Threat Signal – ReconnectingSunday, 29th October 2017
Proof that you can’t keep a good band down, Threat Signal has finally returned with their long-awaited fourth album, Disconnect. Six years past their self-titled third release, and while it seemed at some points like the album was being perpetually pushed back, the band has overcome numerous obstacles in their way (including yet more line-up changes and securing a new record label) and released their most ambitious record to date. To call out the cliché, Disconnect has been worth the wait.
In the time between releases, Threat Signal has matured as a band and Disconnect is more exploratory than one might initially suspect. Progressive melodies and increased diversity fall into place with the band’s signature sound in a way that boosts the entire package. We gave vocalist Jon Howard a call to discuss what happened to the band in the six years between releases, his work with other bands/projects (including I, Legion), and a whole lot of Disconnect talk.
Dead Rhetoric: Congrats on finally getting the album out – it feels like it’s been forever in the making at this point.
Jon Howard: It’s been too long man. What a process [laughs]! It’s actually been done for a long time. I was looking back at old emails and it was like, “We need to get this record out” back in 2013 and 2014. We just had a long struggle. Everyone has been telling me, “Hold on Jon. Just wait. We are going to do this.” I just kept waiting and nothing was happening – I waited too long. Now it’s like, “Screw this, I’m firing a bunch of people and I’m doing this! [Laughs]” But yeah, I’m happy it’s finally coming out. It’s kind of like holding your breath for so long. You are turning purple and everyone is asking, “When’s it coming out man?” And then you just get immediately mad [laughs]. It was like, “I don’t know?”
Dead Rhetoric: So it was actually ready to be recorded back in 2013?
Howard: Well, we were talking about wanting to track it. We had a bunch of songs ready in 2013. We had to get studio time and lock down a record deal. So that pushed into 2014, and still nothing was happening, but we wrote a couple extra songs. It wasn’t all a bad thing. We spent the time writing off and on, and came up with some new ideas. That’s why the album is so diverse. There’s a couple of years of writing on and off. But by 2015 I had just had enough. I said that was doing the record – doing it in my studio. I just started recording it…no funding it, no nothing. Me and my guitarist Travis [Montgomery], we started doing it. Then we wanted to get it mixed. We still didn’t have any label or anything, so I fronted a bunch of money to at least start the mixing, with Mark Lewis.
Finally we worked out a deal. We are working with Agonia Records now. We were on Nuclear Blast – they did amazing for us. They made a name for us. I couldn’t even believe we were on Nuclear Blast. Then our management at the time decided we should go with a smaller label – maybe they would pay more attention to us. So we did it. Agonia has been doing a great job so far. I talk to them every single day. Now they are bugging me to get shit done [laughs]. “C’mon Jon, answer the emails.” So it’s finally coming together.
Dead Rhetoric: So with some of the songs coming together a while ago, do they feel old at this point, even though the album isn’t out?
Howard: Kind of. A song like “Nostalgia” was written in 2012. Some of the songs are 4-5 years old, and some are newer. But honestly, I still spin the record once in a while and I’m not sick of any of it. Which is a pretty good thing to say. There’s some songs, they didn’t really make it – we didn’t complete them; we knew they weren’t going to last. So the songs that we chose and finished, they are the ones that stuck around and stood the test of time. Having all that time to listen to the record thousands of times, they had to stand up.
Dead Rhetoric: So in that span of time, was there anything really specific that the band was up to? Or was it more just waiting for things to be set in motion?
Howard: We were always looking for tours or opportunities. We used to go out and slug it out and headline, and just tour all the time – sleep in the van, which we still do occasionally. But we are wanting to tour a bit smarter. Everyone is a bit older, we don’t live in the same city anymore. We don’t get together to jam after school – we have to wait until there’s a good time in everyone’s life…when they can take time off of work. Everyone has to get together, and everyone flies in. Everyone’s got their own life going on. So when the time is right we make it happen. But we are always looking for opportunities though. Whatever we can find – stars have to align. Instead of throwing in the towel and giving up, “This is too hard, screw this,” we are going to take the opportunities that we can make. Why quit? Do it once in a while, do it when you can. You don’t have to kill yourself over it.
Dead Rhetoric: You already mentioned the diversity, but what do you feel makes Disconnect stand out among the Threat Signal discography?
Howard: It’s been a long learning process. On the first record, I didn’t listen to my voice, and I can tell how hard I pushed…how hard I tried. I hadn’t really harnessed my voice. I listen back to some of my lyrics and I think they are cool lyrics. I think I understand them now more than I did back then. It was just flying out of me. With Vigilance, we were going for more of a rock/metal thing. The third record, we went crazy heavy. Every record we went for one thing, we were a little confused on where we were going, but with Disconnect, we let it all loose.
