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The Audacious Glory of Professional Victims

Syracuse’s very own Professional Victims have all the makings of a bona fide late-20th century punk rock band—in the 21st century.Spearheaded by band mates Shawn Sullivan on guitar and vocals and Ashley Cox on vocals and keyboards, the group which has had a number of line-ups, remains well-known for their irreverence and high energy. Come to think of it, a male and female led punk band is somewhat rare, even in today’s vast music landscape. And in their quest for developing an army of like-minded rebels they go forth into their rock and roll nights wielding their anti-establishment attitudes and super punchy, less-than-three-minute, guitar-driven songs.

And into the night they do go. From headlining shows at The Bitter End in NYC and fostering a commanding posture here in Syracuse, Professional Victims snagged a 2106 win for their CD Fathom the Cosmos at the SAMMYs for Best Alternative Record. Further, they’ve been gaining radio play and recognition throughout the northeast from Boston to Philadelphia.

Professional Victims is spearheaded by band mates Shawn Sullivan on guitar and vocals and Ashley Cox on vocals and keyboards, is well-known for their irreverence and high energy.

And its no wonder. They play like they’re in an arena no matter how big or small the venue is. Their live shows move at an aggressive pace —try to keep up— as they drive through their sets without the expected mindless and routine banter between songs.

Driving guitars and furious tempos help to push Professional Victims’ message. “We keep pushing ourselves to write new songs, find new sounds and keep it fresh. That’s what drives us and sets us apart, we want to really make something not reproduce it.” explains Ashley Cox.

“We utilize piano and synthesizer help to create variety while also preventing the band from being pigeon-holed into a singular genre,” she explains, further.

Neither shy nor reserved, the group’s bold lyrics are delivered by equally bold vocals with both Sullivan and Cox sharing the bold duty. Critics have compared Professional Victims to TV on the Radio, Arcade Fire, and Dinosaur Jr.

Chuck Schiele: Hello, Ashley. Thanks for taking some time to chat with Table Hopping/Sounds of Syracuse. Tell us about these Professional Victims of yours?

Ashley Cox: We’ve had a few different lineups, but for the past few years it’s been Shawn Sullivan and me. We’re pretty edgy as we push our artistic definition and assert our allegiance to more than one musical territory. Classic rock, electronica, pop, industrial and punk all contribute to the id of what our music is.

CS: How did you come up with the name for the project?

AC: Shawn came up with it. He’s the funny one. I think he heard it in a Robert De Niro movie. It reminds us of both past experiences and of the way some people behave in general.

CS: You have a variety of genres lurking in your sound. Who do you listen to or refer to for inspiration?

AC: Shawn is inspired by bands like Arcade fire, The National, Pixies, and Weezer. I’m glad that for the most part we love the same music, although Shawn always gravitates toward heavier guitar-based songs. I’m more pop/alt—loving Santigold, or Sylvan Esso and St. Vincent.

In 2016 Professional Victims won a SAMMY award for best alternative record for their album Fathom the Cosmos.

CS: How do you go about mining your material and writing?

AC: We’ve found it’s best when it happens naturally. I think our best songs are written in a day. I will take notes on whatever paper I can find and put it all together like a puzzle when I’m inspired to play. Shawn seems to have a more organized way of writing, and both of us are fueled by the things we are passionate about. Topics will include politics, love, or lately … our friends’ failed relationships.

CS: Tell us about favorite highlights in your colorful music career.

AC: In 2016 we won a SAMMY award for best alternative record for our Fathom the Cosmos CD. Personally, I loved touring the college circuit, performing in London (both of us did that), and opening up for big names like Bright Eyes, and Highly Suspect.

CS: How about sharing some gig disasters gone funny?

AC: We can laugh about it now, but we have both fallen off of stages rockin’ out.

CS: Totally worth the price of admission …

Driving guitars and furious tempos help to push Professional Victims’ message.  Classic rock, electronica, pop, industrial and punk all contribute to their sound.

AC: I once drove all the way to Boston, got lost, couldn’t find the venue, and missed the gig. Funny not funny? Haha.

CS: Your thoughts on the Syracuse Music scene

AC: Better than ever! I’m seeing so many new songwriters on the scene, as well as veterans still making great music and putting in awesome shows. It’s diverse, and I think the alternative genre might be bigger than even the blues scene finally! There is a lot of support by the community and even fellow musicians.

CS: What do you have to say to the budding musician?

AC: Play all the open mics, introduce yourself to everyone, play on the streets for fun, and go see other bands!

CS: What’s on the horizon? What’s coming up that you’re looking forward to?

AC: Recording and releasing our next CD. I love our new material!

CS: Where do we find you?

AC: ProfessionalVictims.com

CS: Thanks, Ashley.

AC: Thanks, Chuck.

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.