Thrilldriver, NYC’s Best New Metal Band, on Making Music, Going Wild and Staying Sane

by Marisa Torrieri

Do you remember the last rock-and-roll show where you were completely gripped by the intensity — the noise, the energy, and the catharsis — of the moment? The best bands deliver that experience consistently — but few deliver it with the same intimacy as NYC’s Thrilldriver.

Escape the Holiday Doldrums: Thrilldriver delivers your  metal fix this Sunday (12/15/19) at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall, 8 p.m.

I’ll never forget my first Thrilldriver show at a packed dive bar in the Lower East Side, shortly after the band formed in 2015. The moment the five-piece launched into “Vicious” — a roaring arena-rock-style anthem loaded with Motley-Crue guitar riffs, thunderous rhythms, and Zoe “Pypes” Friedman’s soaring vocals — I was transported.

It was all grit and goodness, hair metal and reckless fury anchored down by a powerful rhythm section. And as I watched Zoe wield her goddess power like a pro, one thing became absolutely clear: I wanted more. 

This weekend, Thrilldriver (whose members also include guitarists Tony Calabro and Michelangelo “Moxxxie” Quirinale, plus bassist Jamie “Fingerz” Garamella) returns to the spotlight for an intimate show in NYC at the second stage of the red-velvet-draped Rockwood Music Hall (Sunday, 8 p.m.). We caught up with Zoe and Michelangelo earlier this week to find out what’s in store. 

Rockmommy: You’re based in New York. A city where musicians are disciplined but prone to distraction. How did you guys come together? 

 Michelangelo Moxxxie: Our guitarist/songwriter/producer Tony approached me about starting a hair metal band. We had known each other from teaching at New York City Guitar School. We both love all things rock and metal, so it seemed like a fun idea! While the initial concept was more tongue in cheek, once we got Zoe on board, it turned into a full-fledged band! 

While each of us has our own influences, I think we all see Thrilldriver as a band that represents what we all love about great rock acts: Searing guitar playing, powerhouse vocals, and most importantly, great songs! 

Zoe Pypes: I’d only ever performed in cover bands and (mostly) rock musicals, and while I fantasized about being a part of an original project, I had never written a song in my life and didn’t think it was something I could do. My initial audition was just for [guitarist] Tony, who had already written “Madeline.” I sang it for him in a tiny room at the Queens Guitar School. For the second stage I was asked to write lyrics and a vocal line over a demo and come sing it w/the full band. I was absolutely petrified, but my first stab at songwriting/co-writing, “Vicious,” has been a staple ever since! This band completely hijacked and rerouted my life away from theatre, but I always bring that world’s high stakes, drama and urgency to our songwriting and performance.

 Rockmommy: Who are your favorite live performers and why?

MM: Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Ozzy (with any of his great guitar players), Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses. All these classic bands bring a certain “swagger” and larger than life persona to the stage. I also love super expressive guitar players such as Hendrix, Dave Gilmour, and Steve Lukather (Toto). Any type of sweet solo or riff will always pull me in haha. 

ZP: This may mortify my bandmates, but I have three photographs of Steven Tyler on the wall at my piano where I warm up every day. He’s got this wild, frenetic energy I adore, and he doesn’t give a fuck. Not only is he still running around like a maniac, but he DELIVERS vocally to this day. If I could be Ursula the Sea Witch and steal anyone’s voice it would be Steven Tyler, Jack Black, or Dio’s.

There are also a few local artists that consistently inspire me with their live performances. Haley Bowery of The Manimals fills out her shows with drama, ritual, and community, which I really appreciate — each of her shows feels like a completely unique, cathartic experience. And the ladies of Mother Feather. They commit 100 percent to every second of every show, with so much attention to detail — using every inch of their bodies to communicate with their audiences, and using their platform to elevate and inspire their audiences. 

Rockmommy: Can you describe the experience of playing music together — and/or the experience you hope to impart onto those who go to your live shows? 

MM: I feel like we have such a great chemistry in this band, that our live performances sometimes feel nearly effortless (despite having to play some hard riffs and solos). Everyone goes out there and gives it 110% every show, so it’s easy to get pumped up every single time. 

I hope that any of our audience members walk away feeling like they saw a true, raw, and powerful Rock n Roll show, played and sung by dedicated musicians who love to rock! 

ZP: Currently a lot of my experience is wielding and harnessing energy. These songs and riffs amp me up so much and I love using my body in performance, but a lot of the vocal lines are challenging — sometimes I have to surrender to stillness and technique and focus in. 

Something I think what separates us from a lot of bands and that I love is how much fun we’re having up there. When I’m busting my ass and one of the guys bangs out some insane solo it feels like a party i can’t believe I’ve been invited to.

