heavy metal

Threshold Interview

Gauntlet: Now, are you in England currently?

Karl: I am, yeah, in my studio at the moment, working on some productions for other people.

Gauntlet: Mm, well, I guess now is as good a time as any that was a line of questions I was curious about. I've read that done quite a lot of production, then; so you're still doing that?

Karl: Yeah, I am. It's something I really enjoy, something that's come as a byproduct of the start of doing my own music. Eventually, it must have been around '99 or something, a lot of power metal bands and progressive metal bands started contacting me to produce their albums as well, and that's why I have my own studio. It's been something I've been able to do quite comfortably and it's an enjoyable part of what I do now.

Gauntlet: So, you were producing your own work before and then had the studio.

Karl: Yeah. The first couple of deals that we got, with a couple of the bands that I was in right at the beginning, we didn�t get much money to get an album done, and in those days it was quite expensive in studios. So, I bought a mixing desk and some recording gear�I�d already done some home recording�but some more serious gear and started producing the albums myself. The record company sort of went along with it, and gradually the gear built up and it became a good way of making our own albums. From thereon it snowballed into making every album that we made, and I started enjoying it a lot more than I had originally. And then when other bands contacted me, I thought, �Well, why not, let�s give it a go,� and now it�s pretty much what I do apart from Threshold.

Gauntlet: And did you have any sort of training for it or just learn it as you went along?

Karl: No, just after I left school I bought my first 8-track reel to reel and basic gear and enjoyed it so much that I just went on learning and trying to go to studios if I could and find out things from other people. Every time we went to studios to record I bugged the engineer all the time to find out his tricks, you know. And these days with the internet it�s easy to�it�s not easy to pick up exactly how people do things, but it�s easy to pick up a way of working and an understanding of equipment and what other people do. And the people within the audio community readily share their experiences. Some of the top name producers get on there and sort of talk you through things they�ve done. And in the end you find out, particularly of people like Trevor Horton, that they claim that it�s all hard work rather than tricks, and you find that out along the way, anyway. The more time you�ve got and the more budget you�ve got, the better album you can make, almost regardless of the gear now, because there isn�t as much of a dividing line with the modern way of recording with the computers and the mixing. Anyone can pretty much get ahold of the gear and, you know, you can build yourself of top studio for, well, $50,000, when that sort of thing used to be $5 million in days gone by, didn�t it? You�d need a lot of space as well, whereas you don�t so much now.

Gauntlet: Yeah, I�m in school for music business right now, actually, and last January we took a trip down to Nashville, I don�t know if you�ve ever been there�?

Karl: No, I�ve never been to Nashville.

Gauntlet: Well, it�s often called �Music City� for how much it�s really a part of the music industry, and it was really interesting going around to different studios and seeing how much of a community it really is.

Karl: A huge amount of history in that area, I would suppose.

Gauntlet: Oh, yes, absolutely.

Karl: Particularly 60�s and 70�s stuff, I would have thought.

Gauntlet: Yeah, and they really embrace it, too; as soon as you get off the plane in the airport everything is just music, music, music.

Karl: (Laughs) That�s great. So did you see any older studios, sort of the stuff with the old microphones and the mixing desks and so on?

Gauntlet: We saw a couple different types. There was one that was more of an every-day type studio that had some of the old tricks with putting mattresses up and blocking things off with couch cushions and whatnot and had the sand in the walls to dampen things�

Karl: Yeah, sure.

Gauntlet: And then we went to this other place called Blackbird Studios, which is truly incredible. It�s owned by Martina McBride and they have all sorts of amazing�they have one of the most extensive collections of old microphones in the world, as far as I know. And there was one place in particular called Studio C. I forget who was the designer for it, but the walls were made up of something like 100,000 different sheets of medium density fiberboard�

Karl: The perfect absorption.

Gauntlet: Exactly, the perfect audio environment.

Karl: Well, see, that�s one area where you can�t get by on the cheap mode, is if you�re going to record real instruments. Voice isn�t too bad; you can make a booth, can�t you? And you can find a way of doing it relatively cheaply�but for recording drums, you still need a room, and the bigger the better in many ways, and the right sort of bass traps and so on. But you can make dance music, I guess, very cheaply, but anything more than that you�ll need a little bit of space as well.

Gauntlet: Hah. It was interesting to read that you apparently produced Dragonforce�s first demo?

Karl: I�ve recorded or produced all their albums, actually.

Gauntlet: Must be interesting to look back on that now, considering how far they�ve come in popularity.

