Powerman 5000’s Spider One: The MetalSucks Interview
Spider One is a funny guy. He has a great sense of humor and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is well aware of MetalSucks and Blabbermouth and has read the comments and thinks some of them are funny. A lot of people in metal don’t care for his music or slag him merely for being Rob Zombie’s kid brother. I think he’s great; but I also think his music is marginalized in that PM5K is promoted as being metal, when it’s really a hybrid of rock and electronica.
Given the opportunity to interview Spider for MetalSucks, I purposely did not ask him about his brother, even though they’re playing a couple of shows together later this year. No one wants to be in anyone’s shadow, and I’m more interested in what Spider has to say about his own band and music, which is plenty. The band has just released a great new album, Builders of the Future, and is touring the States in August, after finishing a summer festival tour in Europe. If you love PM5K, you’ll enjoy this; if you don’t, you might learn something. If you still hate him, just type: “MESHUGGAH” into the comments.
MICK STINGLEY/METALSUCKS: A lot of people categorize the band as nu-metal; and certainly you perform at metal festivals and much of your press is with metal media, but how do you identify the music of Powerman 5000?
SPIDER: Well, we are misunderstood, for sure. We’ve been spending our lives trying to sound like Meshuggah and we haven’t quite gotten there yet. [laughs] It’s just… you know what I mean? Every time there’s a story, maybe on Blabbermouth or somewhere there are always comments like, [goes into deep, mush-mouthed voice]: “FUCK POWERMAN! MESHUGGAH!”
[laughs] You realize you’re just setting yourself up for more of those now.
I know. [laughs] You know, it’s funny: we just got back from Europe. We did all these giant metal fests, outdoor festivals. We did Download, Hellfest – all this stuff. And we were surrounded by, what anyone would consider, metal bands. We were opening for Iron Maiden and a million other bands. You do these festivals over there and there’s a hundred bands on the bill and you’re walking through the backstage area and there’s dressing room after dressing room with the band names on them and I can’t read them because they’re all in some really weird font – I don’t know who any of these bands are! [laughs] And we’re like a fucking pop band compared to those guys. But the reality is: it doesn’t really matter. And certainly in the context of those festivals in Europe, I mean, we figured we were going into these situations and going to get massacred, and it was the opposite. There’d be fucking ten or twenty death metal, extreme metal bands before us and we’d go up there and do our thing, with melodies and hooks, and people would go fucking nuts, you know? It was a good feeling; it was like… you don’t have to compete necessarily, on somebody else’s terms, you just do your thing. I have a couple of new guys in the band and they were getting nervous before one of our first shows over there, like, “Fuck! What should we do?” And I said, “You just go out there and do what you do and do it confidently. If people like it, they like it; and if they don’t, they don’t.” There’s nothing you can do about it. So, I’ve always felt like, in the metal world or otherwise, we’ve always had one foot in and one foot out. That’s the way I describe it. We’ve toured with Metallica and done Ozzfest and all this stuff, and we’re one foot in and one foot out. We can exist in that world, but we aren’t that world, not a hundred per cent – not by a longshot. And we know that. And like I said, I always find it really amusing when, you know, these anonymous online people sort of, try to make me understand that I’m doing it wrong! [laughs] So I don’t know. You can only do what you do and you can’t really worry about anything past that.
That’s nice, but… MESHUGGAH!
So let’s talk about the new album, Builders of the Future. The single, “How to be aHuman,” is very catchy; but it offers something that, lyrically, I think a lot of people might be missing when they listen to Powerman. Going back to songs like “Wild World,” “Miss America,” “Theme To A Fake Revolution,” “That’s Entertainment” and “A Is For Apathy” you have a very interesting commentary on American culture, if not the world in general. You start the new song with “They like to drink/they like to smoke/they like to eat and when they eat it’s ‘til they choke” – “Miss America,” opens, “Fat people in shopping malls/meet me at the Big And Tall/Not for sale, but might be for rent/raise up the flag on the circus tent/You might miss America when it’s gone.” In “Wild World” you sing, “It’s a wild, wild world/and there’s money to be made/off someone else’s shame/every day and every night”… I could go on, but those stand out to me and it’s not always about… science fiction.