My goal for the future is to focus more on the audience experience and what I want them to feel. I’ve been incredibly selfish so far and have just been hoping something sticks. Something for the next decade!

Rockmommy: The Sacha EP is brilliant — and features several of my favorite live Thrilldriver songs. What is the songwriting process like with you guys? 

MM: Tony (Calabro) seems to the one the brings full-fleshed songs to the group (this was especially the case with the EP). I like to bring riffs and ideas that we can work on arranging into a full song. Zoe and Tony will work on the lyrics, and a few songs on our upcoming album are Zoe originals! 

ZP: To this day, every time I introduce something to the group I’m nervous. Especially those on this upcoming record that I wrote from scratch. Tony came over to my apartment and I literally had to take a shot of whiskey at, like, noon to show even just him what I was working on. But Tony has this incredible ability to sift through all of our ideas and bring them together into a banger. A bridge for me here, a verse for Moxxxie there. But it is really a mix. Lyrically, most of the songs about love and rock n roll come from Tony. The songs about sex, drugs, fantasy, and people that suck come from me. Tony’s lyrics are always sincere and poetic and I tend to be more sarcastic and challenging. 

Rockmommy: What kind of gear do you like and why? 

MM: I like to use hot-rodded Fender Strats and Marshalls amps. No matter how polished and smooth the tone, the Fender Strat has a certain gritty sound that I love for all styles of playing, but especially rock n roll! I’ll usually throw in some kind of hot humbucker(s). In the case of my main Thrilldriver Strat, it’s a Suhr Aldrich. Also some of my favorite players (Hendrix, Gilmour, Clapton) used Strats. 

The same goes for Marshalls. As a kid, I always lusted after the giant Marshalls stacks I saw in guitar magazines! So many of my favorite players used Marshalls, that I just always associated them with the sound of rock guitar! While I’m constantly trying other amps, there’s just this certain “Marshall roar” that I can’t seem to get away from. Plug into a cranked 100-watt head, strum a big fat open chord, and you’ll see what I mean haha. 

For effects I use a Line 6 HX Effects. For years I was anti-digital and multifx, but they’ve come so far that I’d A/B’d the Line 6 unit with my favorite pedals, and couldn’t tell the difference! I also like the ability to save different settings and change around effects whenever I want. 

Picks are Dunlop Ultex Sharps 1.14mm, and strings are D’Addario EXL110.

ZP: I couldn’t live without my JH Audio custom iems. They let the rest of the guys crank it up to 11 and I can still hear myself and do what I gotta do. 

Rockmommy: You’ve been together for a few years. Has your music evolved or changed a bit with the second record? 

MM: I feel like the EP is very “hair metal” in the best of ways haha. Now we’re more confident in our sound and identity, so I think that leads to branching out in terms of songwriting and guitar parts. Our second album exhibited a wider range of sounds, and I think our upcoming album is our biggest, most creative one yet! 

ZP: I second that. God, I can’t wait to get this album out there. One, I feel like I’ve finally found my lyric “voice,” and the vocals in general have more style and point-of-view. And two, we’re starting to incorporate synth and more layers of production. To me, this album has more of an opinion and feels more specific and authentic to who we are as contemporary artists. 

Rockmommy: Some of you are balancing a lot — bands, parenting, etc. — in addition to this band. What is your best advice on making it work? Please be specific, especially about the parenting stuff, which many of us are juggling! 

MM: Coffee. Lots of coffee. 

But seriously, I think that any discipline or passion in life it takes commitment and certain sacrifices. I watch my kids in the mornings and teach all afternoon into the evening. Sometimes this can be followed by a gig or rehearsal! That doesn’t leave a ton of time for practicing or writing, so I’ll try and pick up the guitar on any small breaks I have in between lessons. Or I just sacrifice a couple hours of sleep and practice with headphones after everyone in my apartment is in bed. Even though it can feel much harder these days, I think it’s really important that my kids see me doing something that I love and enjoy!

ZP: I don’t know how Jaime and Moxxxie do it. One second I think I’m busy as hell, thinking that there’s no way I’ll get it all done, and then I remember my two bandmates that have not one, but two children AND successful marriages. And then they show up to practice completely focused and seemingly serene. “Relationship goals” right there.