Karl: Yeah, we�ve actually got some old recordings, that probably aren�t available to anyone, really, of really old stuff that was done in a real hurry when they first got signed. And they�ve seemed to have done alright. I mean, I�d never guessed that they were going to make anything from it because it�s�I suppose they�re leading the way in some ways for what they were doing. You know, just�really crazy kind of computer solos�


Karl: With all sorts of weird stuff going on and progressive elements that aren�t popular�and yeah, a really sort of unusual approach. I don�t think they thought they were going to get very far themselves, but it seems to have taken off great. I�m actually working on their first album again now, we made that on a fairly tight budget and we�re going to do a re-release for I think next year sometime, and I�m going to try to resurrect some of the bits and pieces and look at the state of the recordings now. It was done on a very basic system and, you know, we used a lot of MIDI because there weren�t enough recording tracks at the time, but things have moved on since then. I mean, they sold quite a lot of the last album, I think.

Gauntlet: Yeah, I don�t know the numbers specifically, but it�s pretty�

Karl: Yeah, I think they�ve sold about two or three-hundred thousand in America, which isn�t so much of a surprise to me because they seem to live there now�


Karl: Spend all their time on the touring bus.

Gauntlet: They certainly have a lot of fans here�it�s crazy.

Karl: Well, yeah, I think it�s just hard work and touring, really. That�s the way to do it throughout America. Because I think if they�d gone for just one tour for a couple of months, no one would have noticed who the hell they were. Such a big place, I suppose, you�ve got to spend some time. And they�ve been �round and �round and �round out there. But I know Sam doesn�t mind, because he hates recording.


Karl: So he says, �I don�t know how many years we can get out of this album, to go on tour, but as many as possible.�

Gauntlet: So do you sort of have to crack the whip when you�re in the studio with him?

Karl: Well, to be fair, he�s the one that has to turn up most because he�s the one that writes the most of the music and he�s most involved with the production. He�s here for the vocals and the drums, and it�s hard work because they spend a lot of time in the studio when they make an album�it�s a slow process. If you think about it, it�s twice as many notes on their albums, so there�s twice as much work to be done and it can be a bit of a drain at times.


Gauntlet: Yeah, good point. Well, to Threshold then�what�s the calendar look for you guys?

Karl: Ah, we�ve got a lot of festivals booked, and up until a couple of weeks ago it looked like we had an American tour, but it didn�t work for one of the members of the band. We were going to try to do it while we were over there for ProgPower USA, but now it looks like we�re going to have to go on a European tour in that September slot anyway, so I don�t know what�s happening exactly for touring. They keep changing their minds. You know, we sort of left it to our promoters to sort it all out and said, �Come back and tell us when you�ve got something definite.� But all we�ve got definitely booked are shows for festivals all �round Europe, and there�s one in Atlanta in September or October, some sort of time around about then.

Gauntlet: For the ProgPower?

Karl: Yes, the ProgPower one. We�ve played it once before.

Gauntlet: Yeah, I know. I was looking at the�because I went to Progpower, I think it was two years ago now, when it was Angra, Stratovarius, Therion and those types.

Karl: Oh, alright, yeah.

Gauntlet: And it was a great show, that was the first time I�d heard of it, so I went back and looked at the history and said, �Wow, why did I not know about this earlier? Look at all these great bands that have played here�.�

Karl: Yeah, it�s been gradually building. But the thing is that he sold out virtually every show apart for the first one within a couple of weeks, anyway. Seems to have done great. I suppose they�ve stayed at the same place, but the temptation must be to go to a bigger building, as they sell out so easily.

Gauntlet: Yeah, they really do, in just a few weeks, especially so many months ahead of time.

Karl: Yeah, but what struck me is that they have it some sort of Earthlink building or something. It�s just a great sound there. And the engineers are great, what they get in there. And they�ve never heard the bands, but they all seem to make them sound great (laughs). I don�t� know what it is, they must just have really good acoustics. Obviously being a full house as well helps, because it�s good absorption. The people are quite good absorption, anyway. It seem to be a great show to play and the people who come to see that show are pretty open-minded to watch all the bands, which is what I liked about it. They don�t seem to kind of favor one or the other particularly, they want to see the whole show. And they have a really good atmosphere because of that, and I don�t think there�s anything quite like it. Not even the European ProgPower shows are quite as good as that one. I suppose it�s a way for a lot of people in North America, or even South America as well, to get a chance to see some bands that come from Europe that might not normally tour in the states.

Gauntlet: Exactly. It will certainly get a lot of acts that�ll draw out those really dedicated types who are really open-minded�

Karl: The crazy types, yeah (laughs). Travel anywhere for anything.

Gauntlet: And I imagine it�s only gotten�I of course wasn�t there when you guys were playing�but I will be there this year. Friend of mine is obsessed with Threshold; he bought �Subsurface� after asking me how it was and I said, �Yeah, it�s pretty good.� So he bought that, and a few weeks later he said, �I�ve been listening to this album non-stop, I have not listened to anything else at all.� And then when he went and bought four or five other albums and when he saw you guys were playing this year he said, �We have to go. We just have to do it.�

Karl: Oh, cool. Well, whereabouts do you come from, then?

