Signal Path: Filling in the Lines
Missoula, MT’s Signal Path managed to move from basements to an overflowing tent at Bonnaroo in only four years thanks to its distinctive blend of electronica, funk and jamband improvisation. But just as the band simultaneously reached the peak of its creativity and popularity, Signal Path unexpectedly went on indefinite hiatus in 2005. The group emerged for a few shows in 2007 and quietly released a new studio album, Clash, for free in 2009. The album was a grassroots success and gave Signal Path principals Ryan Burnett (guitar) and Damon Metzner (drums) the confidence to revive their band fulltime. Shortly after releasing another studio album, Imaginary Lines, for free, Metzner discusses his band’s unlikely career trajectory with Jambands.com.
Let’s start with some band history. You took a break in 2005 and reformed a few years ago. What was the original impetus for the hiatus and, later, reformation of the band?
Well, the band, as you know, started in 2001 and toured until 2005. We were in a school bus that was charcoal grey—it looked like a prison bus, really. So we did that pretty much non-stop; four month tours at a time. Our last show in 2005 before we decided to take a break was at Bonnaroo. We brought that project from my basement to Bonnaroo in four years. Everyone at that point realized that we had reached a real accomplishment with the band, and [we] moved forward and said, “We’re going to take a bit of a break and explore some other options.” One member got married and our keyboard player had already decided he did not want to tour around 2004, so we had brought in a new keyboard player named Ben Frimmer. Signal Path has always had this cast of characters come in and out of the project.
After 2005 we took a two year hiatus until 2007 when we toured with the Pnuma Trio for a West Coast run. That featured Matt Schumacher on bass and Cody Wille spinning with us on stage and opening up the show as The Wicked One. And so, after that, we sort of took some time off again until we reformed this last time. Ryan and I have been in contact and have been creating music for close to ten years now. So, when we started feeling, that urge to make music again, we wanted to do it in a way that just made sense for the project. What seemed to make the most sense to us was to release a record and see how that went. Once we released the album and saw how the reception was we decided to go out and play a couple of shows as a duo.
The reunion seems like a pretty organic process.
This focus was more, “Let’s see what happens with the music—let’s see how it’s received,” as opposed to getting an agent and booking a huge tour and then promoting it as this headlining thing. We didn’t want to throw all of our eggs in one basket and hope for the best. We basically put this record out [2009’s Clash ], booked a show here or there and promoters started contacting us. Luckily, the response was overwhelming. It really felt like this really natural progression.
Signal Path has gone through a lot of changes since the beginning, and you can look at it as almost an artist collective—Signal Path has a life of its own. You know, it’s never been about the actual members of the band more so than the music. And so, that’s kind of why we felt really good about what we were doing, and I think that the acceptance we’re getting now and what’s been happening with the project kind of speaks for itself in that regard.
I was at that Bonnaroo show in 2005, which was phenomenal. I remember it was the Thursday night of the festival and you played for a packed tent. I can definitely see how it felt like a culmination of those first few years of hard touring.
Yeah, absolutely. As a matter of fact, [at] that point we left Bonnaroo and we were like, “Wow, that just happened.” You know, the thing is, every single member of Signal Path is still very, very close. There was never a breakdown in band morale or anything like that. We came away from that experience and we all took from it different things. The people that were involved with that part of the Signal Path timeline left the project for different reasons—some religious, actually. One of the members decided to really pursue Buddhism and that became a major focus in his life. Other people got married and travelled and did other things. It was kind of this momentous thing for us and it sent everybody on their own path, which I was really thrilled to see. We were all at a point where we just don’t want to tour full-time like we’d been doing for the last four years.
What did you do during the break? Did you play music or did you pursue other projects?
The band was based in Missoula, MT in the beginning and up until the point of our hiatus. So, we came off the road and I actually started playing in a few different bands around Missoula. But then I primarily started promoting concerts with friends we’d met on the road. It was a really natural progression. I took over a venue in Missoula called The Other Side, which was a 500 [person] capacity club. Then I opened up another venue in downtown Missoula which was a 200 [person] capacity club. And so, really, I was just able to use the culmination of my experience with Signal Path and work it into bringing a lot of music to Missoula. Which was great, and I did that for several years.
After a while I started to think, “I better get out of Missoula.” If the music industry side of things is where things are really taking off, then I’ll start doing that somewhere else. Meanwhile, Ryan and I have been flying around and doing Signal Path live PA sets sporadically [in 2007]. And then, at that point, I moved to Portland, OR where I was the marketing director for a production company there called Mike Thrasher Presents. For Mike Thrasher, we were throwing 500 shows a year in between Eugene, Portland and Seattle. That’s where I got a very, very solid background in promoting and throwing big events.