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Richard West – Keyboards for Threshold

Date: 05/05/07
Interviewed By: Rich Catino



1. So the first Threshold album “Wounded Land” came out in the early 90’s. What has changed with the music between then and now to the latest release “Dead Reckoning”?

RICHARD: Well I can tell you that “Dead Reckoning” has been our fastest seller and our best reviews ever. I mean we have always had such generosity from the press in Europe. For a band we don’t go out and tour huge amounts and we don’t do great on the charts yet we get these phenomenal reviews. We got one hundred out of one hundred from one magazine, it just sounds so much better than a five out of five, laughs.

I think as far as what is different between then and now is we always had this concept to combine heavy metal with classic rock catchy melodies with a current sound. Now you can argue the last one because current sound depends on when you are listening to the record and when it came out. Like if you listen to the new crop of bands they all sound like Metallica and Iron Maiden, well a lot of them do anyway. So we could call that current because those bands have young faces on them. When your in a band usually every musician is more than capable from playing just that style. But with Threshold we have so many influences that with each album we just get better at what we do. With every album we just try to write better songs. I don’t think we have ever said that we already made an album that was our benchmark and then we are always trying to live up to it. We felt we always stepped it up with each record. When we go out and tour we don’t say “O we want to play everything from “Hypothetical” or “Wounded Land””, we think no we want to play from the newest album because that’s the most interesting we have done now.

But to be honest the first album came out so many years ago so yeah we have changed a bit. I mean our sound really hasn’t changed we always work really within the same parameters. Sometimes we will wait for three years before we do a new album because we are busy producing other bands. So when we come back to do another Threshold album there are so many new experiences and influences to bring into the music.

2. Most artists say their latest album is their best so do you feel the same about “Dead Reckoning”?

RICHARD: Yeah of course Hahaha. When we write for Threshold we write the whole album as a demo and it sounds pretty much like the final result just not with all the musicians on it. Then we do it again in the studio, then you spend ages mixing it, rehearsing it and then playing it live. And by the end of it all it doesn’t sound fresh to you anymore you know. You can bring a freshness to it live because of the audience and the adrenaline but the actual sounds you know to well. As a fan you can pick up someone elses album and always hear something new that makes it fresh but with Threshold there is nothing new to us after a while because we’ve been there done that. So after a year of writing and recording you put that on the shelf and listen to it again. So the newest one is always exciting because you haven’t finished that process yet.

3. What changed when Mac started singing for the “Clone” album?

RICHARD: Well with very much it was about the writing style because with our previous singer Damian he had a cleaner crisper sound so our writing was more progressive and you couldn’t get that out and out power when you have a singer with a bit more of a throaty sound. And I think with Mac he has that great rock voice, one that most people would like to have. When he came in for ‘Clone” we actually wrote that album for Damian and he did a good job but the keys weren’t written for him and the whole tonality wasn’t right so as writers me and Kyle (guitarist), we had to learn how to write for Mac’s voice instead. So with every album after that we have learned to understand Mac’s voice more and more. So when we write for him now we know exactly how he’s gonna sound and we know where his strengths are. So I think on “Dead Reckoning” is the best job we have every done for him. He just sounds perfect, we got it right on. And as writers we can go heavier now with Mac’s too and it works really well with his voice.

4. Who does the death metal growls on a couple tracks?

RICHARD: It was Dan Swano from Sweden. He has played guitars on some albums, drums on others. Just one those guys that works with a lot of people. He has done quite a few things like Nightingale, Edge of Sanity, Bloodbath. He produces as well. It worked out well being we only use those growls for a line or two in a verse. That voice only happens on two songs, one is “Slipscreen” which was to serve as a wakeup call at that point in the song. It only appears on the fourth line of every verse. I think if we over did it, it would not be Threshold and it would start to sound like all these other bands that switch between the clean and death metal style vocals. It’s a nice touch without getting away from our criteria.

5. What about when Johanne James became the new drummer for “Hypothetical”?

RICHARD: Well a similar thing happened like with Mac. Our previous drummer Mark Heaney who played on “Extinct Instinct” and I think he drummed on “Clone” or maybe just toured on that one. He had a really nice touch and was a bit more progressive and did some phenomenally good stuff but it was all done in a gentile way. Johanne is just a powerhouse of sound. He has a rather small stripped down kit, he doesn’t go for the big fourteen symbol set up he prefers three, but he’s just amazing to watch. And then he comes away from the kit and he’s a soft spoken gentleman.

6. He’s in the latest video “Pilot in the Sky of Dreams” a lot.

RICHARD: Yeah he looks the best Hahaha. He’s the eldest in the band but is the fittest. When he comes up in the elevator in the video he looks like he should be in a Terminator film or something (laughs). He’s much more photogenic.

7. Who writes and arranges the songs?

RICHARD: Its me and our other guitarist Kyle, its always been that way really. We’ve never been a band that sits together in a room that writes together. Kyle and I both have studios at home so we will write and I do all the lyrics. In the past certain members use to write stuff but now its just the two of us and I think it works better because there is more continuity.

