Nick Avila of Powerglove
The longtime video game fan and musician talked about the formation of the band, the challenges of adapting video game music to extreme metal, and possible paths for the future.
Interviewed by: Brian Cross
How did Powerglove get started?
The band started in about 2004; we were all in high school, actually, and we were all in various side projects. The main one was a melodic metal band which at one point featured all of the members of Powerglove. We all tried to be the singer, but we couldn’t sing for shit, which was one of the reasons why we became an instrumental band. Just for fun, our guitarist Alex [Berkson] recorded a version of Dr. Wily’s theme from Mega Man 2. He showed it to Bassil [Silver], who recorded drums for it, and then one by one, we all wanted to get in on this. We’re pretty goofy people in general, and the kind of band Powerglove is, this allowed us to not take too serious of a stance with what we’re trying to do in a live setting or in a recording. Any idea we want to do, we’re free to do it. Especially live, because if we were in a serious band, we couldn’t have giant donuts, or spray people in the face with water guns, or toss out candy to the crowd. Basically the idea of our band is if you have a stupid idea for music or entertainment…you do it! No questions asked!
Powerglove sets themselves apart from most other “video game bands” by playing extreme metal rather than chiptunes or indie rock. Why do you think classic video game soundtracks lend themselves so well to metal?
A lot of the melodies in old-school games, especially in the Mega Man series, sound like power metal. I know a lot of the Japanese composers of video game music were inspired by metal bands like Iron Maiden or X-Japan, which is a big visual kei band over there. So I think that the influence was there, but the composers were also very limited in that they couldn’t do anything like what you see today in video game music with full orchestras. They decided to work with a few sound files and create maybe two melody lines. So the melodies had to be super catchy and super strong. I think that made for more memorable songs, and the influence of some of the writers who listened to metal just carried over.
You’ve done quite a few Mega Man songs. What other pieces from that series would you like to cover?
I had an idea the other day of doing a medley of the highway theme and Spark Mandrill’s stage from Mega Man X. Kind of like an In Flames acoustic version of it. Also, I know that [our guitarist] Chris [Marchiel] was working on the Snake Man theme from Mega Man 3. Ideally, we’d like to do a full Mega Man album and a full Final Fantasy album; there’s so much good material that we don’t want to leave anything out.
What’s your favorite Mega Man game?
Personally, Mega Man X, because that was the first one I played. My brother growing up had a Nintendo, and he was playing Mega Man and Mega Man 2 a lot. When he would let me have the controller, I’d play them a little bit. By the time that system was passed on to me, it was completely broken. The Super Nintendo was the system I really grew up with, and spent the most time playing.
What classic video game songs that don’t seem very “metal” would you like to put the Powerglove spin on?
There probably will be; none come to mind right away. But the last album we did, Saturday Morning Apocalypse with the television themes, a lot of those were a challenge. A lot of those didn’t sound metal at all, like the Flintstones theme. “Heffalumps and Woozles” from Winnie the Pooh sounds kinda creepy and gave every child nightmares growing up! One track that never got released is “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. It was the fastest song we ever recorded! (laughs) I’m so mad that’ll never see the light of day, because we had issues with Disney. They don’t want us corrupting the minds of little girls or something. Anyway, we want to do a Super Mario Bros. 2 medley, a lot of that music is happy and upbeat. It’s like what we did with “Mario in Minor,” where we transposed all of it to minor key to add darker elements and make it heavier.
What about modern video game music? It’s not as iconic as the classic stuff, but there have to be a few tracks you’d like to adapt to your style.
A few came to mind, and one was the Halo theme. I like that song, but there’s not that much there. It’s a good theme, but there’s not enough lines that stick with you. I couldn’t even hum that theme right now. I’d say for a theme that’s nonstop through the game and huge on the Internet with others playing it is the main theme from Skyrim. It might be a little bit overdone now, so we’re thinking we might’ve missed the boat with that song. That’s still a modern theme I could see getting the Powerglove treatment. We could do something cool with it, and everyone who’s played that game could hum it right away!
No Powerglove cover of “Still Alive” from Portal?
(laughs) I don’t know, man; it’s possible! We’ve been meaning to look into some newer games, but there’s still so many old-school games that we want to cover.
Do you have any specific video game composers or studios that you consider favorites?
Nobuo [Uematsu] (Final Fantasy series composer), definitely Nobuo! Everything he writes is completely amazing. Especially his work as a bass player, his bass lines have a lot of dissonance and contrasting counterpoints and harmonies. A lot of the songs we do, I’ll rewrite all of the bass lines for it, but for Final Fantasy songs, I find myself keeping almost all of them because they’re so awesome.
Especially the battle themes.
Yeah, that’s how that all started! Just think about it: having a memorable bass line in a video game song! That just shows how good Nobuo is as a composer.
Who else influences Powerglove’s music?
We all listen to a lot of power, death, and black metal. Bassil and I listen to more black and death metal; stuff like Opeth, Agalloch, and Cannibal Corpse. I know Bassil’s into some electronic artists like Shpongle and Infected Mushroom. As far as guitars are concerned, when he first started, Alex was heavily inspired by Michael Amott from Arch Enemy. Chris is actually the one who turned me on to power metal as he’s a huge fan. His favorite band is Galneryas, which is a power metal band from Japan. Sonata Arctica, Symphony X, Kamelot…all of those bands have had an impact. For the groove and the rhythm section, it’s mainly Opeth. Martín Méndez (bass) and Martin Lopez (ex-drums) are a big inspiration for Bassil and I.
Saturday Morning Apocalypse moved away from video games and focused on television and movies. Will we be hearing more of this on future Powerglove records?
That album was our weird version of a concept album; we’re definitely going to go back to the video game world for the next album. Honestly, that stuff takes us so long to do, we just think of one album at a time! If anything, we want to experiment with some original music to go along with our video game stuff. It would be another concept album. In the future, we also want to build a Powerglove RPG to go along with a video game album. Chris is cooking up some ideas, and you’ll hear about them soon!
Who created the rather unique artwork for your records and live shows?
It’s a friend of ours named Dave Rapoza. He doesn’t do any other bands’ work, as far as we know. When we met him, he was just an artist trying to get any gigs that he could, and he was a fan of the band. We’ve watched him grow, and now he does work for Magic: The Gathering, and promotional stuff for Iron Man and Thor. Like the artwork you’d see on drink cups at McDonald’s or Burger King. He’s still working with us as an artist, but as a favor! (laughs) He still loves the band, and he’s got a really unique art style. I’m surprised he hasn’t done more work for bands, because he’s got a really weird, cartoony style. Some of the other stuff, aside from covers and merch displays, our guitarist Chris did those. He’s really good with Photoshop and designing on a computer. He designed all of the website art and sprites.
Any final words for your fans?
We should be releasing a new album next year; hopefully we’ll get to work on it after this tour with the Protomen. In the summer, we’re changing things up and doing a tour with mc chris. See you at either one of those, and if not, we’ll see you after the next album comes out!
Stay tuned for our concert review and live photos of the ‘No Survivors Tour’ kickoff!