Digital Edition Cover Story, October 2023
Interview by Andrew Daly
Photos by Travis Clark for Buddy Magazine
Through shredding solos, chugging riffs, and punk-meets-metal aesthetic and sound, shuttering Dallas headbangers Power Trip changed the game through the release of modern-day classic albums Manifest Decimation (2013) and Nightmare Logic (2017).
At the heart of things – and what made the Grammy-nominated Power Trip tick – was the vocalist/guitarist duo Riley Gale and Blake Ibanez. Sadly, while on tour in support of Nightmare Logic, Gale died of an accidental overdose, leaving his band members, which also included drummer Chris Ulsh, guitarist Nick Stewart, and bassist Chris Whetzel, to pick up the pieces.
Though Power Trip never disbanded, they’ve remained inactive in the three-and-a-half years since, leaving fans wondering what might happen next. To that end, guitarist Blake Ibanez tells Buddy, “For Power Trip to reform without Riley, it would take the right person being brought into the fold to make Power Trip something new. But not too new because we’ve got a lot of pride. We wouldn’t do anything that was inauthentic or cheap just to get back out there. I don’t think we would ever do that.”
He continues, “The time could come, but for now, I’m not sure. I’d love for that music to see the light of day again, and it would be awesome to play the songs again because Power Trip has a place in a lot of people’s hearts. So, I’m optimistic that one day it’ll happen, but I don’t know when that will be. For now, I’m happy with what we were able to do, and that’s never going to change because the songs and the fans still exist even though Riley is gone.”
Power Trip aside, Ibanez has stayed busy with his new band Fugitive, which includes Victor Gutierrez of Impalers, Seth Gilmore of Skourge, Lincoln Mullins of Creeping Death, and Andy Messer of Stymie. Indeed, Ibanez continues to write riffs and shred his way across songs that make one’s ears joyously bleed and ring for days. Not that any of that is a bad thing—especially if you’re the metal-loving sort.
While the future of Power Trip is murky, it’s eternally bright for Ibanez, with songs, solos, and more awaiting. And to be sure, fans, both new and old, are prepared to take the ride, be it through Power Trip, Fugitive, or a band yet known.
What inspired you to pick up the guitar?
I get asked that question a lot when I do interviews like this, but I don’t know exactly what it was. It’s probably not the coolest answer, but probably Jimi Hendrix. My dad is almost 70, so he grew up with stuff like The Beatles, The Who, Hendrix, and Neil Young. So, aside from Hendrix, I’d definitely say Pete Townsend.
When I was a kid, my dad would show me videos of them smashing guitars and lighting them on fire, and it was just so exciting to see. I’d say those two guys were my first real guitar heroes. They’re a lot different from what I’ve done, but I was amazed at how they looked and the idea of watching them as a kid, saying, “Wow… what the hell are they doing?”
Do you have any favorite players from Texas that influenced you, too?
Oh, yeah, there are a lot of great ones. I’ve never really thought of my favorites, but guys like Billy Gibbons and Dimebag Darrell are great. What more can I really say about those guys? But obviously, I can’t leave out Stevie Ray Vaughan as far as great players from Texas. He’s a legend. And you’ve got Spike Cassidy from D.R.I. and the great Wade Allison from Iron Age. Wade passed away around the same time that Riley did, but he was a big inspiration, and a talented player.
Can you remember your first guitar?
I remember getting a cheap acoustic guitar from one of those mail-order magazines. And then, at some point, I got my first electric guitar for what I think was my 12th birthday. Ironically, it was an Ibanez. It was one of those starter pack-type deals with a little amp, so that was my first electric guitar. I had been taking lessons on acoustic, and those thicker strings had callused up my hands. So, when I got the electric guitar, it was a lot of fun because I could turn it up, and the strings didn’t hurt my fingers as much.
What was your first professional gig in the Texas area?
I wouldn’t call it professional, but my first-ever gig was like a fourth-grade talent show [laughs]. We played “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen, and my good friend was on drums. That was like the greatest song you could play at the time, but not long after, we started practicing more covers. I think another was “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” by Joan Jett, and we probably did “My Generation” by The Who, too. I went for easy songs that had like two chords in them [laughs]. But after that, I probably ended up doing some battle of the band’s stuff.
