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Kerby's Exclusive Interview With Powerman 5000 Vocalist Spider

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Friday, August 25, 2006 @ 8:35 PM

"If you look at some of these

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Ok, ok, I realize that in many circles the name Powerman 5000 doesn't necessarily equate with either musical credibility or genuine substance within the realm of metal. There are a variety of reasons for this though that range from a the perception that the band tends to try to pattern their music after whatever genre happens to be most lucrative at the time to the concern that the relatively high number of lineup changes that have taken place since 1995 have basically rendered Spider a solo artist with a band name. Although those concerns may have some outside validity, it can't be denied that the group's seminal record Tonight The Stars Revolt! contained many tracks choc full of supercharged, frenzied mayhem that resulted in over one million copies sold and an increased level of excitement being generated in the band's future.

Times were good.

Fortunes tend to change though, and that's why we all stay tuned. The promise afforded Powerman by producing a platinum selling record soon gave way to a series of unfortunate events not the least of which concerned the bizarre shelving of the follow up effort Anyone for Doomsday? The real reason for what was essentially the cancellation of a record that was in the eleventh hour of production and that had already been sent to journalists for review still remains somewhat of a mystery, but the indisputable fact is that whatever momentum the band would have automatically garnered with a timely follow up to their masterpiece was significantly reduced, and the result was that it was another two years before Powerman released the follow up record entitled Transform. On this album, the space suits were gone and the punk influence of the band began to make itself apparent as the sleek production of old was dialed down in favor of a more stripped down approach that has been carried even farther with the recently released Destroy What You Enjoy.

Even if a listener doesn't buy the whole "Billy Idol of Space Metal" shtick, Spider should be given more than a modicum of credit for continuing to carry the torch for just over a decade regardless of the shifts in style that his music may have taken or will evolve into in the future. Whether Powerman's current album is labeled metal, metallic punk or funk punk metallic grunge it really doesn't matter---the most essential component to great music is the ability to crank the sounds out of a car window while the wind blows through your hair, and for that, this record is ideal. That's the case whether Spider's brother is Rob Zombie or The Cat in the Hat. Here's hoping that the world still has room for a band that doesn't tightly fit into any given marketing scheme and yet still chooses to slog it out on the road in a bus playing to fans who still love rock and consistently make a commitment to show up and support a group whether it's presence is prominent on MTV or not.

KNAC.COM: When you finally wake up in the morning on the day that your new record is finally getting sold in stores, do you still get excited about it, or is it more of a feeling of anxiety?

SPIDER: That's funny because when you're in the process of making a record, it almost feels like it's never done, so when the day it finally lands on a shelf and it's there when you go into a record store....yeah, it's a defining moment for sure. You know, I've always looked at every record as the first record, but I think that's true more than ever now because I'm basically the last man standing in this band. It's essentially a completely different band, so now more than ever, I really feel we've made the most honest, stripped down album that we've ever made. It really just feels like a new beginning, so for that, yeah, it feels pretty cool.

KNAC.COM: It would seem like the common denominator for all of your efforts would have to be your personal love or desire to see a type of visualization of your music. That can't be an easy goal to attain with all of the personnel and label changes.

SPIDER: At this point, I don't know if I'm completely stubborn and refuse to give in...but, not to use the old cliché that's true for art and music, but you really don't chose art, it chooses you. It's really hard to walk away from it, and there have been many bands who have come and gone since we started doing this who have both had success and who have lost success. A lot of people throw in the towel, but I'm in it for the marathon. I think that when you've been through all the ups and downs like I have, you realize that you aren't defined by the record label that you're on or how many records you sell. That's what I try to tell younger bands---it's not about getting a record deal, it's about building a fan base. I can't just stop doing it. I'm the real deal. I'm not about getting a hit single or following trends or hoping that I get on MTV this week. I'm more about what it means to be in a band. At the end of the day, that's still about the coolest thing I can imagine.

