How does a small town boy turn an obsession with rock music, horror films and comic books into a career mom can be proud of? In the case of rocker/writer Spider One, it was a natural progression to success. In the early ’90s he founded and fronted the metal band Powerman 5000, performing around the world and contributing to various film soundtracks over the years. Eventually, he created the clever zombie-meets-comedy MTV series Death Valley.
Of course, Spider also had inspiration from older brother Rob Zombie, who is a creative Gen-Xer himself with five films and a half-dozen Grammy nominations to his name. The two collaborated on Powerman 5000’s second album in 1999, however throughout the years, the brothers have been able to stand on their own career-wise.
We were fortunate to grab a few pre-Halloween moments with Spider One to find out how he got Death Valley to MTV, his Top 7 list of personally influential horror films, and much more.
What are Spider’s hopes for Death Valley‘s future? How does he deal with his own kids’ exposure to horror films? How does he feel the image of geeks has changed? What is his next move in music? What is the best advice his brother ever gave him? And what was it really like growing up “Zombie”?
Read on as Spider One dishes in this special edition of UrbLife.com‘s Movie Buff!
Tell us a little about how you started, and how you got Death Valley to MTV.
Spider One: It really was a pretty long journey that ended up moving really quickly at the end. My background has always been in music. I have been recording with Powerman 5000 for years and still do. My other love was always film and television, I just never really pursued it.
One day I decided that I wanted to have a TV show, it was really as simple as that. I had no way of doing it and making it happen. I had a really cool idea when I moved to San Fernando Valley, a great backdrop mix of sort of suburban and urban. One neighborhood would be very family-friendly and the next was a gang infested hellhole. It was just this great backdrop. Then being a genre freak of sci-fi, horror, and all of that type of junk all translated into a monster invasion.
I really didn’t have any traditional means into getting this thing made. After a couple of failed attempts at pitching the show with a production company, really the only way that this was going to make sense to anybody was to go out and actually film something. That’s become pretty standard these days, the old days of just pitching an idea is starting to go away. Everybody has the ability to shoot and edit everything on a laptop now. This was about six years ago, and still kind of early on that idea, going out and actually making something. That’s what I did.
I borrowed a camera, I asked a friend of mine to do makeup, I rented a cop uniform, and I had another guy who was actually a cop so he had his own uniform. He was very much like guerilla filmmaking. We ran around the streets and just shot these two scenes, which eventually got cut into a trailer. It ended up being incredibly similar to the theme of what Death Valley looks like now.
Other than having a lot more money, that original $500 trailer I made really has the heart of the show. I felt like it really captured the magic of this idea, but we still had no way to get it made or on TV. Through a friend of a friend, I met the folks at Liquid Theory, who had a relationship at MTV. It just so happens that MTV was actively seeking out a horror property. Somehow my little cheap trailer got into the hands of MTV. From that point on, everything moved super-fast. Within months we were working on the pilot. It was crazy.
You’ve been doing music for so long. How much do you think teens have changed over the years, or the way you relate to them?
SO: I was really into the music scene in the ’90s. There really is a fundamental difference between I guess what you consider a nerd or geek these days as opposed to the ’80s or ’90s. It’s not really a bad thing anymore. It’s sort of like the nerds have taken over on a larger scale.
It’s funny, I think about it now, I notice the difference. When I was a little kid, only the weirdest of the weirdo kids had a Spiderman t-shirt on. You would get your ass kicked for it. Now every kid has a Spiderman t-shirt, every kid knows who the X-Men are; it’s become standard stuff with kids.
When I was little, it was very different. Everyone liked to talk about Star Wars. For someone who was around when the original Star Wars movie came out, that was not cool. Trust me. If you were in to Star Wars, then you would be fighting your way through school. You really were alone in your world.
I guess I had a unique situation. I was this kid into all of this nerdy stuff, but I was also a rocker, so I had the element of coolness factor to me that balances it out, I suppose. I didn’t have to battle as hard as some of my nerdy counterparts growing up did. They didn’t have the benefit of having a band making them seem cooler.
