Threat Signal Vocalist Jon Howard
**Interview By Lord of The Wasteland
**All images courtesy of Threat Signal
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada is the home of a new band creating tons of buzz called Threat Signal. These guys are in their early 20s and, amazingly, have only been together for about six months. In fact, they just played their first live show three weeks before this interview was conducted! My introduction to Threat Signal came through a friend who shot some promo pictures for them (thanks Omer!) and couldn?t stop raving about the demo when he returned home. He gave me one and like him, I was blown away! Combining the industrial-infused metal of Strapping Young Lad, Fear Factory and Meshuggah with clean vocal passages that sound similar to Soilwork or Mnemic, Threat Signal is on the brink of hitting it big as labels are swirling around them with pens in hand.
I interviewed vocalist Jon Howard and got some insight into the band and how they all came together so quickly.
First of all, please tell the readers of Metal-Rules.com a little bit about Threat Signal.
Threat Signal is a five-piece metal band that arose from the industrialized east end of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The band consists of myself, Jon Howard, on vocals, Kyle McKnight on guitar, Rich Howard on guitar, Adam Matthews on drums, and Eric Papky on bass.
Can you explain the band?s name?
A ‘threat signal’ can be a number of different things from audible, to an action or smell. It’s to warn other animals or to scare off predators. When detecting and identifying a hostile laser threat signal through its optical sensors, seawatch systems give out warnings, and trigger smoke grenade launchers to generate a smoke screen to protect the carrier ship. Seriously, Rich mentioned the name to me, it was just two words thrown together and it sounded like a killer band name. Listen to the music?that?s a Threat Signal.
I hear a lot of Fear Factory/Meshuggah influence in your music, but also some more melodic stuff like Soilwork/Mnemic, as well. If I am correct with those parallels, which other bands helped shape the Threat Signal sound?
Those bands are defiantly huge influences on us. Also Killswitch Engage, Pantera, Metallica, Mudvayne, Zakk Wylde, Lamb of God and Slipknot have helped mold us into what we are today. Bands like Meshuggah remind us that almost anything is possible in music. Some of their stuff just blows my mind. Someone once told me if we threw all of our influential bands into a blender, we would end up with Threat Signal. I find some sort of truth to that, however I think we are also creating something original here.
How long have you all actually known each other?
I?ve known Rich pretty much all my life. We grew up living next door to each other, went to the same schools, played on the same sports teams, and played in local bands together. Rich and I met Kyle about 4 years ago when he tried out for our previous band. He was too damn good so he didn?t make the cut (laughs). He was about 16 then. Rich, Kyle and I met Adam last January when he tried out for Threat Signal. A friend of mine said he was a sick drummer, so we went to check him out. Sure enough he was. Kyle has known Eric for a few years. The rest of the band met Eric last summer when Kyle suggested he should try out for Threat Signal.
So once everyone was in place, when did you first start writing together as a band?
Rich, Kyle and I started writing songs for this band in late 2003. We really didn?t know what type of sound we were going for, but we knew we wanted it to kick ass. We started writing decent songs by early 2004. That?s when we met Adam. The whole band finally came together by August 2004 when Eric joined.
I heard from Omer that Kyle has only been playing guitar for something like two years????
Times that by two. We were having some drinks with Omer when we were discussing that, so either we didn?t know what we were talking about or that number didn?t register in his brain right (laughs). Kyle started guitar lessons when he was about 15, he is 19 now. I started guitar around 1996, then made an attempt at singing around 1997. Rich started playing guitar around the same time as me. Adam bought his first kit 3 years ago. Eric started playing guitar when he was 14, and picked up a bass shortly after that. He is 28 now.
What other bands have the members of Threat Signal played in that we know of?
This is Adam and Kyle?s first band. Eric has been playing in various cover bands for years, and he still does to this date. Rich and I have played in 2 bands together. The first band was called Armageddon, and the second was called Bushpig. Nothing to brag to the neighbors about!
You and Rich have the same last name, so are you guys brothers?
