Threshold interview with Karl Groom: "Everything you do in music these days is at a cost, but the reward is the joy of creating something that inspires others"

22/08/2012 @ 12:38
Threshold is one of these bands that you have to admire. For almost 20 years now they’ve been serving progressive metal with great albums, while keeping a low profile. Now, they make a stellar comeback with their brand new album "March Of Progress" and guitarist / main composer Karl Groom talks to us about it, the return of Damian Wilson, the late Mac and a lot of other interesting things that have to do with this great band.

Hi Karl! It’s really a pleasure after so many years of being a fan of Threshold to have the opportunity to talk with you.
Hopefully, I can make it worth the wait.

First of all, I’d like to congratulate you for your new album, "March Of Progress". It’s truly a wonderful album.
Thank you. It has been quite a gap since "Dead Reckoning" and it is good to see "March Of Progress" finally released.

Of course, the basic difference is the return of Damian Wilson behind the microphone. Damian has always been connected with Threshold in a way, so it comes as no surprise that he fits so well. Give us the story behind his return.
As Threshold prepared for our first dates of the "Dead Reckoning" tour in 2007 we had a message from Mac saying that he would not be coming for the Slovenia or Munich shows. With only a few days to go, it was necessary to find a new singer and learn 90 minutes of music. Fortunately, Damian was in the area and we were occasionally in contact. He readily took on the challenge and got through the two shows, partly with lyrics on pieces of paper. The odd thing is that he came straight in and sung "Sanity's End", as if he had only performed it the week before. I guess it was always his favorite song, but we couldn't believe he recalled the words so easily. After that we agreed that he would continue for the main part of the tour. Now we have performed more live shows than for any other album during the last five years.

ThresholdDon’t get this wrong, as I like all your albums, but this one makes justice for Damian, as he’s sung on my least favorite ones in the past. This is with no doubt the best effort Damian has done with Threshold.
There is nothing wrong with having favorite albums. Of course, our early recordings, songwriting and arrangements were less developed in those days, but "Wounded" Land has a completeness as an album from beginning to end that is hard to match. Now we see Damian performing in the modern era of Threshold and he did a great job.

The album starts with the catchier song "Ashes" which also contains the quote 'March of progress' which is the title of the album, making it something like title track. I’ve noticed that you usually put a very catchy song to open your albums. Am I right on the choice of this one?
We tend to gravitate to this kind of track for an opener. It will also be the single after a bit of editing to keep it down to five minutes. Personally, I don't think being labeled progressive is a good enough excuse to have bad melodies. I want all our songs to be catchy or I lack interest with just technical sections. The melody and arrangement come first in Threshold and then the song can expand from there.

Then, this mid tempo, melodic "Return Of The Thought Police" is truly made to charm progressive fans. The interesting title really makes me wonder what it’s talking about.
This track was the last song I wrote for the album and just started by playing the guitar along to a mid tempo drum beat. At first I thought it sounded as if it could be on one of the early Threshold albums, but ended up developing into something quite new for us. I never set out to try and write any specific type of track and it is always good to see what happens naturally at a given time. I think the "Thought Police" in a way is looking at some of the subjects covered in "Subsurface". People in power try to subtly create parameters for others to think within and close their freedom of thought without noticing.

ThresholdWere the lyrics handled by Richard once again? Are they about his spiritual concerns once again? I always liked his lyrics and truly admired the fact that they are written ambiguously.
Richard wrote lyrics to my music, but Pete and Damian also contributed to their own compositions. I think Rich is always looking from a spiritual point of view, but this time is talking about life cycles. You can check his comments on our album trailer video on youtube, but essentially is writing about investing time and effort building something up and then watching that slip away due to complacency. There are slightly more specific themes for each song though. Pete wrote a song that speaks about former Threshold vocalist Mac and also about himself joining the band.

Another stand out track in my opinion is "Don’t Look Down". Great chorus and also the bridge after the solo may be a great sing along on future concerts.
This is one of my favorite songs because it truly mixes the catchy chorus with progressive elements. If we cut this down to just verse and chorus I guess you could accuse us of being a bit pop, but we have never been shy about making memorable melody. This song came together largely in the order you hear it, so was always intended to cover the full range of what Threshold is.

Generally, which would you state as the basic music differences between "March Of Progress" and your previous efforts, especially "Dead Reckoning"?
The obvious difference this time is the vocals of Damian. The difference in his vocal tone makes this a whole new experience to write and record. Also I would say that "March Of Progress" displays much more in terms of progressive influences.

ThresholdI believe all these years you’ve been the underdogs and in a way the heroes of progressive metal in the U.K.. You’ve been around when no one cared about this genre and you’ve influenced or put your finger on many bands without taking the credit you should. Is the time now right to get a piece of what you deserve?
I somehow doubt that, but we have always found our own way and not followed trends. Threshold was never set up as a way to make maximum album sales and was forged on the love of music. We have had some reasonable levels of album sales and enjoyed the touring a lot. Let’s say that if any band in this genre wanted to make money it would be advisable to get a job outside of music. Everything you do in music these days is at a cost, but the reward is the joy of creating something that inspires others.

You are quite famous about your productions and especially for having a crucial role on the sound and therefore the success of DragonForce. How do you view your own role?
This is my day job really and I have always got pleasure from the recording process. I never regret leaving my job in government to become a producer, even when it is power metal first thing Monday morning! I think my success in this area has been due to my approach in dealing with musicians and bands. I see the role of a producer to channel the sound and style of a band instead of telling them what to do. I want to draw out the best of their own creation and not make each album I produce sound like one of my own. DragonForce has been a major success and I have enjoyed working with Herman and Sam ever since the first demos. They too have a strong idea of how they want to sound and I hope to make that happen in the best way.

