It’s 2019 and the music business might as well be the fucking Wild West. You don’t need a manager, a record label or an entourage to reaffirm every thing that you need to do to get your music out there. What you do need however, is some character, some vision and the ability to back all that fresh hell right up when the going gets tungsten-hard.
Introducing Viral, the synergy of singer Frankie Cassara and multi-instrumentalist producer Billy Graziadei, whose alloy of six-stringed fury, electronic chaos and lyrical invective aims to redefine everything from individual genres to how the word “intense” has been overused in the last 20 years.
Cassara first met Graziadei when he was auditioning for the vocal position in respected New York City metal outfit Biohazard, replacing Evan Seinfeld. He didn’t get the gig (Cassara couldn’t play bass), but he and Graziadei kept in touch. When both men moved to Los Angeles over a decade ago, they reconnected. But it wasn’t until a few years that Cassara suggested they work on something. He didn’t want it to be a straight-ahead metal or hardcore outfit: Cassara was looking at something that would hint at those things, but with the greater technological flavor inherent in hip-hop, industrial and other genres that emphasized experimental avenues.
“I’ve been in metal, punk, hardcore, experimental bands all my life,” says Cassara. “Everything I’ve done has lead up to this. Billy was familiar with all the projects I was involved with in the past. I told him I wanted to do something edgy and different, an electronic project that included all my influences, but still wanted to maintain the ferociousness of rock and still have some textures and ambiance. He was super-into the idea--and then we just started writing.
“When it comes to music, my tastes are all over the place. Today, it’s a whole different time and everybody mixes up genres constantly. I just didn’t want to be one thing; I want to be able to take things in different directions. I think that’s what Billy really liked about me!”
When I was comin up I was into the CroMags and the whole entire New York hardcore scene,” Cassara says, “but I was always into stuff like Die Krupps and Nitzer Ebb and Public Enemy.” Of course, any artist will tell you that you need input to create output. Cassara knows this very axiom quite intently, going through a lot of personal turmoil, frustration and deep sadness.
“The lyrics I wrote came through at the most hardest time of my life, “ he begins. “At the time I was writing, I lost my mother; I lost my father; I had gotten a divorce; I had a close friend die on me. But it all led to this. I kept that PMA and kept going. Through all the bad shit, Billy was always there for me. He’d put me through the wringer: ‘write, write, write!’ Or ‘how ‘bout something like this...’ He told me to rewrite stuff and pushed me to sing the parts better, just schooling me in the ways to get it done. Nobody ever took the time to do that for me in my other bands and that was a big key proponent to bring the songs out they way they are.”
Graziadei brought in drummer buddy John Boecklin (Bad Wolves, Devil Driver) to smash down the tribal backbone of the songs and help sweeten up the rhythms he created in the Firewater Studios Lab.
With Viral, the only intention is to create compelling and maddening permutations of the places they’ve been alongside the binary-AF future. Consider their opening salvo, “Disorder,” which could best be described as 20 years of NY hardcore lifers in an octagon match with some serious Terminator droids. The song literally has a push-and-pull feel that sounds like a death match between man and machine. It feels uncomfortable yet intriguing, just as its creators had intended. “It’s definitely not a smooth transition and we left it like that on purpose,” confirms Cassara. “The song is called ‘Disorder,’ so the drums are erratic, the vocals come in really heavy. That is exactly what we were going for.”
For all the sonic force inherent in the music and in Cassara’s exhortations, Viral isn’t about conflict for the sake of pushing out their chests and daring people to step to them. On “Dark Sun,” the electronics and textures take more of a modern-rock feel as Cassara weaves a story of dark sexual obsession and the madness one can get caught in when it overtakes you. “At the time I wrote that, the Jodi Ann Arias thing was happening,” he explains, citing the grisly Mesa, Arizona, murder from 2013. “She was this beautiful woman who violently killed her boyfriend over jealousy. That song is about that thin line between love and hate.”
For their debut album, the duo also spent some time chrome-plating the tropes of hip-hop with the help of a bona fide icon. SenDog from the mighty Cypress Hill stopped by and dropped some wisdom on the circuit-encrusted track, “Underdog.” Powered by machine beats and the sound of sweating machinery seemingly shorting out, the song is more Skinny Puppy than Ski Mask The Slump God, but not light on the delivery. “That song is about me,” Cassara admits. “My whole career in music has been a challenge. The light at the end of the tunnel was when Billy came into the picture. He gave me a sense of purpose and we’ve only just begun!”
Viral’s mission statement of purpose, intent and optimism comes to complete fruition on the pulsing rocker “Rise.” With an unforgiving, sorry-not-sorry attitude bolstered by some of Cassara’s most pointed lyrics (“I lost it all and I’d do it all again.”), it’s the track that sums up Viral’s complete raison d’etre. “You can’t change the past,” the singer says, reflecting on his years as a potential hard-rock contender. “I wouldn’t change a thing. All my mistakes helped me learn and be who I am today—a better person.” If “Underdog” is the art of the boast by electro-static means, “Rise” is coming out the other side of living hell, with a sense of self actualization.
With Graziadei’s commitments preventing him from touring with Viral, Cassara enlisted a true team of dedicated players to spread the contagion world-wide. Flanking his vocal prowess is a childhood friend and savage drummer George Kokkoris along with electronics engineer and keyboardist Jorge Ruvalcava, bassist Garrett “Benjie” Conroy, and both guitarists Aaron Miller and Angel Ruiz.
Cassara adds, “Trying to find the members to recreate the vibe we captured on the cd and click together as a unit was hard and it’s finally come together in the best way.”
Viral is going to throw down mercilessly when they accompany acclaimed European electro-metal icons Die Krupps on their European touring campaign in November and December 2019. When asked to describe his psychic game plan for these dates, Cassara pauses for a moment to share a strange epiphany. “My thing is playing live,” he says with no quarter. “But I listen to the album, and there’s a lot of hooks I didn’t realize at first. The live performance is just vicious. The secret weapon is seeing it live. But the album? That is the realest thing I ever could have written for myself.