Q&A with Twelve Foot Ninja

tfn-band-photo-2Written by Shannon Reardon

On Sunday, Sept. 18, in Chester, Pa., Australian band, Twelve Foot Ninja took the stage at Rock Allegiance for thirty minutes. Seeing the band perform dressed in their ninja uniforms as they stomp across the stage and play their multi-genre music one would think the members would be more aggressive in their personal lives, but this notion would be incorrect.

While the band takes their music seriously, all other aspects of life are surrounded with laughter and jokes.

Sitting and talking with the band, no topic was off limits, from comfort food and family to equipment malfunctions minutes before taking the stage.

Q: What was the inspiration for the album that you have out now?

A: Shane Russell: That this would be our last shot at it.
Kin Etik: Yeah, it really was actually. The thing that keeps reoccurring for the album is definitely mortality, and there were quite a few times when we were challenging whether or not we would be able to survive as a band. It costs a lot of money.
Russell: It’s just so expensive to do this.

Q: And you crowd funded the new album, correct?

A: Russell: Yeah, and that was unbelievable.
Etik: Yeah, it was really successful. Touring just really takes a lot of you financially. We all work full time jobs to supplement this.
Russell: Or sold everything we own to make this happen,
Etik: That’s right, this guy sold a car, a motocycle…
Russell: And heaps of other shit. I should start selling drugs or something.
Etik: So we kinda thought, ‘Well, this could be it, this is a make or break moment. And we need to sort of go hard or go home on this album, and hope that it breaks new ground…
Russell: And takes us to the next level, to the next level of many levels
Etik: And that we’re able to continue.

Q: So is that what brought you to Rock Allegiance?

A: Etik and Russell: Yeah, definitely.

Q: I would say definitely around here, Philly loves Twelve Foot Ninja. Would you agree?

A: Etik: Yeah we’ve had good shows in Philly.
Russell: Yeah, we’re feeling the love. At every show there’s more and more people; it’s motivating, it’s awesome.
Russell: We have some real loyal fans.
Etik: Loyal to a fault.

Q: Is it like that in Australia too?

A: Etik: Yeah, absolutely, but it’s a bit more mental here. Of course we have about five to six more times the fans here than we do at home.
Russell: It’s just bigger here and there are so many more people here.

Q: So what’s it like transitioning from being back in Australia with not as many fans to then coming to America where your fan base is bigger?

A: Russell: It is [like a whole new world], I love it and I’m just like ‘Holy crap! This is a dream!’
Etik: This is why we do it, every time we come back it reiterates that point.
Russell: It gives us more energy.
Etik: And it also, this time around, is giving us hope that we can perhaps do this full time, this is our full time job. This is what we’ve been working at for so long.
Russell: The thing is that if this did become full time we’d be smashing out albums so much quicker, and that would just be the snowballing effect to get bigger and bigger. It took us so long to write that album because we all have to work and we all live far apart. It’s brutal.
Etik: Yeah, the logistics of it, and also we write albums in a very antisocial way, so we do it all online and via email correspondence. But to be able to just clock-in and clock-out every day with the boys, that’d be unreal.
Russell: We’re talking to Nothing More and that’s how they did it, and they just haven’t stopped since they supported us. They’ve blown up and they’re going crazy, and then they just finished a massive world tour. Then they went straight into the studio and it was like a job, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then they’d have the weekends off, and they just smashed another album. That is a dream, if we could just do that.

Q: Are you playing just Rock Allegiance, or are you on tour right now?

A: Etik: Yeah, we’re on tour.
Russell: We’re doing a couple cool little things.
Etik: Yeah, it’s like seven or eight festivals. We’ve done three now and we did two shows with Sevendust.
Russell: Which is a dream! I love that band.
Etik: And we’ve done two shows with Nothing More, and we’ve got a couple more.
Russell: Like three or four more, I think.
Etik: A couple more shows with Hellyeah, which is awesome, and another couple of festivals.
Russell: It’s a good mix with the Sevendust crowd, the Nothing More crowd, the Hellyeah crowd, the festival crowds. Oh, that’s the shit! This is the most fun, yeah, it’s the fun part of being a band: the festivals.
Etik: The intimate shows feel like a bit more hard work just to get ‘em going, where with these, in a way, the people tend to be a little bit more self-contained. They’re there to have a good time, so we can kind of relax a bit and just focus on what we do.

Q: Today’s performance was relaxing for you guys?

