Interview with Richard West (Threshold) [April 3rd, 2007]

Interview by MAGE

First of all, I'd like to hear what's the story behind the album title "Dead Reckoning"? It's quite different compared to the tentative working title "Pilot in the Sky of Dreams".

We never felt too comfortable with "Pilot in the Sky of Dreams" as an album title, it's good as a song title but too progressive sounding for the whole album. The album is a bit heavier than our previous releases so we wanted a darker sounding title. "Dead Reckoning" is a form of navigation and the album's mostly about navigating through life, with the lyrics using analogies to flying and other forms of travelling.

Every self-respecting artist regards their latest work as their best offering, so instead of just asking you to describe the forthcoming Threshold record "Dead Reckoning" to the readers of RockReviews, I'd like you to present us a brief cross-section of Threshold's music all the way back from the praised debut "Wounded Land" till today.

I won't give you a detailed synopsis of each album, because I think your readers would fall asleep before I finish! In general I'd say we've been honing our skills in terms of writing, performing and production ever since we started, so hopefully eight albums down the line we're making better albums than ever. Stylistically we've always stayed within the confines of metal riffs combined with progressive structures and strong melodies. "Dead Reckoning" is slightly heavier than our previous work but it's still instantly recognisable as Threshold.

For the first time ever in the history of Threshold, you have a guest appearance on your new album. The talented multi-instrumentalist/producer Dan Swanö (Edge Of Sanity, Nightingale, Second Sky, Bloodbath, Infestdead) has laid down some backing growls on two tracks. How did this come about?

When we wrote the opening track "Slipstream" it was clear we needed a strong response in the lyrics every four lines, because the song is talking to somebody who's scared of life and has decide to hide indoors. He's convinced himself it's ok to shut out the world but he keeps hearing a voice in his head shouting "Oh do you really think so?". We could have used a studio effect like distortion or a vocoder for this vocal, but really we needed something more powerful and a growling voice was the perfect choice. Dan Swanö was the friend of a friend and he recorded about a hundred vocal parts for this and another song at his studio in Sweden. We chose the best vocals and layered them up to create that big sound. Dan's got the perfect voice for this.

What kind of music do you enjoy listening to at the moment? If you were to choose few artists/bands to recommend, what would your choices be?

I don't hear enough new music to give recommendations, but recently I've been enjoying the latest albums by Within Temptation, Korn and OSI.

Last year Threshold signed a record contract with Nuclear Blast. First moving from GEP to InsideOut Music, and now to Nuclear Blast, how would you describe each stage in the lifespan of Threshold? Could these label changes indicate signs of moving away from progressive rock scene towards metal scene? What is there to expect from Threshold in the future?

GEP was a small UK label that helped us get started, Inside Out was a good solid label that helped us get established, and Nuclear Blast represents a new challenge that helped us to keep moving forwards. All the labels have been good to us, but sometimes it's useful to make a change to keep the momentum going. So our latest move isn't an indication of changing musical style, Nuclear Blast have not tried to change our style in any way, they signed us for who we are and I hope the future will bring more Threshold albums and increasing recognition for the band.

How do you approach songwriting?

On "Dead Reckoning" the songs are split into two different approaches. Half of the songs have music written by Karl which he then gave me to write lyrics and melodies for, and the other half are written just by me, so the approach is different and usually starts with a melody and builds from there. It's strange writing for Karl's songs because the melody comes last and it's more of a challenge, but I enjoy the discipline and it's very satisfying to find the solution. It's like a crossword puzzle sometimes, you know there's a correct answer but sometimes it takes a long time to find it.

What has been your most memorable tour, and why?

Touring with Dream Theater in 1995 was pretty cool, they're an excellent band and it was good exposure for Threshold at the time. I think my most enjoyable tour was with Ark in 2001, we had a great time with them and became good friends, I thought it was a real shame when they split up.

How well are your albums generally received in your home country?

Better every year. When we started progressive metal had no coverage at all in the UK, but now we're in most of the rock and metal magazines and getting good reviews. There are more and more festivals dedicated to metal now such as ProgPower UK, Bloodstock and also Firefest which we're headlining this year.

You and Karl Groom have always handled the production of Threshold albums together... are you both self-taught or have you studied music production somewhere?

No we're self-taught, we both started with small recording set-ups at home in the 80's recording our own bands and music before getting more professional at the start of the 90's. For a while we both worked at a small studio called the Blue Cage where we recorded our first band Mercy Train, and since then we've done everything at Thin Ice Studios which is owned by Karl along with Clive Nolan from the band Arena. Karl has become an excellent producer with a strong roster of bands at Thin Ice.

As a follow-up, I'd like to know if you have studied music. Have you taken any piano lessons, for example?

I took piano lessons from the age of five, as well as lessons in cello, theory and composition. By the time I was fifteen I was writing and playing in all of my spare time so I stopped all the lessons and concentrated on my own music.

What bands and artists have influenced Threshold the most in terms of music and/or production?

I guess it's different for each band mamber. I think the metal side originally came from Karl and Nick who were into Testament and Led Zeppelin among others, while for me it was bands like Queen and Genesis. In terms of production there's no single influence, every album has its own production values. I guess we absorb the production ideas we like and avoid the ones we don't.

Are you involved in any sideprojects at the moment? How's the Farrah West project shaping up?

The Farrah West project never quite happened, we wrote and recorded a lot of songs but we never took it to the next level. We might release something one day. I'm not involved in any other side projects at the moment, I just get involved in the occasional album at Thin Ice for production or keyboards if Karl calls.

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.


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