Yeah. Yeah, you’re totally right. It’s not just about American culture but more about humanity in general. I mean, yeah, a lot of people like to think that Powerman is just about science fiction, robots and laser guns, but like any good science fiction book or movie, it’s all social commentary. I think if you go back to the 30s, 40s and 50s, that was the whole purpose of fantasy and science fiction: to be able to comment on social and political events of the day without getting in trouble. You could wrap it in a different package and people wouldn’t find it offensive. I think that my particular commentary comes from my upbringing as a punk rock kid, growing up on the Sex Pistols and the Clash and Ramones. Good punk rock was all about taking the piss on society, and pointing out how fucked up we all were, because normal mainstream rock didn’t really do that. Certainly Powerman is not a punk rock band, but at the heart of the lyrics is that punk rock spirit and I think it’s a natural thing to put those ideas together. And you’re right, “Miss America” and “How To Be A Human” is pointing a finger and looking at the absurdity of it all. There was a time in the early days of Powerman where there wasn’t a lot of sense to some of the lyrics and it was more abstract and just sounded really cool; more poetic I suppose but it didn’t really say anything. As time went on I thought maybe there was something to say here and on some of the later album I think there’s a much more clear lyrical point of view. But yeah, you’re right, it’s definitely a cultural observation that I don’t think a lot of people do pick up on or understand at all. They think, “When Worlds Collide” and all that and even that song is a societal thing where, if it came down to that and the world was coming to an end, who would survive and who would be chosen to survive and how and why are certain people valued more than others?
It’s not all about lasers and robots.
Well, when you’re in a rock band you have to appeal to people at a visceral level, the most important thing is…
…that it rocks.
Yeah. Hopefully you get people involved because they go, “Well, this fuckin’ rocks! This fuckin’ riff is cool and I like that.” You know? And then it starts to filter out in a pyramid effect and hopefully those people start to notice other things about it beyond the fact that the guitar is heavy or whatever.
When the band started out you had a very different sound.
Yeah, for sure.
What was going on at the time and how did the band evolve into the sound that you’re most recognized for now?
There was no plan. I had no idea what it was to be in a band or any concept of the music business, what an A&R person was or how to get a record deal. I didn’t know anything. I just purely thought it would be cool to have a band, you know? In the early days it was enough to find people I could get along with well enough to get into a room and try to make a song. I was very much a punk rock kid, into hardcore, but I also got very into rap; and in those days, when everyone else was chasing the grunge bandwagon, I thought it would be cool if we did something that was both rap and rock. This was before I’d heard Rage Against The Machine or whomever. We were just experimenting with this weird thing and we liked AC/DC and Public Enemy and our sound wasn’t really a mainstream thing. Not to say it didn’t exist…
But it became a mainstream thing.
Right, and for better or worse, my thing is always to run away from “what’s happening now.” And I think a big part of the change in the sound at the time came from our guitar player, Mike Tempesta, who was very much a metal guy, very riff-oriented. I was like, “This is fucking cool!” And suddenly we were way heavier, so he had a big part in that and then we added in electronics and “Tonight The Stars Revolt” became our biggest and most popular record and so then that was our sound. Electronics mixed with metal. That became our identity; though there were definitely moments when I was like, “Fuck this!” You know?
“Transform,” “Destroy What You Enjoy”…
Right. I think it’s a natural thing for creative people to go, “Oh, cool. This is what made me successful… now I don’t want to do this anymore.” [laughs]
You know? So we strayed a bit and stripped it down and had a couple of more punk rock sounding albums; then around 2009 it got to the point where I said, “You know what? I love this!” So we came back around to that electronic and metal sci-fi thing and now I’m so comfortable with it and I’m so happy with that vibe… that’s what it is. Not to say that I don’t want to experiment or try different things, but at the heart of it, that is what it will always be now. And I’m fine with that.