A: Etik: Yeah, fairly. Though, actually, it was pretty hot up there. That was pretty brutal.
Russell: It was fucking intense. It was just like load in, well, we didn’t load in. Thankfully we had someone to help us back there. Nick set up my kit while I was changing the drum skins on my kit. So he set up while I did all that and it was like bang, wheel it on, get changed, jump on and find out that our loom from SPSX, which is the Ninja hub, that’s the heartbeat in there, was lost.
Etik: Which is our lead basically, it’s gone! We almost couldn’t go on.
Russell: Our engineer was just going mental to find leads and he just made it happen.
Etik: Yeah, he brought it together.
Russell: And as soon as we went on it was just like “Ahh!” [sigh of relief]. We just made that.
Etik: And it was so hot up there and so humid today. I felt like my face was going to explode.
Russell: Yeah, and Stevik couldn’t hear anything because he was wireless and he was just too far away from the pedal and I didn’t notice till “Shuriken” when he does the guitar intro. Normally the clicks are going away and I heard him slow down and I was like “whoa!” I’m on the headset going, “Who is that?” and Stevik is like, “I can’t hear shit.” But I was having a hell of a time. I was loving it cuz I can hear everything. I’m hardwired, everyone else is wireless. So when you’re on a big stage like that…well we’ve learned some shit haven’t we?
Etik: That’s right, and it’s our first time playing in front of an arena.
Russell: Yeah, that was the biggest stage we’ve played.
Etik: Yeah that was awesome and now we’ve caught a taste for it. We want some more of that.

Q: Do you guys still live in Australia?

A: Etik: Yes, we still do.

Q: Since you have a lot more fans in America, would you ever consider making the move to America?

A: Russell: Yeah, we spoke about that, and years ago it would have happened if we would have just done it.
Etik: If we were all single we probably would, but now there’s mortgages, babies, wives, there’s, y’know, soon-to-be wives.
Russell: Well, my girlfriend and I are about to have a baby in November, but she was keen to do whatever. Stevik’s wife is a doctor and it’s hard for her to leave what she’s doing, and they’ve just got this epic house that they’re renovating; it’s a lifetime commitment. But yeah hopefully if we just get to that next level we’ll be able to afford to come back over and then go back and forth.

Q: With playing Rock Allegiance, you were on the same stage that Slayer is going to be on later tonight, how was that?

A: Etik: Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s like pinch yourself.

Q: Did you get to meet Slayer?

A: Russell: Not yet. Actually we had catering yesterday and they were just at the next table.
Etik: And we just got a little van from doing a signing on the other side of the arena and Frank Bello, the bass player from Anthrax, was in the van with us.
Russell: That’s right, he apologized for not talking cuz he was writing an angry email.
Etik: But just being able to see those dudes that were on your wall growing up is just something else, it’s beautiful.
Russell: Like for me it’s Morgan Rose from Sevendust.
Etik: Yeah, he’s his best mate.
Russell: Oh! He’s my buddy.

Q: Did you fan girl when first meeting Morgan Rose?

A: Etik: Nah, he’s not really like that.
Russell: I’m not too bad, I mean I was definitely going, “This is the best thing ever,” but I wasn’t too fan girly. Yeah, it’s weird. I think the only person I would get fan girly with is Valentino Rossi, the moto GP rider. I don’t know if you follow moto GP much, but he’s the best motorcycle rider in the world.
Etik: He’d probably pass out or make out with him.
Russell: I’d probably lose my shit. He’s just a superstar. He can’t even live in Italy because he’s just so big. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’d fan girl there.
Etik: With this you start and kinda, at first when we were starting out we’d see celebrities and be like “oh my God,” but we’re not the sort of guys who go up and go, “I’m a real big fan,” we’d kind of just hang back. We respect their privacy and their space. Then sort of after a while go, “hang on a minute, we’re playing the same stage, we’re doing the same thing, we’re in trailers like everyone else. You realize, oh shit, they’re my peers. I work with these guys.” You stop getting sort of that sensation of these guys being up here on this pedestal. You start realizing, oh hang on, they’re working a job just like us. They’re human beings.
Russell: They’ve just had massive success with it, that’s the difference.

Q: I remember two years ago seeing you win the Golden God award for best new artist, and then there was the In This Moment “Black Widow” tour, would you say you’ve sky-rocketed from there?

A: Russell: That was like winning the lottery and it was good, but when we’re back at home working our normal jobs we don’t know what’s going on back here. We just don’t really feel it till we step back in this country, and then we see it and feel it and all the fans come up. Just holy shit, this is awesome, its excellent.

Q: Do you have a large following in Europe too?

