Let’s kick it off with the usuals… when did you first start skating? What was your first board and who were your favorite skaters growing up?
1985. My first “proper” board was a G&S Foil Tail w/red Gullwings and two-tone…I think they were red & yellow… City Street wheels. I had no particular favorite skater growing up... though I really liked the Bones Brigade team, but who didn’t.
What was the scene like down in Louisiana? I know Sal was coming up around the same time you were…
The scene was small, but very tight knit. I’m still friends with these dudes 20+ years later…I actually skate with them currently as I moved back to New Orleans 9 months ago after being gone for 16 years. But there was a strong sense of community back then… between three main hub cities for skating that is….which is New Orleans, Baton Rouge where Sal was from, and Lafayette where Charlie Thomas and Shannon May was at. Everyone traveled within these three cities as they are fairly close to each other.
How’d you get hooked up with G&S?
I got sponsored by G&S at the NSA Regionals in Fort Wayne, Indiana by Mike Hill who would later start Alien Workshop with Chris Carter and Blender… though Neil wasn’t an actual financial partner in the company. Mike saw me skating during a practice session the day before the actual contest and asked me if I wanted to ride for G&S. I was stoked and rode for G&S the next day in the contest. I got 12th place, just qualifying for the finals.
You got sponsored around the time street skating started really coming into its own and breaking away from the old vert guard. The G&S team was a prime example of this where almost all the pros were older vert dudes while the significant majority of ams were young street kids. You ever get any beef from the older halfpipe heads?
I never got any shit other than older kids busting the younger kids' balls….in that “hey little grommet” kinda way…but that was part of it. A “hazing”, if you will. When you went through it all and showed you could skate and/or had the heart, they accepted you and it was a killer feeling. Something you earned…earned respect, that is. These days this doesn’t exist as the good kids are like 9 yrs old and whatnot… and it seems kids want respect way too early. Its nuts.
Yeah, I sound like a grumpy old man, but I like it (haha).
How’d you first meet Neil? Tours with him and Claar must’ve been something else…
In SoCal, while on G&S, I met him at this sweet little mini-ramp that he was skating in a certain video I can’t remember… Mike Hill brought Rob Dyrdek and I to skate with him. He showed me that “holographic” card he used in Footage while saying "trip out, trip out." I thought it was hella cool when he started doing it right in front of me…. I was like 15 years old, seshing with Blender and getting to experience his brand of humor. Killer stuff. Then when we left, he said “Duane, you’re my main man.” I smiled no doubt.
Later on in San Diego, we became friends…with me being an “adult” and getting into playing music and everything. He’d come to my shows here and there. I built a website for his art back in the day. Neil is an awesome dude, it’d be cool to hang with him as it was been like 8 years since I’ve seen him. Tours with him and Claar… well, I just remember general times with them….killer people to have as mentors. Humorous, yet quick to call bullshit on certain aspects of life….basically what I’ve become. Those two along with Mike Hill and Chris Carter were certainly like my older brothers, and I’m happy that it was that way.
Footage was the first real video part I remember you coming out with. Were you stoked on your part? Did you just film that around Louisiana? And what the hell were you doing in that tub talking to Ernie with saran wrap on your head?
Footage was my first video part. Not too bad to get the opening part in your first video with a yet-to-be-released song of your favorite band at the time (The Wagon by Dinosaur Jr). The footage in my part was filmed in Baton Rouge… the opening few tricks were... then New Orleans, Phoenix and San Diego.
The Ernie business...well that was in Arizona at the NSA Finals, the ones I qualified for in Fort Wayne where I got sponsored by G&S. Mike got that puppet at a swap meet right by the contest area. Then at the hotel, I just went into my brand of silly weirdo comedy. They thought I was out of my mind…I think that made them even more stoked. The laughs in the background are Mike and Rob.
Now its pretty apparent when watching Footage that the camp is getting ready to split in half… with Chris, Mike and Neil spending so much of their energy on this new direction that would ultimately become Alien Workshop. When did you first hear about the plan to separate from G&S? Did you know while you were filming for Footage that this was the plan? And why Xenia?
I actually quit G&S to ride for H-Street while they were editing Footage. Sal kept trying to get me to ride for H-Street and after a little “mix-up” at G&S, I rode for H-street for something like 2 months. Then Hill and Carter sent me a rough edit of Footage, knowing I’d be stoked to have the first part… and not being another unimportant rider for H-Street, as the team was huge.
Hill and Carter had the Workshop plans already set in motion before Footage came out and I was part of that plan but they didn’t want to tell me about it. They didn’t want me to come back to them just because there was a new company that was gonna happen, they wanted me to come back for the right reasons… the reason that they actually really cared about me and H-Street wouldn’t. Well, I’m glad I did cause shortly after Footage came out, I flew out to San Diego just thinking it was a regular skate trip, but we went out to dinner and they told Rob and I about the Workshop plan. We were hella stoked.
