Whether or not you’re a fan of Childish Gambino, it’s hard to deny the reasoning behind his 2013 album, “Because the Internet.” In this day and age, it’s almost astounding how much can be accomplished by artists, entrepreneurs, crowd-funders and basically anyone, thanks to the invention of the world wide web. Brooklyn band, Shinobi Ninja has certainly made a career of using the internet to their advantage.
Last week, following the pumping excitement of another trip to Austin’s SXSW, Shinobi’s vocalist, Duke Sims, was generous enough to give me some talk time and chat about what the band stands for, how they came together, and how they’re making it work in a world almost overrun with music genres and T Swift songs.
Sims names one of Shinobi’s key accomplishments as staying together as a band for eight years. In the era of Craigslist bands and hobbyists who aren’t sure what they want from life, that seems like a pretty fair assessment.
“I think our biggest accomplishment as a band is freaking making it eight years,” Sims admits. “Some bands don’t make it eight months. It’s all about focus and energy and determination.”
The six ninjas who make up Shinobi Ninja, including Sims, Baby G (vocalist), Maniac Mike (guitar), Alien Lex (bass), DJ Axis Powers (turntables) and drummer, Terminator Dave, are undoubtedly a story of what dedication, positive energy and the power of the internet can do.
The crew initially began to come together at a recording studio called Progressive Music in New York City, where Sims, Mike and the original bassist worked. (Fun fact: Mike and Terminator Dave are twins!) Sims and Shinobi’s original bass player, Jonathan Simone, were playing various venues around the city with the help of whoever was available at the time, while the twins (Mike and Dave), and DJ Axis played in their own band, Stalley & the Wax Machine.
When Stalley & the Wax Machine decided to disband, Sims stepped in to take the lead, and when the guys came together with Baby G, whose sights were set on conquering singing like she had dancing, Shinobi’s seeds were planted.
“Baby G, when she first started the band, probably sacrificed the most,” Sims shares. “She was dancing for Rihanna, Santigold, Diddy, Ricky Martin…she was at the top of her profession. There was no higher than that. But when you want to do something like be in a band, you have to jump off the building, so she jumped off the building.”
Based on Sims’ account, Baby G, herself, is a tale of determination, focus and energy. Essentially, the girl came to the city of lights with no dancing experience and a job at Swatch, and before giving it all up to be the vocalist in a metal band, she’d made it to the top of the top (let’s be real, dancing for Rihanna and RICKY MARTIN is kind of a big deal).
Her dedication to her craft and talent to make it happen is representative of the band itself. Shinobi has been fully complete since Alien Lex’s appearance in 2011 (Lex was a fan who got a pretty sweet chance!), and by all accounts, the group has been hustling and grinding the whole time. From producing their own music and videos to branding themselves and scouring the internet for fans, Shinobi Ninja is a self-professed “DIY band.”
“It’s all about hard work,” Sims says. “There’s nobody telling you that you have to work hard. It’s just you versus you. If you want things to happen, you have to make them happen yourself.”
From the get-go, Shinobi has proven they’re up to the task. After deciding on a name (which comes from a combination of influences, including a favorite video game and the architectural design of the twins’ mom’s Piermont, NY home), the group set to work branding themselves, a move that Sims maintains is indispensable.
“That’s one of the hardest things you can is brand yourself, in any business,” he says. “Doesn’t matter if you’re doing book bags or guitars or pencils, it’s all about branding.”
In choosing colors and merch designs and creating their own unique sound, Shinobi Ninja nailed that aspect of the game. Within a few months of coming together, the band played Afropunk and made television appearances, and in the years since, they’ve been featured on NBA 2K12, the soundtrack for A Haunted House 2, The Killing, and much more. Baby G was featured as a coach on MTV’s Made (back when MTV was relevant), and the band was even chosen by New Music Seminar as one of the best new bands, and they’ve done it all without the help of nary a fat cat.
In fact, Sims rates playing that show at The Roxy for New Music Seminar as one of the best experiences so far, along with hearing their music in a movie theatre and on a video game loop. He also maintains that giving it their all, no matter what the occasion, is part of how they’ve climbed so high, even from their very first show.
“You can’t deny energy, be it positive or negative,” he says. “Whatever you put to the wall is gonna bounce back at you. That’s just what we did. Our stage presence was all or nothing. We were just dying to live. We didn’t know what to do. We knew we had to express ourselves, and people got that. Even if the sound wasn’t fully developed, even if we weren’t fully developed, we were still energetically giving it our best. That came across. It always comes across.”
According to Sims, that dynamic energy still comes across, each time Shinobi Ninja reaches out to someone on Twitter in an attempt to share new music or releases a new video on YouTube or takes the stage for a smaller show in their home city. As helpful as the powerful connecting potential of the internet can be, it all comes down to the perseverance, dedication and effort the band brings to the table.
“With the internet, you can put out quality, great art, and you can be distributed throughout the world,” Sims maintains. “You still have to have the determination and want to do it. Even though the internet and the technology is there, if you don’t want to do it, then it doesn’t matter.”
Between their obvious success, the number of sheer outreach efforts on social media and Sims’ description of “couch gut,” it’s clear Shinobi Ninja does want to do it.
The Shinobi crew is no group of gods though, and they have their rough spots like anyone. Sims says the key to pushing past these days and staying ahead is harnessing positive energy and using it to reach further and further toward the top.
“You’re always gonna have positive and negative thoughts,” he admits, “but you’ve gotta persevere with the positive, always, because the negative isn’t gonna bring you anywhere.”
I have to agree with that train of thought, and it seems as though their throngs of fans do as well. Even as a band who produces a wide variety of music, from high tempo metal jams to more relaxed, introspective tunes, Shinobi Ninja never sees a change in fans that isn’t positive. Sims attributes this to their fans’ real love for music itself.
“Real music fans love music, period,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how it’s being presented, it’s all about melodies and quality.”
Is there a better kind of fan? Fortunately for fans, old and new, Shinobi Ninja is looking towards a pretty dynamic 2016. Having just finished a brand new album, the band is shopping for a label to sponsor their release, hoping to bring their sound to a wider audience than they have so far.
“We try to be smart business people and do right for us, not just put music out because it’s cool,” Sims says. “We have to figure out how to put this music out so that it gets the broadest reach.”
Not only are Baby G and the guys wearing their business hats this year, they’re spending ample time in front of the camera, thanks to YouTube, and looking forward to hitting the stage in as many places as possible, hopefully including L.A.
As far as shows go, their first order of business is Williamsburg’s The Hall at MP this weekend. Shinobi hits the stage on April 1, and whether you’ve heard these guys or not, it’s a show worth attending. As far as I know, Williamsburg is still the cool place to be. Pair that with good music, and you’ve got yourself a damn good way to spend April Fool’s Day…all because the internet.