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NEWS & BLUES(August 5, 2015)



Publication: Syracuse New Times
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 58875
ISSN: 0893844X
Journal code: SYNT

Let's get it straight: On Friday, Jan. 20, 11 p.m., Professional Victims are not having a CD release party at Empire Brewing Company, 120 Walton St.

"We want to put an end to CD release parties. People expect too much," vocalist-guitarist Shawn Sullivan explains.

"We're not going to be wearing party hats, we will not have noisemakers," affirms vocalist-keyboardist Ashley Cox.

"Confetti?" drummer Evan Figiel throws in.

There will be CDs for sales, however, as well as T-shirts (ladies styles available). For more information, call 475-BEER.

"There will most definitely be a CD release," Sullivan concludes, "but we can't guarantee a party. It's wishful thinking."

Professional Victims' collective personality could be summed up in that refreshing conversation. Sure, the trio takes the drop of their new sophomore album Motivational Speakers (Label Smabel) seriously, yet they're still laughing off the small stuff and are not bracing for high expectations-although it's clear they're hoping for the best.

Considering the strides they've taken since their first release in 2009, Penalties and Punishments (Label Smabel), they shouldn't worry. The latest LP demonstrates significant cohesive growth as a band, perhaps thanks to Figiel, new since 2009's album. It's a characteristic that comes across both in the solidity of the songs as well as the members' playful behavior around one another.

"I feel like we have a hard time bonding with other bands," Figiel says. "Maybe because we're different."

That's true. Unlike other typical band interviews, where the main songwriter leads the conversation, married couple Sullivan and Cox bounce off one another like a Saturday Night Live skit, with Figiel supplying zingers at all the right moments. There is a mutual respect and comfort zone between them and a consciousness of how their band machine works. There's also the desire to collaborate more and to use each other's strengths to their maximum potential.

While Penalties and Punishment featured Sullivan as the main songwriter, Motivational Speakers allows Cox to share the reigns. And Figiel's skills behind the drum set get shown off in a subtle, yet ear-catching way.

"It's pretty much 50/50, Shawn and I, as far as the songs go," Cox explains. "Shawn might have a guitar riff idea, Evan jumps in with a beat and it takes life. And it's easy. . . very little direction. But just as with any song, when the concept comes to you, you have somewhat of an idea, and it just so happens that we're all on the same page. And I think that's how great bands write great songs. Timing, serendipity, whatever you want to call it."

Many tracks came together soon after the release of the first album, thus making it a stretch for Sullivan to recall how certain songs exactly fell into place. ("Dig deep, brother," says an amused Cox while her hubby stirs the memories.) "The best songs were. . . you come up with an idea and write down the lyrics right away," Sullivan says. "When I struggle and take a lot of time to do a song, it's just not as good. But I don't really know the formula of coming up with songs. They just kind of happen."

Cox comes to the rescue to help clarify Sullivan's meanderings. "His songs come from a very simple yet intense emotion, and he builds on it. It could be anything from childhood experiences to current political, emotional, worldly thoughts. But they all have a lot of integrity."

"One Nation Under Fraud" displays a severe dissatisfaction and desperation, even though Sullivan had intended it to be more inspirational. "And there's nothing you can do" is the repeating theme and lyric, harping on an idea Cox captures: "Good luck bein' middle class."

It's a funny line Professional Victims walks graciously, mixing somber themes and their own bubbly personalities with their sometimes eerie musical tendencies. The result is a combination that defines them as serious musicians who know when, and when not, to take things so seriously.

When the trio hits their musical stride in songs like "Relapse," the result is a passionate and precise explosion. Sullivan's rough-edged voice alongside Cox's sweet and clear singing complement each other in harmonies; meanwhile, Sullivan's guitar roars, Figiel's quick, tight percussive accents completely lock into the tune, and Cox fills out the sound with synths. Their songs aren't complex in structure, as most tend to stick to the pop format. But rhythmically, the embellishments take the music to another level, lifting it from pop to thought-provoking. With the help of mixing by Jeff Moleski of MoleTrax Studio and mastering by Jocko of Moresound Studio, the album's production also kicks up a notch from their first, which was done completely by the band.

Motivational Speakers offers catchy hooks and memorable lyrics, but the standout cut "Worth the Time" takes that mix of humor and severity and throws in a touch of bitterness, too. Opening with the charming plinking of Cox's fingers atop the keys, the song sings sweetly of visions that "dangle in my view." But as it grows into the chorus, "Well I hope it was worth it/ I hope it was worth the time," the words can't help but ring with a feeling very opposite of the sugary, innocent delivery.

Professional Victims hope to push their album out to college radio stations as well as expand their touring route beyond the many New York City clubs they've already conquered. In the meantime, there are always band meetings where they talk about their goals, not to mention the aspects of touring, writing, merch production and all the other details of managing a band.

"Yeah, the first one was. . . two days ago," Sullivan says sarcastically.

Cox tries to clarify: "No! When we get together {for a band meeting}. Rehearsals. . . "

"Meetings and rehearsals are two different things," Sullivan insists. "Nobody wants a band meeting!"

So Cox offers another alternative for the dreaded "band meetings" term: "Hey, I got some nice Scotch. Wanna come over?"

The guys' ears perk up as they laugh. Works like a charm.

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