"You can see through insincerity really quickly. Or when something is contrived. Trying to be angry, or trying to be an edgy asshole. That shit's lame to me," says Riley Gale, lead singer of crossover heroes Power Trip. "I want people to feel like they're hanging out with me when they see us." He pauses when talking about his band's live shows, which frequently feature a steady stream of fans thrashing and banging around onstage with him, before admitting, "I'm shaving years off my life doing all of this."
Gale and his Dallas crew's genuine, and genuinely heavy, vibes were on full display during their recent first trip to Japan this past September — and the response was unsurprisingly enthusiastic. Power Trip's first show of their four-date tour was to a sold out crowd at Earthdom, a 300-person basement venue full of devil horns and stage dives in Tokyo's Koreatown. Chants of "Power Trip" rang out between each song, and the energy in the room felt as thick as the cigarette smoke that filled it. Simply, the band killed it. A city that has been home to so much of the world's best heavy music was witnessing one of the world's heaviest current bands at the top of their game.
Revolver cornered Gale in the back alley behind Earthdom before Power Trip's set for a lively chat about a range of subjects including cultural open-mindedness, post-modernism, the end of the world (and a politics of compassion to save it), pop music, their next record and new territories in the ladder of underground music success, which the brutally honest, and relentlessly sarcastic, Gale refers to as "procore."
SO WHERE ARE WE RIGHT NOW?
RILEY GALE In this world, physically? We're in Tokyo, Japan.
AND HOW'S THAT?
It's cool so far. It's my first time.
AND YOU'RE ABOUT TO PLAY YOUR FIRST SHOW IN JAPAN, AT EARTHDOM.
HOW'S THAT FEEL?
I'm nervous as fuck. And I never get nervous before shows. I just don't know what to expect and I don't know how people react out here. I don't know if they're gonna understand me. I'm just gonna go for it.
WHAT'S IT LIKE PLAYING A SHOW IN SUCH A DISTANT AND DIFFERENT COUNTRY?
It's not completely foreign for me. I've been to Russia where the alphabet is completely different, so I'm used to looking around and feeling illiterate again. It's cool. I take it all in. I think I'm pretty open-minded when it comes to culture, I'm not someone who stops and stares, but I love to look.
YOU MENTIONED YOU'RE BIG ON OBSERVATION AND ANALYZING CULTURE. DO YOU TAKE A SIMILAR APPROACH WHEN WRITING LYRICS FOR POWER TRIP?
[I write about] the frustrations with what I see. People's motivations. Preparing for what I think might be to come. Me and my significant other have no plans to have a kid, and I don't know if we ever will, because I don't know if I want to bring one into a world where I think they're gonna see something really fucked up. I don't think we're gonna wipe ourselves off the face of the planet. But do I think in my lifetime we're gonna see some sort of full scale war or really fucked up epidemic? Yeah I do. Whether it's environmental or sociopolitical, I think something bad is gonna happen. If I can bring some attention to what I think is worth being upset over, if I can point people in what I think is the right direction, then maybe I can put this off for a few more years. I kind of think we're past the point of no return. So a lot of it is coping. If I get out and try and write something worthwhile, I don't feel as bad.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS NEEDED TO CONFRONT THIS TYPE OF SITUATION HAPPENING IN THE WORLD?
I think compassion. I'm not talking about liberal compassion for a bunch of fucking Nazis or anything. One of the big takeaways of Watchmen is the main villain teleports a space monster in because he sees that the only way we can bring humanity together under one cause is if it's an outside threat. We're destroying ourselves because we've globalized and can be connected with and empathize with everyone, but have no outlet for our aggression. Maybe an alien invasion is what it's gonna take. Or an asteroid. It might take an event where there won't be any surviving humans left. Not global warming where in 1,000 years when you're dead. We're talking about now.
BUT SOMETHING LIKE CLIMATE CHANGE IS GETTING SO EXTREME NOW THAT IT COULD LEAD TO AN EVENT LIKE WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT. WE'RE IN JAPAN RIGHT NOW. THERE WAS JUST AN EARTHQUAKE, THERE WAS JUST A TSUNAMI, NATURAL DISASTER AFTER NATURAL DISASTER IS HITTING THIS COUNTRY RIGHT NOW.
And we have [Hurricane] Florence back in the U.S. It's a matter of people understanding that we're all on this rock together. I don't know what could get everyone to focus, but I think a common goal is a starting point.
DID STUDYING ENGLISH [AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS] INFORM YOUR LYRIC WRITING?
I found this one professor. I was a sophomore and took an Intro to Rhetoric class. This guy just blew my mind. He really introduced me to a lot of stuff I wouldn't have otherwise found. He took me under his wing and I took every class he had. They'd be post-modern classes, even post-human, futurist theory. Dr. Kyle Jensen.
AND ARE THERE ANY LESSONS THAT DR. JENSEN IMPARTED ON YOU THAT WORKED THEIR WAY INTO POWER TRIP?
