Interview with Karl Groom of THRESHOLD
Karl, March of Progress is out now. What is the special message for you behind this title?
March of Progress was originally the title for opening track Ashes, but as the songs developed further we came to the decision it would serve better as an album title. The album covers topics for strengths and weaknesses along with complacency and how that affects what we have worked so hard to achieve. Here is a rough song-by-song guide:
Ashes - wonders how well are we doing and how long will it last.
Return of the Thought Police - is about the concern of watching our freedom slip away.
Staring at the Sun - is about standing up for what you believe in.
Liberty Complacency Dependency - I guess this is a parable for modern times, it follows the theme of the songs that have come before it.
Colophon - is about being caught in someone else’s war and trying to find your way home.
The Hours -is about persistence.
That’s Why We Came - was written by Damian and is about putting a price on our progress.
Don’t Look Down - is about rising up and fulfilling your potential.
Coda - was written by Pete Morten, it discusses personal strengths and weaknesses.
The Rubicon - In some ways this is a song about Threshold, looking back over what we’ve done. It also quotes some of our other albums for those who can spot the references.
How was songwriting shared on this album? We know that most of the band members work in other band projects too. So I think it is not easy to find the typical Threshold sound, but you made it.
However wildly we think that a song is diverting from Threshold’s distinctive sound when writing, somehow the final recording usually fits in well. It is partly tribute to all the musicians that have performed with the band and also the original plan behind the band since Wounded Land that remains. The majority of tracks were written by Richard and I, but unlike Subsurface and Dead Reckoning, other band member started contributing this time. The possibility has always been there and additional input is very welcome. Both Damian and Pete wrote a track each and Steve collaborated with Rich on The Hours. Also Pete penned the bonus track on the special edition.
Who did the artwork ? Why is there a butterfly coming out of hands enchained with thorns?I mean...it looks great. A mix of tragic and hope...
The artwork is from an Italian artist called Davide Nadalin, who also worked on the cover for our last album “Dead Reckoning”. We allowed him total freedom to interpret the theme of the album and we love what he’s done. I believe he has very accurately portrayed the atmosphere of the last 2 albums.
With „Ashes“ you put the first single as opener on the new album. A relative straight and catchy song. Intention or happenstance?
Ashes was the first song I wrote for March of Progress. As we went further into the writing process, both Rich and I realized that this would be the opening track. At the point I started with demos on this one it had another 2 minutes of music at the beginning. I suppose you could describe the structure as more like Mission Profile then. In the end I felt it was not doing enough and needed a more direct approach into the first vocal section.
I have to say that the new songs are great (as ever) and March of Progress is surely the highlight of this year. If I listen to it I am remembered to the beginning times when Wounded Land, Extinct Instinct or Psychodelicatessen appeared. Sure, that's caused of Damian's voice, but I think also the songwriting was going more back in time. So, we have Threshold back to the roots combined with the fresh elements of sound of the last 4 albums. Would you agree with that?
I think connections with Wounded Land would be a little different for me. Of course Damian’s voice is evocative of those early years and it reminds me of the completeness (if that is a word) on that first release. The structure of the way the tracks run and a musical dynamic that pleases me are on those 2 albums. However, writing style and production feel like a clear progression from Dead Reckoning. The atmosphere I talked about is markedly change between the last 2 Cds, in that Dead Reckoning is quite stark with a cold hard attack and MoP has so much colour in my head because of the warm melodies in harmony with the heavy guitars and rhythm section.
Damian, for sure, is one of the best vocalists in the present music scene. We all know that former vocalist Andrew McDermott sadly died last year. He also owned a great voice and lots of fans will miss him. So, how easy was it to make sure that Damian Wilson will work with Threshold again ?
I thought that a number of people were almost expecting an average performance from Damian. His only previous appearances were on older albums, where we had less production knowledge and equipment compared to today. Bring him up to date and both the recording quality and his performance have been transformed. I believe he made the best performance I have ever heard from him on this album and is currently the best singer I have ever produced by some way.
For Mac, he will always be fondly remembered for his unique tone of voice and his charm. It was dreadful to hear the sad way he passed last year at such a young age. He was an important part of Threshold’s history and I have many happy memories from our time together.
One song title is called „Return of the thought police“ ? Do you think Threshold has to be the thought police in those times ?
Thought Police almost goes back to topics touched on with the Subsurface album. It is a subject of concern, but our position is quite clear and to be creating music. We are commenting, rather than preaching.
The songs are more complex than in the last times. More breaks, more change of guitars and keys. More change of slower parts and hard riffings. Was it the intention to create an album that requires more attention from the listeners ?
You are the first person to notice this point in all interviews so far. I don’t think it was an intention because I never start out with any preconceptions when writing the music for Threshold. What happened with Dead Reckoning is that we stripped some parts that were not working from songs during the demo stage and that left it sounding a little more straight ahead. It is still the right decision for those songs, but all the more complex parts on MoP really worked right from the off. My ambition was to create songs with hooks that immediately draw you in, but also a song with many levels that are discovered later and rewarding for the repeat listener. Don’t Look Down is the obvious example of this with the chorus being the immediate hook.
What about touring ? I couldn't find any news about a tour so far....
