POWERMAN 5000 began soon after founder and frontman Spider One dropped out of the prestigious School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. After years of false starts and various incarnations, POWERMAN 5000 eventually released its first EP, ‘True Force, in 1994, which quickly became a Boston rock favorite, catapulting the band to the top of the local scene. At the time, grunge was exploding and started to take over the airwaves and it wasn’t long before other bands began chasing that sound, but Spider had no interest. Instead he began smashing together a bizarre mix of rap, punk and metal. The results were undeniable and people quickly began to take notice. In 1996, PM5K followed up with their first full-length album, ‘The Blood-Splat Rating System.’ That album, along with the band’s growing fan base and infamous live show, led to a major label deal with DreamWorks Records. Dreamworks released an extended and remixed version of ‘The Blood-Splat Rating System,’ now titled ‘Mega! Kung Fu Radio.’ The record went on to expand PM5K’s following to a national level and allowed them the opportunity to tour with rock heavy weights such as Korn, Marilyn Manson and KISS, as well a slot on the first ever Ozzfest.
After a year of non-stop touring, PM5K returned to the studio to record what would be the album to blast the band to a new level of success. 1999’s science fiction opus, ‘Tonight The Stars Revolt!,’ would go on to sell two-million copies and turn the band into MTV regulars and rock radio mainstays. Sold out headlining tours followed, along with sharing stages with the likes of Metallica, Pantera, Kid Rock and others. For the band, ‘Tonight The Stars Revolt!’ changed everything and launched them from cult status to being in heavy rotation on MTV alongside Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Korn, Limp Bizkit and Creed. In the years to come, Powerman 5000 would experience its fair share of staff and label changes. 2001’s ‘Anyone for Doomsday?’ was shelved for what would become 2003’s ‘Transform’ (the final record for DreamWorks Records). With the music industry reeling from the rise of illegal file sharing and the shift to digital platforms, Dreamworks went under and the band found itself without a label but Spider remained determined to stay the course. After the dust settled, a stronger, more DIY, Powerman 5000 came back swinging with the punk influenced ‘Destroy What You Enjoy’ (2006), the very spacey ‘Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere’ (2009), a collection of cover tunes called ‘Copies, Clones and Replicants’ (2011) and perhaps their strongest release to date Builders of the Future (2014).
In the Fall of 2017, Powerman 5000 stand ready to release their latest onslaught, ‘New Wave.’ The new album, which drops on October 27th, 2017 via Pavement Entertainment, is as powerful and ambitious the albums which came before it. Spider sums it up this way, “After all these years, I feel like the band gets better with every record and tour. I’ve never lost the enthusiasm that I had from those early days and always want to treat each new album as if it’s our first. I’m not interested in the past, just creating the future. A big, loud, crazy future!” With the album’s first single, “Sid Vicious In A Dress,” heating up the airwaves and worldwide tour underway to bring ‘New Wave’ to the masses, the future is theirs for the taking. Truth be told, they wouldn’t have it any other way!
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Spider to discuss the longevity of Powerman 5000, what it takes to keep the band going in the murky waters of today’s ever-changing music industry, the making of ‘New Wave’ and what the future may hold for him as an artist.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did music first come into your life?
