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Mindforce frontman Jay Peta's life has played out like the plot of some gnarly coming-of-age film: Upstate New York high school soccer star turned hardcore devotee descends into drug-slinging hell before finding redemption in family and a new life teaching public school by day — and fronting one of the most vibrant hardcore acts in the game at night.
"Bro, I never thought I would own a house," the 42-year-old Peta tells Revolver of his unexpected trajectory. "I've lived next to boilers under stairs in basements in Poughkeepsie."
Peta's story is an inspiring, incredible one — and hardcore has played a starring role in it from the beginning. When he was just a bright-eyed teenage athlete, an older friend told him about these things called hardcore shows that featured "the scariest, craziest, most frightening, violent, fun music in the world." From that moment on he was hooked.
"It became my religion," Peta says of his devotion to hardcore while growing up in New York's Hudson Valley, the region where he still calls home. "To this day, when I make decisions in life, lyrics ring in my head of silly hardcore songs that I love."
Now, there's a whole new generation of zealots using hardcore as their north star — and it's Peta's lyrics guiding them through life's tribulations. Mindforce are presently a headlining act in the genre, commanding blowout crowds at fests like Sound and Fury and FYA, touring with Terror and continuing their rise to dominance with their sophomore album, New Lords.
Renowned for their live showmanship and air-tight playing, Mindforce's clever breed of metallic hardcore strikes a fresh balance between myriad heavy, thrashy and bouncy New York styles — like if Leeway were influenced by Merauder instead of the other way around.
The band are deservedly thriving. But for Peta, it took a long time to get here. For 20 years, he grinded in outfits that never broke outside of upstate New York. In 2016, Mindforce emerged as another humble beginning for the hardcore lifer, but this band shockingly took off. Much like owning a house, Peta's gratitude and genuine disbelief is apparent when he talks about the wild shows he gets to play every time Mindforce step onstage.
"It literally feels like what we always dreamed about as kids going to see Madball at [iconic Poughkeepsie venue] the Chance, always wanting to be that," Peta enthuses. "I'm pinching myself a lot of the time, man."
He has more eyes on him now than ever before, but Peta's always been a memorable sight at the shows he attended. "I was dancing for every single band, no matter what style. Every show." Throughout his adolescence, he earned a reputation for being a wild mosher and risky stage-diver — and despite getting knocked out cold at one of the first shows he attended, he kept it up well into adulthood.
A promising soccer star in his teens, he was set to graduate high school and play at the college level, but he chose hardcore instead. Music remained a constant, but his lack of direction in other areas of life led to several years of mayhem and crime in his early twenties. "Not the most productive, proud period of my life," he admits of the era during which he and his friends inhabited various houses throughout Poughkeepsie's rougher neighborhoods.
"We were all selling drugs," he says, voice lowering. "People died; friends passed away from drug abuse. And it unfortunately took some dark times to turn me around."
During this time, he met his future wife and her young daughter. Peta credits the formation of his happy family with pulling him out of a dangerous downward spiral. "She's the key to my success. If it wasn't for her, I don't know where the hell I would be in life."
In a noble rejection of his seedy past, Peta decided to follow in his father's footsteps and become a teacher, a job he still performs today at an inner-city public school in Poughkeepsie. For Peta, his passions for inspiring a classroom of students and a sweaty crowd of hardcore fans coexist perfectly. "I haven't not had a band since I was 16. I don't know any other way."
After his early 2010s band Living Laser fizzled out, Peta and guitarist Mike Shaw decided they wanted to form a new group that was heavier, drawing from their love of Nineties metallic hardcore — specifically the local bands they came up seeing like All Out War and Dissolve. This new band — which they dubbed Mindforce — began with no expectations to be heard by anyone outside of their friend group.
But they instantly connected with fans in the live setting and their early EPs took off nationally — their popularity exploding when Triple B Records released their superb 2018 debut album, Excalibur.
"It blew my mind," Peta says of the response that positioned them as one of hardcore's hottest new groups. "I've had whole life spans of bands where only 10 people give a fuck."
Right now, the ability to live out their wildest fantasies feels acutely special — because on two separate occasions, Mindforce's dreams briefly turned to nightmares. In the lead-up to Excalibur, his hard life of moshing finally caught up with him when a friend stage-dove off a monitor and landed on Peta's back. The vocalist had already racked up his fair share of broken bones and injuries — including getting thrown through a window, which nearly sliced his arm off — but this pain was different.
"That was bad, man," he soberly recalls. "I couldn't really walk for a couple months. I couldn't do any-thing. I went to a really dark mental place, and it was a yearlong recovery."
Many of Excalibur's lyrics are about Peta overcoming that injury and being able to return to the stage, swinging arms and jumping giddily in his signature energetic style. ("I'm back stronger than ever, bro," he gushes of his current form.) Just when Mindforce got back into fighting shape, the band suffered another devastating blow when Shaw was involved in a near-fatal head-on car collision that resulted in broken ribs and serious fractures in his left leg.
"We thought Mindforce was done," Peta recalls of when the doctors said Shaw may never walk or play guitar again. "And this fucking maniac came back like an animal." Mindforce miraculously returned to the stage just six months later and continued full steam ahead: playing bigger and better shows up until the pandemic, and then dropping the excellent Swingin Swords, Choppin Lords EP in 2020.
Ironically, while the band would've been devastated to suffer a tragic end, Mindforce never actually intended to stick around long enough to release a second album. "I can't believe we wrote another LP," Peta says of New Lords with a laugh. Even after the love they got from Excalibur, he says that their plan since the beginning was to make one album, drop a few seven-inches and singles and then fade away — preserving their spotless catalog and going out on top like many of the greatest hardcore bands before them.
But their perspective changed after the pandemic arrived and ripped live shows away from them at the peak of their powers. Peta and Co. had a revelation about not taking anything for granted, and decided they had one more full-length in them.
"The only word that comes to mind is gratitude," Peta says of the band's continued success and where he's at in life. "I'm somebody who believes in karma. And I had a lot of bad karma for a while. I'm trying to build it up good, and I think maybe that helped Mindforce out."