On August 2001, Powerman 5000 founder Spider One realized that his fast-rising group had just finished a new record that sounded a lot like its last one, 1999's Tonight the Stars Revolt! But rather than release an album that would please the label suits, guarantee those coveted MTV guest spots and help secure blanket radio coverage, he killed it and told the band to plan to make a fresh start.
"I was thinking about all those bands that put out a record and say in the press how they're taking their music to a whole new place, when it sounds just like the old stuff recycled," he says. "Another thing is that generally a week or two after I finish a record, I start listening to it again. This time I wasn't playing it at all."
Apparently some of the band members weren't impressed with Spider's hindsight. A few months after Spider pulled the plug on the record, titled Anyone for Doomsday?, drummer Al Pahanish called, and in a very short conversation, informed the singer he was quitting. Spider then called bassist Dorian Heartsong, and it was déjà vu all over again.
Powerman 5000 headlines the side stage at Buzzfest
Buzzfest at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
Saturday, May 10; for more information, call 713-629-3700
"I mean, we had a long relationship in this band, since 1990. So I was struck with how sometimes you really just don't know people you've been around," says Spider. "I was always a pretty loyal person, even when a few years earlier I had some pressure put on me to clean house a little bit. But I could see the dividing line between us. I grew up listening to punk, and they were Berklee music grads."
Guitarists Adam 12 and M33 were behind Spider's decision, so Powerman 5000 still had some juice left. "I think they welcomed my idea that we should be free to explore something new. It was kind of a mix of panic and relief for me, but I needed time to figure everything out."
Enter drummer Adrian Ost and bassist Siggy Siursen, the new rhythm section hired to bring Spider's latest vision to life. Nearly two years since the old record was tanked, Spider's reformed band is about to provide the answer to the question that fans and industry thinkers alike have pondered since his controversial decision in 2001: Were you sniffing glue or what? The aptly titled Transform drops on May 20.
From the opening line of the first cut, "Theme to a Fake Revolution," it's evident that Powerman 5000's transformation also heralds a return to rock music in its purest, most bollocks-busting form.
"I'm not a spaceman, but on the other hand I never really did fit in this world," Spider sings, referring to the campy, sci-fi spacesuits and abstract lyrics from the group's Stars Revolt days. The song is set to a punk rock backdrop that owes a hell of a lot more to, say, Bad Religion, than the pop faux-punk of Good Charlotte. The result is one of the freshest-sounding records in recent memory. It's not just the taut arrangements and crisp production -- Spider's message speaks volumes.
In "Free," Spider includes an ode to his musical idol Joe Strummer. He urges listeners to put down their Xbox controllers and break free of safe, conservative thinking, a theme he explores further in songs such as "Action" and "A Is for Apathy."
"I really hope that maybe I can get some kids to change their definition of what heavy is," says Spider, whose real name is Mike Cummings. "I grew up listening to the Clash, and then got into stuff like Public Enemy. But I also think Bob Dylan writes heavy music, which today is passed off as the stuff that these whiny kids do, banging their pots and pans together."
One song, "That's Entertainment," takes aim at the way the record industry is churning out boy bands, sultry young vixens and pop-metal cuties on a conveyor belt. "Let's see who's the biggest whore," Spider spits. The song also includes a nod to the band's more keyboard-laden past, a sound the group shared with the likes of the Hunger and, of course, Spider's brother Rob, as in Rob Zombie, who has given his blessing to the new sound.
"My brother would always say he didn't like much of what we'd recorded," says Spider. "But this time, he was like, 'This is a million times better than everything you've done.' "
It was Rob who gave Mike the "Spider" handle back in the days when White Zombie was the baddest of the bad new rock bands out there, and when Mike was veering off the punk trail into a quasi-rap, Nine Inch Nails sort of thing. On the credits of the White Zombie album, Rob referred to his bro as "MC Spider," and the name stuck until Mike added his own twist when PM5K was formed.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
For Spider, being firmly entrenched in L.A. and having a shit-kicking new record ready to go is a long way from his first high school band, Eruption, which was booed off the stage at the talent show in his hometown of Boston.
"But I really didn't care, because I was having fun," says Spider. "And this record reminds me of why musicians who are lucky enough to gain some kind of profile in this industry should never lose sight of why they are doing this in the first place. Well, I guess I can't speak for their motives, but I know mine. The cool thing about getting older is you lose that desire to follow the leader."
But what if PM5K becomes the new leader in a metal industry getting ready to embrace old-school, punk-infused rock once again? What happens if all the other bands decide to dress like Spider and he becomes the pop culture icon he despises?
"You know, that's a good question. But the fans would be really surprised if they actually had the time to get to know how this band functions and how I exist personally," he says. "I feel like the same guy who was lugging equipment through the snow in Boston. So in a way, when I think about my motivation, it boils down to the same thing as when I was 13, going to an all-ages hardcore show on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe this view is outdated, but I think music should mean something. Call me an optimist, but I want to lead a crusade to do something with passion."