It’s funny, I remember exactly how it all happened. Like any other kid, music was this thing you heard while sitting in the back seat of your parents car once in awhile when they would turn the radio on. As a kid, I loved whatever was on the radio, whether it was Elton John or anything else. It was always there but it never really connected with me beyond thinking, “Oh, that’s a cool song. I can sing along to that.” It all seemed very weird, magical and distant to me. It wasn’t until my discovery of punk rock that things changed. That, to me, was such a different thing. As a 13 or 14-year-old kid, it sounded like what it felt like inside my head! [laughs] As a kid growing up in a northern Massachusetts town, I had nothing to do and felt like, “WHAT THE FUCK!?! I don’t fit in!” Nothing had articulated for me. By that, I mean Pink Floyd didn’t sound like what I felt like, if you know what I mean. Suddenly, there were these bands I started discovering. I feel that anyone who goes on to pursue something creative has what I call the moment, whether it’s a movie, a book, a song or something that someone said. I remember that exact moment, and it wasn’t necessarily a punk thing but it was in the punk realm. I remember being a kid, this will date me but it was pre-MTV, and watching HBO. Between movies, because all the movies didn’t line up on the hour, they would occasionally show music videos. I was sitting there one day, probably watching JAWS for the 400th time, when a music video from this punk-ska band, Madness, came on. It was a song called “One Step Beyond” and it blew my mind! [laughs] I was like, “What the fuck is this? WHAT IS THIS?!” There were guys with shaved heads and dark sunglasses dancing around the streets of London and, at that moment, I thought, “I need to know where this is, what this is and who these people are!” That really opened this weird floodgate of The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Clash before going deeper with stuff like Minor Threat, Black Flag. I went even deeper when I discovered there was a local scene in Boston. I would take the train into Boston on the weekends and go to the hardcore shows on Sundays. They were all ages shows and I discovered bands like SSD Control and Gangrene. That is where I not only felt super connected to something because it felt so authentic but it also then became the idea of, “OK, I could maybe do this!” Back to hearing things like Elton John or Pink Floyd, I could never imagine doing something like that because I couldn’t sing like that or play a fucking piano. I didn’t know anything about music! When I saw these other bands, I was like, “Fuck, that guy isn’t singing like Elton John. He’s just kind of screaming something. I could do that!” [laughs] It really inspired me. It wasn’t about proficiency. It was about an attitude and a message. Without rambling on forever, that’s how it all came together for me. In the same way, rap music would later become a similar thing for me. I was like, “Oh, this isn’t about proficiency. It’s about a message and these guys aren’t singing at all!” [laughs] I don’t know why but I was always drawn to music that was more about a vibe than anything else. I guess it’s true for everything. I wasn’t interested in painting realistic portraits. I liked guys who just threw paint on the canvas, splattered things around and made a mess!
You lived the bulk of your life inside the music industry. Has your view of music and the industry changed through the years?
For me personally, it’s kind of never changed. I mean, things are a little different now for sure. If you take anybody who’s interested in music who’s over 40, they’re going to instantly start talking about the good ol’ days and how it used to be so different. There is some truth to that and I do have a bit of me that feels that way but I also don’t want to be the guy who’s stuck talking about the good ol’ days! [laughs] In terms of how I’ve existed in and out of music for all these years, it’s been the same. I do things exactly the way I’ve done them since the beginning, whether it’s starting out on our own or on our friend’s indie label in Boston or DreamWorks Records or everything in between. It’s always been the same process for me, which is make the record I want to make, for better or worse. No one has ever told me how to do it or to get a certain songwriter or producer. I’ve always steered the ship, which may have been to my determent at times, and I’ve always controlled the image of the band and the artwork. I’ve been hands on in every single aspect from the beginning. I think you can do that! I think there is an assumption that you can’t. I think the bands that can’t are the bands that don’t want to or don’t have the ability to. I think there are bands that nothing really matters to honestly. I used to say there are bands that write the music and, after that, they don’t care. It’s like, “Tell me what shirt to wear … .” or “Tell me who will direct our video.” Now, I don’t even think it’s that. I think there are bands that don’t even care about writing the music. Now, it’s, “Find us a bunch of songwriters and have them write the songs for us.” I don’t even know what the point of being in a band anymore is if you are going to be like that and hoping it’s successful. I don’t know. I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve always functioned the same way because I don’t really know any other way to do it! It all goes back to that punk rock thing. It was always, “Do it yourself.” Nobody was going to put your record out for you, so you just did it yourself! You just pressed some CDs or whatever and hoped you had a couple of friends who would buy them! [laughs] It feel more like that now than ever. It feels like it has come back to that complete, DIY attitude.
What are the keys to longevity when it comes to keeping a band moving forward?
I think the key is not stopping, as simple as that sounds! [laughs] It’s funny, it reminds me of something. I was watching a documentary on George Harrison or something. This is after he had died and they were interviewing his wife. It was no secret that there were other women involved in his life. They asked his wife, “What was the secret to staying married all those years with everything that was going on?” She said, “The secret to staying married was not getting divorced!” [laughs] It’s kind of the same in a band. It’s never easy and it seems like every year it gets more difficult and more challenging. So, really, the key is just not stopping, not quitting. I think what happens with bands and artists that have been around for a while is that they aren’t in the same environment they once were and it becomes really difficult. It becomes difficult because there is an ego check involved because the money isn’t the same, this is not the same and that’s not the same and the things that you have to worry about have changed. Sometimes it becomes not that fun and you have to keep reminding yourself why you are doing it. I was having a conversation the other day of, “I don’t know if this is fun anymore.” I feel like the fun part is making the record, recording and playing shows. That is all fun but if I’m not doing those two things, it’s all about, “Make sure you hashtag the right things and we have to make sure we are getting on these playlists and these streams.” It’s like, “Ugh!” It’s stuff that I’m just not that interested in. It’s not that it doesn’t matter but it just doesn’t seem that fun, whereas before it was like, “Oh, we got the new posters in that are going to hang in the record stores!” And here I go again talking about the good ol’ days! [laughs] I just feel like there is less and less to celebrate in terms of the music side of it, so you have to always be your own cheerleader and always be re-energizing and focusing on what is actually cool, fun and creative about it. That’s what I’m saying about these bands that don’t seem to care about that end of it. I don’t even know what the satisfaction is for them because for me the satisfaction is writing a cool song or playing a great show. There used to be a lot of other things within there that felt very musically related but it seems like those things are slowly going away.
