1992 marked the year that Eric Powell brought to life a nightmare of fast, hell bent, guitar laced industrial music like with a sound like lightning coursing through a stolen body in some sinister lab. The band was called 16Volt, and it grew to Frankenstein-like proportions. Collaborating with the likes of Dave "Rave" Ogilvy (of Skinny Puppy fame) to create the first chapter in his career, entitled Wisdom, Eric immediately began to make his presence known to the world. Suffice to say, the impact was huge: 16Volt reached #2 on Rolling Stone's Alternative Charts with only his second album Skin. On the heels of that monumental release, his third album, LetDownCrush, broke in at #1. He has taken his vision on the road alongside such legendary notables as Bile, Chemlab, KMFDM, and Korn. In 2007, after a 9 year hiatus, 16 Volt has returned in all of its glory with the release of FullBlackHabit (Available: June 19th, 2007 from Metropolis Records); VF Magazine was fortunate enough to interview him, and catch a glimpse of the method behind the madness, through the words and eyes of Eric Powell himself.
DeathWish: When was it that you knew you wanted to become a musician/composer?
Eric Powell: It was in 1989. That's when it all came to me. I was doing miserable in school, i hated going. I hated high school and I found a way out. My cousin who was an recording engineer at NASA at the time told me about a recording engineering school in Florida and at the age of 17 my mom signed me out of school, I took the GED and headed out to Florida. At the time I was the youngest kid to go there. Most of the students were late 20s-30's, burnt out hack musicians trying to make something of themselves at a last effort. By 18 I was in LA working at a studio, all along my goal was not to be an engineer, it was to get signed and put out records, start producing and tour.
DW: Which artists influenced you in that direction, and in what manner did they do so?
Eric Powell: Hands down my first major influence musically was Robert Smith and The Cure.
I had messed around for years with a guitar playing metal songs, had a couple of awful punk bands also, but when I heard The Cure, it was over. I was hooked in like crack. About a year later I got turned onto The Revolting Cocks. That's where my path down into industrial took place. All the Wax Trax stuff, that's where I went, I left my Robert Smith posters in a heap in the garage and they were replaced by anything I could get my hands on from Wax Trax. Being a guitar player initially, my first instinct was to start doing guitars with keyboards.
DW: Your last release was in 1998, aside from a greatest hits album from Cleopatra: what has happened in the last 9 years? Did it have a lot to do with the Capitol Records' deal?
Eric Powell: Mostly. After our nightmare surrounding the Slipdisc/Mercury/Polygram stuff and after being sued by our x-manager for more money than any of us could imagine, we called it a day and shut it down. After about 2 years of just walking away from music things came back together and we got our record bought back from Mercury. We put it out again in 2002 and shortly after worked out a deal with Sony to contribute 12 songs to the game "Primal". We started playing lots of shows again in LA and trying to get a new record deal. In 2003, we went out on tour with KMFDM and by the time we got unpacked from that tour we signed a deal with Capitol. We spent a year working with them and trying our hardest to maintain a soul while they slowly and calculatingly tried to turn us into lincoln park part 2. In the end we decided it wasn't worth it. We walked away from it and never looked back. In 2004 I went in an entirely different direction with a few friends of mine and started a project called RInger. It was me on vocals, guitars and programming, with Kraig Tyler (Virus 23, Crazytown, Chemlab) on guitars, Carlton Bost (Deadsy) on Guitars, Paige Hailey (Orgy) on Bass, Mikey Cox (Coal Chamber) on Drums. The idea was to do something completely different than we had all done. Nothing dark, nothing angry. Something simple, melodic and poppy. In the end Kraig and I ended up writing an album we are both really proud of. It didn't appeal much to the industrial fans at all, it ended up being really pop/indy kinda stuff. We released the album for free in 2006 (http://ringer-music.com). Meanwhile I was starting to work on some heavier stuff and I wanted to revive 16volt. And so it began, I had about 20 tracks ready for pre-production at the beginning of 2006 and FullBlackHabit was born.
DW: How does it feel to come back after all these years with an album like ?FullBlackHabit??
Eric Powell: It's cool, the time has gone by so fast. The thing that I find constantly inspiring is how all these songs we have done from 16volt just never get dated. You listen to SuperCoolNothing and compare it to what some bands are putting out now, we have always been so ahead of our time, which in many ways i think hurt us on a success level. Some say we have always been to commercial for the industrial scene and too industrial for the commercial industry. We always said, fuck you, we don't care. We make what we make and we hope you like it. If you don't, that's okay too. Most of the time I feel like if you listen to our records, you get it. You get what we are about. We value high production and attention to songs. Music for me is about the song and I think that songs are important. Music is the most important thing we can do - it transcends cultures, timelines and languages. This record for me is a snapshot in time, it captures where I have been the last 5 years and I think there really is something for everyone on this album.
DW: How did the name of the album come about?
