A few days before Thanksgiving, Jered “Threatin” Eames, a waifish, black-clad 29-year-old with a whip of Ariana-length hair, sinks into his hotel-suite chair in West Hollywood. He looks pale and sickly, recovering from a 13-hour Frankfurt red-eye and the craziest week of his life — when he tried living out his rock-star fantasy but was exposed as an enigmatic trickster. “There was no way that I was going to get enough attention being a rock artist in 2018,” he says, “unless I did something to get people to pay attention.”
In November, managers of rock clubs across the United Kingdom began sharing the same weird tale. A pop-metal performer, Threatin, had rented their clubs for his 10-city European tour. Club owners had never heard of the act when a booking agent approached them promising packed houses. Threatin had fervent followers, effusive likes, rows of adoring comments under his YouTube concert videos, which showed him windmilling before a sea of fans. Websites for the record label, managers and a public-relations company who represented Threatin added to his legitimacy. Threatin’s Facebook page teemed with hundreds of fans who had RSVP’d for his European jaunt, which was supporting his album, Breaking the World.
But despite all the hype, almost no one came to the shows. It was just Threatin and his three-piece band onstage, and his wife, Kelsey, filming him from the empty floor. And yet Threatin didn’t seem to care — he just ripped through a set as if there was a full house. When confronted by confused club owners, Threatin just shrugged, blaming the lack of audience on bad promotion. “It was clear that something weird was happening,” says Jonathan “Minty” Minto, who was bartending the night Threatin played at the Exchange, a Bristol club, “but we didn’t realize how weird.” Intrigued, Minto and his friends started poking around Threatin’s Facebook page, only to find that most of the fans lived in Brazil. “The more we clicked,” says Minto, “the more apparent it became that every single attendee was bogus.”
It all turned out to be fake: The websites, the record label, the PR company, the management company, all traced back to the same GoDaddy account. The throngs of fans in Threatin’s concert videos were stock footage. The promised RSVPs never appeared. When word spread of Threatin’s apparent deception, club owners were perplexed: Why would someone go to such lengths just to play to empty rooms?
The rest of the tour was canceled, and Threatin disappeared without an explanation. The bizarre story quickly went viral, spreading from metal sites to The New York Times, which called it “a most puzzling hoax, even for 2018.” Through it all, Threatin remained silent, except for one social media post: “What is Fake News?” He wrote, “I turned an empty room into an international headline. If you are reading this, you are part of the illusion.” That much is true. In an age when artists struggle to get noticed, this mysterious headbanger grabbed the spotlight with one of the crazier publicity stunts of recent memory.
When I ask Eames, who’s meeting with me to break his silence for the first time, he cops to it all: an audacious Hail Mary from a down-on-his-luck Midwestern death-metal artist who had tried and failed to make it the usual way. So he decided to fake it instead. “It’s a publicity stunt,” he says, “but the music is very real.”
Eames had no illusions about growing up in Moberly, Missouri, a blue-collar burg of 13,000. “The first thing you see when you pull into the town is a tall hill that has a graveyard,” he says. “Every time I would leave town or pull back into town, that would make me think, ‘This is the perfect metaphor for this place — I do not want to die here.’ ” Eames, whose father is a drug-and-alcohol counselor, vowed to make it out ASAP. “My entire existence was trying to figure out how to get away,” he says.
Despite his more glam-metal persona online, in person Eames comes off like an elfin goth, a bright guy who speaks quickly and with the conviction of someone who always has a plan. He started playing guitar around age 10. “I remember just telling myself at the time, ‘You’re going to pick this up every day, and you’re going to get good at it,’ ” Eames says. He and his brother Scott, who is five and a half years older, got turned on to metal through their dad’s record collection of Metallica, Black Sabbath and the like. “No kids in Moberly were into metal like we were,” says Scott, now a guitarist and singer for the death–metal bands NEVALRA and Thy Antichrist. By high school, with Jered on bass and Scott on guitar, they had formed their own death-metal band, Saetith, though, as Scott says, “We were known as a brother band.”
With the support of their parents (who declined to be interviewed for this story), the brothers practiced obsessively, churning out satanic riffs such as “Mass Graves of Decapitated Christians,” and gigging before a homemade backdrop of inverted crosses and blood-red pentagrams. Jered sharpened his chops playing local clubs when he was underage. Even in high school, Scott says, Jered was intoxicated by the attention. “We’d go offstage, I’d go back to being Scott, but he wouldn’t go back to being Jered,” he recalls. “He’d show up to family events like he was playing a show — jacket and sunglasses and the walk. It got to the point where most of us were rolling our eyes.”
