Interview with Gabe Saporta of Cobra Starship

Cobra StarshipEverything you’ve heard about Gabe Saporta is probably true. The Cobra Starship frontman parties to the max, doesn’t give a shit about a lot of things, survives on very little sleep—if any at all—and is really just out to have a damn good time. Speaking on the phone from Mesa, Arizona, at the start of their massive spring tour with Fall Out Boy, Saporta was excited, open and down to earth. And in just 30 minutes, the self-confessed “dirt bag with a heart” went a long way in proving that he does in fact embody a lot of what the band’s infectious power punk is all about: Freedom, anarchy, and living the life of massive party animals. With at least two months of hardcore touring scheduled ahead of the band—including huge Bamboozle pit stops along the way—Saporta knows he won’t be getting much shut-eye. And he’s not fazed in the slightest.

“If I worried about sleeping and taking care of myself, then it would just take the fun out of touring. The whole point of our band is to not take ourselves seriously and to remind people to stop being such pussies about shit. We just want to have a good time. We just take the piss out of ourselves and we don’t get offended by anything,” he says. “We’re not trying to make big social commentary about the scene. We have this little club with our own inside jokes, and we invite everyone to watch it and be a part of it if they want. And if they don’t want to, they can go fuck themselves (laughs). And that’s kind of our vibe.”

And it’s a vibe that has been such a strong drawcard for the quintet. On top of delivering two records to fans in as many years, the band plans to unleash its third offering this summer. But despite their album count, the fact that Cobra is part of Pete Wentz’s record universe Decaydance, and that Saporta is responsible for kicking off worldwide fashion trends involving plastic sunglasses and brightly colored hoodies, there are still plenty of people who refuse to take Cobra Starship and their dancefloor anthems seriously. But like so many other things in Saporta’s life, he says he couldn’t care less. “They can kiss my ass. I don’t give a shit. It’s like, I go on tour for a living, and have the fortune of not having to get a job, and some dude that lives in his mom’s basement is going to tell me I’m not in a real band? Fuck that,” he says. “We love what we do and we’re very fortunate that we get to do it for a living. We don’t take that for granted. We just want to have fun, and we want to be free to have fun and do what we want to do.”

Saporta is so insistent on having a good time that he hasn’t even let his recent and quite serious operation on his vocal chords get him down. A few months ago, the lead singer went under the knife to have a cyst removed, and while the whole scenario risks interfering with the journey that lies ahead of the alt-pop outfit, Saporta maintains his I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude. “It didn’t go too well, to tell you the truth. My vocal chords are still swollen, and they can’t figure out why the swelling won’t go away. I can take steroids to take down the swelling, but they turn me into a fucking lunatic and it’s really not good for me, because when I get off the steroids, I get sick. I’m basically literally killing myself to keep doing this band, which is cool,” he says. “The thing that really bums me out about it, my whole thing is that, for me, it’s really important to not give a shit, you know. It’s not that I don’t give a shit about anything, but I don’t want to be a slave to things. I started playing music so I could be free—not to make money. I love the freedom that it gives me. But if you start thinking about it too much, and when I started trying following the doctor’s orders word-for-word, and being careful, and not going out, it just made me not who I am. It took away the good things about my personality. And I would rather keep my freedom and my personality.”

Although the former Midtown bassist/vocalist has only been in his current Cobra set-up since ’05, he’s realistic about what might be in store, and will just roll with the punches. “If my voice is really fried and I really can’t sing anymore, then I’ll go and do something else with my life. Nothing lasts forever. At some point, Cobra Starship is going to be done—every band is done at some point. I can’t try and make it last forever. If it’s not the way it’s meant to be, it’s not meant to be but while I’m doing it, I want to have fun. I don’t want to be one of those guys that warms up for three hours and can’t talk to anyone. That’s what happened before. Before I had the operation, I had a cyst on my vocal chords so I couldn’t go out during gigs and talk to kids at shows because of my voice, and it fucking drove me insane. It’s not what I want. If my time is going to be limited, then I’d rather the time I have be awesome.”

For a band that shot to fame by creating a song based around the huge Hollywood flop Snakes On A Plane, Cobra Starship has done exceedingly well. Signed to Pete Wentz’s vanity label, and constantly surrounded by other Decaydance power punk players like Fall Out Boy, The Academy Is…, and Panic At The Disco, it’s been a slower path to success for Cobra in comparison. But last October, the band headlined its very own North American Sassy Back Tour, which confirmed Cobra’s transition out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

Saporta says this shift has been difficult because so much of Cobra’s music and identity has revolved around being the underdogs. “Fuck man, that’s one of the hardest things to actually deal with because I always root for underdogs. I’ve been playing music for 10 years, and I’ve basically watched all my friends get bigger than me. Obviously and undoubtedly, certain bands will get bigger than other bands and it’s hard sometimes to watch that happen. At first, in the beginning, it bums you out and then afterwards you’re just like, ‘Yo, this is just the way it is, embrace it,’ because at the end, I really do believe everything happens for a reason. What I’ve learned is you’ve just got to sit there and wait your turn, and maybe you’ll be lucky and you’ll get a shot, and if you don’t get a shot, it’s still a great experience.”

There’s no denying Cobra’s time in the limelight has finally arrived. While this type of success would ordinarily be welcomed and viewed as a breakthrough on so many fronts, Saporta says reaching this success has its risks. “I have this problem about me that every time I have a little bit of success, I sabotage myself just to fucking destroy it and start over again because I feel like it starts to get boring. And once it gets big and it starts to inflate, again, I just want to fucking be free—I want to create and start over. And it’s dangerous for me to do that. It’s good because it makes me a creative person, but at the same time it stinks because I fuck myself. And there’s other people whose livelihoods are depending on that too,” he says. “My self-destructiveness comes from my idea that I feel like everything is kind of a joke, and I don’t take things seriously because I think they’re bullshit. And for the majority of things, they are bullshit. But it’s all about sifting through the things that aren’t bullshit.”