Eric Powell: The album's name represents how we as humans constantly repeat things we know aren't good.
DW: In previous releases, there has been a lot of emphasis on guitars blended with hard hitting industrial beats and synths; what changed that type of approach for you with the new album?
Eric Powell: I have never had that as a mandate. I think if you go back and look at the albums, they have always been mixed. Some songs have guitars, some don't. We have never set out to make the guitar a requirement in the making of a song. The guitar has a certain sound and dynamic and when that is required, it gets plugged in. Some songs don't warrant that feel though. I am, and always have been, a fan of electronics and this album does lean a bit more electronic. A good part of that has to do with this record just being me again.
DW: In the past, you?ve worked with some of the industry's greatest musicians and producers. The new album showcases more acclaimed individuals. How did you put this one together?
Eric Powell: It just seemed to happen. All the guys who helped out are friends so it wasn't much of a task.
DW: I noticed Steve Pig helped on the new album, is this hinting at another KMFDM/16 Volt tour?
Eric Powell: I would do another KMFDM tour in a heart beat. I had more fun on that tour than any I have ever done. Sadly, Sascha has a strict policy about taking out the same bands twice. In any case Steve is awesome and getting him on this record was really cool.
DW: What was working with Dave Ogilive like?
Eric Powell: It was fun, he was amazing to watch mix. I wish I could do that again now, after all I have learned now, to see what he has learned as well would be amazing. He's a really nice guy too. I only wish we could have done more.
DW: Was it different to write a soundtrack for the video game Primal?
Eric Powell: No. Working with the guys from Sony's Cambridge Studios in the UK - those guys get it. They knew how to work with us and they were already fans of the band so it was a great relationship form the start.
DW: As an artist that has been going at it since '92, what do you think of the current road music is on?
Eric Powell: The thing is, music is on so many roads right now it's in chaos. No one knows what's going to happen. Are labels dead? Do the majority of people still buy music? I mean, when Tower records announced they were closing. I literally said out loud "Holy Fuck". That was a serious indicator of what's here. Record labels are scrambling to figure out how to make money, and fans want the music they buy to be theirs, not loaded with DRM. I wish I had the answer. This is happening in other layers of entertainment too though, everyone needs to figure out how to deliver the goods and make a living with it - all the while appeasing the people who are shelling out their hard earned cash with the formats and convenience that they demand. It's crazy.
VF Magazine: Which artists today are grabbing your attention?
Eric Powell: I like all kinds of stuff, I think what Andy is doing with Combichrist is great, Air, Goldfrapp, Ulrich Shnauss, Peaches, The Teddy Bears, Slipknot, Black Lung, Uberzone, I like some of the new Nails stuff, The Prodigy, I don't know, a ton of shit.
DW: Do you feel you have more artistic freedom with an independent label like Metropolis?
Eric Powell: Working with Capitol taught me all about that. Everything we did, ate, and thought was scrutinized and filtered.
DW: There were several references to drugs in your earlier work, was there a party side which didn't hit the press?
Eric Powell: Quite the opposite. I don't do drugs, I am not straight edge, I'll drink here and there but I have never done anything but smoke pot. I don't have a problem with anyone who does, I am not militant about it or anything, just a choice I have made for myself. I am too metal as it is, I don't want anything adding to the brain chaos i have going.
DW: With everything getting back on track with the new album, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Eric Powell: I play Ice Hockey about 3 times a week, I like to ride my motorcycle and I like to hang with my kids. I have a 1 year old daughter and a 3 year old son that keep my on my feet.
DW: It seems like most artists are involved in side projects in addition to their bands, should we look forward to you doing so?
Eric Powell: Yes, I am working on an electronic project called Graphic. It's mostly me programming with female guest vocals. Should be really cool.
DW: Back in 1996, you went on a full scale U.S. tour in a custom van: do you ever miss those days?
Eric Powell: On many levels yes. I miss the camaraderie with the other bands too. It's funny to talk about with people from the touring scene then. We all thought it would never change. IT went by so fast and we never realized how great it was to be doing it. That's my main advice for people. It's the biggest lesson I have had to learn in life so far and it seeds down to music. If you spend all your time looking up you never get to see where your feet are.
DW: Of all the bands you have toured with over the years, which one would you say was the oddest and why?
Eric Powell: They are all odd in their own special way.
DW: Heh heh, ok? On the same note, which one did you enjoy the most? Who would you love to tour with again?
Eric Powell: Well, as I said, KMFDM, I'd love to tour with Chemlab and Acumen Nation again, they are like our cousins. There is nothing better than touring among friends, everyone is there to help eachother.
DW: In the same vein as that sense of community, if you could give any advice to kids just getting started with experimenting in music and to the bands working to get somewhere, what would it be?
Eric Powell: Do it for you and for none else and once you start getting money, Get a lawyer.
Now go check out their official VampireFreaks page at 16Volt