Following the 2016 release of their hugely successful second studio album “Outlier”, Aussie metal act Twelve Foot Ninja recently set off on their European tour, entertaining longstanding fans and newcomers alike with their fresh, genre-hopping sound. Ever the rebellious creature, Invicta Magazine broke into the band’s tour bus (not really though, we were invited!) and caught up with guitarist Steve “Stevic” Mackay ahead of their performance at The Underworld in Camden.
In a bizarre twist on the norm, the interview began with Stevic presenting Invicta Magazine’s Luke Milne with something of a conundrum…
Stevic: So, this is a hypothetical that someone asked. Would you rather….FUCK a donkey and no-one would know…or NOT fuck a donkey, and have everyone think that you did?
Invicta: Oh god…that’s impossible to answer.
It is, isn’t it? Cause you’d be constantly going…..”I didn’t!” [laughs]
I’m gonna have to, uh, I’m gonna…I’ll come back to you on that!
Ok. I just started your interview off with….I low-balled ya! [laughs]
Cool, so…errr….yeah. How’s the mood across the band so far in regards to the tour?
The mood? Yeah, it’s great! I’m a bit sick, so I’m not myself at the mo, but other than that eveything’s really cool. We just implemented a religion we invented to keep the tour bus tidy! I don’t know if you noticed, but apart everything in here is super tidy! If I leave that there [points to a nearby water bottle] I’ll get thirty burpees…
Ouch! Are there any other punishments?
Yup, yup. If you can’t nail thirty burpees in the allocated time, you have to pay £5 into a cash pot. Whoever doesn’t have any offenses gets to claim it at the end. The game begins at 7pm, I set up a facebook event among the band members!
Do any of you have any strange pre-performance warm-ups or “rituals”?
Not really. Kin (Etik) and Ro (Hayes) do vocal warm-ups, and Nick just kinda screams on his own, which is a bit weird. Pretty standard shit.
I don’t actually warm up, I often just go and lay down, ’cause of the different timezones, and then wake up and literally just go and play. It’s a weird experience playing a gig after you’ve just been asleep!
What would you say are the best and worst aspects of life in Twelve Foot Ninja?
I’d say the worst aspects would be playing away from family, y’know? A couple of us have little kids, and that makes it hard. And…as nice as it is on the tour bus, you can’t do normal things like…take a shit whenever you want to! [laughs]
That sounds kinda weird, but if you imagine it, it actually can be quite strange to live like that. Also, you gotta plan how you’re gonna have a shower every day! You get down to this sort of cave man, very basic human function level!
Strangest interaction with a fan?
Actually, it was pretty weird in Milton Keynes. I was in the shower and these two girls got backstage somehow, and they were banging on the door while I was in the shower. I wasn’t sure what they wanted, it was like some sort of zombie apocalypse, like….braaaaaaaiiiinnns! Ah no, it wasn’t that weird, I think they felt weird when I came out in only a towel! [laughs]
Occasionally you get some weird shit. I tend to attract a lot of weird shit cause I make a lot of the videos [for the band]. People bring that…it’s like…what they see in the video, that’s the vibe they bring with them when they meet you, even though it’s a completely different thing. I mean, I’m a fan of Batman, so the best way I can describe it is that it’d be like running up to Christian Bale and yelling “WHERE IS HEEEEE?” while he’s trying to have lunch or something!
You most recent album “Outlier” made it to #3 in the Heatseeker charts and #4 in the Hard Rock Album charts – what was your reaction when you found out?
Yeah, obviously positive! We’re happy for any kind of industry recognition, ’cause it only helps in other areas. We were stoked to get anything. I mean, we’re not exactly playing “popular” music, so the fact that people are embracing it the way they have been is great.
I remember right at the beginning people were saying it was confused, we didn’t know what style we were…and now, that shit that was negative then is what they celebrate now. It plays into that cliché that you really have to persist. You have to be “wrong” to create something, and eventually it becomes “right”.
You’re the second band I’ve spoken with this weekend who has used a Pledge Music campaign to source funds for your work – do you feel like this is a positive direction for the music industry to take?
