Riley Gale of Power Trip

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Power Trip

Hailing from Dallas, Texas, Power Trip is a band that’s tough to pin down. They fall somewhere between hardcore and metal, drawing influence from punk, thrash and almost anything else that could be called fast or aggressive. Power Trip brings a new meaning to the word crossover, making it a point to play with indie bands, hip hop acts, bounce musicians, and noise artists to name a few. Now, after more than six years and a slew of demos and 7-inches, they will release their debut full-length, Manifest Decimation, with Southern Lord next month.

I’d made plans to interview vocalist Riley Gale when Power Trip played an after show at the Acheron in Brooklyn a few weeks back. After watching him fall off the stage to land on his head during their set, I suggested that we reschedule it for another time. We wound up speaking on the phone for about an hour and a half a week later. Check out the following transcription to read about life on the road, the new record and fine art.

Last time I saw you was a couple weeks ago in New York. Yoou fell off the stage and landed on your head.

Yeah I’m still fucked up from that man. I hurt myself real bad on that fall. I definitely screwed up my sciatic nerve and I may have fractured a vertebrae too. I’m pretty jacked up, that was not a fun fall by any means. I was half expecting to just piss blood and die. I could taste iron in my mouth, that can’t be good, it was pretty brutal.

Power Trip is known for bringing an entourage in the tour van. Why pack it in?

Yeah we try and just fill the van with people who want to go and have fun. I’ll sacrifice some comfort if it means a good friend of mine can get in the van and hang out with us for the weekend or whatever. When we did [United Blood] I think we put 10 people in the van, so it was pretty packed. On that tour we just did, we had Sherwin, Hood and RJ for most of the time. We like to roll with a crew. I think it works as a buffer between the rest of us, you have somebody outside of the band to chill with in case everyone is kind of pissed at each other. It really helps lighten the mood when you have Hood and Sherwin in the van to kind of mess with or telling jokes with or whatever.

You must get into some pretty funny situations just by having all those extra guys around hanging around.

Definitely. One of my favorite tour stories involves Hood. He’s our road dog and one of my friends. He comes everywhere with us because he pretty much keeps me in a good mood from getting too frustrated. And Sherwin helps with managing things too. We’re a bunch of fucking children so Sherwin basically has to babysit us and make sure that we get up on time and all the stuff like that. But after UB last year, we were all partying and I remember they kicked everyone out of the fireman’s bar next door. They shut it down really early because I guess someone was doing cocaine in the bathroom or something and everyone was just partying too hard.

We went back to our friend’s house where we were staying and Hood was pretty drunk so these girls decided to straighten his hair. It’s super curly and he just looked ridiculous. Then he passed out for a little while. We were all glad because he was being really belligerent and we just wanted to chill out. Then suddenly he wakes up like, “I want to party, I want to go out, you guys are boring. Take me down to the van I don’t even want to sleep with you guys.” So Sherwin takes him down to the van with the keys and lets him in to go to sleep. We wake up the next morning and there’s no sign of Hood. I have a couple missed calls from him and Sherwin does too. But we can’t find him anywhere. All we can find outside of the van is this smashed glass neon dolphin that we had taken on tour with us as a joke, and we slowly realized that Hood had probably gone on a late-night adventure. So we started calling the jails around Richmond. Sherwin calls up one jail and before he gets Hood’s full name out, they’re like, “Oh yeah, we got him, he’s here.” So we go and they let him out and after talking to him we don’t really know what happened because he was kind of blacked-out drunk. He just went on some crazy misadventure with his hair straightened and ended up in jail. We have to be careful the next time we bring him back to Richmond because I think he has a warrant since he didn’t show up to court or anything. That kind of describes Hood in a nutshell. He’s the best dude.

You guys have a new record, Manifest Destination, coming out soon; can you tell me a little about that?

