Sit Down Series: Spider One of Powerman 5000

Spider One is the frontman for Powerman 5000. He’s cool, charismatic, and highly entertaining. I have fond memories of discovering the band in middle school and being wowed by Spider’s brilliant look and the band’s imaginative sound and songs. Prior to seeing Powerman 5000 at the Webster Theater in Hartford, I met with Spider One earlier in the day to do an interview. On top of being a class act, he was genuine, candid, and gave me a lot of insight regarding his life both in and out of music.

Later that night, PM5K put on a stellar show with the combination of the band’s high energy, hits new and old, and a flashy light show to accompany the entire masterpiece.

In this special interview, Spider One and I chatted about his early memories and influences in music, the past, present, and future for Powerman 5000, how he lives his life, and much more.

Alex Obert: So you were born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, did you travel to Boston for the music scene?

Spider One: Yeah I did, actually. On Sunday afternoons when I was still in high school, I would jump on the train to go to Boston to see the all ages hardcore shows. That’s where I saw great local bands way back in the day like SS Decontrol, Gang Green, all the early punk rock bands. Just to be involved in that scene was a crazy, eye-opening experience. Haverhill is this shitty little small town, there’s nothing to do. So just to be able to go into Boston and hang out in Kenmore Square and go to all these legendary clubs, it’s pretty exciting.

Alex Obert: Did you have a record store you went to?

Spider One: Yeah. Back then, it was Newberry Comics in Boston. It’s a chain of stores, they have a whole bunch of them. But back then, it was one small hole in the wall store. And it was really fuckin’ cool because it was a small store that sold a bunch of punk rock vinyl and comic books. It was such a great combination because growing up, I was into both things. I was a total comic book nerd and stuff, so to have both of those worlds in one place was amazing.

Alex Obert: What was your first concert?

Spider One: I think my first concert might’ve been The Police. It shows how long I’ve been around. The Police and opening for them were The Go-Go’s. They’re an all girl band. That was pretty awesome.

Alex Obert: Powerman 5000 is well known for their music videos with an over-the-top approach. Were you heavily influenced by music videos growing up?

Spider One: Oh, yeah! Growing up, for me, was the height of MTV. And that was when MTV was playing just music videos, but it was also considered actually to be cool back then. MTV eventually turned into TRL and the top ten videos and all that, it lost its cool factor. And of course it became something that doesn’t even play music anymore. So growing up and watching all those early music videos was a huge influence.

Alex Obert: Do you have any memorable stories of filming your music videos?

Spider One: It was just amazing, especially back when there were big budgets for music videos. We used to make music videos and we’d spend half a million dollars on a video, that was considered cheap back then. In other words, whatever stupid whim you had, it could happen. To have a video like When World Collide or Bombshell, it’s just like, “I want giant robots crushing the city!” And they’re like, “Okay! Let’s do it!” Now it’s like you can’t do that. Very few people can do that right now. Just the fact that we were able to make those videos is spectacular.

Alex Obert: So with those select few bands with the budget right now to film a major music video, let’s say the Foo Fighters, you support YouTube as the new outlet for them to get out there? Like you were saying, MTV is no longer an option.

Spider One: It has to be. But I feel like it’s kind of weird because I feel like yeah, that’s the new place to see videos, but I think people still consider being on TV as a higher level. Everybody’s on the Internet. Foo Fighters are on the Internet, but so is the fucking dancing cat or whatever it is. It’s a weird thing, it almost takes away from the importance of music. It’s also readily available whereas when you watch MTV, you don’t know what you’re gonna see, you have to wait for it. Things took actual effort, whereas now, it takes no effort to actually do anything or see or hear anything. I worry that it devalued things.

Alex Obert: With the way that you got your music out there, what led to you putting a notable amount of Powerman 5000 songs in video games and film?

