Almost no one brings up the term "nu metal" any longer. In the metalverse, said phrase is enough to provoke a high-stakes mosh to the death. Most of the bands who rose up briefly in the late nineties under this banner are no longer with us, or many of the few remainders simply have no puzzle pieces left with which to stay relevant.
Not so with Static-X, who continue to ride their disco-thrash train ride into the ears of many fans. Powerman 5000, who lit up the charts in 1995 with their sci-fi-themed cyber metal blastoff Tonight the Stars Revolt, have lingered around for their devout fans, noticebly drifting away from the cosmos and into more grounded pure punk pastures as of 2003's Transform and more so 2006's Destroy What You Enjoy.
This year, however, Spider and his shred team jump back into the electro rocket for their latest pulse-tripping adventure, Somewhere On the Other Side of Nowhere. The title would indicate this album is a sequel to Tonight the Stars Revolt, and without a doubt, Powerman 5000's latest bumps and grinds on a constant electro-rock swerve. Opening with creepy Carpenter-esque synth dives, the new joint yields some of the most addicting choruses the band has yet produced, while their stage act today ushers back some of the old sci-fi theatrics Powerman made their name upon.
The Metal Minute caught up with Spider in the middle of Powerman 5000's latest road haunt...
The Metal Minute: When I last spoke with you it was for the Destroy What You Enjoy album and you guys had gone for the street punk vibe on the album and even the live show had that punk juice to it. You head back to the electro groove of Tonight the Stars Revolt on Somewhere On the Other Side of Nowhere, except I would say this one’s far more polished. It’s pure finesse. What felt right in your mind to go back to the cyber metal feel for this album?
Spider: Sometimes you just do something you love it and you’re all into it but then you have to move away from it. When you mention Destroy What You Enjoy, that was purely sort of me getting something out of me. I always described that album as the album I should’ve made when I was 15 but never did, you know? It’s interesting, and I’ve told this story before, but it’s so true; I went to the 2009 ComiCon and I just started getting really excited to be there. It inspired me just to be there and be surrounded by all of that nonsense. It kind of just re-sparked all that stuff for me, all the stuff that I love, all the stuff I loved growing up, and so many thing that inspired the band. It got me really enthused to go back to that sound. It felt right again. I never do it just to do it. For a couple years I got a lot of input from fans, like, "When are you going to go back to that sci-fi thing?" or "When are you going to do the electronics?" For whatever reason, I just didn’t feel like doing it but now it feels right again and natural, so for the first time in awhile I think what I’m doing is exactly what the fans want, you know?
This album is a lot of fun and people seem to like it. I’m used to the opposite reaction. Whenever we put a record out, I think the instinct of most fans is to not be into it and then slowly grow into it. For this album, it’s been quite the opposite. The initial reaction has been so positive. I wonder if we did something incredibly right or incredibly wrong, I’m not really sure what it is! (laughs) It’s good, man. In fact, it’s too easy!
MM: This whole album has more hooks than Vegas after dinnertime, man!
MM: It seems to me there’s more bands focusing on the technical proficiency aspect of songwriting versus establishing actual groove. Do you think that’s maybe a problem with today’s bands in-general?
Spider: I love big, hooky music, man. My thought is when you come see the band live and you’re maybe not familiar with the tracks, say you’re a new fan checking it out, that by the end of the songs it's good if you’re kind of getting it. You’re able to sing along by the last chorus. I like that vibe. I like big sing-a-longs, choruses that are empowering. I think music--in particular rock ‘n roll--should be an empowering experience, not just a passive listen.
I don’t think it’s a problem with these bands, but it’s just not what I’m into. I never started making music to be a proficient musician. I would never consider myself an actual musician; I wouldn’t even consider myself really a singer, you know? I grew up listening to punk rock and hip hop and it was more about an attitude and energy for me. Even beyond that, it’s about communicating an idea, and so you can be the greatest singer in the world or the best guitar player in the world, but if you can’t communicate an idea, then it’s really sort of worthless. For me, it’s more about that. I sneak in my lyrical references or subtle things that I think are cool and clever, but the bottom line is, I think the foundation should be something that is physical and something you can grab onto quickly, you know what I mean? That’s rock ‘n roll. It shouldn’t be a challenge.
MM: I was reading some behind-the-scenes notes about getting this album officially prepped and ready for distribution and it seemed like that was much an event as the album itself! It appears there were some songs which leaked out early at different times. Tell us about what insanity might’ve prevailed prior to the album’s release.
