Interview: Powerman 5000
Mon, 09 Nov 2009 08:57:19
Powerman 5000 have blasted back to outer space for Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere, and the results are out of this world…
In fact Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere is intergalactic metal like only Spider One and Co. could conjure. The record sees the band channeling the epic bombast of Tonight the Stars Revolt with a refined and focused energy. The songs churn out massive grooves, but they also brandish a classic rock swagger. Plus, Spider's lyrics tell some seriously intriguing tales.
Spider had even more stories for ARTISTdirect.com and Dolor author Rick Florino in this exclusive interview. He talked about going back to space for Somewhere, creating cinematic hard rock, his love for film soundtracks and why Boston can fuel anyone's creative fire…
Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere definitely hearkens back to Tonight the Stars Revolt, but with a new energy. Would you say that's the case?
Thanks! That's definitely what people have been consistently saying. Either that, or they say it's the best record we've made. It's an awesome feeling to get there. After making so many albums, it's pretty cool to have people feel so re-energized about the band.
Is it almost like an unofficial sequel to Tonight?
In some ways, that's exactly what it is. It wasn't made that way intentionally, but the intent was definitely to get back to the vibe and feeling of that album. However, we wanted to get back to it in a way that wasn't a retread. It's just real. After Tonight, the band experimented and did some different things. We tried some different sounds, and it took awhile for me to get to a place where I felt like it was time to go back to [the Tonight style], even though the fan base has been calling for it over the years. I get countless messages requesting it. Fans say, "Go back to that Tonight the Stars Revolt sound. That's when you guys were the best!" Sometimes other people can see you more clearly than you can see yourself. For this moment in time, this is it; we got back to it. What the fans want is in line with what the band wants, and the response to the record has been pretty positive.
It's a more mature record than Tonight. There's a mature edge to it.
Well, I think the songwriting on Somewhere is better, honestly. Back then, for me, it was about creating a sound and working with a lot of different sounds. I wasn't really thinking about much more than that. The mentality was, "Let's just make a big noisy sound!" There are new members that help bring new elements to what we do—a certain songwriting sensibility that maybe we didn't have before. Somewhere has the spirit of that old sound with a much more refined songwriting process.
What encouraged that process?
There were certain influences that we were bringing in while making the record—some things we were listening to. It's funny because I was listening to a lot more electronic music. It brought a different sensibility to the writing. You have a group of people that come together, everybody has his own influences and styles and you try to mash them together and make sense of it. In a weird way, that's always been the history of this band. No matter what the lineup changes were, it always seems like there was—not a conflict of styles—but a variety of styles that breeds something new and exciting. I always feel like it makes it a little bit more difficult, but at the end, it makes the music more interesting. If you had five guys that got together and all wanted to sound like Soundgarden; that would be easy. It'd sound like Soundgarden [Laughs]. When you have different people pushing and pulling, it creates interesting music, and that's what happened on this album.
Do you feel like you're telling stories more on this album than on previous records?
Maybe…before I used to think if people couldn't understand the lyrics then I'd done a good job. I thought if the lyrics were so abstract they didn't make any sense then they were good lyrics. Over the years, I've become more comfortable with being simpler and more direct in the kind of lyrics that I write. I don't feel as compelled to be so clever that it's difficult to follow. I would say on this record there is absolutely more storytelling.
Well it's definitely cinematic hard rock.
Thanks! To me, visual inspirations are equally as important as sonic inspirations are. Especially recently, I've drawn more from things that are outside of music. Sometimes it's shocking how little I actually listen to music and how little music is in my life, even though that's what I do. Movies, art, comics and books play a much more heavy role in my inspiration. When we were writing this record, we'd be sitting in front of the Pro Tools rig and next to it would be a TV with Godzilla movies on loop. It really became a part of deciding what was cool or not. If the music sounded better against Godzilla or Ultraman, then we were like, "Okay cool! This is our song. This is what we want to keep."
If you could compare this record to a movie, what would you compare it to.
