When Threatpoint scheduled an interview with NEPA Scene, we were surprised the venue they chose was Books-A-Million in Dickson City.
The four guys dressed all in black sitting in the bookstore café cursing and joking and passionately describing their catchy brand of metal music seemed just a bit out of place while others sipped lattes and flipped through magazines, but then again, none of them seem to really care what other people think – outside of their devoted fanbase, anyway.
In fact, during every subject that came up in conversation, it was the fans that were mentioned the most. Singer Chris James came in looking discouraged, lamenting how some crowds just stand around with arms folded while others climb the walls, but he soon perked up as he stated the four simple words that solve this ongoing dilemma.
“Move or be moved,” James warns idle listeners.
“Crowd participation – that’s what we’re all about. We move; we’re energetic. 99 percent of them other bands stand there and don’t move. We watched seven bands open for DevilDriver and not one of them moved. DevilDriver came up and cleaned house and they’re the old cats. They’re all moving; the other bands just stood there frozen, glued to the stage.”
“We’ll all stand back and watch. We warn them once. [Bassist] Ronnie [Martin] said down in Baltimore, ‘You come up here, or the singer’s coming out there. Move or be moved.’ And we do it.
“They’re afraid to be the first to start it, so sometimes we’ll just jump offstage and just start smashing into people. We’ll jump off and start trashin’. I’ll throw water bottles. All of a sudden, you get those one or two guys, man. Like when we were in Toledo – it took one 50-year-old guy to go out and lose his mind.”
They’ve got hundreds of stories like these as if they’ve been doing this for decades, but in reality, Threatpoint is only a year old. The original lineup formed in March of 2012, but they took a full year of writing and practicing before their June 8, 2013 live debut.
James is able to name the date off the top of his head because his ardor for every little detail of his Scranton-based band is obvious, rivaled only by his bandmates – drummer CJ Krukowski, guitarist Alex Olivetti, new second guitarist Dave Visbisky, and Martin, who couldn’t make it to the interview that night.
Rather than ask another question, we just let the stories of their increasing popularity – and subsequent chaos – keep flowing.
“We had a pit at the Irish Wolf [Pub in Scranton] that was out of control. People are flingin’ fuckin’ chairs – and it was two chicks that started it! They were pushing tables back. There was like 80 people there, man. That was a madhouse,” James continued.
“We like anybody who moves. We like to engage the crowd as much as possible. We’ve seen that, luckily, they respond to what we do, which is awesome because it makes us play better,” Krukowski noted.
“When you see a band for an hour or whatever, just forget your life, forget what you have going on – go and enjoy the show. Same thing when we go play – don’t worry about the baggage. Leave it at the door. We’re here to perform.”
They don’t mind, on the other hand, if fans use their music to help lessen the weight of their own baggage.
“Talk about diversity of fans – there’s all kinds of people that like us. I’ve been told, ‘I’m going through a tough time and I’ve been listening to your CD a lot and you guys have helped me,’ and I want to cry. That means a lot. We’ve got some dedicated people that follow us,” Krukowski affirmed.
“If it wasn’t for people, we’re nobody.”
‘Wish For’ a better tomorrow
That’s true in more ways than one. While their debut album, “Dead to Rise,” has been a crowd-pleaser from day one, they admit that they laugh at how slow the songs sound to them now as compared to how they’re played live as well as the songs they’re ready to release on their follow-up, “Careful What You Wish For.” The fans’ demand for faster, heavier tunes directly shaped these 14 tracks.
“That was child’s play, the first album. Literally, it was,” James emphasized, as if he was issuing another warning.
“We play our first CD and we look back and we’re like, ‘That’s fuckin’ slow.’ If it’s 120 beats a minute, we’re probably doing 180 live.”
“I think it’s safe to say from here on out we’re be playing a lot of newer stuff. One, because it’s newer and we’ve been playing the older stuff for a year, and two, just because they’re better songs. Truthfully, they are,” Krukowski said.
