L.A. Cobra Interview
L.A. COBRA INTERVIEW
Date: July 7, 2022
Interviewer: Jerzy Nykiel
Photos: Jerzy Nykiel (fifth photo), Debbie Lee Photography (all other photos)
There are at least two very good reasons why an interview with the South African sleaze rockers L.A. Cobra at this moment is not a moment too soon. The band released their fourth album ‘Superstition’ on June 24th and they were touring Europe for the first time since 2019 in early July. The tour took L.A. Cobra on a trek through three European countries, namely Belgium, The Netherlands, and France. Sleaze Roxx caught up with the band halfway through their tour in Amsterdam and got to talk to all of the guys — that is singer Don Cobra, guitarist Slade, bassist Ewil Honey, and drummer A.D. (of Wolkberg and Them Dirty Shrieks) who was filling in for the permanent drummer Callie the Animal on this string of dates. Needless to say, it felt refreshing to meet the band in person and hang out with them in a bar prior to the show. Sleaze Roxx readers will be familiar with the band’s previous album, ‘Shotgun Slinger’ which came in fourth on Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2017.
You can purchase L.A. Cobra’s new album via their Facebook page and/or stream the album via Crusader Records / Golden Robot Records.
Sleaze Roxx: First of all, I’m very happy to be here and to see you guys in real life rather than in front of a computer screen. How has the tour been going so far?
Don Cobra: Good! We’ve had a lot of beer so it’s a good tour. We’ve had great response so far and we’re just glad to be back. Especially now that Covid is hopefully over, we’re going to do this a lot more.
Sleaze Roxx: Initially there were reports that Wildstreet was going to join you on this run. Could you say what happened?
Don Cobra: Wildstreet canceled their shows a few weeks before the tour. I think they’ve got some shows lined up in the US that are a higher priority than the European tour. That’s also financially better for them than to come and tour Europe at the moment. Plus, they were in Europe in October last year.
Sleaze Roxx: This is your second European tour which follows the first one in March 2019. What are your memories from that tour and do you have any tour stories?
Don Cobra: We have a lot of memories and a lot of stories we cannot tell [laughs]. Sleazefest [in Bochum, Germany] was definitely a highlight. Also playing De Verlichte Geest [in Roselare, Belgium] with the Cruel Intentions was a highlight for me. So was Paunchy Cats [in Lichtenfels, Germany] with Trench Dogs.
Slade: That tour was busy. It was our first one so we didn’t really know what to expect. Doing that tour and the fan response just blew us away completely. We had built momentum with ‘Shotgun Slinger’. The album did really well and everyone loved it. The plan was to release this next album much earlier and come back to touring much earlier. So it feels like we’ve lost a bit of momentum with Covid, postponing everything for two years, not being able to tour. But now we’re here and we’re picking it up again. We’re feeling that excitement when there are people coming to see us who saw us back then. The response is really cool.
Sleaze Roxx: Are you planning more tours overseas this year or in the near future?
Don Cobra: Not this year at the moment, but perhaps in the near future, that is early next year. There’s maybe a possibility for Germany in December. I’m going to work on that as soon as we’re home and see what the options are. The point is that we don’t just want to play one show. We want to build a couple of shows around it. I think December is a good time because it’s not a festival season, so such a tour could be very busy.
Sleaze Roxx: You tour a lot in Belgium and the Netherlands. Is there any special reason for it? What I mean is that you often say that you have a large fanbase in Scandinavia.
Don Cobra: The main show on this tour was actually booked in 2020 with Crashdïet for the Coq Rock festival so we organized some gigs around us. The plan was initially to do some gigs in Sweden, but since March, we didn’t know where we were, what restrictions are going to be lifted, what the airline prices are going to be like. In the end, we decided to keep this tour small in the vicinity of the Coq Rock festival where we are playing this Saturday.
Slade: I really think the next tour should be Scandinavia because, I mean, the response and support from that side are absolutely fantastic. It’s something we want to work on, but we’re also trying to work with some of the festivals. We want to see if we can get a foot in at one of the festivals. If it could be Sweden Rock, it would be great. Since Crashdïet and Hardcore Superstar and other bands share a label with us, it might make it easier for us to get in touch and do some shows in Sweden.