It’s 8 songs, 35 minutes long. It’s coming out on Southern Lord. The CD should be out June 11 with the vinyl coming out a few weeks afterward. We should have CD, LP and digital all available before July. We recorded a lot of it in Philadelphia with Arthur Rizk from War Hungry and Terrorism. He does some other projects too. Arthur tracked most of the drums and guitars and I demoed some of the vocals and stuff. But I hurt my back when I went to Philly so I wasn’t feeling too good and didn’t end up keeping most of my takes. So a bunch of it was actually recorded in Denton, Texas too with this guy Daniel who’s actually recorded all of our previous material. He tracked extra guitars and did most of my vocals and stuff like that. But for the most part a lot of the songs were crafted and a lot of the production was done in Philly. Arthur and I worked on a lot of the post-production together so there’s some samples and cool noise tracks that are blended in there that make it a big cohesive piece of music. I’m really proud about the fact that it doesn’t sound like 8 songs just put together. We put a ton of thought into how each song would go into the other and how they were placed on the album and stuff like that. It’s definitely the best thing we’ve done so far as a band.

Writing an LP can be a pretty ambitious undertaking and it seems like you waited a lot longer that most bands do before putting one out. What was the whole experience like?

That was due to the fact that we’ve had three drummers and Blake went away to school in Arizona for a year. He and I literally have folders full of riffs. I think he wrote close to 200 different riffs. And they all have ridiculous names like “Agnostic Front Victim in Pain mosh part” or like “Pantera groove riff” or whatever. We just slowly started forming these songs. It took a long time but we just wanted to make sure that when we dropped it, it wasn’t rushed. This is our first major release. Especially with all the pressure from Southern Lord we had to make sure that all the songs were the best we could make. But it was pretty daunting doing an LP. It was definitely an experience.

It’s really fucking hard and I know everyone always says that but until you’re in actually in the throes of trying to write that last song or get that take down or whatever it’s fucking tough. We’re proud of it. I think anybody who liked us before will enjoy it and I think we’ll win some new people over with it too. Blake has so many riffs from this that we still have stuff that we can carry over into the next few releases. This took a long time to come out but I don’t think we’re looking at waiting another four years for another LP. We found a good groove, we’ve learned how to write songs together and all that stuff, so I think the process is going to be a lot easier now that we got the chemistry down.

How did you guys end up getting linked with Arthur Rizk to record?

I met Arthur in Austin a few years ago. He was in town with Cold World, I believe. But we basically met through mutual friends and we hit it off. We always kept in touch, Arthur loved our music and I loved the War Hungry LP that he wrote and recorded. We kind of knew that Arthur had a lot of talent as an engineer and producer and he was a good friend so when it came time to do the LP it just sort of made sense. He knew what kind of sound we wanted and he was easy to get along with. He also did a really good job helping to craft some of the songs. He didn’t outright write any of the riffs but having him there to bounce ideas off of was a big plus.

I don’t know much about noise but apparently he gets a lot of respect from some big figures in that scene. He does a couple different projects, one being Terrorism. I know he’s recording the new Inquisition record and that’s a pretty big deal to him. But he’s crazy talented, he filled in on guitar for one of the tours and just shredded. He actually laid down a solo on one of the songs for the record. We knew we wanted him to do a solo and we figured out what song it was but he didn’t practice it, didn’t even think about it. Then we woke up one morning to start working and he was like “I’m going to lay down my solo.” So he and I got really stoned on hash in the studio and he just laid down the solo in three takes and it’s probably my favorite solo on the record. It’s crazy good and it’s completely improvised and he just did it when he was high as shit at 9 in the morning. That’s Arthur for you, he’s a nut, but he’s also one of the most brilliant people I know.

You mentioned earlier that there’s some pressure from Southern Lord, what’s it been like working with them? They must be the biggest label you’ve worked with at this point.