Before long, the Eames brothers became like Moberly’s version of Oasis. While Scott thought Jered was on an ego trip, Jered thought Scott wasn’t pulling his weight. “He was struggling to keep up, and he was the older brother,” Jered says. “I always knew that I was better.”
The only reason, Jered says, he stayed in Saetith was for his parents’ sake. “My mom had said it’s the band that holds everything together,” he says. He stuck it out with Scott, recording demos and even headlining a show in Puerto Rico. But he wanted to play more melodic rock like David Bowie and Queen, all the stuff Scott considered soft. There was no end to the strife within Saetith. “We just didn’t get along,” Jered says. “But we tried to make it work.”
When Jered was 17, he moved in with his then-girlfriend, Kelsey, supporting himself at a fast-food job and attending nearby Columbia College, where he earned a bachelor’s in psychology and began pursuing a master’s. “I’ve always been fascinated with human behavior and marketing,” he says, “and how you can implant an idea in someone’s mind.”
But then, he says, his body betrayed him. One day, at age 20, he and Kelsey were joking and laughing when, he claims, he started coughing up blood. “It wasn’t like a small amount of blood,” he says. “This sink was filled with blood. I thought, ‘OK, I’m dead.’ ” But despite the pleas of Kelsey, then a nurse, he says he refused to seek medical help. “I’m not going to the fucking doctor,” he said. “Those people are inadequate. They’re not going to know what they’re doing.”
The glimpse of mortality, along with mounting family tensions, inspired him to leave Moberly behind for good. He decided to head to Los Angeles, where bands had broken wide for decades. “I’m done, I’m leaving,” he told his family, much to their chagrin. He didn’t tell them about his strange ailment for fear they would pressure him to stay. In the summer of 2012, Eames and Kelsey loaded up their Ford Expedition and black cargo trailer and drove out past the graveyard to find something real.
“You hear people say it all the time: ‘With the Internet, it’s easy for people to get discovered,’ ” Eames tells me. “It’s actually the opposite.” Though Eames was eager to launch a music career on his own in L.A., he was still smarting from his failure in Saetith. He and Scott had done everything by the book — gigged relentlessly, promoted themselves, blitzed record labels — and for what? He didn’t know how he was going to break through as a solo artist, but he was determined to find a way.
While Kelsey took an office job, Eames obsessed over his music, living cheaply off savings in a home they purchased in Hesperia, about 80 miles from L.A. After a year, he had some 70 songs in the classic-rock vein, playing every instrument — guitar, bass, drums and keyboards — on all the tracks, including the anthemic “Breaking the World” and what he thought could be his single, “Living Is Dying.” He spent upward of $10,000 on recording, insisting he got the money from more than a decade of savings. “I’m not some fucking rich kid,” he says. “All this is, is good money management.”
This included spending a few grand to have the record mastered by Greg Calbi, an engineer who worked with John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and others (one of the few facts on Threatin’s bio that proved to be true). Calbi says that while he did master the tape, he didn’t interact with Threatin, other than to work on the album. “From a technical standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with it,” Calbi says. “It’s pretty retro cheesy, sounds like something really from 1987.”
Beyond his nostalgic sound, Eames wanted to create a persona like one of Bowie’s alter egos. His heroes Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne and Marilyn Manson had fashioned themselves as, what he calls the “villains” of rock and had achieved mainstream success. Something clicked in his mind about marketing — and the allure of good versus evil. “If you’re the hero, you’re going to get a quarter of the attention of the bad guy,” Eames says. “A happy story lasts a day, but a tragedy is going to last a lifetime.”
His villain persona was simply his own outsize ego set to 11, a bombastic rock god willing to do anything for his music. He chose what he thought was a “devious”-sounding name, Threatin — with an i. “Fuck what other people think,” he proclaims. “I’m willing to do what it takes to try to bring rock back into the spotlight.”
The self-styled metal evangelist was fascinated by artists such as Andy Warhol and Andy Kaufman, his favorite comedian, who shrewdly manipulated the media and the audience with routines that blurred fact and fiction. The desperate nature underpinning Eames’ charade may have also been driven by the fear that he was really sick. “If you think you’re halfway to death, you’ll be like, ‘Let’s get this shit going fast,’” he says. So he decided to manufacture Threatin as a star.
Eames created a website for a fake record label, Superlative Music Recordings, including a bogus history (“. . . founded in 1964 following the appearance of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. . . ”) and listed himself among phony artist rosters (“The Great White . . . February Morning . . . Box Tops . . . Jered Threatin”). “I knew people would look at it and go, ‘Looks good,’ and move on,” he says.
