CMU Opinion

Wait, are we inside Threatin’s “illusion” right now?

By | Published on Friday 16 November 2018


Fake it till you make it, they say. Although I’m pretty sure it’s meant as a state of mind. I don’t think whoever first said that meant for anyone to spend thousands on an elaborate scheme to make themselves look popular in the hope that their imaginary fanbase might turn into a real one when they triumphantly took to the stage.

Brexit chaos be damned, it’s the story of US metal band Threatin’s disastrous European tour that’s had the music world gripped all week. It has everything: mystery, intrigue, overuse of frowned-upon marketing techniques, and a whole load of stuff that is just plain weird. Even now, having read several books’ worth of information on all this, there are so many questions left unanswered.

Threatin looked good on paper, at least to the casual observer. They had 38,000 Facebook fans, YouTube videos with respectable likes and comments, and an apparently established management company, booking agent and label on their side, all set to work on promoting the band’s latest album via a slew of European shows.

Even with those stats and that kind of support, getting any new band’s tour noticed is a challenge. However, this tour suddenly became a global news story after someone at one of the venues, The Exchange in Bristol, posted a message on the band’s Facebook page. They said that they had been “expecting a busy night because the promoter had supposedly sold 180 tickets”. Though the poster did concede that it was odd no tickets had been sold through the venue before the night of the show.

“It really seemed weird when the only people to arrive were on the support bands’ guestlist”, the post went on. With such a bad turnout and therefore no bar take to be taken, “we had to ask Threatin to pay the venue hire [and] staff costs before anyone else played. The singer eventually huffed off and withdrew the money [from a cash machine] so the show could continue and they could play to literally zero people (aside from their tour manager and a couple of guys from one of the support bands, because they felt bad for this guy [and stuck around])”.

A similar picture emerged from other shows on the tour. The opening night had been at The Underworld in Camden, but afterwards the venue posted under a Facebook post promoting the show: “What happened to the 291 advance ticket sales your agent said you’d sold? THREE PEOPLE turned up. Please don’t lie about ticket sales [and] please don’t contact us again for a show”.

The Exchange also noted that the tens of thousands of Facebook fans the band had appeared to be fake, and all those YouTube comments appeared to be fake too. And it turned out that all the people who had said they were attending the band’s shows on the accompanying Facebook event pages were based in Brazil.

Footage then emerged of the band’s performance in Manchester, which took place the night after they’d been in Bristol. It showed two people watching the show and one other stood close to the front of the stage with a video camera directed straight at frontman Jered Threatin. Other venues began reporting similar experiences.

Once the story had blown up, the band by then having played six dates of a ten date tour, attention turned to the next show in Belfast. The city’s Empire venue cautiously said that it was “aware of the situation”. Then, later, it was announced that Threatin had pulled out, but the show would go ahead with the support bands who had been booked, because the venue hire fee had already been paid.

With so many questions unanswered about this whole venture, it was disappointing that the shutters quickly came down. Threatin’s social media accounts closed or sat silent, and various websites related to the band went dark. It was also reported that members of the band had quit, although it was still unclear who those people even were, and how complicit in this whole thing they had been.

Still, breadcrumbs had been dropped, and various people started digging – in particular, metal blog Metal Sucks. What they found uncovered an incredibly intricate web of lies attempting to fool people into believing that this was a popular band on the rise, when in fact they were virtually unknown. And not really a band.

In fact, the music is really the solo project of Jered Threatin – real name Jered Eames – who had not only paid for bots to boost his social media numbers, but had created an entire imaginy industry around him. His booking agent, StageRight, does not exist beyond its website. Nor does management company Aligned Artist Management. Same for his record label, Superlative Recordings, which makes claims about its history and roster that it can’t back up.

Not only this, but there are music news websites online – Top Rock Press and Celebrity Music Scene – which pull in content from other music news sites interspersed with articles promoting Threatin, making it look – at first glance – like this band was getting media coverage. Meanwhile, while this whole story may be new to most of us, it turns out that Wikipedia editors have been battling over the validity of Threatin’s page on the crowd-sourced encyclopaedia site for months.

All this isn’t something that’s happened overnight, either. Posts on Threatin’s Instagram account run back to 2016, as do news stories on the project’s website. Debut album, ‘Breaking The World’, was released in August last year. Three singles have been released from the album. Two of them, ‘Identity’ and ‘Living Is Dying’, have professionally made music videos, which show Eames playing all instruments on the track.

Possibly the biggest of the unanswered questions relating to all is, is how this was all being paid for. Although Eames claimed to have big industry backing, his representatives were all invented, as was his following. So he wasn’t receiving industry investment or earning much, if any money, from his music online.

And yet he managed to build this world around him, and then pay for himself and three hired-in band members – plus a tour manager (actually his wife, it has since emerged) – to travel to the UK, stay in hotels, and pay to hire a series of venues in advance.

Those band members are seemingly almost as much in the dark about all this as the rest of us. Drummer Dane Davis spoke to Classic Rock magazine about his experience, while guitarist Joe Prunera spoke to Metal Sucks.

Both say that they were approached by someone claiming to be Threatin’s manager and were invited to audition to be part of the touring band. After being hired, they went through rehearsals, dismissing certain things that seemed strange along the way – like the fact that they only met Eames and his wife Kelsey during all of this and never any of the industry professionals they’d previously been in touch with.