Spider One: It just seemed like the right thing to do. We started doing that really early on. Now, everybody wants to do that. They want their song in a video game or in a movie. Back when we started doing it, no one really wanted to do that. Maybe they thought it was weird like selling out and thinking they’re not cool. My thought was anywhere the music can go, put it in there because that’s how you gain fans. To this day, I still have people that first heard of us because they played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 or whatever video game it was.

Alex Obert: What’s the process of getting one of your songs into something like that?

Spider One: Usually they just ask, you know what I mean? It’s usually just requested or sometimes we’ll have a publishing company that pitches your song to other things. But I found that most of the time, it was just requested.

Alex Obert: I was introduced to Powerman 5000 through this. I attended my first WWE RAW event in 2002 and the Dudley Boyz had a new entrance theme, which I later learned was Bombshell.

Spider One: The funny thing about that when they used Bombshell as their theme song, I didn’t even know about it. I got messages from kids online going, “Yo! That’s so cool! The Dudley Boyz!” And I’m like, “What are the Dudley Boyz?” I didn’t even know what it was, then I came to find out that they were using that song as their theme song.

Alex Obert: And I remember that Bombshell was used in WWE Smackdown vs. RAW for the Dudley Boyz. What’s significant about that is several unreleased Powerman 5000 songs featured in the game as part of the soundtrack. The songs were Riot Time, Last Night on Earth, and The Way It Is.

Spider One: Yeah, and that was a case of the music supervisor for the game looking for literally music in the style of Powerman 5000. And I was like, “Well you can have the real fucking thing.” So that’s how that happened. We did those unreleased songs specifically for the video game.

Alex Obert: Regarding Copies, Clones & Replicants, were all those bands you grew up listening to?

Spider One: Most of ’em, yeah. From David Bowie to Devo, all that sort of new wave and punk rock stuff, all the stuff that I grew up with. It was a big influence on me throughout the eighties and nineties.

Alex Obert: Seeing as though The Clash is one of your favorite bands, do you see a little Joe Strummer in yourself?

Spider One: Maybe in attitude, for sure. I always thought he was one of the most compelling frontmen. And to me, what I really loved about him was he always just seemed so honest and authentic. He never seemed like he was faking it. You see a lot of bands and you don’t buy it, it’s like, “Eh…I don’t get it.” With The Clash and particularly Joe Strummer, I always loved that and it always felt real all the time.

Alex Obert: How did word spread for that album? It was kind of like a secret release.

Spider One: I don’t even know, that was such a weird thing how that happened. We got approached to do these twelve cover tunes for licensing purposes, things like video games. I never in a million years thought they’d release it as an album. I didn’t really want to have a cover tunes record, but they did it anyway. And then I actually had a bit of a falling out with them, so I never even promoted the record. It’s sort of like a little secret thing that’s out there. Some people dig it. I think it’s got some good moments on it for sure. But I don’t really consider it a real album.

Alex Obert: Do you know of any covers of your music that other bands have performed?

Spider One: There are some online, I saw one that’s crazy. It was a live performance from this ska band doing a mashup of When Worlds Collide and Dragula. It was crazy, a horn section and everything. One of the best ones I’ve ever seen.

Alex Obert: How did you develop your look?

Spider One: Oh I don’t know, I was just born with it I guess, unfortunately. It’s funny, growing up, I had really long hair. And in high school, when I became really obsessed with punk rock, I chopped it all off and bleached it. It came out all orange. Me and my friends would sit around and cut each other’s hair. It was like the worst haircuts ever and we were like, “Shave this side of it!” And then I let it grow out again. And then for a long time I had long hair, then I just decided to chop it off again. It just never changed.

Alex Obert: Do some people out there automatically assume Billy Idol was the influence for your current look?

I do hear that a lot, for sure. And I was thinking, “Isn’t there anybody else with blonde spiky hair?” But I guess I do sort of resemble him. I hear it constantly walking down the street, it’s pretty funny.