So you destroyed what you enjoyed and now you’re building the future…
In a sense, yeah. To me, the new record is – I’m so happy with it, you know? I think it sounds great and it feels like it’s exactly what the band should be doing. It was so much fun to make and I feel like we did some stuff on there that we haven’t done before.
We were really focused, about who we are and what we’re doing. And so we were comfortable to experiment with songs like, “I Want To Kill You” and it’s probably going to end up as either the favorite or one of the most hated songs we’ve ever done. Which is cool, because to me that means it’s probably a good song.
The acoustic murder-suicide song? I love it! I hope that goes to radio.
We’ll see… the other song we did that was experimental was the title track, which is all electronic. One of my dream bands is just a computer with no actual musicians. [laughs] Someday, maybe…
You did an interview recently, that I saw on YouTube, where you mentioned that you were frontloading some of the new songs into the set and they were going over really well. What are some of those songs, besides the single?
Ah, let’s see… we’ve been playing, “Invade Destroy Repeat,” we play “How To Be A Human”… we play “You’re Gonna Love It If You Like It Or Not” and “We Want It All.” I think those are all the ones we’ve been playing so far.
So people going to see you on tour should check those out if they don’t have the album yet.
Yeah, it’s like instant gratification. It’s funny, because – getting back to the European festivals we played – we were playing one of these shows and it was just SO METAL and I said, “Fuck it, let’s play ‘You’re Gonna Love It’!” – which is one of the poppier songs on the album, for lack of a better term, and everyone went fucking nuts. Jumping around and they were really getting into it. It’s just so funny to see how people respond when you present them with something that’s just so infectious and catchy, you know what I mean? The preconceived notion is that all these kids want to do is headbang and mosh; but it’s not true – not entirely – because people are so ingrained with pop music because of our culture that they can’t help but respond to something like that. So maybe when we go out in August we’ll try to slip in a couple of new ones, but it’s always encouraging when new material goes over so well.
I meant to ask… you’ve been saying “we” a lot and there’s been a number of lineup changes over the years. What’s behind that and what is your songwriting process – how do you record now – when it seems to be pretty much just you?
Uh, yeah… as far as lineup changes, I think we’re up to about 433 guitar players or something like that… [laughs] I’m trying to break the world record for most bandmembers. It’s various reasons, not just one reason. Some people just want to quit, they’re done, they don’t want to tour anymore… “Well, okay, then, you can’t be in the band.” And then sometimes people are a pain-in-the-ass and they have problems and you can’t deal with it anymore… and sometimes it’s mutual. There’s a million reasons in the end. It’s hard to keep a band together. You have dysfunctional human beings to begin with, that don’t fit into any other place in society, and then you’re trying to hold down a stable environment in a band [laughs] … so there’s a million reasons why people come and go. As far as how we write now, it comes from so many different places. It could be a riff, a beat, a lyric, a song title… we don’t write the old-school way with a band in a room, jamming. We write in a Pro-Tools environment, you know? You write and record and produce at the same time, so by the time the song is done… the song is done. Which is fine, because I don’t really miss the days of rehearsal spaces and listening to the drummer for three hours blowing my ears out. I like writing with computers: it’s fun.
Speaking of blowing your ears out: tell me about the song, “I Can’t Fucking Hear You.”
That’s a song I wrote with an ex-guitar player, who used to be in Powerman, Evan Rodaniche, who helped produce the record. He had an unfinished version of that song that he had constructed for his own band, and he didn’t know what to do with the song. I loved it, so we ended up working on it and I think it works perfectly. It’s about isolation on a science fiction level but also about trying to communicate on a human level; but I love the fact that the hook itself fits into that cliché rock and roll thing when a singer is addressing the audience – like when Ozzy says, “I can’t fucking hear you!” Twenty thousand people screaming and it’s like, “Yes you can hear us!” So it’s almost comical in a sense.
