by Michele Zipkin
Maybe you’ve heard of the band Shinobi Ninja, maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’re a musician and have recorded with Maniac Mike at his New York-based studio, The Sound Machine. Maybe you are a video game junkie, and know them from their game Shinobi Ninja Attacks, released in 2010 for devices like the iPhone and iPad (they were the first band to come out with an app based on their music). It could be that you have an affinity for horror films, and heard their new song “Amped to 12” in the movie A Haunted House 2, which came out this past April. Or maybe you’re simply a music lover, and heard them playing alongside greats like George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Erykah Badu or the Black Keys. Whatever the reason, you’re probably glad you stumbled onto their unique sound.
Just about every member of Shinobi Ninja goes by at least one stage name, if not multiple. “There are a lot of AKAs,” Mike says. There’s Vocalist D.A. (AKA Doobie, AKA Duke Sims); Vocalist Baby G (AKA G’z, or the Cipher Sergeant, always making sure that order is maintained); DJ Axis, a bodybuilder in another life (AKA insert the name of any celebrity body builder here, and Jaxis); Alien Lex (Alex, AKA A Lex, Uncle Jellyfish, Questions, and Answers with Questions); Dave, the group’s drummer and Mike’s twin brother (AKA Terminator Dave, or Termie); and of course guitarist and engineer Mike (AKA Maniac Mike, AKA Kid Shreddi, and most recently, the Accommodator- because he is very accommodating, so it seems).
The members in the band come from a mixed bag of creative backgrounds. Each player contributes their respective stylistic savviness to the melange of genres that can be heard threaded through their music. “The best way to explain what our music is…it can’t be one thing,” says Mike, the band’s guitarist. “It can’t just be a shred, it can’t just be a rap. It can’t just be a certain beat. There are different musics that make it into our music.”
Like many bands in rock history, Shinobi Ninja came together in a pixelated, haphazard sort of way. The members of the sextet initially crossed paths in the summer of 2006 at Progressive Studios in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. Mike worked as an engineer at the studio, and had a band with his brother Dave, along with DJ Axis, and Alex on lead vocals. Craig Derry of the Sugarhill Gang was teaching a vocal class at the very same studio, where Baby G and D.A. were students.
D.A. was a talented engineer, and together he and Mike made records for the singers in the class. At times D.A. would need a guitar player for a record he was making, and Mike would lend a hand. Small collaborations served as the building blocks of an overarching musical force known as Shinobi Ninja.
The band officially came to fruition in 2008 when they wrote the song “Brooklyn to Babylon.” After a handful of gigs, the volume started to ramp up, so to speak, and they knew that the project was getting serious. But in the midst of playing and touring together as a cohesive unit, some of the band members had to take an occasional hiatus to pursue individual projects. Baby G, for instance, had to duck out from time to time to dance with the likes of Rihanna, LL Cool J and Santigold.
“She’s the most incredible performer. That was the star power of the whole thing. We were just so eclectic that for us to be in a band…that was kind of an afterthought,” Mike says.
Much to their chagrin’, an unexpected glitch put a slight damper on the band’s ability to record their music. Violence plagued the studio where they had initially come together, and the owners decided not to renew their lease. “There was all kinds of craziness and drugs,” Mike says. “And they demolished it. It was heartbreaking- we had no place to make records.”
Following the demolition of the studio, Mike resorted to Craigslist in hot pursuit of a new recording space. “I was eating breakfast with the fellows one day, and I said- would someone please move out of their studio, for the love of god, and just let me have it?” About thirty seconds after he said that, he got a call from one of the ads he had answered. That new studio came to be The Sound Machine, where they would make all of the Shinobi Ninja albums, as well as those of other seasoned musicians.
An eclectic mix of influences in tandem with engineering records for old school hip hop bands- Black Sheep and a Tribe Called Quest among them- make for Shinobi’s unique, multi-genre sound. They have a long list of stylistic elements that have to make an audible appearance in their music in order for them to be who they are.
“Back in the day you would hear people say, that’s a Bo Diddley beat, must be a Bo Diddley song. If you heard anything from Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, you’d instantly think, that’s Dr. Dre,” Mike says. “There are so many things that we have to have to call it Shinobi Ninja.”
Just as Mike’s clients “…wouldn’t be caught dead not being themselves,” the guys in Shinobi Ninja would not have it any other way for their own musical identity. He made it very clear that they have no intention of signing any record deal in which they’d have to sacrifice their creative integrity even one iota. “We’re always challenging ourselves to write the best song and find a good melody. That’s what it’s really about- music, lyrics, energy, positivity.”
Shinobi Ninja has a few albums up their sleeve that are on the verge of release, including Escape from New York, out on June 3rd. They will celebrate its release at Cameo in New York City, and make a tour stop at Connie’s Ric Rac on July 12th. Catch the show and hear their particular brand of rock, hip-hop, funk, metal, reggae, and post-punk rolled up into one explosive performance.