Xenia was a small town outside of Dayton, and they wanted to use it for the P.O. Box, I guess. My assumption is they wanted the company to be from the smallest, most obscure place that was as outside as possible of the SoCal skate company mecca. They hated all that industry bullshit. So that's why they moved to Ohio… where Hill was from and close to where Carter is from.
How were those early days at the Workshop? How was the company initially received by the public? Was there any fear involved with such a bold venture (especially for ’90) or had creativity pretty much taken over at that point and guided the way? Here you guys broke off from an established company, moved to Ohio and proceeded to only pump out ads almost completely void of any actual skating for the majority of Alien’s entire first year. Incredible.
The early days were amazing. An exciting time being part of something so different. I felt comfortable with that… I did not feel comfortable with the “Hollywood” vibe of the H-Street scene. Not dissing those peeps at all, just wasn’t my thing. I was into weird things, like fucking weird Ernie puppet shows… and even today, my music is relatively pretty weird to what else is going on out there. So yeah, I felt “at home” and there was a lot of energy at that time. Killer.
The public hated the Workshop at first because it was different from what was popular. But that is always the case. Sheeple.
Can’t speak for those guys but I’m sure there was fear involved, probably the fear of not having money to eat or something like that... certainly not the fear of being accepted. They didn’t give a shit about that, not even close. They had a vision, and I was 100% dedicated to that vision…maybe I didn’t realize it as much then, but 20 years later and being an avant garde musician, I really understand it now. And yeah, those ads were killer. Loved ‘em. They fit right in with my personality.
Memory Screen remains one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. To be honest, I don’t even really think of it as a skate video but as something… more. Explain a little about what it was like making it. Was it known to you guys from the start that this was not going to be a trick/trick/trick skateboard video? How was it described to you guys as you were filming?
I look at it as an art film about skateboarding, something like that. We just filmed like we would normally film for a video. They didn’t tell us much about what the video would be but we knew generally what it would be like.
Are you aware of the process that went into making the amazing interludes that were placed in-between each skate part? Were there specific filming days/shoots for interludes with preconceived ideas... or would they just come together organically later? For example, did you go specifically mow the yard for the video or did they just catch you out there and film it?
I was just cutting the grass as kids my age did, and still do, in New Orleans… grass grows a LOT here with all the rain. Have to cut it once a week. They tried to capture real life, though some things were staged… but in an improvisational way, impromptu…just going with the flow.
What was the story behind those audio recordings of you speaking… “and sometimes I had to walk home”?
That was a tape of a Vietnamese teenager… a diary of sorts. He was an exchange student in New Orleans. Neil found that tape on the street, maybe not even in New Orleans… can’t remember.
You seemed to have a pretty large influence on the video… Dyrdek has stated that he didn’t really care for Dinosaur Jr at the time but you did and so it goes. Was the video a collaborative process at all?
The Workshop dudes were into Dinosaur before I met them. It was reasons like this that made them a good fit for me. I wanted a Dinosaur song, I chose that…and my second song is Worked World, an old band of Neil’s. I wanted to use that, I think…or was it those guys? Sometimes there is no clear line in my memory between what I asked for or what they suggested, as I usually liked what they suggested.
What did you think the first time you saw the video as a whole? What did the rest of team think of its artsier-fare?
I watched it with Thomas Morgan with both of us slightly on a mind-altered plain, in Hill’s basement where he edited it. It blew our minds. Not sure what the rest of the team thought but I think you just need to look at what the others have become as adults... the routes they have taken, as we are who we are from an early age and usually continue down a similar path. But most people dug it on some level, but not other levels. I’ll just say briefly, some people did not like their parts “artfully” fucked with… that person wasn’t me.
My friend Murray will kill me if I don’t try to shed some light on this… who is obsessed with seagulls and why?
Mike and Neil filmed them on Super 8 cameras. Not sure why but I always loved their form, their movement….so I dug ‘em in the videos.
Now although you had the final section in Memory Screen, you still kept it pretty underground and stayed in Louisiana afterwards. Weren’t you going to college around this time as well?
I went to a little bit of community college. It took me three years after Memory Screen to move to San Diego. As far as a “career” choice goes, it wasn’t a good idea to wait that long. But then again, I never wanted to skateboard so I could make it a career… and this is why I quit, because I just didn’t want to do it anymore. If I kept doing it because of the career thing, and there are MANY that have, that would have killed what skateboarding was/is to me.
Jumping ahead, what do you think of the current Rob & Big/Fantasy Factory phenomenon? Are you surprised Rob’s been able to crossover with such an impact?
Not surprised…Dyrdek was always been Dyrdek. But at times, when watching his shows here and there, it is a little freaky to see him in a superstar light.
How does one acquire the nickname “sweatloaf”?
I sweat a lot when I skate…I have New Orleans sweat glands, I guess. Very active they are. That and skaters like to bust balls as we both know.
I remember reading in his check-out that the Rev. Lennie Kirk was actually afraid of you at some point. Care to explain? What was Lennie like back in the day? Were you present for his religious rebirth?
