Being Gabe Saporta
Cobra Starship's frontman is a rock star for the new age.
By Jonathan Durbin
Photographed by Katherine Wolkoff
Styled by Luigi Tadini
Then I realize there's no way the universe will allow me to be more successful at this juncture. If I were to be more successful, I would lose the desire to keep going. Other people quit, you know? I persevere because I feel like it's not enough."
Saporta is a living, breathing contradiction -- simultaneously bombastic and humble, worldly and spiritual, a hardcore kid who grew up at defunct clubs like Coney Island High and CBGB and went on to play power-pop anthems at last year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. He's so comfortable with his music that he makes the concept of selling out seem arcane, a threadbare relic of the pre-digital world, where success -- and the fakery that inevitably went along with it -- was something to be embarrassed about. Saporta is not embarrassed. He isn't faking it, either. He and his band toured with Justin Bieber and they loved it. "Yeah, it was awesome," the 32-year-old says, grinning. "Punk is dead."
Cobra Starship's fourth full-length, Night Shades, was released late last summer, a collection of radio-friendly jams that includes the double-platinum single, "You Make Me Feel... (featuring Sabi)" and Saporta's favorite, "#1Nite," a seize-the-day style invective about living in the now. The band played Dancing with the Stars, appeared on Leno, Live! with Regis and Kelly and 90210, and has music in rotation on MTV, VH1, Logo, Fuse and, of course, YouTube. (The band's video for "Good Girls Go Bad," featuring vocals and an appearance by Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester, has been viewed more than 13 million times.) Saporta's good looks have made him a natural for print campaigns (Macy's and American Rag), fashion spreads and the tabloids. Us Weekly voted him one of the most stylish New Yorkers. He's commonly credited with being the guy who taught emo kids to dance. He looks sharp in a suit. He enjoys what he does. Increasingly, that adds up to one thing: being Gabe Saporta.
For a guy who's just recently passed into the rock-star stratosphere, he's remained remarkably level-headed. "It's such a blessing to do music for a living. I don't take it for granted," he says. "But people have to listen to it and like it. There's a whole bunch of people whose jobs rely on being able to sell my product. I have to take that into consideration. As much as I never wanted music to be a business, it is." Part of that business is putting in appearances, and not just on the music channels and talk shows. Saporta is a regular at New York Fashion Week shows, which is partly due to Fetherston's influence. He's a fan of his girlfriend's clothes -- "I'm just bummed I don't fit into any of them," Saporta jokes -- but when it comes to his own personal style, he's conflicted. He says he has a love-hate relationship with fashion. "I'm careful about getting sucked in too much by the things that I own. You know, the things that you own start to own you. I grew up listening to punk music. I remember listening to this Fugazi song called 'Merchandise.' The lyric was 'You are not what you own.'"
He also understands the importance of nurturing and maintaining his devoted, in some cases rabid, fans. "My manager always says that if there aren't girls in the crowd, you know the band's never going to last," Saporta says. "Dudes want to get out some angst, but af- ter that angst is gone, they're over it. Girls want to learn the lyrics, sing along forever. They love it in a different way. They nurture it."
Another part of the business is in myth making. There, too, Saporta has proven adept. The apocryphal Cobra Starship genesis narrative involves the singer traveling to the Arizona desert in 2005, smoking peyote and going on a Native American "vision quest," during which he came up with the concept for the band. The story might have been appealingly rife with rock 'n' roll-isms, but it was a lie -- a fiction that helped Saporta get played on the radio without a record deal, and helped him record a song for the soundtrack of Snakes on a Plane, the band's real debut. Later on, however, after their third album, Hot Mess, in 2009, Saporta's search for spirituality actually did become hallucinogenic. "I was having a real tough time. I didn't know if I could continue making music," he recalls. "So I went down to Brazil. I stayed down there for 10 days and did this thing called the diéta, where you just don't eat anything for 10 days except rice and you drink different herbs from the Amazon, one of them being ayahuasca. Total spiritual cleanse. You see things about yourself, and you see how you relate to everyone around you and the universe."
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