Gauntlet: I�m in Chicago, now. So it�s quite a trek, but�

Karl: I�ll tell you what, that very first ProgPower show, I know some guys who played it, and they said it was in Chicago, that first show.

Gauntlet: Really?

Karl: Yeah, I think the first one was there and it wasn�t �til the second one that they went to Atlanta; so you missed it, big time.


Gauntlet: Well, I guess so. I�ll have to look up on that, because I know that there�s another event called Chicago Powerfest, which looks like it might be associated with Progpower. It was actually this past weekend. Let�s see, who was playing: Lethal, Solitude Aeturnus, Martyr, and Atheist were headlining, and that was a really interesting show. But it wasn�t as majestic or epic as the ProgPower experience.

Karl: Yeah, good, I�m sure. Pain of Salvation were the band that went there, and I�m sure they played in Chicago, because we�d toured with them before, and then we went out for the second ProgPower show and it was the second time they�d been. So I�m sure it was Chicago, you�ll have to find out. It must be, what number is it now, VI or VII?

Gauntlet: I think it�s seven? It might be VII, I could check on that.

Karl: It started somewhere around the turn of the millennium.

Gauntlet: Yeah� it�s actually VIII, wow.

Karl: Must have been the year 2000, then, yeah.

Gauntlet: Well, then, using that point as a reference, back when you guys played it, what have been some of the major changes for Threshold since then?

Karl: Well, it�s always been personnel with us, really. People have come to the end of wanting to play for one reason or another and they�ve sort of moved on. But we�re lucky, because it�s always been a positive experience, and we always keep the core sound of the band and the writing, and we�ve found a better drummer as a result. And we�re still generally in touch with the people who were in the band, even in some cases still working with them; one of our old vocalists we work with quite regularly, so that�s the sort of thing that�s changed there. And I guess the sound of the band has matured a lot. We always try to�our idea of making new albums is to step it up one level based on the writing side and arrangement and the production side. We look at each of those areas and look to how we can make improvements in each area. And although in the band you don�t notice that you�re taking steps, if you look back a few albums you hear the difference and the big steps that you�ve made. Personally for me I�m sort of happy the way we write and arrange now, particularly. We�ve moved on quite a lot and try to make this kind of progressive metal as seamless as possible and try to disguise the fact that you�re using time signatures, so that it doesn�t sound obvious that you�re going to a wonky section that doesn�t sound like it quite fits with the music. You know, it�s a difficult thing and something that I draw from a lot of bands, bands like Genesis that so seamlessly work these wonderful melodies and arrangements into their music. And I wanted to draw all those sort of things into a metal background. That�s the aim and how we�ve been trying to move on from album to album, really.

Gauntlet: I�ve read in previous interviews that you actually try to avoid some of the odd or unusual time signatures. Is that so?

Karl: Mm�not avoid them, but I don�t try to use a time signature for the sake of it. I know, there used to be, when progressive music became popular in the early 90�s in Holland and Germany and so on, a lot of bands came out and you could hear this kind of fragmented approach to writing where they�d have the idea of becoming the next Genesis or something. And they�d take all these bits and pieces and stick them together and it always sounded wrong to me; I always thought you should approach the song for the melody and for making something listenable for someone who wasn�t a musician and who wasn�t interested in understanding the mass of it all and just make it fit. Really, the idea of drawing in the progressive element of the music was to give us freedom of arrangement so we weren�t locked into this kind of�. At the time, metal was particularly structured in the same way as pop music: you�d have verse, chorus, verse, chorus, lead guitar solo, chorus, maybe another solo on the way out. And that was pretty much the arrangement and no one was doing anything really interesting, and that�s why we like that style of music [i.e. prog] and wanted to mix in the progressive elements. I don�t want to sit there and try to put in a signature for the sake of it�if it works and it�s because we�ve written a riff that way, then great. But not for the sake of it, is the point, really. And I want to make it sort of accessible, really, as well as melodic and having a metal edge, but what comes naturally is the way to write rather than forcing it.

Gauntlet: Naturally, yeah. I was reading some liner notes from the re-releases you�ve had, and in one of them it looked as though 7/4 was a recurring time signature and that it was something that seemed to flow really naturally for you guys.

Karl: Mm, yeah. But the funny thing with time signatures is, if you�ll notice, you know when �Mission: Impossible� came out with Tom Cruise, did you notice that they changed the time signature? It used to be in 5/4, the original �Mission: Impossible� in the 60�s or whenever it was. And it sounded really odd to me at first, and then I suddenly realized what it was. They quite cleverly put it back into 4/4 to make it a dance tune.

Gauntlet: Really? Huh.

Karl: Yeah, if you go to the film, it�s totally different.

Gauntlet: Wow, I�ll have to go back and listen to that.

Karl: Yeah, the original was definitely written in 5/4 and I never knew until I heard the music from the film and thought, �What�s wrong with that?� (laughs)

Gauntlet: Now, was this for �Mission: Impossible� I that they changed it on or II?

