Threatpoint – Trajectory to SalvationFriday, 29th March 2019
There’s something to be said for consistency and resiliency in the metal sector. It’s not an easy ride trying to attain and sustain a following – pouring time, energy, and finances into a marketplace where you often have to work second or third jobs to make a living. It’s a labor of love, and something Pennsylvania’s Threatpoint know very well. They’ve been carving out a following due to their blend of influences all across the hard rock/metal spectrum: groove-oriented, with thrash, traditional metal, and even melodic hard rock nuances all in there. Since their 2012 inception, they’ve released four albums (Salvation the latest) plus taking their style on the road – tackling as many parts of the United States as they can DIY-style, winning over the clubs and bands however they can.
Feeling the need to learn more about the band, we reached out to drummer CJ Krukowski. You’ll learn more about the origins of the group, the development of the band through four albums, what they’ve learned most while being road warriors, and even a bit of CJ’s outside interests in fitness and weightlifting.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up – and when did you gravitate towards heavy music and eventually picking up an instrument to play?
CJ Krukowski: Music has been around, it’s been a driving force in my life since I was a little kid. My dad used to listen to a lot of new wave, 80’s music. Huey Lewis, Devo, Talking Heads, stuff like that. I was raised on that type of stuff. I remember being three or four and being enamored with it, knowing that I really liked it. I started gravitating towards heavy music when I was nine or ten. I remember my mom’s friend had the black album from Metallica, and she was putting it on in her car and I was just taken away by it. Going through middle school and high school I listened to a lot of Metallica and Megadeth, and found my footing in thrash. I never picked up a pair of drumsticks until I was 18. I was a senior in high school – I just picked it up to jam with my friends. I wasn’t interested in being in a band- I just wanted to play my favorite Metallica songs at the time with my friends. I’ve been playing ever since.
Dead Rhetoric: Did your family have concerns about your interest in drumming- considering the type of instrument that is? Did you take any formal lessons as well?
Krukowski: My mom was very patient. She’s one of the best mom’s in the world, because if I was a parent and my kid wanted to play drums, I’d be like ‘uh… it’s so loud’ (laughs). We have an attic, it’s finished, so I put my kit up there. She was always accepting of it, she encouraged me. I never took lessons or anything – going back on it, I wish I did, but I started as a senior in high school and I was working part-time. I fit in the time to play when I could. From everybody in my family, mom and dad supported me and nobody was really negative towards it.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the early formation of Threatpoint in 2012 – did you all know each other from other local bands, and did you know straight away the style of metal you wanted to play or was there a bit of a feeling out process in rehearsals to develop things?
Krukowski: There was a definitely a bit of a feeling out (process). If you ever heard our first album Dead to Rise, it sounds nothing like how we sound like today. There are still bits and pieces that are us though. Threatpoint was formed with the lineup we have now, minus Greg (Baczmarga) our newest guitar player. Alex (Olivetti) the guitar player and Sam (Young) the bassist, they were in an old band together. Chris (James) our singer was also in another band, we used to play a lot of shows together. (Chris’) old band used to give us a lot of shows, and we would take them to play together. That was an easy transition- a mutual friend from another band hooked us up after my old band folded. We just got talking, and ever since 2012 we’ve been forging ahead.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve released three albums prior to your latest effort Salvation. What do you consider the strengths of each record, and what do you believe you learned from or improved upon through each recording?
Krukowski: That’s a good question actually. Well, the first album is the first album – that was really us kind of feeling each other out and seeing what kind of direction we wanted to go in. My old band didn’t sound like this one, and neither did Chris’. It was us feeling each other out as players, even though I came from a band with Alex and Sam, we still wanted to do something different with this band. It was more about what to play and what not to play. The second album, now a lot of these albums have had lineup changes here and there, so that would affect things too to some degree. The second album, Careful What You Wish For, we were on a big DevilDriver kick at the time. I listen to that one, and that album is very heavy. I can’t believe that’s us, actually. That’s an intense album – more newer style metal inspired.
Our R.I.P. album, that was going in the direction that we are into now – a precursor. It was more polished, more old-school thrash influences started coming back into the mix. We’ve really honed back to do something different and something that we liked at the same time. Also we did our first music video for that one with “Bury the Wicked”. With our latest album, that’s thrash all the way – we released it last month, but we have things on our phone that we had been writing two years ago. While the general public, this album may be new to them – but to us, it’s old. We have played most of the songs live already – I would definitely say this last album is more in the thrash vein.
