the past indicating your inclinations towards Christianity and a more different world policy.
RICHARD: My core belief is in a God who created life, the universe and everything else. I don't think anyone can seriously believe in evolution as the reason for intelligent life unless they have a predisposition to not want to believe in God. You only have to look at the complexity of an eye to see that there must have been a designer.
As for world policy, I find the Christian model of living to be a good concept - life based on self-improvement, honesty and kindness to others. I think that's a pretty good start. I think that sometimes people confuse God with the acts of people wrongly claiming to be working in God's name.
METALLIAN: Is there a reason you do not directly call yourself a Christian?
RICHARD: It wasn't a question you particularly asked. Yes, I am a Christian. I am not the sort of a guy who wants to go around bashing people in the head with it though. Some people take every opportunity to tell all around, "I am a Christian and you should be as well." I am not like that.
METALLIAN: Does your Christianity translate into the band's lyrics?
RICHARD: Yes, but not on Subsurface. That was not a Christian album. Obviously my view-points come across. It is the way I think. The Christian lyrics come through on a song like Light And Space from Hypothetical. Occasionally on our forum you will see questions coming up about it and I answer the question. I am totally happy to be open about it. I do worry that getting labelled a Christian band isn't always a good thing. We are not. I am the only Christian in the band. I don't want it to be that sort of a band anyway. There are great Christian bands out there, but that is not a market I want to look at. I much rather have the freedom to express my thoughts without having a mandate to appeal to a certain audience.
METALLIAN: The lyrics you write are presumably a reflection of your inner self. Is it accurate to point out that they are deliberately written to have a timeless quality? Would you agree to an analogy to Pink Floyd and have they been an inspiration?
RICHARD: I don't know about timeless, but I usually prefer lyrics to be more general than specific so people can relate from their point of view. I only have a narrow set of world experiences so I don't want to start preaching to anybody. I've never looked very deeply at Pink Floyd's lyrics so I can't comment on your analogy. My main inspiration is God because it doesn't seem to matter what subject you talk about, there's always a God point of view.
METALLIAN: When you refer to God, is he the same one that all major religions worship?
RICHARD: I regard God as the God who created the universe. There can only be one of them. I can only say there is one God. I haven't got a clue about other religions. I don't know if they are right or wrong. All I know is I have found a God who means everything. I find it so much easier knowing that I understand how the universe works and how it was made and that there is a God who cares about us. I know that there is an afterlife. It isn't all pointless. It makes living easier. It makes dying easier.
It is not something I often talk about. You will get much more well-spoken answers from other people.
It is funny. Having written Subsurface people ask me whether I am an activist, whether I am political, do I hate America or do I hate Europe and the answer is of course not! I chose the subject, did a lot of reading on politics and philosophy and then I wrote the album. It doesn't mean I am an expert. It means I wrote based on the research I had done. When you have views about stuff, you move on. We are now twelve months down the road from the writing of the album and my views have changed on certain subjects. I am just being honest. Ten years ago I was young and opinionated. As you grow older, you realize there are gray areas.
METALLIAN: A line from your last album Subsurface says, "...by standing up for what we all believed in all along" What would that belief be?
RICHARD: It's about political correctness. I don't remember ever coming across anyone who actually agrees with the set of ideas that make up political correctness, but somehow everyone thinks they're supposed to go along with them, rather than stand up for what they actually believe.
METALLIAN: You have mentioned now and in the past that you dislike political correctness. Having said that it is extremely politically incorrect to say stuff like, say, Jews control Hollywood or gays are more likely to be artists or waiters. Political correctness would declare that there is no way you can say stuff like that. So, are those examples true, or are they untrue or is it a function of political correctness that one can't say these things?
RICHARD: I don't think so. That is not the same political correctness that I am talking about. Whether or not Jews control Hollywood has nothing to do with racism or anything else. It is just an observation, isn't it? You could look at the proportion of Jews in Hollywood and look at the proportion of Jews in the world. I don' think there is anything wrong with observing statistics.
