I got a chance to sit down with Kin Etik, the captivating front man of Twelve Foot Ninja, to discuss music, touring, television, wildlife, and so much more. We are both passionate squirrel lovers and I adore him for it. I’ve been enjoying their album, Silent Machine, so I was stoked to see them perform live. This is the first U.S. tour for this amazing Australian band and I expected them to be good, but what I saw and heard blew me away. They were perfect and pulled everything off. I was curious to see how some of their songs would translate from the album to the stage and I was pleasantly surprised. They were positively seamless. Kin was a dream to interview. He instantly made me fell comfortable. Kin was courteous, well-spoken, and offered some cultural insight. He definitely made a lifelong fan out of me. You have to check out Silent Machine and see Twelve Foot Ninja live. You will not regret it.
Lena: I love your video for “Coming For You.” What inspired that?
Kin Etik: Excellent. I’m not actually sure what inspired it. I think Stevic, our guitarist, he basically conceptualized the visual content and I think he was basically looking at YouTube videos one day and he basically made a little cut of – I think it was a clip of Pantera’s “Five Minutes Alone,” Korn’s “Freak on a Leash,” something from Buena Vista Social Club, a Korean drummer video, and Earth, Wind & Fire. He just sort of cut it together over “Coming For You” and he basically just said that he’d like to do a clip utilizing those images and all of us were going to dress up as Earth, Wind & Fire and do our little take on it. That’s all it really was.
Lena: Is there going to be a sequel?
Kin Etik: It’s possible. It’s very possible.
Lena: I loved you in drag and the porn stache. It must have been fun.
Kin Etik: That was a lot of fun, actually. It was liberating to be a woman for a day. It was awesome.
Lena: Are any of you actual ninjas?
Kin Etik: Yes, but not ninjas as far as martial artists are concerned. We are ninjas in different ways. I consider myself a coffee ninja. I have this way of scouting out decent coffee. We are all sort of ninjas in completely different ways.
Lena: You guys could come together and make a twelve-foot ninja, like Transformers or…
Kin Etik: [Laughing.] That would be cool. We could all join together like Voltron.
Lena: Yeah, Voltron, that’s what I meant. [My geek card has clearly been revoked.]
Lena: What have been some of the highlights and the lowlights on this tour?
Kin Etik: Highlights – Definitely some of the cities that we’ve played. I would definitely love to come back and tour more. San Francisco was fantastic. I loved Seattle, Vancouver, and Quebec. There are just so many. French Canada, I love French Canada. It’s actually inspired me to properly learn French and go back and hang out there for a few months.
Lena: Montreal is awesome.
Kin Etik: Yes, Montreal is awesome. That was actually a really good show. They were really passionate, warm friendly people. They love their music. It seemed to me like they had a very big art culture there. Our touring seems to be centered around three things – finding showers, wi-fi, and toilets. The whole experience really, that is central to touring and finding those things can be incredibly frustrating. You can go days without having a shower. As soon as we land at a venue the guys just break for the toilets and the first question that they ask is if there is a shower at the venue. It’s frustrating. It’s been an interesting experience for me. I’ve basically seen the extremes of America – the extreme wealth vs. the extreme poverty. I’m a bit of a humanist so I’ll talk to anyone. I’ve actually stopped and had a chat with a lot of homeless people, just to get a sense of their condition. It’s pretty bad over here. There is a massive sort of disparity. That to me has been, I don’t know, kind of saddening, but at the same time it’s enlightened me to the economic situation of the country. I’ve learnt a lot. It’s made me very angry too, really, really angry. That’s kind of been, not a low point of the tour, but I don’t know those things weigh heavily on me.
Lena: Is it like that in Australia?
Kin Etik: There is a bit of it, it just seems to be more amplified here because there’s more people.
Lena: Do you guys take care of your own?
Kin Etik: We do, but at the same time we are the same. We are kind of apathetic unless it’s at our doorstep or is affecting our own family. We don’t really seem to care. A lot of my friends are against giving homeless people money and their excuse for that is that they are just going to go spend it on drink, or whatever. My excuse for giving them money is well, these people are living on the streets and whatever brings them comfort – be that alcohol or be that food, or drugs, whatever it is it’s just that little bit of comfort or medication to get them through the circumstances of which they find themselves in. So yeah, I think the apathy is the same anywhere you go, especially in the west. As I said, the disparity is a lot larger here. The wealth here is much more extreme. I think it’s just more amplified.