Now we are booking a tour for Spring next year and summer festivals. In the meantime we will spend the end of the year writing for a new album. That might sound odd because this record only just came out, but we don’t want to leave it another 5 years to the next one.
I think with this strong album the focus of the band members totally has to be with Threshold. So...is there any time left for working in other projects beside this band ?
For me, I preferred the days when the whole band was committed only to Threshold, although that is never easy to make happen. I mainly work on producing outside of the band, but I schedule that around Threshold rather than the other way around. Recent productions I made are Dragonforce – The Power Within, Arena - The Seventh Degree of Separation, Alan Reed – First in a Field of One, Pendragon – Passion, Galahad – Battle Scars and of course Threshold – March of Progress!
The first reviews gives you highest rates for the new album. That happened for example with Critical Mass or Subsurface too. Are you surprised and a little proud about that ?
I am not sure the reviews have ever been this good. In fact, the owner of Nuclear Blast told that Threshold are their first band ever to score 10/10 from German magazine Rock Hard. The whole point of making music is to communicate and convey emotion. I love to write and perform, but without there being an outlet the point would be lost. So the best feeling in the whole process is to know that you created some reaction and made a difference to somebody listening.
There are eternal comparisons with Dream Theater. I cannot comprehend with that, cause for me the sound of Threshold is unique from the beginning on. But, sure, every band that plays progressive metal is called in one line with DT. Are you nerved meanwhile with that comparisons or do you still feel honoured bout that ?
I never understand our comparison to prog-metal in general. The way that title is understood these days, it seems to indicate a lot of things that are little to do with Threshold. Jon, Nick and I started Threshold as a writing band primarily due to the fact no band made the music we wanted to hear. We liked metal, although it had limited melodies and lyrics at the time. Also we liked bands like Genesis for their freedom of arrangement, so made our hybrid. It really doesn’t matter what anyone says about us if they at least listen to some of our music as a result.
The sound and production of March of Progress is excellent again. And the Thin Ice Studio assures for high quality during the years. What are the reasons for that excellent sound for you ?
I guess I have learned more over the years about production in this area of music. What a lot of bands don’t realize is that the way you arrange your compositions and the instruments in each song is a key element of how good the sound will be.
For me Richard West is playing the most furious and bombastique keys on the new album since I know him. What happened to him, ha ha ?
It was indeed a favonian performance. To be serious though, most of the keyboards are laid down as part of the writing process because they help in arranging music. Also there is a longer period to come up with ideas and variation as a bonus. Of course, he did all the keyboard leads at one time and bought an old Korg Trinity from ebay for a sound we used to like as far back as Hypothetical.
With the new album you are signed to Nuclear Blast, the biggest label in europe. Is this the special march of progress for you ?
Good joke, but we already signed to Nuclear Blast for Dead Reckoning too. Nuclear Blast approached me through a good friend and guitarist from Edenbridge, Lanvall. They knew our deal was up for renewal and wanted to speak. They have been very supportive and honest in every way. It is the ideal record label for us it appears.
Looking to the future....what is happening next with Threshold ?
I think I mentioned we tour in Spring and are booking festivals next year. Also writing for a new album that will be recorded next summer. We have to talk with the label about other projects, but it is not a secret we want to make a live DVD with Damian. Personally I would like to make a Wireless II acoustic album too. There is plenty to do.
Karl, your guitar play is very special so that everyone can hear out that Karl is playing.
Do you use a special technique or is it just the style that you acquired over the years ?
I always wanted to create a sound and style that can be recognized in the same way as a Threshold album. My approach to solos is usually to sing or hum what I hear for the instrumental before I play. That way it leads to better melodies that relate to the rest of the song. Later I add any technique, as I get excited playing the parts. As a band we have always focused on the songwriting as a more important element, so it is imperative not to lose sight of the song as a whole when either Rich or I make a solo.
I saw Threshold in the last years with Mac and also with Damian (last tour). As I remember Damian is more that guy who is going out to the fans after shows. Mac was more in the back and left the audience soon. So I think Damian is nearer to the fans as Mac who was more a quiet person. Is it necessary for you to find the contact to your fans ?
That could well be described as Damian’s personality and approach to life rather than just at gigs. He will just naturally talk to anybody and I think that is one of the best things about touring for him. We like to think that the whole band is easily approachable at shows and many fans became friends. Sometimes Damian cuts out the trouble of going back to the dressing room and heads straight from the last song into the crowd.
„Rubicon“ for me is one of the best songs of the new album. A longtrack that shows for what Threshold is standing now. A progressive masterpiece (like the whole album, for sure). What are your favourite songs on March of Progress ?
Rubicon is the song that meant most to me during writing. It mixes powerful memories of yesteryear within Threshold with elements never seen near one of our albums. Just check out the cathedral organ. There are moments I felt strongly that Jon and Nick would relate to because it was the music we loved from the beginning. Other favourites are Colophon and Don’t Look Down.
Ok. Thank you for the interview. Last thing I have to say is: Mac you will be remembered forever but welcome back Damian. Thanks Threshold for this wonderful new album. Your last message, Karl, please....
That sums things up perfectly. I hope there is something on this album that connects with each person that hears it. That will be mission accomplished…
Interview by Kerbinator for Metal Fields