Powerman 5000 has carved out a corner of the galaxy where their devoted supporters created a culture that’s bigger than music, drawing upon a tapestry of comic books, horror films and fantasy cobbled together years before “geek” became a hip buzzword. Visionary and sole remaining original member Spider One, who founded Powerman 5000 with a 4-track and a drum machine, continues as the driving force behind the band. Like The Ramones, AC/DC and Motörhead, Powerman 5000 has arrived at a tried-and-true sound upon which listeners can depend. A Powerman 5000 record is ultimately the musical equivalent of The Shogun Warriors, Blackula and Mohammad Ali throwing down with each other across Saturn’s moons in the most epic comic book crossover ever.
Armed with giant hooks and crowd-empowering choruses, Spider and his merry band of musical superheroes have made a record vibrantly reminiscent of their commercial breakthrough Tonight the Stars Revolt! (which gave DreamWorks Records their first platinum plaque). Builders Of The Future delivers on the promise of 2009’s return-to-form Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere. Powerman 5000 has retrofitted their songwriting prowess even further, sounding hungry yet sophisticated, as if smiling amid a dystopian landscape, flipping middle fingers in the air and dancing till doomsday. Their forthcoming album, ‘Builders of The Future,’ takes the sound the sci-fi metal sound they have made their own to a whole new level. New tracks like “How To Be A Human,” “Invade, Destroy, Repeat,” “Live It Up Before You’re Dead” and “Modern World” are turbocharged with the same futuristic, b-movie bite of enduring, electro-tinged Powerman 5000 anthems like “When Worlds Collide” and “Nobody’s Real.”
‘Builders Of The Future’ is the first release through Powerman 5000’s partnership with T-Boy Records, a co-venture with Universal Music Enterprises founded by veteran rock manager Andy Gould. Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Spider to discuss the longevity of the band, the creation of their powerful new album and what the future might hold for one of rock’s most unique bands.
I always like to delve into the past a little bit to start off. What are some of your first musical memories?
I think like any kid, your first memories of music come from sitting in the back seat of the car and listening to the radio. For me, those moments made music seem like some weird, magical, distant thing that I didn’t really understand. I loved music like any other kid growing up listening to The Beatles or whatever else happened to be around. It wasn’t until my high school years, around thirteen years old, that I started stumbling on to punk rock. It was bands like The Ramones, The Clash and The Sex Pistols. For whatever reason, being a little kid in the suburbs, that music resonated with me so deeply and it opened up an entire world to me. It also made music a tangible thing. It was like “Oh shit! I get it! I can do that. Those guys are just like me.” They didn’t seem like these magical creatures. I thought “I can sing like that, maybe!” Those are the bands that really connected with me early on. That led to more hardcore bands. I lived in Massachusetts and would go into Boston on the weekend to see the all ages hardcore matinees with local bands and other bands that would come through town, like Black Flag. I found a home in that world. Even though Powerman 5000 is not by any stretch of the imagination a punk rock band, that attitude and feeling of not being about proficiency but having an attitude and sound always made more sense to me more than who could play the fastest guitar solo.
Was there a particular catalyst which made you pursue music as a career as opposed to going a different route?
I don’t know if it was one particular thing. It’s funny, not that this is the moment, but I remember seeing a Clash music video. It was just those guys together with their guitars and combat boots and it just looked so fucking cool to me. It was like “That is what I want to be!” I think it was that whole idea. Also, growing up in a small town with not a lot to do, it was an escape. It was something that seemed like it could maybe we a way out in a sense. Most of my friends just ended up staying there and working in a factory or whatever. I just could never do that. It seems to be a common thread between people who want to perform; that is usually that they are awkward in real life. That was me! I could barely talk to anybody but getting on stage was a completely comfortable and natural thing! I don’t know what that says about what I need in life! [laughs]
Powerman 5000 has been at it for many, many years now and you are the driving force behind it. To what do you attribute the longevity of the band?
Oh, I don’t know. Taking five years between every album probably! [laughs] That is one trick for sticking around! [laughs] I don’t know. I feel like we have been on every level; the highest of highs, the lowest of lows and everywhere in between. Part of this is that you just want to keep doing this! That is how you have a long career, you just don’t stop! I think a lot of bands give up because it is hard. It is harder than ever to find a road to success, breaking even or making a living doing this. Then there are other times when you do have success and maybe you are the favor of the moment and the winds change and you aren’t there anymore, so you have to suck it up and struggle. For me, I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to stop. It is not always about how many records you sell and how many people are in the club, it is about other things. Of course, everyone has to survive and it is great to have the success, for sure. It is a different world out there now and success if defined in different ways. I just love to do it and I think you just stay in the game and keep swinging. Your peers start to disappear or bands breakup and you find you are still standing. There is no real secret to it.