Karl: I think it was two, the one with�where it�s got the motorbike on the front cover�is that �Mission: Impossible II�?

Gauntlet: Yeah, it was. Maybe they changed it to make it easier for Limp Bizkit to play�

Karl: Yeah, probably, yeah. Maybe they didn�t even realize it was in 5/4 to start with and just couldn�t quite get it to work


Gauntlet: I wouldn�t put it past them.

Karl: Yeah, right.

Gauntlet: It also says, in those same liner notes from the re-releases, that it�s sometimes possible for a riff in 15/8 to be more natural than a 4/4 and�I don�t know, I can�t immediately call to mind any 15/8 riffs that�well, I can�t think of any, really, much less any that sound natural�

Karl: (laughs) It comes from when the other guitarist in Threshold, Nick, used to write the occasional riff and I used to start working outwards from there. I used a sequencer, a program, and some drums and he�d be playing it and I�d say, �Hang on, that�s not quite right�this is how it goes.� And he�d say, �No, no, that�s not how it�s supposed to go,� and we suddenly found out there was a note missing from the riff, but it kind of worked. It�s just that he didn�t really quite understand what was going on until we figured out that that was what he�d written and it was just an unusual way of doing things. I think there�s�I can�t remember exactly�maybe there�s one on our �Hypothetical� album, is it on that one? Maybe �The Ravages of Time�, I think, has got one of those sort of riffs, and I programmed it and it wasn�t quite working, so I played it back to him and he said, �No, that�s not what it is.� (laughs) And then we just knocked an extra beat off and it was fine, and none of the rest of the band really noticed until they came to play their parts. So we knew it was working because no one knew it was actually that signature until we did the drums.

Gauntlet: (Laughs) Right. And wasn�t that the same album that had the one song with more than 80 time signature changes in it, or something like that?

Karl: Well, that�s, yeah, that�s �Light and Space�, but that�s not how we have it. I looked that up, as I had seen it on the internet somewhere, someone had programmed it�God knows how he�d taken the time and trouble to do that�but this man had programmed it all on MIDI and he�d even programmed the guitar solos to be slightly out of tune and all sorts of stuff. He�d gone into such detail to do it, and I saw this person mention that there were 80 time signatures, and I counted it up and we only had, like, thirty-something and�

Gauntlet: Only thirty�.

Karl: Well, yeah, but I mean it wasn�t like it was intentional, we just had to make it work with the sequencer. So you go from four to three to four to three and so on. And it�s a bit more exaggerated than it might seem, but when we play it, it doesn�t seem like that.

Gauntlet: Yeah, I was trying to count it out when I was listening to it and see how that was possible, and there was a lot of switching back and forth�.

Karl: (laughs) Yeah, the funny thing with that song, the great thing, is that if we play that live we can see the audience start jumping up and down and then after the opening section they suddenly realize they�re on the off beat and all have to adjust.

Gauntlet: Hah. Right, right. And then the ones who don�t know what they�re doing just sort of stop and look embarrassed.

Karl: Yeah, it�s great. It�s always worth a look when we�re playing that song.

Gauntlet: It seems, though, that as you said it�s always striving for what�s natural, and that you don�t seem to have gotten too full of yourselves in being a �progressive� band. The progressiveness isn�t just a byproduct of the writing, it�s�what�s the word�it�s accentuating it, and there are really very few bands that do that for me.

Karl: Mm. Well, people seem to really just hang the label on us, rather than us doing it. I mean, we had influences like Testament and Metallica, as the bands that Nick and I liked when we were growing up. And Deep Purple, I certainly loved all that stuff. It wasn�t until later on when I got into producing other bands that I found this sort of prog bands like Pink Floyd and Genesis and I thought, �Wow, there�s this whole wealth of stuff.� And it�s not really giving me a lot of excitement in terms of adrenaline, but�I could just get lost in these wonderful melodies and the way they structure things, you know. It�s so well written and seamlessly arranged. So I got into that, but we simply blended the two areas of music instead of just saying, �This is prog metal, this is what we do.� I�ve come from a more natural and organic sort of writing instead of simply deciding that we�ve got a set of rules we have to follow. And that�s really the way we wanted to approach what we were doing. The first album sort of came about that way and we progressed from there.

Gauntlet: Mm-hmm. Just thinking of other bands that have that same straightforward but progressive vibe, Fates Warning comes to mind�.

Karl: Mm. Yes, certainly that was something Nick was into when we first started in, like Fates Warning, but I didn�t really know them. The only thing I really was into at the time that was progressive, I really liked this English band called It Bites. They never really got that far, but they�re sort of well-known underground still in Europe, although they haven�t existed for a long time. And they had those sort of elements, but I didn�t recognize where those were coming from. But I could remember going to one of their gigs and having that same experience, where everyone was jumping up and down and then they were in the wrong place again (laughs). I really liked that kind of music, and that was around at the time, but there weren�t many bands that were playing progressive metal, I think, as far as I know, when we first started the music. And we didn�t really think we were going to get signed, we didn�t really look to get signed. That�s been the story all along, really. We just got picked up by this small label in England that we knew of and it just sort of snowballed from there.