Lena: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about Australians?
Kin Etik: That we’re racists. I think that’s probably the biggest one. We’re not all racists, of course, as with anywhere you go, there are pockets of small mindedness and what conservative thinkers or just rednecks, backwards rednecks, we are not all racists. We don’t view our own indigenous cultures as a lesser race, or anything like that. I think there is a bit of a misconception about Australians being against anyone who is not Anglo, which isn’t true at all.
Lena: What are some of the things that we say here that do not make any sense to you?
Kin Etik: I haven’t really encountered anything and I think the reason for that is because our culture and the way we communicate is adapted from America, really from American movies and American television. We are really bombarded by American television at home. We don’t really have much of a culture of our own, the Anglo side of Australia. We’ve kind of created a few things like Vegemite and meat pies. We pride ourselves on drinking beer and Australian rules football and those sort of things. It’s not really a culture, so to speak. I think the way we communicate has been pretty much adapted by the aid from American culture and the movies or the Internet, which is predominated by Americans. [Laughing.] I haven’t really heard anything that’s caught my attention and I’ve thought, “What the fuck are you saying?” [Laughing.] Nothing has really caught me off guard.
Lena: I fell into the rooting trap.
Kin Etik: Yeah, yeah rooting. [Lauging.]
Lena: I was wondering why the Aussies were smiling and laughing so much. [Laughing.]
Kin Etik: Yeah.
Lena: Can you talk about the making of your first full-length album?
Kin Etik: It took us two years to complete, well from conception to birth, and it was a hard process. We started off not really knowing what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. We had a few songs that we had been playing live and experimented with since the release of Smoke Bomb, which was our second EP. We didn’t really know stylistically where we wanted to go so we basically, over those two years, kept getting into a room together and working on ideas. Steve would be on Pro Tools and the rest of us would be singing melody lines or riffs, which was kind of a frustrating process too. There were quite a few arguments over style and I don’t know, I can be pretty I suppose single-minded about where I’d like to go. I listen to a lot of music and I suppose I have a particular taste and sometimes the guys would go, “We love this bit.” And I would go, “No, it’s not good enough. It’s not challenging enough. It’s not different enough. It’s not experimental.” I know that was pretty frustrating to the other guys but I think it balanced out. We all did it to each other. It was a really hard process. It was like teething. We got there in the end and I think we wrote like thirteen songs and twelve of those became the album. We were all pretty happy with the end result. It wasn’t exactly what we wanted. It was like 98 percent of what we wanted. I think the next one will be a little more indicative of us as a group. We are writing together as a group a lot more now and I think further down the road our music will reflect that. We also have a much better band dynamic and a much better band chemistry. I think the music will reflect that also. Within those two years we really didn’t know who we were. It was tough. It was a bit of a fight, how we got there.
Lena: You guys remind me of Mr. Bungle. You’re very eclectic.
Kin Etik: Yes, we hear that a bit.
Lena: That’s not a bad thing.
Kin Etik: Absolutely! We all look up to those guys. They are incredible musicians. Especially Steve and myself, we’ve been fans of Mr. Bungle for years and we didn’t want to be that eclectic. They are crazy eclectic. We wanted to have a little more appeal. They are kind of underground and yeah, I don’t know. We are a little bit more conservative than that, I think. We love Mr. Bungle and they have been quite an influence on us.
Lena: I see you guys have been enjoying our squirrel population.
Kin Etik: Yeah! [Kin’s reaction to this was the sweetest thing ever. You have to respect a man that enjoys wildlife. I could spend hours just listening to his animal stories. We did spend some time discussing animals and I refuse to apologize for it. Thank you, Kin for being a good sport. Let the animal stories commence.]
Lena: I love squirrels.
Kin Etik: Unbelievable! Especially the other day I think we were in Montreal and we pulled up alongside a university campus and I just sort of stood outside the bus just looking around and I saw like easily over half a dozen just scampering around, these little black ones. They are the coolest little things. They are awesome. [Laughing.] We are falling in love with them.
