Interview: Johnathan Coody of Ninja Gun

—Can I tell you all how much it sucks not having internet at home?  I am still waiting for AT&T to fix the ‘net for me.  Luckily I had this nice little piece sitting in pending that I was able to wrap up while at the paying gig.  Enjoy!—

I’ve talked about this South Georgian band once or twice before and openly admit I am a huge fan of them.  The band I am referring to is Ninja Gun and if you have not heard of them, you really are missing out on something good.  They may be a bunch of good ‘ol boys from the dirty south, but they have impressed me and I am not afraid to say that I am a huge fan of them.

Recently the band released an EP entitled Roman Nose on Sabot Records.  I had the opportunity to chat with lead-man Jonathan Coody who was more than kind to answer me some questions about the band, the new release and a whole lot more.  It’s a little lengthy, but I loved all of his responses and just had to share.  Enjoy!

So, how’s the day treating you?

Good so far. I’m making meatloaf for the first time ever.

Sounds delicious…  So what the hell exactly is a Ninja Gun? Who in the band was the one responsible for coming up with such a great band name?

Our buddy Rian Tittle came up with it. Hold your tongue and say it.

Haha.  How did the band come about?

Jeffrey and I are cousins and we played together in an adolescent Ramonesy band called “The Bleeding Gumdrops” in the late ’90s. That eventually ended and we were just kind of writing songs. We went to a show here in town one night and saw these two younger dudes in this band called Caspian playing this really dynamic music. It was kind of like Tortoise. We thought they played with a lot of restraint and tact. That surprised us being that they were 15. Jacob and Thad grew up together too and were childhood friends so they cut their teeth playing together. Really intuitive writers/players. We asked them to come out to the Trailer of Tears to hang out and jam. I had been writing the songs that would eventually become our first full length on acoustic guitar and from the very first time we played those changes together I was stoked. Still am.

Where did you guys derive your sound from? Any influences you care to mention?

Real music fans listen to a wide array of music because they recognize that raw honesty transcends genre. Personally, I find that the roots of any type of music are often the purest. I don’t care if it’s Hank Williams, The Ramones, The Kinks, Howlin’ Wolf or whoever. What you find is a sense of musical intuition in these artists that you don’t find elsewhere. It’s because their musical and emotional instincts lead them to uncharted territory. They get there by absorbing the best music available to them no matter what the source. They recognize beauty in it’s many musical forms, it moves them and then they filter all that they’ve heard through themselves. Without knowing it, the best elements of all that music is culled and synthesized naturally and the product is an original sound.

The Ramones wanted to be The Beach Boys and they sucked at being The Beach Boys, but were wildly successful at being the Ramones. That’s how it works. Good writers have to be real music fans because posers and hacks lack the character traits necessary to properly appreciate music. That’s the problem with all these little money making haircut bands that are currently polluting ears. Their music sucks and is unoriginal because their motives aren’t pure. They make music for the wrong reasons. They listen to one shitty band that gets popular because of fashion and the next thing you know, there’s another 1,000 shitty haircuts emulating that original shitty haircut and it perpetuates ad nauseum. It really is disgusting and it’s reached the trailer parks of South Georgia. Even the Wal-Martians have caught on. Hopefully that means that it’s reached the lowest rung on the cool ladder and it will soon dissipate.

Good music isn’t made because you need to belong to something. It’s made because you have a very primitive urge to articulate and communicate.

Well said man.  Wow.  That was one hell of an answer…

So tell me about South Georgia, specifically, Valdosta. I’veactually been there once. Care to tell everyone else in the world what life is like in the Azalea City?

TV’s Enos from The Dukes of Hazzard is from here. Doc Holliday is from here. Bill Hicks, the greatest comedian that ever lived, is from here.

Let’s see, fried food, intense racism, protestants, high school football, yep that’s about it. Life moves slower here. It’s probably because of the heat. That’s why good art from the South is so introspective. You have time to think about things here. That occurred to me the last time we were in New York City a few months ago. Those people don’t have time to contemplate anything because of constant stimuli. They’re making survival decisions every few seconds. Their scene is in constant flux so they can’t focus. I can walk out my front door and stare at an unmoving landscape. It’s very conducive to abstract thought.