Sleaze Roxx: What does touring look like in your home country? Can you actually tour there, or do you mostly do fly-in shows and festivals?
Don Cobra: You can tour there but at the moment in our hometown, there aren’t so many venues left, so you have to book shows far away, which is not always feasible. Still we did play in Cape Town, Durban, and Bloemfontein quite often at least before Covid. I think things are going to pick up now in the springtime. We haven’t really booked anything in the last two years because our album wasn’t ready. Now that album is out however, you can tour but it’s not as nice as Europe.
L.A. Cobra‘s “She’s My Prison” video (from Superstition album):
Sleaze Roxx: You often say you’re the first and only sleaze band in Africa. Are there any followers? Are there any new bands there in the genre?
Slade: We have followers especially in Pretoria. We did an album launch there and it was on fire completely. But all in all, South Africa has a strange music approach. There are a lot of different genres in South Africa and I wouldn’t say that sleaze is the biggest one of them. Africaans rock is very big in South Africa and then African languages with their music as well form a massive industry. As for sleaze, I think that’s why we reached out to Scandinavian crowds, or broadly speaking European crowds and even American crowds. Our new album ‘Superstition’ has been selling quite well in America and even Japan. Those are the countries that appreciate the music. It sometimes feels like the foreign countries appreciate our music more than our local crowds. This will be the case until we make it big overseas because then they’re going to want to book us at every festival but that’s just the way it works. Ultimately, South Africa is a strange place in terms of music taste. It’s very diverse and that splits the scene, I think. You get niche groups, you get the rockers and the metalheads and you get independent artists and you get acoustic. It’s quite spread out, if you understand what I’m saying. There’s a big market for music in South Africa. But sleaze bands…
Ewil Honey: I can vouch for L.A. Cobra being the first sleaze band in South Africa because I saw it unfold with my own eyes.
Sleaze Roxx: In some interviews and reviews you’ve been called a glam band, a sleaze band or a hair metal band. Are you comfortable with a label like that? Some bands are not so what’s your your view on that?
Don Cobra: I am comfortable being called a hair metal band. We all have hair and love metal. It’s the music we grew up with, we’re playing it and it’s in our blood so I’m comfortable with it.
Slade: What is frustrating is that such labels are a two-way sword. It’s a compliment if you get linked with Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses and all the stereotypical bands of the 80’s. On the other hand, when we went out to write this new album and ‘Shotgun Slinger’ as well, we never went out to sound like a hair metal band. We feel the music is fresh and new and it’s hard rock or sleaze perhaps. But in some of the reviews of ‘Superstition’, people related this album to Dokken and Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses and it’s a compliment on one side, but on the other side, we try not to be that stereotypical 80’s band. It was strange to hear Dokken comparisons in fact.
Don Cobra: Yesterday, I saw a German review and it said we sound like Dokken. I was then talking to Martin Sweet [of Crashdïet] who mixed ‘Superstition’ and I asked him whether he could hear Dokken in our album? He answered positively.
Slade: None of us really actively listens to Dokken but such comparisons are going to be made and that’s fair enough. Still it’s not intentional. You obviously need to be placed into a genre or a category. I think we’ve been perhaps leaning more towards hard rock and sleaze but and definitely not glam. I’m fine with sleaze.
Sleaze Roxx: I do think you have unique sound. While I would never think of Dokken, there is some uniqueness about you. Some reviews of ‘Superstition’ mention those time changes characteristic of your sound.
Slade: We want to be unique. We don’t want to sound like anyone else. We never, as a band, said, ‘Listen, let’s copy this sound and do it like them’. But the cool thing is that the influences in the band are very diverse. We all have the background of the 80’s which we love but what we listen to currently is very diverse. I think, when we write a song, someone brings an idea to the table, everyone contributes something else and I think that’s where that uniqueness comes from.
L.A. Cobra‘s “Running Wild” video (from Shotgun Slinger album):
Sleaze Roxx: Let’s talk about your origins. How did the name of the band originate?
