NYC Hardcore band Activator just released their debut self-titled album and, if you dig the old school NYHC hardcore sound, this one is for you! Crunchy guitar riffs and solo, break-neck tempos, and pit-clearing breakdowns… This one has NYC written all over it!
I spoke with vocalist (and EL-P’s hype-man) Shannon Moore on the phone to discuss Activator’s history, the new album, and where they’ll be bringing the chaos in the near future. How about Syracuse, NY, fellas?
G- What’s up, Shannon, and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! How’s everything going, man?
S- Pretty good. Thank you for having me.
G- Absolutely! Glad to help up NYHC!
So, for some of our readers who may not be familiar with Activator, even though you’ve been around for quite some time, introduce the members in the group… Who is everyone, what do they play, and where does everyone come from?
S- Well, there’s me. I’m vocalist Shannon Moore, and I’m from NY.
G- Of course.
S- There’s Jared Drace on lead guitar, and he’s from NY, bass player Billy Paredes, also from NY. And then we have Sunny Leejean on drums, and he’s from Moscow, actually. So, he’s not from NY. (laughs)
G- (laughing) Fair enough. That’s a hell of a commute, so we’re glad he relocated, because that would make band practice a monster!
So, though you’ve only just released your debut album, Activator has been a band for quite a while. To get into your history a bit, how long has Activator been around and when did you first get started?
S- Well, I think altogether with us, it’s been close to 10 years. I was just trying to put everything together and have it make sense.
I met Jared in a bar here in NY called Max Fish, and he was looking for somebody to play with when the original concept of Activator had just dissipated. So, it seemed like a good idea. He played me some of the stuff that he had been doing, and I recognized the talent and was like ‘Alright… Let’s step ahead.’
Then, we were looking for a bass player, and Willy was a friend of mine. He used to be in a couple of bands like Astroland and a couple of other bands that he played with, so we got him. And it was originally Gary Sullivan from The Cro-Mags on drums, but his schedule got kinda tight, so there was no room for us to work it out. So, it was pretty much the battle to find another drummer. We had people that would play with us, but then we came across Sunny, some young guy that just moved to NY, and it worked out pretty well. So, here we are.
G- Love it, man. That’s good stuff! And 10 years as a band, you just released your latest self-titled album on September 17th…
S- That’s true.
G- We gotta talk about that, man… How do you feel about the final product, and what is it like working with Maximum Penalty’s Jim Williams at Night Owl Studios? How’d everything go?
S- It went really well. Jimmy played drums with us for a while. I’m a big fan of Maximum Penalty and a friend of Jimmy’s, so I knew that if there was anybody I could listen to, to give me an honest opinion, because Jimmy has very little tact… Everything is to the point, ‘This sucks, this doesn’t suck.’ So, working with him, from a vocalist’s standpoint, went really well. He’s very knowledgeable of various types of music, so it made it easier. He knew where I was coming from with the cadences and all that, as opposed to just expecting metal screaming or whatever. So, it was good.
We did late nights, you know what I mean? We’d go in there and stay all night until it was done… The way a record should be made.
G- And how long did the release take to record and get ready for release? Did you do any writing in the studio, or was everything pretty much laid down before you went in?
S- Well, we had 2 songs that weren’t quite worked out yet. “Interlope” we pretty much wrote there in the studio, and “Blessings,’ it was totally different the first time, and we kinda reworked it. It took a while for us to all do it together and record it, because I wanted it to sound as personal as it was. I didn’t want to rush it. I didn’t want it to sound like we were trying to get it out. I mean, we waited this ling, so another couple of months wouldn’t kill us, you know what I mean?
G- For sure. That’s laudable, and it sounds good.
And on to another thing I mentioned earlier in the intro… You’re also EL-P’s hype-man, who is a very prominent Hip Hop artist, and you play in a hardcore band. They’re both street-styled forms of music, so what do you think about the crossover between the two, and some of the similarities and differences?