8. Do you think that may change now with Mac and Johanne in the band?

RICHARD: It may. Mac wrote a song we used as a bonus track on “Critical Mass” but it wasn’t wasn’t quite the right style and Johanne is the drummer of his own band called Cab Grinder in which he drums and sings and he does it very good. He sings, kind of does it in a laid back way and he drums in a kind of frenetic prog metal style which is quite technically demanding. But he had one song “What About Me” which he wanted to try with Threshold which was a bonus track on “Subsurface” so they have done stuff. But I think the trouble is they are very much outside of the Threshold writing process and we have a very specific way we have evolved over the years which works very well now. So its like someone coming in and dipping their feet in the pool, it doesn’t always work right away you know.

Mac wrote a song for the new album and we tried very hard for a couple of weeks to make it work but it was very much a combination of the songs we were doing five six years ago and I think we have very much evolved since then. We just couldn’t find a way to make it work and we’d love to because it looks good if everybody contributes if they want. But at the end of the day if the song doesn’t work we aren’t going to use it. But yeah the next album it is open for everybody to try and write stuff but it even took me years to get use to writing Threshold songs. I wrote my first one in 94’ and it was a little ballad called “Under the Sun”, I didn’t understand how the whole Threshold riffing structure went and on the next album I did two and the next three and it started to grow. Now I am like the main writer with Kyle but it took me like ten years before I was comfortable.

9. Since you are a prog band do you find yourselves compared to Dream Theater a lot and if so how do you look at that comparison?

RICHARD: Well I think if you sit down and listen to what we both do it is different. Dream Theater is just so much more about the playing and we focus more on a great melody and a catchy chorus. So when we did “Wireless Acoustic Sessions” we took away the riffs and we just kept the melodies and changed the structures and they worked great because they written to be great songs. I think some of the Dream Theater stuff becomes a bit too technical but that’s what they do and I love it. We are just different from that and more simplified in our arrangements. I think the similarities are we both combine progressive rock and heavy metal so within that there will be some over lap between the two bands. I just think we use our influences differently, just different bands really.

10. Speaking of, what are some of Threshold’s influences?

RICHARD: Well you get some bands, especially in the 90’s, where you can hear they are a Dream Theater or Iron Maiden clone, but once you get more than like twenty different influences you take a little bit from each when writing without sounding like you are copying them. Like Dream Theater they don’t sound like anybody else, Threshold doesn’t sound like anybody else because there are so many bands over the years. You take a bit of Queen, Genesis, In Flames, and there becomes so many to influence you. Plus there are also not so many progressive bands in England. Growing up here the influences from the 70’s and 80’s were Genesis, Rush, Yes, Queen, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, that really defined the genre. And we grew up listening to that which formed around sound, and I think we are very British in what we do. I still remember listening to “A Night at the Opera” from Queen and re appreciating it all over again. We also have that 80’s sound a bit which is really hard to get away from having those classic rock vocals which many bands nowadays don’t have often but that has always been my favorite kind of voice cause it can rise with the music you know. A lot of metal bands just don’t own up to it but then again this is a different generation.

Like with our music when it comes to a chorus and you get Mac with a three part harmony instantly you are gonna sound like a Journey, or an Asia or one of those bands. We don’t want to sound like we are 80’s we still want to sound current but then again it still sounds really nice so we are gonna do it anyway purely on a musical decision.

11. Tell us about the artwork for “Dead Reckoning” and why the title?

RICHARD: The title of the album was originally going to be “Pilot in the Sky of Dreams”, it sounded like old seventies progressive but then we wanted the title to sound like the music. But because the album was a little heavier we changed the title and it describes the songs better in which dead reckoning is a form of navigation and the album is about navigating through the storms of life. So the artist who did our last cover Thomas didin’t have time to finish the new cover and we went with this Italian artist named David Madellan who did this awesome cover for a band called In Extremo.

It was like a perfect oil painting you would put on a wall. So I asked him to come up with a cover with that kind of atmosphere and within four days he had something and it came out great. I think this is the biggest cover he has done yet. So we sent him the limited edition of the album which is printed on silver card it was really nice.

12. Any dates planned aside from doing ProgPower in Sept?

RICHARD: We were supposed to do some with Edguy in September but that fell through unfortunately, I was so angry we couldn’t do it. We have wanted to tour America for so long but I am hoping we can come there in 2008. But the last time we were their was ProgPower 2002 and that was great. We have also played ProgPower’s in other countries and it is such a great family of festivals. I really like Glenn’s in the States.

13. What type of an American fan base does Threshold have, are you in contact with any of them?

RICHARD: Really I don’t know about sales up till now but since we are on a different label for “Dead Reckoning” (Nuclear Blast) we will know more. But you know if we toured the States like two or three times a year we would build more of a profile which is what we are hoping for we just have to do the work. We have never really had to get the band together for more than a few dates here and up till last year we were comfortable with the level of success we were at. But with “Dead Reckoning” we are looking to take the band to the next step.

14. You mentioned that band is involved with other projects so what are they?

RICHARD: Well Dragonforce has recorded all their albums at our guitarist Kyle’s studio in England, he has produced all their work. And I also was helping out on their last one. But they will be back in their in October doing their fourth album and we will be spending a lot of time with them for a few months. It’s a kind of intense process doing their records they are an intense bunch of young guys. So hopefully we will take a break so time in the new year to do some dates in the U.S.

Official website: www.threshold.net

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