Don Cobra: A friend of ours, Herman Le Roux, who passed away a couple of years ago, came up with the name L.A. Cobra in 2003, I think. When he was playing football one night, he had this idea of the band L.A. Cobra. He started the band with our original bassist and guitarist and afterwards, he left the band and went to England. The remaining guys went on with the idea and they got me to sing and they got Callie the Animal to play the drums. Since we’re from Africa, many people asked why we called ourselves L.A. Cobra rather than S.A. [South African] Cobra. But I was adamant that we should be Long African Cobra. It’s an inside joke.
Slade: Herman actually played in a band called Juggernaught and they did fantastic in South America. They played southern rock in the vein of Zakk Wylde, sounded like Lynyrd Skynyrd on steroids, and they had a great guitarist.
Sleaze Roxx: There must have been a point in time when you decided to play in a band. What were your dreams? What was your objective? Where did you want to go with the band?
Don Cobra: I think it’s different for each of us, but at the same time somewhat the same. After all, we are here now carrying our equipment all the way from South Africa so I think we all want to make it. We all want to live our dream, even though we’re not perhaps going to achieve the highlights of Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe. We just want to have a good time while we are trying.
Slade: I think you need to release what’s inside you. Making music is the first thing for me as it’s always been. Obviously, I’ve checked out many live concerts but playing in front of people is the highlight of all this for me and, I think, for all of us. We hate being in the studio, but when you play for people, you get a reaction to all the hard work that you put in. This is what makes it worthwhile and it doesn’t matter if it’s a small club or festival that we’re playing. If I wasn’t writing and making music, I’d go insane. It’s a release and a way out.
Ewil Honey: It’s the same for me!
A.D.: Playing music live has been a dream all along. If it wasn’t for L.A. Cobra and my good friend Callie, who unfortunately couldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have played this international rock and roll sleaze tour. It has always been a dream, so you got to try and live it at least.
Sleaze Roxx: Are you superstitious?
Slade: Not at all. The lyrics to the song “Superstition” actually question belief in superstition. I just don’t get it. We played around with some of the superstitions that exist, and the song says it all and asks the question why. Why be superstitious? What’s behind it for people? And I know there’s a lot of people that are superstitious but I’ve never experienced anything that would make me superstitious.
Don Cobra: I’m superstitious about two things. When I dream about snakes, I always have to fight someone and when I dream about weddings, people die around me. I don’t know but it has happened a couple of times, so I don’t know whether it just happens randomly or not.
Ewil Honey: I’m not superstitious.
Don Cobra: If I dream about snakes, it gets weird for a few days. That’s the only thing.
Sleaze Roxx: Now I’d like to talk to you about your two last albums. Would you say that ‘Shotgun Slinger’ was a turning point in your career? What I mean is that from my point of view as a fan, there’s a huge difference between ‘How Much Snake Can you Take’ and the next two albums. You made a transition from sounding like a local band on ‘How Much Snake…’ to a band sounding big on ‘Shotgun Slinger’.
Don Cobra: Definitely! There’s a big gap also between them. ‘How Much Snake…’ is a 300 Euro album in today’s currency. In comparison, we spent long hours working on ‘Shotgun Slinger’. We recorded and we re-recorded. Sometimes we would be driving around with the songs and we would go back and change back and forth.
Slade: Definitely there was more production put into ‘Shotgun Slinger’. It was the first album when I and he [Ewil Honey] were part of the band and we actually co-wrote. It was a line-up change. I think that was one of the things that contributed to it. And then the way we recorded it because L.A. Cobra used to go into the studio for a week and that’s the album. And we spent a hell of a lot of time on ‘Shotgun Slinger’ and on ‘Superstition’ as well. Still, you can even get a difference between ‘Shotgun Singer’ and ‘Superstition’. While ‘Shotgun Singer’ might have been the first time we wrote and recorded together, with ‘Superstition’, we’re comfortable with each other now. We went on a European tour, we have different experiences and we understand each other’s preferences when it comes to the writing process. I think ‘Superstition’ is a result of all that. It’s definitely a jump. I played in L.A. Cobra a couple of times before we even recorded ‘Shotgun Slinger’ and I loved the music back then as well. But it was different. It wasn’t my music and I had to play someone else’s parts. On ‘Shotgun Slinger’ I could finally release my own stuff.
