Milwaukee, Wisconsin isn’t the first place I would think to mention when asking or asked about where good heavy music comes from, but it is the hometown of Misery Signals, and they are fucking HEAVY! When they bring their technical virtuosity, vicious crunch, and polyrhythmic mayhem to the stage with them, spectators should prepare themselves for an all-out sonic assault… Bring it on!
Formed in 2002, Misery Signals are back in action after taking a leave from performing and, if you like your music precise and angry, you need to go see them if/when they come close to where you are. I got in touch with guitarist and former band mate Greg Thomas during their stop in Syracuse to talk about his time with the band, what it’s like getting to share a stage with one of his favorite groups, and when we can expect a new record… Their first since 2008!
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five!
GT- Thanks for having me.
G- It’s cold up here, huh?
GT- It’s definitely cold up here. Everywhere we’ve been! We started in Milwaukee and it was freezing! It was like -6 degrees.
G- Don’t you know that you’re supposed to take the southern route when you go on tour in the winter?
GT- Yea. This time of year… The birds have all gone south and we’re digging ourselves out of the snow here. So…
G- It happens that way though. So, you’re new into the tour for the new year… How have the shows been so far and where were you?
GT- The shows have been great. We started off in the Chicago region of Joliet, and that show was really awesome. It was a great welcome back for us… We haven’t had a show since 2011, since the end of 2011.
GT- So we played there, and then we played in Ohio twice, Dayton and Toledo, and then tonight in Syracuse. Shows have been great and we sold out of most of our merch in the first 2 shows, so we’ve gotta reorder for the next 12 or so. But yea, it’s been going great!
G- That’s a good thing! Now, to talk about your history with the band… You’ve been with Misery Signals since 2011, correct?
GT- Yes. It’s been about 2 years now.
G- Nice, and, like, how did this all come about, and what was it like when you got the call to join? Tell us what the audition was like and the process?
GT- Well, this is been a long time coming joining this band. These are guys that I’ve known since the beginning of the band itself. I’m from the state of Connecticut, and their first guitarist, even though the band was from Milwaukee, they had one member from far away. They had a guitarist named Jeff from Connecticut, who is one of my best friends. He played in a band called With Honor, and when he went out to start Misery Signals, I played with With Honor in his position for a long time… For our first tours and first records and stuff.
Then, he moved back to Connecticut. It wasn’t that long that I played for them, but he moved back to Connecticut and I though ‘Man, I should really go play for Misery Signals.’ That’s, like, a good fit, because With Honor was more of like a traditional hardcore band, and I really thought that those guys were doing a cool thing, but I listen to a lot more technical metal myself, so I thought Misery Signals would be a perfect fit. But where I was at in my life, I couldn’t go out to Milwaukee and ended up playing with a whole bunch of other bands for a number of years, and they got another guitarist, Stu, for a long time, and Stu is an excellent guitarist and a great friend of mine and stuff, and I got to tour with them in various other bands. And when Stu left, Ryan gave me a call and said ‘Hey, I think we’re gonna keep this band going, and I think you’d be a cool fit if you’d like to come out and try out and hang out.’ I’ve known these guys since the very beginning of the band.
On the first With Honor tour that we ever did as a band was with Misery Signals. We did shows with Misery Signals, and I had a delay pedal that I didn’t need anymore for With Honor, and I didn’t need it for the next couple of bands I did. So I said ‘Hey Ryan, take my delay pedal. You’re doing some stuff with it and that’d be really cool.’ Misery Signals has a lot of delay parts on the first EP and first record…
GT- That’s… my delay pedal! (laughing) And then I rejoin the band and say ‘Hey… You got that delay pedal… I kinda could use it now,’ and it’s long gone at this point.
G- That’s too bad. I’d be ‘Give it back! Give it back!’
So, I know it’s early into the tour, but you’ve played with these guys before. What’s it been like traveling in between the shows and what do you guys do when you’re traveling between the shows? You don’t have too many long jaunts this tour, but what do you do during the run?
GT- Well, during this run we are taking a number of days off to do pre-production for our new record.
GT- Yea! That’s pretty much the point of these shows… To kick the dust off, make sure we can still play our instruments, you know?