More than a few. He was my intro to post-modernism, and that's a big way I frame a lot of the lyrics. The biggest thing he ever taught me is every word counts. Being very concise. And how each word relates to the sentence, and how the sentence relates to the verse. Making sure everything's connected and there's not a syllable wasted.
YOUR LYRICS ARE PRETTY CONCISE.
I work really hard to do that. Stuff that sounds like it might be a simple line is probably loaded with a lot more symbolism than a lot of people might think. That's what I go for. I try to write something that's catchy that people can sing along to mindlessly, but then if they really want to digest it and analyze it, there's shit to unpack there.
CAN YOU GIVE ME AN EXAMPLE?
A lot of people think "Executioner's Tax" is just a song about an executioner doing his thing, and it sort of is, but the song and the lyrics "swing of the axe" stem from this idea that people are searching for their own personal oblivion in life. Whether they get sucked into social media or television or food or sex or drugs, we buy into all of this to put death out of the front of our minds. We live carefree like we're not gonna die, and one day when death comes for us, we're gonna act shocked and say, "I didn't have enough time. I wanna do more." Well you had all this time to do more but you didn't, you sat around and wasted your days. The executioner's tax is actually a medieval concept that before the guillotine, if you were gonna be put to death and you repented to the church, a priest might give you a bag of silver. You're supposed to give that to the executioner so he cuts of your head in one clean swipe. We pay to be comfortable in our own death, to not have to worry or think about it.
YOU SAID IN AN INTERVIEW THAT POWER TRIP IS ALL ABOUT RIFFS AND POP SONGS. CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THAT, AND TELL ME SOME OF YOUR ALL-TIME FAVORITE RIFFS AND POP SONGS?
Favorite riffs is too hard to answer, but the pop thing is easy. This is me speaking for [guitarist] Blake [Ibanez]. He loves pop rock, Americana, a well-written and -structured pop song. And we just take that into the music a lot. Really trying to play around what can be done with a riff. And not writing like, "Here's riff one and here's riff two." Analyzing pop music you can pick out pre-choruses and bridges and I think a lot of bands ignore stuff like that, or don't want to put in the effort to write a well-structured song that has a beginning, middle and end. It's riffs and pop songwriting and structure. As far as stuff we really like, everybody likes everything. Some of Blake's favorite bands are Killing Joke, Stone Roses, Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Wipers, UFO. He loves Guided by Voices, it's not my thing. Anything that rocks or does something interesting. Even [bassist Chris] Whetzel listens to country. You can have something influence you without biting the sound of it.
YOU GUYS TOUR CONSTANTLY. HOW DO YOU DO IT?
I don't know. [Yawns]. It's a bargain with my borrowed time that I have here on earth. I think I'm just shaving years off of my life doing all of this. It's exhausting. I don't think people realize how exhausting it is. And I don't mean that in a whiney way. But it's like going out to sea or going to an oil rig or something like that. We've gotten to the point where our days are eight-hour days. From having to get to the venue and unload and sound check. And press and anything like that adds up.
I THINK THERE'S SOMETHING INTERESTING TOO, WHERE MOST OF OUR FRIENDS AND PEERS COME FROM A DIY BACKGROUND AND ARE USED TO GOING ON TOUR AND PLAYING SHOWS, BUT THERE'S SUCH A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ROLLING UP TO A HOUSE SHOW AND EVERYONE'S PARTYING AND YOU PLAY, THEN DOING THESE MORE SERIOUS TOURS WHERE THERE'S JUST A LOT MORE THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE.
The joke word is "procore." We're procore now.
MOVING FROM THE DIY WORLD TO THE PROCORE WORLD, IS THAT A FLUID THING, IS IT A NOT FLUID THING? HOW DOES IT FEEL?
We got lucky because we learned from and got to go on tour with bands that were nice and took us under their wing and kinda showed us how it's done. It's got its ups and downs. Those shows were always a really positive time in my life. I like playing to new crowds and bigger crowds. I miss playing house shows, but thinking about doing those now seems even more exhausting. I don't have that youthful energy that I used to. Most days like an old ass man I need a fucking nap before doors open.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR TOURING FOR YOU GUYS?
We are doing a couple weeks with Danzig, which will be really cool. West Coast. And then two weeks with Black Dahlia Murder. We have the show with original Misfits in Chicago at Allstate Arena.
HAVE YOU PLAYED IN AN ARENA LIKE THAT BEFORE [CAPACITY 18,500]?
Nope. That might be our biggest show ever. We did a couple fests in Europe where there were in the tens of thousands, but that will be our biggest stateside show ever for sure.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR RECORDING?
We're gonna do an LP. LP 3.
HAVE YOU STARTED WRITING THAT?
Blake's got some ideas. I've got some lyrical ideas, but nothing that's been put together. Everyone's just sort of thinking about it. Writing stuff down. Tracking riffs into phones and shit.
WHAT'S NEXT IN YOUR LIFE?
I don't know. Once we get through this touring we've got a lot of label and management stuff to figure out, and then I don't know. Move in with my girlfriend.