KNAC.COM: Wouldn't that love have to be the most important component when you find yourself in Topeka, Kansas at 3 AM freezing your ass off on a bus? There has to be a reason that could define this type of behavior besides thinking you were going to sell a million records, right?

SPIDER: Sure, but a lot of times, the audience helps determine that for you too. We've been touring for the whole last year without a record, and we haven't had an album out for three years. Lo and behold though, we roll into Chicago and there are seven or eight hundred kids in front of us. We roll into Detroit and there's a thousand. Of course, there are other nights where we may have two hundred, but it's still pretty amazing. I know of bands who are on the charts who can't even do that. There is still a reason to do this.

KNAC.COM: I know you guys thrive in cyberspace, but have you been able to personally assess how much you think the Internet has been responsible for enabling the band to continue to tour and put out records given that other forms of media aren't always that receptive?

SPIDER: Absolutely. Sure, it's hard to gauge exactly how important all of that is, but yeah, you see it on the websites and with the Myspace page and everything--that has become a whole other force in itself. Still though, that all has to be determined in terms of how much it affects record sales or tickets sold. Regardless of what that turns out to be, it really is a tool that can keep interest going especially amongst the hardcore fans. We've had some kids who have visited the site every day for three years, but...they're still there. They just want to know what's going on. That's a pretty amazing thing.

KNAC.COM: How much do you participate in the chats that happen on your web page?

SPIDER: I'll drop in on the message board every once in awhile, sure. It might be to give an update or to respond to either something really cool that somebody said or maybe to respond to the most ridiculous thing somebody ever said. I always love the fan who thinks that they just know everything---but have it all wrong. Sometimes I just have to respond to it and put them in their place. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Can that very easily turn into an addiction though? Some deal where you just have this compulsion to constantly be monitoring what people say about you.

SPIDER: Yeah, I think it's a dangerous place. When people see something typed out in front of them, they still kind of want to believe it. Now every 12 year old has a valid voice. Before, all you had to worry about was Rolling Stone trashing your album-now, there are four million kids out there with too much time on their hands commenting on everything from how your hair looks this week to how your new record sucks. You just have to continually remind yourself of the source. It is an addiction, and it's a dangerous thing if you buy into it too heavily. If you look at some of these music websites where kids can comment, you might as well just slit your wrists now. It's the same twelve kids on them saying how every band in the world sucks.

KNAC.COM: Except for this one Scandinavian band that lives in the basement of this church where all they do is play kick ass music and sacrifice small children.

SPIDER: Yeah, exactly. I had never really paid attention to any of these sites until someone told me, "you should check this out and see what they're saying about you." After I did, I was thinking, "oh no, every kid in the world hates us." Then, I figured out that well..they hate everyone else too. At that point I realized that none of it matters that much.

KNAC.COM: At first, I always wondered what made the Internet such a potentially negative place, but then....after considering what type of people are able to be on line for fourteen hours a day, it's easy to see why the posts are the way they are. You know, maybe mom didn't get their toast right in the morning or the Playstation broke.

SPIDER: Absolutely.

KNAC.COM: On the other hand though, whereas a bad review in Rolling Stone used to be the kiss of death, do you feel that the importance of traditional media has diminished?

SPIDER: Yeah, it'll be real interesting to see how this record sells. It's a different time for us. We aren't on a major label anymore. We don't have the unlimited marketing dollars. MTV doesn't really even play bands like us anymore, and radio is a whole different animal. Now we are going to get to see how much of that other stuff really even matters and what the value is of that. We don't think in terms of selling millions of records like we used to-we're just looking at selling enough to keep us going. We are a real, working band. Anything else is just gravy. More than ever we are going to be relying on all of that other stuff. Sure, we may get some radio play or a few spins here and there on Headbanger's Ball or something, but mostly it's just going to be up to word of mouth and just the unconventional things that we can do to make this record sell. It will be interesting.

KNAC.COM: When you have to replace a person in the band, is it more difficult to find a person who is committed to the music and the travails of the road than just finding someone talented?