GT- We haven’t gone senile yet, and then the tour actually ends into us doing drum tracking for the new album which we’re going to be deep in the trenches of for the next 3 months, putting together this new record.
G- So a little quarantine for recording?
GT- Yea. Our other guitarist, Ryan, actually lives out in Boise, Idaho, and he runs a small studio out there called Paper Crane. It’s a cool place and a nice facility, and I run a recording studio in Connecticut called Silver Bullet, and I’m taking my gear, my computer and my HD Pro-Tools rig and amps, and am loading it into the van, and at the end of the tour, Ryan is driving it all out to Boise and I will fly out there and meet him in early March, and I’ll spend 2.5 months layering guitar layer after guitar layer after guitar layer trying to make the heaviest record that we can.
G- (laughing) Alright! So, you mentioned Silver Bullet Studios, and you’re churning out a bunch of artists over there at this point, so you’re not only performing as a musician, but you’re working as a musician helping other musicians. So, what else do you have going on as of late?
GT- The things that I’m most excited for coming up in the studio are we have this band Make Do and Mend come back into the studio… We’ve worked with them before…
G- Hi James!
GT- Hello James! They’re coming back in and doing a couple of songs with us at the end of February, so this is during drum editing to clean up and get ready for the Misery Signals record. They’re doing a couple of song with a string ensemble that I’m really excited about. I’m a big fan of classical music myself, so I’m excited to work with them. I’ve worked with string players before, but not an ensemble… I’m really excited! I’m gonna get everybody’s phone number afterwards and call them to do stuff!
So, I’m looking forward to the Make Do and Mend record, and I guess that’s the big one on the plate right now. We’re also finishing up work on a full length for a band called The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die… It’s the longest band name.
G- Yea that’s a long one.
GT- Long band name, but their guitarist works in the studio as well, and they’re finishing up a record and I’m really excited about that. Heavily layered band! They have a string player in the band, too. They have a cellist.
G– Dude! It’s great to see these styles of music incorporating orchestral instruments where they’ve never been before, or they may have been there but are now coming into more prominence.
Now, you talked about the new record… Any knowledge or information that we could possibly get form you at this point, in terms of record label, potential title, la la la?
GT- Well, we’re unsure of a title, but I can say that the record will be about 10 or 11 songs. We’ve got 13 songs written, so we’re gonna go ahead and record them all and see which ones make the album.
Stylistically, this will be the first record that I’m with these guys, and having me and Ryan write… I write in a slightly different manner than Ryan, and my stuff is a little darker I guess you could say, and I think it’s working really well. Ryan writes a lot of really beautiful guitar work, very melodic and emotional sounding, and I tend to focus on darker, heavier stuff, and the combination actually highlights each other in a really cool way. So, the record will be a little different, but I think it’ll be a cool first for the band.
GT- We’re really trying to recapture some of the energy from the first record, Of Malice and The Magnum Heart.
G- What a solid entrance, right!!!
GT- Yea I really love that record. I love how frantic and bombastic it is, and we’re trying to recapture some of that fire and kinda do that.
GT- So, that’s pretty much it. As far as the label goes, we’re newly off of our label, which is something that we were aiming to do. We were on Ferret for the entire career of the band pretty much, and then Ferret got bought out by Warner Bros, and consumed by Warner Bros, so we were technically on Warner Bros., which is cool for certain things, but not for a metal band influenced by hardcore.
GT- So, we kinda wanted to do things on our own, so I feel like we may wind up self-releasing this record. That’s kind of what we’re aiming for right now, but it hasn’t been completely firmed up yet.
G- And do you have a tentative idea for a release date for the record?
GT- Yes, the end of summer. We’re looking at August. Our mixing dates for the album are in May, so it’ll be complete then and we’ll figure everything out by August, maybe September at the latest.
G- Bad ass! So, we talked a bit about writing and we talked about the release itself. Now, you’ve done several stints in many bands and you’ve worked with lots of different projects. Some have flourished, some have gone away completely. Just to get you thinking a bit, what would you say is the most difficult part of being a musician, and what do you tell yourself when you are in doubt about your music/band mates/future as a performer, because music is a tough business.