Even today when I go to Comic-Con or something, I really love it because I get a sense of that these people are still into to this weird stuff, even though it’s become more socially acceptable. There’s still a sense of community involved in that scene that’s really powerful. I find it inspiring.
When it comes to you being a parent now, how do you shield your kids from the images in horror films that are readily available?
SO: Sometimes I think that it is hard to, but I think that part of being a parent is just paying attention to what’s going on. I’m not that fanatical about it. I always said that I didn’t want to freak my kids out too early because they are still very young, 3 and 7. I think back to my childhood, that I probably watched tons of inappropriate stuff at a very young age. For whatever reason, I sort of understood it. It didn’t freak me out, and I credit all of that stuff to really putting me on a path that I’m on now and the things that I’ve become interested in.
I remember watching The Exorcist and I was probably 10. That’s way too young to be watching that, but I got it. Even stuff that wasn’t inappropriate, but just probably beyond the range. I remember being a young kid and really enjoying Woody Allen movies. It wasn’t all about kid stuff. So I don’t think that it’s a terrible thing, as long as your kid is smart enough to understand it and appreciate it.
It is a challenge because there is so much stuff readily available. You talk about this distinction between growing up now and growing up in the ’80s and even before that. The time where you had to work very hard to find stuff, to find a cool t-shirt, or to buy a comic book. It was a challenge, and what it did was it raised the value of that stuff as an individual because it wasn’t so easy [to get].
Today, it’s like I can just type in anything, any weird and just obscure memory of a show or movie and its there online. It’s just like unbelievably cool. I would have killed for that as a kid.
When everything is just so easy and free and available, I’m not sure if it’s quite as fun. I used to tape record my favorite movies, like I remember literally having a cassette recordings of audio that I recorded of Jaws. I would just listen to the audio over and over. I probably had Jaws memorized. It was just that desperate need to need more of that stuff. I certainly embrace technology, but I do sort of think that there is something very powerful about having to work a little harder to find the cool stuff.
You and your brother are both musicians and writers. Was there ever a time where your parents were just like, “Oh my gosh, what are you boys doing with your lives?”
SO: Oh, probably still to this day. Even though there has been success, I think it’s still a little confusing to them sometimes. We grew up in a very modest upbringing, in a small town in Massachusetts, it was just a working class blue-collar town. You basically just graduated from high school, maybe if you were lucky, and college wasn’t really a big priority for a lot of people in that town. You got a job at the mill or furniture factory or the tool factory and you probably had a few kids and died there.
I think that that was sort of the perspective of growing up in a place like that. When we started doing these weird things, I don’t know how much sense it made to [our parents]. It probably confused the hell out of them, but to their credit they didn’t try to stop us, which was a pretty huge thing. I think a lot of parents would probably discourage these crazy notions of doing whatever it is you feel like doing.
I don’t even know where it came from; I think it came from just pure boredom of growing up with nothing to do. I think that we just gravitated to watching way too much TV, movies, and comic books. We just sort of fell into our own little fantasy world.
What’s the best advice your brother has given you about writing a show or a movie?
SO: We did talk about this stuff a lot sometimes, and I think that his overall advice is really to just stick to your guns about your vision. I think that if you really feel strongly about something, to fight for your ideas and fight for your visions.
Try not to let it get nitpicked or watered down. Making a TV show or movie is a very collaborative effort, there are a lot of people involved and a lot of different agendas. There is the creative agenda, the business agenda, the network agenda… everybody wants a great thing at the end of the day, but it is a business as well. It’s a tricky balance, realizing that and trying to keep integrity of the idea.
How do you tell someone who looks to you for advice/inspiration about the amount of work you put in to do what you do?
SO: As you get older and you have tried to do more things, and as you do more things you get way more respect for anybody that does anything. It’s really easy for… this is like the evil of the internet, because it’s a bunch of kids who haven’t actually had to do anything yet or tried to do anything. [The kid] just sits back and goes, “This sucks!” They don’t understand the enormous amount of effort, time, and difficulty to do anything.
I try my best never to really criticize anybody, because I know how hard it is to get anything going. I know how hard it is to write a song or make a record or to get a TV show on the air or to write a script. My advice is, “Nothing is easy.” I don’t care what it is, it could be the simplest thing that you’re trying to do. To do it well takes an enormous amount of work.