Gauntlet: That was another thing I was curious about. When people think about Britain during that time period, they talk about Venom and NWOBHM. But prog, after the 60�s and 70�s and so seems to have gone underground. So, how was it for you guys in those early days?

Karl: Well, it was quite easy, because like I said we didn�t think we were going to get signed, and secondly we didn�t think we were prog (laughs). So we didn�t really have any problems there. We were really a band that were just friends and we enjoyed playing clubs and, you know, playing for beer money. That was the point. And it was something we enjoyed doing on the weekends and then eventually we started writing our own music, and we had a demo tape, which we had half-assedly sent off to a couple of people, and it got sent on to another label who were interested in signing us but they didn�t have any budget for about six months. In the meantime, somebody else heard it and offered us a different deal so we went for that straightaway and just released an album. We must have only sold about 5,000 copies and then suddenly it just took off and we sold 15,000, and we did a couple more albums and eventually moved on to a slightly bigger label that were more specialized in that area and we gradually got bigger there. Even at this time, when we came to the end of our contract and we were saying, �Well, wouldn�t it be great to do something different, to reinvigorate the whole thing.� And lo and behold, the guy, Marcus, who owns Nuclear Blast contacted us and said he was a bit of a fan and that he�d heard we were out of a contract and would we like to do something with his label? (laughs) My first reaction was sort of, �Aren�t you hardcore death metal and all that sort of thing?� But the unusual sort of situation kind of appealed to us again, and he said, �I really want to try to do something different that I believe in. I�ve made some money, now I want to have some fun.�


Karl: And he�s been very, very supportive and it�s been a really great situation. I don�t look badly on the label we worked with before, but we wanted something new, a new challenge, and we wanted to need to prove ourselves to someone again, rather than having this really comfortable situation where we can carry on releasing albums for the next 10 years. [We wanted] to instead have to do something where we prove what we were and make a better album. I think it�s really helped us with this album to have a real target, to try and make something special and slightly different than we have done before.

Gauntlet: Yeah, because InsideOut, it�s a really prog-friendly environment, but now it seems like you�ve put yourself in the position where you do have, not necessarily something that you have to prove, but it opens the door and it�s perhaps a more diverse environment.

Karl: Mm. Well, it really appeals to us, because we don�t really fit in at all (laughs), but we�re just trying to make sure that we can make the best possible music we can and hope that it�ll stand up for itself. And I firmly believe that it�s the best album we�ve made, because every song stands out well on the album for me, whereas we�ve always had a song that maybe isn�t quite perfectly fitting in. And we�ve gradually worked to this point where it all works as a whole piece of music and all the songs tie into the same theme. And everyone felt that we�d done the best possible job we could at the time when we finished the album. And, you know, hopefully they�ll exploit that as best they can (laughs).

Gauntlet: Mm-hmm. I�m sorry to say that I haven�t heard the album yet�what sort of theme are you working around this time? I know that you�ve had some tied-together themes in the past�.

Karl: Yeah, well, the only album that we�ve ever done really that�s been a concept album, if you like�and that�s quite a progressive word, isn�t it, �concept��the only album was �Clone�, which was about genetics and so on. And that was quite a straightforward concept, so people could link that quite easily. But this album is actually�well, most of them�have a theme rather than a concept, and the theme of this one is really about navigating through the storms in life. And there are lots of references to flying, and the front cover sort of indicates that as well. Even the title, we found out the title, you know, being a navigation term, is way of determining your current position based on a previous known position and the direction and the speed that you�re heading and so on, and you can work out where you are from that. And so, yeah, I suppose it�s about going through the storms in life and also sometimes about the chances that people are not willing to take but sometimes later regret. So we took all these and put them together and have not made a concept, but a theme. Because I think it helps, it helps us work on the album to tie all the songs together musically as well as lyrically. Whereas if we didn�t bother with one or the other it wouldn�t feel as if the album was complete for us; it�s a way we�ve become used to working. And for us it�s always been that the album is as important as an individual track, and the way it works. On occasion we�ve even left off tracks that we really wanted to include on an album because they didn�t really fit within the theme or the musical theme of the album. So, it�s a way we�ve become used to writing in. We specifically try to avoid writing music for an album until about three months before we need to start working on it. I never bring back a song that�s not made it for a previous album as well, so you can try to capture a period in time: the way you were feeling and your influences and so on. And I think it helps where the songs fit together a little bit better. It works for us anyway.

Gauntlet: And the change from the original name was one of�convenience? Or it just seemed to fit better?

Karl: What�s that?

Gauntlet: For this album�I�ve read that it was �Pilot in the Sky of Dreams�.

