A cacophonous cosmic instrumental buzz inspired by the stars and ancient aliens, THE HEAVY METAL NINJAS are led by guitar virtuoso and KORA sound engineer Richie Allan.
The band, which also features brothers Stu and Fran Kora, was formed in 2010 after years of jam sessions following KORA shows. In a short space of time they’ve made a name for themselves on the NZ rock scene with their huge live sound made even cooler with a laser lightshow.
THE HEAVY METAL NINJAs supported SHIHAD on their ‘Killjoy’ tour and also performed at the G-Taranaki guitar festival along with legendary guitarists such as Slash (GUNS N ROSES), Vinnie Moore (UFO) and Tony MacAlpine.
March 5th 2012 will see the release of the band’s self titled debut EP. NZRock caught up with Richie Allan about recording, inspiration, touring and more…
NZRock: I was lucky enough to catch both your Auckland show opening for SHIHAD and also your set at G-Taranaki. What were those gigs like for you?
Richie: G-Taranaki was pretty cool because it was all seated and it was an intimate show. There were some international guitar players there watching as well and I used to listen to them when I was growing up. I used to learn all of their songs and one of them was in the crowd watching and his face… he kinda looked shocked and he was buzzing out haha! That was Vinnie Moore from UFO. And yeah, the SHIHAD shows were primo, next level. Because they had decent sound systems and it was mean to play on those kind of stages.
NZRock: You guys have something unique going on not just with the ninja theme but also those crazy lazerlights on your fingers. Whose idea was that?
Richie: I think there was a bit of talk about it in KORA once but it never happened and then as soon as we started playing as THE HEAVY METAL NINJAS it kind of just went hand in hand so we used the idea for that.
NZRock: My two favourite tracks have to be ‘M45’ and ‘Redshift’. Those are awesome!
Richie: Yeah they’re the latest songs out of the four. The other two were written like 10 years ago. They’re old as. The last two are a bit more up with the times I think.
NZRock: You recorded the whole thing yourself, what gear did you used to do that?
Richie: RME Fireface, I use an iMac and Cubase 6, various plugins and stuff. Heaps of Ibanez guitars running through Axe-FX Ultra, that’s a guitar amp simulator. I didn’t need no mics or anything, just straight in.
NZRock: I heard some amazing things done with Axe-FX, have you heard any of Zorran Mendonsa’s stuff at all?
Richie: Yeah he was actually going to mix the EP but he was overseas and he’s kind of a bit busy right now but I might look into him for the full album.
NZRock: Are the album songs tracked already or will you start from scratch with those?
Richie: I did rough guide kind of tracks so that the band can learn them all for the shows. But I’ll have to sit down and track them all properly later and I’m still writing a lot of the parts.
NZRock: Are there any themes behind the music that you’re writing or is it more about showcasing crazy shreds and guitar work?
Richie: Funny thing yeah, I actually try and not shred that often. I was more into orchestration. The ideas are based on ideas like the stars and space. I watch a lot of documentaries and get into all the ancient aliens and stuff like that.
NZRock: You’ve done guitar clinics with Brandon Reihana (NEW WAY HOME / BLINDSPOTT), is he guesting on any of THE HEAVY METAL NINJAS stuff?
Richie: We’ve talked about it. He was going to guest solo on one of my songs. Maybe he still will. And I was going to do one on his song. But yeah, maybe it still can happen. I’m keen anyways and I can hit him up anytime.
NZRock: How many guitars do you have and how any is too many?
Richie: You can never have enough. I’ve sold a few over the last few years so I’ve got about six now. More to come. I’ve got another two I’m trying to get and another 8 string. Being endorsed by Ibanez I can pretty much get what I want.
NZRock: Yeah I was going to ask, how did your Ibanez endorsement come about?
