Cobra Starship interview

A chat with the Kaiser Chiefs

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For better or worse, the majority of the interviews that I've done in my time have been on the phone; it's just the nature of the beast when one isn't based in a major hub of the entertainment industry. In a rare moment, however, Bullz-Eye was offered the opportunity to do an in-person interview with the band Cobra Starship. They are best known for their contribution to the soundtrack of a certain Samuel L. Jackson film that shall remain nameless, although, if it helps narrow it down for you, the song was entitled "Bring It (Snakes On A Plane). Obviously, it was a little intimidating to speak to the band on their tour bus, since I don't generally do many of these in-person interviews, but I was put at ease at the exact moment the band's tour manager, Tom, introduced me to them. 

"This is Will Harris, began Tom, "and he's a writer with 

Suddenly, guitarist Ryland Blackinton erupted, "Are you fucking kidding me? The Guys' Portal to the Web…? Girl Next Door? 

Swear to God, although, at first, Tom couldn't believe Ryland was on the level. "For real, dude? 

"I'm serious, confirmed Blackinton. "For a brief, brief period of time, I was only into softcore porn, and that was my source!" He quickly clarifies to his bandmates, however, that, in addition to the bikini-clad babes that are Bullz-Eye's bread and butter, the site is full of "all sorts of cool shit". 

You know, it's one thing to know that the site gets millions of unique hits every month, but it's quite another to walk into an interview with a band and have one of the members get legitimately excited at the mere mention of the words " 

Anyway, after a beginning like that, you can imagine that things were pretty laid back for the duration of our conversation. 

Bullz-Eye: So you guys formed from the ashes of the band Midtown? 

Gabe Saporta (lead singer): I'll let Ryland field this question, since he's an objective observer. 

Ryland Blackinton (guitarist): Well, uh…Gabe being the only member, I don't think that that would constitute as being "from the ashes. You know what I mean? If it were two of us, then maybe. But it was just Gabe's old band. 

GS: I kind of arose personally from Midtown. And once I was arisen, then I got these guys. 

RB: If the ashes were Gabe, then, yes, I guess you could say that it was. But Alex and I are both from another band called Ivy League. 

Alex Suarez (bassist): Hence the term "super group. 

RB: (laughs

BE: So…Snakes on a Plane. 

GS: (mock confusion) Sorry, snakes on a…? 

BE: Of course. 

All: (laughter

RB: So, anyway, "Snakes on a Plane… 

BE: Right. Awesome song, and the video's an all-star line-up, but who was actually on the song when it was recorded? 

RB: Gabe can answer that one for you. 

GS: On the song was William Beckett from The Academy Is..., Travis McCoy from Gym Class Heroes, and, of course, we needed some sexy legs, so we got Maja (Ivarsson) from The Sounds. That actually was…I did that song before I even had the whole band together, and I basically got my friends to help me launch it. And those dudes…that's why a lot of people think that Cobra Starship is a super group because that's the first thing we did, with those dudes from other bands, but Cobra Starship is really these dudes right here. 

BE: And did you actually pay them anything to be in the video, or did they just do it so they could meet Samuel L. Jackson? 

GS: Nah, they just wanted to be in the video with Samuel L. 

All: (laughter

GS: I mean, the whole thing ended up being beneficial. Everyone kind of did it at first…well, Travis and William did it at first to help me out, because those are my boys. I toured with them a bunch when I was in Midtown.  

RB: But you're right, it did turn out being pretty advantageous for them as well. 

GS: Yeah, for everybody. Maja got involved…we didn't even really know Maja; we were just fans of The Sounds. 

RB: That was a New Line thing.  

GS: Exactly. But they got her involved because they saw that it was going to be …they thought that it was going to be a really good thing, and it ended up being good for everybody all the way around. For us, having Maja just gave a little more credibility to the song. 

RB: A little push. 

GS: Yeah. And for her, it exposed her to a new audience as well, so, for everybody, there was a very symbiotic appeal. 