 It is admittedly hard to get all 5 of us in a room at the same time with everyone’s schedules, which can be frustrating, but we tried something new last night which I loved — we came to practice with a super specific game plan and were able to really milk a lot out of just 2 hours. And surprisingly, having a super structured practice led to some creative developments and changes. I think that’s part of what makes it work for everyone who’s so busy. We don’t amble in late and dick around for 4 hours. We’re all respectful of each other’s precious time, do our homework, and work efficiently. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Randy Kaplan and 4-Year-Old Son Record Love Song to Wife/Mommy . . . About Candy, Protein, and Crime

By Randy Kaplan

My wife and kid have been slowly but surely muscling their way into my not-JUST-for-kids music racket. And it’s been great!

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Musician and dad Randy Kaplan 

Julie May has an incredible voice and has been writing and performing for decades. Since we joined forces, she’s been releasing her own songs — some on my records, some on her own. She’s also contributed lyrics and music to my songs — “Burpity Burp Burp Burp” and “Every Second Counts” were her ideas.

Julie sings “Goodnight, My Someone” from The Music Man on my record Jam on Rye and “Bye Bye Baby” (the song Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell sing in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and the Pete Townsend rarity “Sleeping Dog” on Trippin’ Round the Mitten.

When our son, Ryland, was going through a stage where he didn’t want to hold Julie’s hand in public, Julie wrote and recorded a parody version of the Loretta Lynn song “You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man).” She changed the song title (and lyrics) to “You’re Still Baby Enough to Hold My Hand.” Good stuff!

But the family collaboration I want to tell you about here is a song I recorded with my son when he was four years old.

Ryland walked into my study one afternoon and announced that he wanted to record a song. “Okay,” I told him. “That sounds fun.”

I went back to grading papers. He stood there staring at me.

“Turn on the thing,” he said.

“You mean you want to record a song now?” I asked.

Indeed he did.

“Uh, do you have something prepared?” I asked him as I lowered the microphone and opened GarageBand on my laptop.

“Yes! It’s called ‘Mommy Love Song.’”

Wow. He had a title and everything.

“Do you want some accompaniment?”

“If you want to.”

“Anything in particular you have in mind?”

“Just do it,” he commanded.

I finished setting up and hit record.

“Can I sing now?” Ry asked.

Since the title indicated that this was a love song about Ry’s mommy and my wife, I gently strummed a Major 7 chord.

As my son launched into his e. e. cummingsish ditty, I made sure to stay in the background. I changed chords now and then and tried to hum some harmonies.

As the song went on, I thought, “The title is a bit misleading.” There was, after all, no mention of love or Mommy. The thing seemed to be about candy, protein, and robbing banks.

When he launched into a punk rock chorus of “I, I, I, I, I, I, Ah,” I interrupted him.

“I thought this was ‘Mommy Love Song,’” I laughed.

Maybe I shouldn’t have cut him off. Who knows where the song would have gone. As it stands, it’s the one-minute-and-thirty-six-second track that ends Trippin’ Round the Mitten. You can hear it by clicking HERE. And here are Ry’s lyrics:

 “Mommy Love Song” by Ryland Kaplan

I can never be when anyone decides
The candy in the world is protein for you
When anyone today could be the nice to way
And I can never do in the middle of the way!

I can never be in the way to other beach
Oh yeah, oh yeah I can never be, today is the way
Every day is the way that no one can be
The candy in the world is protein for you

O yeah!
I can’t do anything in the middle of the night!
‘Cause bad guys be careful cause anyone decides
No one in the world does anything
Robbing a back is anyone to sing

I, I, I, I, I, I, Ah!

Randy Kaplan is a musician, storyteller, teacher, and father.

Ben Rudnick: How My Daughter Inspired My Favorite and Best-Known, Musical Project

by Ben Rudnick

As a songwriter, I aim to be like my good friend Jeff, who plays harmonica and mandolin in an internationally famous Canadian rock band. The band had a big hit in the late 1980s and my pal is now a “micro celebrity.”

Inspired by Jeff and his Canadian rock and roll cool as the measure, I place myself in the sub-micro-celebrity realm. My band and I have played over 900 shows, recorded twelve CDs, accumulated seven Parent’s Choice Awards, have a play based on characters I’ve created in songs and have recently started releasing digital singles.

Ben Rudnick red shirt_photo credit Susan Wilson_rgb-300

Rock daddy Ben Rudnick of Ben Rudnick & Friends (Photo credit: Susan Wilson)

It’s also safe for me to say that this fun and rewarding ride never would have happened had I not sang silly songs with my daughter Emily when she was very young.

When we were crossing the street to go to preschool, we’d sing “I need a hand, when I’m crossing the street.” Pretty straightforward and to the point for sure! We’d sing it over and over and skip our way to school. Good times indeed. With that seed I wrote a song called — wait for it! —  “I Need a Hand.” That song went on our first CD, Emily Songs, and was a runner up in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Yoko liked it!