Don Cobra: When you look at our vocals, previously, I was the only vocalist and the other guys would just do a word or two in the backing vocals but now I see us as three frontmen. We all contribute to massive harmonies and bring that part [of our sound] out, which is very rare. Especially if you look at other bands in our genre, some bands would use backup singers. Mötley Crüe, for example, would have the girls sing backing vocals. The three of us are working our asses off singing.
L.A. Cobra‘s “Stray Cat Music” video (from How Much Snake Can You Get album):
L.A. Cobra‘s “War” video (from Shotgun Slinger album):
Sleaze Roxx: Slade is also a lead singer on ‘Strange Desires’. Was it your vocal debut?
Slade: It’s the first time I’ve ever recorded lead vocals that went out and got released. It’s a funny story, actually. We were in the studio busy working on the song and Don was singing the song and then he just said, ‘Why don’t you try it because it’s in your vocal register?’
Don Cobra: I had just had Covid and my voice wasn’t in the best shape.
Slade: Yeah! And I got behind the mic. It was terrifying but it came out cool. I don’t know, it worked. And now it’s a mission pulling it off live obviously because I’m not used to doing main vocals. It also brings a different dynamic to the song and then you really get the difference between the verses in ‘Strange Desires’ and the chorus where Don comes in again. So whenever we can try something new, we do. I mean, Ewil as well, the vocal line in the chorus of “She’s My Prison” was written by Ewil and he got behind the mic and he did the vocal line and then Don just resang it. It gives us something different, another type of input.
Sleaze Roxx: So ‘Strange Desires’ is the only song you have lead vocals on?
Slade: Yes, that’s the only one that I have lead vocals in the verses on and then we all sing in the choruses of the other songs.
L.A. Cobra‘s “Strange Desires” video (from Superstition album):
Sleaze Roxx: Of course, Martin Sweet from Crashdïet has been involved in the last two albums. Did his role change between ‘Shotgun Slinger’ and ‘Superstition’?
Don Cobra: He was the producer, he did the mixing and mastering [on both albums]. But on the song “Superstition”, he sang in the last two choruses, putting in his flavor. He also put in harmonies where he thought ‘OK, cool, this song needs a bit more vocals,’ and he would sing it in and mix it in on both albums. He sang harmonies as he thought it was necessary.
Slade: It was very much the same procedure with him. It’s difficult because obviously he’s in Sweden and we’re in South Africa, so we send him tracks and have a discussion with him on what to do with them. “Ride” off ‘Shotgun Singer’, for instance, sounded completely different originally and then he sent us the thing that he’d cut and changed around with a different chorus he had put in. You know, the writing of the song changes because of him and it does for the better, obviously. But it’s good to sometimes have that fresh perspective because you can get a tunnel vision especially when you’ve been working on an album a long time, just to get that fresh approach to it.
Sleaze Roxx: How big of a role would you say Martin Sweet has had in L.A. Cobra becoming the band that you are now?
Don Cobra: Well, I would say he’s a fifth member because he brought something to the team that made us unique. He was the guy that can really bring out the sound that we have. Because you can play on the biggest Marshall and record the best you can in your own studio but he was the guy that brought it out. He’s got the ear for it and for our genre, he knows exactly what sounds good and what doesn’t work.
Sleaze Roxx: Right, I like the sound of the bands that he produces.
Don Cobra: Earlier this week, we had a compliment on the bass in “Sell Your Soul (Little Girl)” from ‘Shotgun Slinger’. The bass is huge there and it is both Martin and Ewil who take credit for that.
Sleaze Roxx: Would you say that ‘Superstition’ has a darker, more sinister vibe than ‘Shotgun Slinger? That’s at least my impression after listening to the album.
Slade: You’re absolutely correct. I think lyrically, and you can read the lyrics in the album booklet, it’s much more personal and I think it’s sort of reflective. I mean, we didn’t go out and write about Covid directly, but it had an effect on everyone. So the lyrics, I think, on all of the songs on ‘Superstition’, are darker. It sort of reflects the time, not, you know, exactly what happened, but the time. We all went through some stuff during that time and you can see it in the lyrics as well. But we spent a lot more time focusing on making the lyrics a lot more meaningful, I think. The album is darker and that’s good. We’re not trying to be evil [laughs] but the subject matter is darker. It’s cool that you picked that up as well.