He also made similar websites for his fake publicists, Magnified Media PR, a fake booking agency, StageRight, and populated his Facebook page with fake followers. “I’m just trying to manufacture the bandwagon effect,” he says. “The fact that people look at these numbers that are so easily fictionalized and hold them as any kind of merit — that shows a huge flaw in the music industry as well.” With the bandwagon in place, Eames released Breaking the World on August 25th, 2017.
Eames sold a couple of hundred copies, but he still had his final move: tour. Day and night he practiced his frenetic stage moves in his house, jumping around so much, he says, that he busted a knee and had to spend time in a wheelchair. Throughout the spring of 2018, using the alias Casey Marshall, a booking agent, Eames negotiated with rock clubs across Europe. Before long, Eames had spent about $5,000 of his savings booking 10 venues from England to Germany for a November tour. With the dates set, he hired a backing band. Joe Prunera, a guitarist in Las Vegas, got a message from a Lisa Golding of Aligned Artist Management (another of Eames’ fake personas), inviting him to audition.
Prunera initially found Threatin to be a little too commercial for his taste, but he went to L.A. for the audition, where, he says, Eames seemed to be “a really talented musician and fairly levelheaded.” Drummer Dane Davis, also from Las Vegas, and L.A. bassist Gavin Carney rounded out the group, which began practicing regularly.
In September, reality came flooding back when, Eames says, he started coughing blood again. He claims doctors told him he had an abnormal heart condition and that he could internally bleed to death. He says he refused to get surgery before the tour. “I was in the hospital for four days, then rehearsed the next day,” he says. “This is my whole life.”
Two months later, he arrived at the Underworld club in London with Kelsey and the band for his first concert. He wanted Kelsey to document all of his machinations, and she was a happy accomplice in his plot. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never to underestimate him,” she says. Whether anyone showed up at the gigs didn’t matter because in the world he created, he was already a star.
The hoax unraveled after a week and just six shows. Eames admits he didn’t anticipate how negative, and personal, the backlash would become. It started with his backing band, who walked out on him after learning of the ruse. Prunera says that Eames “not only lied to venues and media, he also lied to us.” When asked about this, Eames’ usual swagger disappears. “Do I feel bad that they feel bad?” he says. “Yes, I wish they would’ve looked at this from a media standpoint.”
But it wasn’t just his band that he had to contend with, it was the unruly Internet hive. People online weren’t just mocking his “character,” they were mocking the only thing he really cared about: his music. Tone Deaf, a music site, dismissed the power ballad “Living Is Dying” as “about as terrible as you’d expect.” Eames bristles at the criticism, especially all the comparisons to Eighties hair bands. “Maybe I appear somewhat pretty in a way with the long hair and a leather jacket,” he says. “But I’m not wearing fucking spandex, and I’m not singing ‘Girls, Girls, Girls.’ ”
His self-seriousness rubs many the wrong way. “He’s now spinning it as if this is all part of the plan, but the only illusion is the one he’s pulling on himself,” Minto says. “He seems quite deluded and an extreme narcissist.”
Minto isn’t the only one with this opinion. Late one evening in Moberly, Jered’s brother Scott came across a news story about Threatin. “Well, I just found my brother,” Scott told his girlfriend. Having not spoken with Jered for six years, Scott grew indignant as he caught up on his brother’s new persona and music. “I’m like, ‘You got to be kidding me. This isn’t even the same dude,’ ” Scott says. “He would have laughed at this music back then. We were black-metal guys!” That said, Scott hopes for a reconciliation, and maybe even a Saetith reunion.
Jered, however, isn’t about to resurrect Saetith, or their relationship — unless, he says, it’s for a documentary, which he hopes to make with the footage Kelsey shot. “If it served the story and it would be more interesting for there to be a reconciliation, then I’d consider it,” he says. “Other than that, I have no interest.” In the meantime, some of the venues he played are ready to have him return. Ad Gosling, the events manager at Manchester’s Rebellion, says, “He’ll probably sell out.”
In fact, despite all his past — and possibly ongoing — deceptions, Threatin may be on his way to a Disaster Artist, Tommy Wiseau-like cult following, including a British band called the Perverts who staged the tribute Jered Threatin: An Unattended Musical.
For his part, Eames hopes to go on the road again soon and release his next record, and, yes, he has more stunts planned. “Fake news,” he says, “is easy to manufacture.”