A Conversation with Cobra Starship’s Gabe Saporta, Ryland Blackinton and Alex Suarez

Sitting in a room with Cobra Starship’s Gabe Saporta, Ryland Blackinton and Alex Suarez at the Crush Management offices, it’s hard not to get distracted. One minute they’re munching on two large pizzas from Patsy’s–one margherita, the other olive–and the next minute, they’re running around pulling up their video for “Good Girls Go Bad” off their new album, Hot Mess. Before you know it, you’re playing “Name That Tune” as Saporta runs through his phone’s ringtones, which range from Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls” to Beastie Boys’ “Brass Monkey.” Needless to say, there’s never a dull moment with the Cobras. We chat with the guys about what makes them one Hot Mess.

What is your definition of a Hot Mess?
RYLAND BLACKINTON: A hot mess is the chick I saw last night outside with holes in her stockings barfing up somewhere in Greenpoint [in Brooklyn, New York]. She was just hurling on the street; it was messy, but earlier in the night, she was probably really hot.
GABE SAPORTA: There’s this thing that happens in New York City that doesn’t happen in any other city. I think it’s because clubs close at 4 a.m. here. Everywhere else they close at 2 a.m., so that by the time everyone starts getting drunk, you’ve got to go home; but here, they’ve still got another two hours. I was at [NYC’s] Sway on Sunday night, and people were moshing and I almost got in a fight. I was with my friend and he was like, “Yo, do you think if we pretend we’re gay and hug each other while we’re moshing, we could push people harder and not get into a fight?” So we did. We were dancing and hugging and no one fucked with us. I stepped away and came back and this kid put his foot out and would not let me pass. I said, “Excuse me,” three times and finally just picked him up and moved him and walked past him. I saw in the mirror that he was looking at me and I was like, “I asked you three times nicely to move–three fucking times!” I scared the shit out of him. Later on, I apologized and bought him a drink and we made up.

But that’s the whole thing: New York is a stressful city to live in. People have a lot of aggression to get out, and they go out and let go. You see a lot of people who are hot messes. We’re kind of a hot mess, too.
ALEX SUAREZ: In some of the smaller cities, they aren’t as crazy and busy as we are, but they rage hard there because they’re bored.
BLACKINTON: They’re a mess, but they’re not hot.

We know Gabe had surgery on his vocal cords to remove a cyst during the recording of this album. What would have happened if he didn’t recover?
BLACKINTON: I’ve always got my job at the bank. Music was a stupid dream anyway. No, we were in the studio.
SUAREZ: Nobody knew what the outcome was going to be, but we were just trying to get things going.
SAPORTA: We always just fucking roll with it. We always shoot from the hip, but when we walk into a room, we always make sure we know where the exit signs are. We don’t have to make a full plan, but you’ve just got to go with it. It’s a lot of pressure. I went down to Uruguay to see my family, and that definitely gave me some space to really clear my head about everything and recover. And eventually I got my voice back.

Gabe, how did you originally start singing anyway?
SAPORTA: Dude, if I can sing, anyone can. Singing is not about having a good voice. It’s about being able to express how you feel. I’m not the best singer, but I sound like me. You know that I’m singing.

I never learned how to sing. I don’t have the natural ability, but I love it and I figured out how to do it. I was so tone deaf when I first started in music, and I didn’t understand the concept of rhythm. I was in a punk band and just tried to play as fast as I could. I remember asking another band when I was playing bass, “How do I know what to play?” The guy was like, “It’s always best to do the same rhythm as your guitar player.” It opened up my eyes. It didn’t come naturally. It still doesn’t, but fuck it.

You guys went into the studio with songwriter-turned-American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi, who’s worked with Britney Spears, the Jonas Brothers and Kelly Clarkson. How did that collaboration go?
SAPORTA: I just talked to Kara again last night and she was like, “Working with you guys was awesome. I’ve been doing the same shit for so long, and the session made me inspired again.” We come from playing garages since we were, like, 14 years old and haven’t been primed and prepped on something like Mickey Mouse Club since we were 14. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s fun. We just come from a different place. We already have a sound, we already know what we like, and we’re defined. We’re not going in and figuring out who we are. I had actually never heard of Kara before, and I still don’t know what she’s worked on. I was actually pissed off at first that she was coming in and told her that, too.
BLACKINTON: It was the way we were told, like, this lady’s going to come in and she’s a top-list songwriter.
SUAREZ: I thought you said topless.
SAPORTA: At first I thought that they said that she was topless, too–we had no idea what “top list” meant. It’s basically someone who does the song part on top of the beat and helps with lyrics and melody.

You also worked with Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester in “Good Girls Go Bad.” Are you big fans of the show?
SAPORTA: I fell in love with Gossip Girl on our headlining tour because we played on Monday nights [when the show airs] and kids would bring me rips of that week’s episode.
BLACKINTON: I heard about it because of the people my girlfriend works for. They make clothing for a lot of the people on the show, so she would watch it and take notes. She got obsessed really quickly, and I just thought Chuck Bass [played by Ed Westwick] was really cool. I don’t understand any of the arcs of the plot, but when I watch it and that guy’s on, I’m happy. He’s so devious, it’s amazing.
SAPORTA: One day, I’m at our management office and I hear someone talk about Gossip Girl and found out both Taylor Momsen and Leighton Meester were doing records. It’s hard to choose between Gossip Girls, it’s like asking which of your fingers you like better.
BLACKINTON: In the show, I like Leighton’s character because she’s matronly. I don’t like the standard Serena [Van der Woodsen, played by Blake Lively]. She’s blonde and not even that hot to me. And I like Poppy [Tamara Feldma]. She’s the real deal. She’s part of the Ponzi scheme–that’s very now. That’s a very sensitive nerve.
SAPORTA: I think both Leighton and Blake Lively have nice looks. Leighton’s prettier, but I like Serena’s character. Blair Waldorf [played by Meester] is too conniving for me. And the show is so ADD in terms of storylines; everyone has dated each other and they’re still friends.
Blackinton: I have a friend who’s a writer who pointed out that it’s the smartest show on television based on how much payoff you get. All these different balls of yarn are getting wound up over time, but you constantly get payoff. They build you up and then you earn some juicy piece of info.
SUAREZ: I’ve never seen the show.

Some of you are pretty active on Twitter. What are your thoughts on it?
SAPORTA: Twitter’s the only thing that I got right away. I don’t have Facebook or MySpace. Twitter’s fast and easy. I don’t have to sit on somebody’s wall looking through all the shit that’s on there. Even if I wasn’t in a band, I’d have Twitter. It’s just dope. This is the shit I’m fascinated by: How does something like this catch on to society so quickly?
SUAREZ: I have no Facebook, old MySpace, and a Twitter.
BLACKINTON: I do Flickr [because it’s] not as much updating. I also have Tumblr that I use once a month. I’m not good at that stuff.

You guys are all so tall you put Fall Out Boy to shame. Do you tower over them? BLACKINTON: We’re all going to have shin reduction surgery and donate parts of our shins to Fall Out Boy, so that they can hang out with us. Rachel Chang