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The Trials of Power Glove: An In-Depth Interview

If you were on MySpace during its heyday in the late 2000s and early 2010s and you were a fan of synth-driven music, chances are you stumbled across the likes of College, Anoraak, Kavinsky, and Electric Youth. Perhaps also in your listening routine was the music of two mysterious artists who billed themselves as time-traveling lawyers from 2043 and called themselves Power Glove.

From casual one-off songs posted on that erstwhile center of DIY music on the internet to later scoring Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and most recently providing the theme to Netflix’s popular video game documentary High Score, the two enigmas sometimes known as Michael Dudikoff and Michael Biehn would join the aforementioned acts in turning their labor of love into something bigger and embraced by fans all over the world. Of course, unlike most of those acts, you never really knew who these supposed time-travelers were.

It turns out they’re not from the future — although they live in a timezone about 16 hours ahead of Vehlinggo HQ in New York. They’re brothers from Melbourne, Australia, named Jarome and Joel Harmsworth, who turned their love for the music of the VHS era into a project that helped to pioneer a genre later coined “synthwave.” (You’re still not going to get a photo of them, though.)

“We wrote all these songs [in 2008] that were so high-octane and action-oriented, and we were wondering what to do with them,” Jarome said in a Zoom chat Vehlinggo had with the brothers a few weeks ago. “We had this idea for Power Glove, but we never really thought we’d do it.”

Oh, but they did and they’ve shepherded their project through quite the journey.

Melbourne (AU), Melbourne City Centre
Photo Credit: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Melbourne (AU), Melbourne City Centre — 2019 — 1504-8” / CC BY-SA 4.0

When Vehlinggo caught up with the brothers, it was a crispy autumn Monday evening here in New York and a vibrant springtime Tuesday morning in Melbourne. The city, and the state of Victoria overall, were among the worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic this year in Australia. About five days after our interview, the city would finally come out of a 112-day lockdown. While 2020 may not be post-apocalyptic, it nevertheless offers a sizable dose of dystopia.

That’s hit home for the Harmsworth brothers. Whereas they used to be able to work on material together in a studio, now they’re sharing files over the internet. It’s an excruciating process — given what they say is the “shitty internet” they have in Australia — but Joel and Jarome are adapting and continuing to work on several projects they’ve been cooking up for some time.

They’re also riding high currently on their involvement in France Costrel’s Netflix documentary mini-series High Score, a pleasant antidote to 2020 that offers up a fun hit of nostalgia. Costrel taps into the rise, fall, and resurrection of video game popularity from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, zeroing in on things like Nintendo coming onto the scene with the NES and its war with Sega that brought us the powerhouse duo of SNES and Genesis.

One is reminded of when you could have a bunch of people over and play Super Mario Bros. 3, and have friendly battles over warp-whistle strategy as you drank Coke and ate a serviceable Domino’s pizza.

Kicking off each of the six episodes is Power Glove’s boisterous and propulsive “Feel It,” an original track laden with the duo’s formula of retro bliss blended with modern production. Although the duo have scored video games — in addition to Far Cry 3, they also scored the off-shoot Trials of the Blood Dragon — and they certainly were ahead of the pack on the ‘80s retro front, that wasn’t specifically what got them the High Score gig.

The Harmsworth brothers’ involvement with High Score is in part tied to the show’s staff listening to the latest Power Glove album, Playback, while in pre-production on the show.

“… I think it just clicked with them that maybe [we] would be suitable,” Jarome says.

Melissa Wood, a director and producer on the show, is a fan of Playback cut “Clutch” , Joel said, noting that he believes the producers used the song as a temp score on the show. The song served as a creative foundation for “Feel It.”

High Score is a captivating show — especially, if like me, you were a kid in the ‘80s. Power Glove were on board when, during initial talks, it sounded like it was going to be a high-level documentary about how games started and transformed in the ‘70s through the ‘90s. However, as the mini-series developed, it got even more interesting to them.

“…It was more like a collection of personal stories,” Jarome said. “That was cool to us, because it resonated with our own stories growing up as kids. I think for this particular documentary, that was what really stuck out to us as being something that was unique.”

The cover art for ‘EP1.’

The Birth of Power Glove

Before the Harmsworths scored video games or wrote a theme song for a doc, and before they released popular albums and EPs such as Playback, EP1, EPII, and Throwback, and certainly before they would feature in the documentary The Rise of the Synths, they were just a couple of kids living in a house in Melbourne with stray synths lying around.

“We were a very musical family,” Jarome said. “There was lots of jamming around. Although it wasn’t really until later that [Joel and I] would start producing together.”

