JJ TARTAGLIA: THUNDEROR has unlocked potential I didn’t realize I had

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Interview by Cristóbal Torres


Thunderor is the new band of JJ Tartaglia, known among other things for being the drummer of Skull Fist. The interesting thing is that now he decided to sing and play drums at the same time, accompanied by two old acquaintances: Jonny Nesta on guitar, and Óscar Rangel on bass.

FIRE IT UP is Thunderor’s debut album and will be released on February 25th through Boonsdale Records, JJ Tartaglia’s label. Not only that, the trio had already announced European dates for March, however these had to be postponed to June. So we can say that it is not a side project, but a full time band.

We had the opportunity to ask JJ Tartaglia some questions about this new adventure; the challenge it has been to sing and when will we hear from Skull Fist again. This is what he told us.

Cristóbal Torres (CT): When did you decide to form Thunderor and why; what was the spark that started it all?

JJ Tartaglia (JJT): It was a gradual idea that began brewing in late 2019 when I decided to take on singing seriously. It was initially to be able to do the backups in Skull Fist, Zach had been harping on me for years to do it haha, I would always start and then get discouraged and stop. Finally, I just told myself I was gonna pull it off no matter what it took. So as I was singing, and also singing while drumming, I started to think what better way to become a singer than to just dive right in and front my own band. Plus it would push me to write my own songs which was also a long-term goal for me. The time seemed right. Another big motivator for me at that time was that I was reading this book called 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, in which he talked about the importance of having an ‘impossible goal’. That really hit home with me and I decided that my re-invention into a singer/drummer would be mine.

CT: How did you convince Jonny Nesta and Oscar to join the project?

JJT: The project really came alive when Jonny agreed to be on board. At first, I was reluctant to ask him because we were already pretty busy with Skull Fist, and on top of that, we were just coming off of doing Jonny’s own side band Starcrash. But turns out he was actually stoked to join. We’re always jamming anyway and we write well together so it just made sense. This was right around the beginning of the pandemic too so we suddenly had lots of downtime and could focus on it. We bought mics and proper gear to record. Finally made the jump into a recording software, before that we would use these ancient 8-track recorders haha. And Oscar was also an obvious choice for me, we’ve been in Operus together for like 6 years now, plus always helping each other with other projects. I wanted top players and also great friends to do this with, that’s the best way!

CT: Thunderor is a full-time band or is it a project?

JJT: In the beginning I wasn’t sure, I didn’t know if I could even pull it off or how it would turn out. I kinda told myself that I would let my satisfaction with the album determine how much effort I was gonna put into pushing it. I remember joking with Jonny that if it turned out terrible we could just sweep the release quietly under the rug haha. But now that it’s done I can say that I am very proud of our first album. It’s opened a new perspective to me. All my life I’ve given 100% to every band I’ve been part of. But because I’ve put more of my personality into this band, more creative investment, somehow it has unlocked potential I didn’t realize I had. So it will indeed be a full-time band, with already tours on the horizon, and more albums in the future.

CT: How was the songwriting process, did you all three participate? Did you recover material from before or is everything new?

JJT: I started by writing drum parts/arrangements and also some keyboard parts. So there were a bunch of ‘drum songs’ and a couple of piano songs. Me and Jonny would get together and just jam out each part until some riffs came out that we both liked. I would record the sessions so we ended up with these 10-minute long jam songs haha. Then I’d go back and listen, chop, move parts around into what I thought would be a good arrangement. After a few rounds of pre-pro we had a bunch of instrumental songs plus another that Jonny had written so we had enough for an album. And then I wrote the vocal melodies and keys on top. Oscar did the bass parts last. I guess it’s not your traditional approach haha but we’ve seemed to have found our method.

CT: Where did you record the album and how was the process? Do you think that the accumulated experience has made the recording sessions easier?

JJT: We actually recorded everything ourselves, was a learning experience for sure haha. But yeah we did it out of our jam space, not many bands were jamming so it was relatively quiet. I’ve tracked loads of drums myself before, but this was my first time working with ProTools and also comping. All of us have a good amount of experience doing it, so that was definitely an advantage. We have the foundation of how to do it, it was just a matter of doing it with a DAW. We’re so old school haha. But the main thing is the performance and being able to trust your ears. I think we captured the energy on the record. We wanted to stay away from any quantizing or pitch correction. Mixing is a whole other ballgame so we brought it to Chris Snow who mixed it at Vespa and then Harry Hess mastered it.

thunderor fire it up

CT: I was surprised by how good the voice sounds, is this your first time singing? At what point did you decide to make that decision to take care of the voice; you never looked for a vocalist?

