Author: Novak, Jessica
Date published: November 23, 2010
Keyboardist and vocalist Ashley Cox, guitarist Shawn Sullivan and drummer Evan Figiel are friendly, charming, funny and massively talented. As a trio, the Professional Victims create an impressively big sound, with tight rhythms backing careful guitar work and driving keyboards.
They have a lot to be excited about with a new album due out around the end of the year and a show at The Westcott Theater, 524 Westcott St., on Wednesday, Nov. 24, with four other Syracuse-based bands, all of which they selected for the bill. But rather than focus on themselves, the trio lit up most when talking about the importance of the show.
"We know that all the bands playing that night rock," said Cox. "We picked and booked the bands to build a show where no matter what time someone comes in, they're going to see some great music."
The indie rock showcase will feature Milking Diamonds, Phantom Chemistry, Counterpursuit, Gracious Sakes Alive and Professional Victims, showing off some of the best talent Syracuse has to offer. For Professional Victims, it's also a chance to share a stage with other musicians they respect, enjoy and feel compatible with.
"We're picky about who we play with," said Sullivan. "We've had offers to open for big bands, but if they're not the right kind of music, we don't do it." It's one of the challenges the band faces with its music, as it walks an indefinite line of "not indie enough, but not rock enough," to really fall on either side of the fence. However, this challenging balance of harder rock and lighter themes also allows Professional Victims to cross boundaries and appeal to a variety of audiences.
The band released their first album, Penalties & Punishment (Label Smabel), in June 2009 and has been touring, writing and recording their next album ever since. Still, they've hit some significant speed bumps along the way; like when their former drummer Corey Koniz left during a week of five booked shows. "We didn't know what we were going to do," said Sullivan. "But it also led us to Evan. So it worked out for the best."
After losing their drummer, Sullivan and Cox traveled to Buffalo to play a showcase at Club Diablo where several other acts were scheduled to perform. However, upon arriving, there was only one other Syracuse band still left on the bill. The group, Wishpool, had an excellent drummer: Evan Figiel.
"After that, Evan came over, auditioned, among many others that tried, and was hired," said Cox. "He learned 34 songs in a week for a headlining showcase we had in New York City at The Bitter End where Lady GaGa, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, you name it, have played."
Figiel instantly clicked musically and as a friend with Sullivan and Cox (who are married) and the three seem to connect seamlessly on stage and off. Cox is bright-eyed, bubbly, bursting with energy and literally bounces around much of the time.
Sullivan is quiet and funny in his own, more subtle ways, offering interjections and dry humor to contrast Cox's outgoing and lively personality. He fits the indie guitarist look, reminiscent of a member of Kings of Leon or The Killers.
Figiel may be introverted by nature, but his fiercely sharp sense of humor allows him to slip right into the jokes between Sullivan and Cox. His boyish face also gets him carded at restaurants while Cox gets recognized as "the singer of that band," by waitresses. "She always gets recognized," moaned Sullivan. "Always her."
But with Cox's background, recognitions are to be expected. "I had a grandma and grandpa Musick," she explained. "Literally, their name was Musick."
Her father, Jimmy Cox, a local legend, also influenced her heavily as a child. "All the time it was, 'Where's Dad?' He had to go out and play," said Cox. "It sounded like so much fun." So she pursued music herself and learned how to play almost any instrument. She began on piano, but moved to the more mobile guitar, which she used to write songs that came naturally to her. "If you get your heart broken enough, songs are cake," she said.
Cox had a successful solo career for more than 10 years before a record deal fell through and she was left to figure out a new way. After meeting Sullivan, things began to click and today, things are moving faster than ever. After the show at the Westcott, the band plans to finish their album and prepare for the South by Southwest music festival scheduled for March 10-20, 2011 in Austin, Texas. "Doing everything yourself is hard," said Sullivan. "But we're doing it."
As they prepare for the Westcott showcase, album recording and looming promotional responsibilities that accompany a new release, Professional Victims also prove their optimism, determination and staying power. "We just want to keep playing music and stay in love," said Cox. "We'll never stop. We might change, but we'll never stop."
Doors open at 7 p.m. for the indie rock showcase, with the show starting at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $10 and are available at www.thewestcotttheater.com and at Sound Garden, 310 W. Jefferson St.