That brings us to your new album, “Builders of The Future.” What were your expectations or goals going into this album?
The basic goal of creating any record is to try and create a better record than the last one. I think we accomplished that. Every time you make a record, you learn something about yourself or learn some new tricks. Honestly, early on we sort of established a sound with the “Tonight The Stars Revolt” record, which is that sort of electronic metal with science fiction undertones and all that stuff. We planted our flag there and that is what most people know us for. Over the years we have diverted and experimented. The record before this new one, we really got back to that sound and found a new love for it, at least I did. With “Builders of The Future,” I didn’t really want to stray too much from that. I feel I am finally really comfortable and at home with that signature sound we have. I would say most of that follow us consider that to be the sound they dig the most. I just wanted to continue on that sound and vibe but make it bigger, better and weirder than ever. That was my goal; to keep moving in that direction.
You mentioned each album being a learning experience. What jumps out at you as the biggest learning experience from this album?
I think you just learn what makes a better song. It is so funny; I go back to the punk rock thing I mentioned earlier with me. In the very early days of Powerman, it was very simple. My vocal was very simple with kind of rappy, chanted vocals and there was no real attempt at melody or song structure. As you do it more, you learn, grow and become more confident. It is funny after twenty years of doing this I am like “Wow! Let’s attempt some harmonies here!” [laughs] Those are things we never did before. We did a lot of that on this record. I think the songwriting is as strong as it has ever been and I think my vocal performances are the best ones I have ever done.
What can you tell us about you songwriting process these days and how it all came together for this album?
There is a combination of things. Every time you make a record, you think it is going to be easy because you have done so many of them but it never is. Typically, I find the first song is the easiest one. Then I start thinking, “This is going to be so easy! We will have this thing done in a week!” Fast forward to a year later and you are worried if it is going to work out at all! [laughs] The process is generally that there are one or two guys that step up and co-write with me, even ex-members. For example, we co-produced this record with Evan Rodaniche who used to be in Powerman for a while as a guitar player. He is a super talented producer and songwriter. Almost half of the record I wrote with Evan and is kind of like the sixth member of the band or the fifth Beatle, whatever you want to say! It can start with anything. It can be a lyric, a song title, a beat or a tempo but generally I like to start with some sort of rough musical structure. It could be a guitar riff or a chord progression and then I dive into the lyrics after that. There is no real template and songs come from weird places. You never know how it will all come together!
What inspires your writing? Is there any place in particular you are looking these days for inspiration?
Musically, it is a weird thing. You have to be aware of what is going on so that you don’t sound like the weird old band that has no idea of what is happening in the world but you also have to be true to your own thing and sort of shut out everything else. It is a weird combination of being inspired by stuff and not wanting to consider what other people do. I never want to feel like I am chasing anybody else. There have been many times over the years where I have been nudged by whoever saying “You should try this.” or “You should do that. Look how popular it is right now.” At the end of the day, you just have to do what you do and do it the best you can. I am generally inspired by music outside of our genre, whether it is an electronic band or whatever. Then I try to implement some of those cool things into what we do to see what happens.
Powerman 5000 has certainly given you range to explore many different sounds through the years. Is there still some ground you are eager to cover or something you have always wanted to make work but just couldn’t get it to click?
I am a little schizophrenic musically. I have to rein myself in a lot of times or I feel like I would make an album that didn’t make any sense to anybody! [laughs] “Let’s do a country song!” [laughs] Even on “Builders of The Future,” we have a song called “I Want To Kill You.” It is something we have never done before. It is a weird, trippy, acoustic murder ballad. It is difficult to explain but to anybody who has followed us will be pleasantly surprised by what we did. There is always stuff I want to try but I have to be careful not to dilute what is expected of us, I suppose. I would love to go off and do a side project where it is maybe no guitars, full electronic or some kind of weird sort of Die Antwoord sort of craziness with no rules whatsoever. When you are in a band for this long, as experimental as we are and I think our fans are used to us implementing many different elements, I feel blessed we have established the type of fan base who aren’t going to turn their backs if we try something new. On the other hand, you want to be careful not to stretch it so think that it isn’t making sense to anyone anymore.
Is a solo project of some sort something that might be in the cards for you in the future?
I mean, who knows. I have thought about it a million times and never done it. It is possible. Music is such a fun thing; I would probably never make a serious attempt at a solo career or another band. Powerman 5000 is pretty much the only band I have ever been in, other than a silly high school punk rock band. To switch gears now just doesn’t make any sense. Like I said, I feel I can pretty much do almost anything I want within this band. If I did anything else, it would probably just be for fun when I had a spare moment to see what would happen.