Yeah it’s more of a pressure we put on ourselves just to succeed and live up to it. Southern Lord is a pretty prestigious label in underground music. They’ve opened up a lot of doorways for tours and different kinds of press. There are a lot of connections there that can hopefully take us to that next level outside the DIY hardcore scene. But the thing is Greg Anderson, the dude that runs the label, still carries a ton of DIY ethics; he’s still very much a punk dude at heart. He’s got a family and he uses his label to make his living, but I made it pretty clear before we signed that we’re a band that likes to do our own thing, we have our own way of doing things, we don’t really respond to being told what to do very well and he gave us all the freedom in the world. He wanted the album out a little sooner than we gave it to him but I think that happens with a lot of labels and he was really understanding about it. So far everything with Southern Lord has been fucking awesome, it’s a great label.

You guys have your hands in a bunch of different genres between hardcore, thrash, punk, death metal, etc, how do you guys see yourselves as a band?

You know it’s really weird because I don’t like to use the term crossover, but calling ourselves a metal-punk band is equally stupid. I just think we’re an aggressive band. You can kind of pigeonhole us into that thrash sound, that crossover sound, but the fact of the matter is that when we made this album we were listening to as much Discharge, Obituary and Anti Cimex as we were Slayer and Exodus and the Cro-mags and Leeway and all that stuff. I guess if you’ve never heard us before and didn’t know our background and just heard the last 7-inch you might just call us a metal band. I think because of our ethics and our roots we’re still a hardcore band. I’m one of those dudes who’s on the boat that hardcore is more of an ethos rather than a distinct sound or genre of music. I think we make that obvious by who we play with. We’ve played with everyone from your typical hardcore bands to the Casualties, Prong and Crowbar. We kind of just get in where we fit in. We write aggressive music for people who are fans of aggressive music.

What’s it been like getting more mainstream coverage?

It’s been cool and very surreal. I never thought the band would go this far. I never saw us on Southern Lord. I’ve been reading Pitchfork since 9th grade, I never thought I’d see my own band on the front page of that site. Thrasher and Converse invited us to play their Death Match at SXSW and then they went and used one of our songs for one of their videos. So we’re in a Thrasher video with all these dudes shredding a ramp. That’s a dream come true to me. I always sucked as skating. But when I was starting band it was always like “It would be so cool to be in Thrasher.” I remember my friends in A.N.S., a skate/thrash band from the Denton, Dallas area, made it in a Thrasher video and I remember being so proud of those guys for that. And now it’s happened to us. It’s really surreal. I know its kind of cliché for a lot of people to say but it’s fucking awesome.

How did your shows at SXSW go over this year?

It’s a very industry-based thing but we always went out of our way to sneak our friends in and sneak in kids who wanted to see us. We played a Sony showcase and they had no idea what we were getting into. They shut us down a few songs into our set because people were getting too rowdy and they had all this expensive Sony equipment, behind us. There were nine 48” high def TV’s and one of them got broken because someone threw something at it and they tried to hold us responsible. I don’t think some of the companies that sponsor these events know what they’re getting into sometimes. Last year we did a show with the Cro-mags and we nearly got shut down because everyone was getting so wild. It kind of clashes but I think it helps in our favor because we end up being talked about. People say shit like, “Oh did you hear about that band that shut down that one show?” Just being ourselves helps I guess, you get talked about for kind of being a punk-asshole. That was kind of what we did, we showed up at SXSW and we didn’t really curb ourselves to cater to any industry corporate douche bags and it ended up working out in our favor. And the shows were fun. Plus we got a bunch of free shit. I came home with like five new pairs of shoes and a bunch of dumb shit like that. It was certainly an adventure so-to-speak.

You guys had an Italian artist named Paolo Girardi do the cover art for the album, why did you decide to go with him?