Sleaze Roxx: I was listening to your interview from June 2019, and then you said that you were working on your new album, which you were going to finish by the end of the year. Does it mean that the album was actually finished then and it’s been lying on the shelf for so long?
Don Cobra: Most of the music was finished. But then we started thinking up lyrical concepts for some songs. Then in January 2021, we started on the first vocals and then I got Covid. I couldn’t sing properly for about four months. My voice was gone. And then eventually late last year, in December, I think, and early this year, we finished the vocals. In March, we sent the final tracks to Martin. Afterwards, the album was hanging a bit. We also couldn’t release it immediately because we couldn’t tour. For us, it wasn’t worthwhile to release the album just online while you couldn’t go out and play the songs live. We have some friends who did that in 2020 but it didn’t work out very well for them. They just had a live stream album launch, which I think at that time would have been pointless in our case.
Slade: If you put that much work into an album, you want it to come out at the right time. For instance, the ‘Top Gun’ movie — [laughs] I’m not comparing us to that — but exactly the same thing happened. It was finished and then Covid hit, but they wanted to release it on IMAX and in theaters. So timing is everything in this industry as well. And if you consider how many albums came out over the last couple of months, especially in the sleaze genre with Cruel Intentions, Hardcore Superstar, Crashdïet, it turns out that it was the right time. We shouldn’t have released it back then.
Sleaze Roxx: I agree. Quite a few bands released albums last year and then those albums disappeared.
Don Cobra: If you do so much work, you don’t want to freak and play it live in front of a camera. We did two live streams and it’s just not the same. There’s no one there. It’s just the camera that you’re performing to. No, I didn’t enjoy it.
Sleaze Roxx: When you’re finishing an album and there comes a point when you say it’s finished and it’s put away as in the case of ‘Superstition’, do you think of it as a finished product or do you still feel tempted to tweak stuff?
Don Cobra: I would always like to tweak stuff. Slade hates me but…[laughs]
Slade: At some point, you have to say [it’s finished], otherwise you’re never going to release it. I think what’s fantastic is that we send the tracks off to Sweden. We’ve heard those tracks a certain way for a year or so, we’re used to this thing now and then it comes back from Martin and it sounds like a new song because of what he does to it, because of the mixing and the production that he puts in. This way, you get a perspective again. Listening to the thing the first time around after Martin sent it to Don and Don would send it to me, sometimes I go, ‘No, this doesn’t sound like the song [we sent to Sweden]’. It works because then you can put some distance between you and the song and finally decide, ‘Okay, it’s fine, we can send it off.’ And after we got the initial mixes from Martin, we’d go back very little. There was maybe one or two songs where we went back and just did something else or added something.
Don Cobra: Actually, we added some guitar tracks.
Slade: Yes, but other than that, once it returned from Martin, it’s like, ‘Okay, now this thing is good.’ Still, even listening to the album now, you think, maybe we could have… but you shouldn’t. Let it be what it is.
Don Cobra: And for some reason, the CD sounds a lot better than the stuff on iTunes. Listen to it in your car, it just booms.
Sleaze Roxx: What would you to say a person who doesn’t know L.A. Cobra and you want to get them interested in your music? Which song on ‘Superstition’ should they listen to? Which is the most representative of what you sound like?
Don Cobra: “Untamed”.
Ewil Honey: “Untamed” [laughs].
Slade: I don’t know. They’re all my babies. I love them all. “Superstition” — the title track, I think it’s very powerful. I love ‘Nothing like a nemesis’, it’s one of my favorite tracks. And then “The Star”, maybe those ones, but I know Ewil loves “Untamed”. The thing with this album is that it’s something you can listen to from start to finish and it takes you on a journey. The way we decided to order the tracks should take the mood up and bring it down. It takes you on this journey and you need to listen to it as a whole. But if you have no time, I don’t know, maybe “Superstition”.
Don Cobra: ‘The Star” is also really one of the songs I’m truly proud of.
Sleaze Roxx: What determines the choice of the songs that you play? Obviously you have the singles but what about the rest of the setlist?
