Supporting Art and Being Badass with Hardcore Band Toxic Crew

By Savannah DavanzoContributing Editor

Article photo - Supporting Art and Being Badass with Hardcore Band Toxic Crew

Not all metal bands are formed in sleepy suburban towns (or maybe they are because what else is there to do?) but when they are, they’re formed hard. Born just three years ago first as a college hobby -- you know the drill, a couple pals get together to jam every once in a while to alleviate the crippling suburban black hole they’re stuck learning in -- New York based hardcore-punk band Toxic Crew has since become a major force on their local music scene. With Milo Stricker on the mic, John Mastroberardino on bass, new member Will Vellek on guitar, and Jonathon Mohan on drums and contributing vocals, the band is comprised of four wild talents putting their all into their work but still having fun with it. The result is a corybantic blend of in-your-face metal rhythms and punk energy.

Last year, the band released their debut record, ​Pimp In Distress, a labor of love recorded on their college campus and touched by a killer production team. Coated in a thick veneer of heavy prog treatment, the album features 13 high-powered, but fleeting, hardcore tracks. Below strong, punchy vocals screaming and howling matter-of-fact lines like “You’re so fucking useless and I’m so fucking used” (from fan-favorite ​ “Ben & Jerry’s”​ ) are expertly crafted arrangements built on unrelenting percussive power and revving bass riffs. Each track gets this frenzied approach, just endless breakdowns of schizophrenic rapid-fire multi-instrumentation of the highest power, volume, and caliber.

In between his busy days slamming for his badass crew and urging people to support the arts for god’s sake, we managed to chat with Jon about Toxic Crew’s musical pursuits, his hunger to help fellow artists, and, of course, his favorite gear.

MusicNGear:​ ​ First, can you tell MusicnGear a little about yourselves and your music?

Jonathon Mohan: ​ Toxic Crew is a 4-piece hardcore-punk band based out of SUNY Purchase in Westchester, NY. We formed back in the fall of 2015, but had issues with holding down a guitarist up until last fall, so for about a year or so we actually ran as a 3-piece (vocals, bass and drums only), which was an incredibly dangerous move. The drawback was our sound obviously lacked fullness, but the upside was that people loved how unorthodox it seemed, and that we didn't mind pushing forward with a vacancy in our lineup; we still kept the same energy and fun attitude on stage.

We started off as something of a self-aware joke, in a way. We didn't take ourselves very seriously. Over the past three years we've definitely developed and found that balance of taking our sound, and business, seriously, while still being able to joke around and be ridiculous. We've been told by friends and fans that we have a unique sound, and we agree wholeheartedly. We take influence from a variety of genres like hardcore, thrash metal, deathcore, metalcore, among others, and it helps that we all have distinct musical backgrounds. It all blends together very well and helps to make something that we find fresh and unlike things we've heard before, but still hold a clear sense of where we derive our influence from. In terms of a message, it's not always obvious but a lot of our music deals with larger topics like relationship abuse, as well as politics, personal issues, and the like, [but] despite these darker themes in our music, we're still pretty goofy on stage and with our friends. That, to me, serves a bigger purpose. In a larger sense I'd like to say our goal is to reach out to people who have been hurt in some way by another person, and let them know that it's okay to feel happy and have fun. It's okay to come out of the dark place you've been pushed into -- there are people here who care and want to show you a fun time.

We're called "Toxic Crew" so people like to use the pun that ​we're ​the toxic ones (which I'm not always fond of, to be quite frank), but the underlying significance to that, if you connect the dots, is that we're opening up and talking about the hurt we've felt, and the toxic people who brought us there. We're bringing a spotlight to the toxic people we all face in life.

MusicNGear: ​ You guys are big on performing live and supporting other artists on stage. What kind of gear do you use to ensure you’ll give a killer show?

JM: ​ Personally my setup for the kit consists of Meinl cymbals, Remo heads, and Tama shells. I also use Vic Firth American Classic sticks (size 2B) and then my hardware is a mix of a few brands. A lot of the gear I use, in all honesty, I use because it's affordable and gets the job done. I hit pretty hard and the Meinl cymbals and Remo heads can really take a beating. I mainly use the Meinl HCS series, which is very basic but sounds great to me and accommodates my needs. I have a couple things I may throw in now and again like a Meinl Classics Custom bell, and sometimes I switch out my china to a Zildjian A Series, but for the most part I stick with Meinl due to cost and efficiency.

