Powerglove Talks "Saturday Morning Apocalypse," Favorite Cartoons, And Musical Training
Anyone who thinks video game music wasn’t cut out to be turned into metal obviously never played anything beyond PacMan. Video game and cartoon music alike both tends to lean toward grandiose styling and energetic delivery, which are two essential concepts of most heavy metal. It takes a special breed of band to really do the songs justice without being merely laughable. ProgPower USA XII recognized the talents of US-based band Powerglove, and gave them the opening slot on the kick-off day.
Before the show got rolling, I was able to catch up with Powerglove drummer Bassil Silver and bassist Nick Avila for an interview. I was able to pick their brains about their latest album, “Saturday Morning Apocalypse” (reviewed here), their favorite cartoons, their musical training, tips for noobs trying to make it in the music business, and their favorite video game music. They also gave a tease about their next album, citing Final Fantasy music as in the works.
Frank Serafine (Progressivity_In_All): You guys are, of course, waving the flag of Nerd Metal proudly. Can you describe your stage outfits?
Nick Avila: I guess I’m kind of a King Koopa. When we came up with the ideas, we wanted to be kind of our own video game characters and I used Mario as a loose thing to base it around, but our costumes also worked around the idea of Gwar, like the Reaganator and some of the enemies that they just rip apart. You know, we just had a couple of drinks and came up with dumb ideas and laughed about them.
I think his costume kind of looks like Yoshimitsu.
Bassil Silver: Yeah, and we definitely take influence from different video games as well as just warriors of the past. Mine definitely has a samurai vibe. A lot of people call it Yoshimitsu, and all that stuff, but we definitely wanted to have it not necessarily be one specific character, like dressing up as one video game character. We wanted to do our own thing.
You can definitely see influence and homage to different video games and stuff like that. They’re just kind of their own little zany Powerglove characters.
FS: Do you guys have any names for these characters?
Nick: Nah, we never wanted to have a back story or say we’re from an alien planet or from a video game. We just kind of wanted to give off the impression that we’re weirdos. Really, we are weirdos.
Nick: Easy impression to give off! We just try to put on a fun visually stimulating stage show.
FS: Right on. How many years did it take for Powerglove to limit break and get a record deal?
Bassil: It sort of evolved over time for a long period of time. We all used to play together in bands in high school. Powerglove just started as a fun kind of side project, just recording some songs and throwing them up online for fun. Then it started to kind of create a following online. We had a little forum and everything and people started actually listening to it. More than our other bands, we considered it the main band at the time.
So it sort of just evolved over the years, and we recorded a bunch of songs, and then just started playing a couple of live local shows. The shows we played around Boston were in 2005, and it wasn’t until a couple years later where we did two tours before we signed any deal or anything. It was kind of a big long slowly growing process. It wasn’t like at one point, we were like “Okay now it’s a band and we’re signed,” and everything like that.
We started touring before we signed a deal or anything like that. We signed the contract with E1 about a year and a half ago now. At that point, it was more of a push to keep on going and to try to do more touring. I feel like that’s always been a goal for us, just kind of always be pushing and moving onward, making the stage show crazier, and putting out more CDs. It’s been a long process.
Nick: Yeah, the record label was kind of a necessary step at that point. We kind of got used to being a DIY band because we were one for about six years and before this band started, we were in bands in high school together. So we were always used to just doing everything ourselves. We kind of just ran into a small road block to where it’s kind of hard to get on tours unless you’re on a record label. That kind of influenced us and pushed us to finally sign to one.
It’s been nice in ways, but in the same way, it hasn’t changed much. Artistically, they let us do whatever we want. They don’t really influence our decisions much or the songs we cover.
Bassil: They’ve definitely been good about leaving us artistic freedom, which is very nice. We feel like one thing that means a lot to us with this band is to let any ridiculous idea that we think will work and work with it and make it grow and thrive. Not to have someone tell us what to do all the time.
FS: Do you have any tips for noobs? New bands?
Bassil: Up, down, left, right, up, down, left, right, A, B, Start. (laughs) It’s a cheat code.
