A LIMITED AMOUNT OF SPACE AND AN INFINITE AMOUNT OF MUSIC
An Interview with Spider of POWERMAN 5000
Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - November 2006
I caught Powerman 5000 in Towson, Maryland in the opening shades of fall, one of the best times of the year for live entertainment. Perhaps one might think of this timeframe as music’s sweeps period in order to get listeners out of their houses and into the clubs. As frontman Spider straggled onstage wearing jeans, dark hightops, a sleeveless T-shirt and his trademark widow belt buckle, it was still hard to picture the spiky-haired brother of Rob Zombie outside of his black and yellow spacesuit from the "Tonight the Stars Revolt" era. Spider has been his own man musically over the years, which means he neither followed his sibling’s footsteps nor has Spider sold out to a precipice that could’ve made Powerman 5000 a dog with only one trick. Instead, Spider and his mates belted out a tried-and-true rock'n'roll show to a club about three-quarters full, and somehow it was all over before it started, even as Powerman finished with their breakthrough hit “When Worlds Collide.” It seemed fitting as much as it did like unfinished business, because when you hear the band’s latest album, "Destroy What You Enjoy," you get the feeling these guys can rock out all damn night if they’re allowed to. Prior to the gig, I sat down with Spider and got his thoughts on the history of Powerman 5000 and the band’s return to form on "Destroy What You Enjoy."
RoughEdge.com: It’s only been three years since
"Transform" came out, but somehow "Destroy What You Enjoy" becomes something of an official homecoming for Powerman 5000, at least with the media attention. Does it feel like a homecoming at all?
Spider: It feels like a new beginning in some respects. Every time you put a record out, it feels like the first one, especially now where three years is a lifetime. So many things have changed and the amount of radio stations that played "Transform" that don’t even exist anymore is blowing my mind! We’re on tour and we roll into town and I’m like ‘What about this radio station?’ and I hear ‘Well, they went out of business,’ or ‘They changed formats.’ It’s like a weird mixed blessing coming back again. It’s great to be back and to get this thing rolling again, but the climate of everything is so different that it’s made life a little more difficult for us.
RoughEdge.com: I’m sure it has, man. Let’s trail back to 1994 and the "True Force" and "The Blood Splat Rating System" albums. I suppose you’d have to have been there fan-wise to appreciate the cycle that your band has gone through. Describe the raw energy and elements of Powerman as you were trying to make a name for yourselves.
Spider: It was absolutely as basic as it can get. It was work all day, leave work, go to rehearsal, load your gear up in the van, drive to the show, play in front of ten people, strip your gear, load it up, two o’clock in the morning drive home, then get up in the morning and do it all over again. It was such a different time, you know? It was really when there was no other way to do it. There was no Myspace, there was none of this other stuff you can get a lot of now to help get your shit together and be a band. Looking back on the sound and the style we were doing, it was cool. We really were sort of at the forefront of a particular style that eventually years later became pretty huge. It’s funny, because that’s when I was learning this mixture of heavy rock and rap and all that stuff. We changed gears and went the other way, which everybody else capitalized on. Every record is a different experience and we try not to do the same thing twice.
RoughEdge.com: I’m sure it had to have been surreal to win both the best hard rock and rap acts in Boston!
Spider: Yeah! Who would ever have thought that those two forms of music would’ve really been thought of in the same breath? Like I said, two years later, it was pretty commonplace.
RoughEdge.com: I don’t think it was that big of a deal back then, but when you were first kicking Powerman into gear, was there any motivation to rival your brother (Rob Zombie) musically?
Spider: I guess it probably would’ve been interesting to try to do what he was doing and capitalize on it, but the way the band was set up, the people in the band, there really was no interest in trying to be some kind of Zombie, Jr. thing. We just did our own thing and I think that’s really where we gained a lot of respect because we did that, not just following in his footsteps, you know?
