These are exciting times for Power Trip. Although the Texan crossover thrashers have been around since 2008, the international success of their sophomore album Nightmare Logic suddenly catapulted them to the forefront of metal in 2017. In the past eighteen months they have toured with everyone from Lamb of God through Cannibal Corpse to Napalm Death, and they are currently finishing a European tour with Trivium. I caught up with frontman Riley Gale when their tour hit Geneva last week, and asked him how the Trivium audiences have taken to Power Trip.
“A lot of these Trivium fans only listen to about five metal bands, and that fills the quota for the heavy bands that they like. It’s cool though, because we get in front of them and when we win the crowd over they are impressed, and we become maybe the sixth band they listen to. That’s a good system of exposure for us.” But Power Trip are looking forward to their upcoming North American tour, a headliner in which they will be supported by Sheer Mag, Fury and Red Death. “This one will be a bit more of a throwback to our earlier days, like hardcore and punk bands. So I’m excited about that. Doing all these metal shows has been fun, don’t get me wrong, but I’m excited to go back to audiences who are coming to see us, who know who we are.”
Watch this video, but beware the “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of The Axe)“.
Power Trip’s brand of thrash is infused with hardcore and punk influences, and they are not the first band to do this. But there’s something about Power Trip, and in particular Nightmare Logic, that has captured metal’s imagination. I asked Riley what he thinks it is that resonates so successfully with people? “In terms of our sound, our attitude is ‘if it’s not broke don’t fix it’. Even Metallica had a punk and hardcore influence. Our sound is pretty standard.” I’m loathe to quote Riley’s description of his music as ‘pretty standard’, because in fact it’s far from being so. The Power Trip style, energy and technical proficiency is instantly recognisable in all their songs. But this is Riley’s modest way of explaining Power Trip’s lack of pretension. “We try to write songs that we like, catchy songs, without trying to do anything complicated. If you like heavy music, I think there’s something there for people to appreciate.”
“The other thing is that we’re relatable”, he continues. “We don’t try and fit into a limited aesthetic. I hate this analogy but it works; we are like a boy band of a metal band, where my style might be goofy, or you might relate to our drummer or our bass player… we all have different interests and passions but we don’t limit ourselves from expressing that.”
There’s a political aspect to this relatability too. Power Trip place huge emphasis on the fact that “everyone is welcome at our show. We let ourselves be who we are and we encourage the safe space for people to express themselves. We consider ourselves allies with all gender groups. We don’t want to just play to the same middle age white guys; we want women at the front; transgender people to feel safe at our shows.” Having been around for a while, Power Trip consider themselves to have the right age (Riley is 32) and understanding to appeal to the older crowd while expressing themselves to a younger crowd. “We are young enough to understand the politics of the up-and-coming generation. We are above all an inclusive band.”
Despite the political lyrics and aggressive music, there’s an innate optimism to Power Trip; it’s a positive call to action. Musically, this comes through perhaps due to the natural entertainment factor of a chugging thrash riff. Onstage it comes through in Power Trip’s performance style. “I don’t want people to come to our shows and think about their problems. Yes my lyrics are socially conscious, but when we hit the stage it’s a release, it’s a cathartic experience, we want people to have a good time. That’s why you don’t see me preaching too much on stage. I try to be accessible afterwards if you have questions. Sometimes I do some political rants on Twitter or call out something I don’t like, but outside the show, it’s about being yourself and having a good time, feeling comfortable and having fun.”
Power Trip work hard to engage with their listeners. They are active on Twitter, often hilariously so, reacting to both positive and negative comments. Riley explains his view of the platform: “I don’t want our Twitter to be some robotic thing or some newsfeed. That’s not what I think Twitter is about; it should be about expressing an opinion. Our Instagram is used more as a promotional tool but sometimes we will post goofy pictures of the band. We want to promote the band obviously but we also want to be accessible. We let them in on inside jokes, it helps make them feel a part of something. I don’t like to call listeners ‘fans’, that creates a barrier, as if we’re better than them in any way, because I don’t think that we are.”
Power Trip’s political retweets occasionally cause run-ins with trolls, and Riley often calls them out. “It’s knowing when to feed the troll and when not to. We are just not tolerant of intolerant people. Things like racism, sexism, even jealousy – these to me are simple things to understand, and when people get caught up in political discourse using false rhetoric or twisted forms of logic, I don’t have patience for that kind of stuff. And that’s where some of that fury comes from. But I still love when people make jokes about us, even if they are making fun of us, we try to embrace that and not take ourselves too seriously.”
Use some simple “Nightmare Logic” and hit play on this song.
Riley recently made a foray into journalism, interviewing Lucy Xavier, vocalist of the hardcore band Primal Rite, for Noisey. It was a beautiful piece, with thoughtfully-crafted questions igniting intelligent analysis, and I found myself re-reading sections of it several times. So it was no surprise to learn that Riley has a degree in technical writing. He explains how the piece came about:
“That Noisey article was my first time doing an interview as the interviewer. I enjoyed it so much that I thought about doing it more. The technical writing was a back-up plan, so that If the band ended, I could go out and get a job, I could be a teacher, I could go back to school. After the Florida shooting, Noisey approached me to write an op-ed piece about gun control, but I decided that although I’ve got strong feelings about it, I don’t know the laws, so I didn’t feel comfortable talking about that space quite yet. But I’m doing more to learn. If people have an idea for me, or another interview with me asking questions, I would love to do something like that. I’m also actually working on a couple of movie ideas right now.”