Your new album is “New Wave.” How did the ball get rolling and what was your vision?
All these albums kind of make themselves in a weird way. I usually have a couple of goals, whether it is achieving something sonically or lyrically. For this one, I definitely want to make a record that sounded a bit messier in a way. It’s very easy to get into the studio and really clean everything up. Then we go on the road and play these songs for a year. By the time we are done, these songs become different animals. I always think, “God, if we made the record now, they would be so much better.” I say that because there becomes an edge to the song that we didn’t have when we recorded them. So, this time around, I wanted to try my best to try and start at that point and make my voice sound like I’d been on the road for a year and then record it. That was the idea sonically, to infuse a little more of the live feeling to it. We recorded the whole thing, except for the drums at my house, and that was different. It was a much more relaxed vibe, which is probably why it took forever to make it! [laughs] That was kind of fun but the goal is always to figure out what I want to do and what seems cool to me at the time. I think there is definitely a trend to chase sounds these days and I’m not really good at that! I’m my own worst enemy! [laughs] I just kind of do whatever I feel like doing and hope somebody thinks it’s OK, ya know?
What were the biggest challenges you faced in bringing “New Wave” to life?
The biggest challenge is always writing 10 to 12 good songs. I always find, after making records all of these years, is that you think it would be easy but it’s never easy! It’s weird, it starts out really easy. I have this process where we write the first song and it’s like, “Holy shit! This is amazing! This is going to be so easy!” Then you write another and by the time you get to song four and five, you think, “Man, I’ve got nothing else! I’m tapped out.” [laughs] The next four, five, six and seven become work! Then you get to the point where you say, “OK, I think we’ve got this. I think we have an album here. Let’s write one more just for fun! The pressure’s off.” That song always ends up being the best song or the single! That’s what happened with this one. We wrote the whole album, said, “We got it. Let’s write one more.” We did and that’s how we got “Sid Vicious In A Dress,” which ended up being the first single. I think it’s perfectly logical. When you start there’s no pressure and when you end there’s no pressure, so those are the songs that always come the easiest. The other thing is that after you make bunch of records, it becomes more of a challenge to create something new. I mean, it’s easy to write one record because you have inspiration from the past 20 years that you’ve wanted to put out there! I think this is record 10 or 11 for me. I just always want to convey the way I feel, which is that I’m still excited about this. I don’t ever want to sound like I’m just going through the motions. It’s funny with this band because I feel like the tempos get faster and the music gets louder every record! At this point, shouldn’t we just be chillin’ out or sitting on stools with acoustic guitars? [laughs] Every time we go to make a record, I’m like, “We’ll amp it up this time! It’s gotta be louder! It’s gotta be faster!” Which creates hell on Earth when we go and do it live! [laughs]
When it comes to your songwriting process, how have things changed and stayed the same?
Essentially, it’s not that much different. The big difference comes from the rise of Pro Tools. It used to be that you’d get in the room with your bandmates and write the whole album live because you couldn’t afford to go in the studio, write, buy 1,000 rolls of tape and so on. You would basically have the record done and then book as much time as you could afford in a studio, whether it was two days or two weeks, you’d go in and that was it! You played the songs the best you could and you were done. Now, recording and writing have overlapped, so that has become the big difference over the course of the past couple of records. We sort of write as we record and construct these songs in a way that isn’t always organic and you have to be careful with that too. You have to realize you have to actually be able to play these things and they have to translate live. For me, that has been the biggest change.
Let’s dive further into the changes you have seen. When you look back on your career, how have you evolved as an artist?