RoughEdge.com: Obviously "Tonight the Stars Revolt" was a big hit for Powerman 5000, and I myself couldn’t stop playing “When Worlds Collide” when it first came out because it was so fresh in the midst of all the nu-metal stuff that you guys had to compete against. The association of that genre might’ve helped your cause back then, but do you feel that it hurt your cause in the long run? There are so many people today who trash that whole nu-metal thing, almost to the point that most of those bands had to go down with the ship, you know what I mean?
Spider: Oh yeah, it’s funny, because you become part of something that you have no interest in and you have no part in creating. I mean, we found a lot of that when we put together the "Transform" record. A lot of radio stations were sort of like ‘Ahh, we’re not playing nu-metal anymore,’ and I’m like ‘What the fuck?’ I never came up with that term and I never felt a real association with any of those bands. When we made "Tonight the Stars Revolt," I was basically saying let’s make a heavy Devo album, you know what I mean? It wasn’t anything about nu-metal or whatever was happening. But yeah, it was just one of those scenes and it’s unfortunate that these things get created by whoever, and it becomes a problem for bands and artists to grow because they’re not given the opportunity to see what the second, third or fourth albums would be like, you know? That’s why awhile ago I decided there’s no point in trying to value your band against how many records you’re selling or what label you’re on. It’s really just about keep doing what you’re doing. All that stuff will eventually wash itself out.
RoughEdge.com: What’s interesting is that the space suits you guys wore during that album almost started a fashion trend! I remember some character in Freddy vs. Jason was wearing something similar and we all had to call him by attrition the Powerman 5000 kid!
Spider: Yeah, yeah, totally. We see it now, we’ll go out on the road and we have a lot of local bands open for us and I still see remnants of that style amongst a lot of the bands that are still doing the electronic metal thing. It’s pretty funny, but to me, it was something to do for an album and it wasn’t really meant to be something we were going to do forever. It just so happened that it became so popular, and it was such a strong visual that that’s what everyone thought we were. They didn’t realize that we’d been a band for eight years before that without spacesuits, that I wasn’t really planning on doing that for the next years, either! It was just something to do that was cool and it was like a concept album. I was planning that the next album was going to be something else, so when we did change it up, the style became a real big issue for a lot of fans. A lot of them were disappointed that we weren’t going to continue that style, but the way I look at it is, if I was still doing that today, we’d probably look a little silly.
RoughEdge.com: That’s interesting you brought up the Devo parallel. I didn’t even think of that, and I’m glad that they too eventually went away from the flower pots—even if they’re wearing them again on the reunion tour—but it’s the same parallel.
Spider: Yeah, I just wanted to do something sort of visually cool and interesting and show some of my influences beyond music, and it just really hit. I never look at it as a bad thing; because of that success, I can still do what I do today, but it can be a bit of a problem when people are maybe expecting to see that still and when they don’t, they’re a bit disappointed.
RoughEdge.com: I’m sure you’ve had to defend your decision to put the brakes on the never-released "Anyone for Doomsday?" album enough times, but my question is, looking back now, do you feel that going with your gut at that particular moment allowed you to kind of see what’s real, so to speak, given how the last two albums have turned out?
Spider: You know, it’s funny looking back on that. I still haven’t come to terms of whether it was ultimately career-wise the best decision to do. Who knows what would’ve happened? I don’t know, but it did free me up. I have a feeling that if I had put that record out, that probably would’ve been the last record we would’ve done. The band was not getting along, there was a lot of turmoil, and I think that would’ve been the end of it, so in some respects I feel like if anything, it allows us to do this for a lot longer than it would have.
RoughEdge.com: That decision was really gutsy, considering that you had your marketing propaganda all ready, and then two members bolted from the band. By the time "Transform" came out, now followed-up by "Destroy What You Enjoy," we’ve seen a leaner and more aggressive Powerman 5000 in my opinion. I know you’ve referred to the late nineties Powerman as “artificial,” so how would you compare the band then to this current lineup?