Not a lot of bands hail from that city, I thought From First To Last did, anyways, from what I’ve heard and as you’ve mentioned, high school football is huge there. Were you into sports at all when younger? What was is like growing up in the dirty south?

Nah, they’re not from here (From First To Last). They lived here for a little while and were working with Lee at Earthsound where we record. I talked to them a few times and they seemed like nice enough guys. I’ve never heard any of their music.

Umm, high school football reigns supreme here. ESPN named us Titletown USA a year or so ago because we have the winningest high school football team in the nation. Eat it Texas!  We have a state university here that plays in the local high school team’s stadium if that tells you anything.

Yeah, I played football and baseball until I was about 15. I took piano for about 2 years in middle school and I remember going to my piano lessons in my pads because I had football practice right afterward. I never thought playing piano was sissy or anything because I had a genuine curiosity for it. I was a music fan from birth so when I started having knee problems in middle school and couldn’t play sports anymore I wasn’t bummed. I got a drum kit.

I grew up on a hog farm in Brooks County, GA about 12 miles west of Valdosta. Farming is a lot of work with little payoff these days. Deregulation has allowed corporate farms to wipe out all the small family operations. It’s sad that the agrarian way of life is dying. My brother and I are the first in our line to not farm. My parents worked really hard to give us options in life. My instincts led me to rock and roll.

That’s kind of sad man.  So, for a city surrounded by peach and hog  farms, was it tough to recruit the band?

No, Jeffrey and I are cousins as I mentioned earlier, so he grew up right down the dirt road from me. Jacob and Thad grew up together as I mentioned earlier. There are a lot of real rockers around here because they grew up in a real environment. Most of the farmers that settled this area were Irish immigrants. The Irish are prone to bouts of histrionics that produce the greatest rock and roll. Totally unpretentious and real. That’s why the best stuff has always come from the South. It’s ground zero for African rhythm and Irish melody, the two main components of rock and roll.

A lot of the songs you write seem very personable and include almost a daily life feel to them. Am I right to say that?

Yeah, that’s probably fair to say up till this point. That probably won’t be true much longer. I’m writing a lot more regional music right now about different scenarios that happen around here. Ray Davies did these character sketches of people and situations he knew growing up because he felt the need to show the outside world what made him. A lot of great artists have that inclination.

When not playing or touring, what does everyone do to make spare change?

Jeffrey and I work in the kitchen of a restaurant, Jacob works in another restaurant, and Thad is the most under-appreciated latte artist in town. I do farm work too when my dad needs help.

Gainesville, FL is what, 45-minutes away? Did that music rich city help your band grow?

It’s about an hour and a half South of us. Gainesville has been super supportive of us over the years and we have tons of friends down there. Our first label, Barracuda Sound is there. Everyone there was really encouraging when we were first starting to play out of town as Ninja Gun. There are a lot of true music fans there. People judge you based on your artistic merits and not your haircut. That’s very important.

You have toured the states a few times now with mostly punk rock bands. What is the crowd reaction like when you all take the stage in front of a crowd who might think your band too is a punk rock act?

We’ve been touring since 2004 and we’ve done about 10 national tours actually. We did a lot on our own in the early days. House shows, shitty bars, etc. There’s nothing like driving a thousand miles for $20 and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Dealing with shady promoters who book shows to make money off kids and screw bands are a lot more prevalent than you’d think at the ground floor level. We did our first European tour last year and it was eye opening. We’re planning on going back next Spring.

We’ve never cared about sounding like the bands we play with. I don’t like going to a show and hearing 3 bands that sound the same. Punk rock has more to do with the context in which you operate than what you sound like. What we do is honest and people recognize that when it’s presented to them. Here’s an example. We did 30 shows in 31 days when we were in Europe and Jacob and Jeffrey got food poisoning the night before the last show. It was in Geisen, Germany and we were supposed to play last after 5 crust bands from various parts of Europe. You had your Belgian crust band, your French crust band, your English crust band, etc. They all had strobe lights and we didn’t. Well, we were in the red as far as expenses go so we had to play that show just to pay for the van, gear rental, etc. After this crowd was aurally assaulted by these 5 bands, Thad and I plug in and play without Jacob and Jeffrey who were puking in/near the van. It was two electric guitars and a voice playing our little pop songs and guess what; those people loved it. We sold more merch that night than we had the whole tour. You know why? Because we didn’t judge them. They appreciated and respected the fact that we had the balls to play some pop songs in a German squat to an unsuspecting foreign audience.