We are actually cousins. People mistake us for being brothers all the time. It must be because of the same last name, because I sure don?t resemble Rich. I am much better looking (laughs)! We might as well be brothers. I?ve been spending most of my time in his house lately and I eat all of his food.
Eric Papky, your bass player, is quite a bit older than the rest of the band members. How did you hook up with him?
Yes he is quite a bit older?almost 10 years older than Kyle! About 3 years ago, Eric became Kyle?s guitar teacher. When Kyle developed his shredding skills and became better than his teacher, he decided to quit. Kyle mentioned Eric to us, and said he could play the songs, so we hooked up with him last summer.
Threat Signal just played its first ever live show on December 10th, which blows me away! How did it go? Any stage fright or ?Spinal Tap? sort of problems??
No stage fright in this band but we were very anxious to play before the show. Just waiting through all of the opening bands was torture. Not saying they were bad, we just wanted to get up there and kick some ass! The venue was call The Underground, located in Hamilton Ontario, which holds about 300-350 people. The place was packed wall to wall. There were still a few people outside who couldn?t get in because it was sold out. The show was amazing! People were going ape shit. People were flying off the stage, knocking over monitors, tearing out power cords for the amps, spilling beer everywhere, and the mosh pit was ridiculous (laughs), but it was great. If we can get some barricades next time, we might be able to play better. The fans loved it. They said our set sounds just as good as, or even better than, the demo.
Do you have any shows planned outside of the Hamilton area?
Right now we are focusing on writing for a full length album, so shows are staying pretty much local. We have gigs scheduled in Toronto, though, which is only 45 minutes away.
Has Threat Signal opened for any ?big name? bands yet?
We were asked to play the Kool Haus with Alexisonfire in Toronto which holds about 2500. That was exactly one week after our first gig. We had to decline the show because a band member had an exam for University that night. That will not happen again because we all dropped out of school to 100% on music (laughs). Our second show on New Years Eve was opening for a band called No Warning. I believe they are the first band to sign with Linkin Park?s label. We have only played two shows up until this date, so no big names yet!
If you could share a stage with any band, who would it be?
It would be a dream to play with Fear Factory. I grew up listening to those guys. Meshuggah and Soilwork would also be a top choice. Lamb of God would definitely be killer to play with.
Besides the excellent review here at Metal Rules (he he), how has the Internet buzz been for the demo?
The internet has done wonders for us! Having our songs featured online for anyone to download has given us massive exposure world wide. We have received attention from many different record labels. We have been interviewed and played on radio stations. We have been featured on countless web sites. We have been in two German magazines. Many people have contacted us to book shows. We also have been thrown on a few compilation CD?s.
The demo has surprisingly good sound. Who handled the production and where was it recorded?
We recorded the demo in the comfort of Rich?s room. We did all of the recording ourselves using a PC. I find that?s the best and cheapest way to create a demo. We can take our time and make sure the songs have everything they need.
Are you happy with the songs on the demo or are there things you would have changed?
The fact is we can change anything we want, at any time. That?s the beauty of having recording equipment in your own home. But seriously, there are some things that we would like to change on the demo, minor things. I feel there isn?t much of a point going back to change them. We are spending our time working on new material and rehearsing. The songs on the demo are just going to be re-recorded anyways when we do our full length album later this year. Overall we are happy with the result.
Were the songs on the demo all new creations or were they older songs that had been around for awhile and then reworked?
Nothing is really ?old? at this point since we are a fairly new band. Three of the songs were put together in 2004, recorded, and that was that. However some riffs in ?Inane? where created in late 2003. We had countless different versions of that song. We went through about four different choruses, two solos, and a shit load of different riffs in that song. We attempted to add a melodic singing chorus into it, but it just didn?t sound right. Finally we just let the song flow, and it stayed metal. It took about six months before we got that song together how we wanted it. We have become better song writers now, so I doubt we will run into a problem like that again.
?Rational Eyes? is the perfect blend of aggression and melody. Will Threat Signal ever lean towards one way or the other and do a ballad or a balls-out maniac death metal assault?
I can?t see Threat Signal going completely soft. First off I will not sing it, and the band members will for sure not play it! Well, Eric might play it, but that?s another story (laughs). We will always have songs here and there that are completely balls-out. However, we love combining that melodic element into our heavy metal assault to keep things fresh and interesting.
