Building a New Future - A Conversation With Spider One of Powerman 5000

Perseverance is an underrated quality. The measure of an artist is so much more than just success, the lion's share is given over to how a man or woman handles the lean times, how they take adversity in stride and the confidence with which they bounce back. Spider One, he who is Powerman 5000 and vice-versa, should be given no less than full marks for his exhibition of resillience. Powerman is back, hungry, re-forging their old identity from the first brick and climbing back into your stereo. Fresh off the release of their new record "Builders of the Future," Spider took some time to sit down and answer our questions, as we talk about his band, where they are, what inspires him and the album that never was.

M.DREW: Walk me through this new record – what does it mean for you?
SPIDER ONE: We never really wanted to say it, but we kinda said it anyway while we were making this record, that our whole attitude for this year has been to put the pressure on ourselves for this quote-unquote comeback. Even though we haven’t gone anywhere, we’ve always been playing, always been putting out records and all that stuff, but we have a different sense of urgency this year with this record. There have been times when I maybe didn’t give the band what it’s really due, but I think that this album’s attitude was to swing for the fences and give it one hundred fifty percent. Not just with “Builders of the Future,” but in rebuilding the band. We realized what we do best, and what Powerman fans like about this band and just take that to a level we haven’t done before. We were very specific about how we approached it. I feel like we’ve made the best version of Powerman we ever have.
M.D: Do you feel like this is an extension of what you started with “Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere,” or is this a whole new thing, given that it’s been five years?
SO: I think it’s a bit of an extension. When we made “Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere,” I think that was our record getting back to what we should be doing. It’s funny, our best-selling record was “Tonight the Stars Revolt” and all that stuff, we were a metal band full of kitschy stuff and pop culture stuff and that’s what people loved about the band. Inevitably, whenever you do something creative you tend to run right away from that, whatever you are you want to try something different. You don’t want to get stuck in one place. Over the years we experimented and made a couple records with maybe more of a rock vibe, and then we came full circle with it. Oddly enough, I think it was in 2008 or something I was at Comic-con in San Diego and I was like ‘what the fuck am I doing? This is it. We’re the band for this fucking scene.’ I went home and wrote the song “Supervillain,” and that’s what inspired me to get back to what the band was all about. For this record, I didn’t want to reinvent it again, I didn’t want to try to change anything. I wanted to continue what we did on the last record, just do it better, make better songs, have the best performances we could on the record. I don’t want to fuck with it anymore.
M.D: After five years between studio albums, how do you pick up that momentum again?
SO: I kinda let it come to me. Sometimes I think that’s why it takes us so long to make records, I don’t really want to force it. Every time we finish a record it’s a really involved process and it’s not easy. I always figured it would be easy after all these years, but it never is. You always figure that’s it, I don’t think I could write another song, I’m out of ideas. Then all of a sudden, something hits you. Like oh, shit, I still have more good ideas. The process is always different and it’s never easy. Ideas just come from weird places, I have never written a song where I sat down in front of my computer or with a piece of paper and said ‘I’m going to write a song about this.’ Generally, the ideas tend to find you.
M.D: It could be just me, but it seems like this record combines the electronic metal you used to do a lot with the ethos of short punk songs you tried for a while. Is this the synthesis of everything Powerman 5000 has done up to this point?
