Imonolith – The Reign BeginsThursday, 26th March 2020
Due to the high frequency of ‘big metal names’ involved (among them ex/members of Devin Townsend Project and Threat Signal), there’s been a lot of eyes on Imonolith since the band was first announced. Now as we approach the release of their first album, State of Being, there’s more anticipation given a few pre-release singles that have covered a wide range of sounds while still showcasing a consistency between them. We were able to chat with vocalist Jon Howard to get his impressions about the road to this release and beyond it, what excites him about the band, and a quick update on Threat Signal and other things he is involved in.
Dead Rhetoric: Talking with Ryan last year, he seemed to think that the album would be out in summer of last year. Did things just take longer than expected?
Jon Howard: It took a little bit longer getting things into order. We also had to figure things out on the business end. We decided to create our own record label and put the album out ourselves, so there was all that. We also had to get it mixed – there was a lot of stuff. Pretty much what happens all the time. Things just get delayed, but everything is in order and in place. We have our pre-orders up with lots of cool stuff to check out.
Dead Rhetoric: I saw the pre-orders – I think it’s cool that you have a ‘make your own bundle.’
Howard: Yeah, it’s the coolest thing. I’ve never had that with any of my bands and it’s an awesome idea. It’s all print to order, and I’ll probably do my own order [laughs]!
Dead Rhetoric: There has been some line-up changes since you started, how do you feel they’ve strengthened the band?
Howard: 100%! Those were just maybe some steps in figuring things out along the way. We don’t talk about it too much, but we have a solid line-up now and I couldn’t ask for a better band. We are all contributing and ready to go and tour.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel that everyone brings to the table to Imonolith?
Howard: Beav and Ryan are the primary writers. They started writing for this project back in 2015 when they were still playing with Devin [Townsend]. They were just planning for the future then. They didn’t know they were going to call it Imonolith yet, but they brought me in back in 2018. The three of us wrote a lot for this record, with the majority being Beav and Ryan. Then we brought in Kai [Huppunen] and is more of a quirky kind of guitar player. So he came in and added all of these textures and overdubs – some cool, quirky guitar things.
Scott [Whalen] came in pretty late so he didn’t write a lot, but he brings in some crazy dynamics live. He puts on a great live show and he’s just an awesome dude to hang out with. He’s also a vocalist, so he will be backing us up live. So that was a huge weight off of my shoulders as well.
Dead Rhetoric: Does having people with a band background provide any added challenges in terms of preconceptions to the material?
Howard: Probably. There might have been people who wanted it to sound more like Devin Townsend or Threat Signal, but we have been kind of lucky. Everything that we have put out so far with the singles have been received pretty well. They are completely different songs: “Hollow” is more rock oriented with lots of singing, and “Instinct” is more intense with a catchy chorus. It’s kind of starting to show how our record is going to be. Our next single is going to be all screaming. Another song is all singing – there’s just so much dynamics to the music.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that working with Imonolith has been different than other bands/projects you’ve been involved with?
Howard: It’s a lot easier for me [laughs]. On my end, I started Threat Signal and I was the primary driving force with that, even with the business end. Calling all the guys and running the show. I can step back and take a breather, because Ryan does a lot of the business work. It’s pretty fucking awesome! I can kind of relax and just be a vocalist and a musician, instead of handling all of the other sides. We kind of all work together in that sense.
Ryan also writes a lot of lyrics and melodies, so we bounce stuff off of each other. I’ve never had that in any other project. It’s usually me writing all the lyrics and melodies, so having all of these guys with all of this experience, I’m just finding it to be very professional. We are all working together and we all want this. We have all been in bands and we are all older. We know what we want to do, and we are stupid enough to keep doing this [laughs]. We aren’t giving up!
Dead Rhetoric: From a vocal perspective, yours are pretty quickly identifiable. Do you feel that you’ve done anything particularly distinct for Imonolith?
Howard: My voice is a little unique, right? Some people use the Chester Bennington comparison. I just get that rasp going. Of course, Ryan would bring in ideas and I would put my flavor on it – putting it a different way or shifting things. Ryan would be like, “Oh shit, I never thought of it that way.” We were bouncing back and forth. I always bring something into the table. I think he and the producer pushed me to try different things as well, and step outside the box a bit. I have a very wide range, but they wanted to push me even more. To make it different from the other projects I’ve done. You’ll hear on the record – there are some different techniques and ways I’m singing; it’s pretty cool!
Dead Rhetoric: Anything that you are particularly proud of with this release?