Does the band consciously try to mix melody into the songs or do they just come out that way?
There is somewhat of a conscious effort to include melody within the songs. But, by all means, we do not force anything onto a song that will not fit. The song will basically write itself. If it needs some melody, we will be able to work it in easily.
Who plays the solo and clean guitars at the end of ?Inane??
Kyle took care of the clean guitars in ?Inane? and also all of the solos on the demo. Kyle and I did most of the writing for the demo so therefore we did most of the recording.
How many songs do you have written besides the ones on the demo?
We have countless riffs and song ideas on the shelf waiting to be unleashed. Recently we have finished and demoed the music for two new tracks. I am just working on writing and finishing the vocals now. We definitely have enough material in the works to put toward a full-length album.
Even though you are still a new band, what are you hoping to improve on with your new batch of songs over those on the demo?
We are constantly looking to improve ourselves. We always push ourselves to make things sound better. It can be really frustrating at times being so anal about the music, but it?s totally worth it in the long run. We are looking to make each song better than the last song, and push our limits over the top. The newer songs not featured on the demo are going to be intense. That?s all I can say.
Who are the songwriters in the band or does everyone take a kick at the cat?
I?m sure we have all taken a kick at Rich?s cat. Darn thing. The primary song writers in the band are Kyle and myself. Rich and I have contributed guitar riffs and arrangement ideas here and there, but Kyle is the primary music writer in the band.
I write and arrange all of the vocals, all though Rich has helped me out with a few singing harmonies.
Have you had any label offers based on interest triggered by the demo?
Yes we have. We have received offers from a handful of labels, both domestic and overseas. I can?t go into detail at all about who is interested and who we are favoring at the moment because these deals are still up in the air, however if you ask me in a few weeks, I could probably tell you. The funny thing is, we have never sent out a demo to anyone in the music industry. They somehow found us. Whether it be through the Internet or through some sort of contact, they all came to us.
Are you interested in going the major label route (Sony, Elektra, etc.), mid-level (Roadrunner) or indie (Century Media, Metal Blade, etc.) when you do get signed?
The thought has come about signing a deal with a major label. We actually had the chance to play our demo for a major label and they were surprisingly impressed. However we are going to hook up with an indie label for a small number of albums and if possible in the future we might consider graduating onto a major. A major label so early in our career might be far too overwhelming for us. We need some type of deal that we can work under our own terms and develop more as a band. We don?t need the stress of selling a million albums and meeting crazy deadlines right now.
How do Kyle and Rich split up the leads?
They fight like women until one of them cries. Then we have a winner. No, Kyle has been doing most of the lead work. Kyle writes amazing guitar parts and solos, so he usually plays them. Rich takes care of a few hefty riffs, though. Also, Rich has been harmonizing parts of solos. It sounds amazing.
Are two guitarists necessary to get that extra ?crunch? to the Threat Signal sound?
For sure! Having the two guitarists adds tons of balls to the sound, especially playing live. Many times Rich and Kyle are playing different guitar parts which mesh together perfectly. It?s totally necessary to have two guitarists ripping it up to play this type of music and keep it kicking ass.
Do Kyle and Rich play six-string guitars or seven-strings?
They use six-string guitars. We tune to C and I?ve never heard anyone playing in C on a seven. We have experimented with seven-strings played in B?it sounded killer, but it?s just not Threat Signal.
How does your voice hold up for doing the clean vocals after screaming and growling all night?
I?ve gotten this question a lot. My voice seems to handle the change quite well. I am able to turn it on and off like a faucet or whatever. It?s great.
How long have you been singing?
I?ve been singing for about 6 years. I didn?t get seriously into it until late 2003. That?s when I really buckled down and started to sing everyday. I pretty much have to scream/sing everyday or at least every other day to stay with it.
Do you like singing the heavier stuff or the more melodic pieces?
I love throwing out the crazy screams for sure, that?s what consumes the majority of our music. However belting out notes that are completely in tune with the music is so amazing. It really helps when they are in key also (laughs). I really enjoy the contrast between the screaming and the singing. I can?t choose one over the other.