SO: I think the punk angle is always just attitude, you know what I mean? Obviously, Powerman was never really a punk band, but that’s how I grew up. Black Flag, the Misfits, Minor Threat, the Clash. That attitude is always with you. Whatever I do, whatever music I want to make, I will always have that ingrained in me. So I think you’re right, it will always have that sort of naughty attitude a little bit. Sonically, it’s very electronic and very modern and to be quite honest, very pop-y in a sense. I always notice when haters on the internet try to knock Powerman, they called it pop metal, and say ‘it’s the poppiest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.’ Yeah. That’s part of it. For me, I’ll listen to top forty radio because love it or hate that stuff, there’s an art to crafting songs like that, there’s a reason they’re top forty and millions of people around the world listen to those songs. It’s not easy, doing that kind of stuff. I try to infuse that. I want people to be able to sing along, I want people to get the hook stuck in their head. There’s a simplicity to our music that definitely is reminiscent of pop songs. To answer your question in a very long winded way, I would say that this is the combining of all things that we are, and done in a seamless way, it doesn’t feel heavy handed or forced to me.
M.D: Recently is popular music, there’s been a surge of electronic music, coming from dubstep and techno and all these other things. As you’re writing this style now, do you look to any of that for inspiration?
SO: I listen to a lot of music. You’re right, I do hear popular music now and think that sounds like what we do, not that we’re in any way the cause of that. I went to see Die Antwoord the other night, they’re this South African rap act and really fucking weird. So I’m at Die Antwoord and these two kids come up to me like ‘holy shit, fucking Spider.’ It was really weird, this kid looks at me, and this at a Die Antwoord show, not at some heavy metal show, and he says ‘dude, look around, everyone finally caught up with you!’ Holy shit, that’s the greatest compliment I’ve ever heard. He was saying someone like Die Antwoord, that are very cutting edge and modern, and it’s like ‘they’re doing what you did fucking ten years ago! Look at all these people, they finally figured it out!’ That kind of stuff is probably more of an influence than bands that are considered in our genre. When I look at the radio charts now as we’re slowly inching our way up, I look at the other bands and I don’t know who half of them are. And the ones I do know, I don’t listen to, because it’s just not to my sensibility.
M.D: As you look around metal currently, it seems like there’s a greater emphasis on technicality, fewer and fewer artists are writing songs like you do, what do you see out there around you in the genre?
SO: I’m not really sure. We did a show not that long ago that had a lot of young bands on it like Asking Alexandria and stuff like that. It’s very obvious to me that something in that, for lack of a better term, screamo type of thing, very 1990s melodic and they get very heavy. And also very technical, which is a side that because of my punk rock roots, I never cared much about. I was never a metal kid. My metal roots were probably AC/DC or Motörhead, something that’s a little more grungy. When I think heavy metal, I think of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, that’s what I think of for heavy metal. When we’re put in there, it’s like yeah, we have one foot in, but definitely one very big foot out. I feel like it’s a weird scene. Rock and roll in general to me has become very conservative. It doesn’t feel to me like you’re allowed to be strange anymore or weird or funny or freaky. It’s very much like, if you don’t look like a roadie on stage, baggy army pants and a fucking black t-shirt with a beard…that seems to be the new thing. Which is cool, I guess, I get it. I get the earthiness of that, but I also miss characters in music and when people would step out left of center. That’s ultimately the best way to approach rock music, is to be a fucking weirdo.
M.D: So, somebody like the unfortunately recently departed Dave Brockie would have been a hero to you?
SO: [laughs] Well, they were so cartoony it was a little bizarre for me. But I was thinking like, it’s not metal, and it seems like such an overview example, but who’s David Bowie of today? Where are these guys? They don’t seem to be out there. You see it in pop, but it’s more contrived. It drives me crazy when they talk about Lady Gaga, to me that’s very calculated.