ThresholdI also loved the mix you did on the latest Arena album. Which would you say are the best (or at least your favorite) efforts concerning your role as a producer?
I guess the level of satisfaction depends on my amount of involvement. The job can be hard if a band asks me to mix something that is badly recorded. I always am pleased to work on Austrian band Edenbridge, because I have a good working relationship with the engineer and studio that track them. The last two albums were really good. Arena was an easy album to make because I recorded drums and mixed, but was able to keep in control of the recording too. A lot of it was done upstairs in Clive’s studio room along with John recording guitars at home. The whole band has a good understanding of how to record.

Back to Threshold, I have to say that my favorite album is "Hypothetical", while the majority of your fans would choose "Psychedelicatessen" and your newest fans seem to be fond of "Dead Reckoning". In fact, you haven’t done an album that’s not worth exploring, but would you like to tell us which ones do you consider the most important in your career so far? Why’s that?
I believe that a lot of Threshold fans only discovered the band from "Hypothetical" onwards. At this point the productions became more complex and the band had more exposure due to a bigger label. For me, the best album is "Subsurface". It almost has the completeness I mentioned with regard to "Wounded Land" and also many good songs. The tour was Nick’s last and we had a great time.

ThresholdEvery time you have to make a single or a video clip, you need to edit the length of the song. Did you ever consider making songs shorter in the first place, since you have a lot of catchy melodies and ideas?
I never have a preconceived idea of how long a song should be when writing. In the same way, I would never try and write music with a particular style in mind. Having freedom of expression in music and arrangement with no limitations has been such a blessing in Threshold and Nuclear Blast have continued to allow me to control what is best for the band. Of course a single has to fit the format specified, so that is the compromise. I only see this as an advert for the real deal, so don't really mind.

I always admired you for the low profile you keep all these years and I have to say that you handled the loss of Mac with great respect, not trying to feed on the drama or whatever. It’s almost a year since Mac is gone. Would you like now to share some thoughts about it?
It is still sad now as we are almost one year on from him passing.  In fact, I never heard from him again and the last time we were together was at the recording of the promotional video for "Dead Reckoning" in Leipzig February 2007. Not understanding his reasons for leaving and losing contact after so many years together was tough. He stayed at my house when in the UK and I thought we got on well. I often think of him and of course particularly as we make our first album after his time.

What do you think was that element that made Mac’s voice so unique and so loved from your fans? Would the door of Threshold still be open for him if he was not gone?
Mac’s voice was unique in its tone, although I must say that no singer I ever knew came without there own set of problems. He fell somewhere between Damian and Glynn and had a lot of character in a live situation. He came into the band at a time we were getting more promotion and reaching a wider audience. He also recorded 5 studio albums, a DVD and many fan club CDs. I loved his voice, but he also let us down quite badly at times. It is so difficult to arrange tours and get everyone available, that you have to know they are going to show up.

ThresholdYou have a strong, solid rhythm section for many years with Steve Anderson on bass and Johanne James on drums. I really love Johanne’s playing, it’s so groovy. Considering the music is basically based on you and Richard, what’s their participation on the sound of Threshold?
We always record full demos and I create the drums as part of writing a song. I want Johanne to know just what I planned from beginning, because drums have such an influence in the final composition. He then learns the part, but knows he is always free to add or change parts when he has the ideas. Even if he just plays the parts already there, it still adds a lot to the recording. Steve is a bit different because we usually play a simpler guide and he has to come up with any of the creative parts.

Now, have you heard of Damian’s album with Headspace? I think it’s truly amazing and I couldn’t ask more having two great albums with Damian on them. Is it a good thing or not the fact that they are being released with only three months space between them?
I have not heard Damian’s album as yet. I did ask when recording "March Of Progress", but the rest of the band did not trust him to have it before release! I just know their EP from a few years ago.

So, what’s the future holding for Threshold? Extensive touring maybe? What should people expect of your shows?
I am not sure we will be touring for a while because some band members are already booked this year with projects. Hopefully we can make a "March Of Progress" tour in the first quarter of next year. We spent a long time touring for "Dead Reckoning" and this helped consolidate the new lineup well. Next I would like to make sure there is not a big gap between albums. Rich and I will be looking at starting writing before the tour for a new studio release. Maybe we will have the longest gap between albums followed by the shortest. Other projects I would like to see happen are a live DVD and a new acoustic fan club album. Of course, they are ideas for now and need record company approval.

ThresholdWhat do you remember from playing in Larissa, Greece? Most of your fans (including me) couldn’t see you there. Should we expect you to visit Athens at last?
I would certainly like to come to Greece for shows again. We had a wonderful long weekend in Larissa and Leptokaria too for a swim. I have to say that Pete didn’t want to swim and sat on the beach in his stage clothes and boots, which was funny! As we played the show in the evening Jupiter was clearly visible behind the stage and it was perfect atmosphere.

Then, being an active member in progressive rock/metal music do you have any new bands that impressed you? As a matter of fact, most of progressive musicians don’t listen to progressive music. Are you one of them, hehe?
It’s true I am not a fan of progressive metal in its over technical form. Also constantly hearing your own genre will affect writing style, so I avoid that. We started Threshold because we liked metal, but also wanted better melodies. I like the way Genesis had freedom of structure and Jon was a Rush fan. It was as simple as taking all our favorite elements and mixing them up to start with. Recently, I have enjoyed getting into the albums My Dying Bride and Mike Oldfield. I think that I am usually attracted to the more organic sounding, English sound.

Karl, thanks for your time. All the best and I hope "March Of Progress" gets you the success that it deserves as an album and you deserve as musicians.
Thanks. I hope you get something from the album.