Provoker is the new-wave brainchild of Bay Area musician Jonathon Lopez and vocalist Christian Petty. Lopez began the project intent on writing a horror movie soundtrack with Mercy Stroke and later enlisted the help of Petty to write the Dark Angel EP, which was released via Smoking Room in 2018. Their sound combines horror synths with thudding beats and bass, despondent vocals with hints of R&B, and classic reverb-drenched guitar tones to create a melodic and intensely catchy take on ’80s post-punk and darkwave. With a live lineup that includes percussionist Kristian Moreno and bassist Wil Palacios, Provoker has a fair amount of touring under its belt—from local shows where fans know all the songs to a promising opening set at Sacramento’s Aftershock Festival last year. Currently, the band is working on new material.

In this interview, the band shares how Provoker got started, tour highlights, favorite Keanu Reeves movies, and what’s coming up next.

How did the band meet?

Jonathon: I met Alex Petty (Christian’s older brother) while living in Oakland. We met at a friend’s house kind of randomly and started talking about drum machines and samplers. I was really into drum machines at the time. And we made plans to get together and make music. I showed him early Provoker tracks and also the stuff I was working on which would later turn out to be tracks for the Dark Angel EP. I told him I was looking for someone who knew how to sing and he told me about his brother Christian; I can’t remember if we met in person first or over email but I sent him “Sex with My Ex” and he sent me a back a vocal take. And I remember him saying he wanted to add more and I was like, “No, this is perfect this is exactly what I wanted.”

Christian: The first time I met Jonathon was at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in SF. I went with my brother to see The Greasy Strangler and after the movie was over we all convened outside and we didn’t speak to each other at all. A few months later my brother asked if I wanted to sing in his friend’s “goth band” and I was like, “Yeah.” We all met up at a practice space in Oakland and just kind of fucked around. Later, Jonathon sent me the “Sex with My Ex” track and I wrote to it the same day and sent it back. I was all self conscious about it ‘cause I wasn’t sure what he was looking for but he said he was into it so we just went from there.

Wil: I met Jon through playing punk shows when I moved up to the Bay. We started playing shows around 2015 and after some experimenting we ended up with our current lineup/sound.

Can you touch on the ’80s horror influence in the band’s music and aesthetic?

J: In the very early days of Provoker I was interested in scoring for movies and TV but had no idea how to go about doing that. I had this random idea to just make a fake movie and fake score and that turned into the first Provoker release. Mercy Stroke was the movie title; it had this old synth horror aesthetic, and that aesthetic kind of just stuck.

How would you describe Provoker’s sound?

J: This is always tough for me; I’ve never been set on a single genre or band I wanted to sound like when making the songs. I’ve heard people compare us to The Cure or Sisters of Mercy. There’s definitely some of those elements in there but I’ve never looked at this project as something that was exclusively post-punk, or punk really. Someone called it “Goth Drake” before which still makes me laugh.

C: Yeah, I feel like when I’m writing the songs I’m just making what sounds cool to me. I’m not pulling from one genre, I’m pulling from multiple. There is so much music that I like and it’s impossible to avoid their influence.

What are some tour highlights for the band?

C: Having a trailer next to GWAR and peering into their human form.

J: We always have a lot of fun in Vancouver. On our 2018 tour with Wingtips it was my first time in New Orleans; that’s a really cool city.

W: Vancouver has always been great. Playing Aftershock was definitely a fun experience.

Kristian: The most memorable for me would be either being on Canadian uppers dancing to Gesaffelstein at 333 on our first northwest tour or Halloween 2018 at The Skihaus in southern Illinois—of course high again. It was pouring rain and I was a “straight” Scorpio’s first gay ass kiss. 

How is the audience responding to your shows? 

C: I love seeing more people let loose. I’m starting to hear people sing some of the lyrics which is wild.

J: Generally good. It is crazy to see people sing along to our songs, or yell song titles at us while we’re on stage.

K: I love playing cities near home because people get really interactive and vocal.

What’s coming up next for Provoker?

J: We have a lot of new songs that we’re still deciding what to do with. Maybe over 20 tracks. We won’t be sitting on them for much longer. Following that I would guess another tour. As of now we have no upcoming shows planned.

C: Yeah, we’re trying to narrow it down to 10 or so. It’s hard because we obviously like all the songs but I guess it’s always good to have some in the chamber. We want to put out some more music videos.

There’s a photo of Keanu Reeves wearing a Provoker tee on the band’s Instagram. What is everyone’s favorite Keanu movie?

J: Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic and Speed left the biggest impressions on me. I vividly remember scenes from Johnny Mnemonic but I never understood what was actually happening. Matrix is obvious but it really is one of the best. Love the colors and weird leather hacker rave vibes.

C: My brother was almost in John Wick 3 but they never shot the scene. They dressed him up like a current Johnny Depp, you know with all the leather accessories and bandanas around the wrist. He ended up just standing around all day in this costume. Anyway, I’m gonna just say Point Break.

W: Matrix for sure but Point Break is a runner-up.

What bands are you currently listening to?

C: Some artists I’m into right now are Spellling, Kirkis and Dwight Sykes.

J: Revisiting old classics—Sarcofago and Hellhammer, Tical by Method Man. New stuff I’ve heard and liked—Kedr Livanskiy, Steve Lacy, Mall Grab, Identified Patient.

W: Brian Eno, G-Schmitt, and Kickback.

K: Lots of Italo Disco, Technotronic, X, Pelada, Molchat Doma, DaBaby, & Saweetie!!

What’s your favorite album from start to finish?

C: Prince by Prince ’cause it’s perfect.

J: GBH – Leather, Bristles, Studs & Acne.

W: Poison Idea – Pick Your King.

K: The Church by Mr.Oizo because he’s a fucking freak-psycho-genius and I want to have his baby.

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