I am worried more about how you are not allowed to express objections to what the political system says is incorrect. There was a strange situation recently in Europe where the new commission had a member who said he believes in the Bible and along with that comes the belief that homosexuality is wrong and single parenting is not the way to go. He is just expressing his views from the Bible. He got sacked from the commission for his views. They reassembled the commission and found out the guy in charge was previously convicted of embezzlement. They didn't have a problem with that! That was political correctness. You are not allowed to stand up and say what you believe. I am in favour of freedom of speech.
METALLIAN: In the same sense, what is the line "flawless ideologies that decadence consumed" referring to? Flawless ideology could be considered either fanatical or a paradox in some quarters.
RICHARD: I think that our decadence as a society has filled our lives to the point where we don't have the time or inclination to search for the greater truths anymore. We're more worried about debts and soap operas. If there's a flawless ideology out there, our 'me me me' culture certainly isn't it.
METALLIAN: Let us expand on your Christian points-of-view. How would you account for the countless evils of religion? Could a rational person deny the destruction that various religions have wrought?
RICHARD: Lots of things have been done by men claiming to be working for God, but that doesn't mean God had anything to do with them. You refer to the evils of religion, but I'm sure you wouldn't refer to the evils of God. When wars are fought everyone tries to claim they are on God's side. Look at Northern Ireland. It has nothing to do with God. Everytime something bad happens religion gets blamed. Blame should go to stupid or evil men rather than God or anything God wanted to happen.
METALLIAN: You dispute the fact that God controls our actions.
RICHARD: Of course he doesn't. He said he gave us free will. The Biblical view is that God hates sin. He doesn't differentiate between murder and petty theft. It is all bad for him. If he were to stop murder from happening, he would have to stop petty theft and so on. At which point we would all become robots and there would be no point to life.
METALLIAN: In a previous conversation you have confided that Capitalism has come to a dead-end. That notion seems to go against conventional wisdom.
RICHARD: I love the way you say "confided", you make me sound like I have insider knowledge! I don't know enough about politics to really answer your question, but I think I was more referring to the way that our current political system has become so open to corruption which may ultimately be its downfall.
METALLIAN: Do you see yourself, your family, your life and your band as mere participants in the huge capitalist wheel?
RICHARD: Well, we don't really have much control over how the system works, so I guess you're right to some extent.
METALLIAN: Elsewhere, you have pointed to the many shortcomings of the American hegemony. What is your reaction to any quarter terming you anti-American?
RICHARD: No way, I'm not anti-American at all. I'm not anti-anybody. I was surprised you said that. I love America. I went there on my honeymoon and I look forward to going back.
METALLIAN: Would you say that you are anti-Bush?
RICHARD: No, not particularly. I just don't like the concept of discovering a whole group of people that don't like you and you respond by going there and killing them. It is like a playground. If someone doesn't like you the best thing to do is make friends with them. One half of the world is not going to wipe out the other half. So I am not very keen on Bush's foreign policy. It is not about keeping the peace. It is about destroying anybody he disagrees with his lifestyle. It goes back to the discussion on freedom of speech. The concept of killing one's enemy does not resonate with me. I don't know anything about Bush the man, but I think most of Europe and Canada agrees that Bush's policies don't seem to have made the world a safer place. You could argue that it is a less safe place. In Ireland they are getting peace not by going and killing the terrorists, but by dialogue. As a Christian, that is Biblically sound. Love your enemies.
METALLIAN: How about "Thou shalt not kill"?
RICHARD: Well, of course yes. That is a difficult one when it comes to wars, isn't it? Personally I don't want to kill anybody.
METALLIAN: Here is a direct question. How do you reconcile George and Tony's sympathy for American imperial ambitions and devotion to Christianity?
RICHARD: I can't comment on their devotion, as I don't know them. You can't possibly know what goes on in private. I don't know what Bush's relationship is with God. Certainly, I don't think what he does is particularly in line with The New Testament in terms of how you deal with your enemies. He keeps going around and killing them. Certainly, the policies we keep hearing about recently, like torture in Guantanamo Bay, et cetra, are not in line with the Bible. I don't know quite where he is coming from. He doesn't seem quite right to me.