What can we expect in the way of videos in support of the new album?
We just completed the lyric video for “How To Be A Human.” It is more than just a lyric video and has some live stuff we shot that is pretty cool. That should be coming out very soon because I know it is done. We did shoot another video for “How To Be A Human,” so that will be following the lyric video as an official video with the whole band. It is a very simple approach. Over the years, we have done some outrageous videos and sometimes it is hard to tell if it is even a real band between the laser beams and robots! [laughs] I wanted to show the band in a real, organic setting fuckin’ rocking out! That is the premise of the video.
You are no stranger to touring. Is your approach different now than it was in the beginning?
I think it has always been the same. From the beginning, I have always felt the live show is really the most important part of being in a band. You can have a hit single on the radio but the live performance is your first and last chance to make someone a fan of your band. Someone might go to see your band because of a song but if you are terrible on stage, and then you have lost them. I always approach ever show as the last and most important we have ever played, no matter if it is a radio festival in front of 20,000 people or a club show with 200 people. Either way, you go out there and destroy it to the best of your ability every single night no matter how sick, tired or whatever you may be. On this particular tour, we are doing 38 shows in 43 days, which is insane! You can be battered, bruised and feeling like you can’t possibly do another one but the second you are ready to hit the stage and the intro starts rolling, something crazy happens and you are like “Fuck it! Let’s go! I’ve got this!” It is a fun challenge. It is like going to war. You and your troops are out there, a different city every day and a different challenge. There is nothing quite like it really.
What do you feel the future holds for Powerman 5000? Do you have any sort of long term plans?
My long terms plans probably never included me doing it as long as I have! [laughs] It’s crazy! Every record I have put out since about 2001, I always assumed would be the last one. It’s funny. There are little signs on each record. They are almost like little farewell songs, if you look closely enough. It’s crazy that we are in 2014 and here we go again! [laughs] I have learned to never know! I could tell you, “Well, this could be it!” and then we find ourselves talking in another ten years, ya know! It goes back to what we were saying before; you just do it until you don’t want to do it anymore or until it is not fun. Maybe there will comes a day where I think, “I hate this.” or “I’m tapped out. I have no more ideas.” It is funny how even record seems like the first one again. After all these years of doing it, I still feel like a kid who is putting his first record out. Who knows where it will all lead.
You have dabbled in many projects outside of the world of music. Are there any projects in the works there?
Yeah. I produced a TV show a couple of years back. I really want to get back into that world again. I have missed it. I would also like to try to develop some film stuff. I have been directing some videos lately for a band called Knee High Fox. They will be doing the first leg of the tour with us. I am really kind of antsy to get back into that but I am sometimes my own worst enemy and distract myself with too many things. We were getting ready for touring and I, for some reason, decided to have an art show and painted all of these paintings. I was like “What am I doing! I don’t have enough time for this!” [laughs] I am really just trying to focus on the band and the record right now, at least through the Fall. I want to give it 150% and not think about much else. I am sure I will get on the road and be dabbling in some other stuff but eventually I would like to get back into film and television.
Speaking of side projects, have you even given thought about doing some type of behind-the-scenes book focusing on all the art and production that has gone into Powerman 5000 through the years?
That is a great idea. I don’t know if too many people would care but it is a cool idea. I have thought of that. What happens is, you have been doing this for so long, you start to acquire so much stuff and so much history in the way of photos, lyrics, sketches and tour books. It would be great on a personal level to put it all together. It is almost like when you are old and gray and sitting on the porch with your grandkids like “Ok, kids! Here is the story!” [laughs] Hopefully, someday. That would be a big undertaking, for sure.
You can serve as an inspiration to so many young creatives. What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to those who might be looking to make their career in the music industry in today’s climate?
It is hard to say, simply because things have changed so much. I still think what never changes is that you have to be authentic and ultimately you will be swayed by everyone else and be told you will never do it, what you doing is wrong, the way you are dressing is wrong, the style of music is something no one cares about or whatever. To succeed in this business, you have to be slightly delusional! [laughs] I think that is the best advice I could give to anyone. Just be delusional about yourself and believe in yourself to a point where no one else will but also follow it up with twice as much hard work. It doesn’t happen without that! Be the best live band, write the best songs you can and believe in it until the end because nobody else will until it is already successful and proven. Then everyone will want to be your buddy. [laughs]
I want to thank you for your time, Spider. I have been playing the album quite a bit and there are some great songs on there. I can’t to see them live!
Thank you, man! I appreciate it. Good talkin’ to you!
Powerman 5000’s ‘Builders of The Future’ is set to arrive May 27 via T-Boy Records/UMe. The album is available for CD and digital preorder available now.