Your dad showed you classic rock, but were you also surrounded by a lot of metal music growing up?
I started out in the punk and hardcore scene, really. I’d go out to shows probably in the mid-2000s, and from there, I got into a lot of the crossover metal stuff that came out in the ’80s. So, that’s how I got into metal, and then progressive music came into the picture. But before that, I was very into punk, like The Ramones, The Clash, and the fast-paced, hardcore stuff, too.
That checks out as Power Trip seemed to deeply blend punk, hardcore, and metal.
Yeah, with Power Trip, we never really considered ourselves a strict heavy metal band; we blended all of that. It wasn’t until the second record [Nightmare Logic] came out that we really leaned into metal sound-wise. We didn’t even really find ourselves playing with other metal bands until close to the second album, probably around 2016. That’s when we did the tour with Lamb of God, and Anthrax, which kinda put us on the map in the metal world.
Regardless of outside labels, how did the members of Power Trip categorize the band?
After Nightmare Logic came out, we were doing tours with Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, and bands like that, so I guess we became, more or less, a metal band. But we always had one foot in the hardcore scene, even if we were leaning metal. So, I guess Power Trip was always split between those two worlds, which despite being different eras, kind of went hand in hand. They were more separated in the mid-2000s, but not as much now.
How did Power Trip’s split personality influence your riff writing?
I guess the journey we all went on coming from the hardcore and punk scene and ending up in the metal world was an interesting path. And I think it influenced my writing a lot over the years. There’s no denying the impact that punk and hardcore had on the way I write in terms of the angles I’d take, even if we were playing metal music. Once I started to get into songwriting and looked at it on a deeper level, at my core, I’ve always been a big rock song guy as far as arrangements go.
I love rock, power pop, and all that stuff from the ’70s, so a band like AC/DC absolutely influenced the way I write riffs, too. I’m always trying to connect the dots and take bits and pieces from here and there, creating my style. Different rhythms and all that still inspire me, but I try to keep it within the same realm so that things mesh, even if the influences come from different places.
Despite Manifest Decimation and Nightmare Logic being modern records, they’re already considered classics by many. Does that surprise you?
It’s always cool to hear people say that about our records. And, of course, I’m proud of the songs, and I think they’re good songs, but I’m not here to say what’s classic and what isn’t, you know? It’s almost kind of awkward for me to hear because, in my eyes, everybody has their own idea of what a classic is, and I’m pretty sure that plenty of people would be like, “Are you fucking serious? Power Trip? Those aren’t classic.”
But, looking back on them, I think the timing was perfect. I guess you could say that in terms of our legacy, our timing, and what we did, I can see how it played an important role in where things are now, even if only in a small way. And, like I said, I do think the songs are good; we wrote some good songs. But regardless of if anyone thinks they’re classic, I think that’s pretty amazing. I’m very humbled by that.
Did you know they were special from the jump?
Right from the start, I felt like we were doing some good things. We were pushing each other, and Riley [Gale] and I definitely worked hard, man. Riley and I wrote everything, and our styles meshed very well. He had his own ideas and was a great lyricist, so he was very into writing and all that stuff. So, from the outset, from the first note we ever wrote together for Power Trip on our demo, it clicked. I was always writing and arranging songs, which is the same thing I do now.
I won’t say that Riley wasn’t into that, but he wasn’t a songwriter per se; he was a frontman and a lyricist. So, we would butt heads while trying to get on the same page, but things always landed where we needed them to. And looking back, that stuff really does hold up. We were young kids when we started, and I wish I had the wisdom I do now regarding mindset, production, and performance. And when I listen to those records, I hear things I’d do differently, but at the same time, song-wise, they turned out pretty great.
With Power Trip hitting its peak at the time of Riley’s passing, it must have been frustrating to hit the pause button.
It’s weird because, on the one hand, in terms of the band, there is a sense of disappointment because we had a whole record written musically. It wasn’t fully finished at that point, and there were no lyrics, but it was all there musically. So, it is disappointing. But at the same time, and it sounds stupid to say, you have to take what you’re given in life and make the most of it. And as tragic as losing Riley was for us and as disappointing as it is, I grew up a lot through that experience and learned a lot. I don’t look back and get angry or upset or feel bad for myself. I’ve learned that it’s better to accept what happened.
