Latest release: Silent Machine (Volanik)

Melbourne’s Twelve Foot Ninja don’t pussyfoot around when it comes to experimenting with their music. If there’s a form of contemporary music they haven’t shoe-horned into their expansive sound, it hasn’t been invented yet. They don’t limit innovation to the music itself either. In these challenging times for artists, Twelve Foot Ninja have come up with a way to get people interested. Since August they have been releasing tracks from their forthcoming album Silent Machine online, a track a week, in a digital package that also includes an elaborate, full-colour comic that expands and embellishes the story of the Twelve Foot Ninja. With two weeks to go before the album is released in its entirety, Loud caught up with vocalist Kin to chat about the concept of the band and their place in the digital age.

In a way, it’s sort of already been released, because you’ve been doing this stealth campaign and slowly leaking the tracks out.

We’ve been drip-feeding a track per week for twelve weeks, and each track is accompanied by a digital comic.

How are the songs related the the comic? Is there a storyline?
The whole band was conceived on the idea of a fantasy world, or a fantasy story, a fable. All of the songs on the album draw influences from that fable. Keith Draws, the guy who does the comic, essentially took all the lyrical concepts for the album and placed them back into the context of the fable. He had creative license to create his own interpretation of the storyline for each of the songs. So, in a way, the story has informed him and he has re-informed the story.

So he has helped to embellish that story of the Twelve Foot Ninja. Visually, it brings it much more into focus.
Absolutely. I think he has allowed it to be a little bit more… well, where the songs are more about the journey of one man, Keith has introduced new characters into the fold and into the story. And by doing so, by creating his own interpretations of it, he’s given it, I suppose, more of the story to draw from in the future. It’s all sort of symbiotic.

Sounds like it. One of my questions was going to be, “When you’re basing your band on a concept, how far can you take the concept?” But if you’ve got someone like Keith working with you on developing that concept, really you can go as far as you like.
Exactly. And it was a luxury having someone outside the band, someone who doesn’t have the same relationship with the music, to have a fresh set of ears and a fresh mind. Someone who wasn’t necessarily tied in to how the songs were conceived. So it’s sort of, I think, it’s great having a fresh perspective on it. Quite obviously, from reading the comics, he has quite a connection to the story. He really understands the vibe and the concept of it. It’s worked really well in our favour, and it’s expanded the universe a little bit more.

Is that expansion going to continue on stage perhaps? What are you going to do to bring elements to the story to your stage act? Is that something that you’re looking to as well?
Not necessarily. We could go down that road of making our performances really theatrical and almost like a musical. But I think it’s better for the music to do the talking in a live context. So I think it’s better that we present it as simply as possible. We trim away the fat, so to speak, and present it as earnestly and honestly as we can. Without any theatrics. I think the most theatrical thing we do is that the guys sometimes wear contact lenses. Oh yeah, and we dress up in ninja gear!  In the future, we will expand that concept. We will create a new type of show, and perhaps that will include visuals and that type of thing. But we’ll cross that bridge as we come to it. For the time being, we’ll present the music as it is, in it’s most simple form.

You’re offering these tracks in a drip-feed over the internet with a token fee attached. A lot of bands are doing similar things these days: Double Dragon gave away their album for free, Thy Art is Murder and Parkway Drive are streaming theirs ahead of release. Are you expecting there to still be enough interest in the album that people will buy a physical copy?
I think probably a great proportion of our fanbase will purchase a physical copy of the album just to have it. The physical copy is a token… people still like having the physical copy.  I know the general consensus is that it’s all online. I don’t necessarily believe that. I find that people form relationships with albums. I know quite a lot of people who still love to purchase the physical copy of albums, be it on vinyl or CD, and sit there with the lyrics and listen to the songs and get familiar with the songs and the themes. There are, funnily enough, still people out there that do that. I lot of our core fanbase will definitely purchase it. But given that the business model  for the industry has been changing, and we’ve been watching it change rapidly, it seems to me the general consensus out there in the public is that music should be free. That’s basically the message that’s being sent to us. I think bands now have to provide other content to supplement that. When it really comes down to it, we’ve recorded an album that will serve as a pamphlet, in a way, to get people to come and check us out live.

Is it just a way of embracing new technology? I spoke to Ben Gillies about this, and he’s obviously made a lot more money from music than you have, but he still embraces the idea of music being creative art and people do expect it to be free. What is your take on that, because it does cost money to record and to make records. It’s not something that you can do without any money at a professional level.
No, that’s right. I think bands these days have to make their product and content as professional as possible given the constraints of a budget. A lot of bands these days don’t have $50,000 dollars to put out an album. I think essentially music is still an artform. As long as people come to shows and experience you live, as long as people are intrigued enough – if they have downloaded the album illegally – as long as they’re intrigued enough to come to a show and experience it in person I suppose it still serves us in a way. Illegal downloading does steal money from the artist, but at the same time, the artist has plenty of opportunity to make that money back by enticing people to their live performances. I think it’s a new model and we’re in the early days of it. I think it’s dependent upon stance. Where the band’s at, what they’re doing and what their vibe is. I think the approach is different from band to band. I know some bands have released whole albums for free and they’ve done that in a way to get people interested; just the fact that they were noble enough to offer their hard work for free. Unfortunately the album cost us quite a bit of money! We would definitely hope that people will purchase the physical copy. But more than that, we hope that they will come and see us play.

Getting back to that, and that people expect music to be free when really it isn’t, do you think that bands need to put more effort into what they do? You’ve got this concept around your band and you’re very energetic live and you take this whole concept and build it in an attempt to entice fans to come along. Do you think therefore that bands that don’t work hard will just fade away, with only the really good ones being left behind?
I’ve been noticing some of that already. There are certain bands that get out there and start playing smaller venues and build up their local scenes. There are a lot of great bands that get drawn up into that, only to find it difficult to transcend into the next level, which would be touring bigger venues and touring nationally. It’s hard to say because I think it varies from band to band. I think it all comes down to the material. I think your songs have to be really solid, and unless they are and people can really connect to them and unless you put a lot of energy and focus into them, people may come to see your show, but if they don’t connect with the material they’re less likely to return. I think bands do have to employ some different techniques of drawing people in, be that some sort of visual content or get-ups on stage or interesting video content, but more than that, the songs have to be really solid. That’s really the thing that allows a band to step up to the next level. And if you can’t put energy and focus into making your band a bigger band, you’ll probably just end up touring those smaller venues for ten years and then slowly fade out.

So, now that the album is almost out and people have had enough warning of it, what’s your plans for Twelve Foot Ninja from this point?
Essentially we’re back in the rehearsal room and we’re making the songs as tight as possible and road ready. The next step will be an album tour and hopefully we’re setting our sights on getting overseas at some stage. It won’t be this year, but maybe next year we’ll make a foray into another territory, which will be really exciting. From here on, it’s touring and pushing the album as much as possible and into territories and audiences that we haven’t explored before.

With the internet, it must be easier to cross those boundaries. How much interest have you had from overseas?
We’ve had a lot of interest, actually. Funnily enough we get a lot of interest from the Baltic Circle, which is really interesting. We’re also getting a little bit of interest from India and we’ve also had the door opened for us a little bit in the States, thanks to bands like Fair to Midland and Periphery, who we played a show with last year at the HiFi Bar in Melbourne. They’ve been putting up posts on their page about our album and how good we are live. They’ve been really supporting us. With that support, they’re allowing us to get into the earholes of people who wouldn’t have even known we existed. It’s been really interesting watching all that unfold and watching Europe open up and watching America open up. It’s fantastic.