S- You know, I find most of them to be similarities. They kinda come from the same place, and you’re right… They’re both street themed music. Both kinda come from struggle, but indie rap is different. A lot of indie rap is not based on the braggard aspect. There’s a lot about insecurity and paranoia involved, so it’s right up my alley, and everybody talks about EL-P’s music as post-apocalyptic. I mean, there’s always room for light. When he asked me to be his hype-man, I believed in his stuff, you know, but I also know him well enough that everything he is saying is coming from his mind, you know? It’s real. That’s where a lot of the similarities come in.
It’s honest, and he’s one of the few people where the music is not necessarily meant to rock the party all the time. So, there is a lot of room to be expressive. I mean, I’m not a dancer, and I’m not really about ‘Throw your hands in the air’ and ‘Say Ho’ and stuff, and you don’t really have to do that with him.
The crowd is the same. It’s not like we’re going in and it’s a crowd of black thugs… It looks like a hardcore core. Same shirt that you’d find at any other show, it’s the same… Mosh pits and everything.
G- Love it. A lot of the popular rap, the braggy stuff that you’re talking about, comes from insecurities, but they’re trying to wear it on the front. The indie rap scene is more thoughtful. I find that it’s much more poignant, and much more honest.
S- And it’s meant for people who are willing to open up to other forms of music and discovery. The same person that likes El-P likes us and Coltrane. They may not look the part, but it’s universal music.
G- Right on. That’s scratching the surface to find the truth… Don’t always buy the book for the cover.
So, let’s ask a question that’s a little bit more fun. Activator has been a band for 10 years and you just dropped your first album, which sounds great. Do you have a favorite song you have ever written, or if you could only give 1 song to someone who’d never heard of you before, to try and make a new fan, what song would you give them and why?
S- Interesting question. I think “Sexy For Breakfast” is, like, one of our newer staple songs, and there are a lot of elements in it. When you listen to it without vocals, it sounds crazy, but it makes sense when the vocals are there. But there’s so many different elements of our personalities in that. It’s a good example of what you’re going to find.
That’s kinda just what it is… 4 guys who understand each other’s musical tastes, and we kinda come together to make songs like that.
G- Nice. Now, let’s open it up even further.
Activator comes from the street. New York City Hardcore. Your LP is hype, man, so give us 4 albums every fan of Activator should know about and why.
S- (laughs) Wow!
Well, Love Supreme from John Coltrane.
G- Whoa. Alright.
S- It’s another really expressive record, yet expressive without words. And I think it’s a pretty important way of listening to and understanding music.
I guess another one would be I Against I, another important album to have.
G- Bad Brains?! Of course!
S- Yeah. It’s really that thing where it’s all over the board. You have songs like “Let Me Help” or “I Against I,” and then you have “Secret 77,” which is totally different from everything else. The musicianship and open thinking that went into making the music… They just went with the gut and weren’t worried about all the weird formulas that people care about doing.
I spent a lot of time learning how to write music and make music under the tutelage of Dr. Know, and he was always telling me stuff like ‘It’s gotta be undeniable.’ Then, he would tell me about playing at CBGB’s and coming on after a Country band, and if people loves the music, they loved the music. It didn’t matter what they looked like… If it’s awesome, it’s awesome.
G- Right on. Well, that’s 2, and those are 2 BIG ones!
S- Well, Fear Of A Black Planet is another one.
G- Fuck yeah!
S- That’s a staple. I love that… This is where they perfected what Public Enemy is. And it’s the same thing as any hardcore record or any other record; It’s just put together so well that you learn about music of different forms. Everything Chick D. says was straight poetry. Every line is a line you can learn something from. It’s pretty awesome.
And of course, there’s Master Of Puppets. You can’t go wrong with Master of Puppets. You can’t. Isn’t it the anniversary of Cliff Burton’s death today (9/26/86.)
G- Yes it is. A bad day for music.
S- Yes. That was one of those records where, when I heard it… I mean, Kill ‘Em All is good, and I like Ride The Lightning. But Master of Puppets is like shit… It had such a grasp on everything and it was so beautifully written. It’s beautifully written, and very sentimental… It’s just an awesome record. I listened to it then, and I still listen to it now, and it still has the same effect. You can’t fast-forward Master of Puppets.