METALLIAN: Let us be clear. Floating problems without proposing remedies is a limiting proposition. Can you, as concisely as possible, explain what is the solution and the best direction we as a planet could take and why?
RICHARD: Of course not, I'd have to be a genius!
I think if everyone could walk into a room or a place and then when they leave it they know that they left it a happier and a nicer place that would resonate across the world. We would be in a nicer world that way. If I can walk into a room and smile at somebody or leave that place better than when I got there that would be a good way to live your life.
To find out more about Richard West and his band Threshold type www.thresh.net into your web browser's address bar.
Another year, another sophisticated Threshold album. How many good albums will one band release? All bets are off at this point, but while the going's good Ali "The Metallian" gets hold of keyboardist Richard West in order to explore the English progressive metallers' latest album, Dead Reckoning. - 08.04.2007
METALLIAN: Richard, thank-you for your time this evening. The obvious question would revolve around Threshold's migration from InsideOut Music to Nuclear Blast Records.
RICH: They heard that we were out of the contract with InsideOut and since a couple of guys at the label were Threshold fans it was all quite simple. A friend of ours contacted them. He was in our studio recording an album and said he would mention it to a friend of his at Nuclear Blast. We didn't think much of it. Markus, the owner, and a few other guys at the label are big fans of Threshold. Nuclear Blast is a good place for us to be.
The name of the friend should remain confidential, although I guess I can mention his name since Karl has already told people. It was Lanvall the guitarist of Edenbridge. Karl was mixing his album at the time. We had finished touring at the end of 2004 and were busy mixing and producing bands like Dragonforce and Intense. We had Threshold on the shelf for just a little bit because we really didn't know what to do next. We felt if we did another album with the same set-up, same ideas and the same label we would have the same kind of success. We felt that we were not getting anywhere. We were stuck in a rut. It was a pleasant rut, it was a forward thinking rut, but a rut nonetheless. Then this option came up. The fact that a bigger label wanted to sign us gave us the impetus to start working properly. It made us realize that we need to shake the formula, shake the pot up and get things moving. We feel like we are a new band again. There is new energy in our writing. It has been a good exercise.
METALLIAN: It feels odd to hear you say that Threshold was stagnating...
RICH: No, definitely not, but you look at a band like Symphony X and they are just about to embark on a fourteen-month world tour, whereas Threshold usually embarks on a fourteen-day tour. That is what I mean. It is a new level of thinking. Threshold was like an extra thing we did when we started the band because we all had jobs. It took a while for us to wake up to the fact that this is a professional outfit now. It has been professional in most respects for the last ten years, except that we forget sometimes that it is the most important thing. We sometimes think we should get back in the studio so we can make some money by producing or whatever and Threshold is second on the list. That was a bad habit.
METALLIAN: How much were the good reviews accorded your last album, Subsurface, and the band's resulting sales help seal the deal with Nuclear Blast Records their liking your music notwithstanding?
RICH: Any label that signs a band it doesn't think it can sell a boatload of is stupid, I think. You would have to ask Nuclear Blast that question. I would like to think they saw a level of professionalism and potential in us. They also have a strong focus on the heavier side of metal, and they probably wanted to diversify a little bit.
METALLIAN: What can the fans expect now given your new label as far as touring, releases et cetra?
RICH: We have signed for four albums to Nuclear Blast. We are planning for tours and festivals at the moment. We were going to tour next month with a couple of bands, but it wasn't a big enough package so we are now discussing a European tour for September. We are also playing several festivals in Europe this summer. We already had a North American offer as well. My guess is we would be in North America early next year. From a band's point-of-view you need to do both festivals and tours. When you do your owns shows you get to play an hour and a half, but at festivals you get yourself exposed to fans of different bands. It is all part of the process.
