Warning Sign – Beware of Sharks

Friday, 25th November 2016

Photo credit: Annick Langelier

Arising in a city and part of Canada more well known for its extreme metal scene from Voivod to Kataklysm and Cryptopsy, Quebec is home to a strong traditional oriented power/thrash band called Warning Sign. Taking influence from unlikely sources such as Metal Church as well as the typical Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Megadeth, and Testament elements, this quartet intend to surprise due to high quality musicianship on all fronts- especially the multi-level vocal range of guitarist Max Beaulieu, who reminds this scribe of Todd Michael Hall (Riot V).

Left to the Sharks as the group’s latest full-length revels in its stance that should gain easy appeal in nations where twin guitar harmonies and melodic nuances are prime connectors to the audience. Reaching out with these set of questions, Max and bassist Jerome St-Charles let us know more about the long development of the band, their thoughts on the two recordings they’ve done to date, plus some interesting promotional avenues they’ll pursue in the hopes of sustaining fan interest. Warning Sign deserve more than a few spins in a time where this style elevates energy beyond belief- another contender in the NWOTHM category.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you inform the readers about the early days of Warning Sign – when you formed, how the members came together, and did you have a focus right away for the type of metal you wanted to play or did things grow naturally and organically through trial and error/rehearsals?

Max Beaulieu: It was quite a long process, actually. It goes back in time considerably. I moved to Quebec City in the summer of 2004 and worked on a bunch of songs for a while after that. Nothing too serious at the time. I knew Jean-Michel was a drummer and we got along well so we spent years jamming a few cover songs as well as the songs I was writing just for fun. After years of doing it on and off, we ended up thinking the material was good enough to record and Wake the Dead became the culmination of all of these years of jamming together. We asked Olivier, who’s Jean-Michel’s brother, to record a few tracks for it and he was happy to help. He even contributed a song to that record. At the end of the day the reaction was so positive that we figured we should try and give it a shot as a band, so Olivier joined full time and we asked Jerome, who I had always been interested in making music with, to be our bass player and there it was. In 2013 Warning Sign was a full band. I knew those were the guys I wanted to play with and I’m happy it turned out so well.

Dead Rhetoric: Your debut EP Wake the Dead came out in 2013 – how do you feel about the recordings at this point, and what are the highlights in your opinion as far as the songs and performances?

Jerome St-Charles: From my point of view, since I was the only one not involved at all with the EP, I think it cruelly lacks low-end! (laughs). But jokes aside, I still think the songs are great. My personal favorite is “Wake the Dead”, still the catchiest Warning Sign song to date in my opinion, and I always had a soft spot for “The Perfect Soldier”, another powerful tune and very fun to play live.

Beaulieu: I am very proud of how it came out. For a homemade recording with no budget whatsoever I think we pretty much nailed it. As Jerome alluded to, even though he was joking, I think the bass may not be up to par, but for the most part I think we did good. As far as the songs go I’ll have to side with him, “Wake the Dead” and “The Perfect Soldier” are my two favorites. Olivier’s solo on the latter is really good and definitely a highlight for me as far as performances are concerned. I also like the opener “Black Magic… The Curse” a lot. It has kind of an old Megadeth vibe to it. At least in the riffs. I was pretty angry when I wrote that one and I think it shows.

Dead Rhetoric: The new album Left to the Sharks combines classic, power and thrash influences while being very focused on hooks and melodies. How do you see the growth of the band through this full-length, and what particular surprises, challenges, or obstacles did you have to push through that made the band stronger or the individuals better as players?

St-Charles: Since everyone had the chance to put its own touch and sound in the record, I think it shows a more versatile / crossover style for Warning Sign. The studio process is always a very humbling moment for me, and having all the freedom to write and interpret my bass lines on the album as I wanted has been a great opportunity for me to improve. We obviously became better as a band as well because of all the work done in the pre-production, rehearsals as well as for the arrangements to which everyone contributed.

Beaulieu: I think this album helped us come into our own. While all of Wake The Dead came from stuff that was accumulated over a 6-8 years span, almost everything on Left To The Sharks was written from scratch. There were a few leftover ideas here and there that made it on the record, but for the most part it was all brand new material, so it was pretty much the four of us forging the Warning Sign signature sound. I think that through the highs and lows of the whole process from beginning to end we really grew as a band. We have learned a lot from the whole experience and that will help us a lot going forward. Recording an album and making it as good as it can be is a challenge in itself. Now that we have done it together this time, we are better prepared for the next one.