The hand-me-down synths from their father were an instant draw for an eight-year-old Joel, who found that playing and performing “came naturally” to him.

Somewhere in there, they spent a few years in Hong Kong as kids, which also “had a tremendous impact on the music we write,” Jarome said.

So after spending their childhoods jamming together, it only made sense that they’d continue with it after they grew up and left their parents’ house. They’re close in general, and music has been a central part of that relationship.

Coming with them was one of Papa Glove’s synths: a Yamaha SY99, a synthesis and sampling powerhouse used by the likes of Vangelis and Chick Corea. When Joel and Jarome were writing the music for Blood Dragon, they laid down the core ideas on the SY99.

“[That synth] is almost 30 years old now,” Jarome said. “It’s running well and hasn’t been refurbished. It’s pretty cool.”

Inspired by the VHS era — mostly the ‘80s but also some of the ‘90s — Joel and Jarome set forth to play around with the synths under the name Power Glove, an obvious homage to Mattel’s short-lived accessory for the NES. (Although it got some major boosting in the Fred Savage- and Jenny Lewis-starring The Wizard, the Power Glove controller flopped and was discontinued in 1990, a year after its introduction.)

In 2008, when MySpace was the best place for DIY musicians to quickly post their music and reach a potentially huge audience, Joel and Jarome posted their first song. They joined the ranks of the Valerie Collective, Kavinsky, and Italians Do It Better, along with a host of early synthwavers, in maximizing the platform. (The Drive soundtrack is very much a MySpace album in some ways.) Other acts that got traction in those days included Canadian synthwave pioneer Michael Glover, who went by Actrazer, and more famously, Miami Nights 1984.

In those days, Jarome and Joel weren’t as obsessed with every nuance of a song as they are now. They didn’t obsess over the mix and such things. Interestingly enough, the brothers frame the early seasons of their Power Glove project as “a bit of a piss take, really.”

Even if it was more of a niche, fun exercise for them, they still were pumped by the tunes they were creating. They loved the music of early Steven Seagal films (and ‘80s action flicks in general) and wanted to create new music that re-lived that.

They talked about Power Glove as a theoretical project, but “we never really thought we’d do it,” he said. “But one thing led to another, and we created this MySpace [page] as a joke.”

This project, Power Glove, composed of two attorneys named Michael Dudikoff and Michael Biehn from 2043 Los Angeles, was now out in the world. They uploaded a two-minute, chiptune-esque number that has since disappeared into the ether.

“It was lost,” Jarome says. “It’s completely vanished.”

Another song, “Miami 2043,” has also been lost to the sands of time. Maybe it was on a long-dead hard drive somewhere — and its online form bit-crushed and overwritten on some server repurposed as MySpace was bought and sold into obscurity and irrelevance. Regardless, the loss of “Miami” is a bummer given its place in the Power Glover oeuvre.

“I don’t know if anybody even knows if it exists — that was our first real track, I think,” Jarome said.

Things started to heat up in 2010 for Joel and Jarome, when they released “Night Force” and the collection that houses it, EP1. (Some sources say EPI was released in 2012 or 2013, which is true for some platforms, but 2010 was when the duo uploaded the release to SoundCloud.)

“Obviously, when a project like Blood Dragon came along, we started to think we should probably start taking [Power Glove] more seriously,” Jarome said.

Power-Glove-Blood-Dragon-Far-Cry-3-Vinyl-Invada
Photo courtesy of Invada Records. Cover art by James White (Signalnoise).

Hobo with a Blood Dragon

Within a few years, the Brothers Harmsworth had racked up a healthy set of plays and a loyal following online. At the time, Joel and Jarome were sharing an apartment in Melbourne proper and “every day [were] just grinding in a good way,” Joel said. “It was pretty fun.” (Later, when their lives and careers progressed, they moved into their own homes and would create their music in a studio.)

In 2011, Power Glove provided “Hunters” to Canadian director Jason Eisener’s indie film Hobo with a Shotgun, starring Rutger Hauer. Their connection to Eisener would continue with his use of the duo’s “Vengeance” in his segment of The ABCs of Death. (Eisener would later go on to be an executive producer for RKSS’s Turbo Kid and serve as second-unit director for Adam Wingard’s Death Note.)

It was through Eisener that Jarome and Joel connected with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon director Dean Evans, who has since left the game’s maker, Ubisoft.

Evans had been a fan of Eisener’s style, telling Polygon in April 2013 that Hobo “feels like what a shooter should feel like.” The scene in particular that to Evans gave off an ‘80s action film vibe that he wanted for Blood Dragon was “The Plague” scene with Power Glove’s music.