Yeah, I think it’s commonly abused though. I think there are a lot of creatives who don’t really understand what it is and how it works. To focus on the positive stuff, I think it’s a brilliant way to funnel participation from supporters, but it’s an opportunity to over deliver on what they put into it. It’s not a “take” scenario, it’s very giving.
For use, we make a point of…anyone who contributes to what we do, there has to be a tangible value to what they’re paying for or contributing towards. We often go out of our way to over deliver on whatever we promised. I think that’s where it can work really well, it’s more or less controlled presales in lieu of exclusive rewards.
To people who aren’t fans, it might seem really shit to hang out with the band, but to people who are? That stuff has value. If they’re willing to pay and that money goes towards making stuff, I think it’s a pretty good system.
The music in “Outlier” takes on a lot of creative elements from different cultures, especially the track “Monsoon”. With the rise in “cultural appropriation” being viewed as a negative concept, do you ever worry that musicians will come under fire for “borrowing” content or ideas from other cultures?
Wow, great question! I actually wrote a paper about this in university, I did it about South American music and the Bona Vista social club, y’know, where you’ve got Ry Cooder coming in as this “white saviour” when really it’s like the back story of The Voice or something, it’s been drummed up to look a certain way.
In terms of appropriating tradition styles, I tend to think it’s open slather. Unless I’ve offended the “Lord” of the tumbi? Maybe I have!
A lot of people who listen to metal wouldn’t listen to Bengali music or Punjabi music. I’d say…for a lot of people in India who like metal? That’s their traditional music, and maybe it would be a positive thing to see someone in the west go “that’s really cool, let’s bring it into this”. A lot of Indian metal is very western, they don’t tap into any of their traditional rhythms, which are some of the greatest on the planet.
But it hasn’t come up as an issue for us yet, and I tend to think that music is open for…whatever, y’know?
Looking back at the time after Silent Machine and during the recording of Outlier, was there anything you made a conscious decision to do differently on the second album?
Yeah, a few things. We had two people mixing Silent Machine, which kind of made things difficult. We had someone who was really good at metal and someone who was good at everything else, except metal. That got sort of mixed results.
Forrester Savell is a mate of mine, we worked with him [on Outlier], and the mixing process was really smooth. We get along really well and he understands what we’re trying to do. Other than that, I told the guys that they’re responsible for recording their own parts. We sort of record in a very antisocial way, and it used to drive me crazy when I’d engineer, produce and then play my parts and write a lot of the stuff. We tried to cut that down.
You paired the release of Silent Machine with a 72-page comic book that tied in with the album’s content. Is there a reason you chose not to continue that trend with Outlier?
The thing with that whole story is that I’d played with the band for a year before we did anything big. A big part of that was creating a concept and writing a little novella that tied into the mythology of this character, but we didn’t want to become a concept band that alienated people if they didn’t know the characters involved. So the lyrics, although tied into the story, are meant to be ambiguous enough to be applied to a number of scenarios. The comic idea was really a way to show some aspects of the story.
The reason we didn’t continue it is that we have something big in the background. If we’re gonna do it, we’ll do it properly. All I can say is that it’s going to be very in-depth. We never talk about what we’re going to do, it’s all about what we have right now. Things change, and a lot of musos fall into the trap of talking big…but we’ll see how it goes…
Alright, so…last question! Here in England, the most dangerous thing someone might encounter is dunking their biscuit in their tea for too long and having to fish out the chunks with a teaspoon – but in Australia, you guys have sharks, snakes, crocodiles and spiders that’ll bite your head off if you so much as look at them funny. How the hell does anyone make it to adult life?!
[laughs] think you can’t get into adult life without encountering at least one deadly creature! I just renovated my kitchen…and there was a tiger snake just living behind this cabinet in my kitchen. That’s the sixth deadliest snake in the world! I was actually filming this massive spider, and I just turned the camera and there was this fucking tiger snake, right there!
I was digging a hole to plant a tree recently and I hit a funnel web spider nest and fucking hundreds of spiders flew out of it. My brother got attacked by a shark…uhhmmm. Yeah. There’s heaps of shit.
I don’t think I answered your question, but…somehow you survive!
Nice! I still haven’t come up with an answer to your donkey question, by the way…
Ha! I think I broke most people down into admitting that they’d just fuck the donkey and be done with it.