M.D: There’s been a lot of press releases about this and you’ve already mentioned this just in our conversation, but you’ve talked about getting the band back to what was the band’s greatest success and what the fans look for from you. The subtext there seems kind of interesting – what kind of music would you want to write if the whole field were open to you?
SO: Honestly, right now, it’s what we’re doing. I love electronic music, I love utilizing technology, I love music that’s danceable. I really enjoy the fucking weird and creepy but it’s accessible. I always know that my roots are in rock music and in a live band. When I was a kid and saw the Clash, that was the coolest fucking thing in the world. Four guys in a band with guitars and combat boots, that was the coolest thing in the world to me. So I don’t feel like I’m forcing anything or being forced to do anything, this is what I like. You get this combination of the two worlds, electronic music and the authenticity of a rock band put together. It’s one of my favorite combinations.
M.D: You are the constant of Powerman 5000, you are the face of the band. Do you feel any additional pressure because you are the sole image of the band, that it comes and goes with you?
SO: I don’t think it’s pressure, but I’m certainly aware of it. Having band member changes used to freak me out, but I’ve realized over the years that it’s really the lifeblood of the band. Bringing in new people and new energy and new ideas is what has allowed this band to stay together and survive all these years, but in my opinion make records that feel vital to us. They don’t feel like ‘here we go again, same four guys, let’s whip up some songs.’ It feels new because there’s new guys, new ways of playing. There’s definitely been advantages to having a lot of turnover. But yeah, I know if I’m not there, there’s no Powerman. There was a place where I was like ‘I can’t not be bleach blonde, or no one will care.’ [laughs] I would freak out about that. There was such a strong identity built into the band.
M.D: Speaking of the identity of the band, there was a time when people thought of Powerman 5000 and thought of the image with the spacesuits and the stage show and that lasted for a long time. Then there was a period when that went away, until suddenly the space helmets were back. What drove the decision to go away and then return?
SO: I think it was mainly just being…we’re all creative people, and sometimes you want to get away from that thing and then you realize how much you love it. That definitely happened with me. Sometimes you have to make a mistake, not even a mistake, but you have to try new stuff. You can’t stay stuck. It was purely just a creative thing, where I wanted to try some stuff. We made an album called “Destroy What You Enjoy” which was very sort of folk rock for us, and it just felt like something I had to do. You have to tear it down to build it back up again.
M.D: You had worldwide success with Dreamworks, then they folded. You got picked up by DRT, then they folded. Was there ever a moment when you felt like maybe it was over?
SO: Oh yeah, a hundred fucking times, for sure. [laughs] I still feel that way about every day. It really is that kind of a job and business. Unless you’re like, U2 or fucking Metallica or something, I think everybody goes through it. It’s such an unpredictable roller coaster. There’s stuff you can’t even control. I couldn’t control that the music business was being turned on its head in 2003. Who fucking knew? Who would have seen that coming? I used to work at Tower Records in Boston, the biggest record store in the country, with lines to the back of the store of people buying CDs, and I would have never thought in a million years ‘this will not exist in ten years.’ It just seemed like that was it, that was how you sold music, that was how you had to buy music. It was MTV and radio was a powerhouse in terms of selling records and making you popular. Who would have thought, and we were just talking about this today, but doing press, doing interviews with websites. It used to be, you know, “Rolling Stone” or “Spin” or “Hit Parader,” “Circus,” “Revolver,” “Metal Edge,” all these magazines that sit on a shelf or a doctor’s office or an airplane for a whole month. It’s different now, it’s a different world. You’re constantly faced with these feelings of how is this even going to work? When Dreamworks folded, that was during a time when you based the value of your band on if you had a record deal. When Dreamworks pulled, it was like maybe that was it, it was a great ride. Things find a way, and you think well, maybe not, maybe we should keep this going. It’s a continual process of having to be your biggest cheerleader, because there’s so much working against you all the time, you have to keep resetting and moving forward.
M.D: Given the digital marketplace changing the way we think about music, as you build your band back up, is there a feeling like you have greater versatility in the image of that band and how it’s promoted? That you have a wider array of options to distribute your music and how you want it to be seen?
SO: Yes and no. Of course, there’s been some power in the new way, but there’s also the opposite effect, where you don’t have a lot of control over your image and what’s distributed and put out there in terms of someone recording your show with a cell phone or taking a really shitty picture of you and putting it online. It used to be a pretty good reign on your image and what you wanted to people to know or not know about you. Now, the idea of privacy is a foreign concept to most people these days. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it for sure. I like all the options and immediate response you get from a song or an album, but I do miss a little of the mystique or whatever you want to call it that used to exist in music. When there’s so much content available, it starts to devalue what you are. But that would be only a perspective from somebody that remembers it being a different way.

