He may have become famous with “The Church of Hot Addiction,” but these days Cobra Starship frontman Gabe Saporta is reconnecting with his Jewish roots.
The “Guilty Pleasure” hit maker hasn’t always had a strong relationship with his faith, but, as Columbia students will experience this evening at Columbia/Barnard Hillel, his path to religion has been a fascinating one. Saporta is speaking at the inaugural installment of Columbia/Barnard Hillel’s Jewish Journey Speaker Series, discussing the role Judaism plays in his personal and professional life.
Not only is Saporta kicking off the series, but he also played an integral role in its conception. On a trip to Israel before his recent marriage, Saporta visited a Jerusalem yeshiva where he met Jason Eisner, CC ’17. Eisner was inspired by his passion for both Judaism and entertainment, and, on arriving at Columbia, organized a committee of Jews from various denominations to set up a speaker series of Jewish professionals from a variety of fields.
We spoke to Saporta about his rediscovery of religion, reconciling his bad-boy background with his faith, and the future of Cobra Starship.
Noah Jackson: What were your first steps to reconnecting with Judaism?
Gabe Saporta: First of all I went to the Kabbalah Centre, which was interesting because it takes Jewish wisdom and puts it in a way that applies regardless of religion, and it started that way for me. I went to Israel on a trip with one of my good friends, Eitan, last year. We met another friend of ours, who’s a rabbi, and one of his students asked us to come speak at Columbia/Barnard Hillel.
NJ: Has your experience in the creative industry changed since the shift?
GS: You find a lot of Jewish people in the creative industry, and I guess that there are a lot of studies about that, about how Jews didn’t have permission to be doctors or lawyers in the beginning so they decided to sing and work in music. I think there’s something performative in our culture, and I think that being in entertainment—being onstage in front of people and being able to share our Judaism—is an expression of that.
NJ: Is it hard to balance religious observance with being the front man of a major band?
GS: A lot of Judaism is about being a good person, trying to do the right thing, being positive, and speaking positive words. I think that when I first realized I was doing those things I felt like I had balance in my life. Now I feel much more confident bringing Judaism into my life.
NJ: The bad-boy persona you cultivated in early Cobra Starship songs definitely seems worlds away.
GS: The thing about making music is that you find out so much about yourself. I’m able to go through processes to look at who I am in a way that other people who don’t have a creative outlet may not have. I worked through a lot of my anger and my darkness because for a person to really transform and become better you have to get rid of all the negativity. I’m not embarrassed by it. It’s a really good reminder of how far I’ve come.
NJ: Do you think your Judaism will affect future Cobra Starship music?
GS: What I’ve realized is that everything is contextual. This is a tough industry. You get screwed a lot. When I started Cobra Starship I felt frustrated, like I had a chip on my shoulder and a lot to prove. I’m not saying I’m the most successful performer, but I’ve achieved the success I wanted to achieve. Once you do that, you ask yourself what you’re fighting for now. I remember very clearly thinking when I started the band that I didn’t want to be a role model, but now I approach what I do with a different sense of responsibility. If I have the good fortune to be in front of people then I have to put out the good news, somehow.
NJ: Getting married must have also changed your perspective on being a role model too.
GS: That’s exactly it. Once you start to get married you start thinking about these things. I was only able to get married because I’ve changed. Even though I met the girl of my dreams who I wanted to marry, she didn’t want to marry me. That’s when I realized I had to transform. I’ve started thinking about what I want to pass on to my kids. My family were very culturally Jewish, but I didn’t know much about Judaism because we didn’t really practice at home.
NJ: Has that shift in your life changed your relationship to other artists, like former labelmates Fall Out Boy?
GS: There are always going to be problems, and it’s how you deal with them that reflects on how you are. If you have this kind of connection to something bigger you don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I used to get into a lot fights and was very controlling, and now I don’t worry because I trust that everything will be good. I think it’s improved my relationships with other artists.
The Jewish Journey Speaker Series takes place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Columbia/Barnard Hillel, 606 West 115th St.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.