METALLIAN: The album's title was initially announced as Pilot In The Sky Of Dreams, yet was later changed to Dead Reckoning.
RICH: Pilot In The Sky Of Dreams was always a song title and we couldn't think of an album title. We were stomped. We knew that it was the one that jumped off the page of all the tong titles. We knew that if we were to use a song title as the album title that would be the one. It reminds you of Lucy In The Sky Of Diamonds. It's got that kind of British classic progressive thing going for it. When we got to the end of the recording we felt it was too much of a flowery, progressive title for an album that was a harder-edged sounding album than we normally make. To give it such a title would be misrepresenting the album. Also, when you choose a song as a title for the album, it should be a good representation of the album. Pilot In The Sky Of Dreams was the softest part of the album and wasn't a true representation of the whole album. We thought we better find a harder sounding title and we spent ages looking through navigation and flight phrases because the album is about how to navigate through the problems of life and stories of life. There is also a strong theme about flying and navigating. When we came across the 'dead reckoning' phrase we thought it was perfect. It is a navigation phrase. It is an old phrase for figuring out where a ship or aeroplane would be. It used to be 'deduced reckoning' and somehow got abbreviated to 'dead reckoning.' It is nice and hard and has the word 'dead' in there. What more can you ask for?
METALLIAN: Given the theme of the album the choice of the cover must have been deliberate.
RICH: Yes, absolutely. I told our artist what the title was and the basics. The sub-title for the album was 'How To Fly Well And Land Safely.' I told the artist to get on with it. The artist is an Italian guy called Davide Nadalin we used for the first time. He had done a cover for an Italian band called Extrema and it was gorgeous. It was redy, orange and beautifully done. He came back in four days and it was perfect. It was just perfect. We tweaked a couple of things, but we went with it. All we told him is not to make the cover brown and he came back with blue. If my wife would let me I would have it on the wall as a canvass.
METALLIAN: Sounds like you might have already tried.
RICH: No, no, no. She heard me say that to another journalist and it was a 'no.' I don't really want Threshold album covers around our house. That would be a bit narcisstic I would think.
METALLIAN: As good as the current cover is, the previous album Subsurface also enjoyed a brilliant artwork. Why did you change artists?
RICH: We went back to Thomas Ewerhard initially who has done our covers since 1998. He came forward with a cover, which was good, but was probably a bit too progressive again. It was soft and floaty. We wanted something a bit darker and moodier. OF course, because he did the cover when the album was to be called Pilot In The Sky Of Dreams. We gave him the option to come back with something else when we changed the title, but he had a deadline with another job so he didn't present anything. It was almost an accidental change. It was a useful change though because it helped us get out of the rut.
METALLIAN: For a band with so many albums you tend to not be conservative.
RICH: Yeah, if only we could make ourselves 19 again! Then the transformation would be complete.
METALLIAN: OK, here comes the obvious question perhaps, but how and why did Dan Swanö and his growls come into the picture?
RICH: Well, it was not the first time we tried actually. Way back in '97 we wanted growls on the Eat The Unicorn song and we tried to get Damian Wilson our old singer to do some. He tried one line and hurt his throat so he never did it again. He had to take the rest of the day off! We never thought about it until now. It was really as a result of the song writing this time around. We wrote the song Slipstream and there are three lines about someone sitting at home and hiding from the world. He gets this wake up call at the end of each verse asking 'do you really think so?' We wanted to sound really menacing. We could have used distortion or a studio effect, but really we wanted a growl as the right approach for the song. So it wasn't a fashion statement or even a conscious effort to sound heavier. It was what was right for the material.
We had a couple of vocalists in mind for the growls, but they didn't work out. It was a day before we had to start mixing and all we had was my rough vocals from the demo. We wanted something special. Clive Nolan walked in. He is the keyboard player for Arena. He said we needed Dan Swanö who he had worked with in the past. We dropped him a line and in 24 hours he had emailed us around 100 takes of all different typos of growls. We took the best ones. We couldn't believe it. We have never met the guy, but he seems very friendly on e-mail.
