When Out first spoke to Gabe Saporta, the lead singer of Cobra Starship, he happily gabbed about his album's queer collaborators, that time he made out with Pete Wentz, and his enduring crush on Justin Timberlake. Under all the trash talk, though, there was the tease of hard-core smarts.
We got him back on the phone for a rare serious conversation about the sexual politics behind his ridiculously fun dance-rock band, currently kicking ass on the Vans Warped Tour. Read on for more about his (and his bandmates') nudist tendencies, the musicians who most influenced his bad attitude, and how the emo scene is getting in the way of actual progress.
Out: It seems that people either respond really well to ambiguous sexuality -- or really badly.
Gabe Saporta: I totally agree. I have that problem all the time.
What problem, that people think you're a fag?
My vibe is a very sexual vibe overall -- I am very ambiguous. I like to push the boundaries on everything, from sexuality to politics. I like to just talk shit on everything: You call me on my shit, I'll call you on yours, and hopefully we'll find the truth somewhere in the middle. And I like to challenge everything, especially conventional notions of sexuality. I remember when I was 12, Nirvana played Saturday Night Live, and Kurt Cobain kissed Krist Novoselic on the air, and a lot of people were like, Oh, he's a faggot. And even being 12, I remember I understood that he was doing that to go against notions of homophobia. Some people are always going to misunderstand what you're saying. They had a song called "Rape Me" and people thought it was advocating rape, but it was really a song that was against rape. Nirvana is the band that influenced me to play music. Artists are always supposed to be able to give you a perspective outside of the social norm. It's a responsibility of ours.
What kind of reactions have you had to your, well, vibe?
No one fucks with me to my face. But I'll read shit online where kids say I'm a faggot, or my friends are. Sexuality is just something that we as a society are not comfortable talking about to begin with. And when you talk about ambiguity and sexuality, people get even more uncomfortable. I find that the people who have a hard time with it are people who are uncomfortable with their sexuality. Even within my own band, I find that. In my old band [Midtown], we all would always show each other our cocks, you know? Like, our cocks were always out. It wasn't even a homosexual thing. It was just like a bunch of good old boys showing their dicks around. Was that sexually ambiguous or was it homophobic or what? I don't know. My band now, everyone's weird about being naked. Except for me.
Your Cobra bandmate Ryland Blackinton blogged about getting called a fag by kids outside a show. What would you have done if you'd been standing there with him?
This happened to me in Belgium when we played this festival. And there were these punk rock kids -- like old-school punk rock kids that spent like three hours putting spikes on their jackets and doing their Mohawks, kids who are living like it's still 1977 but at home playing around with the computers their moms bought them, talking about revolution -- those kids were there. And on top of looking like punk rock and not getting it, they were calling us fags while we were playing. And I was like, you can't fuck with me like that. I'll just make you more of a fool. I said, "I may be a fag, but I do the fucking around here. Come on up, dude. Why don't you bend over?" A dude like Ryland, he's wittier than anything, and he'll say something back that's witty.
How do your fans react?
When I was growing up the acceptable homosexual ambiguity was girls making out with each other. And now kids are writing fanfiction about guys making out with each other -- that's pretty hot, that's sweet. Guys making out with each other was never considered cool or hot.
And there seem to be a thousand videos on YouTube of girls goading emo boys into making out at parties.
That's fucking awesome. I remember growing up there was this hardcore band from Florida called A New Kind of American Saint, and they had in their artwork this one dude from the band who just fucking put everyone else's dicks in his mouth! And he was totally not gay, but I thought that was so rad. And do you remember the Through Being Cool artwork by Saves the Day? Remember how it was like, where's Dave? They copied the whole thing, and at the end and it was like, oh, he's getting his dick sucked by some other dude! And also Propagandhi -- they were this super progressive band, and all these frat dudes started getting into them. There's this fucking amazing song on their second album. The lyrics in one are insane -- it's like a mosh song about being gay. I don't even think he was gay, he was just trying to scare off homophobes.
You're signed to Pete Wentz's label, Decaydance. Do you two talk about this kind of shit?
We don't talk about shit at all. Our vibe is kind of the same. We're coming from the same place. It's not about being gay or not. But I've been called a fag by homophobic kids, and then I've been called homophobic by super PC people. It's almost like you can't win on that. I consider myself to be a very liberal person. But in my view political correctness is like neo-conservatism. What modern liberalism does is make you look in the mirror and say how amazing you are. My vibe is, you should look onto a blank slate and project. It shouldn't matter what you see. It's hard for me because the emo scene is so big on how you feel -- for me, it's all bullshit. It should be about making progress, and progress can't be made if everyone's crying about how they're offended. A lot of my friends are gay, and we all call each other "fag." For me, that kind of talk is funny -- it doesn't really matter. It shouldn't matter. But some people get offended by that. I got an email saying, "I can't believe Cobra Starship is homophobic and use that kind of language." I have to be careful about what I say, because people might take it the wrong way. [Pauses] How do you feel about that kind of language?
I say "fag" way more than most people I know. But I try hard not to say it in a shitty way or ever use it as an insult.
People are so sensitive about things in our culture, so people feel like to do right by everyone else they have to walk on eggshells. And one of the things that happens is that people end up getting repressed, so you don't want to even mention that this person you know is gay, because it might be considered an insult. That just leads to weirdness, and anger, and hatred. People ask me all the time if I'm gay. And maybe if I was gay I would have more of a problem saying it. Maybe -- I don't know. If anything, I have a problem sometimes saying that I'm not gay, you know? I feel like I'm letting them down sometimes.
Do you think you give gay fans unfair expectations?
Yeah, like, do they feel like I'm just trying to market to them? Because I'm not. We use language and tags to make things fit into boxes. Something like sexuality isn't so easily defined by saying one thing or another. I even had this argument with my girlfriend. She works with a lot of men that later on realized they were gay. She's of the persuasion that if you make out with a dude that you're gay. I'm like, no, they're bi, or some people just like to experiment. My feeling is not that you're gay or not gay -- it's like Nirvana says, "Everyone is gay." What does that even mean, that you're gay? The fact that we try to define it as you're gay, straight or you're bi -- what is that? People don't always fit nicely into categories like that.
How do you think an out gay artist would fit into the Decaydance family?
I feel like we'd be all cool with it. I guess it depends on how the gay person is. We have a lot of gay friends, and the ones that are really out and very comfortable with it make everyone else comfortable with it. You can joke around. Part of our thing is we talk on shit on each other on everything. We'll get into shit-talking matches. We'll make fun of each other for everything -- me being an immigrant, me being Jewish, whatever. In a way, that's a very good old boy, hetero thing to do, to make fun of certain things. But hetero dudes never make fun of their sexuality -- or do they? I don't know.
Maybe not where they're the butt of the joke.
We're the butt of our jokes, hard-core, all the time. As long as that person was really out, and comfortable with themselves, and could hang with that kind of humor that we have -- then it would be OK. Our humor's really fucked up, and I love that. We make the craziest jokes.
If you weren't on Pete's label, would you worry more about what you say?
What's brought us all together is that we grew up in a very similar environment. The Academy Is... and Fall Out Boy grew up in the same scene in Chicago, and I grew up in a very analogous scene in Jersey. Pete and I definitely have a consensus. We don't talk about things, but we're coming from the same place. We had those progressive views, being influenced by the same bands. Our vibe was the same about how you make music, how you record -- very D.I.Y., play by your own rules. I've never been in a situation where I felt like I wasn't going to just do what I do. That's why I play music in the first place -- you don't have to deal with that bullshit. If you don't like it, you can go fuck yourself. If I had a regular job, I might have to think about that a little more.