Do you feel like Power Trip left a lot on the table?
You never know what could have happened or what we would have done next. But it’s a fucking shame, that’s for sure. It’s one of those things where when you go through that, you just accept it at some point. And so, when I look back, I try to appreciate everything and not be bitter, you know what I mean? Being bitter doesn’t do anything for anyone, so you just have to move forward. But, like I was saying, it forced me to grow up and take things into my own hands. So, I’ve tried to appreciate that element of it and take that as a positive, if there is any. But what can I say? It’s not the way I wanted the story to go, that’s for sure.
How do you apply what you’ve learned to the music you’re making today with Fugitive?
It probably put my instincts to the test a little bit. The way I do the music in Fugitive is basically the same thing I did with Power Trip in terms of writing and how I arrange things. So, that hasn’t changed. But with Riley, there was definitely a power struggle between us. I’d give him a fully arranged song, and we’d go, “This is where I want the vocals to go; here’s the first chorus…” And generally, he would go along with that because it was written that way, but sometimes he would hear it differently, or we’d disagree.
A lot of the time, obviously, he was writing the lyrics, and it was his phrasing, but there were times when I’d suggest something like, “Hey, maybe a little fast,” or “Try repeating this line,” and stuff like that. In Fugitive, Seth [Gilmore] is talented in his own right, but he defaults to me when it comes to how I hear the phrasing, arrangement, and vocals going. So, this has tested my natural instincts because I’ve always known how I want things to go in my head, but the dynamic between Riley and me was much different than between me and Seth.
Are you comfortable with the weight of the band being on your shoulders?
I think I am. I’m more involved lyrically and all that, but it’s still kind of the same thing. The big thing is that it’s more on my shoulders, but it feels good knowing that I have the creative capacity to get involved with different aspects as opposed to Power Trip, where, even if I tried to get involved, it wasn’t always needed because we had Riley. Riley didn’t want to take direction from me unless he had to, you know?
He would be like, “I’ll listen to what you’re thinking, but I still want to do my own thing.” There really was a whole lot of meeting in the middle, which generally worked out, but sometimes it didn’t. That can be very challenging, and you get fewer ideas in. I don’t even know how a third Power Trip album would have gone, but given our capabilities, I’m sure it would have been fine. But regardless, it’s very different in Fugitive.
Have Fugitive’s early returns given you enough closer to move on from Power Trip?
It’s funny when you start a new band, especially for me since I hadn’t done that since Power Trip began when I was a teenager. Starting Fugitive was different because we started Power Trip in the pre-social media era. Well, maybe there was social media, but it was definitely the pre-smartphone era. All we had was Myspace and shit, so it was different. You can start a new band quickly because the internet is so powerful. Plus, I have years of experience networking, which helped, too.
It’s been a learning experience, and I’ve had a lot of personal growth doing this. As I’m getting a bit older, I’m getting more on the ball about things. I feel pretty good about where I’m at, and it does feel good to have the same confidence in what I’m writing now in that I’m doing things that are stylistically like Power Trip. It’s not totally the same, but it’s not crazy different. So, yeah, it feels good to have a diverse and new out. I’m having fun playing with different guys and love what we’re doing.
With an unfinished record in the can and Power Trip never officially disbanding, despite Riley being gone, do you see a future for Power Trip?
It’s one of those where the rest of us are still here. And I know that many people didn’t get to see us but have gotten turned onto the records and would love to see us. People talk to me after shows and say, “Man, I never got to see Power Trip play; I’d love to see you guys play the songs.” And we’d love to do it again, but it’s one of the things where, especially for me, I’m proud of everything we did despite how it ended. I’m proud of where we left things musically.
So, I’m not the type of guy to mess with that. And we all have a lot of pride and share the same expectations and standards of what Power Trip needs to be. I’m not the type of guy to force anything or do anything that doesn’t feel right. And the truth is that it may never be right. So, if we ever did anything without Riley, it would be different, which could work, especially in metal. And we’ve explored options, talked about, and met up and jammed, but as of right now, there’s just not an avenue to make it happen.