Powerplant Q&A: “You’ve got to do something to prove you’re still alive.”

interview with London band powerplant

When compared to what the rest of the British hardcore punk scene has to offer, Powerplant have always been something of an outlier.

Generally speaking more in line with the scenes that seem to emerge from the American Midwest and acts that are for some godforsaken reason referred to as ‘egg-punk’, the London group are a curiosity amongst their peers. That being said, they’re much adored within the wider hardcore circles, especially for the fact that they’ve become known for being a stellar live act.

This is confirmed by the blistering energy with which they approached their support slot with Angel Du$t in Bristol recently. Fully in the know that they’re playing to a largely oblivious audience, they still ripped through 25 minutes of synth-driven surrealism, and took no prisoners when it came to injecting their sense of humour into the performance. For a genre that is often accused of taking itself too seriously, it’s refreshing to see Powerplant approach authenticity in a different manner and making punk rock while expressing who they really are, which is a bunch of oddball nerds that just happen to be passionate about the music they make.

Still largely commandeered by frontman Theo Zhykaryev, the expanded live band of Cam Pickering (synths), Lloyd Clipson (drums) and Karim Newble (bass) provided some insight into both the methods and the madness behind new EP Grass before taking to the stage. Despite not being audible in this text format, Cam was kind enough to provide a synth accompaniment while we baked in the brutal heat of Bristol’s harbour.

You’ve just started another tour having not long finished the previous one; how have they both been and how has the year in general been for you?

LC: It’s been busy. I had surgery at the start of the year so we had like five or six months out, so we’ve crammed a lot of stuff into the latter half of the year.

TZ: It feels like it didn’t stop but now that it begins again, it really begins. I feel like touring the UK is just comfortable because you’re always close; you’re only ever a few hours away from your bed.

You recently came out with ‘Grass’, a new EP of five (or, four and a bit) songs. Could you tell us a little bit more about how that collection of songs came together and the general themes you wanted to explore on the record?

TZ: They’re old, old songs at this point. They’re mostly 2019 songs. They were supposed to go on the second album, but that’s taking ages. I think it made the most sense just to do those songs because they’ve been on hard drives for too much time. We’ve been playing them for years at this point. I think ‘Broodmother’ is the newest one out of all of them. I think because there’s been so much time between actual music releases, you’ve got to do something to prove you’re still alive.

It’s quite a development from the early days where it was simply just you, Theo. How has it been developing into a fuller band sound, both live and on record?

TZ: It’s still me more or less, to be honest.

LC: The last 7” we did was the only release with live drums, and also the only release where we tracked guitar and bass live.

TZ: Not really. I re-did everything. I think that was a Frankenstein record. If anything has changed, I just copy Lloyd’s riffs and write them into the drum parts.

LC: The more we play together, the more we’re familiar with each other’s stylistic frills. I feel like it all bleeds in. The more we play the songs live before they get released onto a record, the more influence from us creeps into your production.

TZ: I think there’s like a Karim bass lick on one of the chorus fills.

KN: I don’t even know.

TZ: At this point, who knows? I think they’re entirely different things.

Are there any things that you’ve noticed in your production work that have developed in the time that you’ve been working on the project?

TZ: I think it’s just more experience and trying to make it sound like actual music. It’s the same with Karim in [his other band] Island of Love. It starts as lo-fi stuff, and then you’re like, “I don’t want it to sound like hot garbage anymore”.

LC: There’s lo-fi because you want it to sound lo-fi, and there’s lo-fi because you’ve just started recording music. I feel like it’s got a shelf life, not for every band, but for some bands. As soon as you realise you can do stuff and make it sound better – for me anyway, it’s nice to hear Powerplant stuff produced better. 

TZ: I believe that lo-fi is cool. But also, let’s make it fucking sound good, okay?

CP: There’s ways of doing it. Lo-fi shit sounds shit when it’s recorded shit. If you record stuff well and mix it to sound in that world, and it can be awesome.

You’ve also gone on a few little strange detours, especially last year with Stump Soup, which is a little foray into dungeon synth, inspired by you being Dungeons & Dragons fans. First of all, I want to ask you, who are you all in a D&D campaign?

TZ: Lloyd’s always like, “can I be a nimble guy?”

LC: I just think whatever you are, as long as you’re nimble, that’s the best trait you can possibly have. You always need someone nimble.

TZ: Yeah, it’s like a cool, small fella. I don’t know, like a weird thief character. 

CP: Mine have always been based on goats.