G- That’s true, and I want to give you a lot of credit. Usually when you interview a band of a certain style, the records are always from the same style, and you’ve got Jazz, Reggae/Punk, Metal, and Hip Hop. So much respect for that, and they’re all awesome albums, as well…
S- Thank you.
G- Now, you guys have played with Bad Brains, Murphy’s Law, Merauder, and a lot of heavyweights, but I want to know…. Do you have a feasible 3-band dream up? Who would you want with you?
S- Good question.
There’s always The Cro-Mags. I would love to play with them, and they’re good friends of mine. Shoutouts to John, Mackie, AJ, and Craig.
Deftones. I would love to play with Deftones. If you’re listening, Chino, Stephan, Sergio. What’s up Sergio. He’s another NY native.
G- And ANOTHER Sergio (Vega) project!
S- I’ve been friends with Sergio and Walter for a very long time. When I first started Activator, one of the first guys I asked to play with us was Alan Cage (drummer – Quicksand.) It just never came to fruition, but it was an idea. Just like Jon Stanier (Helmet,) in my opinion one of the best drummers out there.
Yeah I don’t know… Right now, I’d just be happy to play with anybody and getting this stuff on the road. We’re looking for a booking agent now, someone who’d take a chance on us, and it’s hard because it’s all DIY. It’s hard to take something seriously when you don’t recognize those major labels or imprints. I spent a lot of money on this, and it’s not funny. It’s no joke.
Trash Talk. I’d like to play with Trash Talk, and those dudes will be here tomorrow. There are a lot of bands I’d love to play with. I enjoy it. I love playing shows and building the chops.
G- Well, if that lineup ever happens, I’ll quit my job and tour it. I’ll sell merch, drive the car, help load in, whatever the case may be.
That would be on of my dream lineups! Lot of my favorites.
S- Even if it was just one of them, you know?
G- Sure. I think it’s gonna happen.
S- It’ll happen eventually. We have our record release show on Thursday, and that’s our kick off to doing shows and stuff. And hopefully, we can just go on from there.
G- Shout it out… Where’s it gonna be?
S- It’s gonna be at Union Pool. With The Confidentials. 9pm. I’ve been on tour with EL-P for 2 years, so it’s good that we’re bringing it back together and starting it all over again. He’s on tour with Killer Mike, and we’re back to our regular lives.
G- Well, hopefully we can get you Upstate at some point.
S- I’d love to come out there. If there are any promoters out there, we’d love to come up and play all those venues up there. Do it for real and kick this record off.
G- For sure. Well talk about that!
And to finish it up today, as someone who’s been on the road in both Hip Hop and Hardcore, and who’s been doing this for quite a long time, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands out here who want to make it in music, on the road, and want to go pro like yourself?
S- MY ADVICE WOULD BE TO REALLY SIT DOWN AND THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU’RE WILLING TO LOSE TO DO IT. There’s no safety net that makes it ok if you fall. I feel like I put everything out on the table. It can ruin your relationships and stuff.
It varies from person to person, but if you wanna do it, you have to do it for real and really put yourself out there. It’s not a hobby… The road takes its toll on you, and it’s not for everyone. It seems like it is in the beginning and you do it, but when you go home, you have to make a decision to stay or go.
But my advice would be to build up a plan, find people that are like-minded and want to play music for the right reasons, whatever those reasons might be, and just go on the grind. That’s it… It’s a tough one. I’m not gonna be the like who’s like ‘Just rock out!’ Sometimes it’s awesome, and sometimes it’s not. Just be ready for it.
G- Again, I appreciate the honesty there, too. It’s one of the toughest businesses out there.
S- Yeah. We did it ourselves. We paid for it ourselves. There’s no one behind this but us, and it’s amazing we’ve even gotten this far. Once you realize what a record label pays for, it’s really not that much compared to how much you’ll have to pay them back. But you have to be willing to lose. Be willing to lose.
G- Very true.
Well look, Shannon, this has been a really, really good interview. Very informative and I want to thank you very much for that.
Again, Activator just dropped their debut beast of an album on September 17th. I want to say thank you very much again for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today. I appreciate it, and I look forward to getting a taste of the show!
S- I appreciate you having me, and thanks for the interview. It was great to do this.
G- You got it!