Richie: Well the distributor for Ibanez was a friend of mine and I kept hassling him for years to hook me up but he was like, it’s all about profile, you’ve got to do some videos or play some shows and stuff. Then this year it’s all come up and I put together a press kit for Ibanez and he went over to NAMM in Los Angeles and spoke to them and they said yes straight away, as soon as they heard the guitar.
NZRock: Speaking of your profile, what was it like going from being behind the scenes as the sound engineer for KORA to suddenly fronting a band?
Richie: A little bit weird, difficult but just got to get used to it and do more shows. It’s just weird being an instrumental band… like when you’ve got to interact with the crowd its different. Especially if you’re the support act and everyone is there to see the band after you. I find that a bit weird, it’d be a bit weird getting them to try and sing your guitar lines or something.
NZRock: Even though THE HEAVY METAL NINJAS music is guitar orientated have you thought about getting a vocalist?
Richie: It’s a bit more exciting trying to say something without words. It’s easier to say something if you’ve got a vocalist but this way everyone can kind of think their own thoughts and ideas about what the song is trying to represent.
NZRock: I’ve heard many different guitarists in your music like STEVE VAI, DEVIN TOWNSEND, MARTY FRIEDMAN and others. Who were the guitarists that inspired you?
Richie: Yeah STEVE VAI, as soon as I heard ‘Passion And Warfare’ that was me. I gave up playing bass, I started playing on the bass but once ‘Passion and Warfare’ came out it was game over. I got the tab book and learned all the songs. I actually read all his orchestration in there and learned all his harmonies and that’s what got me into the whole orchestra side of things as well. And the Final Fantasy games haha!
NZRock: You used to be in MUTANGENT before THE HEAVY METAL NINJAS. Are you working with them anymore?
Richie: No. Just trying to write and do this EP, I couldn’t commit to weekly rehearsals and gigs. So yeah I just left. But the drummer for THE NINJAS is the drummer from MUTANGENT as well. He was keen as to do this stuff.
NZRock: You caught up with Tosin Abasi from ANIMALS AS LEADERS during his guitar clinic here in New Zealand. What was that experience like?
Richie: Yeah I’m still kinda buzzing ay! It was an unreal opportunity, a once in a lifetime maybe. I got to hang out for a bit and talk, watched him doing all his patches on the Axe-FX because had to borrow my one. His one got smashed on the plane or something like that. But yeah it was quite buzzy. I gave him a copy of the EP to take with him. Afterwards he was wondering if me or the dude who brought him over knew of any promoters for Australasia to bring ANIMALS AS LEADERS through Australia or New Zealand. I told him we’ll support you and he was like yeah man, that’d be awesome.
NZRock: Stu and Fran are both in KORA as well. Do you think THE HEAVY METAL NINJAS is the perfect “other” musical outlet for those guys?
Richie: Oh yeah, they’re just buzzing every time we do a show or something because it’s stuff they want to do but can’t do. So they can do it through here, like show off or whatever. Like play the guitar look all flash. It’s just the other side they want to release.
NZRock: Which ninja outfit takes the longest to put on? The white costume looked like it involved the most wrapping!
Richie: Yeah I think him, and me probably because I’ve got these long big pants kind of things and we have tie them up, wrap them around us – you need someone else to do that. And putting on my gloves, that can be a bit tricky as well. Then the head piece. Yeah because you want to put it on at the last minute when say the intro is playing then we have to chuck everything on. And then trying to walk up the steps onto the stage you can’t even see your feet haha! We’re working on a whole new look so when we do our next show it’ll hopefully be more impressive than last time.
The EP is about to be released, what’s the plan from here?
Richie: The EP fully just got finished a few weeks ago with the master and all that. But yeah I’m still not relaxing. I’m still organising heaps of other songs to everyone else to learn, sorting out rehearsals for a show that may be coming up in late April or early May at the Powerstation. And just still writing yeah, trying to finish off the album.
The Heavy Metal Ninjas EP
1. The Author
2. What If
4. Red Shift