Alex Obert: With Sex, Blood, and Rock N Roll – The Art of Spider One, how did that all develop?

Spider One: Well it’s my favorite person in the world, Christine’s fault. I started painting at her place and she suggested we should do an art show. I went to art school for a little while and art was always a love of mine, drawing and painting. I started putting together these drawings of musicians, it influenced me, then I started doing these larger scale paintings. I didn’t know how to do an art show and I’ve never done one before, so she pulled it all together. She found a venue for it. It’s just one of those things that was so cool, just one day deciding to do an art show.

Alex Obert: Have you gotten any memorable artwork from fans throughout the years?

Spider One: Yeah, I’ve been given a lot of stuff. I remember when we went to Japan, this girl made the tiniest little sculpture of me. It was literally like half an inch tall, but super detailed. I still have it. That was pretty amazing.

Alex Obert: With artwork concerned, what are some of your favorite album covers?

Spider One: As a kid growing up, I was always obsessed with the KISS Destroyer album cover. When you’re a kid, it’s this weird band where you weren’t sure if they were actually real or not. I used to stare at that album cover. So many great Black Flag album covers, all those crazy and offensive drawings. Some of those were my favorite.

Alex Obert: I dig the album covers for Powerman 5000.

Spider One: Yeah, I really love the new album cover. It was the first album we’ve ever made where I didn’t do the album art. It was kind of a relief to let somebody else do it, some other controlled influence.

Alex Obert: You’re solely on the album cover. And it’s interesting because the musicians in your band, aside from yourself, has often changed throughout the years. What’s that like and how do you get accustomed to that?

Spider One: It used to be really difficult, but there is an upside to it. It’s hard to have new people coming in and out of the band, but the benefit is that we do have new people coming in. New energy, new ideas, new way of playing. It does make it stay fresh. I would’ve never set out for it to be that way. You start a band and you think it’s gonna be the same people forever, but that’s just not the case with this band. And who knows, this band can be for the next however many years. I’ve learned to sort of accept it and just accept the benefits of it as well.

Alex Obert: Getting into the band’s latest album, Builders of the Future, I’d like to do an interesting take on this. I’d like to go over some of the lyrical themes to see how they relate with you.

Spider One: Okay.

Alex Obert: With Live It Up Before You’re Dead, how do you live it up before you’re dead?

Spider One: I think most people sort of take that as partying, but I don’t really look at it like that. It’s interesting how we all grow up and we convince ourselves that we can’t do certain things or someone might say, “Oh I have kids, now my life is over!” Whatever it is that people put in their heads. I think it’s really strange. You could walk out of here in five minutes and die by a bus or whatever it is. So it’s sort of like this idea that I think people should start to train themselves to understand the importance of doing what you love and what you believe in. We teach kids growing up that they can be anything they wanna be and to be themselves. But then every other step of life is usually the opposite. It really is just like an anthem of just following your own instincts.

Alex Obert: With We Want It All, what do you feel is the minimum you can have in life to keep you happy and going?

Spider One: To find out the minimum of what you actually need in life. (laughs) You really don’t need a lot. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually taken on the philosophy of simplifying. When growing up, you wanted all the stuff. I collected things and I bought things. And then I realized it’s all a distraction. The idea of that song is that it’s great to watch it all and to want to win and all the things in life, but it also shows the idea of greed and wanting the unnecessary. The song sort of has a dual message. It’s an empowering anthem, but on the other hand, it’s sort of absurd.

Alex Obert: With You’re Gonna Love It, If You Like It Or Not, was there ever something you weren’t able to walk away from music?

Spider One: I think it’s actually music itself. Every time we make a record or every time we do a tour, there’s this weird feeling that that’s the last one. I feel like every record had its goodbye song. But there’s this great line in The Godfather III were Al Pacino’s talking about the Mafia and he’s like, “Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in.” And that’s really what this is. All of the logic in your head is saying, “Why am I still doing this? I can do something else.” There’s something about it. If you still believe in it and if you still feel like you have some things to create and believe and express, it just keeps pulling you back in.