GT- Music is definitely a tough business. I think one of the most difficult things is to try and find your own voice musically and develop your own style, and to hold on to that even when trends change around you. Having played in touring bands, I’ve been touring now for 13 years myself, times change and you have to be aware of them, but at the same time you don’t want to succumb to trends that come and go. You want to keep what you’re doing genuine, and I think that’s really a challenge… To carve your own voice out that is relevant through the changing of the times, to not placate to that, you know?
It sounds like a funny thing, but it’s important to have your own voice. The market now is so oversaturated. Try to have your own sound. Put your own spin to it. I think a lot of people get lazy to that and I see a lot of younger people start bands for the point of being successful, but not for the point of playing music because they love playing music, and that’s a different thing. It wasn’t like… You know in the late 90’s, there wasn’t money to be made in hardcore.
G- Yea I remember. I’m old.
GT- In the mid 90’s is when I started going to shows, too.
G- There was definitely no money to be made.
GT- No money to be made at all! And now kids start… I have kids that come into the recording studio working on their first release, and they’re like ‘Hey, who should we contact for management? Who should we contact for booking?” I’m like ‘Well, first, worry about writing cool songs.’
It used to be such an emotional release, and it still is for the guys in this band. That’s one of the reasons that I really enjoy playing in this band so much, is that they really do care about playing this type of music and trying to put as much heart, time, and intellect as they can, and they don’t really care about what is big or what is going on. They just want to do it for the emotional release of it.
G- I think your live performance… To tell the truth, this was the first time I’ve seen the band, but the same energy that I heard on the Malice record still transferred live, and this is many years later, so I totally get what you’re saying and it’s true. There’s a very good chemistry between all the musicians in the band.
GT- Thank you.
G- And it sounds good. I’m looking forward to the next record for sure!
So, this may be a bit difficult as you’re coming in as the newest member of the band, but bs there 1 particular song that you think represents Misery Signals the best, or if you were to give someone who’d never heard the band before 1 song to make a fan, what would you offer?
GT- I would say, perhaps, the song “The Failsafe” from the second record, Mirrors. I think that song because it’s in the middle of their career. There’s 3 records, and they all are unique to each other, but I feel that song really captures a lot of the elements of the band well. It has this long, clean outro that’s a very beautiful, melodic section, but it has pretty heavy rhythmic stuff in the middle of it, and I think it’s just a well-written song. It’s one of my favorites from the band before I joined. And I think it’s a good gateway to get a sense of what the band sounds like.
There are songs that are heavier and more technical and stuff like that, but I think “The Failsafe” is easy to digest and a well-written song.
G- Nice. Very good! So, and you’ve been in a lot of bands and you’ve played a lot of shows, and Misery Signals has shared some very, very good bills in the past, no question. But, for you personally, if you could curate a feasible 3-band dream lineup for you to tour with, who would you want on it and why?
GT- Well, I would have to say Meshuggah. We take a lot of influence from the polyrhythmic stuff…
G- The ticket is already bought, man!
GT- Yea! They changed the face of metal, and I would say that this is one of these guy’s collective favorite bands, and they would be thrilled with that, and I also love that band. We do take influence from them, as does everyone else.
Another interesting one I would say are Deftones. We really like that band as well, and they’ve consistently put out good records for a long time. The first concert I ever went to was Deftones/White Zombie/Pantera in 1995.
G- Very nice! Good lineup!
GT- So, I would love to tour with them. And then I’ll have to go with a personal favorite for this one and sat Cave In. Cave In is one of my all-time favorite bands, and I have a tattoo on the side of my neck from the album Jupiter of theirs, and they’ve been a huge influence, and I think our new record takes a lot of influence from Cave In. So, that’d be just a dream for me. I really love that band in all their eras, when they were a crushing metal band, when they were an experimental rock band… I followed them through to the end on that.
So Cave In, Meshuggah, Deftones. I’d be stoked on that.
G- And Misery Signals. Damn… That is a heavy ass bill!
GT- Yea it’d be really interesting.
G- Interesting is good, though. That is a very well put together bill I think. It’d just be a question of are the Meshuggah kids gonna kill the Deftones kids, and who headlines?
GT- You know, I think Deftones actually take influence from Meshuggah at this point.
G- At this point, yea.
GT- Especially on the second to last record of theirs when they started using the 8-string and stuff like that. There’s that influence. Again, Meshuggah changed the shape of what heavy music is.