Good question. I don’t know, maybe we have devolved! [laughs] Look, the more you do it, the more confident you get. I feel like I’ve gotten a better handle on how to express myself vocally. When you start out, you’re a little afraid. You are sure what to do and I never had the most traditional approach. I don’t even like to say that I’m a singer in a band because I don’t ever feel like I’m very traditional in how I sing. In fact, up until the last few records, I don’t even know if you would consider it singing because it was more like rapping, screaming or whatever. It was just a vocal styling. I feel like I have gotten better at that and that I’ve become a better singer. Everyone always in interviews say, as you know, that this is their best record yet. I really do feel like the last three records have been above and beyond anything we had done before. I guess I’m a really slow learner! [laughs] It took me a really long time to figure out to do what I do naturally but to do the best version. Sometimes, your best thing is the first record and you can never quite capture that magic. For me, I feel it’s been an ongoing process of figuring out how to do things a little better each time until you finally Frankenstein’d the best version of what you are.
With that said, where are you headed in the future, both short term and long term?
Long term, probably the nursing home. [laughs] Just kidding! Short term, it’s the grind. The records coming out and now it’s become increasingly difficult to get people to be aware that you exist. Even though there are infinitely more places to be online, it seems that no one pays attention, whereas before it was like, “Oh, they’re on MTV.” Or, “Yeah, there’s an article in ‘Rolling Stone’.” Everyone’s eyes were focused in the same places and now everybody’s eyes are everywhere. It’s like, “Hey, we’re over here!” So, it’s about awareness now and hitting the road, going out to play and being a band. That’s when you really feel like everything makes sense and all the other stuff becomes a blur. Once we hit the stage, it’s super loud and people are going nuts, I know instantly why we do this!
Is it safe to say this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Powerman 5000?
This record hasn’t even come out yet but I feel that as much as you sometimes may want to go, “Oh, fuck it! I’m done!,” I don’t know if I’ll ever stop doing this. I think I’ll just keep doing it until I physically can’t. It’s one of those things you can’t easily turn off. It’s not like a normal job where you are fully invested in it. For example, if you worked at a clothing store. You might love clothes and enjoy selling clothes but it’s not like if you walk away and go work at a restaurant, you feel like your soul is now empty, if you know what I mean. With stuff like music and art, not to sound pretentious of whatever, but there is that element where it’s really hard not to do. So, I don’t know if I will ever stop! I guess I’ll go until there is no one watching anymore or I just can’t physically do it anymore. I just feel like there is no point in stopping. I don’t know if it will always be the same or if the touring schedule will be the same but the long term for me is just to keep going!
That’s awesome. Your talents aren’t limited to music. Is there anything happening outside the band you can talk about?
Yeah, I’m always doing other stuff because my interests aren’t limited to music. I’ve had some success in some TV stuff. I had a show called “Death Valley” on MTV that I produced and created. Last year I developed an animated series for Disney, which didn’t end up getting on the air but there was a year of doing that. There is always stuff that I’m doing for the world of TV and film because I’m as interested in those mediums as much as I am in music. I’m going to be making efforts to transition more and more into that stuff. In addition, I’m always painting and writing. I’m always doing something. I just like making stuff!
You can inspire young artists. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
Wow! I really think the best lesson is to not chase or follow. I feel you should sometimes force yourself to do the opposite of that. It’s a natural instinct to go with the herd. It probably goes back to when we were cavemen. Creativity is a different thing. In some ways, I’ve always looked at it as, “Look where everybody else is going and run the other way as fast as possible!” [laughs] Back to my original point, it may be to my determent a lot of times but it’s allowed me to do this for as long as I have. No, I didn’t become the biggest rock band on the Earth. However, I feel like it’s a miracle that I’ve been able to beat the system, be happy and never wake up asking, “Why the fuck did I do that?” I never wake up thinking, “I’m embarrassed of that … ” or “I shouldn’t have listened to that fucker?” I think it comes down to not letting someone else dictate who you are or what you do. Ultimately, whether you succeed or fail, you’ll still be OK with yourself. It’s like if I put a record out and I really think it’s good, then I don’t care how many people say, “This is a piece of shit. He’s a fuckin’ loser … .” or whatever, because it’s the Internet and everyone’s a critic. It doesn’t affect you at all because in your heart you know it’s good. If I did something that I felt was done for the wrong reasons or I tried to sell-out or chase this or that, I would probably feel like I want to kill myself because the first thing I would think is, “They’re right. This does suck.” I think you can’t lose if you are truthful, honest and do what you want to do!
Thanks so much for your time today, Spider! We will spread the word on “New Wave” and can’t wait to see what you get into next!
Thanks, man! I appreciate your time!
‘New Wave’ will be release on October 27th, 2017. Visit www.powerman5000.com for all the latest news and tour dates. Connect with the band via social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Check out Spider’s kickass artwork at www.spideroneart.com.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.