Nick: Learn how to use the internet the best way possible. Do your research. There’s plenty of great books out there. “How To Make It In The Music Industry” is good. “Everything You Need To Know About The Music Industry” is another one. There’s a guide to the self-promoting musician. Do your research. Get ideas. Support bands around you. Build up a local following first if you can.
Try to get to a point to where you can sell out some venues on your own. Build a fanbase for yourself on the internet. Myspace is dead. That’s what we used when we first started, because it was popular. Facebook is developing a lot of different ways to promote yourself as a band. Learn how to do that. Obviously, before you learn about the promotional stuff, just make sure you get the music right. Write your songs. Record your songs. Have an original twist on it, and then, as far as production goes, listen to other bands that you admire and say, “Does this sound similar or at least close to this quality?” “Would I like this? Would I like my own music if this was from an outside perspective?”
Music comes first. After that, just promote, promote, promote as hard as you can on your own. Try to get your band’s name out there. Build some fans. Then, if you just do that, and you focus on that, industry contacts and all those people will come to you because there’s plenty of A&R people that are looking for bands. They’ll hear it if you guys are ready.
FS: That’s how A&R guys make their money. Now, you guys have three albums. How does the songwriting process or rearranging process typically go?
Bassil: It’s actually a really fun process. We actually write everything out as a MIDI file with a program called Guitar Pro. If anyone gets a motivation or idea to write a song, we’ll start on it on our own and start working with it and working in MIDI, writing an arrangement of it, and then we’ll send it to everyone else. At that point, everyone can kind of mess with it on their own and put their ideas together and work on them together.
Then, we’ll all put our two cents in and compile a big MIDI file of it. Generally, that’s how the process works until the point where we’re ready to start recording. Then, in the recording process, lots of times we’ll change things, too, because certain lines, MIDI-wise, don’t translate the same way to being played on a guitar or drums. There will be parts where Nick and I will work a lot to have drum and bass attraction and have grooves that interweave, so we’ll end up changing a bit of it during the recording process.
The initial start of it is always with MIDI files. We actually have MIDIs of every single song we’ve ever recorded. (laughs) But yeah, we all work together to make the songs the way they are and flesh them out into full songs as opposed to just an intro to a cartoon or something.
FS: The latest album is called “Saturday Morning Apocalypse,” obviously referencing Saturday morning cartoons. What are some of your favorite Saturday morning cartoons?
Nick: Off the top of my head, I really liked Animaniacs, Freakazoid, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was always in front of the TV. I liked Tiny Toon Adventures a lot. Doug, Ren and Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, Nickelodeon and that era was the best, in my opinion. I’ve been giving the shows a chance now, just to see what younger kids are watching nowadays – It’s crap, man.
I can watch Rocko’s Modern Life and Ren and Stimpy still today and it’s still funny, and there’s jokes that I didn’t get before when I was younger that I get now. Like when Rocko’s going to get an eye inspection. His eyes bulge out, and the guy’s squeezing his eyes, and he’s like “Cough.” (laughs) I started cracking up. Those are my favorites.
Bassil: He kind of covered most of them on there. Rocko’s Modern Life and Ren and Stimpy as well for me.
FS: What is your favorite video game music of all time?
Bassil: Whew, that’s tough. I’d have to go with Final Fantasy music.
FS: Uematsu Nobuo?
Bassil: Yeah, Nobuo is incredible. Final Fantasy VII was definitely one of my all-time favorite games and all the music from there was incredible, just the way he writes. I feel like it’s incredible writing. Final Fantasy IV as well, and all the Final Fantasies, really. It’s always a personal favorite of mine.
Nick: I would agree, the Final Fantasy series. It’s very consistent. When you play the games, it really does a great job of bringing you into the world. When you fight and you run into random battles so many times, you hear that music over and over again. Or you’re trying to beat a boss for an hour and then die, then spend the next seven hours trying to beat him, that music just gets drilled into your head.
FS: Then all of a sudden (sings Final Fantasy boss theme) becomes the bane of your existence!
Bassil: (laughs) Yea.