RB: Excellent use of the word "symbiotic. 

GS: Thank you. 

BE: Were you prepared for the inevitable backlash from people who saw the video at the end of the film and said, "Oh, well, there's nothing to these guys beyond this song? 

GS: Yeah. 

Ryland Blackinton on contributing to Atlantic Records' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack: "Literally, they approached us. After a show one night, in an alley. You ever see that scene in 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' with Slugworth? It was like that. The lighting really wasn't that great, we weren't sure who it was, we didn't know if it was an informant or a spy or whatever."
RB: It's still a reference point that you sometimes have to use when you talk to somebody. Like, a perfect example is today, when stepping out of the bus, a wandering pedestrian says, "What band are you with? And you say, "Cobra Starship, and they say, "Never heard of you. And you can see they're wondering why they've never heard of you but you're in a bus, so you just say, "You know 'Snakes on a Plane'? They're, like, "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! "That song. "Okay! All right, all right! We obviously have to move past that, but sometimes we need to let people who aren't necessarily squares but are also not… 

GS: I think the thing is also the fact that "Snakes on a Plane was such a scene…it came from a certain scene. Like, us, Academy, Gym Class, we're all on Decaydance (Records), y'know. It's a very "scene production, so I think all the kids that are really into it all knew what was up. The thing is, it got bigger than we expected, so there was a lot of mainstream recognition, so then the mainstream people who don't know us or The Academy Is… or Gym Class Heroes, they're, like, "Oh, Cobra Starship, they're 'Snakes on a Plane.' But for the majority of the people, I think they knew what was going on. 

RB: Yeah, especially now. 

GS: Even so, though, we knew we were going to have to have that battle, that that was going to be an obstacle for us, that people were going to think it was just a shtick, just a one-off for the movie, but we were prepared for that. That's why we put a record out so quickly, that's why we went on tour so quickly. 

RB: It's a challenge, but it's a pretty exciting challenge, too. 

GS: Yeah, and it's worth it, too. 

RB: Totally worth it. 

BE: Part of the same battle, I guess, was people saying, "Oh, their song is about snakes, they've got a name that has a snake in it. 

RB: Absolutely. Yeah. But the finalizer on that one is, y'know, you can go see when Gabe registered his MySpace page. 

GS: Boo-yah. 

AS: Boo-yah. 

GS: Boo-yah. In your face. 

RB: Exactly. So we'll leave that one at that. 

AS: Yeah. We had it first. Sorry, buddy! 

BE: Were you secretly pleased when Bloc Party had to drop out of the Panic! At The Disco tour, allowing ya'll to take over the opening spot on the tour? 

RB: No way. 

GS: What are you talking about? It was no secret! We loved it! 

RB: Yeah! (laughs) Lemme say that we were definitely stoked to have the opportunity, but we weren't…the circumstances, which involved the collapsed lung of their drummer, were nothing that anyone was excited about. But I know what you mean. It was fortuitous for us, as Gabe would say. 

AS: We were very fortunate to have that chance. 

RB: Ah, here's Nate Navarro, our young drummer! Nate, this is for a website that I love, and that I know I've shown to you before. It's called 

Nate Navarro (drummer): Yeah! 

RB: That's what this is for. 

NN: Awesome! How're you doing? 

AS: Pretty good. Will Harris, good to meet you. 

RB: I'm trying to get a premium membership comped out of him, but we'll see how the interview goes. 

BE: Actually, I don't even have one yet, but I'll see what I can do. 

RB: Really? Oh, wow.  

BE: So how's this tour going? 

AS: Awesome. 

RB: Very well. 

GS: Let me just quote from a recent live review… 

All: (laughter

RB: Yeah, right. But, no, it's gone well. 

BE: Did you pick up a lot of new fans from the Panic! shows? 

RB: Absolutely. 

GS: Oh, without a doubt. 