[RELATED: Stay-at-Home Rockin’ Dad Gunnar Madsen on Parenthood & New Projects]

At some point Emily and I were coloring and started singing about the colors we like. Ultimately that led to us dancing around the living room naming all our favorite colors. “I Like Silver, I Like Gold” kicked off that first album and has been the most played song in our repertoire. Colors never go out of style!

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Singer-songwriter Ben Rudnick with his daughter Emily.

Another everyday endeavor that led to one of the band’s most-requested songs was making macaroni and cheese for lunch. Or dinner. Or lunch and dinner! Whatever. The point is I made a lot of macaroni and cheese, which led to Emily and I singing “macaroni and cheese is so good to me, macaroni and cheese makes me say please” and the song, “Macaroni and Cheese.”

So okay, I’m an extreme example of where singing silly songs with your offspring can go but the point is it was really fun. The songs we created came from everyday activities. It’s all a state of mind. That it’s given me actual sub-micro-celebrity status is gravy.

Have fun with those kids! Enjoy these days.

Ben Rudnick is a father and the band leader of Ben Rudnick & Friends. See the band perform the 17th Annual Holiday Extravaganza at the Cabot Theater in Beverly, Mass., on Saturday, Dec 8.

Rockdaddy Johnny Clay of Ants Ants Ants Discusses Making Music and ‘Soaking it All In’

Each month, Rockmommy talks to parents who make music about life, work, play time and more. Today, we chat with rockdaddy Johnny Clay of Ants Ants Ants, a fun (and family friendly) musical project. Scroll down to check out their new music video for “Pinwheel” Ants Ants Ants

Rockmommy: When you think about fatherhood, what do you love best about being a dad?

Johnny Clay I love seeing them experience things – it definitely takes you back to being a kid and remembering what it was like. Hearing their perspective on things too. I’m lucky in that I get to walk my daughter to school every morning, and our walks are filled with her questions and observations about the world around her. I hope she never stops wondering about the world and asking questions.

Rockmommy: Tell me about your latest musical project — how did it come about?

Johnny Clay: It’s been a long time in the making. Friends have been encouraging me to write a kids’ record since our almost 8-year-old was born. But it wasn’t until we starting seeing clips of classic Sesame Street songs and School House Rock songs that I really got inspired to do it. Such wonderful music. And when I saw “The Point” by Harry Nilsson again, that put it over the top.

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Rockmommy: Has your music changed since you became a dad? If yes, how so?

Johnny Clay: Well, I certainly wouldn’t have gone down this path as a songwriter had it not been for the kids – both our soon to be 8 year old and our 5 year old daughters are constantly inspiring new song ideas. The way kids think about things and notice things is just so amazing.  Whether it’s pointing out the “helicopter leaves” falling on the way to school, or asking what the biggest animal in the world is (and not believing how big a blue whale really is), their curiosity about the world around them is just so cool.

Rockmommy: What’s it like trying to balance music with parenthood? Are there other factors in the mix — e.g., time with a spouse or partner, a day job to pay the bills, etc.? Is your partner involved in the music project?

Johnny Clay: It’s definitely an adventure. I’m very, very fortunate in that music is my full-time job, so the kids are growing up with music constantly in their lives. They both feel comfortable hanging out in the studio with me and they see how songs get put together. I love seeing them sit down at the piano or the drums or whatever and play the instruments, see what they sound like. It’s not all on a computer. My wife Christi is a musician as well and so music is definitely a constant in our lives.

Rockmommy: What’s your advice to other rockin’ dads?

Johnny Clay: Probably the same advice I was given years ago: just to try and soak up this time with the kids, because it really does go by so fast. And of course keep rockin’!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Stay-at-Home Rockin’ Dad Gunnar Madsen on Parenthood & New Projects

This month, Rockmommy talks to rocker dads about music and work-life balance. Here, we chat with Gunnar Madsen about his new projects (including a new video co-created by his 15-year-old son) and parenthood. I Am Food Cover 300 Square
 

Rockmommy: What do you love best about being a dad?

Gunnar Madsen: I love working on being a better dad all the time. The idea that there is no end to parenting used to scare me – in school or in work, every project has a due date, or a production, or has a finished product. But the growth of a child is never-ending, it presents constant new challenges, things I could never have imagined. And the learning goes on and on, no due date, no completion. That’s an amazing teaching to get ahold of.

Rockmommy: Tell me about your latest musical project,  “I Am Your Food”  — how did it come about?