“I immediately wanted this for a game… and so I called Jason,” Evans told Polygon.

Eventually, after some heavy back and forth, Jarome and Joel got on the phone with Evans. As the Harmsworths told Vehlinggo, Evans said he’d send them some concept art to check out.

“He didn’t really say much more,” Joel said. “He just said ‘think James Cameron and purple lasers’.” That hooked the brothers. “We knew we had to be a part of it,” Joel said.

“Think James Cameron and purple lasers…”

With an epic project at their feet, the Harmsworths wrote tons of musical compositions and ultimately sent Evans a 20-minute demo. It’s hard-telling in the moment what could happen. Would their flirtation with a major project such as this be just that or would they land the gig? Would this project they started for fun end up getting them a high-profile gig?

Evans soon answered those questions, getting back to Jarome and Joel with a resounding, “Do you want to score the entire soundtrack?”

The end result is a collection that lives on ad infinitum as part of the popular sequel, released in 2013. It’s a blast of overt ‘80s retro crossed with the duo’s grittier, and more tightly-wound, retro-tinged modern fare. They’re as comfortable referencing Brad Fiedel’s work on The Terminator or the film music of Harold Faltermeyer or Jan Hammer, as they are tapping into their bloghaus tendencies.

You can still buy the score in vinyl form via Invada Records. Ubisoft’s Trials of the Blood Dragon, which takes the Far Cry 3 vibe and applies it to a racer, would come in 2016. That’s also available via Invada.

In the wake of Far Cry 3 Jarome and Joel were riding high: their “piss take” became a professional project, and they were having a blast.

“Back then, during our Far Cry stage, it was just waking up, having breakfast, then just smashing out ideas on synthesizers,” Joel says. “It was awesome.”

power-glove-ep-ii-cover
The cover art for ‘EPII’ reveals a darker inclination.

A Pioneers’ Reckoning

In April 2015, in between video game soundtracks, the Harmsworths came up for a breath of fresh air and released EPII. The seven-cut EP got some heat from the synthwave scene because it wasn’t considered “‘80s enough.”

It was dark, dingy, and often had more in common with ‘90s electronic music or even contemporary tunes. At the time, I wrote the following about lead single “Punker”:

It’s like a marriage of the sultry dark R&B of The Wedidit Collective’s Purple and the debased hymns of Michigan-based witch house group SALEM. I enjoy both artists immensely and applaud Power Glove for taking a step in a different direction. 

Indeed, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that a band that released its first songs seven years prior would want to try something different. However, the dynamic isn’t unique to them. Their aforementioned MySpace contemporaries almost all faced a sort-of “pioneers’ reckoning” around that time.

Power Glove were so far ahead of their time with the ‘80s retro aesthetic of synthwave that by the time they were amassing more and more fans, the artists were ready for something else. Their artistic interests were a bit incongruent with what people wanted from them.

“We were ready to dive into something a bit different, but maybe it was too soon?” Jarome says. “Who knows?”

They’d finished Far Cry 3, which Joel says “was a huge project” that got a lot of the ‘80s elements out of their system.

“So the last thing we really wanted to do was dark arpeggios and ‘80s bells,” he said. “That’s where EPII came about. Our brains were into a different sound that we were trying to get out into the world.”

EPII was about capturing a very specific era.

“There was that early ‘90s vibe, where basketballs were smashing through windows in Michael Jackson’s ‘Jam’,” Joel said. “We really love that era.”

The younger Jarome and Joel would stay up late and come across what Jarome calls “bizarre” TV shows that required a bit of ingenuity to even get a decent signal.

“You’d have to be standing up and tuning the TV to make them actually appear,” he said.

Among those was Liquid Television, MTV’s hypnotic, off-the-wall animation showcase that aired from 1991-1995 and which counted its score composer as Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo (who also scored Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Rugrats (1991), among many others). In Australia, SBS carried Liquid Television, and in places like Canada it was on MuchMusic and in the UK it was on BBC Two. It was definitely the kind of show you’d watch in a dark, CRT-lit room.

Liquid Television was amazing,” Jarome says. “It had an incredible opening theme tune. That whole vibe as well we got into. We were still young — still kids at that point. It made sense to start exploring that [for EPII].”

The key here is that even if the rest of the world was just finally getting into ‘80s retro music in 2015 — thanks to films like Kung Fury, Turbo Kid and video games like, well, Far Cry 3 — Joel and Jarome weren’t about to be trend-chasers.