Who are your vocal influences?
A really big influence on me at the moment is Speed from Soilwork. I?ve been listening to them for a few years now, and their new album, STABBING THE DRAMA, is amazing. I love how he finds that contrast between the screaming and the singing. He sings and writes some amazing vocal lines. Killswitch Engage?s previous vocalist, Jesse, had a major impact on me as well. His screams are completely insane, but he threw out some killer clean singing parts, as well. Then there is the almighty Phil Anselmo, huge inspiration. And let?s not forget Burton C Bell. Evil screamer, but maintains that melodic element. Jens from Meshuggah also tore me a new one with those screams, wow.
What obstacles do you think the band faces being from Canada? Is there a stigma associated with us as Canadians that we don?t know how to kick ass up here?!
I was thinking to myself the other day if I could name any extremely kick ass metal bands from Canada. The only thing that came to mind was Strapping Young Lad but other than that there are literally no wicked metal bands from Canada that I know of.
I think Canadians know what good metal is, and it won?t be too long until some sick bands start coming around. I don?t believe there are any obstacles we are worried about coming from Canada. I think if the music kicks ass, people will know about it.
Are you guys well-known in Hamilton? Is Threat Signal a ?black sheep? or is there a real metal scene there?
We are beginning to create a buzz in Hamilton. I think we are becoming more ?well-known? in Hamilton everyday. It is pretty cool when I?m walking through a mall and I see some kid I don?t know sporting a Threat Signal tee. There are not any outstanding metal bands in this area, and I?d like to think we are changing that. A lot
of people in Hamilton seem to like what we are doing.
For a small Hamilton band, you seem to have a solid fanbase judging by the artwork on your site. What would you say is the typical Threat Signal fan? Do you get a lot of variety (punks, metalheads, girls, etc.) at your shows?
We mainly get a lot of hot, dark-haired girls with medium size breasts and small bums wrestling at our shows. That?s just a fantasy of mine. Anyways, our fans seem to range from young to old, male and female. There was pretty much a very wide variety of people at our first gig. It is more males than females contacting me and coming out to the shows, though. I think you will find that with any band in this genre.
What do you all do for ?regular? jobs?
Kyle, Rich and I were all in College and University until we put that on hold this January. Things are getting very busy with the band so we minimized school to focus on writing and rehearsing. Adam?s job is to play the drums. We keep him chained up in the basement. Eric teaches guitar and plays in a cover band to make some cash. So basically Threat Signal is a full time job now. And yes, we are broke.
Who is in charge of keeping up the Threat Signal website?
I do most of the updates myself. Just standard things like writing in text and updating pictures. The man behind the design of the site is Christopher Smith at www.visualstylee.com He contacted us after hearing our songs on the net and offered to help us out with a web page. He has done an amazing job designing and keeping the site up to date.
Any albums you?re really looking forward to in 2005?
STABBING THE DRAMA by Soilwork, which I shouldn?t have already, but I?m going to go out and buy it when it comes out anyways. Meshuggah?s album, CATCH 33. I?m also interested in the new Mudvayne disc.
Besides world domination, what are Threat Signal?s plans for 2005?
By the time we have dominated the world, the space ship we are building should be complete. Then we can finally seek and destroy any other realms of the universe. We plan to sign a record deal, record our first full-length album, then get on some sort of tour.
Is there anything that I missed or anything you would like to say to the readers of Metal-Rules.com before signing off?
That was quite a bunch of questions! I think we covered everything except what type of underwear we wear. I?d just like to say, check out Threat Signal, you will not be disappointed. Thanks for taking the time to read this interview! Also, thanks Sean for your support and for this interview. You?ll be hearing a lot more from Threat Signal in the near future!
Thanks for your time, Jon. Good luck with the demo and hopefully a very smart (and lucky) label will sign Threat Signal very soon!!
**Thanks to Omer R. ?Impson? Cordell of Seventh Frame Photography for introducing me to this killer new band!
**Read the review of Threat Signal?s demo here.
**Visit Threat Signal’s official website