Gunnar Madsen: I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for all of my son’s school years (he’s 15 now). Parenting took up much of my time, but in spare moments I dreamed of my next album, and I had the idea that it could be about food (which I love). I wrote some of the songs from this album over the course of many years. It’s only in the past 2 years, as my son matured and required less of my time, that I was able to focus on bringing this album to fruition – finishing up the writing of the songs, recording them, and preparing to launch the project.

Rockmommy: Has your music changed since you became a dad? If yes, how so?

Gunnar Madsen: I think the things I’m learning from fatherhood, like patience, generosity, and a greater awareness of myself and who I am, are coming through in my creative life. I’m still writing funny, sometimes goofy, songs, but I sense a different spirit in them.

Rockmommy: What’s it like trying to balance music with parenthood? Are there other factors in the mix — e.g., time with a spouse or partner, a day job to pay the bills, etc.?   Is your partner involved in the music project?

Gunnar Madsen: The main shift in my music career came when our son was born. It was not reasonable to go on tour and leave my partner at home alone with the care of a baby. And I didn’t want to be away, — the gravitational pull of fatherhood kept me at home. I continued performing locally, but over time my desire to perform diminished. I found that I was happiest just writing music at home, and left the stage. Luckily, being a stay-at-home composer and a stay-at-home dad work pretty well together. My partner is not involved in my music – she’s has a store she runs with her mother, antiques and fine things for the home and such, which has paid the bulk of our bills over the past years. But I trust her opinions very much, and share everything I’m working on with her to see what she thinks.

Rockmommy: What’s your advice to other rockin’ dads?

Gunnar Madsen: If you’ve got to rock, you’ve got to rock. It’s not like I made a decision to become a musician. It was a calling, a fire burning inside, that wouldn’t allow me to do anything else. It has maybe saved my life, it’s a joy, and it’s also caused a heap of trouble and pain. I can imagine a whole lot of easier ways to get through life, but this is the only way I know how to do it 🙂 In the end, I’m grateful for having such a passion.

Gunnar Madsen on Fire (1)

— Marisa Torrieri is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

NYC’s Danny Lapidus, of Hot Peas ‘n Butter, on Fatherhood and Making Music

This month, Rockmommy talks to rocker dads of (mostly) young children about life, music and more. Here we catch up with father of two Danny Lapidus, lead singer for the super-fun Brooklyn band Hot Peas ‘n Butter. Their new album  features guests artists Laurie Berkner, Dan Zanes and Peter Yarrow! Catch them in Union Square Park in NYC for a free show on July 12.

Back to the Land cover web

Rockmommy: What do you love best about being a dad?

Danny Lapidus: When I stop to think about being a dad (which is not often because….I’m a dad!! who has time to think about anything?!) there are many things things that I love about it. One thing that will seem obvious to people who have kids, but may sound strange to others, is that there is actual joy in realizing you are no longer the center of the universe! It hits you like a ton of bricks! There is someone here who is more important to me than anything else and even myself!! Makes me appreciate my dad even more. Another thing that I absolutely love about being a father to young kids is that they think I’m the strongest person in the world, literally. 

 


Rockmommy: Tell me about your latest musical project — how did it come about?

Danny Lapidus: My latest musical project is a new album with my band Hot Peas ‘n Butter called Back to the LandIt started with an idea of trying to go back to musical roots. I wanted to explore everything from bluegrass to Gospel music… real Americana, because that is what I grew up on and what feels so sincere to me. I honestly thought the album would contain mostly new arrangements of traditional music, but then I started writing with my partner Steve Jabas, and we realized that that the songs all had similar themes of unity, equality, and protecting our environment. We immediately felt we had something special.

 
As a New York City studio Producer and Mixer, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing musicians and as we wrote I realized I could ask around and see who would join us on the album. I never expected to get Peter Yarrow! (Peter, Paul & Mary), Laurie Berkner, Dan Zanes, a gospel choir led by Marcelle Davies-Lashley and all the other amazing musicians who helped us bring this album life. This was the most fulfilling album I’ve had the pleasure of working on so far.


Rockmommy: Has your music changed since you became a dad? If yes, how so?
 

Danny Lapidus: Maybe the music has not changed so much but the songwriting definitely has. I think the main difference now is that I feel like I always want to say something in my songs, to have a positive message, and even to take a stand on matters that mean something to me, because, I want my kids to know I stand for something.
HPnB-Full Band1-lo by Kamana Kamkwalala

Rockmommy: What’s it like trying to balance music with parenthood? And are there other factors in the mix? 

 
Danny Lapidus: Wow, now you’re asking the hard questions. YES there are many factors in the mix these days! It’s extremely hard to balance music with parenthood but I wouldn’t change a thing;)
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.