Karl: Oh, well (laughs). Another thing we don�t like to do�well, we have done once�is title tracks. And then, there was this really amusing moment when someone pointed that our album was called �PITSOD� rather than �Pilot��


Karl: So it sounded a bit trashy and useless. But we thought we could afford a track called �PITSOD�, and so we left it at that. And it wasn�t going to be called, �Pilot in the Sky��, it was going to be called �Landing Lights�, which would have worked as well. But it turned out to be a stronger title for the progressive track on this album. And �Dead Reckoning� was really just a more immediate sounding title for the album, and it worked out. And of course, being on a new death label you�ve got to have something called �Dead�, haven�t you?


Gauntlet: Good point, good point. As far as influences, you were talking some about those. Now, I�ve read that the name of the band, Threshold, comes from The Moody Blues�is that so?

Karl: Yeah, the original bassist, John, was really into The Moody Blues. He likes lots and lots of really old bands because his parents were hippies (laughs). And they still are, indeed, but I think that�s the title of either their publishing or their record label, Threshold is. I can�t remember now.

Gauntlet: I think it might have been from �Threshold of a Dream�, as well.

Karl: Oh, possibly, yeah. It is an album title, isn�t it? But I know it was to do with The Moody Blues. And no one was particularly bothered at the time about our name because we were a pub band. So we said, �Yeah, ok, that would be fine.� And I suppose any band name can sound a bit silly at first. I think when something like Queen is accepted as a great name for a band in this day and age because of what they�ve done, at the time it probably sounded a bit stupid. I mean, it�s what represents the band in the end, isn�t it? So you know, the music gives it credibility, so I was never particularly concerned about the name and it just stuck and seems to be fine for us.

Gauntlet: I would agree. It�s got a lot of�you could take it a number of different ways, which I suppose fits for the Threshold style.

Karl: Yeah, most people think it�s just about the doorstep in a house, don�t they?

Gauntlet: Indeed. As far as those themes go, it must be an interesting time to be part of Threshold, considering the themes you�ve dealt with before. I was reading the lyrics to some songs you�ve written, even as far back as �92, with songs like �Consume to Live� and �Siege of Baghdad�, and then looking at�

Karl: Oh, God (laughs), yeah, what�s happening. Well, that was kind of comparing the Christian Crusades with, at the time, what was the first Gulf War. And seeing as we weren�t particularly well known, it didn�t seem to matter. It�s become a bit of a problem, the idea of actually playing something like that now, and though it�s quite different from our current music�. But it�s interesting the way that�s become more and more relevant as time�s gone on. And the Green issues weren�t really a current theme when we did that album, I suppose, though it�s become more and more important, with all these things have come into the light. So, yeah, it�s certainly interesting in the way these lyrics, when you read them back, have some relevance now. I didn�t think in 10 years time they�d be relevant�almost 15.

Gauntlet: Makes you seem rather prescient. And so, are you really politically involved yourself, or�?

Karl: Mm, no. We have political views as you can probably tell from the last album, �Subsurface�, as well, but I didn�t�. It�s a fine line, but I didn�t want to ever be one of those bands that starts preaching at its fans, because I think that takes away from it being leisure and enjoyment. I want it to be thought-provoking, but I don�t want us to have the ultimate opinion. I want it to set the ideas out and leave someone to make their own mind up, which is what our governments are so poor at doing.


Karl: But I wanted to leave it, you know, so that someone could still make their own mind up and form their own opinion, and that�s something that we would try and encourage, particularly on the last album. Rather than having a set opinion on things that were occurring at the time, but still be thought-provoking and interesting. Because a lot of metal music at the time we were starting out just didn�t really have any decent lyrics and had a very set way of doing things. And if you weren�t into the dragons and the swords and all that sort of stuff you didn�t really have anything, apart from maybe love interest kind of music�that was all there was. And we wanted to bring back some sort of thought into the lyric and some sort of structure and just make it another element of our music. (pause) It seems like people were missing the trick, really.

Gauntlet: Do you think that, are there other bands that come to that are really trying to break out of that verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus-chorus-solo�.

Karl: I think there are a lot of bands that do that now, particularly in our area. And power metal as well, that�s becoming more progressive as the years go by�I mean, look at their structures and the way they�re doing things. And certainly even the more sort of flashy kinds of death metal are bringing in more interesting elements into the music. Definitely some of the riffs. I�ve been doing a hardcore band recently�a new bunch of kinds from the south of England called NATO�and they�ve got things that I�m thinking, �No, that can�t be right. What�s all that about? They�ve got something like a 5/4, but��, you know? And these kinds are just sort of finding something and doing it, and they don�t see it as unusual. I suppose there are some elements of progressive metal bands that they might have influences from and other things in there that they don�t see as problem anymore. Whereas a metal band maybe 10 years ago would just like straight 4/4, and they�d play through a verse and chorus and so on and that would be it. But it�s become more accepted musically to be a little bit more complex at this stage than it was before. It�s been through that phase of being as straight as possible and now people are looking for something different, I guess. And there are certainly a lot of progressive metal bands out there doing interesting things. Symphony X have never shied away from the odd time signature and unusual bits and pieces and instrumentals and so on. There�re quite a few of them out there, really.