That is so awesome.  Who were some of your favorite bands you have toured with? What bands do you wish you could tour with?

Murder By Death, Against Me!, Fake Problems, Gaslight Anthem, all of those were fun. I think we’d all really like to tour with The Black Lips. They’re from Georgia and they’re doing something really cool with pop music. It’s fucked up pop music, but pop none the less.

It definitely seems like the band is getting some well deserved attention. I just saw the video for “That’s Not What I Heard” (off the new Ninja Gun EP Roman Nose) on PasteMagazine.com. How cool is that?

It’s nice that people care enough to listen. The musical landscape these days is so saturated we’re really honored that people would choose to listen to us. We make music that gets us off first and foremost, but it really is rewarding when someone finds something of value in something you’ve created.

Care to talk about Roman Nose for a moment? Why just an EP? Is Ninja Gun going to be releasing a full length anytime soon?

We liked the idea of an EP. Roman Nose is a concept EP that deals with the theme of being steadfast in what you’re doing. We believe in brevity. I like artists that can use a few words to paint a picture. We applied that thought to the number of songs on this release. Also, the time, money, and mental strain that it takes to make a good full length is something that a lot of people don’t understand. We care a lot about quality control. We have no desire to produce product every year. We want people to know that when we put something out it’s going to be worth a shit and not a waste of their money and time. We’re not the type of band that will ever adhere to some release schedule dictated to us by a record label or even the listening public. With that said, given the right resources, I’d be recording every day. We have enough hit songs right now for 2 full lengths. Restless Rubes almost killed us because of the circumstances we were in when we recorded it. That made the idea of an ep very appealing. With that said, I think we’re all ready to do something big again. The stuff we’ve been writing is the best we’ve ever done. It’s just a matter of logistics at this point.

Just curious if Daytrotter asked you to record songs with them yet? I think that would be bad ass. Even a Pink Couch Session would be rad.

Not to my knowledge, but we’d be down to do one. We did a Pink Couch session a year or so ago when we were in Brooklyn, but my voice was shot out from living a little too hard on tour. I quit smoking cigarettes a few months ago and my voice is starting to clear up again. I abused myself for a long time and it really impacted my ability to sing.

So if you’re reading this, QUIT SMOKING!!!

Agreed.  Seems like each time you have played in the  Cleveland/Akron area, weird shit went down. I think the one time the show was cancelled at one of the venues and last year one of the bands, Leatherface, cancelled. What happened and most importantly, when are you coming back?

Oh man do we love Ohio. Such a beautiful, fun state. We played the Zephyr in Kent on our very first tour. The bar is right beside the Cuyahoga River and it’s really cool. I love the people in Ohio. They seem just as cynical and skeptical as I am. Yeah, that Leatherface tour getting canceled was a real bummer. We still don’t know the details of why. I think someone got kicked out of their house or something. Maybe there were some border issues?

The next time you come to Cleveland let me know and I’ll make sure you all see the Rock Hall and chow down on some Melt.

We love the Rock Hall! We’ve been like 5 times. Every time we pass through Cleveland we stop. I thought it might be all Disney and stupid, but if you dig memorabilia and rock history it’s heaven. You get in for free if you’re a touring band too. Just show them a tour laminate or just give them a cd. It’s worth your time. I’ve never had Melt I don’t think. Sounds like my jam though. Melt normally implies that cheese is involved and I do like cheese.

You would love Melt then; it clogs the ateries upon your first couple bites…   Finally, why should someone check out Ninja Gun?

Oh damn, I have to sell us? Ok, well…here goes. If you have ever been force-fed bullshit you will understand where we’re coming from. If you are hungry for life’s beautiful moments you’ll appreciate our desire to tell you about the ones we’ve witnessed. Maybe beauty and the truth are what we’re about. I don’t know. Give us a listen and see what you think.

Thanks Coody!  Looking forward to the next time you roll though Ohio!!!

If you want to check out Ninja Gun, head on over to to their webpage: http://www.ninjagun.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.