Armed with giant hooks and crowd-empowering choruses, Powerman 5000 deliver the electro-shocked power-anthems that only Spider One and his merry band of musical superheroes can pull off on Builders Of The Future, their first album with new label, T-Boy Records. The platinum-selling band conquered rock radio and built a career in the underground, embodying the very title of one of their most enduring and ubiquitous hits, "When Worlds Collide" and sorta upending the sentiment implied by "Nobody's Real." Because these guys are real, creating only the most authentic music they can.
Supercharged in the same vein as pop culture breakthroughs Mega!! Kung Fu Radio and Tonight The Stars Revolt!, the band's first studio album in nearly five years fulfills the promise of the cliffhanger fans were left with via the career comeback/return-to-form called Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere. The band has retrofitted their songwriting abilities even further, marrying the sturdily reliable PM5K vibe with the futuristic promise of Tomorrowland. Tracks like "Invade, Destroy, Repeat," "Live it Up Before You're Dead" and "Modern World" sound hungry yet sophisticated, as if smiling amid a dystopian landscape, flipping middle fingers in the air and dancing till doomsday.
"At the end of the day, we are the ones who will go out and play these songs in every city in America and everywhere else around the world we can," Spider points out. "You have to live and breathe it. If you don't believe in it, it's easy for people to smell a rat." Since their inception, Powerman 5000 has treated every record as if it's their last, summoning all of the forces inside them to create urgent, evocative mission statements.
Powerman 5000 carved out a corner of the galaxy where their devoted fans invite the songs and the overall vision to inhabit their lives in a way disposable pop stars couldn't fathom. "I never would have imagined that after all the albums, band members, ups-and-downs, and changes in the music business, that I'd still be doing it," Spider marvels.
Of course, he wouldn't have it any other way. "We can sit around and cry all day long about how the music business isn't what it used to be and blah, blah, blah, but none of that really matters," Spider proclaims. "What matters is to have a blast being in a band. Ever since I saw The Clash on TV as a little kid, I was like, 'That looks awesome!'"
Like The Ramones, AC/DC and Motörhead, Powerman 5000 has arrived at a tried-and-true sound upon which listeners can depend. Whether it's the electro-rock with which they've built their reputation or the exploration of their frontman's punk soul that drove Transform and Destroy What You Enjoy, a Powerman 5000 record is ultimately the musical equivalent of The Shogun Warriors, Blacula, and Muhammad Ali throwing down with each other across Saturn's moons in the most epic comic book crossover ever.
Spider One and the band's early lineups began cobbling together a love of sci-fi, horror, comic books and b-movie culture two decades before teen soap operas starred vampires and werewolves or "Marvel's The Avengers" made over $1.5 billion dollars. Spider and his friends were early adapters of many facets of future pop culture staples.
The first version of the band formed in Boston in 1991, melding together the once disparate worlds of hip-hop and heavy metal the exact same year Rage Against The Machine began experimenting with the same on the West Coast. Spider dropped out of art school to pursue music, crafting Much Evil with a drum machine and a 4-track recorder. Two self-released albums followed, as Powerman 5000 achieved local notoriety as a band that could sell out Boston rock clubs. A prospective A&R man on his way to a job interview with DreamWorks Records checked out a PM5K show on a whim, promised them a record deal before he even had the gig - and he actually delivered!
A reinvigorated version of their second self-released album, retitled Mega!! Kung Fu Radio, was issued by DreamWorks and supported by the band on Ozzfest's main stage. The action rock/sci-fi/industrial mash-up that was Tonight The Stars Revolt! gave DreamWorks their first platinum album (no mean feat considering the company was started by Steve Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen!) and saw the band's music powering flicks like "Bride Of Chucky," "Blade II" and the "Universal Soldier" sequel.
Powerman 5000's mainstream success just happened to coincide with the chart dominance of so-called "nu-metal" acts like Korn and Limp Bizkit. "Those bands are great," Spider points out. "But I remember, going into Tonight The Stars Revolt!, gathering everybody and being like, 'Let's make a heavy Devo record! Clearly we were always going to be the misfit kid in whatever scene we got lumped into.'"