Gauntlet: As far as your own experience with that�did you have musical training to give you that sort of appreciation for the unusual, or was it just growing up?

Karl: My grandmother was a pianist and a teacher, so I had to suffer piano lessons.


Karl: --for who knows how many years, and it made me absolutely miserable. But it was good because, particularly in production work, understanding harmony and balancing backing vocals and being able to make my own demos with keyboards is an absolute godsend now, in the way that I learned then and the things that she taught me. But at the end of�I think when I was 14, I was just so fed up with it that I was allowed to stop. And that couple of years really gave me a chance to sort of think, �Oh, I really miss playing music,� and that�s when I got into playing bass and then guitar and then back to playing some keyboards again, and it reinvigorated things. And I had a bass by then, I understood music and it helped me with structure and harmony and melody. And I�m grateful for that really in many ways, like many people that were forced to when they were young. The good thing was that I was allowed to stop for a while before I started again, and that made me think I was doing it off my own bat, really, rather than someone else forcing me.

Gauntlet: Mm-hmm. You had mentioned something about when you put the albums together that you�re not really bringing in things from old previous albums that didn�t make the cut. So, for the writing process for Threshold, what does that look like?

Karl: It looks pretty solitary, lonely, individual, to be honest.


Karl: I mean, here are these bands that sort of get together and jam and come up with these for albums, but to me that�s absolute purgatory (laughs). I�d feel like I was in a punch-up after about half an hour. Everyone�s coming in from a completely different angle, and with ridiculous ideas, and then someone wants to stop and go off and it�s just so not the way to write this kind of music, for me. I mean, I think you have to have some real concentration and inspiration and when you�re working out the arrangement there�s got to be such attention to details to make this kind of music work. So, there�s an element of through composition to it and you really have to understand what you�re doing, where you�re going, and how you�re going to get there. It takes such a lot of hard work as well as some inspiration to get this kind of music to sound seamless, like it�s effortless, and unless you do that you end up with all these little bits stuck together. And it�s just, you know, it�s a patchwork quilt of an album then, and it�s never worked for us. So I�ll write complete demos on my own, Richard will do the same, and not many others have really written much recentl�on the last album, the drummer wrote a song and the singer wrote a song�but this time it�s just the two of us. But I think you need that intensity. That�s another reason we write in a block period before so you really get into the right frame of mind to do it, and you need to be able to shut everything else out around you to make the best possible result.

Gauntlet: And now that you�ve had a rather stable line-up for a few albums now, do you see that that changes your writing process, or have you never really taken into account the personnel?

Karl: I mean, I think it affects the end result of the albums, because obviously when we changed drummers it was a big change�. I mean, Johanne has become a central figure in that, and the funny thing is that I find myself programming demos, programming all the drums in great detail and emulating his style. And he keeps saying, �You�ve ripped that off from me, and you�ve ripped that off from me��


Karl: And you just get it in your head, the way someone plays, and you try to emulate that in the writing process, and it�s quite enjoyable. But those are the sort of things that change the end result and the sound of the album. And the funny thing is that when people say you�ve become �heavy� or something on a given album you think, �Well, I don�t remember that in the writing�it�s pretty much the same.� I think it�s more in the production of the sound of the way people play on a particular album. It�s the elements of the arrangement that are important and the melody when you�re writing that are important and not necessarily the sound, for me. And then later, obviously, when you change and start working on the production, that becomes more of an issue. But yeah, the contribution of the band members is still as important as ever after the writing.

Gauntlet: And also, regarding the drummers. We all know that stereotype of metal bands just burning through drummers�

Karl: (laughs)

Gauntlet: It seems like it�s been actually true for you guys. Is there a particular reason for that?

Karl: Well�one�two�three�four�maybe five? (laughs)

Gauntlet: Yeah, it looks like five from what I�m counting.

Karl: Yeah, well, I mean, not recently. �97 was when Johanne joined. The strange thing is that he joined the band and did a tour for the third album, �Extinct Instinct�, in �97 and then we were still under contract with this session guy Mark Heaney who wad due to do the next album. So he did the next album but then Johanne did the tour again, and then eventually he joined the band. It�s been stable for a while�we�ve certainly gone through a few drummers, yeah. I think our style changed quite radically after the first album; it became a lot more complex and certainly the first drummer didn�t feel that he was able to keep up. He had a family and so on and he wasn�t able to put the time in. and he felt that just was�too limited to play what we were trying to play at the time, and he moved on there. But after that, God knows what happened to them all.


Karl: They just keep disappearing�

Gauntlet: Combusting.