With that said, anything is possible. I’m sort of proof that I had a notion as some kid living in a little town to start a band, couldn’t read a note of music or nothing. But I had a vision and I had the drive and energy and I somehow made it happen – sold a couple of million records, toured the world, and saw places and things I thought I never would do. The same thing was true with the TV show. I really just had this idea and I wasn’t going to stop until it actually happened.
I always say anything is possible – you’re seeing it now more than ever. You’re seeing people getting major directing gigs from YouTube videos, people getting their own TV shows from stuff they made in their basement. It’s an inspiring time, but don’t ever be fooled that it’s going to be an easy journey or happen in a week. Be patient and work hard and believe in yourself.
It’s like you’re constantly hitting the reset button because it’s an endless journey of life. Forward movement and disappointment. You just have to keep believing in yourself when no one else does, because everyone else will give up faster on you than you should.
What are your Top 7 favorite horror films of all time?
SO: These are some of the films that influenced me the most. Not in any particular order:
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton
I know a lot of people think of it as a science fiction movie, but I think it was one of the great horror movies of all time. I think it’s one of the greatest monster movies ever made. Also being a science fiction fan, you get the best of both worlds. That movie to me is almost flawless. It’s scary as hell and just smart and filled with amazing performances. I can watch it over and over. Some movies lose their magic, but that movie to me never really did.
2. Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Directed By: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was another one for me, because that whole ’70s sensibility was a big influence. Very gritty. When you watch the original, it almost feels like a documentary, you have that feeling that it’s actually happening. A lot of people try to replicate that now, but it always ends up feeling very slick these days.
3. The Exorcist
Directed By: William Friedkin
Starring: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller
The first movie to just freak me out was The Exorcist. I remember being a kid and being afraid of hearing the radio commercial for that movie. I think I saw a TV commercial for it, and it scared me so much I couldn’t see it until many years later. If there was one film that scarred me, it was that one. There were people passing out in theaters.
Directed By: John Carpenter
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, PJ Soles
I think that growing up on the East coast, that movie, even though it was shot in L.A., really captured that feeling of Halloween time. With the leaves changing and Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. Something about that small town vulnerability that was so great. That movie launched about 10,000 copycat slasher films. This movie was the pinnacle of that stuff.
5. The Shining
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd
That dreamy, other-worldliness of that movie is amazing.
6. Night of the Living Dead
Directed By: George A. Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman
The original Night of the Living Dead was probably one of the bigger influences growing up. Just that scene in the cemetery where that zombie is hitting the car and she’s freaking out. I remember thinking that that was just the coolest thing I ever seen. The fact that the film was made from nothing just goes to show what you can do with very little. Really no special effects, it’s all about tone and vibe. You don’t need a lot to scare the crap out of people.
7. Shaun of the Dead
Directed By: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Nick Frost
On the comedic side, Shaun of the Dead. It’s just such a great movie. This movie in spirit was a huge influence on my mind for Death Valley. If you took out the zombies in that movie, it would still be a great movie because you’re so engaged in the friendship of these guys, and the problems he’s having with his girlfriend. It’s almost like the zombie stuff was just a bonus, because the rest was equally well done.
I think with the genre of horror movies, a lot of people that they can just skip all of the other stuff. We’ll have a cool monster and lots of blood, we really don’t have to worry about the characters. Shaun of the Dead is a perfect example of the characters and the humor was equally as entertaining as the zombies. We tried to do that with Death Valley. If we weren’t having a monster moment, you’re ok with that.
Where will we see you in the next year?
SO: I hope to be doing another season of Death Valley, we’re still waiting on that. I really hope we get to do another season, because we have so many things that we want to do and questions we want to answer. I’ve been writing and developing a bunch of other ideas that I want to get made and get on the air. They’re all very into the science fiction thing. Another idea I have [involves]all of these really cool things, I guess that just exist in nerd world.
I feel like I have a certain voice and vision that’s unique to me and my experience growing up. I really want to make shows that represent that. I’m probably going to make another record, and you can find me on the road playing some shows. As many things as I can handle!