(All band member photography by Cindy Trinh.)
♤ Out of Brooklyn, Proxima Control is a metal band that is one of the great new bunch of musicians on the threshold of success, ready to move a lot higher. After their debut album last year and faithfully playing NYC clubs and elswhere for a little while now, they’re entering what could be one of the most important stretches for them the next year or so.
Proxima Control stand out on the bills they’re on and they have a musical and creative aesthetic that evokes the great metal bands of the ’80’s, but with a contemporary and more humble and down-to-earth approach and feeling. The two shows I’ve seen were at the Lucky 13 Saloon recently and also this last Saturday, May 14th at Blackthorn 51 with guitar hero Michael Angelo Batio and some other supporting bands. Their frontman is Jack Hope, born and raised in Brooklyn and their main mouthpiece. Their guitarists are John Polimeni, whose roots are in here in NYC, Babis Fersizidis from Greece, and the bassist is Ben Souder, a Maryland export. John, Ben, and Jack are founding members – the drummer slot has varied (the old conundrum), but currently is mostly claimed by Leo Freiri, although the band is looking for a permanent recording and touring drummer.
I don’t want to compare Proxima Control to anyone else because making comparisons always finds trouble, but it’s enough to say they’re a metal band that is able to make a really powerful impression at every show and their songs are geared toward being intensely physically energizing through the band’s riffs and through the storytelling and poetic acrobatics of Jack’s words and the emotions in his stories. Jack definitely has the innate ability and gift to summon strong and evocative imagery and the music the band creates flows with his words like longtime songwriting veterans, in a way that shows they’re all on the same page in the band and will be moving to even more accomplished ground with their next album. (The new album they say will be out sometime early next year and they will record later this year.)
The music scene, and the metal scene in particular in this case, has a few different levels and entry points. The main metal clubs at this point are Blackthorn 51, Saint Vitus, and Lucky 13, with some secondary venues and some other places that are very metal-friendly, some of which have been around a while, such as Webster Hall, but the above three main metal venues seem to be passionately devoted to metal, although St. Vitus now has said it is open to expanding its horizons. So NYC has a varied and decent venue backdrop in which Proxima Control can expand its success and play live locally with relative frequency, which remains one of the great advantages of living here in the city.
The album Proxima Control released last year, Back to the Flood, has a simultaneously visionary and quotidian feeling, sometimes pre-apocalyptic, but also an underlyingly hopeful thrust, words and music that pulse with inevitable strength and passion, that belief in the potential of existence that can be uniquely uncovered by music, a belief that can’t be faked, a feeling in the merging of the melodies and poetry of Proxima Control – it’s sort of an X factor that’s found on a lot of the albums of the ’70’s, metal bands in the ’80’s and ’90’s, or of bands that aren’t just “producing” music because it’s filling time. Proxima Control definitely has a mission that includes much more than simply accumulating money, even if more money is often the only thing that helps us forget about the money demon, the recurring rock and roll theme. Finding real emotion separate from any rock and roll posturing or manufactured coolness, Proxima Control has the enthusiasm and lack of cynicism that newer bands have, sort of like that new album smell. They treat their fans really well, and it shows – they encourage heavy tipping of the bartenders and staff at their gigs and interact naturally with people, with little of the rock-and-roll distance a lot of bands are still inclined to indulge in. Proxima Control makes efforts to not perpetuate the worst part of the rock and roll legacy, the acting like a dick part. After all, the art form of rock and roll is supposed to be about breaking down bullshit to elemental pieces and banishing demons, not creating more demons. Some of this is what singer Jack Hope and I talked about in a couple of interviews recently for this piece – the competitiveness and acrimony that rears its head at the wrong times in the clubs from some bands and some club owners. There are many great things on the scene for Jack and the band, including his friendship with Melody, the owner of the Lucky 13 saloon (from which their first album title came and also their song “Den of Freaks”). But there is still a dark side, too – sometimes not getting paid, being treated shittily at a midtown Manhattan club called Tobacco Road, and the usual other obstacles.
The colors and emotions that are reflected by Back to the Flood’s visions and music seem to point toward there being more going on beneath the surface and this is tapped by Proxima Control and by bands that really inhabit music for reasons other than merely stringing notes and harmonies together randomly…. good music evokes an alternate reality or another dimension; lesser music just fills sonic space or keeps you from killing yourself or other people on an elevator or in a mall. Proxima Control is clearly and substantially good, energizing music and it really is evidenced loud and clear on the Back to the Flood album. Jack feels that he and the band are definitely going to expand exponentially on that first album’s achievement with their follow-up. And they have been translating that mastery and knowledge to their live performances.
It’s not always easy to play at a high level or a different level than other bands, especially as a band is building momentum, but it is a privilege to see an intelligent and really talented band at the threshold of bigger success, even if bands have an average lifespan similar to that of a restaurant or a pro football career … about 3 years? Some bands go on to become legendary, some you look back and see the place where members of some other bands started, or then there are bands we wish had lasted longer. Proxima Control has all the elements to write their own ticket, to survive and thrive, to make great albums for as long as they can conjure the licks and the poetry, and to last as long as they get along (or not get along… eg. Joey and Johnny Ramone).
Jack, John, Babis, and Ben seem to be on the right wavelength and on a well-built groove together, bringing the band further along with each show – and if the second album is even anything like their first one, they will be gaining speed and establishing much deeper meaning and roots. Jack predicts it will be even better than the debut and that’s great that he’s that confident and excited and has those kinds of expectations, because Back to the Flood was a truly virtuosic debut album. Proxima Control looks like a good thing going on and continuing to develop – they’re in that position now where everything they want is right here in front of them. ♤
Proxima Control’s upcoming shows:
June 18th at Astoria Skatepark (Qns)
July 16th at Black Bear Bar (Bklyn)
Aug. 13th at the Rock Shop (Bklyn)
Sept. 24th at The Chance Theater (Poughkeepsie)