TZ: It’s going to sound horrible, but you had an Elon Musk/Grimes relationship.

CP: It was Elon Musk and then my pet was a goat, which was Grimes.

TZ: We never play with Karim. It hasn’t happened yet. We don’t invite him when we play.

KN: I just don’t like you guys, it’s strictly band relations.

TZ: I DM (Dungeon Master) – I want to play, but I never get to play. I’m an old man when I get to play. I wish we played more. We should maybe try playing on tour.

LC: It’s always one of those things where we’re like, “let’s play a quick one this Thursday”. You don’t get anything done if you play a quick game. You can do two or three hours and you’ll move one space. I think maybe we should try playing with people we don’t know, because when you play with people you know, they say stuff and you’re just like, “fucking shut up, that’s stupid,” and you just argue for like three hours.

What made you want to explore that in terms of the sound?

TZ: The funniest thing with that is that whenever we listen to music on shuffle, it’s always things like Gee Tee or other egg-punk from Australia. Then it’ll weave in a Powerplant song, but it’s going always a song from that album [laughs]. I started listening to dungeon synth a lot in COVID, which was fun. Then we played D&D and it kind of made sense to do it. I think it’s maybe like a self-sabotage thing where it’s just really funny to just do this album that nobody wants to hear and make it like an hour long with 20 songs.

CP: I mean that’s the dungeon synth formula. It actually serves a function as well as just being funny music. It’s not just a bit – you actually made a good dungeon synth album that has a flow to it and goes with the story.

TZ: I thought it would be entertaining for me because it’s all MIDI, and I’d never done all MIDI stuff before. and that was funny. It was also scary to make an album after everyone starts suddenly caring about you, so you’re like “how about we make people not care again?” We kind of wound it back a little bit to see what happens.

I mean, Static Shock were happy enough to put it out.

LC: It’s because they’re indebted to us.

TZ: Tom sure took a dive on that one.

Do you feel like you’ve got a good label that understands you in them? Do you feel like you’ve got a good community around you in bands such as Uranium Club and Sheer Mag?

LC: Yeah, definitely. Static Shock is easy because it’s just Tom Ellis. I met Tom around 2013 when we got booked to play the Static Shock Weekender with an old band I used to play in. He’s a good dude and he’s a friend of ours, so it’s the perfect formula for having an easy time. He does that whole label himself, which is a crazy amount of work to do on your own. He knows what’s up.

It’s the amount of hours and research that people like him put into finding small bands – especially the ones that he might pick up from overseas, and I feel like that’s quite a prominent thing within the weirder side of punk. You were discovered by a lot of people through the Harakiri Diat YouTube channel which is a treasure trove, and there’s plenty of other copycat channels that do the same thing. What do you think it is about people who are into that kind of music that makes them such good diggers and curators?

LC: I mean, it’s a small community. In the grand scheme of music, especially international music, you find that you’re only two degrees of separation away from knowing someone in a band that you like.

TZ: I think the internet is just a good place for people to come together. Let’s not call it egg-punk or internet punk anymore, but with that kind of music, I think there’s a huge scene in America and in Australia now that’s very condensed, but I think everywhere else it doesn’t create anything big enough for itself to circulate within. I think that’s why the internet is just a great place for everyone to gather around and join in.

LC: I feel like people talk a lot, and that’s the good thing about having physical copies of stuff as well. It’s like, if we stay at someone’s house on tour – like when we stayed with this guy in Nottingham – he had records and records on a shelf, and you just sit and chat about it for hours. Again, you get back to that separation thing – it’s just incestuous in the best way, I think.

What are some of the more unexpected things that you guys are into, aside from things in your musical sphere?

LC: I just listen to emo music 24-7. It’s no secret, but I think the Brave Little Abacus are the best band to ever have existed. It’s probably a hot take, but that’s my two cents.

CP: We listen to a lot of Brazilian music at the moment. Baile funk made by kids in the slums.

KN: Anything with banjos and general folk music and stuff. 

LC: Yeah Appalachian and bluegrass music as well, I think are the most awesome things.

TZ: I’m just into nerd shit to be honest. That’s pretty obvious. I think it’s in the code. Uhhhh – I like drifting cars?

LC: Yeah but what music do you have on while you’re drifting a car?

TZ: Classic FM.

What’s Powerplant’s secret to keeping people guessing?

TZ: It’s whatever the voices say, that’s the secret.

LC: We just keep sucking. People are interested because they’re like, “can it get worse? It can’t possibly get any worse than it is right now”. And then it does.

CP: It gets worse before it gets worse.

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