If the only thing that comes to your mind when someone says the word “Powerglove” is a failed Nintendo peripheral, it’s time to start thinking differently.
Powerglove is also a metal band that chugs out blisteringly brutal renditions of your favorite video game tunes. From Sonic to Final Fantasy IV, from 8-bit to MIDI, no catchy gaming song is left un-metalized.
During the middle of the band’s current two-month tour, I had the pleasure of meeting them for a nice chat over some cheeseburgers. I spoke with Chris Marchiel (guitar), Nick Avila (bass), and Bassil Silver (drums) about their favorite games, the band’s history, fan’s most requested songs, and why they think metal and video game music blend together so well. (Unfortunately, Powerglove’s additional guitarist, Alex Berkson, was unable to make it.)
Powerglove has a new album, called Saturday Morning Apocalypse, due out this fall. It joins the ranks of their previously released albums Total Pwnage and Metal Combat for the Mortal Man. Unlike previous albums however, Saturday Morning Apocalypse also features hellish versions of popular cartoon show themes. I was lucky enough to hear Transformers and X-Men when I recently attended Powerglove’s stage show.
GI: Why do you think video game music works so well with metal?
Bassil Silver: I feel like there are two sides to that. One side of it – and I think we all feel this way – is that when we were kids playing these video games we always just heard them as metal songs. The first time I played Mega Man – actually, [this was] when Chris [Marchiel] was getting me into [legendary German metal band – Ed.] Blind Guardian in high school – I thought “This sounds like a Blind Guardian song; this sounds like power metal.” So many video game songs translate so well into metal because they have a melodic quality to them. The other side that I feel lends itself well is that a lot of metal heads – ourselves included – are into video games. We’re a nerdy bunch. It just sort of made sense to us.
Chris Marchiel: Sometimes we need to change the chords to give it a more metal feel. We play happy major chords as metal even though it’s not a standard metal progression. One thing that’s really good about that is that by playing a lot of [Final Fantasy composer] Nobuo Uematsu songs, and other songs by the best video game composers, we become much better songwriters. By analyzing and transcribing Uematsu’s stuff I learned a lot about key changes and harmony – his bass lines are insane. We learned so much. Otherwise, we would just be writing standard metal songs.
GI: Speaking of Uematsu, it’s clear that you’re big Final Fantasy fans. Four of your songs are Final Fantasy tunes: “Omnishred,” “Red Wings Over Baron,” “Birth of a God,” and “Decisive Battle.”
Silver: “Red Wings Over Baron,” that’s pretty much every song from FFIV. There’s still way more that we want to do.
Marchiel: It’s four tracks, but more like 15 songs if you add them all together.
Avila: In the future, we’d love to do an EP where it’s just Final Fantasy music.
GI: Name your favorite games.
Silver: I would say my favorite console game of all time has to be FFVII. That game is unbelievable. I spent so long on that game. For PC, I’m going to have to go with the original StarCraft and Brood Wars. Those two games – in very different ways – I spent my childhood on. Those are my all-time favorites. If I had to pick one, I’d pick FFVII. Unbelievable.
Avila: My favorite is definitely Chrono Trigger. I actually didn’t actually get a chance to play it until I was 14 years-old. My parents wouldn’t buy me a video game system when I was a kid – which is probably why I’m in this band right now – so I would go over to a friend’s house to watch him play it. When he would leave to go to the bathroom I would run into his room and start playing it as long as I could. Once I finally got my hands on it I was so excited that it instantly became my favorite game.
Marchiel: My favorite game – Squaresoft is getting a lot of love tonight – from the past is Secret of Mana. That is just the fondest memory. I had two friends, John and David, and we would play three-player cooperative. And we named the characters after ourselves, and played that game so much.
GI: You had the SNES multi-tap and everything?
Marchiel: We had the multi-tap and we did three-player Secret of Mana. It was great. However, I would be remiss if I did not say that right now I play StarCraft II [beta] at least ten hours a day, every chance I get.
Silver: He’s not lying at all.
Marchiel: We’re on tour and every time I find wi-fi I hook it up…I don’t sleep. Last night we all slept in a hotel room, I was up all night playing StarCraft. No exaggeration.
GI: When deciding which new songs to work on, how do you decide what games make the cut? Is there a song you’re dying to record?
Silver: There are definitely more songs that make it to the album. It’s honestly just depends on how the songs come out. There are definitely songs that we wish made it on [the album] but weren’t quite there. There’s one that Chris did a lot of that I got really excited about that never made it, which was a mix between the Terra and Celeste theme from FFIII [Japan’s FFVI]. To me, every time I heard it, I said it had to be on. It’s great. We wanted to get an opera singer for it. I found two different opera singers and both of them were totally ready to do it. They both flaked and it never happened.
Marchiel: We need opera vocals for that song.
Silver: For me, that was one that I really, really regret not making it on. Hopefully, someday it will.
Avila: We get a lot of requests that pile up.
GI: What are your top three requests?
Avilia: Contra, Kirby, and Chrono Trigger. Two of those we are planning to do in the future. Some of the themes, such as Chrono Trigger, I’ve always wanted to do it but I’ve had a lot of trouble convincing these guys to do. Sometimes, if people request and harass us enough, eventually we do sit down and look at the music and give it a shot. Some don’t work out. For example, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme. Everyone wanted us to do that. We sat down with it, we tried every single thing we could do with that song and it just didn’t work. Although, Turtles in Time does have some great stuff.
Marchiel: For Metal Kombat for the Mortal Man, on our official request line we got over 4,000 responses. We went through it with a database sifter. That gave us a good sample, and that’s how we got the figures for Kirby and Contra. “Spark Mandrill” [from Mega Man X] was also on there; that’s another one that we would love to do.