A: Russell: No, we haven’t really done much of Europe.
Etik: I mean we do, but in certain countries. In the UK its building definitely, Spain it seems to be building. There’s a few countries over there, Poland we debut at number one, the album debut at number one. And all the sudden we realized, oh shit, we’ve got a following over there. So there are definitely places where we’d like to go over and tour, it’s just that Europe is an entirely different thing. South America would be another place we’d like to go, Brazil for sure.

Q: You know it is going to be hotter in South America, correct?

A: Etik: I’m happy to explode on stage, it’ll make for a good show.

Q: Between the ninja costumes, the stage presence, and specifically the “Coming for You” music video, would you say that visuals are a big thing for the band?

A: Etik: Oh it is, definitely.
Russell: We like to have fun. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we take the music seriously. We’re very anal about the music, and that’s just Stevik, he’s just brutal. [He’ll say,] “You did an up-pick instead of a downstroke,” to Rowan or Damon.
Etik: Yeah you don’t do that, he’s heavy.
Russell: Which is awesome, it’s what makes us tight. But yeah, with the film clips again, that’s Stevik. His imagination running wild and we just do it. And there’s a couple of clips coming too.
Etik: Yeah, we just finished one and we’ve been working on the edit of it while we’re over here.
Russell: It’s a mission, it’s been huge.
Etik: Yeah, this one’s taken a while but it’s pretty cool, it’s pretty out there.
Russell: Yeah, it goes for ten minutes. It’s like a short film but we’re not the best actors.

Q: Well that’s similar to the promo videos for the crowd funding, it looked like no one could keep a straight face at the same time and someone was always off doing something off kilter, correct?

A: Etik: Always, and I think that’s kind of the commonality of us in that we have a good sense of humor. That’s the thing, we just laugh our way through this, we have been since we started. It’s all we’ve got, it’s what keeps us going: the laughter.
Russell: I think me and you must laugh more because we’re the oldest and we’ve got hair, all the other dudes are bald.
Etik: You slightly lose your humor the more hair you lose.

Q: Did you crowd fund the first album too, or just the new album?

A: Russell: No, stupidly. That was our most expensive album.
Etik: Yeah, that was an expensive album to make.

Q: Did it seem to work better to crowd fund the second album then? Which method did you prefer?

A: Etik: Crowd funding.
Russell: Crowd funding, absolutely, and just because the first album we had two sound engineers mix it because we couldn’t find an engineer who could mix it all well because we do the different genres: heavy into reggae into funk. So we had Forrester who did the heavy really well and then Christian Scallan was doing the dub and the reggae stuff. So we ended up going with Christian Scallan and Ted from Circles.
Etik: Yeah, Ted from a Melbourne band, Circles, who are fucking awesome and you should check them out. But yeah he came in and did all the heavy stuff, all the guitars.
Russell: He also focused on the drums as well, so we had to pay two engineers.
Etik: Yeah, that was a lot of money that was thrown around.
Russell: This time around we were left to our own devices. I had to learn Pro-Tools and learn how to record my own drums and to edit it and everything. It was awesome, like I wanted to smash my computer in half and throw it out the window so many times, it was so frustrating. I was losing it. Now I know what I’m doing, so the next album should be even easier. And we got Forrester Savell on board, who is a legendary producer.
Etik: Yeah, he’s a prominent Australian producer.
Russell: He did [the albums] “Karnivool,” “Dead Lettuce Circus,” and “Butterfly Effect.” And he’s really fucking made this album tough and brought out the live effect. We’ve always been told when people see us live that they’re like, “Holy shit, you guys are so much heavier live.” Cuz “Silent Machine” was a nice sounding album, but we needed some more grit in there, we needed to capture that energy and I think that Forrester has done that with this one.

Q: It’s probably hard to get that harder sound with the mixed genres. How did that come about?

A: Etik: Steve Stevik, he’s got ADHD, undiagnosed, but we diagnosed him. But if we were playing something straighter I think we’d all be bored.
Russell: We would all get bored playing straight out and straight up heavy music.
Etik: We’d go, “Oh yeah, this band thing, it was pretty cool for a while.”
Russell: It’s such a fun band to play in because it’s so colorful and so dynamic. I wouldn’t want to be in anything else, it’s just the best. I don’t get bored, I never get bored.
Etik: We have the luxury of doing that as well, a lot of other bands if they deviated from the sound they’ve created all their fans would feel ostracized and isolated. Whereas with us, we can kind of do whatever we want.
Russell: The only hard thing is when it goes through the ultimate filter, which is Stevik. He makes sure it runs smoothly. It’s not cut and paste, its bang to bang. Y’know and it works, it’s what has to happen. We all have a pretty strong filter.
Etik: Yeah, we know when it’s feeling good, we know when it’s not.
Russell: And we know when we’re going down the rabbit hole and it’s gone too far, that would be just doing it because we can do it.
Etik: And you have to have the intestinal fortitude to call that to say this isn’t working. To say, “look we might have worked on this track for nine months, but it’s not going anywhere. We have to kill it.” And you have to have a little bit of brevity to do that.