We did not have any idea of how it would turn out. We just wrote songs, and if they worked out they worked out. This one song Travis wrote, “Walking Alone,” it was like, “Hey Jon, check out this rock song I wrote. I’m going to ask my buddy to sing on it. Let me know what you think.” I listened to it and I said, “Travis, you cannot write a rock song. This sounds heavy, this sounds awesome. Let me sing on it and let’s try to use it for Threat Signal.” He was like, “Really?” He wrote that song without Threat Signal in mind, but I took it, put my voice on it, and turned it into Threat Signal. Then there’s another song I wrote for myself – I was all depressed, recording this acoustic song. I showed the guys just for fun. They said, “Wow, we could probably fit this in the middle of the record.” So there are these personal songs that we have written that were worked into the record. We were just being ourselves and bringing our music to the table, instead of thinking, “We are going to write Threat Signal and it’s going to sound like this!” So that’s what makes Disconnect a very diverse record.
We’ve all learned and grown, and I think we are more mature and comfortable with our styles and who we are. Singing soft would have been crazy for me to think of. I’ve learned to lighten up and appreciate all of it – just be yourself. That’s where we have been heading. It’s a good feeling.
Dead Rhetoric: Definitely – I was actually going to ask if you felt that the band has “matured,” because you can hear it in the sound. It’s clearly Threat Signal, but there’s so many more layers to it with this album.
Howard: Totally! We just let more out of us. I think we let out more stuff that was held back, or that maybe we didn’t know we had. We were just more free about it. I used to care so much about what people thought if I was going to release something. “What are they going to think?” Now it’s just like, you put it on the table and who cares? You make music for yourself. If the fans like it, then that’s a huge bonus…it’s a win-win.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the advantage of being able to record and produce everything yourself?
Howard: It’s kind of cool, because even back in the day…the very first Threat Signal demos, those are some of my very first recordings. I was always interested in recording. I was never taught; I never went to school. But I would fiddle around and try to make it happen. I didn’t even have a computer at the time, I was using my cousin’s computer. Those little recordings that I smashed together, I guess I had a good enough ear to get us signed to a record label and start blowing up online, back in 2004.
I’ve kept that going, building my studio, and I’m helping other bands and recording them. My prices are pretty damn cheap for what I offer, because I’m about the music and I’m about helping. Having a studio is bomb – you have an idea, you just stroll down – record it and there you go. A lot of what you hear on Disconnect, with my vocals, there’s a lot of demo stuff but I captured some emotion at that time. Some of those vocals date back to 2012. I went back and fixed a bunch of stuff and added stuff, but sometimes you just capture that emotion of the time when you wrote that song. It’s nice to capture that in pro quality. You might go to a studio and have a little demo recording that sucks, but you can’t quite capture that emotion. So having my studio, it’s like, “Fuck yeah! I captured that shit!” [laughs] You can experiment and listen back. You might say, “Oh that sucks. Why did I even do that?” You can learn from it. I love it. I will always have a recording set up, it’s so handy. I have one, Travis has one. It’s a lot easier today with plug-ins and technology and computers.
Dead Rhetoric: One thing that always comes to mind when I hear Threat Signal – you were talking about emotion – your screams are some of the most emotive ones out there. It’s like pure energy with those screams.
Howard: There’s nothing like it – you can’t fake that shit. Some of those high ones, you sound like a maniac. That’s why metal is the best – you just let it all out. Especially with this new record. It goes from crazy, super-soft to the most intense and heavy…it’s like a rollercoaster ride. When I’m screaming, you can hear that rumble, it’s loud [laughs]! I’ve learned over the years how to not blow my voice out. I used to do that ten years ago. You still scream with power, but with control. It’s an art [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: What did Mark Lewis bring in for the mix/mastering of Disconnect? With you doing the rest of the work on the album, what was the thought process in having him do that final layering?
Howard: I’ve been mixing a lot in the last few years and I’m getting pretty good. I did trust myself to mix it, but after working on the record for so long, you kind of want another ear on it. Someone on the outside. Mark Lewis and I had been talking for a few years about doing a Threat Signal album – the money wasn’t there for him to do the whole thing…that would have been cool, but I like the way we did this one. We recorded it ourselves, but I wanted his hand on it for mixing. He was game, we worked it out, and I trusted him.