“We’re a live band, and we basically write whatever would please our type of crowd. We’re not the type of band that puts something on a CD or puts something out that we can’t replicate live.
“We’re just honing our sound a little more.”
“I think a lot of it has to do with just playing out, knowing what songs go over well live. This new album is pretty much a beat down,” Olivetti said, already performing some of the new songs live.
“I remember we were in Ohio; we did the Rock the Farm thing outside. We did a brand new song and I looked out during the second chorus and people were singing along to it. I’m like, ‘Wow. We’re doing something right.’”
“Are people going to bang their heads? That’s the bottom line. How are people going to perceive this song? You might want to put complex riffs in and shit, but things need to flow. It’s weird. There’s a little bit of complexity, but they need to have that Poison simplicity to them. Why is Poison big and KISS and some of these bands? There’s a simplistic formula. We keep that in and we just add a little bit of whipped cream and cherries on top,” James detailed.
“You don’t want the first one to be like the second. Like Lars [Ulrich] from Metallica said, ‘I’m not doing ‘Master of Puppets’ 10 times. I’ve done that. I’m not going there again.’”
What they’ve retained is their mastery of the “old school hook,” though despite that simplicity, the songs on “Careful What You Wish For” are far more technical and physically demanding.
“That wasn’t intentional; it’s just kind of what came out. We don’t really focus on ability. We don’t do exercises – ‘I’ve got to play paradiddles on my head’ – nothing like that. It’s groove, bottom line. We just want hooky songs. We’re a to-the-point band. We don’t really have any long songs that ramble on,” Krukowski said, working on this music since last July.
Lyrically, James knows exactly what inspired him.
“Hate, animosity, naysayers, negative bastards, backstabbers, ex-wives, ex-girlfriends,” he listed without hesitation. “It honestly fuels the fire, man.
“Spiritually, for me, the world seems like it’s in a decline. When we were kids, if you did something wrong, you’d get the fuck beat out of you by your parents. They’d whip your ass. The neighbor would whip your ass, and then you’d go home and get your ass whipped by your mother, and your father would come home and whip ya’. You’d get three ass whippings for one thing you did wrong. Today, that’s gone.
“It’s that and a lack of spirituality. It’s like there’s no hope; there’s no values. Love has taken a backseat to hate. I think a lot of that plays into my lyrics.”
In the case of the “Hatebox,” one man’s “shitbag attitude” turned into a brutal beating of negativity.
“[Krukowski] is the guy who gave me the idea. He said, ‘This motherfucker is in his hate box.’ It’s that guy who hates everything. He’s negative about everything, and he’s going to fuckin’ going to end up going to his grave all alone,” James remembered.
“Back in the 1800s, they had the bell to ring so they didn’t bury you alive. Well, I say, ‘You ring the bell but no one’s home,’ because you’ve been so miserable and so negative and cut down everybody that you’re going to die alone. ‘Buried in your hatebox, screaming out alone.’ You’re going to your grave a miserable bastard, so don’t wonder why no one’s around.”
“It’s kind of like ‘A Christmas Carol’ when Ebenezer Scrooge dies and it goes to the future and shows him that everybody is happy that he’s gone. It’s just easier. Just a bitter bastard,” Krukowski added.
“That’s it – life, dude. Life writes our lyrics. Who we see and who we meet – that’s about it.”
A song like “Hatebox” criticizes that adverse outlook, however, instead of glorifying it. While the presentation of their music can be downright vicious, the messages they spread are anything but.
“There’s always a positive hook in a lot of them, or it points to the positive. Demon Hunter said, ‘A lot of bands write about the dead end, but they never write about how to get out when you get to the dead end.’ I heard them say that and I need to keep that in mind when I’m writing. What’s the way out?” James questioned, seeing enough negativity in the world.
“So many bands just lead you to the dead end and you stay there. I don’t want to stay there.”
Like the mosh pits they generate, they’ll knock you down, but they’ll pick you right back up again and send you on your way.