Dead Rhetoric: Your instrumental opener “Eat a Bag of Hell” reminds me of the classic instrumentals that made Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Metal Church so cool during the 1980’s. For Warning Sign, was this a planned effort or does it just happen because the complexity doesn’t allow for proper vocals and verse development?

Beaulieu: Yeah, it actually was planned. I told Olivier I wanted to open this album with a guitar duel. We wanted it to be more of a guitar oriented record and I thought an instrumental intro would be a good way to set the stage. I definitely had the classics like Maiden’s “The Ides of March” or Megadeth’s “Into The Lungs Of Hell” in mind when I wrote that.

St-Charles: Scoop- we think it works so well that we are thinking to open our next record in the same fashion!

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you take inspiration from on the lyrical front? Is it a mix of history/fantasy-oriented topics in addition to intertwining occasional real life experiences?

Beaulieu: It’s a bit of everything. Social commentary, fantasy, personal experiences, philosophy, religion…. I try to make things as diverse as possible. On Left to the Sharks we cover a wide range of topics: war and the politics that surround it, false prophets and what they will push their followers to do, being neck deep in debts and a slave to our financial system, political revolution, how giving birth to a child also ultimately means giving it death…. It’s a mixed bag. One in particular that I’m very happy with is “The Evil in The Dark”, which is an adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “The Boogeyman”. It was a real challenge to reduce the story to a song and I’m happy how it came out.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about your local metal scene in Quebec – it’s very well-known for its heavy / extreme bands, would you say you gain more interest because of the difference in your style, opening up more horizons for shows? As I know one of the more underrated bands Sword comes from your area…

St-Charles: You are right, there is a great metal scene in Quebec, but most successful bands are on the more extreme side: Kataklysm, Cryptopsy and Voivod come mind. In our hometown of Quebec City especially, people dig melodic and progressive metal quite a bit, but surprisingly very few big names have emerged through the years. So in a way, yes I think it helps us stand out of the lot.

Beaulieu: There aren’t many bands that do what we do around here. In fact, I can’t think of any besides us. I think, I hope, that we may be able to fill a void somewhere because of that. It’s a bit of a problem when trying to find bands to play live with, but in the end, everybody loves good old classic heavy metal. People are always very enthusiastic about our live shows and about the records so yeah, I think it does help us.

Dead Rhetoric: Who would you say are the top five bands that everyone can agree upon as being pinnacle bands that Warning Sign admires, respects, or uses as benchmarks for quality? And what have been some of the best live concerts that you’ve taken in purely from a fan perspective?

St-Charles: Surprisingly, I think we wouldn’t agree on a top 5! Our tastes and influences are quite broad; we play together as a band because we like metal at large and have been friends for a long time, so it’s not about trying to emulate our favorite bands rather than enjoying rocking together. That being said, Warning Sign has lots of respect for bands of the big four, Testament and Helloween, for example. As for my best live concerts, off the top of my head I’d have to say Rage, Symphony X, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Avantasia, Opeth (Ghost Reveries era) and Blind Guardian’s last tour.

Beaulieu: Jerome is right, we are four individuals with very diverse and broad tastes in music and it would be hard to settle on 5 bands that we admire or look up to as a band. Although, from my point of view, there is no metal band on earth that can come close to Iron Maiden in terms of professionalism, either on or off stage and I will always see them as the gold standard for performance and quality. As for the best shows I’ve ever seen, aside from every Maiden show I have ever seen, I’d say both times I saw Paul McCartney. Judas Priest back in 2005 on the Angel Of Retribution tour kicked ass. Also when Blind Guardian played on the pool deck stage at 70 000 Tons Of Metal in 2015 there was something in the air…. That night was amazing.

Dead Rhetoric: What types of goals does Warning Sign set for themselves? Given the changing metal industry and business model with record labels, are you content to remain a self-financed, independent act or are you seeking out management/ record deals – if so, what would it take for the band to sign on the dotted line?

St-Charles: We definitely enjoy being totally independent and have complete freedom to do things exactly as we want. Of course, it’s part of every musician’s dream to ink a big record deal and all – but then again, we are aware that the industry is evolving and small bands like us have to be careful before signing anything: we could change the band’s name to ‘Warning, do not sign’, haha! We are happy to be self-produced for now, we’re not actively looking for management or record deals, but who knows what the future holds?