METALLIAN: Did you know of him previously?
RICH: Only vaguely. I think I have heard him on a couple of albums. He is one of a thousand names we know in the distance.
METALLIAN: Oddly, and to the best of my knowledge, Dan Swanö has stopped growling on his own music for ten years now.
RICH: I didn't know it was that long. He did say it was the heaviest thing he had done in a long time! It is funny because I saw that comment from one of the fans that said that Dan complained that he'd torn his throat apart because he had only done two lines. Yes, but he did them 100 times each!
METALLIAN: Threshold has lost another member yet again.
RICH: We are hoping it is not so much a change of members as a rest for Nick Midson. I think he had been thinking of stopping for a long time. He had been enjoying it less with every passing year - a bit like Jon Jeary our old bass player who left in 2002 for a similar reason. I guess everyone reaches that stage at some point, unless you are The Rolling Stones. Although with them you probably think they should have reached that stage! I cannot see myself reaching that stage, but I can understand when people do. He didn't enjoy the live process anymore and he was enjoying the studio less as well. Maybe he will take a year off, feel the grass is greener and come back. We have left the position open for him. In the meantime, wanting two guitars on stage, we have Pete Morton from Soliloquy who is a friend of Karl. They have a similar playing style.
METALLIAN: Threshold has reached a point where the band could have recruited a more seasoned or proven individual. Is Pete Morton a coincidental induction into the band?
RICH: People haven't heard him, no. We are not into pulling in a superstar and making it into a headline. When Jon left five years ago we could have gotten any number of bass players in, but we got Steve Anderson who was in school bands with Karl and Nick. He was in the area and was a very good bass player who had attended bass college. Steve was a fantastic bass player and a very good friend. He was the obvious choice. That is the way Threshold works. We just want to be a nice and friendly group that gets on well. Isn't that how most bands are?
METALLIAN: No, bands like to generate the maximum number of headlines.
RICH: Interesting. We just wanted someone to be part of the family. We are not rushing to change members. Karl might just play the next album. We are not rushing to bring anyone to be a full-time member.
METALLIAN: Shockingly you have not changed drummers.
RICH: [Laughingly] it's time we changed drummers, isn't it? Johanne's own band Kyrb Grinder, in which he drums and sings, has an album coming out next month. They have planned a lot of touring so you never know. We might get a lot of scheduling conflicts and might have to find someone else. I am sure we can fit everything in. He is a real powerhouse and holds the band. He is the foundation. He is a good friend too and has been with us for a long time now.
METALLIAN: By the way, are sun glasses part of Johanne's new image?
RICH: It was the video director's idea. I think he wanted Johanne to look really mean. He looks fantastic. They gave him the blue shirt, they gave him the sunglasses and told him to get on with it. The promotional shots were taken at the same time so he kept the glasses on.
METALLIAN: Was the video shot in front of a blue screen or was it shot on location?
RICH: We traveled to a lake near Leipzig in Germany. That is where the video company is. It was a huge lake with waves. We shot the video there so it is nearly real. The bit where I am standing on top of a cliff... I am actually standing on top of a rock and there is some CGI involved.
METALLIAN: Going back to your signing to Nuclear Blast, fans might ponder how that affects your fan club releases and specials.
RICH: First of all, we told them before we signed that we choose what we write, when we write and what goes on the album. They said that is no problem because they know who we are. We have discussed the fan club albums and the arrangement is similar to InsideOut, which is that we give the label the right of first refusal. If the label doesn't want it then we can release it. The fan club albums are not new enough to be called a commercial release, although I am saying that and changing my mind. We have released such good fan club albums like Wireless and Concert In Paris that could have been full commercial albums. We somehow managed to sell them on tour and make a little more money. We will see what happens. We haven't approached them with one yet of course. We have a few ideas like a Wireless II. We like to reinterpret our newer songs. We will see if Nuclear Blast wants to pick that up. For us it is a win-win.
