Twelve Foot Ninja’s Stevic MacKay Talks ‘Outlier’ Album, Australian Metal Market, Sausages and Bananas + More
Australia's Twelve Foot Ninja are a band capable of tossing in just about any sound into their unique metal (and sometimes not metal) melting pot. Guitarist Steve 'Stevic' MacKay was the guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program, discussing the band's newest album, Outlier, diplomatic songwriting and he analogized their sound with an example about sausages and bananas. Check out the chat below.
How are you, sir?
I'm dangerously well, Jackie.
[Laughs] I like that. Stevic, I've been a fan of your band for a long time now. Really excited to have you on the how. Definitely something unique, Twelve Foot Ninja does something that stands out, which I think is really good.
Thank you very much. [laughs]
I saw you guys a couple of times live on a few festivals and I know there's a few dates in the U.S., but definitely looking forward to getting a chance to see you guys again. There's a new album out there, Outlier. It's not easy to describe or categorize Twelve Foot Ninja. What is good and not so good about being hard to pin down?
People often find it difficult to pigeonhole the band, but I always say that pigeon holes are full of pigeon s--t. It's probably a good thing that it can't be pinned down. I guess the negative is, here's a weird analogy: It's early in the morning here so I'm not sure if this is going to completely go off the radar in terms of being on a tangent, but I think with a lot of metal fans, if they're expecting just metal and then they get this other thing they weren't expecting, it can cause a bit of a weird reaction. It can be a positive one, or a negative one. It's like if I said, "Here's a sausage" and I gave you a banana. You'd be like, "This sausage tastes weird." But if you were open to it, you'd be like, "Actually I thought it was going to be a sausage, but it's a banana." [laughs]
We're a combination of sausages and bananas and it's not quite sure what you're going to get. I think someone said it's 'whatever the hell we want metal.' I kind of like that idea. It's like, we all love heavy music but there are no rules governing what you can and can't do. And if you want to go out in a different genre for a while and come back, then that's all good. I look at it like a movie, if I'm watching a movie when some bloke is chainsawing people from start to finish, you kind of get desensitized. It doesn't have much impact, like a romcom for an hour a half and then the final scene is all chainsaws. That's going to be way more impactful.
What's the biggest challenge to combining so many varied styles into one cohesive sound?
Just all of the options. There's a Thai restaurant in Melbourne that has a menu with six pages. I always find that I get paralyzed by what I'm going to eat. It's easy when you go to a place that's got five things and you go, "That one." So I think the more options available can often render you with a bit of paralysis. That can make simple things take a lot longer, when you're sort of exploring every variable. A lot of our songs often we've got, up to 10 different versions of the same thing just trying — "What would it be like if we went here? What would it be like if we went there?" before we settle on something. I think that's the biggest challenge, is more what we're going to do. It's sort of, once you open that bloody portal you can disappear down it.
In terms of musical growth, what was your main goal for Outlier compared to the first album?
The primary objective was to create more cohesive songs. I know that sounds like an odd thing to say, but with heavy music it's easy to get wrapped up in riffs and technicality and it can tend to pull you away from the actual songwriting aspect. It's more of a rhythmic workshop than actually having a song that you can strip back to an acoustic guitar and vocal and it would still sound good.
Like a lot of the really full on djent stuff, it's got very limited note range. So you're talking about a few notes and it's just — the rhythm and the anticipation is the part that makes it really interesting. Harmonically, it can hold you back a little bit from connecting to the actual pace. So we wanted to sort of avoid being mad with power and just sort of creating the crazy things that are really awesome guitar riffs but as a sound, it doesn't really hold up. I guess this is a long way of saying, we wanted to have things pass the acoustic guitar test. If it sounds good just with an acoustic and vocal, then you can dress it up in any pajamas you want and the song will still be there underneath. That was the big goal with this one.
How did the experience of touring the first album change you as a musician and a band?
I think it opened our eyes to a whole other world being in America. It's just a different place. We obviously watch American TV shows and stuff, but our whole country has the population of New York state. So, it's just literally 10 times bigger in every way. A niche market here is as big as, how do I say it. It's like our niche market for a particular style is massive in America. There's a huge scene for hard rock and metal bands, being able to see bands like Periphery and even Five Finger Death Punch.
Like when we did festivals and those guys were headlining and just seeing the reaction and how many people love that sort of music. That really informed some of the ideas that we've had in terms of writing. Also, I think it gave us the confidence to believe that there are actually a lot of people out there who dig this sort of music. Australia has a good scene but it's just nowhere near as big, that's just the function of the population.
Your music is very collaborative and goes through a rigorous creative process. How do you prevent the stress of arguments and disagreements about developing a song?
Oh we just resolve everything with a bare knuckle fist fight. That tends to, [laughs]. Not really. Another good question. I think the general vibe in the band is not democratic as in, majority rules. Things have to be unanimous. If people doubt something then we work on a new alternative that is a compromise between all parties. Generally we end up with a better result that way. That seems to have worked well. I think the majority rules thing always ends up with someone not wanting the result. So, we found that works best. Generally, if everyone is digging something then we can confidently assume that it's pretty good, hopefully.
Is there any major U.S. touring plans in the upcoming months?
I think the plan is to get back is to get back in early 2017 and cover some more ground. That's the current thinking, so [laughs] I don’t know if I answered that very well but yeah, we do plan to get over there and do some more rigorous touring after we do this tour. We're headed over for a month, we're going to cover a bunch of places of names that I cannot remember. They're in America and it's gonna be good.
Thanks to Stevic for the interview. Get your copy of Twelve Foot Ninja's 'Outlier' at Amazon or digitally through iTunes and keep up with everything the band is doing on their Facebook page. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.