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Dirt Fest Preview: Powerman 5000 bringing new music, new vibe to stage show

Recently, Powerman 5000 released their seventh album, Builders of the Future. The album is the band's first new material in five years and first release through their new partnership with T-Boy Records, a co-venture with Universal Music Enterprises.

Powerman 5000's Builders of the Future
T-Boy Records

In its first week of release, the album debuted at number 63 on the Billboard 200 with around 4,200 copies sold in the U.S. and once again has the band's "b-movie bite" with a blend of sci-fi/horror anthems and rocking metal riffs overlaid with electronic beats.

Currently, Powerman 5000 is out touring the U.S. with Hed PE and will be hitting the stage at the Birch Run Expo Center tomorrow for Dirt Fest.

On Wednesday, band leader/vocalist Michael "Spider One" Cummings took some time during traveling to speak about the new album, the tour and all of the changes the band has gone through over the years. Formed in 1991, Powerman 5000 has seen a number of lineup changes over the years but Spider One has always been the one constant.

Q: How are you doing today?

Spider One: I'm good, I'm good.

Q: Where are you at tonight?

Spider One: We just pulled up in the beautiful city of Turtle Lake, Wisconsin. We've never been here before so it should be interesting.

Q: Are you playing a lot of new places on this tour?

Spider One: It's a mix. Some are new and some are places we've played before but it's been crazy out here! Especially in the new places. We played in a place called Ringle, Wisconsin that I had never heard of in my life. We drove miles and miles and there was nothing but cornfields to get to the venue. We didn't see a house for miles so I don't know where they came from but the place was packed. It was like Children of the Corn; they just emerged from the cornfields. So you know, we can't complain, it's been a lot of fun.

Q: What's been your favorite show so far?

Spider One: Well we did a show in Omaha, Nebraska and it was a sold out show and it was a great theater and it was just nuts. Something's going on out there. The shows have been great!

Q: You have Dirt Fest this weekend. What can you tell us about your set?

Spider One: Oh yeah, Dirt Fest is going to be amazing. There's a lot of great bands and the festival vibe is always really fun. I mean, I feel like the band right now has a great vibe. We played a lot of the summer festival tours in Europe like Hellfest and Download and Pinkpop. That experience was great for us as a live band. Something about that trip and being thrown into the fire in those situations did something to our band and I feel like we're playing better and performing better than we ever have, so Dirt Fest is going to be a great show.

Q: Back in May you had your show at the Machine Shop in Flint. How did that go?

Spider One: Oh the Machine Shop is always great. It's one of those spots that every band wants to play and every band knows it's going to be a great night. They treat you right. For us though, pretty much again, it was a sold out show. It's always a great time in Michigan whether it be there or in Detroit or wherever. That's why we're looking forward to Dirt Fest.

Q: Do you have a song from the new album that you are enjoying playing live the most right now?

Spider One: I mean I love to play all the songs because we are playing a bunch of new songs. Of course, there's the first single "How To Be Human" and the new single on the radio is "We Want It All" but I think I have the most fun playing "You're Gonna Love It, If You Like It Or Not" because it's just one of those infectious songs that gets everybody going nuts. If I could play all the new songs, then I'd be completely happy. [laughs]

Q: Which older song do you never get tired of playing?

Spider One: You know, it's funny because you do play the same songs over and over but it's different every night. The audience makes it different. I mean you would think it would get old but there's a reason why The Rolling Stones still play "Satisfaction" every night. It really doesn't get old because every night is different and every room is different and every crowd is different so it's cool.

Q: Looking at the new album, what do you feel makes this one stand on its own away from your other releases?

Spider One: For me, after all these years of doing it, I think that every time I make an album I feel like I'm just figuring it out all over again, you know? So on this album it was like wow, I think I may have just made a professional album. Sometimes at this point you can just be going through the motions but this one doesn't feel like that. I feel like the songs got better and the playing got better and we just really pulled together on what kind of record we wanted to make. I don't know, it's just strange how that happened. I feel in a strange way this band works backwards. For a lot of bands their first album is the best and they keep trying to match it after that but I feel like with us, we keep making better ones. I look back at the old ones and it's like, eh, I'm not that fond of them, you know? Just my opinion. I really feel like they have gotten better.

Q: In the past you have talked about the revolving door of band members you've had and how it's something that you have gotten used to and it's something that has seemed to work out. Do you find that with all the changes though that it's hard when it gets time to go in and record another album?

Spider One: A little of both. I mean sometimes it's kind of a challenge but it does help in a lot of ways too. Sometimes you can get complacent with the same stuff and the same people when you know exactly what they are going to do and they know what you are going to play. Sometimes when you have different people coming in it gives you a little more freedom. It keeps the band really, really fresh and allows for new ideas and new influences and different styles to come in. So I've come to terms with it but you know, when you start a band you never imagine going through sixteen guitar players or whatever! On the other hand, it becomes more about the band and their individual parts and I think for us it has turned out pretty well.

