TWELVE FOOT NINJA: Paying Tribute to Outliers

Twelve Foot Ninja

Australian fusion metallurgists Twelve Foot Ninja released their second album Outlier in August which receives excellent reviews from all around the world. This new record is a huge improvement on the already excellent debut Silent Machine from 2012. Guitarist Rohan Hayes was very kind to answer our questions about the new material, technology, equipment, and dogs.

You have just launched your sophomore studio album Outlier. Tell me about the creative process that informed it and the themes it captures.

I want this to be a simple answer, but we are weirdos and do everything backwards. The writing process was always evolving. We never really settled into a set routine until more towards the end when we wrote “Invincible” and the album was finished. We mostly wrote in separate spaces, in our homes. That’s not really unusual these days… songs were usually seeded by a recorded motif, melody, riff or chord progression on our iPhones. There’s still so many ideas sitting there waiting. We’d build the song up on Pro Tools and basically put it on the chopping block, collaboratively improve all of the elements.

The goal was to write solid songs that connect. One of the most important steps that we never really tried with Silent Machine was the “naked test” or “acoustic guitar test.” Good songs still stand strong even when all production has been removed and they’re stripped right down to their bare bones – chords and melody (the song head). 65 or so songs shortened down to 11. Obviously, a lot of songs just weren’t that good and didn’t survive.

We haven’t really discussed this before, but Outlier marks a fairly intense period in each of our lives. There were a lot of speed humps and changes we all individually needed to endure. All stuff that massively influenced what this album is. Mortality was something that was consistently popping up over those years, so that is quite a prominent theme on Outlier. “Post Mortem” is a good example of that.

What is the message you are trying to give with Outlier?

Outlier is a tribute to our supporters who truly value our music. Without people who actually buy our music and merch – people who we think of as outliers, there would be no Twelve Foot Ninja. We were hyper aware during the making of this album that if these outliers didn’t support us, there would be no follow up album so we wanted to honour them in the album title.

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

Everything was recorded, demoed and uploaded to our online collaborative tool. It would usually start out as a simple idea recorded on our iPhones, into full demo (Pro Tools).

Twelve Foot Ninja - Outlier

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?

In the early stages of a song, it’s really”go with anything that feels good.” We get more microscopic later, where everything is scrutinised (including dynamic).

Describe the approach to recording the album.

Once everything is demoed and we have five thumbs up on all of the parts, we’d track guitars. Stevic and I did this separately – in our own home studios. We’d record two tracks simultaneously, one SPDIF / dry signal and one processed signal. This would allow us to re-amp the dry signal later if we weren’t happy with the tones.

Russ tracked his drums MIDI using the Roland TD20 kit & Superior drummer. Damon recorded his bass parts with Dan Murtagh in Melbourne. Stevic would make his final touches on production then we’d hand it in to Forrester who mixed the tracks. It took some time for the process to evolve to this point. A lot of mistakes, numerous versions of songs… “Oxygen” had about 12 different versions & arrangements. But this is where the recording process ended up & we’ll probably carry these lessons over to the third album if we’re lucky enough to make it.

How long was Outlier in the making?

We spent about 3.5 to 4 years writing & recording Outlier, amongst touring and working our normal day jobs. There were about 65 or so songs in that time, along with a shitload of incomplete song beds and seeds.

Comparing Outlier with 2012’s debut Silent Machine, where does this new material stand in terms of…?

In teeerrrrmmmsss ooofffff…. NEWness? It’s a lot newer… for sure.

What have you been listening to during the writing process for Outlier, and did it in any way inspire or influence the material on the album?

For sure. There are vibes from Bill Evans (pianist) and Hiatus Kaiyote in “Oxygen.” Vildhjarter influenced some of our heavier shit, Dillinger Escape Plan. I can’t stop listening to Snarky Puppy. I turned to a fair bit of work music for more cultural influences.

Your song titles, in general, seem to be as sweeping and adventurous as your music and album art. I think it works well to set the mood. Is this intentional, or do you guys just throw random names on, based on what sounds cool?

The song titles come from the lyrics. I personally like to deviate from the obvious lyric from the main hook but sometimes that just works best (e.g. Sick). They’re all upgrades from their dodgy working titles.

A lot of people like to throw genre labels around when describing Twelve Foot Ninja’s music, but what do you guys see it as?

We call it Heavy Fusion. Heavy music fused with other genres.

Twelve Foot Ninja

What is your view on technology in music?

We’re always saying “bloody technology ey.” Sometimes praising what it’s capable of and sometimes annoyed at the amount of hurdles we had to go through to get it to do what we want it to do. We’re all for it.

What sort of equipment do you guys use to play live and in the studio?

Stevic (guitarist) and myself use Line 6 gear: Helix and Variax. Russ is on the Pearl kit, rocking the Roland SPDSX for sampling and click. Damon plays Warrick basses. Behringer X32 Mixer and Sennheiser & Westone earphones for in ear monitors.

What are your plans for the future?

Few tours to look forward to. I’m currently on a plane to the U.S for a cheeky festival tour, along with some shows with Sevendust, Nothing More and Hell Yeah. Aussie tour with Disturbed when we go back! There are some things I can’t tell you! For now, the plan is to enjoy the experience.

I think I’m about done with my questions: is there anything you guys would like to add?

Not really pal, you’ve bloody smashed it.

To conclude, I must ask: is Twelve Foot Ninja a fan of dogs?

A couple of us are allergic to dog fur. But we’re all dog people. Cheers pal.

Outlier by Twelve Foot Ninja is available now; order it from here.

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