COSMIC NINJA (from l-r): Jonny Angelini (guitar/vocals), Tam Cullum (vocals/light synth), Ellie Daymond (drums/samples), Rob De Wandelaer (bass/vocals/samples)
INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
Influenced by a diverse range of musical genres, emerging Bristol four-piece Cosmic Ninja are rapidly gaining a devoted legion of followers – and much critical praise – for their eclectic, politically-charged blend of alternative and electronic rock, and live sets that include an interactive light synth and a synchronised light show.
The band will be hoping to build on the already firm foundations they have laid over the next couple of months, having reached the final of a competition that will see the winner play at this summer’s Glastonbury festival, as well as the release of a self-titled EP, and to tell me more about this – along with a host of other Cosmic Ninja-related topics – was the collective’s guitarist/vocalist, Jonny Angelini.
How did the band initially get together?
Tam and Rob met initially and started working on music with our first drummer Duke, who had been in a previous band with Tam. I joined shortly after, when they felt that the band needed to add something extra to the sound, and all of our meetings were arranged through good old Gumtree!
Luckily, we had a lot in common straight away and a shared musical vision of the sound we wanted, and we’ve not looked back ever since!
How did the name Cosmic Ninja come about?
Naming a band is extremely hard, as anyone who has been in a band will tell you! We struggled initially, as your name is obviously a huge part of your branding, and we wanted to get it right, but basically after lots of brainstorming, we came up with Cosmic Ninja.
We thought it sounded cool, and the connotations seemed to fit our music quite well, as we have quite a spacey/cosmic sound with the synth elements, and we like to catch you by surprise with some more aggressive moments! Also, who wouldn’t want to be a Ninja?
What would you say was your approach to songwriting?
We all have our own ways and preferences when writing, but generally, the music comes first before we tackle melodies and lyrics. Someone will come up with a concept and a basic song idea, and then we will work together until we have something we are happy with.
Technology is a big part of the process as we programme our synths, and we write a lot on our laptops, as it is an easy way to share ideas quickly and remotely.
We try not to put too many restrictions on what we write, so there is a lot of freedom. We can be quite blunt with each other, but sometimes, it is important to be honest and passionate about ideas.
Luckily, we are usually on the same page in terms of our sound, and the genres we want to hit, and it has worked well for us so far.
What inspires the band lyrically?
We touch on quite a lot of topics and issues, especially as we all contribute to the lyrical content. Personal experiences and struggles is a big source of material, of course, and our next release, ‘Sympathy‘, is about helping someone close to you with mental illness, and making sure they know you are there for them. I think this is something we have all dealt with in our lives in some way.
Generally, we are careful not to be too preachy or in your face, as we don’t want to be cliche. Having said that, it is hard not to write about political and social issues given our situation in the UK, as at the moment, we are a divided country, people have passionate feelings on matters, and we are no exception, and putting those thoughts into our music is a great way to get stuff off you chest and make sure the right emotions are there when you are performing the songs.
You recently brought out a new single, entitled ‘We Got Up’. How has the reaction been to that so far?
We have had awesome feedback, which we are really pleased about. ‘We Got Up‘ is definitely quite a weird song with a lot of different tones and ideas, so it is great that it has gone down well.
Also, it is a fun one to play live too, and it has already become a bit of a band favourite, and people especially dig the video, which we had a lot of fun filming! Love some pyro!
And the track was taken from the band’s new self-titled EP, which will be released this May. How was the recording process for that?
It was a great experience. We took the decision to go for a higher quality recording, and to work with producer Jayce Lewis, who knows the type of sound we are aiming for.
Most of the music was written prior to the studio, as we had been playing the songs live, but Jayce really helped us get the best out of them. ‘Yeah Right‘ in particular went through a huge transformation, and ended up being something so different, but so much better than we had planned to record!
We learned a lot from working with Jayce, and took away a lot of tips for the future. The studio was hard work, but a really comfortable environment to do our thing in!
Also, how will the EP differ stylistically to the work that you’ve put out up to now?
Up until the EP, we were still experimenting with our sound and how we could combine rock and electronic music, and some of our previous tracks were long, convoluted, and lacked a cohesive structure and message, as we were just trying to get too many ideas in there, and maybe experimenting a bit too freely, so we had to figure out how to streamline and concentrate our songs into something more palatable.
The tracks on the EP are refined and better-structured, you can definitely see the development of the band, and I think we have a much clearer direction. We have quite diverse visions for our music, and sometimes it is difficult to condense ideas into a something coherent and memorable for the listener, and that’s something we are getting better at all the time.
The band are becoming known for live sets that feature an interactive light synth, a synchronised light show, and all of the members wearing LED shoes and glasses. For those who have yet to see you live, what can they expect?
We bring an audio visual experience at our shows. The music is our product, but how you package/present and essentially sell the product is equally important. The lights and accessories really help us to set the tone in our sets, in the sense that we want to great a rave/party vibe when we play.
We are taking inspiration from the dance and electronic music that we love, where lights and a stage show can be a big factor in the performance, especially when there is no live band rocking out to keep your attention. In our case, we are greedy, but we want the best of both worlds!
And how is the overall live experience for you all personally?
We absolutely love playing live, as you will be able to tell if you come to a Cosmic Ninja show. This is one of the main reasons why we do what we do, as it is great to get on the stage and unleash our energy on the audience.
It is important to enjoy what you do, and if you are having a good time, it is likely to be reciprocated by the audience, so we put it all out there and we are always completely genuine when performing, as there is nothing worse than watching a band that looks miserable and also looks like they would rather be anywhere else, but I can promise you that will never be the case at one of our shows!
Just before the EP comes out, the band will be in the final of a competition, which will see the winner play the Pilton stage at this year’s Glastonbury festival. I can imagine that’s something you are all looking forward to.
We are over the moon to have been asked to take part in the competition. A lot of bands would cut off their collective arms for this sort of opportunity, so to say we are excited is an understatement.
I’m a regular punter at Glastonbury, and I think it’s one of the best festivals and places on the earth! It is a great place to escape life and to have an amazing time with your friends, the atmosphere is always incredible.
I’ve got so many memorable moments there, so to take part as a performer is one of my main musical ambitions. It is going to be tough for sure, there will be stiff competition, but I know what we can bring when we play live, and we fully intend to smash it out the park.
Also, I didn’t get manage to get tickets in the sale, so I may have to leave the country in the last week of June!
And finally, what else have you got planned for the rest of 2019?
We have a busy summer lined up with shows and festivals around the UK, with more coming in all the time, so keep an eye on our gig listing for more info.
After some road testing, we would like to go back into the studio to record, ideally before the end of 2019.
THE NEW SELF-TITLED EP FROM COSMIC NINJA WILL BE RELEASED ON MAY 3.
FURTHER INFO ON THE BAND CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES: