Groom, Karl (Threshold) (March 2001)

On The Threshold Of A Dream

Karl Groom (1997) (© MHerring)Looking back at the history of British band Threshold it looks like our friends have found their worst case scenario where singers and drummers are concerned. Spread over a career that spans more than ten years and five studio albums, four of the members have been together since day one, yet the list of singers and drummers has become almost endless. Guitarist, composer, producer Karl Groom steps in to answer anything but "hypothetical" questions!

"You're absolutely right in suggesting that the nucleus of the band concentrates around the four of us," admits Groom. "Although Richard West wanted to leave at one point, the result of the new line-up got him so excited that there's no way he'd leave the band now. So apart from myself and keyboard player Richard West, Richard West (1997) (© MHerring) both bass player Jon Jeary and guitar player Nick Midson have indeed been there since day one. And you're once again bloody well right in suggesting that the name of the band actually was taken from the record label of none other than the Moody Blues! Very few people know this! As a matter of fact, Jon came up with the name Narcissus (which now is a song on the new album) when we were looking for a name for the band. We all thought: 'nah, that's the name of a flower,' and then he came up with Threshold and revealed his source as being the Moody Blues. Strange as it may seem, but the Moodies have rock parts and mellow parts all blended together as well, which is kind of what we do. Only difference with us is that the rock parts are heavy rock parts! Going back to our 'problems' with both singers and drummers, well, of course we felt sad that Damien [Wilson, the band's first vocalist] Damien Wilson (ex-vocalist) (1997) (© MHerring) decided to do other things. He wanted to concentrate on the folk side of things and then he started doing Les Misérables and looked for fame in that direction. My favourite singer however has to be Glynn Morgan because he really had that powerful voice I wanted to hear within Threshold. Sadly Glynn wanted to concentrate on straight rock-oriented stuff, which is where our company parted. I did however check him out with his Mindfeed project, which I liked a lot. Sadly after only two albums it looks like the curtain has definitely closed. A real pity as Glynn is a very talented singer. We once shared the same tour bus with Mindfeed and still got on like a house on fire!"

With all the problems finding a suitable singer now definitely behind them, has the band never thought of at least auditioning Tracy Hitchings? "Pfew, she's a great singer but it never came to my mind to ask her to join Threshold. We always tour together with metal bands anyway, so I don't see Tracy getting on a tour bus filled with long haired men. Imagine one woman amongst twenty blokes! Could be fun though! No, honestly, we were introduced to Mac Mac (© 2000 Threshold) through Haiko who's the drummer with Sargant Fury. As a matter of fact Mac was about to do a pop album together with Haiko, who also works for SPV Germany. Although he's a thoroughbred Geordie, Mac lives up in Hannover with his girlfriend. He's a very talented singer and a great guy. Some people hear a decent amount of Rush in our latest album, which is a great compliment as we've all admired the band for a long time. Especially, their lyrics are superb. Threshold has always been a metal band with melodic structures like Genesis added as a bonus. We feel we need to also introduce a fair amount of melodies instead of technical tour de forces which get boring after a while. We need to sit down and write tunes which people can hum or whistle! The strange thing with Threshold is that sometimes you think you have written a completely different kind of song, but once the rest of the boys step in it's exactly the same sound again."

Over the years, the only complaint about the band's music was that for some people the band was too mellow whereas for others they sounded too hard. "I understand what you mean. When we play for the Classic Rock Society, we feel that people are only happy once they see the back of us. They are mainly into symphonic rock so they enjoy our softer songs but once we start smokin' Threshold live 1999 (? Threshold)they head for the loo! Japan is OK for our music. So is the Benelux, Holland, Germany and France. Britain is the only country where the mix of prog and metal isn't appreciated. Millions gasp as to how a teen band is put together by auditioning well over three thousand would-be popstars in a TV-programme like Popstars, yet it's too much to ask to concentrate and listen to something original. Without sounding blasé we are the only band of its kind in Britain. Maybe you could also mention Paradise Lost but they tend to go for a more mainstream sound."

