Power of Words and Music

Guitarist Blake Ibanez relishes the band Power Trip's Grammy Award nomination after lead singer Riley Gale's death and a tumultuous year.
Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón
Power Trip band members
Power Trip is (from left to right) Riley Gale (’10), Chris Ulsh, Blake Ibanez (’16), Nick Stewart and Chris Whetzel

For the Dallas-based band Power Trip, 2020 started off great. They had performed in Asia and were about to cut a new album.

But the coronavirus pandemic forced them to postpone their tour to Europe. Then lead singer Riley Gale ('10) died suddenly in August of unspecified causes.

So, when the band was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance for their song, Executioner's Tax (Swing of the Axe) (Live), it was bittersweet -- but a big, and welcome, surprise.

"It was pretty exciting," says guitarist Blake Ibanez ('16). "With this whole year, it was a much-needed shot in the arm to get excited about something."

The makings of a band

Power Trip began when Ibanez, then 16, frequently attended shows in Dallas-Fort Worth and ran into Gale, then 21, who had an idea for a band, in late 2007. Ibanez, who lived in Fort Worth, drove up to Richardson, and they recorded a demo. Soon, they began playing around the metroplex.

Power Trip worked slowly and steadily, playing gigs for 10 years. Ibanez combined performing with the band with completing his education, majoring in marketing in the G. Brint Ryan College of Business. Power Trip is an LLC.

"There are definitely things from my classwork I can apply to being in a band," he says. "It's essentially a business."

Although Ibanez was attending one of the nation's best music schools, he didn't see his guitar playing from an academic perspective. He took lessons as a kid, but mostly taught himself how to play and developed an ear for music.

But Gale's UNT education did show in his writing. Although metal has a reputation for its anti-mainstream attitude, Gale was an English major who read authors such as philosopher Michel Foucault.

"He was very intelligent when it came to writing," Ibanez says. "He represented a lot of things that are missing in the metal scene."

Ibanez noted that Gale didn't lecture people in his songs.

"There was a punk-ness and attitude in there, but a friend once described it as 'smart anger,'" Ibanez says. "He was able to convey those messages in a way average people could understand."

Honored and grateful

The band began to take off around Ibanez's senior year. But he was determined to earn his degree, and skipped a U.S. tour that spring.

Power Trip's 2017 album, Nightmare Logic, won them attention. They were touring with Trivium, Lamb of God, Anthrax, Exodus, Obituary and Cannibal Corpse, and those bands' fans were discovering them. Gale even worked with rapper Ice-T, who has his own metal band, Body Count.

Although the pandemic and Gale's death have changed things, the band still wants to stick together.

"For the four of us, this is all we know," Ibanez says. "We love doing what we do."

Gale's legacy will live on. Dallas Hope Charities' homeless shelter for LGBTQ+ youth -- the Dallas Hope Center Riley Gale Location -- was named for him after the metal rock community poured donations to the charity after his death. The center, which opened in November, also includes a library named after Gale that supports his love of books.

"He was able to make an impact in such a short time," says Evie Scrivner, the organization's chief executive officer.

And now the band has earned the Grammy nomination.

"We're very honored and grateful to be nominated," Ibanez says. "It makes all of us proud to put DFW and UNT on the map. Even if we don't win, we get to say 'Grammy nominated' and that's cool."

Learn more about all the UNT-connected 2020 Grammy nominees.

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