M.D: It’s been an up and down ride for you from jump, what are the lessons you’ve taken with you over the years?
SO: There are definitely things I would have done differently, but you can’t change the past. It’s a different world now, but I would say don’t underestimate the value of who you are and what you have. I mentioned earlier, when Dreamworks folded, we felt really devalued, like we don’t matter because we don’t have a record deal. I realize now that was such a mistake. The value is not in the record label, the label meant nothing. It’s the music, the songs, the band, the people in the band, that’s the lesson I learned, maybe a little too late in some regards. I wish someone had told me that in that moment, like fuck them, you don’t need it, look what you have, look what you’ve built. I would say that’s true with any band, sometimes you get convinced not to feel that way.
M.D: It needs to be asked – after all the acrimony and the changes and the back and forth, what would you have liked to have had happen with “Anyone for Doomsday?” What was your vision for that record, what would have been the best scenario?
SO: Looking back on it, I still feel the same way creatively about it as I did back then. I don’t particularly like it, it’s not my favorite album we ever made. A lot of people really love it, I think they like that it’s pretty dark compared to the other stuff we’d done and maybe a bit heavier. So I don’t feel all that different about it creatively, but from a strategy standpoint, to be completely honest with you, if I could go back in a time machine, I probably would put it out there, instead of listening to a lot of voices around me and holding it. The original idea was that it wasn’t supposed to take three more years for the record, it was supposed to be a quick pause. Once you do that, everything starts spiraling sometimes, and that’s when a couple band members left. We were rebuilding the band and suddenly it’s not the same band anymore and you’re making an entirely different record. It’s hard to predict whether it would have made any difference, there were other circumstances that would have completely killed that record anyway. 9/11, no one would have played “Bombshell.” So who knows? I don’t know ultimately if the results would have been different. Just thinking back now I think it would have been smart to have just gone with it and put it out, because I think it was on track to do pretty well anyway. It was a lot of cooks in the kitchen at that point. You can’t change it, it is what it is.
M.D: People can go to iTunes or Amazon or wherever and buy the tracks for that album. Are you satisfied that those skeletons are out of the closet, that it’s available in some form?
SO: Oh yeah, I’m glad it’s out, for sure. At the end of the day, after the record’s done, it’s not mine anymore, so if people are into it and like it, that’s great. And there are still some things on there that I like, and I haven’t listened to it in years, but you know, we certainly play “Bombshell” every night live and people love that song. I’m definitely happy that it’s available. Especially since it was one of those records that kids were looking for and spending way too much money on, so I’m glad they can get it on iTunes for cheap.
M.D: I think it’s fairly well known that you’re a man inspired by the media you’re consuming, so what books or comics are you reading, what are you watching? What are you a fan of these days?
SO: God, it’s so embarrassing. I feel like I haven’t watched a movie or read a book in so long. I don’t buy comics anymore, that was something I did as a kid, but I’m still inspired by the art form. If I’m on tour and there’s a comic shop I’ll always go in and look around. I went to see “Godzilla,” that was the last movie I saw. Which I wasn’t overwhelmed with. I thought it was a little long and took a little too long to get to the good stuff. I get the idea, they took the “Jaws” approach, like don’t show the shark. There’s a reason they never the show the shark, because it never worked and they had to figure out ways around it. The big difference with “Jaws” is Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Schneider and the actual amazing, dramatic film without a shark in it. Whereas “Godzilla,” I don’t know who that dude was that played the main character, he wasn’t the most compelling in the world. To answer your question, I feel so out of the loop with everything right now, I feel like I’ve been living in a bubble because it’s been so much about this band and this record and being on tour. I want some time to stop and be a fan of some stuff, which hopefully will be soon, maybe after the summer, I can actually take a moment and start consuming instead of outputting.


Music Editor

D.M is the Music Editor for He tries to avoid bands with bodily functions in the name and generally has a keen grasp of what he thinks sounds good and what doesn't. He also really enjoys reading, at least in part, and perhaps not surprisingly, because it's quiet. He's on a mission to convince his wife they need a badger as a household pet. It's not going well.

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