Get to Know Crossover Thrash Freaks Activator

Activator is a relatively new four-piece from New York playing New York-styled crossover/hardcore/thrash in a New York state of mind. Their self-titled debut album was just released a couple days ago and features all the stuff 80s and 90s Lower East Side dreams were made of all lovingly caressed by a modern thrashing edge. Feel free to assault your ears with two preview tracks at the ass end of this ridiculous interview I conducted via email with this band of very good sports.

Introduce yourself/selves. What would you say is your worst habit – the one you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to change for years?

Shannon: Shannon Moore, frontman/vocalist. As faulty as I can be, I’m not sure how to single out my worst habit. The bad things about me are usually also the good things about me.
Jared: Jared Drace, guitar. As you can see, Shannon’s worst habit is not being able to give a straight answer. Mine is probably telling the truth.

Willie: Willie Paredes, bass. The worst habit that I can’t break has been showing up for Activator rehearsals and shows all these years. Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in.

Sunny: Sunny Leejean, I play drums and have a habit of ramping our songs up to just under warp-speed during our shows, that and candy.

You’re a band from New York City that plays New York Hardcore. Isn’t that a little on the obvious side? Isn’t there at least one transplanted beardo living in Williamsburg you couldn’t find to form a band Pitchfork would go on to describe as “the future of indie rock”?

Shannon: I’m pretty sure none of us really identify Activator primarily as a New York Hardcore band. But no, we couldn’t find a “beardo transplant living in Williamsburg” that was willing to rehearse in Manhattan. I mean, I guess you can call Sunny a transplant, but I don’t think he’s physically capable of growing facial hair.
Jared: I think we’re more of a metal band trapped in a hardcore band’s body, our influences are all over the place from thrash to NYHC to punk rock to soul to classic rock to prog metal, etc. That said, if you couple the fact that my facial hair is coming in pretty good after about two years of non-shaving, along with the droves of friends telling me to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn, there may just be an outside chance that Activator becomes the future of indie rock.

Why the name Activator? Does your moniker hold any specific meaning or significance?
Shannon: The name Activator doesn’t really have any significance at all. It sort of started as a joke between myself and Jaleel Bunton from TV on the Radio about a certain way funk musicians played music. I kind of wanted to incorporate that nastiness into a metal band. But mostly I really just didn’t want the typical metal or hardcore name consisting of negative overtones or disease, etc. I just wanted a name that didn’t mean shit.

Jared: I was doing this little acoustic-comedy thing called Rooftop Quality around the time I met Shannon and he already had the name Activator, so once we started hitting it off musically, he said to me, “We can either call it Activator or Rooftop Quality,” thus Activator as we know it was born.

deciblog - activator cover

What the hell is happening on the cover of your new album? Why is the murderess waiting around to be found out by transit cops? In reality, considering the justifiably paranoid seriousness with which New York polices the transit and public works systems, how long do you think before this chick gets nabbed by the law? If Unsane can’t even do a subway car blood bombing, then c’mon?!

Jared: If you really look at it closely, you’ll see that the woman isn’t even real, she’s actually just some “killer” street-art. The murderer is meant to be unknown or up to the listener to decide. Our friends at Version Industries came up with the whole concept after repeatedly force-listening to the album. I’d like to think the dead body had something to do with the rats with the glowing eyes. Also, we have a neat little sound-designed intro at the beginning of the record that kind of ties in with the image and the rats and the subway and the violence. We’re obviously big-time conceptualists.

Shannon: Shout out to Chris Spencer and Vinnie from Unsane. Why we never did a show together is beyond me, but I totally blame it on Chris.

Obvious question: who’s your favourite band from the 80s and 90s eras of NYHC?
Shannon: Bad Brains and Cro-Mags are pretty much the status quo. But I had serious love for and influence from Leeway, Sheer Terror, Into Another, Maximum Penalty, Gorilla Biscuits, pretty much any band Mike Dijan was in because he has some pretty nasty riffs. Burn and Quicksand too, if you can count them as hardcore.

Jared: I kind of missed out on the heyday of’ 80’s NYHC, was more on the GNR/Aerosmith tip back then, but obviously started appreciating all the bands Shannon mentioned after the fact. As far as the 90’s go, I saw Fury of Five at the local dive in my hometown Mt. Vernon, NY in ’95 and the singer, who was this hulked-out monster, handed me a demo after their set and I just thought it was the heaviest thing ever, even compared to all the Death Metal I was jamming to at the time. From there I got into a bunch of those next-generation hardcore bands and still very much enjoy the early stuff from 25 Ta Life, Merauder, VOD, Fahrenheit 451, District 9 and No Redeeming Social Value. I guess looking back, it was kind of a dim time in the scene as compared to the ’80s, but I thought there was some good music and shows happening.

Willie: The 80’s, Cro-Mags. The 90’s, none.

