Pop-punk, alternative rock group
Cobra Starship slithered onto the music scene with the 2006 release of its catchy, quick-paced single "Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)," which served as the theme song for the Samuel L. Jackson action thriller of the same name. At the time, Cobra Starship was a one-man side project for Gabe Saporta, the bass player and vocalist for the popular guitar-pop band Midtown. "Snakes" debuted at No. 37 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart and the video, starring Jackson, hit No. 1 on MTV2. The unexpected success of the song prompted Saporta to give up his Midtown duties and concentrate on making music under the Cobra Starship moniker. Since then, the band's funky, free-wheeling dancehall-stomping pop has caught on. In 2008, Cobra Starship embarked on its first headlining tour with venues selling out quickly.
Saporta was born in Uruguay but was raised in New Jersey after his doctor-trained father moved the family to the United States in search of better opportunities. After their arrival, Saporta's illegal immigrant father could not practice medicine. To earn money, he became a street vendor selling scarves. Eventually, the family members gained legal residency in the United States and life improved, though Saporta's parents divorced shortly thereafter.
Saporta grew up playing music and spent his high school days jamming with bands at VFWs, fire halls and Elks lodges. Along the way, he met drummer Rob Hitt and guitarists Tyler Rann and Heath Saraceno. The four musicians ended up at Rutgers University, where they formed the pop-punk outfit Midtown in 1998. During the early years, Midtown gave performances in friends' basements before graduating to theater-sized venues and touring overseas. The band released a few studio albums filled with mostly somber, introspective tunes.
Around 2005, Saporta recorded his own project, "Hollaback Boy," which was a male version of Gwen Stefani's thumping stomper "Hollaback Girl." Needing a name for the recording, Saporta chose Cobra Starship. Saporta got the name from two vintage jackets he owned. One said "cobra" on the back and the other said "Starship Disco." He combined them to make Cobra Starship. Shortly thereafter, Saporta became involved in a project to record a theme song for the Samuel L. Jackson vehicle Snakes on a Plane. At the time, Cobra Starship was mostly a solo project, helmed by Saporta and recorded with the help of an ad hoc group of musicians. Travis McCoy of Gym Class Heroes raps on the song, Maja Ivarsson of the Sounds sings backup, and William Beckett of The Academy Is lends his voice to the chorus.
"Cobra Starship is my project, and all those guys are my boys," Saporta told Christina Fuoco of the Flint Journal during an interview shortly after the single was released. "They did the song with me to help me launch it. We basically took a hip-hop approach of promoting stuff. You have you and your friends, one of them makes it and he just helps the other one out. That's the vibe of this whole thing—everyone's helping each other out."
The movie Snakes on a Plane and Cobra Starship's single of the same name were both released in 2006. The song was well received and Saporta decided he liked the change of pace from Midtown. To keep the momentum going, Saporta quickly put together an album's worth of songs to record under the name Cobra Starship. Released in 2006, While the City Sleeps, We Rule the Streets features the "Snakes" song as well as the keyboard- and drum-driven rocker "The Church of Hot Addiction" and the infectious dance-party track "Send My Love to the Dancefloor, I'll See You In Hell (Hey Mister DJ)."
Once again, Saporta brought in several musicians to help record the album, though Saporta played nearly all of the instruments. The album does feature appearances by the 1980s urban dance-pop group Cover Girls. In addition, guitarist Nick Wheeler of All-American Rejects and guitarist Joe Trohman of Fall Out Boy both play on the album.
After the album was released, Saporta realized he had a problem—if Cobra Starship was going to tour, he needed an actual band to accompany him. At this time, Saporta recruited Ryland Blackinton to play guitar, Alex Suarez for bass, Nate Novarro on drums, and Elisa Schwartz on keyboard.
That first tour proved crucial in helping Cobra Starship establish itself as a legitimate music machine. "[‘Bring It’] made a lot of people doubt whether or not we were a real band and if we were just a one-hit wonder, which was totally understandable that people would think that," Saporta told Alan Sculley of the Times Union. "So really the only way to quiet that doubt was to go out on the road and prove that we were a real band and build up our own fan base." While on tour, the band developed an energetic, cohesive sound.
In early 2007, Schwartz left the band and was replaced by Vicky-T on keyboard. "It's hard," Saporta told the Advertiser. "We basically took five people who'd never known each other before and threw them all together in a bus and had them live together for five months."