Howard: Actually, the intro of the album – the band wanted to put one on there and had lyrics that tied the record together under the idea of ‘state of being’ and they asked me to write the music. I sat down and we wanted to add some atmosphere. I started playing keys and guitar. I made the whole intro that ties into the first song. I’m super proud of it. It’s really damn creepy. I’m also pretty proud of “Instinct” since I wrote all of the lyrics on that. Then there is another song, “We Never Forget,” which I actually wrote almost all of the guitar riffs. I just sat down and decided to write some Imonolith riffs. I sent them out and Beav and Ryan loved them. It’s cool to contribute in different ways – when you are stoked about something and they like it too.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s cool to have that kind of collaboration in the band. It seems like everyone is really into the project.
Howard: Yeah, things were dying out for me for a bit. Nothing was happening with Threat Signal and everything was falling apart. Then this came along and it’s so fun! Everyone is on the same page and is so excited. It’s like a rebirth of music for us.
Dead Rhetoric: The recording is natural and organic – being a producer yourself, what do you like about the sound of the album?
Howard: I love the fact that we worked with Ryan’s brother, Jay Van Poederooyen and he does big bands like Nickelback. We wanted to do everything raw – not adding a lot of samples to it. We just wanted it to sound like the band, but have it be a big production. Jay nailed it! There’s no drum samples and it still sounds punchy as hell. The guitars were just recorded through an amp. Even the vocals didn’t have any tuning. We just hammered it until we got it. I’m really proud of how we recorded the album. The drums were done through 2” tape as well. It’s all very big and warm sounding. It’s an old school way of recording it, with a newer edge mix on it.
Dead Rhetoric: There won’t be that awkward transition when you are playing it live and it sounds different.
Howard: Exactly! It’s basically just us playing, you won’t get any surprises. It’s punchy as hell.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that having a symbol associated with the band helps to identify it better, as well as create more marketing opportunities?
Howard: Hell yeah! The whole idea was that we needed a symbol. We had an artist make up a bunch of them and we really loved the one we went with. It’s really damn cool. I actually just made a template and I sprayed it on the back of one of my jackets [laughs]. It’s pretty awesome, it looks bloody and shit. But yeah, I think it’s really important to have a symbol along with your band. Some of those pre-order things – you can get a symbol on a mug or a mousepad. It doesn’t have to say Imonolith. That’s cool as well.
Dead Rhetoric: You just mentioned it briefly, but is anything going on with Threat Signal?
Howard: We played 4-5 shows a few months ago. It was a 10 year anniversary of our second record. We aren’t really doing too much. I’m doing Imonolith, and Travis [Montgomery] is doing a band called Kill the Lights. He will be putting out a record with those guys. It’s pretty exciting, there’s ex-members of Bullet for my Valentine and other bands. I’ve heard some of it and its pretty fucking cool. Threat Signal has just slowed down for a bit. We might play some shows here or there, but the focus right now is just crushing Imonolith. We want to bring this around the world. Get some US tours, go to Asia – we want to go everywhere.
Dead Rhetoric: I see you are involved with a third I Legion record too.
Howard: Yeah, Fred [Riverin] have been chipping away at that. I did vocals for one song so far, and mixed one with Speed from Soilwork. Basically he sends me the material and we work together over the Internet. I mix the music and release it through my studio. It’s pretty exciting. I always love working with those guys.
Dead Rhetoric: I really wish there was some more push for that band. I just love both of those albums.
Howard: That’s awesome! It’s just Fred, up in Quebec writing tunes! I’ve asked him how he made it all happen and he’s like, “I don’t know, I just asked people’ [laughs]. The beauty of the Internet – just getting ahold of your favorite artists and making some music. It’s crazy! But yeah, we are working on that slowly but surely. He has another song he is going to send me soon. It will be a full album in the end.
Dead Rhetoric: Looking at Imonolith and Threat Signal, how do you feel that you’ve grown in your time with the music industry?
Howard: I guess you learn a lot on the way. You learn how to tour, that’s for sure. You have to take care of yourself on the road; you can’t party too much [laughs]. I have been growing stronger as a singer and a person. Just developing a larger vocal range and more style. I’m just learning more with each band I am involved with. You always keep learning. Same with music production. I just take everything in, every single day. Working with these guys in Imonolith and being in that studio. There’s always more to learn and things to offer. You never quit.
Dead Rhetoric: What would your goals be for Imonolith if you look at what you all aim to achieve with it?
Howard: We all just want to take over the world right now. We want to make it our full-time thing. We are all putting our eggs into this basket. Either you are all in or all out. We are all going for it. We have put a lot into it and we are going to put a lot more in. it’s our primary focus.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s going on with Imonolith for the rest of this year?
Howard: The European tour is in March [since cancelled due to COVID-19]. But there’s not much else yet, but we are looking at stuff. We are trying to get something in the summer in the US and looking for opportunities there. It’s wherever we are wanted. If someone wants to take us out on tour, whatever makes sense. We are going to be in touring mode though.