October 30, 2014 Interview – Spider One of Powerman 5000
There is never a substitute for sincere artistic expression. Looking at the landscape of Rock bands that have come and gone over the past two decades, Powerman 5000 stand out as an original, defendant to do things their own way. Led by mastermind Spider One, the band attained enormous success with their 1999 album Tonight The Stars Revolt! . Topping charts amongst some of Rock’s elite, the band hit some unfortunate bumps in the road in the years to follow, but with perseverance, live to tell the story. With the benefit of experience, nearly two decades after their formation, Powerman 5000 stand stronger than ever in 2014, touring consistently and releasing of their seventh studio album Builders of The Future. Recently we sat down with Spider One for an intimate look at the history of Powerman 5000, standing up to adversity, following his vision, horror movies, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Powerman 5000 has been established now for over twenty years. In that time you have toured all over the world while built a strong following and experiencing a variety of changes. Tell us a little bit about what the ride has been like?
Spider One- It is hard to pinpoint exactly when the band started. It was not like, “Hey we are starting a band today.” It has been a while. It can be a bit of a roller coaster ride. You start out with some friends and you try to write a song or two with no real plan, well at least I never had a plan. I think these days, bands are a little savvier in terms of their expectations. When we started I was not thinking about t record deals or touring. It was really just something we liked to do because we liked music; the idea of having a band was really cool. In the early days, it was just about that and then you just started building a little following in the town, which was Boston, Massachusetts. Then a couple of people show up and then a couple of more people show up. Then you suddenly think that maybe this is something real. Back then the goal was to get a record deal, MTV, the radio, and then through some sort of miracle we ended up doing that.
We were a band with no commercial experience. Then we ended up getting a lot and then everything changed. Then when we got to the early 2000’s, the music business changed; DreamWorks Records, which we had a lot of success with, disappeared. Then you suddenly found yourself in an environment of just trying to figure out what to do next with independent records and things like that. This was that weird in between time. There was a certain time when it was all about getting a record deal and getting on a label. Now it is not like that, no one wants a record deal unless you are a Pop artist or something, so it is more of a do it yourself vibe going on now. During the in between time, it was really difficult to figure out and to survive that way, for a lot of bands that came up during that time, it was very difficult because there was not that mentality of just do it yourself and put it out. It took a while to sort of figure that out so we struggled for a while. I feel like now we are sort of back on course and, oddly enough, we have sort of come full circle and are back on Universal Records. Sometimes you are a victim of your own choices and sometimes you are a victim of circumstance; like when the business changed, it just made us all think of music in a different way.
CrypticRock.com – Yes and the music business has changed dramatically. The band broke into the mainstream in a big way back in 1999 with your third studio album Tonight the Stars Revolt!. That record had a slew of popular singles and also exhibited a space-like theme which drew a lot of attention. Looking back on that record now, what do you think made it so magical that everything started to click at that moment?
Spider One – I think its timing and there is also a bit of luck involved. That record may have never even see the light of day. I remember when we made that album, it was our second album from DreamWorks and we sort of changed our image and changed our sound a bit. When the band started, the sound was much more stripped down and almost like Funk or Heavy Funk with rapping. We were really early on that sort of sound and we started doing that way before anyone had heard of Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit. In a way we were pioneers of that sound and then we changed it in 1999 to be a little more Metal and more Industrial. We finished that record with Dreamworks and they all kind of looked at us and said, “We do not hear anything, not even a single, nothing, we do not know what to do with this.” We thought, “Wow ok.” They were pleading with us to be like the Deftones and they said,”You should be riding a fucking skateboard,” and I said, “Well I do not want to do that.”
Then success with the record came, oddly enough,after a radio convention in Los Angeles. It was where all the program directors and the radio stations got together and they did this thing were all the labels get submitted songs and new artists’ songs to the convention. The programmers got to pick the best song at the convention and they picked one that was called “When Worlds Collide” out of all the songs at the convention. Then suddenly it was like we were geniuses, that there was a hit single here, and the verdict was that the collective of these program directors saying that they loved this song. That inspired the label and they got it on the radio. Then suddenly we went from being this completely unknown band to literally rolling into town and, wherever we were in America, having our song be in the Top 5; it was bizarre. Like I said, we were this weird band that no one cared about and then suddenly Top 5. We were number 4, Nine Inch Nails’ Number 3, and all these bands that we thought were massive, we would be above them in top most requested songs. Something that takes years and years, and then when it happens, it just goes so fast; at least it did back then. I do not know if it happens like that anymore.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it was crazy when that record broke like that. The band was riding high on the success off that record and in 2011 you were all set to release the much anticipated follow up, Anyone for Doomsday?. Surprising to fans, the release was postponed last minute and it had become somewhat of an urban legend and sold for high prices online for years. On top of that, Dorian and Allen were both departing from the band; this seemed to be a turning point in the band’s history at the time. What were you feeling at the time when when everything was seemingly going smoothly and then this road block came in the way?