The first mixes he sent back, I was like, “Yep. I was right. He nailed it.” It’s just got that punchy sound. He actually changed our guitar tone and used a Driftwood amp. I had never heard of it. But he used this Driftwood amplifier, and the guitar has this bite to it but with so much clarity and depth. He added this whole other side of the album that we couldn’t have gotten on our own. Every record, we have had something like that. Someone from the outside working on a mix or something. It’s nice to have those ears.
Dead Rhetoric: Christian Olde Wolbers (ex-Fear Factory) was at one point announced to be a part of the band last year. Was it a bit full circle to have in in once again, even if it’s only for live shows?
Howard: Last year, he came out and we did the Under Reprisal shows celebrating the 10th anniversary of the album. Christian produced that record. He flew us to L.A. and we did it with him back in 2005. So it was kind of cool to have him fill in on bass and play. We talked about maybe joining the band, but he’s been busy with Powerflo and he’s doing his thing. We haven’t really talked about it. It could happen [joining], but we are just keeping things really chill. I’ve got my ex-bass player Pat [Kavanagh] – he’s been with us forever. He came back when we were filming some of the videos for the record. He actually recorded it, so I wanted him to come back and work on the videos. Christian is out doing the Powerflo thing, and I’m doing my thing with our old bass player. Either way, we are all homies…something will get figured out [laughs]. I’m just waiting until a tour comes around and I’ll be like, “Okay, let’s figure this out.”
Dead Rhetoric: When Under Reprisal came out, it seemed like you were lumped in with all of these American metalcore acts, even if you didn’t really fit the grouping. Was that ever really a detriment to the band in terms of getting farther, or did it help you out?
Howard: It probably helped. We loved Swedish death metal – Soilwork, Meshuggah, In Flames. All that stuff influenced us. We also liked Lamb of God – we took from everywhere. I don’t know – it seemed like we were going up real fast. On our first tour, I had dropped out of college to go on a tour bus with Soilwork, Mnemic, and Darkest Hour. I was like, “Yes, I’ve made it! This is awesome!” But all my band members couldn’t handle it, and everyone quit. I’m not sure what we got lumped in with or whatever, it all happened so fast. They were crazy times to think about. But I’ve managed to reform the band and keep it going. What else can you do?
Dead Rhetoric: I know you’ve stayed pretty busy with guest spots and producing/recording other people’s material. What do you like about doing that sort of thing?
Howard: I’ve definitely stayed pretty busy. I actually get up about 7AM and go to work. I work in a wood shop and build custom bass guitars for a company called F Bass. They are high end bass guitars that are sold around the world. Then I come home to my studio, and I’ll do occasional guest singing and features. I don’t like to do too many, but if it’s the right time and the right song, I’ll do it. I like saving myself for my own music, unless it’s right. I produce other bands – I can’t complain.
I’ve built my life to be all about music. I can’t question anything I do. I work building bass guitars, and it’s a small shop. It’s not a major corporation. This guy just puts his love into building guitars, and so do I. Then I come home and I put that love into making music, recording music, helping bands. I’m barely getting by – I’m not making much money but I’m proud. I don’t have any regrets. I was born broke, I’ll die broke – I don’t give a shit [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: One project that you’ve been involved in that I can’t get enough of is I, Legion.
Howard: Hell yeah. That’s good to hear. Fred [Riverin] is this nobody guitarist from Quebec. But he put his music out there – he jumped on the Internet and started hitting people up. He had some cool music to back it up, and he built something for himself. It’s so cool. I had the guest spots on the first record [Beyond Darkness], and then on the second record [Pleiona], he asked me to mix it and sing on it. We developed this friendship through music online, then we met a couple times in person eventually. It’s so cool that you can make new friends through music. Then he got Speed Strid singing on his record. People that you thought you’d never meet and hang out with and make music with. The world gets a little smaller when you get into that music. It’s so fucking cool. Props to Fred and I, Legion!
Dead Rhetoric: Disconnect comes out in November, is there anything solid past that point, or are you just waiting for the right opportunity to come along, like you said earlier?
Howard: Not necessarily waiting…we are working to find a new booking agent in Europe. I’m actively talking to people and trying to book stuff myself. We are always working to find stuff and make it happen, you just have to find the right thing. We really want to tour for this record, and we are itching to get back out there. The last tour we did was almost a year ago – that sucks! It’s funny because when you are on the road of a while you kind of want to go home for a bit and work in the studio. But once I’m here, it’s like, “Ugh, I want to go back on the road!” But we are looking, hopefully we’ll find a new agent soon. We’ve been trying to figure stuff out. Everything seems to be picking up and working out.