Beaulieu: We’re not surfing the wave of the rock star dream. We’re all in our 30’s, some of us have kids…. I guess it would take a lot to make us take that step. Security is the word that comes to mind, at least for me, and god knows you won’t find that in an entry-level record deal. We’re pretty level headed about it. If it happens, fine, but we are happy being independent. We’re slowly building a name for ourselves locally and we’re reaching a new audience via the internet. As long as people buy the records, and medias like you cover us, we’ll keep on making them. Whatever else happens is just gravy.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned in a recent radio interview that fact that the American media doesn’t seem to be covering rock/metal bands as much now as they may have in previous decades. How does a band like Warning Sign breakthrough given the proliferation of bands and social media outlets in the current scene?

Beaulieu: In a way, to me, with the internet being so huge nowadays the key is to use technology to your advantage in order to stay relevant. At least that’s one of the ways to try and break through. You need to have a bit of a budget of course for advertisement and the like, as well as promo stuff to send out, but since there are so many bands out there producing so much new material, your band needs to produce MORE in order to stay relevant in people’s minds. You need to be active on Youtube, on Facebook, on Twitter. Pay for spins on internet radio stations. Record new material and post it online immediately. We did that in 2014 with our cover of Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Sea” and we have another one planned for the near future. You need to post studio diaries, pictures, videos…. Give your audience something to chew on all the time. With the amount of new music and new bands people are being exposed to every day, if you don’t remind them once in a while that you still exist, you’re doomed to start all over again every time you release something.

There’s no magic recipe, but we have to make the most out of what we have at our disposal, especially in our position where we don’t have a big PR machine backing us up.

Dead Rhetoric: Max is also involved in working on lyrics for another Canadian band Aeternam – how did this collaboration come about? Are any of the other members involved in other bands (either cover or original)?

Beaulieu: I helped Aeternam and I helped Hillward, a prog-rock band, too. I also gave a hand to Olivier’s previous band, Southern Cross, with their lyrics. I have a background in linguistics and I went to university to be an English teacher. Living in Quebec with French as our first language, friends will ask me to go over the lyrics of their upcoming records so we can correct any grammar or syntax errors I can find in there. Sometimes we’ll just rewrite a whole section because we found something that sounds better. It’s flattering and I really love doing it. It’s just that: friends helping each other.

St-Charles: Right now Warning Sign is my only serious project, but I’ve been involved with local heavy/power metal band Warder (self-released in 2012), have fronted gory / horror death metal band Sick, doing live bass for a silly country band and as a contributor on various other local projects. As Max said, Olivier has previously played with Southern Cross, he’s also recorded guitar parts for progressive instrumental monster Contemplator’s first album. As for Jean-Michel, he’s a career drummer so he’s playing in far too many bands to list them all here!

Dead Rhetoric: What types of interests and hobbies do you have outside of your music endeavors?

St-Charles: We sometimes play D&D, I run the show and Oli and Max are in the party!

Beaulieu: And we’re gamers too! I’m also a big hockey fan and I love boxing as well. I’m a big fan of combat sports as a whole but I definitely prefer boxing. I even wrote about it for a while on a blog. I should do that again…. I also love cooking on the BBQ. 12 months a year! There’s nothing like grilled meat and beer.

St-Charles: Now that you mention it, we all dig good food, we’re pretty decent cooks. And have a soft spot for quality craft beers, whiskeys and good wines too.

Beaulieu: Jean-Michel also plays basketball. He and Olivier also started doing those crazy X Man obstacle Races…. I’ll stick with my yoga 3-4 times a week. Thank you.

Dead Rhetoric: What do the next 12 months look like for Warning Sign as far promotion, live shows, etc.? Have you already started working on new material for the follow up – and if so, do you think you will continually move forward and develop newer nuances creatively while keeping things in a familiar Warning Sign vein?

Beaulieu: I already have accumulated as many rough ideas now as I had when we started writing Left to The Sharks, so I will definitely start turning them into something more serious sooner than later. It still is too early to tell where it will be going but the riffs tell me you will know you are in Warning Sign territory when you hear them. I don’t want to wait 3 years between records this time so I’ll have to get to work. We are still sending out promo CDs for Left to The Sharks so we expect the coverage to continue for this album for a while. We will be on a compilation published by a parent company of Eclipse Records as well. It’s called InkTunes. And of course we will be looking into possible live dates everywhere in the province of Quebec and the surrounding area for most of 2017.

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