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Powerman 5000 - Power In Numbers

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A lot of big things happened for Powerman 5000 in 1999. The quintet's second album, Tonight the Stars Revolt! went platinum (one million in sales), and its first two singles ("Nobodys Real" and "When Worlds Collide") were well received by radio and MTV, helping to augment the group's success on the road. But these achievements were a long time coming.

After coalescing in the early '90s, Powerman 5000 spent several years working the Boston music scene. Eventually, the quintet packed up and headed for Los Angeles (following in the footsteps of frontman Spider's older brother, Rob Zombie). They signed with Dreamworks Records and released Mega!! Kung Fu Radio in 1997. Slots on the 1997 Sno-Core Tour and Ozzfest followed, and the group's energetic combination of action-packed rock and B-movie aesthetics garnered a growing contingent of fans. In the fall of 1998 it was time to return to record a follow-up.

Though it's every bit as colorful and hefty as its predecessor, Tonight the Stars Revolt! contains a heavier collection of tunes, with a denser industrial-esque grind deepening the hip-hop-inflected rock grooves. The weightier attack is partly due to the departure of percussionist Jordan and the addition of second guitarist M.33 who signed on with Powerman 5000 shortly after his band, Human Waste Project, broke up. The line-up change required a little recalibration, but everyone took it in stride, and both guitarists look forward to the added power it will give the band in the future. Tonight the Stars Revolt! was your first studio foray since M.33 signed on. Was there much adjustment in terms of band dynamics?

Adam 12: First it was a little weird cause we'd each triple track our parts so you'd have six tracks of the same thing. Our phrasing is different, so then you'd listen to it and it was kind of a mess. It was a question of using his part for the chorus or the verse and then my part for the bridge or whatever. Then we took a break, wrote some more and at the end most of those rhythm parts were pretty much just him playing cause we were kind of pressed for time and his sound was more suited to the material we were doing at the end. That heavier kind of stuff. So he would pretty much do most of the rhythm things and then Id come in and if I had a specific part I wanted to do with a different sound, I'd do that. Was there much adjustment live?

Adam 12: Not really. It just sounds bigger. We're playing a lot of the same parts just doubled up. I think on the next record we're going to try and come up with more stuff thats counterpoint -- riffs that are simultaneous but not so much the same. Maybe some weird harmony thing. Scorpions-style?

Adam 12: Hmm. I was thinking more the Allman Brothers, in a modern, heavy setting. So, M., how did you hook up with Powerman?

M.33: Well my brother [John Tempesta] plays drums with Rob Zombie, and [John] got a phone call from Spider who said they were looking to add another member to Powerman. He asked my brother if he or I knew anybody in the area, so I actually recommended a guitar player I used to play with in my old band [Human Waste Project], and a week later my band broke up. I called Spider and I'm like, "You guys still lookin' for a guitar player?" And he goes "Yeah, that guy hasn't come down yet to audition." So I went down and jammed with those guys a few times and here I am. How does Powerman differ from what you were doing before?

M.33: Well, my old band didn't use any kind of sampling or loops or anything like that, and I was doing a lot more sound effects. With Powerman I'm playing a little bit more straightforward -- more rhythm stuff. But I have my little sounds that I'm trying to add in here and there, little melodies. Human Waste Project was a lot more melodic. Powerman's definitely a heavier band. With all the samples and loops, do you ever feel crowded out as a guitarist?

M.33: Sometimes, yeah. When I came in, a lot of the songs were written and Adam already had added his sounds, so I'm like I guess I'd better lay out in this part. But with the newer stuff I started writing with them; I started adding my own things in there. Adam, I understand when you were at the Berklee College of Music you were actually more interested in recording than playing guitar. Did you have more opportunity to work on your studio skills with this album?

Adam 12: Actually, no. I had less, which is kind of frustrating. It just got to the point where it was easier to let other people do their job. I always had tons of ideas and sometimes theyre just not feasible or they take too long. Then, when we were done working with [producer] Sylvia [Massey] we were working with [mixer] Scott Humphrey who, from what I know now, was under the impression he was just going to take some of our songs and mix them on his own without the band's influence. I guess it was just a communication breakdown, but we obviously wanted to be involved, so there was a lot of tension at that point. For me, it got frustrating to the point where I just had to let people do their thing and I completely stepped out of it. It worked out for the best, but I found I didn't have as much input as I thought I might. Sometimes you just have to pick your battles.

Adam 12: Yeah. In a way it's good. In writing for the record I've put together a home studio and written tons of stuff we didn't use. I did some music for an independent film called American Chain Gang -- it's about the resurgence of the chain gang in the deep South. The music's more along the lines of hip-hop. Actually, a lot of the stuff I do is more in a hip-hop vein -- like our older stuff. I've made some contacts in that area and I'm kind of branching out. So it worked out in one way, and I did learn a lot just watching people do their thing on this record. M., was guitar your first love?

M.33: Actually, I wanted to play drums, and I used to bang on my brother's kit when I was a kid but he'd get pissed off and chase me away from it. Do you and your brother feel any rivalry? It's kind of odd with Spider and Rob being siblings and you and your brother.

M.33: No. I always looked up to my brother. He was a major influence on me -- probably my biggest influence. What diverted you from drums to guitar?

M.33: Before, I was into lead players a lot -- Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen, Michael Schenker -- but then I started guitar teching for Anthrax, and teched for Scott Ian for five years. He's one of the tightest rhythm players there is, and just watching him every night was a big influence on me. That tone that he had was amazing. Are there other rhythm players you admire?

M.33: James Hetfield [of Metallica] blows me away. He sings and plays all these intricate parts at the same time. Malcolm Young [from AC/DC] is amazing, and he comes up with all these crazy riffs, too. One of my all-time favorites is Tony Iommi. He's so on. Do you ever feel the urge to let loose with a big wanky solo?

M.33: Yeah, I do. And you know what? The next record there might be a couple of those around. [laughs] Bringin' it back! Adam, looking back on your experience at Berklee, what did you get out of it?

Adam 12: Well, it was not just Berklee -- I did a bunch of internships and worked at studios in Boston and [I learned that] it's pretty much a big game of psychology. Producers have a way of wanting to do things and musicians are dead set in their ways. Then there's the engineer and everybody in between, and you just have to let everybody feel their point is valid and try it out if at all possible -- even if you know it's not going to work -- just so you can say, Alright, we've listened to it. I don't think it's gonna work. That's probably the biggest thing. Even dealing with band dynamics -- it's all psychology. You seem pretty circumspect about what musicianship means.

Adam 12: There's just so much to it. I can appreciate so many different styles and what so many different people bring to it that it's hard to just say, All right, this is the one thing that makes it happen. Cause you can stroll down the street in New Orleans or wherever and somebody's playing on the street and it's like, "Wow, that's the best shit Ive heard all year -- and they're playing for quarters." Then you go do a show for thousands of people and you don't think it was that great and you get on a bus and meanwhile this other person's sleeping under a bridge. It can be kind of weird sometimes.


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