Homecoming kings 

Signal Path on touring, drugs and the electro-future

Signal Path is preparing for its largest hometown gig since forming in Missoula a year and a half ago. Although the band once filled in a last-minute opening slot at the Adams Center, a headlining appearance at the Wilma Theatre will find the quintet playing for the first time in a historic mid-sized venue that it hopes will serve as a congenial host to its swirling electronic/instrumental dynamics. The Signal Path lineup consists of Ryan Burnett on guitar and samples, Ben Griffin on electronic drums and percussion, Damon Metzner on acoustic drums, Dion Stepanski on electric and double bass and Nathan Weidenhaft on keyboards. All hope the Wilma show will serve as a springboard into a promising new year.

Still, “not many local bands have played the Wilma, so I’m sure people are a little skeptical that we can fill it up,” says Weidenhaft.

If its past tour was any indication, it looks as though Signal Path won’t have too much trouble attracting a hometown audience. The band played to packed houses in venues from Portland on down the California coast, including a particularly successful performance at San Francisco’s Boom Boom Room.

“It would be amazing to go from city to city and play places like the Wilma Theatre and have a really good crowd there that wants to experience something that we produce together,” says Metzner.

This type of talk permeates our interview—Signal Path members frequently refer to their audience as though it were a sixth member, which explains much of the band’s appeal.

“The idea is for the audience and the band together to create a balanced atmosphere that’s filled with harmony on a radiant level,” says Stepanski. Such creation, he says, leads to “a sense of being alive.”

In essence, a Signal Path show is a party as much as a concert. The band utilizes an elaborate laser light show to create a rave-like aura, which may be a necessity for audiences looking for entertainment aside from the music, as the band admits stage presence is not its forte. As with any rave, the question of drugs comes into play, and Signal Path members have several thoughts on the matter.

“That is what people want to do,” says Griffin. “There’s a certain crowd that wants to go to a club, hear some hard-hitting house music and feel like they’ve never felt before. There’s also a positive side to this movement that’s moving along a consciousness level that’s increasing. I think that’s where we’re at right now.”

The RAVE Act has put a pinch on the electronic music world in recent days. Because owners and promoters may now be charged with federal crimes for hosting parties at which attendees use drugs, many club owners are hesitant to book electronic acts, Weidenhaft says.

“It’s weird,” says Metzner. “You ask any person over 45 about the ’60s and this big smile crosses their face. I mean, what the fuck? Drugs have been a part of music since the beginning. Some people who went and checked out classical music were all doped-up on opium. Music is about elevating your mental state to a place where it has never been before, and drugs also kind of serve that purpose, and that’s why they sometimes walk together.

“The biggest problem isn’t the drugs,” Meyzner continues. “It’s the age of the people using the drugs. That’s why the rave scene has been targeted.”

Nonetheless, in his interactions with crowds after shows, Metzner says that he’s found most Signal Path fans are relatively sober.

“I’d like people to leave our shows and wake up the next day feeling good,” Stepanski says. “If you’re doing drugs, you may have a great time, but you wake up and reflect on it in a messed-up state of mind. You’re basically a shambles. I would want people to wake up the next morning feeling elevated.”

When Burnett formed Signal Path after the demise of his former Missoula band, Abendego, part of the plan was to move away from the jam-band scene, which Burnett says was becoming so saturated that it was difficult for any one band to stand out. Is the band concerned that a similar scenario is creeping up on the electronic universe?

“There’s a lot of similar bands to us right now that are trying to do similar things,“Griffin says. “Hopefully we can just keep pushing ourselves musically to find some incredible energy.”

“The way I see it is, ‘How many rock bands can you name and how many country bands can you name?’” Burnett chimes in. “I don’t think the important thing is what genre of music you’re in. What it comes down to is whether or not you’re a good band.”

Clearly, Signal Path is dedicated to standing out in the crowd. There’s a recently released eponymous new album, as well as an as-yet unreleased EP recorded in a Nashville university studio. The band has toured relentlessly since two months after its formation, and has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

“We gave up 99 percent of what most people see as elements of a happy life, such as having friends that you see often,” Metzner says. “I’m not bitching, I’m just saying that when people come up and say how amazing it must be on the road—it’s fucking hard as shit. Music is not the job. Music is the reward for travelling and not eating right, not showering, lifting heavy equipment. It’s not glamorous on the road.”

Yet it’s also a labor of love, and one that Signal Path isn’t ready to set aside within the next year. Playing out is “kind of like a heroin addict getting his fix,” Burnett says.

“Those guys have it better, though,” Griffin adds. “They just sit in their house all day.”

And the band has learned a thing or two on the road—about the genuine pursuit of intriguing music, about the fraternal bond that bandmates share, and even about the territory the band has already covered.

“In California, they sell alcohol at dollar stores,” Metzner says. “That is a key piece of information.”
Signal Path plays the Wilma Theatre Friday, Jan. 30. Doors open at 7. Music starts around 8, with opening act DJ Shaggy. Tickets are $8/advance (available at Rockin Rudy’s and the UC Box Office), $10 day of show.

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