Probably a movie that hasn't been made yet…the whole idea of robots was a big part of the record—from the album cover and the look of the band to the lyrics and the H.G. Wells quotes in the liner notes. There's definitely a robotic feel to the record. I can't tell you what the movie would be specifically, but I'm sure it'd involve some giant robots stomping on buildings somewhere [Laughs]. Michael Bay would not direct [Laughs].
Maybe Quentin Tarantino could do it…
What movies always inspire you?
I'm always drawn back to early sci-fi stuff. I go through my phases. As a movie fan, you're always finding great new movies. In a lot of ways, I think it's like music though. There are certain movies that shape who you are, just like there are certain bands, that for whatever reason, you always go back to. I always go back to A Clockwork Orange, Alien, Jaws, Star Wars and Taxi Driver. Those are the movies that I'm continually drawn to. They were movies that I discovered at an early age and they opened my eyes to movies as art and a pastime.
All of those movies have quite memorable music. Each film's score is iconic and really important to the emotional resonances
You're right! Without that music, Jaws wouldn't seem nearly as frightening. Clockwork Orange was totally based around music. It's funny because I never even thought of that until you said it, but those films are very dependent on the soundtracks to be what they are. I've always been a big fan of great soundtracks too. Soundtracks that I thought were well-sequenced always had a big influence on how to sequence a record. We've always had segue pieces and intros. A lot of times, people think those are throwaway tracks, but I think they're crucial. Unfortunately, that comes with the mindset of cherry-picking songs off of iTunes. If someone sees a segue is 30-seconds long, they think it's just a throwaway track. However, those tracks set the tone for the album, and they're crucial if you want to listen to it all the way through. The soundtrack to Natural Born Killers is an incredibly sequenced record. The Monkees had a movie called Head, and that soundtrack is one of the greatest sequenced records ever. They always utilized weird segues, sound bites and movie dialogue. Everyone thinks in terms of singles these days, and the art of making an album has been somewhat lost.
What's the story behind the title track?
It's the last song that we wrote for the album. With every album, we always try to have the "curveball" song. Generally, it would be the last song of the record. On Tonight the Stars Revolt, it was "Watch the Sky for Me" which was this weird little lullaby. Even on Destroy What You Enjoy, we had this pseudo country song. I always like throwing that curveball at the end of the record. "Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere" was meant to be that—the last thing you hear. However, it was just a cool thing, and it made more sense to me to be in the middle of the record. We had the title of the album, and the record was pretty much done but this was a last ditch effort to make something weird and cool.
"Horror Show" is a fun retrospective of your entire career to end on.
Talk about going full circle! It's fun to leave it at that. I've always felt like the last song on a record can possibly show what a band's next album is going to sound like. I'm not saying that's what the next album is going to sound like, but it almost brings it full circle to the pre-Mega!! Kung Fu Radio days where it was just me and a drum machine rapping. "Horrow Show" is a nod to my past. That was a fun song to do.
This album does have some of that punk rock edge from Transform and Destroy What You Enjoy. It's an amalgam of everything that Powerman can do.
That's always a part of me! I can't really shake because that's who I was growing up. I was that punk rock kid. First it was discovering The Clash and that led to Minor Threat and Black Flag. Every Sunday afternoon, I'd go to hardcore shows in Boston. That's just in my blood. That's why I made that Destroy What You Enjoy album. It was like, "I've got to shake this. I've got to make this album." I've always viewed that album as the record that I should've made when I was 15 but I didn't. There was always a mode of punk rock swagger to what we do.
There's a cultural barrenness to Boston that encourages creative people to get out…
A lot of people who don't live there don't understand it. I had a great time in Boston, and I've made some of my best friends there. I don't know if there was another city where I could've done what I did with this band. It's a very, very interesting town. When people visit, they go to Faneuil Hall and they see the sites. It's a beautiful city, but visitors don't understand the inner-workings of that town and the mentality. Boston proper is not Boston. Boston is Somerville, Southie and all of those surrounding towns that feed the mentality of that city. It's a very interesting place. It's a great city to launch what you want to do. It's an aggressive place though, and I think that's why so many great bands come out of there. It's unique to any place I've ever been.
There's no place like home!
That's for sure!
Check out Rick Florino's new novel Dolor available now for FREE here…