Hmm, I didn’t know that… funny how that works out as when I ran into him in S.F. years after we both stopped skating for Alien Workshop, he freaked me out (haha). The dude was on a path to a bad ending and then hit his head two times in a major way (both while skating) and he switched paths. I’d have to say the latter was a better path for survival on the physical body.
I know Timecode had that small “Ode to Pitre” part in there… was that like your retirement section? Did you film for that vid at all? Were you just over it? I remember you wearing that huge lace-up ankle brace back around this time… did injuries come into play?
Filmed just a few things…but I was done. No fire left. Injuries had nothing to do with it. Just didn’t want to do it anymore. That simple. It was time for something new; I’m about progression, new things.
Now were you always into playing music? When did it start really start to take the center of your focus?
I was always into music, but didn’t start playing it until a few months after moving to San Diego. That was the beginning of the end for skateboarding basically. Maybe two years into playing, that is when I knew I wanted to focus on playing music.
Give us a little of your musical influences. I can detect some Merzbow in there… and John Cage obviously.
I don’t think I’ve heard more than 20 seconds of Merzbow, though we have records out on the same label. But I respect what he does and that he has done it for a long time now. I’ve heard stories about his work, which are sometimes just as interesting (or more for that matter) as an artist's work.
Cage is a big inspiration for me, especially for the controlled chance aspects of my work. But I have been influenced by many different artists throughout the years...some I no longer listen to…but some throughout the years have been My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr., La Monte Young, Terry Riley, John Cage, Morton Feldman, a lot of traditional world music, Organum and other Medieval music, Zeppelin, Sabbath, and on and on.
Cardiel said that with the same passion, a game of flick football could have the exact same vibes as a skate session. Is there any difference for you between skating and playing music? Would you say it’s an extension of that same creativity?
Well, I’d say that composing and skating share a similar angle for me, both are creative. Both are a meditation of sorts. They both root from a similar place I suppose…yet different at the same time. They each give me different satisfaction though…with some slight overlap maybe.
As your musical career continues to develop, you’ve started to share bills with some very notable musicians (Tony Conrad, Glenn Branca)… any artists recognize you from your skating days?
There have been people in my music world that know me from skating, indeed. Not as big ones as the names you’ve mentioned, but ones that are my age, more or less. It is a positive thing when it is mentioned.
Now how did you get involved with scoring Mindfield? Having you be part of that project made perfect sense and I was stoked to see it…
Cool, stoked you thought so. Greg Hunt contacted me about using my music in the video as he was familiar with my work and dug it. We’ve worked together since then; he did visuals for my last show in Brooklyn before moving back to New Orleans recently.
Curious on your overall opinion of Mindfield? Years in the making with so much obviously rooted in the earlier videos but on a much grander scale… kinda like the company itself. Which was your favorite part?
The video blew my mind; in a similar way Memory Screen did. Greg did an AMAZING job, just killer. My favorite part was the intro with the Amazing Grace bagpipes.
What do you think of skateboarding today? A much different animal than it used to be with its reality shows, video games and endorsement deals… hell, I remember you worked as a pizza delivery guy when you were pro for some extra cash (and I can name several other pros from the same period that did the same thing). What do you think of the overall general mainstream embrace of the skating subculture? Did you ever expect to see the Workshop bought by some large corporation like Burton?
Well for one, “subculture” and “skating” have nothing to do with each other anymore, in my opinion that is. It is mainstream; Nike puts out skate shoes, done deal. It meant a different path back in the day, which is what attracted me to it even at 10 years old.
I was playing every sport at my local playground at the time when I starting skating. My dad tells the story that once he saw that I got a skateboard, the next season of all those sports came and I didn’t sign up for any of them. I only wanted to skate (he was supportive of that, by the way). So I went from mainstream sports to a very underground one, wasn’t even a sport to anyone who didn’t do it. Now more kids probably skateboard than play football.
But with all that said, I’m not bitter about it, cause it was personal to me and my experiences were mine…and the kids today aren’t connected to my personal experiences so whatever makes them happy, then go for it.
I made hardly any money while skating and no, I didn’t think Alien Workshop being bought out by Burton would be possible. But after talking to Carter about it, I fully understand. They paid their dues and did something they believed in for many years...working very hard…time for them to chill.
Can’t lie… your Olives board is probably my all-time favorite graphic. That’s Blender, isn’t it? Now did you ask him to paint that or did he just have that lying around somewhere or...?
Yeah, I dig that one. Great one for a first graphic. Hill just proposed it and I liked it. Hill was always the one to come with me with them ideas, even if they were Blender-done.
So what’s coming up next? I know you have a few albums about to come out...
Just had a record come out called “Origin” on a S.F.-based label called Root Strata. The record contains a 40-minute composition of the same name. It’s instrumentation of a septet (7-piece) of bowed electric guitarists. The vinyl came out on June 15 and the CD comes out in August. Also, I just went to NYC to premiere a new piece of mine. I’ll go back in Aug to perform it at an Important Records showcase… who release records of mine… at the ISSUE Project Rooms outdoor courtyard series.
I’ll do some recording this year, maybe some touring. To keep up with such things people can go to the following websites:
thanks duane for taking the time.