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.