Q: Do you feel like you surpassed your original vision for the band?

Spider One: I mean it has definitely changed. I can't even say that I had a real vision at first. I mean you start a band and then at a certain point in your life you just kind of try to figure it out and where it's going. You start building an identity and then when you get older you maybe want that identity to change. I think that you don't always know where's it's going to go when you start out. I feel like people can look at this band and see that we've definitely gone through a lot of changes. I think we're at the point now where we feel really good about it. I don't feel like we have to go through too many more or anymore transformations. I think we have a sound that sells and we're really happy with it. I mean we'll always try to get better at it.

Q: One of the things that makes you stand out as a band is that unique sound that you have that I think draws from so many genres and allows for a diverse fan base. I remember seeing you years ago when I was out covering The Gathering of the Juggalos and there was a buzz about what the reaction when you hit the stage was going to be because they have such a reputation for giving bands outside their norm a hard time. Then you guys hit the stage and the crowd went insane. They loved you!

Spider One: Oh god, yeah that was crazy! I mean, who knows what you're going to get, but we came out and there were some who knew who we were but I think that those Juggalos who didn't ended up loving it. They started chanting "Family" and all the things they do. It was great. Just to get through that show positively was pretty awesome.

Q: When you are out touring do you find it easier to stick with bands who are a bit more similar in sound or do you prefer going out with bands on the other end of the spectrum?

Spider One: I mean, a little of both. Quite honestly, I don't feel like we've ever been locked into any scene. We've done all the metal fests and the rock fests. I'm happy for the challenge and to play with bands that are outside of our genre. Europe was like that for us. We played a lot of shows and festivals with these extreme metal bands and we seem like a pop band next to them really. There was a great response and energy and vibe to it all. It's nice to be challenged, for sure.

Q: What are your plans for the rest of the year after this tour wraps up?

Spider One: We have some things coming in September. We are playing Great American Nightmare with Rob Zombie. We did it last year in California and it was a blast. This year it's in Arizona. So we're doing that and some shows here and there and then we are working on a tour in November which has not been confirmed yet but we will definitely be touring more.

Q: Speaking of Great American Nightmare, the horror and sci-fi genres obviously heavily influence you and your brother's work. Do you enjoy getting a chance to get out and attend the different conventions and things along that line?

Spider One: Oh yeah, it's such a huge thing and getting to go out and play shows around Halloween are always special. I mean a normal show for us is a freak show to begin with so when you add that element to it with people coming in costume, it makes it an even greater vibe. You know, spirits of the night!

Q: What is your favorite horror or sci-fi movie?

Spider One: Oh man, we always seem to have this conversation when we are driving. It's hard to narrow it down. For me, when it comes to horror movies, I definitely love things like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Shining and the first Alien movie, which is a combo of horror/sci-fi. I actually did an interview with the horror website Bloody Disgusting and was asked to name my favorite sci-fi/horror films and I got called out for not picking technical horror movies. I mean I picked things like A Clockwork Orange, Mad Max, Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes. They may not be the exact genre but they all have those horror elements in them. I like movies that stretch the genre for sure.

Q: One of the biggest things that your band did early on was get a jump start on including your music in video games, television and movies. Is that something you plan to continue doing?

Spider One: Yeah as long as they still want it. I think it's a great thing to do, especially now that it is so mainstream. We were extremely lucky looking back because we were very early in that. A lot of bands back in the nineties didn't want to get involved in that very much. We did and it worked for us. I mean I still run into people who tell me that they became a fan when they were twelve years old after hearing our stuff in the Tony Hawk game. It's a very powerful way to get your music heard.

Q: Moving forward, is there still a big goal or arena that you want to move the band towards?

Spider One: Well you know it's interesting because the music business is such a different place. You know, the days of the big record deals are over but for us just being here is pretty amazing. I mean our last major hit was in 1999 but the fans are still here. We are still selling out shows and people are singing along with the songs and enjoying themselves and that's what it's all about. That's the way I look at it. It's not always about the charts or the radio play or whatever. There are a lot of other things of value and we appreciate the fact that there are so many people who are still singing along all these years later and that we are able to play something like Dirt Fest where we are still near the top of the bill. I mean, of course, you still want to have more success but it's not all about that at this point. We're not kids anymore. You want to just get out there and have fun and prove that you still belong and that you are still valid. I really do feel like we are in a great place right now.

Q: Is there a particular band on the bill that you want to see this weekend?

Spider One: Well you know, we've been playing shows with Hed PE and they are great guys. I've know those guys for forever and they kind of came up at the same time we did but we never toured with them. Now that we've been out with them, I've seen just how good they are. They are so good. They've got a great vibe so it will be good to see them on a bigger stage and see what they can do.

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