METALLIAN: Should Nuclear Blast pick the fan club albums up for release they presumably will not be counted as part of your four-album contract.
RICH: That is a good question. That is a very interesting question actually. They probably would be actually. I would have to read the small print. We got no indication of leaving Nuclear Blast anyway so it is a moot point. I will have to consult with my lawyer.
METALLIAN: Yet, one would assume that the royalty rates for the fan club albums would be different from regular albums...
RICH: Then we wouldn't give it to Nuclear Blast. I think it will be like live albums which are not included as part of the four-album deal. I am sure we wouldn't have any trouble. Once I find the answer I will let you know though!
METALLIAN: Finally, Rich what is coming up next for the band?
RICH: Aside from several tentative touring possibilities and summer festivals we have many things written in pencil. You have to plan more than you can do because things come off. Ideally, we would do the festivals in Europe, do an autumn European tour and then hit North America next year. We are hoping to do a few shows around ProgPower USA. Doing a live DVD called Live Reckoning would be very obvious for us. We would have to do it because the album fits so well. That would be next. We also need to start writing for the next album. We don't need to wait two or three years this time. Also Karl has to go back into the studio to produce the new Dragonforce album. That takes quite a while because they are slow workers. I remember last time they rerecorded most of the album. So, Karl has to be available for that. Hopefully we will put aside more of the outside studio work in the future and focus on the band.
Singer Andrew 'Mac' McDermott, guitarists Karl Groom and Pete Morton, bassist Steve Anderson, drummer Johanne James and Richard West can be found on the web at www.thresh.net.
Threshold singer 'Mac' is out. More precisely, at the commercial height of the career of the British progressive metallers Threshold singer Andrew 'Mac' McDermott has decided to unceremoniously dump the band in favour of supporting "my family 100%" because, "it's absolutely impossible to live on fresh air alone." Whether this decision implies bad timing, a brave and honourable decision or an indictment against the whole recording industry is to be determined.
Metallian exclusively presents the first interview on the topic with Threshold's keyboardist Richard West via a Trans-Atlantic telephone conversation. - 09.08.2007
METALLIAN: Richard, thank-you for speaking to us. It seems like the best of times and worst of times for the band. Why would singer Andrew 'Mac' McDermott decide to leave the band now of all times?
RICHARD: Mac hasn't been in touch with us. He just told us in a short e-mail that he wanted to get on with his life. He made an announcement saying how he couldn't live on air alone so I guess money must be an issue, but he hasn't talked to us. Threshold hasn't been a big money earner because between the years 2004 and 2007 we didn't do anything. We were busy doing other jobs like producing bands, working in studio, various things. Drummer Johanne James has been off with his band so we all keep busy and made money in-between so I don't quite know what the issue was because Mac hasn't been busy with us. It's difficult you see. We are reluctant to do interviews about this because I don't know any more than you. I can only speculate. Mac is a good singer and friend and I am very surprised he just suddenly left us. We don't really know the reason.
METALLIAN: You surely picked up the phone and called Mac or sat down and spoke with him.
RICHARD: You'd think! We tried to call him many times but he wouldn't answer the phone. I think he probably felt bad about letting us down.
METALLIAN: Wouldn't he be letting you down even more by not speaking with you?
RICHARD: It is very strange. I don't understand. For the few weeks before he left I was on the phone with him and we were good friends and had no problems so I am confused. When you are in a band on the level of Threshold it is hard to justify doing thing because you are hoping for a big break, a big single, video, song on a soundtrack or big tour and we were hoping with our move to Nuclear Blast that one of those thing would happen but every door we pushed was closed back on us. I am sure Mac got very frustrated that things weren't really growing and we were hoping thing would grow much bigger than before so maybe he looked at the future and thought 'I can't see the point and it's not gonna get bigger' and certainly at the level we are at it is not enough to pay for everybody to live but then why should it be we are not working at it twelve hours a day each. We just come together for rehearsals and tours and things. We get paid for that. Again, I am speculating.