Spider: Well, we didn’t really have a plan for this album, quite honestly. We were about to head out on tour last year and we hadn’t put out any new music in awhile, so we only had what I consider a demo version of “Supervillian” which we’d put out on MySpace to kind of test the waters. We got such a great response that it fueled the fire and we got lots of messages about it and even a couple of radio stations started to spin it from that version. It lit the fire to make a record, though we hadn’t officially made plans to start recording an album. We kind of hustled to get that going, so while we’re in the middle of trying to make the record, we were trying to figure out how we’re going to put this thing out. There’s just not as many options these days, you know, the idea of putting out a physical record these days...it’ll soon be obsolete. There was a lot of playing catch-up with the tunes, so finally we walked in with this thing called Mighty Loud to Fontana Distribution, which is a part of Universal and we kind of maintained our own distribution system. It’s a weird time to be putting out records.
It’s unfortunate in this day of people not buying full albums and grabbing a handful of songs from iTunes. It’s kind of a drag, because I’ve always loved those albums that were sequenced with weird segues and interludes. Unfortunately people look at that now as "Oh, that’s not a real song, I don’t need that!" but for me, it sets the tone for the whole listen. It really puts you in a place and a vibe. For me, sometimes those 30 second intros and interludes are equally as important as the songs.
There many amazing new things with technology that impacts what we do and in the way we make records. You can essentially make an album in your bedroom if you want to distribute it to the world the next day, but that said, there’s a lot of difficulty in the parameters in putting out music; it’s become so narrow. Radio playlists are so small these days and maybe that’s why you can find records, but they don’t sell catalog items anymore. The places that you go to sell or market music have become so limited and it’s become difficult. Sure, the internet’s there, but it’s so incredibly huge and broad that it’s very difficult to gain traction there. It’s a tricky puzzle to figure out, but we’ve almost come to terms with it. The idea of an album is really just to hopefully get people to come out to the shows and be interested in the band. You don’t really think about selling music anymore.
This has been a really strong tour. I mean, there are some nights that are a little funky, but it’s like any tour. Over the years I’ve always noticed there’s usually one or two out of every ten that are kind of funky, but it’s been a blast out here and the best part about this tour is we’re playing a bunch of new stuff and the new material is going over as good--if not better--than the old stuff. It’s really encouraging to have people be as excited about hearing “Supervillian” as they are “When Worlds Collide” or “Bombshell.”
MM: “V is for Vampire” is pretty addictive with that crazy chorus. I’m not going to read into this song too seriously, but for me it could be a straightforward new wave dance rock number for Nosferatu or it be looked upon as a hip-shooting swipe at society’s mortal parasites. Which seems more appropriate to you?
Spider: I think you sort of hit it on the head on both levels. That’s something I try to do with the lyrics; if you want to dig deeper, there’s always tons of social commentary in the stuff I write. Yet on the surface level, it could just be a big, dumb song. I like it when things function like that. Because we have the science fiction tone to what we do, that’s what great science fiction is. It’s just a fun ride with robots and spaceships, but good science fiction always has tons of social commentary, and they’re able to get away with commenting on things in society because they would mask it in these fantastical things. I’ve always liked that about this genre. I think that’s kind of what we as Powerman 5000 do in a weird way.
I’ve also thought of myself as something like a cheerleader for the misfits of the world. That’s what this band kind of attracts. You can go over to YouTube and see what people edit to a Powerman song; it’s some pretty weird stuff! They’ll use animation or people crashing their cars. It’s a weird, eclectic mix of the misfits of the world. Our song “Do Your Thing” is like an affirmation of being weird.
MM: You guys just cut a video for “Supervillian” with Robert Hall--and I thought Laid to Rest was a badass film--plus I believe you had Brandon Trost, the cinemaphotographer of this year’s Halloween II on board? You probably had to have felt like a big kid with big toys in that respect, eh? Also, what supervillian would you feel is deserving of his or her own feature film, since the comic book movie is all the rage these days?
Spider: Yeah, we brought along all of our friends. Making videos is always like being a kid. I love it. Some bands don’t like to make videos, but I love making videos. It’s just really fun. You just come up with some ridiculous ideas and you make them happen, you know? The days of making million dollar videos are gone, but you can still do a lot and have fun with it. People are asking me "What should we expect from the video?" Well, lots of lasers, explosions, you know, the usual stuff! (laughs)
Regarding super villains, the one thing I can say that really got screwed up... A lot of these comic book films are great. I mean, the first couple Spidermans were great, and I thought Iron Man was amazing, but the thing that really bummed me out were maybe these Fantastic Four movies. One of the great villains of all-time was Doctor Doom, whom I reference in the song “Supervillian.” I thought they completely fucked that character up. The Fantastic Four movies were kind of too kiddie-friendly, which is fine, but that villain is so great in the comics and he has such a cool look. I think the films completely screwed that up, so if they’re ever going to go back and try it again, if they would make a Doctor Doom movie, it would be awesome, but they’d have to learn how to do it right.
Copyright 2009 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute