THRESHOLD: “Always a changing process”

Threshold 2 Credit Robert BurressThis is an interview I conducted with Richard West (keyboards/production) from THRESHOLD this autumn. It was published back in Scream issue 169. My affair with THRESHOLD goes a long way back, and I remember purchasing their cracking debut “Wounded Land” after reading a very favourable review in Rock Hard Germany, which at the time was my main source for checking out new releases. Remember, this was some years before the thing called Internet took off. More than five years have passed since the last THRESHOLD-album, which is an unusually long period of time for this band. Why did it take so long to get this album finished?

 – It was such a shock when our last singer Andrew ‘Mac’ McDermott left the band. It was 2007 and we’d just released “Dead Reckoning”, suddenly he left and our plans all collapsed. A lot of people thought the band wouldn’t continue, but we brought back our old vocalist Damian Wilson and carried on. We spent longer touring than normal, so that gave us some time to understand how the new line-up worked together and how it would sound. So after a while we finally felt comfortable to return to the studio and make a new album, confident that it would be a worthy follow-up to “Dead Reckoning”.

“Dead Reckoning” was your first for Nuclear Blast. Did this affect the promotion and sale of the album compared to your previous releases? Also, does it make a difference to be on a “metal label” compared to GEP and InsideOut which are more oriented towards progressive music?

-Nuclear Blast are a great label and their promotion and sales for “Dead Reckoning” was awesome. The only promotion problem we had was touring with a different singer, it was hard to feel we were promoting the album to the fullest because of that. Probably if “Mac” had stayed we would have done bigger tours and another single, but suddenly it was time to go back to the beginning again. Regarding labels, our music was possibly too heavy for GEP, but InsideOut and Nuclear Blast are both perfect for our music. I know Nuclear Blast have some heavier bands but they also have Symphony X and Nightwish so there’s room for us too.

How does the title ”March Of Progress” relate to the lyrics in the individual songs, and why is it a fitting title for the album? Of course I’ve noticed that there isn’t a title song on the album, but the opener “Ashes” contains the line “March Of Progress”.  

Yes, the song “Ashes” was originally called “March of Progress”, but we liked the title so much we changed it to be the album title. You know how everything can be going so great that you get complacent, like cycling with your hands off the handlebars? It’s like you’re on this great journey but if you get too careless you’re going to crash! Well that’s what “March Of Progress” is about, you struggle to get some success, you bask in the glory and then eventually you get careless or apathetic. That life-cycle of rising and falling is explored a lot on the album.

For the last few albums, songs have been written by you and Karl, while in the early days other members contributed as well. Have you missed other inputs on the last two albums, or did you already get used to doing all the songwriting yourselves?  How did you work with the songs from for instance Peter, who is quite new to the band, to make sure they sounded like THRESHOLD?

It’s always been a changing process, as members come and go the writing partnerships change too. Writing the last two albums was really fun, we got a good coherence to the music and lyrics because there were only two of us writing. But in the past we’ve always had strong contributions from other members, and “March Of Progress” is no different. Pete Morten worked very hard to write for the Threshold sound and we were also able to shape the sound during the production to make sure it was right for the album. It was the same for Damian, he wrote a good song and we did some work putting the music together until it was a THRESHOLD song.

Which modifications to your song writing did you do, if any, when you first changed to Glynn Morgan and then later “Mac” and now back to Damian? Did you write songs separately this time, or are there joint efforts as well?

– Each singer has different strengths and different personalities, so it’s always been important to write what works for the singer. I found I was naturally writing songs that were more melodic for Damian, whereas for “Mac” there was an opportunity for more atonal melodies like the chorus of “Falling Away” because of the character of his voice. Glynn had his own sound as well, it’s just a case of knowing their strength, character and how their vocal range works. As before, most of the songs are written by Karl Groom and me, but there are also contributions from Pete, Damian and a collaboration with our bassist Steve Anderson.

The choruses have always been one of the strongest aspects of your songs, something which is a bit unusual for a band that is, most of the time, labeled as a progressive metal band. Why is a strong chorus important in a THRESHOLD-song? In your opinion, which chorus on the album worked out best?

It’s just something that’s grown with the band I suppose. I’ve always thought of myself as a songwriter over a keyboard player, so that’s always been something that was important to me. Our original bassist Jon Jeary wrote some great choruses such as “Into The Light” and our old vocalist Glynn Morgan wrote “Innocent”, so it’s always been part of our sound. On the new album the opening and closing songs “Ashes” and “Rubicon” are probably my favourite choruses but I’m sure everybody will have their own favourites.

In the past, so called radio edits have been made from some of your songs, making them shorter and more suited for airplay. I know some artists have mixed feelings about this, but certainly not Richard.

– We need to do them for magazine cover discs and radio. We do all the edits ourselves, we always try to make sure they work perfectly, and of course you can always listen to the long version from the album!

What was your relationship to your former singer Mac from he left the band back in 2007 till his tragic death last year? Did you stay in touch with him, or did you lose contact when he left the band? Do you pay tribute to him in any way on the new album?

– We lost contact after he left, it was very unfortunate. He just told us he was leaving and then turned off his phone, so we never understood why or had a chance to talk about it. It was terribly sad when he died, it was just over a year ago so we just made a video to mark the anniversary. On “March Of Progress” part of the song “Coda” is also a tribute to “Mac”.

Tell me a little about the song “Divinity”, which is a bonus track for the digipack, and the only song I haven’t heard at the moment.  

-It was the first song Pete wrote for the band. He joined us in 2007 and got to know our sound very well over the time we’ve toured together. It’s a great bonus track with an excellent chorus.

 These days Damian Wilson is celebrating 20 years in music industry. Has he changed much as a singer and front man since he was in THRESHOLD for the first time?

– When he was with us in the 1990’s he didn’t have so much touring experience, but since he’s been away he’s done so much on huge tours with “Les Miserables” and Rick Wakeman, so now he’s really grown as a performer and he is a phenomenal front man for us. His voice has developed as well, it’s fuller and richer so “March of Progress” sounds like his best work.

Did the fact that you have already toured with Damian for a while, make this album a more comfortable one to make?

– It was surprisingly similar to making “Extinct Instinct” back in 1997, I felt like I’d gone back in time! But I’ve also worked with him on other projects over the years so I was quite familiar with it all.

With Damian back in the band, I guess you have put more emphasis on material from “Wounded Land” and “Extinct Instinct” in your live shows. How do you rate these albums today?

– They’re part of our legacy so they have a special place in our hearts. Our writing and playing has moved on since then but it’s always great to revisit those songs on stage. Damian still sounds amazing performing “Sanity’s End”!

When asked about their past albums, most musicians say that they did the best they could, or what they thought was right, at the time, but are there one or more of your own albums from the past where you would have liked to change something?

– No, I agree with most musicians! However, we remixed our 1994 album “Psychedelicatessen” a few years later in 2001 because we were never happy with the original mix. But apart from that everything’s fine! I’m very honoured to be a part of this band’s history.

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