At the top of their game? - Jon Howard on the renaissance of Threat Signal

Are Threat Signal at their peak? Shepherded by the legendary Zeuss behind the desk and wielding 7-string guitars for their new self-titled album, vocalist Jon Howard exudes confidence as he talks to us from the wintry north.

Rock music in Canada, it seems, doesn’t get the respect it deserves as some musicians such as fellow countryman Danko Jones and others lament. If one delves into the demonic and despondent end of the cacophonous canon, a bum rap in the mainstream press is almost a fait accompli. Industrial-tinged thrashers Threat Signal feel the media's indignation. Jon Howard, founding vocalist remains cognizant of the fact that metal will always stay somewhere lurking underground supported by a legion of fans who reject the easy path of flicking on a radio or clinging to ephemeral fads. But he doesn’t believe rock music isn’t garnering esteem in the Canadian popular consciousness. However, “metal on the other hand is a bit harder [to catch on], just like anywhere I would imagine,” Jon professes.

“We’ve received various music grants from Canada to help our band, so that really shows our country somewhat supports what we are doing. The shows can be hard to draw at times for us, but there is a strong underground following for metal, especially in Montreal. But you know, it’s metal man, it will never be respected as much as it should be.

“The average person is just too stupid to understand it, or doesn’t care to even try. If it’s not jammed down your throat 24/7 like pop music is, it’s going to be neglected. Metal is something you have to discover yourself and really get into on your own. Which makes it that much more personal to support a metal band.”

Those that do go out of their way are few and far between – what about the age of the Internet, where people don’t have to buy anything and can bounce their opinions off countless sites? How does a band cope treading water among the “sea of cowards,” as rock guitarist Jack White describes it?

“Honestly I really don’t give a fuck what people think, I write music for myself. Obviously I love my fans and I’m totally thrilled people actually take the time to check our music out and write us messages, but the music is written for us. That’s how I started writing music I wanted to rock out to. If someone else likes it, that’s a huge bonus!  It’s frustrating sometimes how much bullshit is floating around the net and great bands get overlooked. There is just too much too keep up with these days.”

“It’s all been done before in the eyes of some kid checking your band out on the net. They have the world at their fingertips so you better do something different and original to catch someone’s attention,” Jon muses.

That’s precisely what Threat Signal is itching to accomplish on their new self-titled record. Smack bang in the middle of recording, the guitar section have added a new weapon to their sonic arsenal – 7 string guitars. In addition to new ordnance, they also have new recruits on board; Alex Rudinger bringing the percussive assault and Chris Feener as point man on the guitar.

“We’ve been writing with 7 strings and lower tunings since the beginning of the band, we just never chose to release anything until now. Our first two records have been in drop C tuning on 6 string guitars, so we thought it’s time for a change on the third record.  The change defiantly adds a darker vibe to the album and sets it apart from anything we’ve done in the past.

“Honestly there were times when I thought we wouldn’t make it this far, so to have a third record being released is huge accomplishment for me. It’s also great to have a solid reliable band line up this time around. Every member contributed in the writing process, and we were able to create something very unique and original. The additions of Alex and Chris have stepped this band up big time.  It’s actually benefited the band greatly, we sound tighter than we ever have. We’ve acquired some amazing musicians and it’s brought our technicality up a few notches.

“I feel we are at our peak.  It really sucks losing members because they become great friends; however we still remain friends and keep in touch. Each member left by their own choice and it’s completely understandable! It’s a hard life personally and financially.“

They’re also working with who Jon has described as a “musical mastermind,” the accomplished metal producer Zeuss who has twiddled the knobs on stellar records such as ArsisWe are the Nightmare and Shadows Fall The Art of Balance. Jon feels having Zeuss is like a tireless, almost mechanical extension of the band that’s as involved in the final product as the guys playing the music.

“The great thing about Zeuss is that he feels like a part of the band, he cares about each little note just as much as we do. If something sounds just a little off, he hears it, and it’s re-recorded. He is the definition of perfectionist. He works very long days and is dedicated to the project from start to finish. It was a great experience working together and I would definitely work with him again.”

Having new blood doesn’t make the recording and writing process any different, however. Now they’re three albums in, Threat Signal still makes their records like they did from the beginning.  Jon says “this time around every single member contributed to the writing process.”

“I’ve always encouraged everyone in the band to write music, however it didn’t always work out,” Jon recalls. “This time around everyone in the band gelled together and we all contributed to the record.  A song usually starts with Travis, Chris or Pat sending a song idea to the band via guitar pro. We always tab our songs using the program guitar pro and send to each other over the internet. We live far distances away so this is very convenient, we never get together to jam songs until they are totally written.

“Once we finalized a song in guitar pro together, we track an MP3. Alex writes all the drum parts in guitar pro and we transfer them to midi. The drums are programmed on our demos with Tune Track software. Travis or Feener will track all the guitars, pat tracks bass, and then I write and track vocals. We essentially just record each song before we even play it.”

Though the members are scattered throughout the Great White North, extensive touring requires a special kind of preparation which begins weeks in advance, as Jon explains.

“Since we all live so far away from each other, the band will fly in to my city (Hamilton, Ontario) for a week before a tour. We jam at my house, work the set list out and get ready for the road.  Everyone sleeps at my house, so we just hang out for the week and jam for about two hours twice a day. We keep our sanity by joking around and making fun of each other, we just act like fuckin’ retards. I think by acting insane we maintain more of our sanity. Does that make sense?” he laughs.

Will we feel any of that “specialness” down under?

“Currently, no! It would be great to play there, and we really want that dream to come true.”