Nick: Exactly. That music just stuck with me the longest. They’ve had so many games that were my favorites. Mega Man X series is great, too.
FS: So how long have you guys both been playing music for, and are you self-taught or have you had training?
Bassil: I’ve been playing since I was 8, so I guess it’s 16 years, now. I’ve taken lessons most of the time that I’ve been playing from different teachers. One that stands out a lot is Mike Mangini. I studied with him over at Berklee for years, and he’s been a huge influence on my playing. I’ve pretty much been on and off with lessons for a long time except for the last few years.
Nick: I started playing when I was 14. It was after I saw my first concert and the day I got home, I wanted to start a band and I bought a bass. I didn’t know how to play, but I started a band that week anyways. Then I started taking lessons. He’s a guitarist, originally, but he just kind of taught bass. He was into metal and he kind of taught me how to play fast and stuff.
One of my good friends was a guitarist, and we kind of had competitions, and I didn’t realize at that time, really, that a huge component of playing bass is to groove and play slow, and not play a million notes. I was obsessed with speed for a long time. Then I started taking lessons with a guy named Danny Morris, who teaches at Berklee. He also taught the bass player for Dethklok. He was just kind of like a Motown player – big afro – and he taught me about groove and other dynamics of the instrument. I also studied at Berklee for years. I’ve been playing about 10 years.
FS: Since we’re at ProgPower USA, are there any bands here that you’re excited to see?
Bassil: Yeah, one I’m actually bummed out that we’re not going to be here for the whole weekend to see, is Ihsahn. Right when I saw him on the bill, I was like “Noooo!” (laughs)
FS: This is his American debut.
Nick: It is. Last time I saw him was the last Emperor show in the US at BB King’s in New York. I went up there because I was a huge Emperor fan and I love his solo stuff as well.
Bassil: Unfortunately, we have shows to play, but yeah, it would’ve been awesome to have been able to see him.
Nick: Labyrinth would be cool to see, too. That’s our guitarist’s, Chris, one of his favorite bands. We can only stay today. Also, Vanden Plas. Yeah, I’ll see Evergrey everyday, so I’m sure they’d be great. I just saw them soundchecking, and they sound brutal. Well, I don’t know if brutal’s the right word, but they sounded really awesome.
FS: Nice. Did you guys listen to any other video game/cartoon-themed bands like Van Gough, the Minibosses, or The Black Mages?
Bassil: A bit, when we first started out. Getting into the scene, we started hearing them. Not The Black Mages, but we ended up playing with a lot of different bands from the area. There’s like this big scene around DC and Baltimore that we ended up playing at video conventions at and stuff, so we ended up playing with these bands like The Minibosses.
Nick: Yeah, we weren’t able to start much of a local following. There wasn’t much of a scene for what we were doing around Boston, so we kind of started off in the video game cover band scene, which is around Baltimore and DC with bands like Entertainment System, This Place Is Haunted, Neskimos, One Ups, stuff like that.
FS: A lot of people that like your band would like to hear recommendations from you, specifically.
Nick: My favorite, in terms of those bands, is Vomitron. Vomitron’s awesome.
Bassil: One Ups are really cool. They’re more like a jazzy, funk/ska style.
Nick: And we all like the Protomen. I know they’re not a cover band, per se, but…
FS: Those guys are actually a few miles from where I am. I’m actually form Nashville, TN.
Nick: Oh, you’re from Nashville?
Bassil: Oh, cool.
Nick: Yeah, they put on a great show. Their singer’s awesome. Let’s see if I can get him to guest – do some guest vocals on the next CD.
FS: That would be exciting. Are you working on another album at the moment?
Bassil: Yeah, we’ve been working on a lot of different stuff. We’re going full force when we get back from this tour, but we’ve been writing a bunch of different stuff for a little while over the last couple of years, actually, for our new CD. Once we get back from this tour, we’re going to be working hard on new material.
FS: Is there any specific direction it’s taking? Is it leaning toward one or two specific games at all?
Bassil: It’s always hard to tell, exactly, what it’s going to be, but we’re definitely doing a lot of Final Fantasy stuff recently, which has been a lot of fun.
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