“Metal gets kind of a bad rap because they just think it’s satanic or it’s evil or we’re rock stars. It’s just not true. There’s a lot of people in the world, and everybody’s different. It’s just how people perceive it,” Krukowski acknowledged, though the fans obviously know better.
“We were in Gettysburg in February. We stopped to eat at a steakhouse. I don’t know how it happened. Some guy came out from the back and he knew who we were. He goes, ‘You’re Threatpoint! I’ve seen your videos on YouTube!’
“We were like, ‘Wow!’ Everybody’s looking around. We signed his thing and we’re talking to him. He goes, ‘I’m an aspiring musician.’ I said, ‘So are we,’ and he just kind of laughed. I’m like, ‘No, man, try to get your people and do it.’”
New faces, same commitment
Visbisky, aspiring for something more himself, just joined Threatpoint at the end of July. The timing was perfect; as his band, Death Forge, was breaking up, Threatpoint was parting ways with their guitarist. Olivetti and Krukowski knew him for years, so it proved to be a smooth transition.
“I know he’s committed, I know he’s dedicated, and I was feeling for him because everybody’s quitting around him but he’s not quitting,” Krukowski commented.
“It was one of the best things we’ve done.”
“He’s tight as a fucking machine,” James agreed. “Now we’re tighter.”
“Everything has to be perfect, so I’m trying to get the songs down super tight. I was doing this technique where I play them slow and I just keep building them up, slowly faster and faster, especially with some of the newer stuff because it’s like 200 beats per minute. You’re just like, ‘Oh my God, my hand hurts!’” Visbisky recalled with a smile.
His first show with the band confirmed that he had made the right decision.
“It was good. I hadn’t played a show since mid-July since I was in the other band, so it was nice to get back onstage and actually play. I was very happy because I love doing it. I love playing live; there’s nothing better. I can’t even describe it. It’s like tunnel vision and everything is just going past you and you love it,” Visbisky enthused.
“These guys are a lot more dedicated. We practiced like once a week in the other band. This time, we’ll go three, four days a week and jam and I love it. It keeps getting tighter; we’re just packing it in more and more and more. It’s nice to see that progress.”
“We’re a blue-collar band, man. We all work. Nobody’s here dreaming about being a rock star,” Krukowski pointed out. “It’d be nice, but…”
“Well, Dave is. That’s why he joined us. He thought we were millionaires and rock stars, but careful what you wish for,” James interjected, referring back to the album title. “CJ said, ‘Dude, here’s the check – just don’t fuckin’ cash it.’”
All joking aside, their serious, hardworking attitude is what has earned them respect wherever they go. James created the creepy cover artwork for “Careful What You Wish For” himself (along with enough unused pieces to cover their next 20 albums), and the band just purchased a shuttle bus that they’ve customized with five bunks, a big-screen TV, a couch, cupboards, and more that they’ll take on the road for a New England tour that kicks off in November.
New York City’s IKILLYA recognized their perseverance when they met the band earlier this year, leading them to open for Threatpoint at their CD release show at the New Bar on Oak in Pittston tonight, joined by Psychoprism, Beyond Fallen, and Cause of Affliction – all equally impressed by Threatpoint’s artistic resolve.
Over a dozen sponsors signed on as well, donating a brand new Ibanez guitar, tattoo and restaurant gift certificates, recording studio time, and more, including free prizes for the first 50 people in the door.
Organizing all this for just one concert demonstrates just how much they care about putting on a quality show, but it’s the music itself, and their undeniable passion for it, that keeps fans coming back for another blow to the gut.
“We were told after our very first show, ‘You guys came here out of nowhere. It was like a taking a fuckin’ beating and never getting a punch in,’” James recalled with a laugh.
“That’s one of the coolest things I ever heard,” Krukowski chimed in.
“The hell with the ballads – leave them for Creed,” James dismissed confidently. “We pick things up. There’s always a groove and it’s always heavy with us.”
Images by Ken Jones Imagery
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, practicing poet, adequate photographer, and podcast co-host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.