Dead Rhetoric: Salvation is the latest full-length from the group. Where do you see the major differences between this recording and your previous ones, and were there any surprises, obstacles, or challenges you had to overcome?
Krukowski: Yes- our bassist Matt at the time, he stepped down. And his parts were pretty much done too. We wound up getting our original guy Sam back- and obviously he wanted to go in and re-do everything, that was understandable. Compared to now, we do things a little smarter. You go in the studio now, we’ve all had 14-hour days in there. We are more experienced, and more open to something really good coming from an accident. You have to be ready for it – anything to make the song sound better. There have been times when we are in the studio that a part drags and you learn to chop it. The one song on the album “Bullet Gone Bye”, it’s bass driven in the verses. That was originally a guitar riff the whole way through- our engineer Joe he was checking out the bass line that Sam laid down and he muted the guitars. That sounded even better to give the song even more dynamics.
We are all for efficiency. We will try to re-amp things, if you have to play a part again or fix things, and one of the amps isn’t dialed in – we would use a program Joe has to mimic any amp as long as your settings are saved in there. That was monumental there. On this album, I recorded the drums electronically, and used real cymbals. Definitely not a metal thing to admit but if you look into it, a lot of the pro drummers do this for efficiency. It sucks, but gone are the days of spending forever trying to achieve the right drum sound- it’s just not efficient. The studio rates are through the roof and you are just trying to put out the best product that you can in the shortest amount of time.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you find you are open to going with the flow and changing the parts on the fly, if you believe things will be better for the sake of a song?
Krukowski: Yeah, definitely. We don’t want to sound the same. We nitpick and beat ourselves up with that, more than anybody will ever know. Sometimes Joe the studio engineer will offer a suggestion, or try this there- sometimes he’s right. It’s always about the song, you don’t want everything to sound the same – always looking for the edge.
Dead Rhetoric: As a band you’ve had a strong touring philosophy – playing all across the United States to expand your fanbase beyond Pennsylvania. What do you think you’ve learned from all of these road excursions that improves the live attack of Threatpoint, and can you discuss some of the challenges that come up as a DIY, independent band in funding these tours?
Krukowski: Oh yes, it’s very expensive (laughs). Our bus right now, we have a run of shows this weekend and it’s getting work done in the garage for the past couple of weeks – serviced, and some things that haven’t been done on it for a long time. That will be a nice big bill waiting for us when that’s done. You just try to do things smart- it’s always good to play new areas. You try to book things along the way and route things smart. In that, we’ve found through the years we have certain hot spots. Virginia is just a hot spot, the fans just go nuts. We do well in all parts of New England, it’s a good area. Big cities are tough – New York, Philly, Chicago, Baltimore, and they are very difficult because there are so many things going on in a big city, original music that’s underground no less and metal in the United States, it’s not a priority. That’s tough- we’ve done well in West Virginia, and sometimes you do better in places that are way off the radar, because there’s nothing to do there. And usually the people go nuts.
It’s rough out there, sometimes guarantees and stuff like that, getting some gas money, food and drinks, that can be pretty good. You meet great people along the way, you play with some good bands, you see some cool things. You eat at some good places, the debauchery – you get so tired sometimes and you just start laughing at stupid stuff. It’s like being in a summer camp.
Dead Rhetoric: Is that a reason why you take a lot of pride in the types of merchandise you offer your fans on the road?
Krukowski: Definitely. It’s tough to get people to spend money on anything today, so you have to offer cool stuff. It’s one thing with cash, but whoever carries cash anymore – so we bring the card readers, and take credit cards. We try to get the money any way we can, it’s a matter of people spending it. We try to put some really cool merch out that people just can’t say no to. In that, and developing that, that’s a costly bill to develop all the merch. We believe in it, so we try our best.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the proudest moments you’ve had within Threatpoint? And do you have the proper help and support from friends, family, and significant others as you pursue your music career?
Krukowski: All of our families and friends support it and are for it. We’ve had a lot of proud moments. Through the years we’ve had people come up to us after a set and say something like they were going through a tough time in life, a father was dying, or deep depression, and your music helped us get through it. What do you say to that? It’s very flattering, and knocks the wind out of you. You feel like a nobody and then somebody looks at your music and looks up to you, that’s flattering. There are times too where you play to a room full of strangers, you are out of state and you don’t really know anybody, and they start a mosh pit or circle pit, the whole room is getting remodeled with all these people throwing a fit, a violent metal rage. It’s moments like that, that reminds you of this is why we do this.
