By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
When Signal Path first started out, over a decade ago, the goal was to bring elements of the jam scene into the realm of electronic music. "We were all living in Missoula at the time," remembers guitarist Ryan Burnett, "and we all had this vision to create something different, musically."
While the notion of fusing those two sounds may not seem all that novel now, at the time the hybrid was quite a groundbreaking concept. The two styles ultimately proved to be a natural match for the musicians, a lot like their own creative partnership. "I realized I loved playing with this guitarist," says Damon Metzner, who had just moved from his home town of New Orleans. "So when he asked me to come play, I realized it wasn't so much an audition as it was just us putting the pieces together for something that was meant to be."
The other pieces of Signal Path snapped neatly into place when the pair joined forces with bassist Deon Stepanski (who has since been replaced by Matt Schumaker). While Burnett eventually developed a proclivity for electronic music, he wasn't always drawn to synthesized sounds. "I have to give credit to Chris Henry, who really just stacked me to my ears with music," says Burnett. "[He] was giving it to me to listen to it, but I just bought all the albums, and that was kind of like me buying my textbooks."
Metzner, on the other hand, was immersed in funk growing up in New Orleans. Influenced greatly by bands like Galactic — or, as Metzner remembers them, "the kings of New Orleans in the late '90s" — he felt a pull toward the vibe expressed in those realms of creativity. "The energy of the shows during those sections of improvisation is exactly what I wanted to do live," Metzner recalls. "So when I met Ryan, we were talking about electronic music and how we can incorporate those aspects."
Not only was Burnett on the same page, but he had a school bus they could tour in. Shortly after transforming the bus into an eight-person sleeping machine created for the sole purpose of transporting the musicians from one gig to the next, the act hit the road in earnest. "I called up Daisy, a friend of ours, who was this super-bubbly socialite," Burnett recalls, "and she was able to book us a West Coast tour."
That first tour started with just three gigs in Spokane, and before long, the act started landing shows all across the country, thanks to its album being played randomly at a party in Nashville, where Jason Pitzer — a booking agent for Progressive Global Agency who was then working with Widespread Panic, R.E.M. and other international acts — happened to be socializing. The pace instantly picked up when, barely a year after the group's inception, Burnett received a call from Pitzer. "I get this call from [Jason Pitzer], who has this Southern accent," Burnett recalls, laughing at the memory, "and he's like, 'Yeah, I just think y'all are great. I want to book you guys.' We toured pretty heavily after that for four years, and our schedules were booked six months in advance. I remember when we were playing Bonnaroo in front of 15,000 people and just thinking, 'This is how it happens.'" But then, just as the group was peaking, the guys decided to put on the brakes; they went on indefinite hiatus in 2005.
During the downtime, Metzner relocated to Oregon, where he put his degree in entertainment management to good use by booking shows and working at a venue. Burnett, on the other hand, ended up taking a job with Apple, settling down with his girlfriend (now wife) and focusing on building a family (he recently celebrated the birth of his second son).
When Burnett and Metzner finally got their heads right a couple years later, they decided to tour again as a duo, Signal Path Live PA. "I learned that I needed to play music," Metzner remembers, "and I became happy as fuck, again." Initially, the pair toured on weekends between their respective full-time jobs, only playing shows on Saturdays. That eventually led to playing shows on Friday, which, naturally, led to adding Thursdays and cutting their full-time jobs down to part-time.
Along the way, the group added bassist Schumaker, who is in the middle of relocating to Denver, and focused on continuing to evolve its sound. "We aren't trying to keep this certain feature that you really love," says Burnett. "It's about innovating and pushing into the unknown, which is a bit of a challenge.
"When you're creating something and trying to make something beautiful that is an expression of who you are," he goes on, "you aren't trying to maintain a consistent sound. What we are trying to do now is make the most beautiful music we can create." And the creation continues. Following a pair of albums (2009's Clash and 2010's Imaginary Lines) and the four-part quadrILLogy series of EPs last year, the trio issued mixtaEP, a six-song effort that features remixes of songs by some of the outfit's favorite acts, among them Skrillex, the Roots, ASAP Rocky and Sleigh Bells.
Creatively reinvigorated, the band is ready to get back on the road. "I think that what is happening right now for Signal Path is a rebirth of the project," Burnett observes. The roots of the band are in the joy of producing music, and that's still very much alive — perhaps even more so now. With Schumaker's relocation to Colorado, the band is now able to direct all of its attention on the new chapter. "Being able to have all our instruments in one room," says Metzner enthusiastically, "we've put ourselves in a position to really get this going."
"We're all pretty happy where we're at in life," Burnett concludes. "And we have a platform called Signal Path to distribute our art."
Another ideal pairing.