Gabe Saporta: "We didn't want to be just a pop culture footnote or a flash in the pan. So we kind of have been building a fanbase slowly over the past five months, and our record sales are still holding steady."AS: There's actually a huge difference when we perform on the West Coast, as opposed to the East Coast, because going back through the West Coast after Panic! at the Disco, a lot of kids came out and said, "Oh, I saw you guys with Panic! And our shows are very successful out there, and we have a good time doing them. 

BE: I feel really old tonight. 

RB: Why? Because of the crowd? Dude, we're grandpas on this tour! I'm 24, I'm not getting any younger, and all these little shitkickers are, like, 19. The other guys in the bands, I mean.  

AS: Dude, they're like 12 and 13! 

RB: No, man, I'm talking about guys in the other bands. 

AS: (muffled) …is 23 or 24. The drummer. 

RB: Oh, really? Okay, that stokes me. 

BE: Now, did you know the guys in any of these other bands you're playing with right now beforehand? 

RB: No. I think Nate knew some of them, and Gabe might've known some of them, but… 

GS: Yeah, I knew Cartel and Boys Like Girls. 

RB: …but I didn't know anybody. 

AS: And, yet, you came on, and now you're, like, best friends. 

RB: Oh, yeah. We always assimilate with the people that we get to buddy up with on these tours. 

GS: There's one object that unites everybody. 

RB: A good old-fashioned American handshake. That's right, Gabe. 

All: (laughter

GS: Oh, is your mom going to read this one, too? 

RB: Definitely. 

BE: She's a big fan of as well, then? 

RB: Yeah. She just looks at my history on my Firefox browser. It's a drag, but I always forget to clear it. 

BE: I try to wipe mine every once in awhile. 

RB: Smart man. 

BE: So next up is the Honda Civic Tour? 

RB: Next up is the Honda Civic Tour. April 18, we'll embark on a nationwide tour with Fall Out Boy. 

GS: Probably one of the biggest tours of the year. 

RB: Definitely the biggest tour of our lives. 

GS: Yeah. 

RB: The Academy Is...., now there's a tour where we do know nearly everyone that we're playing with, with the exception of Paul Wall and the guys from +44. 

GS: When Pete (Wentz from Fall Out Boy) appeared in the "Snakes on a Plane video, did that up ya'll's credibility instantaneously? 

RB: I think, I think it just helped people make an association. 

GS: The whole thing with the "Snakes on a Plane video, like I said, it was a whole scene thing, like it was all coming from a certain family, and I think his appearance just re-enforced that idea. 

BE: You guys have a new song on the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack. 

RB: Absolutely. 

BE: How did that come about? Did they approach you, or did you hear about the film and try to get onboard? 

GS: No, they approached us. 

RB: Yeah, they approached us. 

GS: They said, "We've seen what you can do for snakes, but what can you do for turtles? 

RB: But, literally, they approached us. After a show one night, in an alley. You ever see that scene in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Slugworth? It was like that. The lighting really wasn't that great, we weren't sure who it was, we didn't know if it was an informant or a spy or whatever…because these are things that we deal with every day. But they approached us. It was the living embodiment of Atlantic Records, and it just gave us the opportunity to do it. And it was a really fun thing to do. We went back, well, I personally got really overzealous about it, and I went back and listened to all the other "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtracks, and I just thought it would be so cool to do a little shout-out to one of the older songs. 

GS: They were toying with the idea of, basically, we wanted to have Vanilla Ice on it. 

Ryland Blackinton: "If someone wants to throw me a complimentary premium membership to, I'm not gonna be bummed out about that. I'm gonna be really happy."RB: Yeah, things like that. We wanted to make references to the older songs. The original title of the song got nixed for the self-same reason. Fortunately, Gabe already had a song that he had demoed, so we just sort of fleshed that out.  

BE: What was the original title? 

RB: The original title was "Bebop Versus Rock Steady. 

AS: Which doesn't even really make sense. 

RB: Because they're teammates, yeah. But, then, we try to make as little sense as possible. 

AS: We were predicting…well, now, wait, maybe we might be giving away something about the movie. 