A friend I work with showed me Paolo’s art and I was just blown away. It was exactly what I was looking for. I knew that I wanted the cover art to be something that you had to stare at for five minutes to take it all in. I wanted a lot of figures and to have something really dark and violent. All the stuff I saw by Paolo really touched on everything I was looking for. I emailed him and we started bouncing ideas back and forth. When he came back with the finished product, it was like he’d just pulled everything out of my mind. The guy is actually a classically trained painter. If you look at his early stuff he does a lot of Romantic-influenced and Renaissance-influenced classical painting. But then he just morphs it into these super dark, brutal, evil ideas. I’ve seen some wild stuff come out of his studio and I love it. His nickname is the “Mad Man.” He lives in some really remote part of Italy. He actually had to mail us the canvas because to get to a high-def scanner that big and send it to us, he’d have had to ride a train to another town and spend like 100 bucks doing all this stuff, so we just had to have him send us the canvas he painted it on so we could do it all here.

It seems like your tastes as far as art and literature go stray beyond what’s considered normal for hardcore and punk kids. What sort of stuff have you been reading lately?

I’ve just been doing a lot of reading for entertainment. For a long time I was reading a lot of French post-modern philosophy and a lot of the existentialist stuff. I was reading a lot of Tolstoy because his existential crisis intrigued me. He started off as this Christian guy and then towards the end of his life he had this huge existential crisis, it was pretty fascinating. But the past couple months I’ve been reading a lot of easy, leisurely stuff. I’ve actually been reading the Sandman graphic novels. They’re kind of new to me, I avoided graphic novels because I was never into superhero comics but then I had some of my friends show me some of the more esoteric, grittier stuff and I enjoy that a lot more. The guy that does Sandman is really into manifesting things like desire and death and dreams and stuff like that and making them into tangible characters. I really like that, I think it’s a really interesting writing style. It’s not anything too deep, but it’s a lot easier reading in the van. When I read in van I like to read stuff that’s a lot more laid back that I don’t really have to think about and can just enjoy. I have a big stack of books in my room that I need to try and burn through so I’m hoping I can use this summer to get through a lot of them.

We were talking before about how you guys kind of crossover, what sorts of tours do you want to be doing?

Honestly, I would love to tour with a band that would be considered more punk, a band that might be considered more hardcore, maybe a straight up metal band, and I think it’d be cool to tour with a rapper, somebody like Antwon or Fat Tony. I think it’d be sick to go out with a band like Trash Talk because they’ve kind of done that crossover thing. They’re not like a crossover metal band but they appeal to so many different types of music fans. And that’s what we want to do. We want to have our routes in hardcore but to be accessible for others. People have to start somewhere and you can teach them about better music, better ideas, better ways of life. I think pigeonholing ourselves into playing with just metal bands is stupid or just punk bands. My ideal tours are always diverse line-ups. The last SXSW gig was Iron Lung, Big Freedia, Power Trip, Antwon, and Parquet Courts. No band sounded anything alike, but I love all those groups. That was one of my favorite shows we’ve done recently because it’s such a cool lineup. If that was something we could take on tour I would love that, it would be crazy.

I know you have a real job that you always go back to when you’re home. What exactly do you do and what’s it like coming off a weekend with an overnight drive, or coming off a three-week tour and going back into the office all messed up from the road?

Yeah I mean I come back looking insane, feeling insane, usually my mind is really fried from just being tired. Within the past year I got a job doing some writing for small businesses and stuff. I basically do search engine optimization and I develop content for websites. It’s really basic writing. And I’ll do some social media for small businesses and stuff. The cool thing is my boss lets me work from the road; the hard thing is actually getting work done on the road. Between shows and all the other shit it’s kind of hard to get motivated so I don’t get a lot of hours in. When we drove back from Richmond we got back at 6 AM and I had to be to work at 8. So I went straight to work and that was a pretty weird day because I was so fried. It can take it’s toll on you but my boss has a good set of ethics and he’s not some dumb corporate piece of shit. He’s really understanding and I back that pretty hard.

Is it hard to balance some of your more personal goals with the commitment of being in a band that spends so much time away from home?

