The members of Melburnian fusion metal giant Twelve Foot Ninja are a lot of things: adept, intelligent songwriters; crass geniuses behind some of the most confrontational and creative Australian music videos of recent memory; and in-yer-face cultural exports making serious waves overseas.
But above everything else, they are also an uncompromising live act. Their raucous, rage-filled shows serve as the very bedrock of their reputation, and they have made their name largely through hitting the road, sometimes accompanied by giants like Disturbed – a band they supported to much critical acclaim last year – and sometimes striking out alone.
Given those live chops, it’s perhaps unsurprising that they have a democratic approach to touring, and approach support slots and headlining gigs with the same uncomplicated attitude. For the Ninjas, the size of the venue and placing on the bill doesn’t matter in the slightest: what they care about most is the energy they emit as musicians.
“[When playing support] we generally do what we always do in less time,” explains the band’s guitarist Rohan Hayes. “You usually have about 30 to 40 minutes and you’re playing to people who’re waiting for the headliner. The setlist is puzzled together with that in mind: get in, bloody smash ’em, get out. Don’t fuck spiders!”
Unsurprisingly, given that unfussy, powerfully focused attitude, the band has always wanted to make music, and for many of the members, heading out on tour is a way of fulfilling a lifelong dream. That’s not to suggest that they don’t sometimes have to bat off nerves mind you, and they do occasionally have to tackle the spectre of stage fright.
“We all get a bit serious if we haven’t played in a while. Shane ‘Russ’ [Russell, drummer] usually has no brain space for jokes or a chat in his pre-show anxiety. He’s definitely the most jittery before any show. We have a pre-show ritual to huddle up [and] have a bit of a ‘quack’ about how nothing matters.”
Onstage, the band tend to appear like a multi-limbed, well-oiled machine, incapable of putting a foot wrong. But that level of slick professionalism isn’t something that just came to them naturally, and Hayes reveals that they often have to make careful, conscious decisions every time they hop up under those bright lights.
“We always try to engage with the crowd. Some songs require more focus from different band members so we each come in and out of our ‘own zone’ at different times in the set. It’s a … moving beast, but the vibe of the crowd really impacts on our vibe onstage. The exchange of energy between audience and band is where the rubber hits the road for us.”
They are also a group with a truly humble, respectful attitude towards their audience, and they consider the art of making music a form of communication between performer and punter. Indeed, it was that selfsame respect they have for their audience that influenced them to crowdfund the resources for their second record, Outlier.
“We view crowdfunding as another route for fans to pre-order the album and [a way of] cutting fans in on the process,” Hayes says. “We used it as a direct feedback line a lot of the time and went from working in our own little bubble to sharing ideas.”
But it’s not just their audience that Twelve Foot Ninja feel connected to: they are just as indebted to Australia’s thriving fusion metal scene. “From my perspective, everyone’s cool,” Hayes says.
“There’s a community feel. If there’s competition, it’s generally healthy. Musicians are struggling to make a buck. There’s no use being a dick to each other: let’s struggle together.”
Twelve Foot Ninja play the Manning Bar on Friday March 10, with Troldhaugen and Hemina.