RB: Or giving out ideas for the next movie. 

BE: I'll be sure to put "Spoiler Alert right above this portion of the interview. 

RB: Definitely. 

BE: Are ya'll "Turtles fans? 

All: Absolutely. 

RB: Obviously, our age group – the early '20s – that was our heyday, to have Ninja Turtles toys. I remember, being from Massachusetts, and Springfield is where the creator of the Turtles (Peter Laird) lived, and there was a big scene there. 

AS: Is that true? 

RB: Yeah. My uncle lived in his building, apparently, and that's when I first got Ninja Turtles stuff. I got it when it first came out. I got a foot soldier, and I think Raphael, 'cause he was my favorite. 

AS: Our merch guy has turtle thumbs! 

RB: Dan? Yeah, he's got turtle thumbs. Short, fat, huge, fat thumbs. 

GS: Geez! 

RB: They're awesome! I'm just describing them! 

AS: He'd be so happy to know that we've brought this up. 

GS: I don't think that's true, bro. I don't think he's psyched about his thumbs. 

RB: Well, he fucking should be! They're awesome! I told those guys, I said, "How're you doing tonight? And he goes (Gives the thumbs-up sign, but with his thumbs at a strange angle.

GS: How do you do that? My thumb doesn't bend backwards. 

AS: Mine bends way back. (demonstrates) Does it go that way? Or does it go that way? 

RB: You're double-jointed. Neat. 

BE: My toes are actually double-jointed. 

RB: Really? And they still won't give you a membership at 

BE: I know, right? You'd think it'd be worth that, at least.  

GS: You really don't have a membership? 

BE: I never asked for one! I mean, it wasn't like when I joined up, they said, "Okay, here's your first check, and here's your membership. 

RB: If you can finagle one for me, I will, I will rep you guys. I mean, I will talk about it every show

AS: What does it cost? 

RB: More than I got, man. 

BE: Seriously, though, I'll talk to our CEO. 

RB: Scope it out. 

AS: It can't be but so much. 

RB: Maybe $9.95 a month. (Writer's note: it's actually $12.95 a month.) 

GS: What does a membership entitle you to? The porn stuff? 

BE: The slightly more provocative but still not naked shots. I believe there are more strategically-placed fingertips and whatnot. But there is no porn, per se. 

GS: So all the intellectual content is free? 

BE: Absolutely. 

RB: Wait, you guys have intellectual content? No, I'm just messing with you. It's like SportsByBrooks. Do you know that website? It's very similar, except that they're more sports-oriented than pop culture. (pauses) I'm sorry that I just repped another website. You can scratch all that. 

BE: I'll edit it all out. 

RB: Perfect.  

BE: Do ya'll still bring someone up from the audience to do the rap during "Snakes on a Plane? 

RB: Absolutely. Every show. 

GS: It's the best part of the show, because that always bring a certain level of uncertainty and unpredictability, you know? You don't know what's gonna happen, because are they gonna know it? Are they not gonna know it? 

RB: Are they just gonna scream and then hug you and faint? 

GS: Or are they gonna stab you in the neck? 

BE: So there's no pre-screening? 

RB: No pre-screening. 

Alex Suarez on the next album: "We're starting to come up with concepts as far as what we want to do for the next record – I think we all kind of want to tap into a lot of electronic stuff: a lot of synthesizers, a lot of beats, a lot of '80s influences – but I don't think anything's really been specifically picked out yet."

GS: That's actually why, on the Panic! at the Disco tour, we weren't allowed to do it. Our insurance considerations were such that… 

RB: On a tour of that magnitude… 

AS: We're probably not going to be able to do it on the Fall Out Boy tour. 

GS: We're definitely not going to be able to do it on the Fall Out Boy tour. 

RB: No way. 

GS: It's the exact same thing. 

RB: So the trick is gonna be getting Paul Wall to do it. 

GS: (Exhales in excitement at the thought.

AS: I think that's gonna be hard, though, because, y'know, Travis Barker has a band with Paul Wall. 