Spider: This, for the first time feels like an actual rock'n'roll band to me. Powerman never really did before. It just felt like this cool sort of creation, but it never really felt like much of a band. It felt more about all the other parts of it, the image and the sort of pop culture references and all that kind of stuff. To me, that almost took center stage, and now I feel like I’ve got a real live rock'n'roll band on my hands that can tear it up whether it’s a big stage or some backyard barbecue. It’s kind of fun after all these years to get back to where normally most people start. It’s cool. I think that’s really the biggest difference.
RoughEdge.com: "Destroy What You Enjoy," like "Transform," has that element of throwback punk and rock'n'roll like MC5, Sex Pistols and T-Rex. Even Rob has had a bit of that classic roots rock epiphany on "Educated Horses" — which is the only parallel I would make between the two of you — but my point is that the key to reinvention is through retrospection, meaning to strip down so that you find your bare vitality again. Do you agree with that statement?
Spider: Yeah, I think so. For me, it was really getting back to—sometimes you get on a journey with your band or you think you are, and it takes you someplace and you just go along for the ride and you end up in a place where you go ‘Wow, how did I get here?’ I just sort of find myself there, find myself being compared to bands that I have no interest in. I find myself on tour with bands that I didn’t feel any particular connection with musically, and I was like ‘Why did I start doing this in the first place?’ Then I thought about The Clash and The Ramones and The Sex Pistols and all those things that made me want to be in a band. All those things made me want to get out of my hometown and see what’s out there in the world. It really is about that. It’s sort of looking at why you did it in the first place and that’s where this whole album came from for me. That’s why no matter what it is I’m selling or how popular the band becomes off of it, it sort of becomes secondary because you feel really comfortable with it. It’s sort of the opposite of the "Anyone For Doomsday?" thing. That was all about how successful it was going to be like. When you start thinking like that, you’re in a lot of trouble.
RoughEdge.com: Absolutely. You have songs like “Walking Disaster,” “Enemies,” “Return to the City of the Dead” and “Now That’s Rock ‘n Roll,” and there’s a primal energy that drives this album, so much I can feel it driving you by association. How does it feel internally to amp up like this? I’m feeling a lot of invigoration from your vocals on "Destroy What You Enjoy."
Spider: The vocals felt really comfortable down in the studio. I just locked in and live it’s the same thing, particularly with those songs you mentioned. We play most of those live and it’s just really a lot of fun, and the crowd connects, you know? I mean, you can tell there are a lot of people that don’t have the new record yet, but when we play those up-tempo punk rock songs, they go for it. They really get it.
RoughEdge.com: “Wild World” has been getting some play on Headbangers Ball lately, and the more that I listen to Underground Garage on Sirius radio, I note how this garage rock revival has kind of cropped up in the last year-and-a-half. Do you think people are just looking for something basic and catchy to identify with in music right now?
Spider: I don’t know what people are looking for, but I think we’re heading towards a point where it is going to get back to something really progressive and raw, because I’m seeing this trend now. It sort of spawns from the Green Day album (American Idiot) being so over-the-top and so rock opera-like and I think everybody’s following in that pattern like My Chemical Romance and The Killers. I think everybody’s making their big rock opera statement. I think when we get to that point, it’s only a matter of time before it gets to three chords and something very simple. That’s the one thing you can always get back to that will move people, just a simple rock tune.
RoughEdge.com: I know you guys did an in-station performance at XM recently. What are your impressions of satellite radio from a promotional standpoint? Do you feel that it gives Powerman 5000 a chance at a wider audience again?
Spider: It’s part of the whole picture. I think there’s a lot of things that are becoming potentially really powerful like satellite radio obviously, internet stuff…but I still think you can’t beat the old standbys, which is regular radio and what used to be MTV. Satellite radio is there, you know? I don’t think it’s making the kind of statement that it could do yet, but everything’s in a transition state right now. Everyone’s just scrambling trying to figure out how to get their new album out because there are less and less and places. You go to radio with a new song and they’re only adding one new song that month, and there’s your record, but there’s a Tool record and a Red Hot Chili Peppers record and an Audioslave record. It’s impossible, you know? You can’t compete with that. There’s just such a limited amount of space and an infinite amount of music.
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2006 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:10 -0400.