Slade: For this tour, we had to make a call. You can’t play the whole album because people know the old stuff from the previous tours. We spoke about it and agreed that everything we’ve released up to now needs to be on the setlist and then maybe we add one or two tracks. But it becomes difficult. You need to know what people like as well. We know “Rock ‘N Roll Pretoria” needs to be on the setlist every time because it’s a very popular song. “Shotgun Slinger” needs to be on the setlist. You can’t leave it out.
Don Cobra: We also check the Spotify list and “Sell Your Soul (Little Girl)” is the most streamed L.A. Cobra song from the ‘Shotgun Slinger’ album so that’s definitely a must. What else? “Rock ‘N Roll Pretoria”.
Slade: I mean, there are some songs that have energy when you play them. Even if it’s not maybe the most popular song, you’re going to get the energy as we play it live. It’s a difficult thing, it’s a negotiation all the time. Often, we have to fight to decide what’s going to stay on the setlist and what’s going to go. But as people get to know the ‘Superstition’ album, obviously we’re going to have more of the new tracks on the setlist in the future.
L.A. Cobra‘s “Rock ‘N Roll Pretoria” video (from Shotgun Slinger album):
Sleaze Roxx: I remember you doing a cover of Poison’s “Look What The Cat Dragged In”.
Slade: Yeah, just because people love that song, we love it, too.
Don Cobra: Adrian [A.D.] actually learned to play it on the plane [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: Do you have any songs that you don’t like playing live? Something that sounds good on the CD, but you don’t want to play live?
Ewil Honey: I don’t like “Rock ‘N Roll Pretoria” [laughs].
Slade: There are some songs on ‘Shotgun Slinger’ we’ve never played live and I don’t know why, really. There’s not a song there that I don’t like to play. With everything we’ve written, the reason a song is on the album is that we feel it’s a good song and it’s fun to play.
Don Cobra: You obviously can’t play everything on a live set. You’d have to have a three hour set if you wanted to play everything you like. And some slots are 30 minutes, some are 45 minutes or an hour and you have to go back.
Slade: They’re definitely all songs that are more fun, that are more lively and that get the crowd going more than others. We read the crowd as well. I don’t know if you’ve heard the acoustic version of “Live To Ride”. Sometimes you have a very lively crowd and you’re going to kill the mood by playing that song and that’s why we don’t do it then, but it doesn’t mean we don’t like doing it. If you read the crowd and sometimes you see that there’s a guy in the back holding on tightly to a girl, then we think it’s time to play a love song and we play “Live To Ride”.
L.A. Cobra‘s “Live To Ride” (acoustic) video (from Cherry Hill album):
Sleaze Roxx: You don’t have ballads, at least not on ‘Shotgun Slinger’ or ‘Superstition’.
Don Cobra: “War” on ‘Shotgun Slinger’ is a kind of a ballad for us. As for ‘Superstition’, there was a ballad [during the session] but it’s not finished so the next album will have two ballads. I wrote the ballad but it was just basically too late to get everything done and recorded. We’ll do it next time.
Sleaze Roxx: I have basically just one more question for you. What music released this year has impressed you? There have been a few albums released right after the pandemic ended. What have you been listening to this year?
Don Cobra: For me personally, the new Crashdïet album is awesome, new Cruel Intentions and Hardcore Superstar.
Slade: I absolutely love the new Arch Enemy album. It blows my mind and it’s not really music that I used to listen to, but I love Arch Enemy and then I’ve been really enjoying the new Crashdïet album. My kids listen to it on the way to school and they love it. All in all, for me it’s between those two albums. Still I like everything that comes out. The new Cruel Intentions is fantastic. I think it’s a highly anticipated album for them because everyone wanted to see what’s going to happen after their first release and they’re a great band. But it was Arch Enemy that blew me away.
Ewil Honey: My choice is always weird and it’s probably Jack White whose recent album [‘Fear of The Dawn’] really blew my mind. I’ve been listening to a lot of Royal Blood as well.
A.D.: A great new band for me was L.A. Cobra [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: That was my last question. Thank you a lot for answering my questions and for agreeing to have this interview. I’m very happy to talk to you. I hope you get your music out there and get a lot of people to listen to it.
Don Cobra: Thank you so much for you flying out all the way to come and join us for a few beers.
L.A. Cobra‘s “Shotgun Slinger” video (from Shotgun Slinger album):