GS: So what? 

AS: So I think they might be doing a little collab. 

RB: So Paul Wall will just be busy. He'll be happy. 

GS: I don't think so, man. I think Mark was pretty much, like, "Hey, man, this is +44. You need to go do your hip-hop thing someplace else. 

AS: "You take your hip-hop out of here, all right, mister? 

RB: (laughs

AS: "Your hip and your hop! 

GS: "Just hop away. 

RB: (Abruptly affects a voice not unlike a Chipmunk and begins to rap.) I'm the Easter Bunny, and I'm here to say that I like hangin' out with the magic eggs, now get up, get up! 

BE: (hesitates) I'm never going to be able to do that justice. 

RB: Yeah, yeah. 

BE: So how's the album doing as a whole? 

GS: We just broke 40,000 records this week, so it's, like… 

RB: So you be the judge! 

GS: (laughs

RB: We just broke 40,000 this week. We'll let you decide. 

GS: I think overall that our whole attitude has been that we wanted to take this grass roots approach, especially after all the hype of "Snakes On A Plane. We didn't want to be just a pop culture footnote or a flash in the pan. So we kind of have been building a fanbase slowly over the past five months. Our record sales are still holding steady, they're not dropping down. Usually, when you put out an album, five months later, you're not selling anymore, but we're still selling records, which is awesome. And we've got the biggest tour of our lives coming up now, so the future's wide open. 

RB: Exactly. We take everything one show at a time.  

GS: Humble beginnings. 

RB: Humble beginnings. 

BE: And I'm sure MySpace has helped in no small way. 

RB: (mock confusion) Sorry, My…? 

BE: Exactly. 

GS: (With slightly exaggerated excitement.) We're about to break 100,000 friends this week! 

RB: Are we really? 

GS: Yeah, we are. 

RB: That's great. Yeah, joke about it all you want, but it's definitely a great marketing tool. Are you on there? 

BE: Yeah. 

RB: Really? 

BE: Yeah. As is Bullz-Eye. 

RB: Really! (lasciviously) What about the, uh, girls?  

BE: Um… 

RB: I'm just kidding. I'm not a creep. I'm really kidding. I'm sorry. 

AS: Sure you are.  

GS: But for real. 

RB: Yeah, but for real. Gimme their numbers. Yeah, yeah, yeah! 

BE: (To Gabe.) Oh, nice bio, by the way. (Writer's note: the band's official website has a bio of Gabe which paints a dramatic – and clearly fictional – picture of how he moved from Uruguay to Queens, N.Y., where, among other events, his father sold scarves on the street to pay for his son's rock star future. There's also an elaborate story about how young Gabe had a strange encounter with a talking snake which led to the creation of Cobra Starship.

GS: (laughs) Thanks. Did you see this girl's reenactment of it? 

BE: No, I didn't! 

Cobra StarshipGS: This little girl and her brother did a reenactment of the bio, where they just act the whole thing out. It's beautiful. Actually, it's on MySpace. This girl's 15, and her brother's, like, 8, and she makes her brother play me, wearing a hoodie and meditating in the desert. It's fucking hilarious, dude. 

BE: Did you write the bio yourself? 

GS: Yeah. My whole idea, dude, is go big or go home. You know what I'm saying, dude? You've gotta have big visions, big ideas. We all have big ideas here. (Points to Alex.) Alex, he had a big idea one day. 

AS: (uncertainly) What was it? 

GS: I dunno. Something about…sandwiches? I don't know.  

AS: (impressed) Wow… 

All: (laughter

AS: Oh, wait! I had a really big idea last night, too…but I forgot what it was. 

GS: What was it? 

AS: If I think of it… 

GS: You need to write these things down, dude. 

AS: I know. And it was a really good idea, too. 

GS: I have a little book, it says "ideas. I keep it right by me, in case I have one. 

BE: Okay, a couple of obvious questions. Who do you consider your biggest influences? Because the album has an '80s feel, but it's not a particularly derivative one. 