Cobra Starship played with Fall Out Boy during the 2007 Honda Civic Tour. While on the road, they began working on songs for a second album. Patrick Stump, lead singer of Fall Out Boy, served as producer and worked with the band on the songs as they toured. "We started writing when we were on the tour," Blackinton told SaintRocknRoll.com. "Patrick [Stump] would give me or Alex [Suarez] an external hard drive and be like ‘work on this song.’ We'd work on it and give it back to him and etc. That's sort of how we did it, sort of like a science project or something." After the tour, the band hit the studio and finished the album in just 26 days.
In late 2007, Cobra Starship released Viva la Cobra! Filled with beat-heavy songs and some slower ballads, the album debuted at No. 80 on the Billboard 200. The songs are pure pop-punk, with names like "D*** You Look Good and I'm Drunk (Scandalous)," "Kiss My Sass," "My Moves are White (White Hot, That Is!)," "Prostitution Is The World's Oldest Profession (And I, Dear Madame, Am A Professional)."
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph music critic Nigel Gould was mostly upbeat in his review of the album, praising its "slick off-the-wall pop" and sophistication. "Viva La Cobra is a record that stands up to repeated plays—and you get the feeling that it will continue to improve with age," Gould wrote, calling the album a contender for surprise record of the year.
For the Record …
Members include Vicky-T (joined band in 2007), keyboards; Ryland Blackinton, guitar; Nate Novarro, drums; Gabe Saporta (born circa 1980 in Uruguay), vocals; Elisa Schwartz (left band in 2007), keyboards; Alex Suarez, bass.
Founded as mostly solo side project of Midtown bassist and singer Gabe Saporta, 2006; released single "Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)," 2006; released first album, While the City Sleeps, We Rule the Streets, 2006; added permanent band members for touring purposes, 2006-07; went to studio as group to record second album, Viva la Cobra!, 2007; played as supporting act on Honda Civic Tour, 2007; hit the road as part of the Really Really Ridiculously Good Looking Tour, 2008.
Addresses: Record company—Fueled by Ramen/Decaydance, P.O. Box 1803, Tampa, FL 33601. Web site—Cobra Starship Official Web site: http://www.cobrastarship.com.
In 2008, the band hit the road for its Really Really Ridiculously Good Looking Tour. Cobra Starship picked small venues before band members realized how popular they had become. Most shows sold out. "We didn't know that the shows were going to sell out as quickly as they did," Blackinton said in an interview on SaintRocknRoll.com. "I think we're pretty happy about it because there's something about the vibe of being in a sold out small venue rather than being in one slightly bigger but has empty seats."
One of the things band members do to interact with fans is issue Rock Band challenges while on the road. Other times, they challenge fans to beat them on Mario Kart. Often, fans chosen get to enter their tour bus for the competition and win Cobra Starship merchandise. Band members acknowledge they are addicted to the Nintendo game. "Our part time jobs are musicians," Blackinton told SaintRocknRoll.com. "Our full time jobs are video game players."
Like many bands, Cobra Starship faces the challenge of making money in a world where music lovers download music rather than buy CDs. The band members, however, do not get too upset about it and accept that downloading is just part of the game. "No one buys records anymore," Suarez told Musiqtone. "We'd rather have someone know all our songs, come to a show and buy a hoodie or something and like us enough to want to buy something we sell."
While the City Sleeps, We Rule the Streets, Decaydance, 2006.
Viva la Cobra!, Fueled by Ramen, 2007.
"Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)," Atlantic, 2006.
Advertiser (Australia), August 2, 2007, p. 56.
Belfast Telegraph, December 7, 2007.
Billboard, January 26, 2008.
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), January 23, 2008, p. N2.
Flint Journal (Flint, MI), September 20, 2006, p. D06.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), June 27, 2004, p. 1 (Spotlight).
Sunday Age (Melbourne, Australia), October 3, 2004, p. 29.
Times Union (Albany, NY), January 17, 2008, p. P8.
Washington Post, March 6, 2008, p. C05.
"Cobra Starship," Musiqtone, http://www.musiqtone.com/interviews/indie/cobrastarship_110307.php (June 27, 2008).
"Cobra Starship Interview with Ryland Blackinton," Saint RocknRoll.com, http://www.saintrocknroll.com/interview.php?band=Cobra%20Starship&date=2008-02-10 (June 10, 2008).
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