Definitely. At the end of the day I have to pay rent and pay bills. Right now writing is paying the bills and I love it, but I would like to reverse to where music pays the bills and I could do writing for fun and maybe write a book someday. I’m basically giving myself two more years as trying to do music and if I’m not at a point where I can pay rent and put a little bit of money away then I’m going to start shifting my focuses and make music all fun and not try and tour all the time and not try to break my back doing it. I love writing and I could go do it. I could quit my band now and do writing for the rest of my life and be happy. But I love music just as much as I love writing so it’s definitely interesting being pulled in two different directions and trying to finding a balance. But it’s nice being able to work from the road and kind of have the best of both worlds for now at least.

It’s cool that you have that, because I feel like most kids in bands don’t really have anything else.They feel like the band is their one shot and so they end up pushing the band so hard and driving it into the ground and keep doing it after everyone’s over it, just because they feel like there’s nothing else for them out there.

Exactly. I love Power Trip but the last thing I’m going to do is make it my sole identity. It’s a big part of me but I’m not going to make it my all-encompassing me. There’s so much more to me and my life than just playing in a hardcore band or just posturing on stage like I’m some angry, pissed off dude all time or I’m trying to do this or do that. I’m not on some sort of political crusade 24/7. I don’t want people to think about me like that either. I think that’s why we try and throw out the whole party vibe. I take my lyrics very seriously and try to make them really meaningful and actually say something, and say something that maybe hasn’t been said in hardcore before. But at the end of the day when we’re at a show I don’t want to sit there and brood about politics or religion or whatever, I want to have fun and I want to hang out with my friends.

Tell me a little bit about the warehouse spot you guys had in Dallas for a while.

We started a DIY venue called Tapatio Studios. It was in an old Mexican restaurant that was also a convenience store and a nightclub. It was a big open space. We were going to try to live out of it. It had a shower and a bunch of spaces where we could have built bedrooms. We had a lot of really big plans for it and we had some big shows there. Trash Talk played when they were doing that tour with Odd Future. We had all these plans to mix it up. This one local funk group called Booty Stew was going to throw this big funk party there and have all the proceeds go to Tapatio. One Sunday we actually held an amateur pro-wrestling event. These guys came out and built a ring and had a wrestling event there, which was kind of weird. We actually ended up beating the shit out of one of the wrestlers, but it was cool, the guy apologized and everything was fine.

We basically wanted it to be a community center. We had plans for art shows and hip hop shows. We definitely weren’t close-minded to other stuff. We only really pulled off punk and hardcore shows but we only had the place for a few months. It sucks because it had so much potential but it kind of just fell under but hopefully we’ll get something else together soon and try again. We weren’t soured on the idea because we learned a lot. We know next time exactly how to execute it. We got to learn a lot about running your own venue, what you can get away with in Dallas and what you can’t. It’s totally possible to do. I think every major scene could have a DIY venue like we had if you do your research and you execute it properly and find the right place and make it affordable. I’ve even been thinking about writing a guide on what to look out for and how to do your own DIY spot just from experience. I hear so much about people talk about wanting to do it but no one ever really wants to go out and try it and take the risk.

What is the future looking like for you guys?

We’re going to California in June to do three days with Nails for their record release weekend. It’s Nails, Xibalba, Palm from Japan and Harm Wolf. But that’s only three days in June. We have Chaos and Tejas coming up too and we’re playing a few shows there. July and August we’re trying to figure out what to do. We’re trying to go to Europe at some point but I think the next couple months we’re keeping it pretty low key. But beyond that, I have no idea. A lot of bands have goals and stuff like that. But we don’t think like that, we’re just not a band that thinks that far in advance. Who knows where we’ll be a month or a year from now. I hope we’ll be on tour with the bands that I really love, I hope we’re still writing music, I hope we can still tolerate each other. I hope that we haven’t grown stagnant with our fans. The last thing that I want is for this band to stop being fun and for us to feel like we’re forcing ourselves on anybody. Some bands don’t know when to call it quits. But I feel like we’re really self-conscious about the fact that if people grow tired of us or our sound or whatever we can put it down and walk away.