METALLIAN: Are you inferring that doors were not opened since you joined Nuclear Blast? It seems to an outside observer like now is your time. The band has had its first album on Nuclear Blast, first post-signing to the new label tour, et cetra.
RICHARD: We keep on pushing doors and hopefully the right ones will open. It was frustrating that we didn't have a big radio hit and our video wasn't shown on big circulation on TV. We were hoping to get the Dream Theatre tour, but that didn't come off. There are always frustrations that happen. That is part of being alive isn't it? You push one hundred doors and a few of them will open. We got a great headlining tour coming up and a few great festival so for every closed doors there are some good open ones as well. We are happy with Nuclear Blast, no problems at all, we just have to go out and promote the album. We still plan to do and do a great tour, unfortunately, it's without Mac!
METALLIAN: So you are categorically claiming that you don't know why Mac left and the same goes for the rest of the band.
RICHARD: He sent us a one-line email and he posted four or five lines on our forum to say 'good bye' to the fans. He alluded to the fact that he couldn't live on air alone and he had to go and make money to support his family. It's curious because we are coming up on touring and he is getting paid for that so it's a strange time so maybe that's not the whole story.
That is what I read into it. If, as he said, money is an issue this would be a strange time... so maybe something else is going on.
My guess would be it's a combination of disappointments that Threshold has not become bigger yet plus probably some pressures at home just to survive. It is difficult when people try to have a job and be in a band unless you work for yourself doing things like freelance production or play in other bands. Then if you get a job that has a boss and suddenly you have worry about holidays or your girlfriend wants you to go on holiday instead of tour... so maybe he wants to go and get a normal job.
METALLIAN: Was Mac happy with the new album, Dead Reckoning? What everyone noticed and you admitted was that it was a heavier album.
RICHARD: Mac thought Dead Reckoning was the best album we ever did. He was completely happy with the music and the label. I thought he was happy with everything.
METALLIAN: Would you say that there were no inter-personal issues among the band members like disagreements or anything like that?
RICHARD: As a band we always got on fairly well. We were never the best mates but we got on fairly well. I don't think that was the problem.
METALLIAN: You had brought up the whole income and subsistence issue to me four or five years ago, yet you stuck with it didn't you?
RICHARD: I stuck with it, but I make money in other ways too. Threshold doesn't pay enough. It's the same with most bands on our level. I think if you make the choice to tour for 12 months of the year then, sure, you can make enough money, but with Threshold we don't do that so we have lives outside of Threshold and it gives us a nice balance. It is fun and it means we get involved in other projects that bring more diversity into the music we do and helps us grow, but it also means that if you are only spending a third of your time working on Threshold you got to be spending the other two thirds doing something else to live. Unless we became phenomenally successful it's realistic to remember that you have to make money to pay the bills.
METALLIAN: What I am getting at is how you could stick with it, have your job outside the band and still be in the band. Why wouldn't that work for somebody else?
RICHARD: Maybe Mac needs to work for a company that won't give him the time off. I don't know.
METALLIAN: You are talking about a so-called white-collar job.
RICHARD: Maybe, I don't know really. I am just suggesting what might make somebody decide to leave Threshold.
METALLIAN: Is it not strange that you would not have a conflict within the band and yet Mac would not call?
RICHARD: I think he probably knows we are very unhappy with what he did. He might be embarrassed to call because he left less than a week before a festival. It is very fortunate that I have been working with Damian Wilson our old singer on a couple of projects so we have seen a lot of each other. I was able to ask him straight away; otherwise I don't know what we would have done.
METALLIAN: Was Damian surprised that you were asking him back into the band? He himself had left the band and came back once before. What was his reaction?