Lena: They love peanuts by the way. If you have some they will come right over to you.
Kin Etik: Awesome! That’s good to know.
Lena: What’s the squirrel equivalent in Australia?
Kin Etik: We have possums. Possums are far more aggressive than squirrels. You wouldn’t want to go over and pat one they would scratch your face off. They tend to nest inside the roofing of our houses and make horrible noises and root a lot [laughing]. They are kind of considered a pest but they are beautiful to look at. I would say possums would be the equivalent.
Lena: Any good wombat stories?
Kin Etik: Years and years ago, a friend of mine was driving and ended up hitting a wombat. These things, you have to understand, are big and they are really, really heavy. You look at them and they are all cute and they look fluffy so they look like you can pick them up like a pillow, but they are more like a dozen bricks. If you hit them you can do severe damage to your car, which my friend did. If you’re driving in Australia you’ve got to watch out them and particularly kangaroos. Kangaroos will just jump out in front of your car and some kangaroos are like seven foot tall. They are huge and muscular and it would be like hitting a full refrigerator. You can severely rot off your car.
Lena: I don’t think there is an Australian that doesn’t have a story involving a kangaroo hitting him in the nuts.
Kin Etik: That is true. [Laughing.] People actually try, and I don’t know why they do this, to fight them. The thing is with a kangaroo is that their legs are so powerful and what they do is they stand up on their tail and they rear their legs up, their claws will literally rip you open. I’ve seen footage of a couple of people try to fight them and they almost always come off second best.
Lena: What are you watching on television?
Kin Etik: Sadly, of course, I just finished watching Breaking Bad, which I think is my favorite series in the last decade. I haven’t started watching the next season of The Walking Dead yet. I’ll do that when I get home. We seem to be watching quite a bit of Adventure Time on the bus because Stevic is a massive fan of Adventure Time. It’s a cartoon and it’s wacky. The only way I can describe it is I believe the writers probably took an inhuman dose of acid before working on it because it’s really out there. It’s something else. Elementary, I’ve been watching that as well. I really love that show. I’ve been meaning to catch up on Boardwalk Empire. I really love that show. I love Steve Buscemi. That’s about it at the moment, but I’ll catch up on a lot of that stuff when I get home.
Lena: What’s next for you when you return home?
Kin Etik: A little bit of a break. At the moment we are sort of working on music for the next release. We are also in negotiations for our next touring schedule. It looks like we are coming back to The States early next year, about March, April, May, around there. We are hoping to play at SXSW. Basically, I think we’ll get home and have a bit of a rest and we’ll figure out what we are doing next. We are sort of waiting for a couple of confirmations for a couple of festivals in Australia. It will just be more writing and more touring. It’s scheduled that we will get two weeks off after this and we’ll get Christmas off as well, so that will be cool.
Lena: I’m interviewing Kim [from Dead Letter Circus] next, any embarrassing stories about Kim that you can share?
Kin Etik: He’s actually a really interesting cat. He’s a funny dude and I love him to bits. He has this really interesting scent about him. It’s like this natural pheromone or scent and girls are just [drawn to it]. It’s incredible. He’s got this musk about him and someone told me about it and I was like, oh, yeah, yeah…but we toured with them with Fair to Midland in Australia and someone had told me this story before the tour and he walked past me, down this corridor, and I went, “Oh, my god that is something else.” It’s beautiful; it’s just a beautiful musky scent. Kim’s just a natural sort of magnetic, musky guy.
Lena: [Laughing.] It’s the accents, you guys and your gorgeous accents. [For the record, Kin sounds exactly like Chris Hemsworth.]
Kin Etik: [Laughing.] Kim’s a legend and he’s been giving me vocal tips and all sorts of stuff. He’s great to tour with. That’s about all I can say. Nothing bad.
Lena: Dana from Sydonia set me up the last time I interviewed Kim because he had a story and I didn’t know it was filthy until I brought it up to Kim. Dana thought it was funny because I’m really shy. [It was hilarious and a good ice breaker.]
Kin Etik: [Laughing.] Yeah, I could tell you stories but I don’t think they would be printable.