Spider One – It was difficult because we had all of this momentum, all of this success, and then stuff just started to get in our way. A couple of our original band members sort of freaked out and quit, then we pulled the record. Actually, we did not pull the record, it was just that we were supposed to work on it more and that is when the two members quit and we thought if they are not in the band then lets just make a whole new record, so that is what we did. Then all of a sudden three years go by, that is an eternity in music, and people just abandon you or forget about you. We took all that time to try to put out the record that was called Transform in 2003, when it finally came out it did really well. It made it to twenty-five on the Billboard and we thought, “Fuck yeah, people still want this.” Then the record label seemed oddly uninterested in anything we were doing. We did not understand, we thought this was working, we were selling a lot of records now, and people still care, yet they seem to keep backing away. What we ended up finding out was that Dreamworks Records was going to go away, so that was the end of that era.
CrypticRock.com – It was clear you were determined to keep Powerman 5000 going as stated coming back right back in 2003 with Transform and a new line-up. The new record did see the band in fact go in a slightly different direction from record to record which proceeded for the next few releases. What inspired the change in direction for the band?
Spider One – I think like anybody that does anything creative and gets well known for it, their instinct is to not do it anymore. You just feel you not want to be pigeon-holed. I did not want to always have to be the man that has to put on a fucking space suit on. It is just a creative thing that you want to tear it down and try something new. Growing up, I was always influenced by Punk Rock, it was the original music that inspired me so I wanted to kind of strip it back down and just try to do something different. It was really just creative and to not feel that I had to repeat the same thing over and over, which is a pretty natural thing that people want to do.
I have always envied bands like The Ramones, AC/DC, and Motorhead; they have this one sound and they have never really varied form it. I loved that and we did not really have that, we were just all over the place with our influences. Although, I do feel like now I have become comfortable and have come full circle with this sort of Electronic Metal thing we have done for the past couple of records. Finally I am feel like this what we do. I do like to push the bullet a little, but I feel that I will ever re-invent this band again. This is what it is and I am happy with it. This is the sound that we are known for and what most people like about the band. I do not really see it changing that much.
CrypticRock.com – As you had mentioned, you kept with that sound for the last few records now. Now most recently you released your seventh studio album, Builders of the Future. The record has received extremely positive reviews. What was the writing and recording process like for this record?
Spider One – We did it in a similar way as the way we did Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere in 2009. We recorded it pretty much as do it yourself with Evan Rodaniche, who has played guitar in Powerman for a few years, has a studio in Los Angeles. He is sort of the sixth member of the band with the writing of the songs. He helped me produce the record as he helped me with the last one and we just did. There was nothing fancy like the times of $3,000 a day in the studio. I think that is a thing in the past for us. Except for maybe the elite Pop bands people are making records in their bedrooms and in the back of their bus or in their hotel rooms. You learn that it is not about how much you spend, it is about how the songs are written and, I think that with this record, we got a huge sound. I would put it up there against any of our records in the past that we spent half a million dollars on and it probably sounds better. It is pretty amazing.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, the record came out excellent. This record features an entire new line-up with the exclusion of X51. Judging by the final product, the chemistry is working extremely well. Do you feel this line-up of Powerman 5000 will be together for a while?
Spider One – Well that depends on what you mean on for a while (Laughs). In this band, one year is a long time. I hope so, I never have a mind of thinking I want it to change. I like this lineup and it is interesting, sometimes you get lineups where you are at a higher level and personally at a higher level. What I like most about this lineup is that everybody just really functions well as a band and everyone is here for the right reasons and everyone acts like we are in a band . Sometimes you get people who you never feel like they are in your band, especially Los Angeles musicians, it seems they are always looking for the next gig. I feel like this lineup really has the feel of a band and that everyone is not just here for a paycheck, they are here to be in this band.
CrypticRock.com – Right, that is understandable. Like you said, “What’s a long time?” Being there has been quite a few lineup changes, does that ever frustrate or discourage you, or do you just keep plugging away and looking towards the future?