Although Threshold has stayed close to their roots, surely they must have evolved one way or another? "We have indeed kept true to our basics but now there might be more musicianship. We certainly try to avoid odd time signatures, which we try to compensate [for] by adding a superb rhythm section. Nick Midson (guitar) and Jon Jeary (bass) Then there's an improved production technique, we bought better equipment. We also have a bigger budget, which means we can stay a bit longer in the studio. We still record at Thin Ice because we know the equipment and the studio very well and also because Clive [Nolan] now has an enormous collection of keyboards which we can always use. On top of that Thin Ice is not a very expensive studio, which means we can experiment a little longer. If we were to record in one of the top studios then our entire recording budget would be gone in less than a week! So especially in the production field we have evolved drastically over the years. I'm not interested in having an outside producer step in because it's very hard to transpose the feeling you want to enhance to a total stranger. So I'd rather do it myself together with Richard West. As we wanted Hypothetical to be different from Clone, we wanted to introduce the keyboards on an identical level as the guitars. Clone was a bare bones album where we had no detail where keyboards or sound effects were concerned. It's a fairly basic recording. Hypothetical meant our first album for a new record label and also the launch of a new era for the band after we'd been together for ten years. The new album was very difficult to compromise [on] and the balance was a nerve-wrecking job. I enjoy being a producer but it's very exhausting. Johanne James (? 1999 Threshold) Not only have you written the material but you also have to play it, record it, produce it and mix it! I'm always knackered when it's finished, but then again, I'm always eager to do it when the next album arrives, as there's mainly a gap of one to one and a half years between albums. As I said Hypothetical means our first album for Inside Out after having been with GEP for a long time. It now looks like GEP will concentrate around bands such as IQ and John Wetton, whereas Inside Out is more focusing towards prog metal. As a kind of welcome from both sides there will be a limited edition of the new album. Because over the years so many new techniques were developed there will be a CD-ROM part including interesting footage and interviews so people can step into our lives and see how a song is being recorded."

Hypothetical (2001)With Hypothetical being the band's fifth album (six of you count the mini live album Livedelica), they also released a fan club only release called Decadent including rare tracks and remixes. And I always thought remixes were strictly reserved for the dance floor. "Believe it or not, but some of the mixes are indeed dance oriented. That's why Decadent shouldn't be seen as a real Threshold album. It's just a piece of fun for the fans, some of whom have been asking for years if there was a possibility to obtain a Japanese copy of Wounded Land, our debut album, in order to get hold of an exclusive song that we only included for the Japanese market. After a while you sit down with the lads and discuss this idea. Also the record company thought this release should be fan club stuff only, Threshold - Decadent so we pressed one thousand copies which we sold on our tours. They are almost all gone by now. There's some weird shit on that album. Do you know there's even drum & bass on it? As this release happened when Threshold celebrated its tenth anniversary, we thought it was the ideal way to close the first chapter of the band's history."

