Interview with Alex Suarez from Cobra Starship: A Future So Bright, They’re Wearing (Night) Shades

Cobra Starship burst onto the scene in 2006, providing the theme song to the campy pseudo-horror film Snakes On A Plane. Although “Snakes On A Plane (Bring It)” seemed to be merely an outlet for Gabe Saporta, formerly of Midtown, to collaborate with pals William Beckett (The Academy Is), Travis McCoy (Gym Class Heroes) and Maja Ivarsson (The Sounds), the track managed to morph in to a cult smash. Rumors of a new supergroup began to take hold as the act consumed radio airwaves. Once the chaos of the Snakes On A Plane storm simmered, Saporta took the project a step further by formulating a full-on pop/rock/dance powerhouse.

With a finalized lineup featuring Saporta on vocals, Victoria Asher (aka Vicky T) on keytar and backing vocals, bassist Alex Suarez, guitarist Ryland Blackinton and drummer Nate Novarro, Cobra Starship has been a go-to source for prime party rock.

The band currently has three albums under their belt—While The City Sleeps, We Rule The Streets, ¡Viva La Cobra! and Hot Mess—and a slew of hits including “Good Girls Go Bad.” But now, they’re armed and ready with their newest album Night Shades and the single “You Make Me Feel…” Suarez took time to discuss the band’s eclectic sound, some of their fondest memories of being part of the Fueled By Ramen family and touring with Justin Bieber.

Your new album, Night Shades, is coming out Aug. 29, are you guys all geared up for the release?

Yes, we are pumped. We’ve been working on this album for quite some time now so we’re really excited about the release.

In comparison to your last three albums, what was the whole recording and writing process like for Cobra Starship this time around?

I think we’ve massaged our writing process a whole lot more. We’ve learned a flow that comes from the experience of writing records that works best for us to create efficiency and better quality. Basically, we started writing this album a long time ago. Ryland and myself would get together to make some songs, then we’d pass it off to Gabe and then he would work on some lyrical concepts and then we would demo it. So we get a huge barrel of songs put together and then he picks the best ones to write off of until it just dwindles down. During that process, we continue writing so we basically just end up with too many songs so we have a lot of options and at the same time finesse the ones we feel are solid contenders. Then we make them as great as we can.

This time around, we got our own studio space, basically. Ryland and I would go in and produce the final tracks during the day and Gabe would go in at night and track vocals, so we’d sort of tag-team them. Then we also would use our own little home studio set up and do a lot of the production stuff there.

How many songs did you guys have to work from this time around?

For the album, we have 10 tracks. Before that, it starts out with about 250 songs of just music, then 75 possibilities, 30 with really basic vocal ideas and 15 with more solid vocal ideas. Then 12 actually get finished, and we work from that.

Cobra Starship has always been big advocates of dance and party music. But I noticed in “You Make Me Feel…” there’s a more subtle sound than in the past, while “#1Nite” is more of a blatant party track. What brought on this genre shift?

That’s always something we try to take into consideration. What’s really important in making a record for us is really exploring different genres, you know? Like we’d be like, “Hey why don’t we do a song that sounds like a T.I. record, just to see what happens?” I feel like from the very beginning we’ve been pretty cross-genre in our albums, which is cool. Like, I don’t know if you heard the third song we released from the album, “Fool Like Me,” but it’s completely different.

That was literally the next thing I was going to bring up. I noticed it has a bit of alternative flair, but also has a doo-wop style chord progression, which is awesome. What made you guys want to bend genre rules a bit?

We thought that it would be a lot of fun and we got to do a lot of production techniques that we haven’t done before, which was cool. It’s very special to us because it’s so different from all of the other stuff we’ve done.

I read recently that you guys signed up to be a part of a Buddy Holly tribute album. How did that opportunity come about, and more importantly, what song will you guys be recording?

It’s actually really awesome that we got to be involved with that project. I don’t know how many details we have, but one of the main producers and the organizer of the whole tribute album, Peter Asher [formerly of Peter and Gordon, and A&R head of Apple Records], is Victoria’s father. We’ve always admired him. He’s done so much in the music industry, and he’s very talented. He asked us to cover “Peggy Sue,” which is one of the most well-known Buddy Holly songs, at least that I knew of growing up. It’s definitely one of the bigger tracks, in my opinion, so it’s crazy that we got to do that, let alone with Victoria’s father, who produced the whole album. We got to fly out to L.A. and record at this amazing studio—Conway Studios, which is this legendary space in Los Angeles that we’ve never been to, and record with Peter. It was just awesome and such a great experience.

You want to know something else that’s pretty cool? I got to record the triangle on another song that the Fray are doing. They did an incredible job and really slayed it.

You guys are playing the Saturday, Sept. 9 show for the Fueled By Ramen 15th Anniversary. Cobra Starship has been with Fueled By Ramen from the get-go, and you’ve obviously developed friendships with a lot of the artists and people in the label. What are your favorite memories as part of the FBR family?

Oh man, you know what it is for me? I’ve been playing in bands for a long time—since I was 15 years old—and I was in some really small independent bands and did some really small tours. My first really big experience in the music industry and really doing it full-time was with Cobra. It’s weird, because I’ve never been part of a record label or anything and everybody there was just really awesome and friendly and they all work really hard. But to me, the thing that is most special is being part of this family with the band. In the beginning of Cobra’s career, we literally played with everyone on Fueled By Ramen. They all took us on tour and for the first two years we pretty much only toured—mostly with that family. It was just really special because we grew really close with a lot of these guys and have really close friendships with them. It’s a very family-run label, and at the same time, it’s like that between the bands. It’s a very special thing.

After the show you guys are taking a short break from touring and then are hitting the road with Justin Bieber. How did this opportunity come about? Are you nervous about the Bieber fans?

You know, it’s funny you mention being nervous about the Bieber fans because I didn’t even think about that, and somebody was like, “Yeah, don’t be surprised if you get booed at a lot because of the Bieber fans, because they just want to see him.” I thought that was really funny, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think it’ll be a lot of fun and hopefully, they’ll be open to us and what we bring because we’re definitely different than Bieber, stylistically. And hopefully we have a lot of fans in these countries that we haven’t been to yet but have been trying to get to for a while, like we’re going to Santiago, Chile for the first time. And hopefully the fans will come out to show us some love. I also think we’re playing stadiums that are pretty massive, which is something we haven’t done yet. But we go way back with Bieber.

How did that happen, initially? Was it at an award show or event of some kind?

We actually met him during some radio shows. We did a few performances with him about two years ago. We didn’t really know what he was all about and the first time that we heard he was playing we were just like, “We don’t even know who that is.” And people were just like, “You’ll see.” So we went into this meet and greet, and there was this huge room with eight tables so each artist had their own table, and they were going to send all the contest winners through the line. Bieber was at the end, and all of the fans just ran past everybody else and went straight to him.

By the next time we played with him—about a week later—he had broken his foot. Gabe was making some jokes, saying that he wanted to challenge Justin Bieber to a dance-off, and he broke his foot, so he automatically won. And then Bieber came out on stage and everybody went crazy in the audience. He was just like, “Oh yeah, Gabe, I may not be able to beat you at dancing, but I’m better than you at something else.” And he just jumped on our drum set and started playing… with a broken foot! It was insane.

Catch Cobra Starship when they play Fueled By Ramen’s 15th Anniversary on Sept. 9 at Terminal 5. For more information, go to