Spider One – It used to really freak me out because the first couple of times I had to replace somebody I thought it was the end of the world. I thought, “Fuck, I do not know what to do.” Then you replace somebody and you are fine. Sometimes it gets better. I have gotten used to it because we have had about 300 band members, well not quite that many, but close (Laughs). It can be frustrating for sure, but I also try to look at it in a positive way where a new person brings in something else that you did not have before whether it be creatively or image wise. You just have to look for those guys that can make the band better, more interesting, or just different. This is obviously what the band is supposed to be; it changes a lot and that is fine. Some bands are meant to just be the same four guys forever. I try not to let it freak me out anymore and just look at it as an opportunity.
CrypticRock.com – That is a very positive outlook to have.________________
Spider One – Yes, you have to be otherwise you would kill yourself because there is so much working against you all the time. You always have to hit the reset button. You always have to be your own biggest cheerleader all the time because with the internet and all. If you ever form a thin skin in any way, then you are doomed because everyone talks shit and everybody hates you. It is an evil world out there.
CrypticRock.com – It is true, it seems with the internet everyone has a voice, everyone has a platform now, and it seems like everyone just wants to knock everything, There is a lot of negativity going around with a lot of different music.
Spider One – It is weird, I do not really get it. I guess it is a certain personality that does that. I just never in a million years think to say something negative about something I do not like it in the first place. To voice my opinion in a way that is not constructive in anyway makes no sense to me. What always fascinate me is when people are discussing you as if they know you. We were just talking about the changing band members some people will say, “Well you know Spider is a fucking asshole, his ego is so big, that is why he cannot hang onto any band members.” I think, “Who are you, you never met me, you know nothing of any this, and you know nothing about any of the details.” It is just so funny that people feel that they have the right to basically say whatever and most of the time it is not even close to the truth. It is terrible, so you have to just ignore it.
CrypticRock.com – One could imagine you have to. It is a tough world we live in right now. People can be ruthless.
Spider One – I have learned that the longer I have done this, the older that I have got, the harder it is, I have learn to ignore it. When I was younger I had done that too. Then I realized wait a minute, doing anything is so hard, whether you have your own website, have your own band, or writing a book. Does not mean I have to like it, but I appreciate the enormous effort that it takes to do anything. Most people just sit around and talk shit because they do not have the experience of actually having to try something, so I have learned long ago to try to keep my mouth closed. Just because it does not aesthetically please me does not mean I have say anything bad about anything.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed totally. Everyone has their own tastes. Now everyone knows you are in fact the brother of Rob Zombie. You two both respectfully have your own music careers and individuality. Was it important for you through the years to blaze your own path as an artist and say, “I’m Spider, I’m not just Rob Zombie’s brother.”
Spider One – Yes, it was really important. In the early days, we made it a rule, like with Dreamworks, and anytime there was publicity or a press release, we said you cannot mention that. Sometimes in clubs, when we were just starting out, they wanted to put Rob Zombies brother, we said you cannot do that. It was not a case of denying that Rob was my brother. In an interview, I would always talk about it. I would never say that you cannot ask about it, but we would never use it as a source of publicity or promotion because I just felt like it would just instantly give people the thought that this is only here because of that. It was important to do that.
As far as anything else, it was always up for discussion; Rob and the success he had was always a source of inspiration. People always have this idea that when you sign to a major record label, they tell you what to do, how to write your songs, how to dress, and sometimes they do, but with Rob, it was like with White Zombie; they just did exactly what they wanted. That was always an inspiring example to have. It was always something that we looked at like a nice model to model your band after.
At the end of the day, honestly, it does not even matter. It might get you a little extra attention, but you still have to get up there, perform, have good songs, and play live. At the end of the day it does not really guarantee any more success.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, you have to do it yourself. What are some of your personal musical influences?
Spider One – There are a lot because I have a really eclectic taste in music. The music that probably inspired me to start playing music was early Punk Rock. Before I heard bands like The Clash and the Ramones, Black Flag or whatever, music was just this thing, I did not understand it; I was not a musician. Like any other kid, you are sitting in the back seat of your parent’s car, you hear the radio, and Elton John or The Eagles and to me I did not know what that was. I did not understand how they are making those sounds, but then I heard Punk Rock and I thought, “Yeah, I can sing like that.” You do not have to be perfect to understand the simplicity of the guitar parts. That is when something went off in my head and I said.”I love this music.” It was just so aggressive, so sinful, and it is more about the attitude. That is what made me want to make music. Then even later, getting into Rap and Hip-Hop; that was the same type of thing. It was not about being a great musician, it was about a message or the attitude. Those are the two forms of music that are most influential growing up. I liked Metal, Country, and all forms of music. If it is good, then it is good, but those two are what probably changed me the most and got me wanting to make music. Like I said, I never thought of myself as a musician, so of course, I would gravitate towards stuff that was not that technically advanced. I did not have that state of mind that I would want to sit down and learn how to play leads like Eddie Van Halen. It just did not interest me. I was more interested in just communicating an idea. That is more of what I was really into.