Alex Obert: When you walk out on stage for the intro song, do all those doubts wash away for the night?

Spider One: Sometimes. I mean most of the time, when it’s a great show, you’re like, “This is why I fucking do this.” And when it’s not, your life, you’re like, “I wanna kill myself. What have I done with my life?” (laughs)

Alex Obert: Have you had those Anvil experiences?

Spider One: Yeah, you have them all the time. Everybody does, unless you’re the elite-elite. Any working band out there knows what it’s like to tour. This tour’s a perfect example. We’re on the road the first or second night, 1,400 people, sold out in Omaha, Nebraska. We thought it was amazing. Then fast-forward a week later when we’re playing in Kokomo, Indiana and there’s like 150 people and you’re like, “This sucks.” It’s definitely a roller coaster ride. With the live situation, it’s really out of your hands. You don’t know what the promoter did, you don’t know what else is going on, and you don’t know the town. It’s all these things combined that you’re at the mercy of so many things. Ultimately all you can do is get on stage and whether there’s a thousand people or a hundred people or ten people, do the same thing you normally would and give the best performance you can. Realize that person paid to get in here, they deserve something.

Alex Obert: What’s one Powerman 5000 show you wish you could relive?

Spider One: There have been so many amazing shows over the years. But I do remember when we did this tour called the Summer Sanitarium Tour, it was with Metallica. Literally every day, we played in front of fifty to seventy thousand people. I remember one day early on in that tour, you can’t see the end of the crowd. Just having the entire sea of people doing what you ask them to do, I remember turning around to the drummer and just laughing because it seemed so absurd that this was happening. It was this ridiculous band that started x amount of years ago, having no plan or clue. And the same thing happened recently, we went over to Europe for all the massive festivals. We were playing Download and Hellfest and Pinkpop. Some days we were playing at eleven in the morning and there would be sixty thousand people and then two hundred thousand people. It was just crazy.

Alex Obert: With all you’ve been through, what is the meaning of life?

Spider One: You tell me, I don’t know, man. I don’t know what the meaning is, but when I boil it down to a meaning, I just boil it down to kind of what’s important. It’s really just like a series of moments. I think that it’s such a broad, ridiculous term to find happiness. We spend so much time sometimes being unhappy and disappointing ourselves in situations we clearly don’t like, whether it’s a relationship or it’s a job, whatever it is. And I think it comes back to what we were talking about earlier, a sense of controlling your own destiny a little bit to find happiness. That’s what I’ve been trying to do more than ever.

Alex Obert: After the tour ends this month, what do you have planned ahead?

Spider One: Well, we go home and then we have a couple of one-off shows. We’re doing this really cool event called the Great American Nightmare which is my brother Rob’s thing, he does these haunted mazes and we’re gonna play the opening night of that. It should be really fun. It’s in Scottsdale, Arizona. Then I think we hit the road again in November for another run of the states. Other than that, I’m not sure. I don’t know what’s up for the next year.

Alex Obert: What your websites at the moment for readers to check out?

Spider One: There’s Powerman5000.com, which is poorly neglected. My fault. Our Facebook page is probably the better destination. And I think everybody’s on Instagram. I like it. There’s some stage photos and other nonsense.

Alex Obert: What do you have to say to readers who would be seeing Powerman 5000 for the first time?

Spider One: I think that we absolutely pride ourselves on being a good live band. We put most of our energy into that aspect of the band because I feel like at the end of the day, that is the most important thing. You can go in the studio and you can make a great record. But if you can’t deliver it every single night on the road, it shows your worth as a band. I think a lot of people do come see us and maybe aren’t familiar with it and they’re always pleasantly surprised with the aggression and energy they get every night.

Alex Obert: I’d love to thank you so much your time.

Spider One: Yeah! Absolutely, man!

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