After braving a flood and grid-lock traffic that caused them to arrive two hours late to their concert, Cobra Starship still found time to conduct an interview with Driven Far Off. I was lucky enough to sit down with the genial and articulate guitar and keyboard player, Ryland Blackinton (far left in picture), at the Picador in Iowa City, IA, and ask him a few questions.
A huge thanks goes out to Kelly McWilliam of Atlantic Records, Dan Lipski, and Ryland Blackinton for making this interview happen.
– How did you and the others get involved in the band?
R: Alex and I went to high school together in Florida, and we had our own band together that Gabe came to see a couple of times on a recommendation from his old drummer Rob Hitt, who lives downstairs from Alex, and he asked us to join.
– Did you always aspire to be in a band, or when did it become a goal?
R: It just happened by accident. I’ve always been a musician, but I never wanted to be in a band professionally. I never really thought it was very practical or realistic-I still don’t-but somehow it worked out. So I’m just very fortunate and I feel very thankful that it has worked out for me thus far. I always wanted to be an actor; I wanted to do movies.
– You guys released your most recent album, ¡Viva La Cobra!, at the end of last year. How does that album differ from the previous one?
R: The record before was one that Gabe did by himself with some producers, and even though there were some really good songs on that one, he was working under a deadline and had to do it very quickly. We, however, were able to spend a lot of time on tour as a band writing ¡Viva La Cobra!, and I think the songs are little bit more diverse, and there’s a wider spectrum on the album in terms of the sound of the songs, which sounds different to me.
– What is the process for writing the lyrics and melodies?
R: Gabe does the lyrics for the most part and melodies, and we split up the duties for the music amongst us.
– Who or where do you draw your inspiration from?
R: Other music inspires me. I like Ratatat a lot, and for writing and stuff as well we’re really influenced by Chromeo and Justice and Cassius; bands like that. We’re big fans of that kind of music so that’s usually a reference point for us.
– What is the main theme running throughout your music?
R: Well, we like to have a lot of fun when we play, so we try to make songs that will be fun for us to play on stage, so I guess fun would be the theme. We take into consideration what it’s going to be like to play songs live when we write them, and that’s a big part of our edict in terms of song writing.
– Your music reaches out to a wide audience; do you ever have any fans that surprise you in terms of their demographics?
R: Yeah, absolutely. Last night a 46 year old couple wanted an autograph on a t-shirt, and I thought that was really cool. I think it’s interesting the way that obviously young kids like it, but also their moms like to like, work out to it and be like, “I was on the treadmill for two hours listening to your record, and I loved it!” If our music helps you lose a few pounds, I think that’s pretty cool too; stay in shape. That’s what we do.
– What emotions do you hope the band’s music evokes in fans?
R: A sort of frivolity; we hope that they feel like it’s not too serious, because we don’t take it too seriously. So hopefully if someone’s having a really emotionally heavy, serious week, they can listen to something really fluffy and lighthearted like our music and it will maybe give them new perspective. Maybe they will forget their problems for a little while, hopefully. That’s ambitious, but maybe.
– Are you working on any side projects currently?
R: Yeah, Alex and I are in a band called This is Ivy League.
– Do you find it difficult to divide the time between both bands?
R: Yeah, it can be tough, but we’ve already been able to have two releases; we just released a record in April. The only thing that we’re not able to do, unfortunately, is tour as extensively with Ivy League as we do with Cobra, but it hasn’t been a hindrance thus far. We know that eventually we will have an opportunity to tour, and when we do, we will.
– Who came up with the Cobra fangs up gang sign?
R: It was Gabe. Gabe had the bright idea of having some sort of a gang sign that lets everybody know that they are a member. It catches on because it’s good to have a signal, I think. It’s like Jay-Z’s “throw your diamonds up” type of thing, except not that gangsta, sorry. That’s where the idea came from though.
– Music-wise, what do you hope to accomplish within the next few years.
R: Just to continue to make music and continue to tour is really a blessing to me and to the rest of us as well. I don’t think we have any real solid goals; we’re not trying to take over the world. We’re just trying to continue to write music that is fun and people can dance to and it’s catching on. We’ve been openers for a lot of other bands, and to see their fans come and become our fans is a really cool thing. So hopefully just to continue to make fans and to continue to tour.
– What do you find the most challenging aspect of being on tour?
R: I like to shower a lot; I love hygiene. I like to smell nice; not be too greasy. So that’s a problem because we don’t have opportunities to shower very often, and sometimes we play a show and it’s hot, and you’re sweating, and you just have to deal with it. It’s really gross. I also bore pretty easily. There’s a lot of downtime, and sometimes I just get really anxious. So that’s the only tough thing for me, but I just got some gear and a new computer-my new Mac-and that’s keeping me pretty occupied.
– Is it difficult being in small living quarters with the same people everyday?
R: It’s not difficult; it can get dicey sometimes. You can put two of the best friends ever in a room for three months without giving them the chance to go anywhere else, and there’s probably going to be some menial conflicts, nothing too serious, but every once in a while we just need to do our own thing. We all get along really well; we’ve never had any big fights.
– Is there anything else you would like to add?
R: I was going to give a shout out for all the people that got flooded today. On the way in we got to see all of the devastation and how bad the flooding really was, we’d heard about it on the news but we didn’t really get the scope of it until we were stuck in traffic. I just want to say that everyone that had property damage, and people at the venue here that had to go and help their parents bail water out, my family is from New Orleans and they had to go do stuff like that, so my heart goes out to them. I hope that everything is reconstructed quickly and everything is cleaned up. We might get stuck here tonight, so we may be getting on our water boots, get some floaties, and helping people out.