RB: Well, in all truth, Alex and myself had very little to do with what you hear on the album. 

GS: Not true, guys. I mean, listen… 

AS: Ted Leo and I worked on that one song together; that was pretty cool… 

RB: This is a question for Gabe, mostly. 

AS: …but, unfortunately, we've never met him. 

GS: I think that, for me, I wanted to make a record that represented a bunch of different pieces. I think that most people growing up, at different points, you listen to different kinds of music. So what I did was, I went back to the stuff that I used to listen to when I was real young, like, 8 or 9. You listen to it again now, and it's almost funny. So we just found a way to make it funny but also cool. (Falls silent.

RB: Right, so that's the idea, the concept: it's funny and cool. 

AS: We're starting to come up with concepts as far as what we want to do for the next record. I think we all kind of want to tap into a lot of electronic stuff: a lot of synthesizers, a lot of beats, a lot of '80s influences. But I don't think anything's really been specifically picked out yet. 

RB: Nope. It could be baroque chamber pop. You know what I mean? Putting guidelines around what we want the next album to sound like is the last thing we want to do.  

AS: I think the best advice we've gotten yet was from Mike (Carden) from The Academy Is… He was, like, "Look, writing on the road is really tough. It's not that easy. So take everything you want to use as an influence, and then when you get home, take it all apart and start to write new songs. 

GS: So, copy it. Take everything you learn… 

AS: …and rip it off. 

RB: I don't remember who I got this from, or, rather, I just don't want to say who it was, but it's not about who you rip off. It's about how many people you rip off. If you rip off 27 different bands, you might not sound like any of them, but if you're one of those bands who just rips off two, then you're gonna sound like Tool and the Deftones. You know what I mean? It's just the way it works. 

BE: Have you guys bought anything new recently that you want to plug? 

RB: Musically? 

BE: Yeah. 

RB: This isn't too new, but we plug it all the time, anyway: Ratatat, which is a band from Brooklyn that we're really into. Doesn't lose its sheen. We listen to it, I guess, almost every day; it's on our intro CD. Other stuff is…who's that French guy you're listening to? 

GS: Kavinsky

RB: Kavinsky. 

GS: They're all, like, DJs and weird shit. 

RB: But it's relevant. 

GS: There's a guy from Daft Punk in there. 

RB: Peter, Bjorn and John. I really like that a lot. I was listening to our friend Michael Leviton just a minute ago. A lot of Swedish pop for me, specifically Jens Lekman and Suburban Kids with Biblical Names

AS: I mean, we pretty much all listen to the same stuff. 

RB: We've all been listening to the same stuff. 

GS: And, obviously, we also listen to all the bands on Decaydance: Gym Class Heroes, The Academy Is…, Panic! at the Disco… 

RB: And pretty soon we're gonna get to hear the new Academy record. 

BE: Any last words? 

RB: (Blows very long raspberry.

All: (laughter

BE: Come on, give us a good soundbite. 

RB: A good soundbite? Oh, but it won't translate into print. Well, I guess just for the guys that read Bullz-Eye, we just wanna say what's up and if we come to a town near you, come out, give us a listen, buy the record, and maybe I'll see you. (pauses) Is there a Bullz-Eye chat room? 

BE: Not as of yet. 

RB: Okay. Well, that's something that I'd like to get worked on. 

BE: I'll have the boys in Marketing get right on that. 

RB: And I just wanna say, since third time's the charm, if someone wants to throw me a complimentary premium membership, I'm not gonna be bummed out about that. I'm gonna be really happy. 

BE: I swear, I really am going to ask our CEO. 

RB: Excellent. So, from Cobra Starship, this is Ryan Blackinton… 

AS: …Alex Suarez… 

GS: …and Gabe Saporta… 

RB: …signing off. 

BE: Hey, thanks. That'll help with the transcription. 

And if you were wondering, yes, our CEO did give Ryland a Premium Membership to How could we possibly refuse a guy who was so enthusiastic about our site?