Tell us about your forthcoming album. How long did you work on it? How long did it take to record? How did you get a motley combo of Jim Williams and then Matt Snedecor involved?
Shannon: It took forever. I can’t remember how long it took to write and record it but it was a pretty lengthy process. Jimmy actually is a good friend of ours and played drums for us for a little while in 2008/2009. I really liked the idea of doing the vocals with him because for one he’s a vocalist himself in Maximum Penalty, secondly because he was already familiar with our material from being in the band & finally that he’s honest to a fault and is somewhat lacking in tact, so I knew everything he said had merit.

Willie: I met Matt in 2003 at the Hit Factory where my old band Natural Selection was recording. We hit it off immediately & have been boys ever since. Also, I’m one of the owners of Brooklyn Tattoo and have been tattooing him for almost as long as we’ve known each other. Knowing the Activator album was looming, I may have forgotten to charge him for few ink sessions in an effort to get him on board.

Jared: The recording process started in 2011 with the recording of the drums at Jimmy’s Night Owl Studios in Manhattan, then we did the guitars & bass with Matt over a few sessions at his place in Jersey. Lastly, we went back to Night Owl to do the vocals. The mix took the longest amount of time as it was a massive undertaking for Matt to make some cohesiveness out of tracks that were recorded in different studios by different people. Also, I kind of went crazy with notes and revisions on all my guitar tracks, solos, harmonies, etc., sorry Matt! Finally we had Alan Douches at WWSM in upstate NY master the album earlier in the year. Definitely an unorthodox way to go about making a record, but I think we did alright with the money and resources we had available. We’re eternally grateful to Jimmy and Matt who made us a pretty sweet record, and who have never met in person.

Do you think you’d be able to outbid me if the grand prize was a Crumbsuckers reunion show in the victor’s basement?
Shannon: Good question. But no one in the band has a basement so that victory is yours. Hopefully we’re invited.

Who, at the height of their powers, do you think would win in 1) a fist fight and 2) a Ralph Macchio/Steve Vai/Crossroads-styled axe-slinging competition: Cro-Mags or Merauder?

Shannon: 1) John Joseph alone is one of toughest dudes I’ve ever met. 2) There are different versions of both bands. First version I would probably give to Merauder, guitar-battle wise but after that you have Rocky George and now A.J. Novello and I can’t really see anyone fucking with either one of those guys, forgive me Jorge! R.I.P SOB
Jared: We played with Merauder at Santos Party House a while back and they had a replacement drummer that was driving in from Philly who had never played with or even met them before and they crushed! About a year earlier I saw them open for one of Willie and I’s favorite bands ever, The Haunted, at BB Kings, in what was a super-awesome yet criminally under-attended show. Around 1996 my guitar teacher took it upon himself to show me some of those beginning arpeggios from that epic Macchio/Vai Crossroads solo once he started to sense I knew was I was doing, needless to say I could barely play a hacked-up version of it. Wait, what was the question?

Do you own a copy of the Project X 7”?
Shannon: This sounds like a trick question. But no, I wasn’t particularly interested in Project X even though Walter was involved. But that’s kind of a rare and hard to find 7″, at least I think it is.

Your drummer was born and raised in Russia, I’ve been informed. What are the major differences between life over there vs. over here? What kind of culture shock did he experience after coming to NYC? What do you know of/has he told you about the hardcore/crossover scene over there? Do they still talk about Chernobyl as much as we do?
Sunny: Haha, the culture-shock wasn’t too bad, but I was really surprised that it was so hard to find open-minded metal musicians until I joined Activator in 2009. Nobody talks about Chernobyl anymore I guess because it’s in Ukraine and it’s not Russia anymore.

Your singer is/was involved with the hip-hop world. In what capacity and what would you say are the most hilarious differences between the two scenes?
Shannon: To be honest. The indie rap scene is largely made up of people who are really into both genres. So I didn’t really see that much of a difference. Most of the EL-P shows have mosh pits and band shirts just like any other rock show. As far as what’s hilarious about them both is that it’s just another form of nerd culture.

Did you ever roll your ankle walking across the floor of CBGB’s? Were you brave enough to use the “facilities” without wearing a biohazard suit?
Shannon: I’ve rolled way more than my ankle at CBGB. For a brief moment they made pizza and it was usually under-cooked I thoroughly remember eating a slice and seriously having to take a shit. But there was noooooo way I was gonna take a shit in there. There wasn’t even a door.

Best “Porcell” band?
Shannon: I would like to say Gorilla Biscuits but I don’t think he was in it long enough to be called a Porcell band. I guess I’ll go with Judge.
Jared: I think Shelter was the headliner of that Fury of Five show in Mt. Vernon, so I’ll say them.

What’s next for Activator once the album is released?
Jared: We’re doing an album release show October 3rd at Union Pool in Brooklyn, currently ironing out the line-up for that and we’ll probably have some more shows in the area plugging the record in the months to come. We’ll see how people respond to it once it’s out there which will probably dictate the majority of our future plans. Aside from that, probably just start working on the next one.
Shannon: Hopefully someone besides us will like our record. I guess we’ll have to figure out the rest from there.

Activator on the interhole: here