Over the years Threshold has had the privilege to tour with the likes of Enchant, Eldritch, Pain of Salvation and Dream Theater. They also performed at the Viarock Festival in Belgium together with Whitesnake, Tyketto, Gotthard and several other metal bands. To this day they still mention Viarock on their website, so I'm rather proud to have you know that it was none other than yours truly, John 'Bo Bo' Bollenberg, who landed them a slot on this festival in the first place. Talking to Karl about this still brings smiles to our faces, as Karl will certainly explain to you all. Karl Groom (© 1995 Threshold) "When we arrived in Belgium the day prior to the Viarock festival, we drove to this cozy hotel in Aalst. So we parked our van in front of the hotel, had some delicious Belgian beers and went to sleep. As we were one of the first acts on the festival roster, we had to be there rather early, but when we looked outside through the hotel window we saw there was a market taking place where we had parked our van. There was no way we could move our van because there were hundreds of stalls and lots of people there, so in the end we were obliged to move all of our stuff from the van to another van which had come to our rescue. Imagine the sight of all the Threshold members and roadies carrying our equipment above our heads and running from one side of the marketplace to the other. When we finally arrived at the scene of the festival, the organisation had already switched us with another band, and instead of the allowed half an hour, we were only awarded fifteen minutes or so. In the end, thanks to the positive response from the crowd, we did play half an hour though. It remains very funny when you look back on the event, but I can guarantee [to] you [that] we swore our heads off when we saw what happened. Regarding the other tours we did, it's probably our tour with Dream Theater which was the most successful in terms of reaching new people. Bands like Enchant or Eldritch have a strong fan base, but we're not talking thousands here. In the case of Dream Theater we performed in front of large audiences, of which very few people knew who we were, yet once they tasted our music, they all definitely knew who the hell Threshold was (and is). Regarding Pain of Salvation, I was very impressed with their musicianship and their great sound. They are also a great bunch of people and we've become good friends with all of them."

With the new album hitting the shops maybe it's a good time to look back at the various releases and pick one favourite tune per album with a small explanation as to why. Threshold - Wounded Land (1993) "For Wounded Land it certainly has to be 'Consume To Live,' not only because it's the first track on the album, but also because it was the very first song we ever wrote together. On Psychedelicatessen I'd go for 'A Tension Of Souls,' mainly because of the great riffs and the harmonies. For Extinct Instinct I must choose 'Eat The Unicorn' because it has the best feel of the album. Coming to Clone where it has to be 'Angels' because that's so far the only song we've ever written the four of us together. Threshold in the studio Which brings us to our latest brand new album Hypothetical where of course I'd like to pick every single song, but if there's one in particular then I'd go for 'Turn On Tune In' because it reminds me of how we started. To me it holds the same atmosphere.

With the new album having been produced by Karl Groom and Richard West does Karl still have the time to lend his production skills to other artists? "Of course a lot of time and energy goes into Threshold, especially as the current line-up looks like being a very permanent one. Threshold (1999) I have produced the latest album by Shadow Keep, Corruption Within. I have done a demo for Dragonheart who are now signed to Sanctuary Records. Their music gets rather close to Rhapsody. Then I did an album by Oliver Wakeman and Steve Howe, which will be released I think somewhere in May and will be called The Seven Ages Of Magik. I'm also rather pleased with the way Landmarq drummer Dave Wagstaffe has added his skills! Then we have been working on the follow up to Jabberwocky which will be called The Hounds Of The Baskerville on which Bob Catley and Tracy Hitchings will perform next to Wakeman friends such as drummer Tony Fernandez and singer extraordinaire Ashely Holt. I also produced the forthcoming new Pendragon album Not Of This World. Coming back to the Strangers on a Train project you mentioned, as you know, the idea was to make it a trilogy. The first two parts have already been out for some time, but for some strange reason we keep on postponing the third and final chapter. Clive Nolan finished writing it some four years ago, but then he got busy with Arena and several other artists he's involved with. As we have added an extra singer with each album it now looked like Alan Reed and Tracy Hitchings would of course once again take part, joined by a third singer. I do remember we did ask Peter Nicholls at the time, but as he has been rather busy with IQ, I'm not sure whether at all he'd still have the time to do it should we ask him. I know the demo for the third Strangers on a Train album is ready, but I also know Mick Pointer is not too keen. Let's just wait and see for that one shall we?"