GI: What do you think about your fanbase?
Marchiel: You could easily put the fans into three groups. There are people in it for both reasons. Those who are really hardcore fans, who are metal heads, who play video games. [For them] it’s a dream come true. On the other side of that there are those who like us as a metal band but don’t have the context to the remember the video games themes. Then you have people we picked up playing anime conventions and festivals who aren’t necessarily into heavy metal but dig our costumes and video games themes. Certainly, those three fanbases are different, but I love having them all.
Silver: One thing I’ve noticed that surprised me in a positive way is the percentage of people who listen to it for video games but aren’t necessarily metal heads. The percentage is much higher than I thought it would be. I feel like metal is one of those genres of music that you either like or don’t. There are not too many casual metal listeners because it’s so in-your-face, harsh, fast, and heavy. I’ve seen people who only listen to gangster rap. We played the Gathering of the Juggalos and that is its own kind of niche genre, but it’s definitely not metal. It’s cool seeing people that listen to different styles of music come out to see us.
Marchiel: I always think it’s the highest compliment. We get a lot of people who say we’re the only metal band they like.
Avila: We’re also the only band I know of that we’ve seen a nine-year-old headbanging next to a 25 year-old in the crowd.
GI: What current video game soundtrack stands out to you the most?
Avila: God of War III.
Marchiel: StarCraft II, but that’s only because I’ve played it so much.
Silver: A lot of the video game music that does stand out to me comes from old games. I feel like back then it was more a part of the game. In the ‘80s and early ‘90s I thought the music was more of a central part of the games as opposed to just being radio songs that they put in. And although there are people composing for video games – which I think is great – I think it’s taken a slightly lesser role than it used to, which is why so much of the stuff we cover is from long ago.
Marchiel: All the old school songs had to be melodies and harmonies due to the technical limitations. It was essentially like playing on a harpsichord, you didn’t have a very dynamic range. You had to use those simple tools to build things by making the melodies and harmonies so deep. Now with video games, it’s like scoring a film. Which is fine, but it doesn’t have the charm that it used to.
Mega Man was essentially a ‘80s rock soundtrack, but they couldn’t do that, so they had to embellish the melodies and harmonies and do all these little tricks. Final Fantasy was the same way. That was an epic orchestral track that you could imagine [Nobuo Uematsu] doing, but he still had those technical limitations. I think having those limitations inspire you to write better harmonies and melodies.
GI: What song is the hardest to play live?
Silver: It varies a lot from instrument to instrument. Songs they [the rest of the band] say are hard will be the opposite for drums. I’d say the songs [which cannot yet be revealed] off the new album – Saturday Morning Apocalypse – are the most technical and grueling. Those are so much faster than anything we’ve ever played before on drums. Really, really tiring. My hands are blistering and I feel like I’m going to die.
Marchiel: Two hundred eighty beats per minute. It gets pretty crazy. That’s 40 to 60 bpms faster than Dragonforce. It gets very crazy.
Avila: For me, the hardest part about playing the songs live is being a demented, Koopa shell-wearing cheerleader while trying to play at the same time. Trying to focus on that while trying to rev up the crowd. I’ve gotten scars across my neck, and my fingers are pretty much deteriorated [shows gruesomely blistered fingers]. I basically put my body through complete turmoil. I just had knee surgery as well. But the show must go on. For me, I have to say all the songs.
Marchiel: For me, there are a lot of songs that were hard and come easy now. “Mario Minor” used to be hard for me. Now that’s a song I never mess up on live. The hardest part for me is when we play “So Sexy Robotnik” and the lighting isn’t right. In that song I’m tapping pretty much the whole time with both hands and my hands are floating around the guitar a lot. If they turn the lights off at any time and I lose vision, I have no idea where I am. And I just have to do random notes or make some kind of noise. Because that song is crazy on the drums they’ll go really crazy with lighting whenever we do it.
GI: Talk to me about the inspiration for your outfits.
Avila: We have a costume designer who worked with GWAR. A lot of our influence comes partially from video games, partially from GWAR, and partially like the [Japanese metal genre featuring elaborate, theatrical costumes] visual kei bands like Malice Mizer. When we first started wearing costumes we just went to a Halloween shop and got the most random things that we could find, like a chicken beak, clown tie, and goofy boots. Eventually, I looked at live videos of us and said, “This has to change, now.”
So, we found a costume designer and had a few drinks with her. Basically we came up with what we have now, mixing oversized, GWAR-like costumes with video games. For Alex’s costume we had a helmet with a huge mustache and two axes coming from it.
Marchiel: In 2004, the first YouTube video I ever saw was called by Malice Mizer “Syunikiss.” It was them playing a Tokyo arena in front of 15,000 people and it was designed like this huge cathedral with three floors. It was this amazing stage show and they all had these ridiculous costumes. Their guitarist was dressed like Little Bo Peep, one of them had a jester hat that was three feet tall, [and] the singer was essentially Squall from Final Fantasy VIII with a mask over his face. They were completely insane. Of course, I was laughing throughout all of this, but after, I was like, “We have to do this.” I showed everyone the video and said, “We have to get in on this. I don’t know how, but we have to do it.”
Silver: We go to a lot of metal shows, and something that means a lot to us is putting on a really great stage show. If they play in their jeans and they’re a great band that’s cool…but the one thing that always catches us is when a band goes one step farther, or ten, or twenty and goes completely nuts. That’s why GWAR’s stage show means so much to us.
There are so many bands like that which put on more of a stage show, and we always wanted to do that. We wanted to get as many stage props as possible and have these huge overdone costumes.
Avila: As a band, it’s also very important to look how you sound. When you listen to us that’s exactly what I pictured.