Dead Rhetoric: How important has the relationship between band members been to achieve a level of respect and success in the scene? How does the band handle conflict or disagreements that may come up at home or on the road?
Krukowski: It happens, but at the end of the day, it’s like family with this band. We’ve been to weddings, funerals, graduations, cookouts and parties. Personally, if one of us was broken down on the side of the road, one of us would come and pick them up. We are in the trenches together, in the band and in life. Not to sound so adult, you try to see it through – somebody is going to be right, somebody is going to be wrong. What’s the best effort for the band, it’s a team effort and you have to be a team player.
Dead Rhetoric: You also enjoy keeping fit and weightlifting – which I would imagine aids in the stamina required to play drums for a metal band. Do you find you have to be careful when training to balance things out as to not put too much muscle or strain in your playing?
Krukowski: That’s a really good question. I’ve been going a little lighter myself because I had an MRI a month ago, I found out I have a shoulder issue that’s been nagging me for a year. I found out its just tendonitis, so I got a cortisone shot and sometimes I would get done playing and it would flare up. Not so bad where I couldn’t move it, I definitely felt strain on it. It’s part of the reason why I try to play with everything low, because I’m not the tallest guy anyway. I was at a drum clinic years ago, and Carmine Appice, he actually said that he’s had two surgeries on both his shoulders, and they still aren’t right. He told everybody to play with their stuff low.
As far as training, I never have noticed if I lift heavier, I get slower or anything like that. It’s funny you made that connection, because (drumming) is very physically demanding. I get done and I am soaked. You definitely need some stamina, so not so much the weights but cardio helps because you’re not so winded when you finish.
Dead Rhetoric: Who are some drummers that either influenced your playing or outlook on the drums?
Krukowski: Lars Ulrich – I get a lot of slack for that. Metallica was the reason I started playing an instrument. Scott Travis of Judas Priest, Nick Menza of Megadeth – I think he was the best drummer of that band. Dave Lombardo- Slayer, Vinnie Paul- Pantera. That’s just to name a few- there are so many good drummers out there that will never get the credit. Chris Adler of Lamb of God is great – John Boecklin, formerly in DevilDriver, so many good players. I’m sure I’m forgetting some of them, but all of these guys have a role in how I play.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned being in a metal band like Threatpoint for so many years?
Krukowski: Metal is a very tough thing in the United States. This year we are going to Canada, and we will see how it is up there. We are still trying to get to Europe. Metal in the United States is a very tough sell. But at the same time, when you do win someone over – such as yourself, you’ve been following us from the beginning – so you have your loyal fans. There just aren’t masses of them, it’s a very difficult draw so you have to love what you do and just be the best you can be. Cherish the fans that you do have.
Dead Rhetoric: Have you seen major changes when it comes to promoting and branding for the band, and do you have any words of wisdom to impart on newer acts to maybe avoid some of the pitfalls or missteps you may have made?
Krukowski: A lot of promoters, not all of them, because there are bookers out there who will take care of you- a lot of them, honestly will just want you to sell tickets and promote the event and they don’t do any legwork. That’s one thing if you are local and playing in your hometown, but when you are coming out of state to play a club you’ve never played before, and you are relying on the heavy draw of the local bands and even the promoter or the booker of the club, you need them to do the groundwork and the promotion. You want people there so you can win those people over and follow your band. It’s happened time and time again where there is no promotion, and you wind up playing to the other bands and the sound guy and you are a couple of hours away from home, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider three of the most important albums that have shaped your outlook on heavy music, and what have been some of your favorite live concert memories when attending purely as a fan?
Krukowski: For me – And Justice for All by Metallica, Painkiller by Judas Priest. When I heard that one, I wanted to learn how to play like Scott Travis. If I had to pick a third one – maybe I’ll throw you a bone here, Shadows Fall- The War Within. That’s just an album I never get tired of, even the early In Flames albums I could listen to for days.
A live concert experience. Probably 2004 I saw Metallica on the St. Anger tour, I was down in the pit. I ended up catching Kirk’s bandana- Hetfield was throwing picks out and my buddy tried to get one. It was a dogpile, everyone trying to get a pick, I gave it to my buddy and I got Kirk’s bandana too.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Threatpoint over the next twelve months?
Krukowski: We want to strike while the iron’s hot. We have Voodoo Queen management out of Chicago giving us a hand, bringing new eyes to the band. We have Greg on guitar, and he can’t wait to write new material. We are playing out in the summer, I would imagine in the fall and winter we will isolate and start writing and chipping away at some ideas for the next record.