Despite the oddities, they were there rehearsing for a tour that seemed to be going ahead, with travel plans already made. Sure, they hadn’t heard of the band, but there are lots of bands who are more famous abroad than they are at home.

Prunera said that he’d been told that they would be playing 1000 to 1500 seater venues, rather than the 200 or so capacity (empty) rooms they actually played in. Both musicians expressed disappointment at learning they were only being paid $300 for their work – all the more so when they were told just before leaving that this money was also meant to cover food while they were away. However, as performers trying to get a leg up in the industry, they also saw value in the experience. Especially as they were also told that the shows were close to selling out.

Even once they began the tour, the musicians didn’t suspect what was going on. Eames expressed shock to his bandmates after no one turned up to the first show at the Underworld, but blamed his promoter and the venue.

“He was playing it off as something weird going on”, recalls Davis. “He mentioned that the promotions company was supposed to promote this, and the venues were supposed to promote this and stuff like that. So we started thinking, ‘OK, there’s been a problem with the promotion company, this show was [just] improperly promoted’. I looked at it and was, like, ‘That’s not good, but maybe the next show there’s going to be more people. Maybe not hundreds like we were originally told, but maybe 50’.

As the tour continued, with audiences still in single digits, Davis says they were confused, but still had no reason to suspect that Eames had invented his fanbase or lied about ticket sales. “Jered was saying that he usually expects a bunch of people coming up to him, wanting autographs and stuff”, he goes on. “Just a large crowd being there. So we were suspicious about why this was occurring, but we just kept thinking, ‘The promotion company really just screwed up and someone is going to get fired for this'”.

It was only after they got off the ferry to Northern Ireland that things began to unravel. “My phone got signal and we got off the ferry and I got a couple of messages from people saying, ‘Sorry to hear about the scam'”, says Davis. “Someone sent me an article, saying I should read this. It was shocking. I just thought, ‘What do you mean this is a scam?’ I had no idea”.

The session musicians discussed among themselves what to do, with Davis – who had family nearby to go to – hatching an elaborate escape plan. However, in the end, it was Eames who brought up the emerging controversy with Eames himself.

“He was very adamantly going on and on and on about how he’s the victim”, says Prunera. “They’re making all this up, the record label exists, how could it be fake if The Scorpions are on the label? We told Jered, ‘We should not be playing and should not continue on. We don’t want to be part of the media backlash until we can get to the bottom of this. There’s no reason to continue on'”.

Davis and Prunera apparently quit at that point, with bassist Gavin Carney saying that he would see out the rest of the tour. It wasn’t until later that they got more insight into what had gone on, with Davis and Prunera both ultimately quite amused to have been involved in this viral news story.

As the week went on, more and more information was dug up about Eames – some delved into his past musical projects, discovering him playing up loose (at best) associations with other bands, while others gleefully reported on personal details that probably should have been left alone. At points, some of the reporting felt like those writing the reports had forgot that there are actual people at the centre of this – it’s not all bots.

Still, with Eames still quiet and a rabid curiosity surrounding his story, it’s perhaps understandable that people kept on searching to work out how and why this happened. My guess is that Eames – who has a degree in psychology, according to that disputed Wikipedia page – assumed that if he presented an apparently popular act to European audiences, people would turn up just to see what they were missing out on. The problem was, until venues started complaining, no one knew he was here.

Had he hired a genuine PR company to push the dates a bit, it might actually have paid off. It’s unlikely that the shows would have sold out, but there could have been some modest audiences.

The other possibility is that it never mattered to Eames himself whether people were there or not. Venues have reported that the band always played as if they were performing to a full room, while his wife filmed him play. Perhaps Eames hoped that he could take evidence of a European tour and videos of his performances back to the US, then use them to get shows closer to home. I mean, that seems an overly elaborate explanation and unlikely, but so does this entire story. Although he’s already got presumably faked videos of his live shows, so why come to Europe to fake more?

Or maybe this was all just a prank. Some sort of avant-garde art project, perhaps. A lot of people have likened Eames to maker of ‘The Room’ Tommy Wiseau this week. And there are similarities. Wiseau pumped huge amounts of money from unknown sources into a film project in which he played the lead. Badly. When audiences laughed at his work, he began telling people that he’d always intended for his film to be funny.

That appears to be the tactic Eames is employing now. He has now put most of his websites back online and returned to social media with a mysterious statement: “What is fake news? I turned an empty room into an international headline. If you are reading this, you are part of the illusion”.

So, there you go, it all went exactly as he planned. Although if, as I think is a lot more likely, this was all an incredibly misguided attempt to fast-track himself to fame, the biggest failure of this whole saga is that Eames cancelled the remainder of the tour dates.

At the point his bandmates quit, there were still three dates on the tour, in Belfast, Paris and Bergano in Italy. Had they gone ahead, I think you can bet they’d have pulled in more than two people. Too many people were too curious for no one to show up by this point. Even if he’d just quickly played over his album, they’d have come. Or he could have not played at all. Just told his story. Maybe he could have booked more dates. He could perhaps have – albeit accidentally – built a career for himself after all.

Now, we just have to wait for his next move to see if he can capitalise on all that’s happened. Who knows what it’ll be? Although I think we can all rest assured that he’ll utterly overthink it.