Threshold - Psychelicatessen (1994)With Threshold having parted company with GEP it also looks like the band's older titles might be OOP. Any chance new fans will be able to track these down somewhere? "We have been thinking of re-issuing all of our previous albums through Inside Out. We have this idea to re-release Psychedelicatessen together with the Livedelica album as an added bonus, also sporting a CD-ROM section including the video for 'Innocent.' You're right in suggesting that it was MTV Europe who, at the time, requested a video from us. Our record company paid for the video which was never aired by MTV anyway, but it was given some exposure courtesy of some cable networks. It would be nice to fit that video on the re-issues somewhere. I'd also like to add the track 'Intervention' on the re-issue of Wounded Land. 'Intervention' was a track we wrote especially for a sampler CD. Released as far away as 1993, Compilation Disc Too subtitled the SI Germany disc, was a 12-track sampler issued by the now defunct SI label including songs by IQ, Shadowland, Landmarq, Pallas, Jadis, etc... some of which were written especially for this disc. As 'Intervention' has never been released apart from this now OOP sampler, maybe now's the time to treat this 6:39 original as a bonus track. Anyway, the plans are to have the entire Threshold back catalogue back on the shelves before the end of this year!"

Jon Jeary (© 1997 MHarring)With Threshold demanding a lot of his time and loads of new bands in the studio, does Karl Groom still have time to listen to music? "As you say, John, I am so involved with music that I hardly listen to any new music. If I want to hear some music for my enjoyment I'd rather go for some 'older' material which I have known for a long time. Lately I find myself listening to a lot of Tears For Fears stuff. I love their songwriting skills and production. I also enjoy listening to Kitaro, the keyboard wizard. One of my all-time favourite albums certainly has to be Burn by Deep Purple which is filled with great songs."

With a tour coming up in September/October, of course the band would like to be able to perform in America and South America, but if money weren't be the issue, Nick Midson (© 1997 MHarring)what kind of stage show would Groom and Co. put on? "Of course the band would like to play everywhere possible and right now I can tell you we have been offered some dates in Brazil. However, Nick Barrett did have some minor nightmares when he was over in South America with Pendragon. Sometimes only a couple of hours before their flight the band would still be waiting for tickets. Planning wasn't always a smooth operation. In the end everything worked out fine, but most of the times it was touch and go. If I had money to spend on a stage show then I'd definitely go for a huge lightshow like Queensr?che has. I remember having seen them on their last tour and the way the show emphasizes the music is amazing. With the lightshow and the images you appreciate the music even more. Hearing music on CD is great but if you can put it on stage like Queensr?che did with Operation: Mindcrime then you have finally arrived in the gallery of the greats. I'm afraid that's still a long way to go for Threshold!"

Threshold 2000 (l to r: Johanne James, Jon Jeary, Mac, Nick Midson, Karl Groom, and Richard West)
Threshold 2000 (l to r: Johanne James, Jon Jeary, Mac, Nick Midson, Karl Groom, and Richard West)

[Update 2007: Of course, Mac has now left the group, and Wilson is back temporarily; Midson took a break for the recording of their most recent CD, Dead Reckoning, with Pete Morten filling in for 2007 live dates; Steve Anderson has been on bass since 2003 and Johanne James on drums since 2001; meaning the core is still Groom and West. Oh, and they're now on Nuclear Blast. {Update 2011: Mac passed away on August 3; unrelated to that, Wilson is now a permanent member again, at least it seems} -ed.

Wounded Land (1993)
Psychedelicatessen (1994)
Livedelica (1995)
Extinct Instinct (1997)
Clone (1998)
Decadent (1999)
Hypothetical (2001)
Wounded Land: Special Edition (2001/2002)
Psychedelicatessen/Livedelica: Special Edition (2001/2002)
Concert In Paris (2002)
Critical Mass (2002)
Wireless - Acoustic Sessions (2003)
Critical Energy (2004)
Extinct Instinct: Special Edition (2004)
Subsurface (2004)
Dead Reckoning (2007)
The Ravages Of Time (2007)
Paradox - The Singles Collection (2009)
March Of Progress (2012)
For The Journey (2014)
European Journey (2015)

Critical Energy (2004) (DVD)

Added: March 15th 2001
Interviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg

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