Q: So for the festival scene, everyone has a specific must-have item they need. What item would you say is your festival must-have?

A: Russell: Fucking sunglasses, I forgot them and this whole trip is killing me.
Etik: I reckon, for me, the number one thing is water, especially on hot days like this. Y’know if you’re in the middle of a sweaty pit, after the show make sure you go and get a bottle of water. Stay hydrated.
Russell: And showers, I love showers. I hate being dirty so showers are good.

Q: Since you are in Philadelphia, have you had the cheesesteaks yet?

A: Etik and Russell: Yeah, last time [we were here.]

Q: Where did you go?

A: Russell: Um… it was that place where John Travolta had been.

Q: Was it Geno’s?

A: Etik: It could have been.
Russell: Bruce Willis, as well, had been there.

Q: It had to have been Geno’s. Were there pictures everywhere and another cheesesteak place across the street?

A: Etik and Russell: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Etik: It’s so good, that place, man.

Q: With those two places if you say that you like one or the other you could start a turf war.

A: Russell: Oh, it’s like Xbox versus PS4?

Q: No, we’re talking almost a civil war just over cheesesteaks.

A: Etik: Why is that? Are they different from each other?

Q: We’re not really sure, maybe they use different rolls?

A: Russell: I want to know!
Etik: Yeah, I want to have a civil war inside my belly. We might be able to sort something out tonight before we head out.
Russell: We need to do that!

Q: Do you have any foods like this in Australia?

A: Russell: Yeah, well, we have burgers and souvlakis.
Etik: We’re known for our fish and chips.
Russell: And we live in Melbourne, it’s known for the best food around the world. We just have the most amazing restaurants, we’re massive coffee snobs. It’s just a massive competition there, it’s brutal!
Etik: The world’s best chefs all come to Melbourne to start up.
Russell: I actually have my bible, which is The Good Food Guide to Melbourne, which is a massive novel that comes out every year. I highlight all the one hat, two hat, three hat restaurants that I’ve been in. Me and my girlfriend are passionate about it, though we can’t afford it. We went to The Fat Duck, it was a $1,600 meal and it was fifteen courses, and it was the best thing ever! I don’t regret it. I’m just passionate about it, it’s my favorite thing to do, just go out to eat and have a wicked time.

Q: When you’re on tour do you try to scope out the best restaurants in town?

A: Russell: Well, last tour one of my drum students was emailing me each town we were in, “you gotta go here,” but it was hard to get to.
Etik: It was, because we’re limited for time. We get into town, we load into the venue, we do sound check, we get a small window of time to just hang out or get changed, and then we’re on. And then we’re off, we load into the bus and we might have an early bus call. So we don’t really have too much time to go and explore.
Russell: It sucks. If we were at Korn level I’m sure we could make it happen, but we just live on tuna and rice on the bus.
Etik: And wraps, and pop tarts.
Russell: Yeah, I always put on about five kilos while we’re over here.
Etik: Yeah, same.
Russell: It’s just that there’s sugar in everything.
Etik: There’s sugar in E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G, there’s sugar in sugar.
Russell: But I don’t care, then I just go home and workout like an animal, because I’m a personal trainer.
Etik: I just try to sweat it out on stage.
Russell: I just go for whatever, pizza, beer.
Etik: Oh yeah, we indulge.
Russell: It’s funny though, when I go home my girlfriend stocks up on beer and sugar shit because she knows I’m going to have a sugar addiction and I’ll be an alcoholic, and she just weens me off it.
Etik: She’s a proper nurse, that’s beautiful.
Russell: God bless her.

Q: If you guys had to pick your dream tour, who would be on it?

A: Russell: KORN! It’s gotta be Korn for me. Fuck, I love Korn. I mean we’re ticking our boxes off, Sevendust is another one that’s just blowing me away. The Deftones and Korn.
Etik: It’d be good to do one with like Sevendust, Korn, Deftones and us. I would die after that tour. Slipknot would also be good, but I don’t think we’re hard enough for a Slipknot tour. Just all the bands we love and grew up with like Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer.

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