Karl: --and then Johanne turned up. And we thought, obviously the way he looks�he�s rather short, and had played it lots of different sorts of bands for, what was it now�he played in Imagination, a pop band from the late 80�s or something, and he�d also played for the guy from The Shadows, Hank Marvin. All these sort of strange things, so I mean, �How the hell is it going to work?� (laughs) And he turned up and he just started playing and we were all kind of smiling and thinking, �Wow, this is great.� There�s such a raw energy and excitement in his playing and he�s become central to the band now. People always think we�re an odd bunch of people, anyway, so.

Gauntlet: And, it seems as though Mac has also fit in very, very well.

Karl: Yeah. I mean, he actually lives in Germany because his girlfriend�s out there, as he�s done for the past 10 years or so. We kind of keep him at arm�s length, but he flies over and stays with me whenever we need him for something and it�s worked out. Another person we just took a chance on, really, when we had to find a singer in a hurry for the fourth album, and he�s been there ever since. But we did have two singers before that. On the first album and the third album it�s the same guy. He went away and thought he made it big with one band that didn�t really come off, so he came back and then decided he was going to go off. I think he did a traveling show of �Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat�, I think it was, or some sort of musical. He always had ideas that he was going to go and do something amazing, but kept disappearing. And we had someone in between that, so we�ve had three singers as well. I mean, the core of the band has not changed much in terms of writing, though. I still remain and so does Richard, so hopefully that keeps some sort of solidity.

Gauntlet: I read in a previous interview, as far as the live setting, that you�ve really aspired to almost a grandiose, really powerful presence, and although I haven�t seen you perform, from what I�ve read it looks like Mac is really helping to flesh that out and drive for that energy.

Karl: Yeah, he can be erratic as well (laughs). Yeah, there are times, a couple times when he�s gotten really horrendously drunk before a show, and there have been some other amazing incidents. We played a show in Holland, it must have been 2002 or something, it was a festival, and he suddenly decided for some unknown reason that he was going to climb the lighting rig. And he�d been told not to go near it, because you�ve got to be really light to go on it because going up the sides is quite dangerous. They just put this microphone with a lead instead of a wireless in his back pocket and up he scaled. And he got stuck�and we finished the set and left the stage.


Karl: And he hadn�t sung for about half a song because he was worried about falling down, I think, and he was just stuck up there, so they had to assist him down afterwards. And he didn�t even get down till about ten minutes after we had finished our set (laughs). But it was great fun, I mean, it was one of those kind of hot days in the middle of June, and the crowd were watching him and were as entertained by that as they were with the music. So, yeah, we�ve had a few interesting experiences with him as well.

Gauntlet: Reminds me of�I don�t know if you�ve ever seen Queensr�che?

Karl: I�ve seen them once, yeah, in England Brixton Academy, in London.

Gauntlet: When they came through here, it must be almost two years ago now, they were performing the entirety of �Operation: Mindcrime�. And it was done with all sorts of blocking and costumes and things like that�so just reading about the silly things that Mac does now and then kind of reminds me of that sort of approach.

Karl: (Laughs) Yeah. But that�s a great concept album, isn�t it, �Operation: Mindcrime�.

Gauntlet: It is.

Karl: And I�d only seen them once, it must have been three or four years ago; they were doing a lot of that, anyway. But they�re still a good band, yeah.

Gauntlet: As far as, let�s see, other inspirations�books appear to have been a source for you. The Stephen Donaldson books, �Lord Foul�s Bane�, and I�m assuming that �The Sheltering Sky� came from the book as well, would that be correct?

Karl: I think so, those are Richard�s, yeah. I think it was from that, as far as I remember. Not totally sure. But yeah, there are some books that he�s been interested in and pulled some inspiration from. John was a lyricist as well, our original bassist, and he took a lot of inspiration from reading for lyrics and so on. So, yeah, there have been things along the way. But if it fits in with the theme that we�re working with at the time, I guess.

Gauntlet: And do you deal frequently with the lyrics?

Karl: No, no, I generally write most for music and John used to write lyrics with the music that I wrote. More recently Richard�s written most of the lyrics, so we try to avoid that.

Gauntlet: Well, I think that technically does it for all my questions, but is there anything that you wanted to put out there or any comments that you wanted to make?

Karl: Not too much, really. I just hope people can enjoy this album. It took a huge amount of work, as per usual, but obviously we�re trying to step it up from one to the next and it gets more and more difficult each time to do that, you know. I was kind of worried about whether we�d improve from the last time, but I hope they enjoy the results and hopefully we can get to see some people in the live environment soon and get some feedback.

Gauntlet: Yeah, I�m certainly looking forward to the show at Progpower.

Karl: Right, right, that will be good. Hopefully get to meet you later in the year, then.

Gauntlet: Yes, yes, it has been a pleasure. Thanks so much.

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Tags:  Threshold  , Karl Groominterviews

    April 23, 2007

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