SPIDER: You totally nailed it. The hard part isn't finding a good player--the hard part is finding someone who believes in something as passionately as you do. That really is a challenge. Generally in a band, one guy usually has that, and then the others usually follow along. It is very difficult to find those types of personalities. You know, this is a band, and even though we've had member changes, the one thing I've tried to do is make sure this didn't turn into Spider and friends. I always want to represent this as a band. I want every member represented whether it's in the artwork or the videos. That's one thing I'm very proud of with this new lineup is that this feels more like a real band than ever. The members are all jelling the same way. It kind of represents the spirit of the album which is just kind of this rock and roll live show type vibe. It's the most fun I've had in the band.

KNAC.COM: Since no one would really fault you if you portrayed Powerman as kind of a solo endeavor plus guests, why is it so important to you to go about representing this as a true collective instead?

SPIDER: I guess to me if I were going to do the solo thing, I'd just go and do it one hundred percent. To me, growing up, my favorite band was the Clash. They just always seemed like these guys equipped with their guitars and combat boots going into war. Joe Strummer was always my hero, and he always made everything just seem so important. I still haven't lost a lot of that wide-eyed thirteen-year-old ideal in me. I like that idea of the front line guitar assault with the drummer in the back holding it down. I just like that feeling of everybody being on a mission together. I just like that. It fires me up.

KNAC.COM: Doesn't someone have to hold on to bits and pieces of an adolescent point of view in order to make a career in rock?

SPIDER: Yeah, the problem is, I don't think a lot of bands ever have that period. Many are just formed for the wrong reason. Either they form just to get signed or to get a record deal or they'll write a melody because it will transfer well into a fucking ring tone or something. They just don't have that passion. I could be completely wrong, but...I know there are some kids in their garage out there who could prove me wrong. But from what I see in rock today, I don't really see a lot of that.

KNAC.COM: How sad is it for you then to see punk as a genre becoming so bastardized and reduced to such an easily digestible product that is mostly meaningless at this point? Isn't it mostly just another name for popular music like alternative was in the early 90's.

SPIDER: I find that pretty funny because especially with this new record, I perfectly expect for people to slag me because of the "punk rock" influence on it. I'm sure there are many out there wondering, "Who the fuck does Powerman 5000 think they are?" I would never profess this to be a punk rock band, and all those patches those kids are buying at Hot Topic are great and everything, but....I was there. I was there when Black Flag played and have seen every underground, hardcore band in the world back in the day.

KNAC.COM: Basically, you were there before Fall Out Boy?

SPIDER: Yeah, I feel like I have a little bit of cred there. I saw Black Flag. I saw Husker Du. I hung out with D. Boone of the Minutemen in the parking lot of The Channel in Boston in 87.

KNAC.COM: You never get over something like that, do you?

SPIDER: Those are the things that you always fall back on. Those are the things you always remember. Those are the events that formed my idealism about what it should be like to be in a band--not how much money can be made off of selling a ring tone for two million dollars. I find that to be the least inspiring thing actually. I don't care if I have a sneaker named after me or something like that.

KNAC.COM: In fact, it could be argued that the impact of punk bands that were on SST in the eighties was as significant as any movement in music over the last thirty years. They made it possible for the whole "do it yourself movement."

SPIDER: Or even all the bands on Dischord Records too. When I was younger, I would go and buy Minor Threat's new record, and I would buy Aerosmith, and I didn't care about who sold more records or what the sales numbers were that week. I just liked it. That's what I wanted to listen to--maybe we are seeing a return to that because of all the major labels that are struggling while many popular bands are coming more from the indie labels and breaking. In truth, I did benefit for a time from the major label system, and I probably wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing now on an indie if it wasn't for that. Hindsight is 20/20 though, and yeah, looking back, I do see a lot of things that I could have done differently, but what's important is that we're here and we're still making music. Even though we have sort of made a career out of confusing people, I don't know if it is too our credit or our detriment that we didn't really stick to the formula and keep making this sort of big, electronic cookie monster style metal. On the other hand, maybe we have been able to stick around because we've changed so much. Either way, we've definitely taken chances.

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