You did a covers album a while back, Copies, Clones and Replicants – I didn’t even know or hear anything about that at that the time it came out. How did that come about and why was it so under the radar?
Yeah, for me too! [laughs] There was zero publicity about it and I guess, intentionally. But that was… the cover tunes record was weird. We got approached to record twelve cover tunes for the purposes of licensing; in other words, for placement in TV and stuff like that. We had done “Let The Good Times Roll” in ‘99 and then “Relax” for the Zoolander soundtrack and we dabbled with some stuff in the early days. So we did these twelve new covers and it was in the fine print in the contract that it could potentially be released as a record, blah, blah, blah; but my assumption was that it would never be released as a record. I didn’t want to put a cover tunes record out, and I can’t imagine anyone else wanted us to either; but lo and behold, I was wrong. Suddenly it was out and it got really weird and messy and the label was not being really cool about it and were doing weird things that I won’t get into. But I wasn’t going to help them with the record because they weren’t being cool, and so it just kinda went out. Quietly.
A record label wasn’t being cool, huh?
Yeah, exactly. That said, there’s some good stuff on there and I’m not ashamed of it by any means, I like a lot of the songs that we did. People seem to dig it. It certainly shows a lot of the influences that I grew up with.
I think “20th Century Boy” and the Fixx cover, “One Thing Leads To Another” stand out. What stands out for you?
One of my favorites is the Clash cover “Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” because they are my favorite band of all time and it couldn’t be further from the original. I thought Bowie’s “Space Oddity” came out really cool because we made it really grand and big. I liked the Eddy Grant cover “Electric Avenue” because I never liked the song when it came out and I probably should have because it was such a huge hit at the time; but I think having done it I like it more now and I think we did a good job.
One thing I’ve wondered and never heard you discuss is the fact that you’re from north of Boston, from Haverhill…
Little known fact about Haverhill: it’s the home of Archie’s Comics. All the characters in Archie – Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica – were based on real people from Haverhill. I always thought that was cool. You’d think they’d have a museum for it, but they don’t.
That’s interesting; but what I really want to know is why don’t you have a Boston accent?
Oh, well I did. You know, I never thought I had one… and I guess I’ve lost it over the years since I’ve lived in L.A. But I never thought I had one until a friend of mine from high school sent me a video of us playing a high school talent show when we had a punk rock band called “Vital Interest” – which was very political [laughs] – and I’m on the mic and I’m just… super-heavy Boston accent! (tears right in a flawless Boston accent) “It’s fahkin’ dahk in heeah, dood!” [laughs] I was like, “Holy shit! I actually talked like that!” Somehow I lost it along the way, but if I go back there I can slip into it for sure.
Do you go back there? Do you have family there?
No, but if I’m on tour… although we haven’t played Boston proper in a long time. [tears in accent again] “We fahkin’ played WUH-STUH, dood! Yaa know! Fahkin’ SPIDUH! I wuz in fahkin’ GEEAHMUHTREE class with yaa!”
Yeah, it’s easy to fall back into it, Boston. It is a unique spot in the universe, that’s for sure.
Okay, last question. I was watching the video for “Bombshell” before the interview. I like that song and the video’s great. When you’re out on tour and you play that song, do you do, what I’ve been calling, “the Bombshell dance” on stage? You have a crazy, bunch of jumping moves you do in the video… do you recreate them live?
[laughs] You know… I – I don’t know if I do – I don’t think so. I don’t know what that is. Very proud of it, whatever it is – it should have a name.
It should have a name! The Bombshell! The Bombshell Dance!
It’s just… when you make videos you want to make it look like you’re really excited and I always try to come up… spastic dance moves to do. But then on stage you have to hold a microphone and actually sing and it’s a whole different vibe and you can’t get into your alternative moves and you can’t have your arms flailing quite as much. That’s funny, though. Maybe…
Mick Stingley’s “Intro to PM5K” Spotify Playlist
Get all upcoming Powerman 5000 tour dates here.