Author: Kahley, Tom
Date published: April 28, 2010
Journal code: SYNT
Sometimes being a victim of your own notoriety causes people to not look beyond what caused that recognition in the first place. That seems to be the case with Ashley Cox, who over the past 10 years has made a name for herself as one of the more eminent solo performers in Syracuse. But as Cox has found out with Professional Victims, the new band she plays keyboards in with her husband, guitarist Shawn Sullivan and drummer Corey Koniz, people just assume it's her band. But it's not. A band isn't a band without the sum of all parts.
"It's all about the band," said Cox during a recent interview. "It really is Shawn's creation and he writes most of the stuff and pretty much works all day at this, going out and plugging the band online and around town. I never try to plug me at all; I'm just better at the public relations stuff."
Cox stated that initially the concept of joining the band was new to her, but she put her solo project on hold because she "believed in the music," and wanted to change things up a little bit. "I always wanted to step away from the blah-blah-blah folky vibe," she continued. "I'm able to almost be a completely different person than what my fans are seeing and can let my hair down and let loose. But I usually put my hair up, because the music is intense and I sweat a lot and jump around during performances and it's a lot of fun."
Regarding the sacrificial sobriquet of the band, "Professional Victims isn't a name, it's a society we live in out there," stated Cox. She stated that the content of all the original songs they've recorded emotes "thought-provoking material that rocks" on the relevant subjects of politics, religion, relationships and personal stories. According to Cox, the song "One Nation Under Fraud," from their debut album Penalties & Punishment, gives the listener an idea of what to expect as far as the content and sonic boom of the music. The track incorporates an up-tempo driving rhythm with a droning guitar hook and lyrics espousing that, "We feel that pressure coming down/ And there's nothing you can do."
The music kind of falls somewhere between the indie sounds of Arcade Fire and The Killers with the energy of The Who, circa the mod-1960s. Cox stated that the variety of backgrounds of each band member contributes to the overall dynamic of the unit: Sullivan comes from a more indie-rock background, having previously played with the outfit Bitch Cassidy, while Koniz roamed the range in the heavier hardcore sounds, at one time rocking people's blocks off in the local group Freya. And Cox had mainly focused on folk-oriented material with a touch of electronica mixed in.
"I love it," said Cox of Victims' sound. "It's just a whole other thing; we rock and we're intense and I feel like we are in a band that should be performing in stadiums. The music is huge." Cox stated that Sullivan is the primary songwriter and composer of the band's material, although both Cox and Koniz will have a couple of their originals on their upcoming album.
The harmonies and melodies of the songs don't get lost in the crunch of the heavy dynamics, which tend to happen with a lot of bands of this milieu, and Cox believes that has helped them gain acceptance and win over fans outside of their indigenous Salt City, which she also says is a different vibe than playing in Central New York. "Syracuse is a great city to practice our live performance but there's only so many times you can come out and see the same bands," she observed. "Crowds in other cities respond to you different because they know if you're from Syracuse and drove three hours to play a show that you're a band with a purpose and serious about the music."
Professional Victims also enjoys hitting the road to network with bands exoteric to Syracuse, often sharing bills with top acts from other cities in the state. Cox mentioned that Sullivan is particular about bands they share the bill with when booking out-of-city dates, often seeking euphonic evidence that they won't be sharing the stage with a group that's musically neutered. "We're pretty particular about playing with bands that suck," Cox continued. "There's a lot of bad music out there and just because you can play, it doesn't mean you should."
While Cox, like many others, stated that the current future of the recording music industry is a Wild West waiting to be settled, Professional Victims incorporates the benefits of technology to get the music out there. She noted that Sullivan is doing all he can to plug the band, both online and hitting the streets, but she believes the best promotional tool is old-fashioned word-of-mouth, which can only happen by taking it to the stage. And the band is also hoping to find a manager to fill the promotional and booking duties so they can spend more time honing their studio and stagecraft.
Aside from their musical partnership, Cox believes that her spousal relationship with Sullivan doesn't tread on the beat of the music, but rather enhances it. "It's a balance," she said. "We have our personal life and our musical life and everything intertwines and intersects. It's a challenge to keep them separate at times, like when we are rehearsing we try not to be husband and wife and be professional partners in a band. We have a great relationship and respect for each other musically and we have a lot to teach each other and a lot to learn and so with that it's been a very healthy relationship. As a matter of fact, during our rehearsal dinner speech, Shawn joked that he 'married me so I can never quit his band.' We're really on the same page in life."
Professional Victims will be performing an unplugged set on Saturday, May 1, 8 p.m., at Jazz Central, 441 E. Washington St. Also performing will be the group Milking Diamonds, who will be hosting a CD release party. Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased at the gate or by calling 488-5504.
After that, Professional Victims ping-pongs across New York with gigs in New York City, Oswego, Albany, back here in Syracuse, as well as Buffalo, Rochester and even across state lines for a Boston date. For their complete itinerary and more information, visit www.myspace.com/provictims or www.reverbnation.com/professionalvictims.