G- I think I’d pay for that bill.
GT- I’d pay for that bill. I’d pay a lot for that bill (laughing).
G- I’m with it. I’ve paid a lot more for shit I cared about a lot less.
So, any particular favorite shows, either this tour or in your cumulative career with Misery Signals? Can you tell us a bit about your craziest or most memorable onstage moment, or something that sticks with you the most?
GT- Well you know, one show that sticks out to me, and it’s a really funny thing, is we played in Chicago 2011, I think it was October. We were on tour with Veil of Maya and After The Burial, and it was the Crush Them All Tour. It was a totally cool show, but afterwards, we did this after party show in Chicago and we played at this small bar called The Cobra Lounge, and it’s a very small bar. Veil of Maya played, and we played, and we promoted it as an after show set.
The Chicago show itself had maybe 800-900 kids, and we went to this place that could maybe fit 100 kids, and for some reason, that set stuck with me because we played with this band Enabler that I was good friends with and went on to play with for little while, and the bill was just really cool. Something about playing a small room with kids going nuts. Nothing beats that! You can be onstage playing in front of a couple thousand kids, but if you’re in a small place playing a hardcore show with 100-200 kids and they’re going nuts, singing along, stage diving and all that, that feels better to me that anything else. That’s why I play music.
So really, I’d have to say, for Misery Signals, that show really stands out. That, and this show in NYC we did at Gramercy Theater on that same tour which sold out. It was totally insane! We had people from Warner Bros there and stuff. They came up and said ‘What’s going on’ and the show is just so crazy and over-packed and off the hook, and we’re like ‘That’s hardcore… Check it out!’
G- Definitely. Those are both good ones… A packed Gramercy is always good, and you’re correct… Playing those smaller, more intimate shows feel a lot better, and it’s just a lot more cohesive for the environment. So, go out to your small shows! You never know what you’re going to see!
GT- I’ve seen ridiculous small shows over the years! Just bands that have gone on to be so huge, bands like Thrice playing to 50 kids, or Saves The Day. You never know what you’ll catch at a small show. You’ll catch some interesting stuff!
G- Right on. Get active folks… There’s more to life than TV and internet.
So, to finish up today, you’re still a very young guy, and you’ve been in music for a large portion of your life. There are a lot of kids out there who want to perform, want to be studio guys, and they want to be session guys… Any advice that you could give to some of these younger kids, the up and comers, to try to make it work in this business?
GT- Yea absolutely. I think one of the main things is, if you’re starting a new band, I’d say focus on getting a good recording wherever you are. The market is so oversaturated that nobody has time. Save your money, go to a studio, and get a good recording.
Record 3 songs. You don’t need a lot of songs. That’s a major piece of advice. If you’re a new band, don’t come out and record a full-length. Record a couple of songs, get them online, record a couple more songs, develop the band. Spend some time developing the band. Just don’t jump in with a full-length that nobody is going to want to listen to. Slowly build up the band, and definitely focus on that.
And like I said earlier, try to find a unique voice. Take influence from the bands you love, but don’t take parts that could be the bands you like. Put your own spin on it. Try to combine things people haven’t combined before.
As if you want to get into recording and stuff, I would say intern at a studio. Do grunt work. I have a number of employees that work in my studio, and they all started off as interns. Now, a lot of them make more money than me because I’m out touring and stuff. They’re hard workers, and that’s the way to do it. I think going to school for something like recording can be valuable for some people, but I don’t recommend it overall. Take that money and get some gear and developing your resume will get you a lot further than some certificate that says you might be able to do something. A record that says you can do something is a much more valuable thing.
G- Very good. A double dose as a performer and as an engineer. Anything else?
GT- It takes a couple of years to develop a band. People jump in and they see these bands getting huge, but remember that it takes a couple of years, it takes a number of tours, it takes being broke for a little while, and you just have to do it and eventually, people will start to catch on to your name if you’re good. Even if you’re not good at what you’re doing and you’re just passionate about it, people will take note. So, be passionate about it and don’t be afraid to put a couple of years into it to make it happen.
G- It’s called paying your dues, folks. Anyways, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today! It was a great set tonight…
GT- Thank you.
G- Travel safe, and can’t wait for the new record! Let us know what’s happening in the future!