CrypticRock.com – Interesting. So would you say you were focused on the lyrical aspects of the music?
Spider One – Yes, through lyrics and just a vibe and an attitude. Not just about something like chord changes, I never cared about that, that was for the musicians. Which was funny because the original lineup of Powerman 5000 was me, who knew nothing about music theory, and then a bunch of Berkley College graduates who knew about theory. It was good for both of us because I started to appreciate music theory through their eyes and they started to appreciate the other side too. They would say, “These chord do not go together.” I do not care if they go together ,it fucking sounds good. They would say, “ok” and they started to understand that side of it too, which was a good mix overall.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it is about feeling, and above all, you have to feel the vibe of the music and the energy. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Spider One – Oh yes, that is a big question; there are so many great ones. I mean strictly Horror movies, it is kind of a standard answer, but I love the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) because I just sort of think it is a template for what a great Horror movie is supposed to be. It has been imitated so many times, but never really duplicated. It had such a raw vibe, you felt like you were watching a Documentary; it is like the original found footage. I had watched a lot of Horror movies growing up and at a really young age. Nothing really scared me until I saw The Exorcist (1973) and it scared the fuck out of me when I was a kid. That is one that sticks with me. I love The Shining (1980), which is not your traditional Horror movie. I love the first Alien (1979), which is essentially a monster movie. I would not consider it a Horror movie, but Jaws (1975), I have to watch it every time it is on; it is one of my favorite movies. Night of the Living Dead (1968), one of the original Horror movies; it just has such a great vibe to it. Those are some of them, those are pretty standard answers, but those are some of my favorites for sure.
CrypticRock.com – What do you think about the modern way they are making Horror movies with all the CGI in a lot of these films? It seems like the more real makeup effects are not used as much anymore.
Spider One – Yes, I am a fan of the practical effects for sure, but I feel that there is sort of a resurgence of it little bit, or at least a mixture of it, instead of just all CGI. That is hard to do; it never looks right to me. There are a couple of movies that just nailed it, but most of the time I just feel like I am watching a cartoon or a video game and I do not really like it. I think there is something way scarier about a guy in a rubber suit than there is about in a digitally recreated monster. It is just not the same thing and that is why I still like to watch old Horror movies from the 50’s; it is just scarier even though it might look gory, still there is something about the physical presence of the real thing.
I created a TV show called Death Valley, it was on MTV for a season. It was a Horror/Comedy, it was about cops, but instead of drunk drivers and meth heads, it was about vampires and werewolves and they are all loose in the San Fernando Valley of California. It was so great because we did not have a huge budget for the show so we had to do everything practical. It was so much fun. We did so much crazy practical effects like punching through a zombies face with a gun and shooting the zombies that were approaching. We did this great one, it was an episode where it was suppose to be the hottest day of the year and there was this zombie with a distended stomach, you would poke at it with a stick and it just explodes. We did all these practical effects, and if we did not get it right the first take we were fucked. We did all the tricks like shooting someone in the head, having a fire extinguisher with blood from behind, so blood would spray twenty feet in the air. Things like that always look better and practically disgusting. When you are on set, the fact that you know its fake and it still grosses you out, then you know you did a good job.
CrypticRock.com – Completely, there is also something to be said about the artistic creativity that goes into how we are going to make this happen and how are we going to make this head explode.
Spider One – Sometimes you just have to make it up as you go. I have a lot of friends out in Los Angeles that do effects. It is just so fun to do the practical effects; just creating stuff, making mixtures, thinking we need brains and we just figure it out as we go. I think there is a bit of a return of the practical effects. You start to see a little more. They did a remake of the The Wolfman (2010), which everyone hated, but they did a lot of the practical effects and mixed with some digital stuff. I thought it was cool that they did use actual mask and werewolf makeup. It was cool.
CrypticRock.com – When you look at the original Dawn of the Dead from 1978, there were some scenes Tom Savini and his crew only had one take to get it right and what we see on film was the end result of that.
Spider One – Sometimes you have to because you do not have the budget to do it again or you do not have the time to clean everything up; you just have to get it. We had a lot of that in Death Valley and if we do not get it, then we do not get it and that is it. That is exciting too, to have to film like that. You have to be on your game.