MusicNGear:​ ​Is there a premiere brand you’d recommend for metal musicians looking to get serious about their work?

JM: ​ In terms of "premiere" brands I'd go ahead and say cymbals from Sabian, Meinl, and Zildjian are great but may be a wallet-breaker depending on what you're buying specifically. For shells I'd say Tama or SJC Drums.

Article photo - Supporting Art and Being Badass with Hardcore Band Toxic CrewMusicNGear: ​ In addition to drumming for Toxic Crew, you’re super active in supporting your local arts scene. What do you think the benefits of art in small communities are (or can be)?

JM: ​ Fantastic question! I think a huge benefit to local art scenes, whether it be music, theater, dance, or anything else, is that it helps to foster community. You can go out to an event and meet dozens of people who have similar interests with you, may even introduce you to something new, and could end up being a great friend or even a business partner. Another benefit, which I already touched on a little, is exposure to new environments. "Variety is the spice of life", and taking a chance on going to an arts event in your community could expose you to so many new and amazing things. Local arts promote cultural diversity, education, and core values that help us grow as people.

MusicNGear: ​ One of the things I most admire about you and your in-your-face support for fellow artists is how you hold musicians accountable for their involvement in their respective scenes. You understand that as a musician, you have a platform and thus the opportunity to share, teach, and engage with your fans far beyond the music. Can you talk a little more about your own efforts in this regard?

JM: ​ Thank you, that's very sweet of you. I do very much believe in being accountable for yourself as an artist, and a lot of that comes from self-awareness and having a good head on your shoulders. Everything I can tell you, is because I've either observed it, or been through it myself over the past 3+ years; it all comes from a place of personal experience and mindfulness.

I think something incredibly important is not to lose touch with the fact that you're still ​a person.

Being popular in your local music scene doesn't necessarily make you a celebrity, but it gives you a platform that you should use wisely.

I've made mistakes myself, I'm not gonna lie about that. I've done and said stupid things on the internet that hurt how people view me, but being accountable and willing to grow is the next step in that.

Speaking on that same idea in a slightly different context... you can't really teach people unless they're willing to learn. You have a lot of young, talented, driven people in local music scenes, but they get ahead of themselves, show pride in their ignorance, and their egos tend to inflate, or they just carry themselves as a band seemingly with no sense of professionalism or knowing what they're doing (to a certain extent). You have to stay humble and receptive to learning. I walk a pretty fine line, in my mind at least. I want to help others, and share what wisdom I do have, but I don't ever want it to come across as if I'm some sort of "expert" -- because I'm not. There are plenty of people way more qualified to speak on topics like gear, touring, booking, promotion, etc than myself. My "in-your-face" attitude about the topics has often come across as overly critical and confrontational, but I really do just want everyone to be doing the best they can, growing as artists, businesspeople, and as people [in general]. You should be confident in your choices, but don't always assume you're doing everything right because chances are 50% of what you've been doing isn't as efficient as it could be. Like I've mentioned earlier, we learn through experience, so sometimes I just chalk it up to "I'll let them sink or swim. If they ask me for help, great. They're showing initiative and willingness to learn, but I'm not gonna stick my hand in where it doesn't belong, because that's going to come off as overbearing, critical, and proud."

All of these ideas -- humility, accountability, self-awareness, and learning through trial and error -- are what have helped to shape how I act and speak nowadays, and I try to pass that on to others with whatever platform I do have.

MusicNGear:​ ​ We’re living in the digital world, now, where the social media landscape allows for major oversaturation in the music industry. What are the advantages and disadvantages of social media as a tool for musicians today?

JM: ​ Social media is honestly its own beast. I think definitely the pros are being able to connect with fans and build a fanbase, get your content out to a large audience and network with others. Bands didn't have that at their disposal 30 years ago. But a definite con is the oversaturation. You can scroll through Facebook or Instagram and see a million posts from a million bands and just let your eyes glaze over them. They say that music scenes shouldn't be competitive, that everyone should support each other, and that's true -- there shouldn't be any mean-spiritedness or animosity between bands -- but at the end of the day, your goal is to get as far down the road as you can, and that takes an aggressive effort to make yourself stand out above your peers. What makes you unique visually? In terms of your sound? What message do you want to put across to fans? Do you seem professional and organized, or like you don't care? What are your goals, how are you trying to get there?

And if they're really your homies, they'll support you and just try their best to shine just as bright as you.

MusicNGear: ​ What’s your musical pet peeve?

JM: ​ I'm honestly not too sure... I'd probably have to say people who are honestly just full of themselves. It's so annoying. Again, it's one thing to be confident and carry yourself in a respectable manner, but don't act like everything you say is fact or correct. If you get called out on it, take that loss and learn from it, there's no shame in that. I've done it before, and I'm much better for it.

MusicNGear:​ ​ What do you think the biggest misconception about metal is?

JM: ​ I think the biggest misconception, and this is such a stereotype, is that there's no substance to metal or heavy music in general. I went through a ton of that in middle and high school. People didn't "get it" and I felt bad and a little ashamed, and became defensive here and there. But looking back, that's really how teenagers are. They're often not very open-minded until their late teens / early 20s, so they have room to grow. It's not a crime, but it's definitely pretty irksome.

MusicNGear: ​ Who are three musicians you think the world ​needs​ to hear ASAP?

JM: ​ First of all, Sam Carter, the vocalist of ​ Architects​. I was listening to them this morning, remembering when I saw them live early this year; absolutely PHENOMENAL. The tightest band I've ever seen live, and their presence is monstrous; the atmosphere in the room, lights and sound, so intense. Sam is such an amazing vocalist, from his cleans to his screams and everything in between.

Secondly I'd say Matt Halpern, the drummer from ​Periphery​ . He's personally a hero of mine in the drum world. I have one of his used heads, autographed, that I bought at their merch table last year. His sense of groove and rhythm is incredible and in my opinion really sets a standard for modern prog drumming. Lastly, I'd say Adam Dutkiewicz, one of the guitarists of ​Killswitch Engage​ . I've been jamming to them since I was a wee lad. They're absolutely one of my favorite bands. Sadly, I've never gotten to see them live, but just from what I've seen, Adam has this great energy on stage, being really goofy and messing around with the crowd -- which is something I like to think Toxic Crew does a good job of emulating. His riff-writing is fantastic and really drives a lot of their songs, and he's a fantastic producer as well. He's produced a couple of records I really love like Horizons ​by Parkway Drive.

Article photo - Supporting Art and Being Badass with Hardcore Band Toxic CrewMusicNGear:​ ​ Finally, what’s up next for Toxic Crew and your own arts-related endeavors?

Jonathon Mohan of Toxic Crew: ​ In terms of what Toxic Crew has in store, we're still working on a new EP which hopefully will be out by the end of 2018. I don't want to give away too much, but we're re-recording some of the songs off of ​Pimp in Distress ​now that we have our wonderfully talented guitarist (and new producer) Will Vellek, and we'll have some new songs on there as well.

We're also focusing on making this year about the hometown shows, playing at SUNY Purchase whenever possible; we really want to solidify our fanbase here and get as many people on board with us before half of the band graduates. It's been a long and turbulent ride at Purchase and we're honestly just grateful we had such a place to start that gave us, and sometimes took away, opportunities, helping us grow and learn what we needed.

In terms of my own endeavors, I'm really starting to get back on the horse with promoting local bands and artists. I took a step back for a while because I was feeling a little overwhelmed, but I feel like it's something of a responsibility. I'm definitely going to keep writing lyrics, I'm trying to go to more shows, and really just give everyone the time of day they deserve. I'm also prepping to finish up my bachelors degree in Arts Management, as well as holding down a pretty sweet job as an usher at Lincoln Center.

Listen to ​ Pimp In Distress ​below and connect with Toxic Crew on ​Facebook​, ​Instagram​, and​ Twitter

About Savannah Davanzo

Savannah Davanzo is a music journalist and social media coordinator from New York. Over the last six years, she has built several websites dedicated to highlighting underrated new music, all while pursuing her Master’s degree in Arts Entrepreneurship. She is the founder and lead editor of ​ The Music Mermaid where she writes album reviews, exclusive premieres, music op-eds, interviews with artists, and more. In addition to her work with TMM, she’s thrilled to be part of the MusicNGear team!

Contact Savannah Davanzo at savannah.davanzo@musicngear.com

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