I was so struck by the Noisey piece that I went back and re-examined the lyrics to Nightmare Logic. Riley’s lyrics are poetic in a very organic way, conjuring up vivid images that allow one’s imagination to fill in the rest. “I never really related to a lot of poetry, but when I started writing lyrics I began to see it in a different way, because I realised that if you want to write intelligent lyrics then it is poetry. ‘Executioner’s Tax’ just sounds like a cool song about swinging an axe around, but there’s a deep allegory there behind the imagery, it is a metaphor, and when I write every word matters. Every word has a purpose to the sentence, the stanza, and then that relates to the bigger picture of the song. I’ve learned to appreciate poetry a lot more, and how close it is to achieve the same goals.”
If you have the guts, it’s time to face the “Firing Squad.”
Overhanging Power Trip’s lyrical themes is a sense of muted impending apocalypse, of history speeding up and how humanity could attempt to process that. “Right back to ‘Armageddon Blues’, it’s me coping with the fact that we will see some messed up shit in our lifetime, and we already are, so it’s about mentally preparing yourself. It’s not a sense of impending doom, I don’t think humanity is going to wipe itself from the planet, but we need to be prepared for the status quo to be severely altered in the next 5-10 years. It’s coming within our lifetime, and in a lot of ways it’s scary. I have a very romantic view of love, but I think, “Do I want to bring a kid into this world when I’m afraid that he will have to live through WW3?” I don’t know, it’s a mess, but I think about it constantly and I try to bring a sense of comfort to people in the fact that you can use this as a source of empowerment. A lot of addicts say that once you’ve hit rock bottom the only way you can go is up, and I feel like as a society we are close to hitting rock bottom in terms of how we feel about our fellow man.”
On the subject of turning points and apocalypses, what does Riley think of the current state of metal? Power Trip have been nominated for a “Breakthrough Award” at this year’s Golden Gods, Judas Priest hit the mainstream charts with their new album, Code Orange were nominated for a Grammy, metal bands are appearing on mainstream festival stages and metal festivals are more attended more than ever before. Many are saying that metal is returning to the strengths of its 80s heyday. But the fact remains that most of the festival headliners are the old guard. With so much music and so many bands, are we on the cusp of a new golden age, or are we oversaturated?
“It’s a huge turning point right now. You’ve got these big bands that are going to leave a huge gap, and I don’t see how metal can be as big as it was in the 70s or 80s. I don’t want to say oversaturated because it’s not for me to say, “Don’t start a band”, but it’s difficult to see whether it will level out, or if it’s all just hype phrasing. What does it even mean to be the next big thing? As much as I’m confident in our band, and others like Code Orange, Turnstile, I don’t see us headlining huge arenas. But we’re trying. I’ve already accomplished everything I want with this band, so now we’ll just see how far you can go.”
You might have to endure some “Soul Sacrifice” with this next track.
Riley uses a running analogy to describe Power Trip’s progress: “It’s like you go out for a run and you had only planned to go for 2 miles, and then next thing you know you’ve done 3, and you’ve still got energy, so you just keep going.” The running analogy is pertinent given how hard Power Trip work, with precious little downtime; Power Trip will have less than 72 hours at home in Texas between the Trivium and the North American tour, and Riley takes the analogy further. “I think we work as hard as professional athletes. But after a match or a game, they get to sleep in a bed, they have doctors and physios to look after them, whereas we are renting motel rooms, sleeping on floors.”
Does he ever get exhausted and not want to go out on stage? “It happens a lot. But as soon as we start playing that feeling evaporates. I’ve had moments when I’m having a panic attack, that I don’t want to play tonight. But I can’t quit, I can’t say I don’t feel like it today, I just have to go out there. And I can’t phone in a performance; I have to be consistent, to live up to meet the expectations, not just of the audience but the expectations I’ve set for myself. I know what I’m capable of doing on stage, and I need to do that as best I can every night. I am very lucky to have found a job that I enjoy very much, but this is not a hobby anymore. I’m very happy and very blessed, I’m not complaining at all, but it’s not glamorous as some people think.”
The relentless touring means that Power Trip have given themselves little time to work on a follow-up to Nightmare Logic. “But we’re hoping to start writing in the fall, to go into the studio in winter/spring, and fingers crossed to release an album in spring/summer next year.” And more good news; having been approached by Adult Swim, Power Trip will be releasing a single. Entitled “Hornets’ Nest”, the song and cover should be out before the end of the year. “That will hold people over until the next album!”
Riley Gale may have concerns about the future of metal and future of humanity, but with their talent and attitude, the future certainly looks bright for Power Trip.