JJT: Man, it’s so nice to hear that. Thank you haha. Yeah, it’s my first time. It took everything I had, I gave it my absolute best. I guess that’s the great thing about giving your best at something, because that’s literally all you can do, so you don’t need to deal with any feelings of regret or whatever. There are no “what ifs” to think about. So that’s nice. I remember when I told Jonny that I wanted to be the lead singer in the band he (in the most kindest way possible because it’s Jonny) politely told me he thought it was a bad idea haha. But I’ve come so far since then, and to have his belief in me now means so much. In times when I was ready to give up, he held his belief. I have so much further to go, but I’m happy with what I was able to do. I think of albums as time stamps for bands, a snapshot of what that band sounded like at that moment, stamped in time forever. So this one is ours. I hope that I’ll listen back 10 years from now and laugh but smile. If that makes sense haha.

CT: Is it difficult to play the drums and sing at the same time?

JJT: It was an incredible challenge in the beginning, I couldn’t even imagine singing let alone doing it while playing drums. And to have to sing into a mic on top of that. I couldn’t get the physics to make sense in my head I thought I would just smack the mic stand with my arms constantly and the mic would hit me in the teeth and the whole set up would just come crumbling down haha. But over time I worked through it. As a drummer I remembered that I have the advantage of trained independence, I’m already doing 4-way coordination so I just needed to add a fifth ‘limb’. Eventually, it started to feel the same as singing while strumming an acoustic guitar. Fills were trickier if I needed to sing over them, but now I can do it all no problem. And it’s very rewarding and satisfying. I don’t think I can go back now. I feel that I can get my message across much better by doing both, since that is ultimately what I want. I want the audience to feel the emotion that I am feeling. And as for the mic, I decided to go the Tommy Lee route which is working great for me, and plus looks cooler in my opinion.

CT: Does the fact that your frontman is on drums affect your live concerts?

JJT: So far it’s been cool. Of course, I want it to be great from an audience perspective and that poses some challenges, but I think we can totally make it work with some simple ideas. The fact that we’re a 3 –piece works in our favor so we can do like a reverse flying-V formation. I’m excited about the possibilities on bigger stages. A lot can be done with a riser and some lights. Naturally, I’m a big Phil Collins fan and would love to incorporate some of that influence in the live show. Like if I could go over to a piano and then back to the drums. We’ve also talked about the idea of me coming out front with the keytar. I think all of this will be further down the road, but excited about it already.

CT: How did you contact Boonsdale Records to release your debut album?

JJT: Well lucky for me I’m the owner of the label, so that was an easy sell haha. But I actually shopped it around a lot. I’ve been doing things DIY since forever, so I was kinda looking forward to collaborating with another label and working with a team. To find people who really believed in it. We got a couple of offers, but honestly, they just weren’t enticing enough. It’s rough out there. So we decided to release ourselves and I’m happy we did. In the end, no one will work it harder than myself, so better off. It’s more adventurous this way and more my style.

CT: I am surprised that you have already announced dates for Europe, do you think that today the doors are opening more easily than ten years ago or is it still complicated?

JJT: We had our eyes set on Europe right away, that’s where our biggest audience is and also where I’ve got the most contacts. Our March tour with Traveler is now getting rescheduled for June which was a bummer at first, but is actually working out better since the tour will be much longer now and we will hit more countries. I think it’s actually more difficult now than ever, especially with the pandemic dragging on and backing up tours further and further, ugh so brutal. And I guess it will be more complicated than ever too with vaccines and testing crap. We’re fortunate to have the experience and some clout to help make these tours happen, but it’s also an enormous amount of work and dedication. If anything, it will show that the bands who are out there touring are really the ones that want it the most.

CT: I suppose that Latin America will be an obligatory stop for Thunderor, do you have it contemplated?

JJT: Oh yes, we can’t wait to head down there. We’ve already got some shows supporting U.D.O. in Mexico (also in June) so that’s a good start. The fans are just so passionate, really looking forward to playing the material for those audiences.

CT: Finally, this is an obligatory question, what do you know about Skull Fist; will there be a new album soon?

JJT: Haha of course! We’ve been pretty quiet over the pandemic, but I’m happy to say that things will be picking up again real soon. We’ve actually just signed to a new label, with a very great team behind them, so we’re very stoked about that. I think that’s what we need at this point. The new album is done and will be out this spring. I can’t say much more than that haha but all will be revealed in probably February.

CT: Thank you very much for your time and congratulations on this great album! Any final words for readers?

JJT: Live your dreams, don’t give up, follow your heart. I hope that Thunderor can be a soundtrack for your adventures as it has been for mine.