Mike Ragogna: Gabe, Cobra Starship’s latest, “Never Been In Love,” features Icona Pop. Who’s idea was this mighty union and what was the collaboration like?
Gabe Saporta: We had been wanting to do a collaboration with Icona Pop since we first heard them! They signed to our label and we got the chance to do one of the official remixes of “I Love It” a few years back. Wallpaper, the producer of this track, had been working on some other songs with them so it happened organically!
MR: After having platinum-selling releases and appearing on major television shows, what is it about Cobra Starship that’s working this well?
GS: Wow, thanks so much. Hmmm. I guess it’s two things: I think the fact that we came from the underground touring world and really worked our way step by step has made us not take anything for granted. So we do a good job of being naturally excited and not getting in our own way! The other thing is that when I started Cobras, I wanted it to be a vehicle for me to experiment with lots of different musical styles and production techniques. I fought very hard to not be put into a box, and that gave us the fluidity to grow and not get stuck somewhere along the road.
MR: How has your creative approach — writing and the recording process — evolved or changed since success has been kicking in?
GS: Ha. Great question. I feel that what happens often to artists is they are left alone until they have a hit. Our first real hit felt almost like a fluke — “Good Girls Go Bad” — but immediately afterwards we had a lot more people giving us a lot more opinions. Sometimes those opinions are invaluable and other times they’re just noise. Learning how to navigate between the two has definitely been a good learning experience for me.
MR: How has Cobra Starship’s live show grown over the last couple of years? Has it had to embrace new tech to present a changing show, and what is it like to be performing to the increasing crowd numbers?
GS: We were able to add a good friend of ours as a percussion player, we added more instrumentation. We had to figure out a light show, confetti, all that good stuff. All the exciting technology for live performance to me is happening around lighting and led screens. That can really take a show to the next level. But ultimately what wins is showmanship. When we started out we were used to playing to people who stared at us like “wtf is this?” And we learned to win them over. When you start playing big festivals and more mainstream crowds you are going to run into many people who may only know one of your songs. Remembering what it was like to play for 20 people who had never heard of you before comes in handy
MR: Do you have a vision of where Cobra Starship is heading?
GS: Yes! I’ve been drawing a lot of inspiration from early ’90s UK dance-rock, when bands like Jesus Jones and EMF and even INXS — although they were Aussies — were first experimenting blending break beats in a live band context. I also think that for us, because of where we come from, it always important to stand slightly outside the norm.
MR: Do you keep an eye on your contemporaries to either stay current or to enjoy what they’re doing?
GS: I go through waves. Sometimes I get frustrated when I don’t connect to something, other times I get excited when something throws me for a loop. And sometimes I like being completely immersed in what’s going on and other times I just need to disconnect
MR: Gabe, you were a new act at one point. What advice would you give to new artists that are looking for a few useful tips on how to further their art or musical careers?
GS: When I was a kid I used to sneak backstage at shows and pretend to be a reporter in order to get a few questions in with some of my favorite artists. One of those artists, Dr Frank, from The Mr. T Experience said to me “I was never a great singer, and I was never a great guitar player, but I love music and I just kept banging it out. And when you love something and you keep banging away at it, eventually something good will come out.” That’s the best advice I ever got. I would expound on that by saying that passion is contagious… If people feel you love something they will be drawn to it also. The other lesson here is the power of perseverance, a lot of times we give up on something when it doesn’t come out right away. I see this especially with more talented people; unlike those who are less gifted, they expect things to be great always. Unfortunately, the nature of art necessitates struggle. What makes great art is not great talent, but rather great effort.
MR: Would you have told this to a young Gabe Saporta just starting out?
GS: I would have had it tattooed on young Gabe Saporta’s forehead
MR: [laughs] In your opinion, what is the best thing about Cobra Starship that separates what it’s presenting from the other many talented, successful bands on the scene today?
GS: I think what’s unique about Cobras is all the contrasts elements and forces fighting against each other that create a beautiful kind of tension. I also think our approach to the music “business” has given us a unique kind of connection with our fans.
MR: What does the future for Cobra Starship looking like? Any surprises coming?
GS: I am just excited to finish our new album and get back on the road.