“We want to be writing music that we love and want to listen to, rather than just chasing what’s happening,” Joel said. It’s a balance, he adds, noting that they “want to be releasing stuff into the world that is connecting” with people, without sacrificing their core mission.

“We want to be writing music that we love and want to listen to…”

Even so, it’s not as if Power Glove just abandoned the ‘80s elements wholesale.

“We just needed to have a bit of time away from it,” Jarome says, adding that the time away from the classic Power Glove sound gave them a chance to refuel their creative juices to return to it. “We were a little bit exhausted after Blood Dragon, so having a bit of a break and then coming back I think was a good thing.”

In Joel’s view, the creative path comes in waves. Sometimes they do the more upbeat and brighter fare and sometimes they go a bit darker. But it’s always Power Glove.

“We do have stuff coming out that’s definitely more of that darker world… You dive into something, exhaust the idea, and then dive back into something else and exhaust that idea,” he said.  “It’s not one or the other. It’s just a mix of what mood we’re in really at the time in that particular year.”

This year, they’re sitting on about 100 tracks, including some cyberpunk fare.

“We never know how to release them, because they are so dark and they are so different,” Joel says. “That’s something that all starts slowly dripping out, I think.”

power-glove-playback-cover
Covert art for ‘Playback’ by Chrome and Lightning.

Playbacks and Throwbacks

One thing about creative exhaustion is that it can require not only a step back from one particular genre, but perhaps a step back from the act of creation altogether.

In the Harmsworths case, the invigorating but intense score work for the Blood Dragon games left them satisfied but tired. Although they’d have a song here or there on a compilation or single, they wouldn’t have another proper release until their debut full-length album, Playback, in May 2019, featuring that memorable cover art by Chrome and Lightning.

The following October would see the odds and sods EP Throwback, featuring unreleased rarities from Blood Dragon, Hobo With a Shotgun, and The ABC’s of Death. This year, they released the single “Brain Jack,” and of course “Feel It” from High Score got a single release last month.

“I wish we didn’t go so quiet after Blood Dragon,” Joel said, when I asked him and his brother if there was anything they’d do differently the past 12 years. “That’s probably the biggest thing, I reckon.”

“Because after that, we wanted to put an album together, and we thought we’d have it ready in six months. It took years instead of six months,” he continued. “It was just classic us. We’re just being meticulous over everything. That’s probably the biggest thing. We could have ridden that wave a bit better.”

But they’re not marketing people, they’re musicians, and in early 2015 the duo simply weren’t looking at their art through a marketing lens.

All was not lost, of course. Playback ended up being a success. The tight, propulsive, and melodic tracks, such as “Clutch,” were a bit of a return to form, albeit with a harder edge and, in this writer’s opinion, a dollop of French Touch.

“We wanted to encapsulate a kind of journey through the alleys and scum of a city, taking place in a brief moment from sundown to daybreak,” the duo told Vehlinggo at the time. “We kept the sound pretty open for this album: it was like a big exhale of ideas we’ve had brewing for a while. We love the idea that, by the end, listeners feel they’ve witnessed something dangerous go down, like some old R-rated VHS from a time gone by.”

A cursory look at the album’s Bandcamp page shows that the duo’s core mission is still alive: they made the music they wanted to that connected with fans.

“You know what’s better than Christmas, New Years, or my very own birthday? The day POWER GLOVE releases a new album.” – Bandcamp listener review.

“You know what’s better than Christmas, New Years, or my very own birthday? The day POWER GLOVE releases a new album,” Bandcamp user “Scottie” wrote in a review on the page. “And boy, let me tell ya, this one exceeded my wildest expectations. They’ve done it again, creating a goddamn instant masterpiece.”

Looking ahead, the Harmsworths are planning what to do with their treasure trove of ideas. Although they can’t work together in person, because of COVID, they have more time to iron out stuff apart from each other and share it over Australia’s mediocre internet lines.

“It’s a bit of a silver lining, because we’ve had to double down on some of these projects that are coming out the next few months,” Jarome says.

Among those projects is 2043, which is a darker, angrier cyberpunk EP that will come out later this year or early next year, according to Joel.

“It’s more of the EPII style, where we get to put that feel… that music into some releases, while we chip away at another album,” he said.

They’re also working on getting to the point of having full-on, bona fide live shows, if we ever get a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve done a few sets in the past, but are looking to expand on that. They said they could foresee having holograms for their characters — which to me says they want to continue the Power Glove trend of obscuring who they actually are in favor of focusing on the fantastic music and epic, engaging visuals.

“Who knows, maybe next year we can think about doing a tour or something,” Jarome says. “It’s always been an end game for us to do that.”

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