Artist Interview: Initiate

Posted: by The Editor

The focus on hardcore in recent years has introduced audiences to a myriad of bands that have arguably placed California at the forefront of the thriving scene. It’s undeniable that bands such as Scowl, Drain, Sunami, Militarie Gun, and Zulu have all been on the rise, but it doesn’t stop with them. One of the most eclectic hardcore bands to come from California is about to have their own moment when they debut their second full-length Cerebral Circus on April 14th through Triple-B Records: Initiate. 

The Orange County based band started in 2016 as a bit of a joke for singer Crystal Pak when guitarist Alec Riley initially proposed the idea. However, Pak quickly found that if they were to start making music then it had to provide the same experience she felt seeing straight edge hardcore band Mindset for the first time. The camaraderie Initiate is built on stems from the same sentiment in wanting to make music that inspires someone the same way they were inspired by their favorite bands. The current line-up of the band consists of Pak on vocals, Riley and Jack McTomney on guitars, Michael Morales on bass, and Danny Paul on drums. With Morales, Riley, and McTomney currently residing in Southern California, Pak in Seattle, and Paul in Ohio, I spoke with McTomney about his introduction to hardcore and what fans can expect of their new album.

“Similar to a lot of my millennial peers, an old head (my older cousin) showed me heavy music and I kinda just took my own path from that. Looking at the “thank you” section of CDs I was given, going on Limewire crashing parent’s computers. The first real hardcore show I went to was Ceremony and Nails at Rock City Studios in Camarillo when I was 15. Was truly blown away by the crowd reaction, people were going bonkers! I still remember those sets vividly. Been going to shows ever since and still get that feeling 13 years later. I picked up a guitar a few years later and really wanted to just contribute to the scene and try my hardest to make people feel even half of how I felt at that first show,” McTomney shares. 

While Initiate have always had an underlying metal influence in their music, it comes through in their latest singles more than ever before. Recalling the energy, speed, and aggression of metalcore / post-hardcore bands of the mid-2000s, their first single “Alone at the Bottom” is both scorching and intense with Pak arriving at her strongest and most savage vocal style yet. It shows a band that has evolved, balancing a vulnerable seriousness with thundering riffs and a fiercely propellant rhythm section that threatens to obliterate straight through walls before having listeners dance it off in the chorus. The second single “The Surface” is more melodic and shows off their natural ability to blend their influences without inhibiting themselves by sticking to any one particular style. It sounds more like a post-hardcore song bordering on mid-2000s pop punk / emo when Pak delivers a verse of her clean vocals. 

“Alec has a phenomenal way of combining a wide range of influences and turning them into something fun and refreshing. Him and I would go back and forth telling each other what we were listening to during the writing process and it ranged from Smashing Pumpkins and Incubus to Sepultura and older Slipknot. I think we found a cool blend of those and many others to create our own genuine sound,” McTomney elaborates on the writing process for the new album. 

The band had the opportunity to work with Los Angeles based producer Zach Tuch who produced, mixed, and mastered their new album and is known for his work with bands like Touché Amoré, Movements, and Dare. Tuch’s direction and influence on the album are part of the reason why the newest songs sound like some of Initiate’s best work yet. 

“Zach is a certified DUDE. Never have I witnessed a more intricate process of someone putting their whole heart into a project. He was in this just as much as we were. This album is what it is because of his dedication to his work and keen ear for stuff that just sounds great. Truly a standup guy and a wonderful person to work with and be around,” McTomney expresses. “We didn’t want to write a different version of what we did in the past. We really leaned into our influences and bands we love and our mission was to make our own product from those grabs. Lyrically, Crystal has never been more vulnerable. Some of her words hit hard and I really hope people take the time to read the lyrics if they can’t understand how they’re presented,” he continues.

The latest artwork for the new album depicts a girl with stars scattered throughout her hair, in deep shades of blue and warm tones of oranges and reds. Each thought lighting up as a star like miniature fires burning even as the girl depicted is in deep thought with eyes closed and a look of calm. McTomney says of the artwork, “We wanted to showcase how sometimes it’s just wild up in our heads and how we don’t necessarily have a choice other than watching the spectacle of how our brain operates. Giuditta Bertoni (@heygiudi) really got our point across with her artwork as well as leaving it open to the viewer’s interpretation. I love it.”

With hardcore becoming such a focal point, it has undoubtedly become more visible and accessible to others who were previously unaware of its existence and general subcultural significance. Along with the mass interest in hardcore, there has been a lot of discourse around what that means for the scene. McTomney shares his stance, “It’s cool, it’s been a long time coming. The goal was never to be visible or break into the mainstream, but there’s a lot of talent in this community and shows are awesome. I totally get it.” He continues with some advice to newcomers, “Just don’t be complacent in only being a consumer. This is all community driven and community funded. Pick up an instrument, preferably drums, and find people that you love and start something you love.”

As Initiate prepare to release Cerebral Circus and hit the road from mid May through early June with Ventura County hardcore band In Time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take off this year. The new album is their catchiest, heaviest, most vulnerable yet, and the most infectious thing about hardcore lies in the authenticity and sincerity behind the art and Initiate are nothing less than just that.

McTomney leaves it at this, “These are my best friends and I’ve seen them grow and they’ve seen me grow. We’ve only grown closer together over the years and there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than seeing the world, rocking gigs, and creating with them. I hope people know that we aren’t trying to do anything, but be ourselves and if you rock with what we got, then come join us on the ride.”

Cerebral Circus is out today on Triple B.

Loan Pham | @senseofexile 

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