RICHARD: We were talking about Threshold and he had told me he didn't like touring while in the band ten years ago. Then he got offered a job with Les Miserable, the musical, where he was playing one of the lead roles. He loves touring now and has been doing that with his won band, Headspace. They supported Ozzy Osbourne, which is a fantastic gig to get. We didn't ask him to join the band. We just asked him to sing at two festivals and he loved the opportunity. He said it would be great to come in and save the day. He was very happy and didn't hesitate. We don't know what the future is because obviously Damian has his own band. They are a great band and looking for a good deal at the moment so Damian leant himself to us for the tour, but we haven't talked about the future yet. Our big concern was all the booked tour dates. Fans had bought tickets and a lot of work had been done. We didn't want to pull out of that commitment so we did all we could to make sure we play all those shows. That is our primary objective at the moment. When we get to November and finish all those shows then we'll sit down and decide what to do next.
METALLIAN: In other words, no one has sat down with Damian as a group to ask or discuss whether he is going to be Threshold's permanent singer.
RICHARD: We have discussed it, but we haven't made any decisions. It is too early. I think Damian's put so much work into Headspace it is good that he carries on with that. I think if Damian became Threshold's singer then that would be a problem for Headspace and they have been very kind to lend us Damian. We are not going to do anything unless everybody agrees to it but it's way too early. Maybe Mac will call next week to apologize!
METALLIAN: Has the label, Nuclear Blast Records, said anything in this regard? Does the label have a say and if so what do they think of the situation?
RICHARD: They have every right to object because they signed a certain package but they have been very supportive. I told our main representative at Nuclear Blast about it and he said that saw us perform with Damian ten years in Tilburg and that he loved the show then and he was very happy with Damian now. They have been good and kind to us and they are all coming to the first show of the tour, which is in 3 weeks. I wish they wouldn't come out to the first show because you want to iron out all the problems, but that is the way it goes. We already did two festivals with Damian and they went really well so I think the tour is going to be fantastic.
METALLIAN: What has your fans' reaction been?
RICHARD: They have been fifty-fifty. I was surprised because I thought there would be more complaints but Damian's sang with us for two albums and he had worked on the Star One project and with Ayreon as well so he has a lot of fans in progressive rock. So fifty percent are upset Mac has gone, because he is the voice of Threshold and on the songs they know and I understand that, but fifty percent are delighted at the chance to see us perform with Damian especially in America.
METALLIAN: What does Damian think of your latest album specifically?
RICHARD: He loves it. He says he wished he was on it. He thinks it is our best and strongest album,. Mac has a different range to Damian so in a few places we will slightly change things around to make them work live with Damian. We closed our last show with the song This Is Your Life and Damian just made it his own and it sounded fantastic.
METALLIAN: You recently cancelled a festival appearance.
RICHARD: It had nothing to do with Threshold. I actually felt sorry for them. It was a festival in Norway where it was the first time they organized one and I think their inexperience was the problem. They didn't get the budget right and a week before the show they realized they couldn't afford to bring all the foreign bands they had hoped to bring so they cancelled us and also Pendragon and they just kept all the local bands plus one headliner which was Saga to try and keep the cost down. I felt bad for them. I know people in the UK who organize festivals and it is so hard to get everything right in the first year so I was happy to go anyway and even reduce our fee, but it was the flight cost, hotels and extras which was too much for them in the end; big shame we were all ready, we had a great set ready and it would have been good for the band to have another show before the main tour but sometimes these things don't work out. There have been quite a few festivals canceled this year too. I don't mean for Threshold but across the world I think what is happening is that the really big festivals, like Wacken, do well but so many bands are touring with 4 or 5 band packages and festivals which are getting like ten bands to play are finding out that it is not worth being a small festival anymore. We had a great small festival in Switzerland called Metal Daze and they had to cancel this year as well because they weren't selling enough tickets. They have to be huge to survive now, like Earthshaker in Germany or Metal Camp in Slovenia, but those have maybe four days of non-stop bands so there is so much on the bill that everyone wants to go.
METALLIAN: What is next for you?
RICHARD: We have 20 dates and are going to play those. We have no other plans at all. We have no plans to split up. We are just not making any decisions beyond our dates.
Keep your eyes glued to www.thresh.net then.
If you enjoyed this, read Zero Hour