Featuring production contributions from Terry Date (Slipknot, Pantera, Soundgarden), Anyone For Doomsday? was intended to follow Revolt!, but the band's frontman started feeling the creative itch to shakeup the group's signature sound a bit. By the time the dust had settled, lineup changes had reconfigured the band and what emerged was Transform, a stripped down, classic punk-infused album that ditched the costumed alter egos but nevertheless debuted at #25 on the Billboard 200. Transform delivered the Top 10 Rock song "Free" and brought kids into bands like Rancid to the already diverse Powerman 5000 audience made up of sci-fi fans, industrial fans and more.
Unfortunately, Powerman 5000 embarked on that bold creative adventure just as their record label went through corporate reshuffling. DreamWorks was absorbed by Interscope, who took on a handful of the shuttered label's acts (including AFI) to varying degrees of success. PM5K was set free, but were still in the middle of promoting Transform. Destroy What You Enjoy, which reunited the band with frequent collaborator and fellow Boston-to-Los-Angeles transplant Mudrock (Godsmack, Avenged Sevenfold), followed on the doomed DRT record label, boasting the MTV2 staple "Wild World."
"Being such a punk rock kid growing up, I always felt that I had to get that off my chest, to make those sorts of records," Spider says, reflectively. "So we did that for a bit. But what I realized was that as much as you have to serve your own creative needs, and do what you want to do, you also do have an audience, you know what I mean? After those records, I had gotten it out of my system, and I found this newfound love for the Tonight The Stars Revolt! sound - the electronic, metal, four-on-the-floor dance beat songs with big 'Rah, Rah, Rah!' choruses. I just started falling in love with that sound all over again."
All of the stars aligned creatively for Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere, which was widely embraced by the band's fans, thanks to tracks like "Super Villain" (the video for which premiered on FEARNET, who featured Spider as host/reporter for a spell). As Spider puts it, that album laid the train tracks for Builders Of The Future, which is a bigger, better, smarter, "stranger" and altogether even stronger continuation of sorts.
"We've replanted our flag as the weird, sci-fi, electronic band," he says proudly. "This is what we are. This is what we do best. This is clearly what people like from us the most, too. So I'm going to love it like they love it. We're back. The fanbase has really rallied around us again. The enthusiasm feels like it's picked right up from the year 2000. The electronic-metal-dance thing, we've locked it down once and for all with this one."
Powerman 5000 has created a culture around their band. Part of the appeal is the way Powerman 5000 pilfers through the most exciting elements of schlocky pop culture, bridging the gap between dance clubs, Comic-Con and the Vans Warped Tour. But there's something even grander in play with songs like "You're Gonna Love It, If You Like It Or Not", "How To Be A Human" and "I Can't F-cking Hear You" from Builders Of The Future, something that was also present in their biggest hits: a spirit of community.
"I've always connected the most with bands where it felt like everything about them was more than just a song," Spider explains. "It was their lyrics, it was the clothes they wore, and it was how they carried themselves. I felt like I knew The Beastie Boys, for example. That's how I've always envisioned this band. Whether they are into weird sci-fi movies, or they want to wear a jacket like one of us, it's bigger than just playing music."
The time is perhaps even more "right" for Powerman 5000 than ever before.
"When I was a kid, if you wore a comic book t-shirt, you were going to get in a fight on your way to school," Spider recalls. "Now it's all so mainstream. There's bitterness amongst some, like the culture has been stolen and co-opted. But honestly, if I look at what's gone on? If I was a kid I'd be so psyched on all the stuff that's available!"
But it's really just like when those local heroes in that "weird" band - a band like, say, Powerman 5000 once upon a time - finally finds success on a broader level. "Be happy that this stuff that you love and adopted as your own has somehow found a way to be a career. Would we rather comic-book creators made 10 cents per page? No way!"