4.06.2016

chrome ball interview #90: chris "sarge" carter

Chops and Sarge discuss the Sovereign Sect and beyond. 


Alright Sarge, give us some pre-Alien background here to get things started. I know you’re originally from the Ohio Valley and spent some time as a TM over at Tracker back in the day…

Well, I was born and raised in Barboursville, West Virginia and went to college at Marshall University, which, as you know, is about 10 miles down the road in Huntington, West Virginia.

That’s correct. My alma mater as well.

I still can’t believe that.

But yeah, in 1979, a skatepark opened up in the area named Falcon. I remember hearing about it and going immediately to check it out. I didn’t even own a proper skateboard at the time, I had to rent one when I got there. But I went skating and met a bunch of people who I quickly became friends with.

I’d met Bryan Ridgeway at the park and stayed in touch with him through the years after the park closed. He actually ended up building a vert ramp in Huntington and I built one at my house in Barboursville so we had that in common. We both went to Marshall together and then he moved out to California to work for Tracker. He was always telling me to come visit, which I did for the summer of ’85 and got a part-time job in the Tracker shop building trucks.

I graduated from college a couple years later and Bryan offered me an Assistant Team Manager job at Tracker. I figured that I’d get to skate, travel and hang out with all of my skateboarding heroes so I quickly loaded up my Honda Accord and off I went.

Carter and Kalis, 1998

How did G&S enter the picture?

Mike Hill basically talked Larry Gordon into it. Mike was originally from Dayton and I’d known him for years. He owned a vert ramp in his backyard, too. There was a contest series called MESS back in the early 80’s that would make stops at people’s ramps throughout the area so we would always see each other that way. We stayed in touch and knowing that a handful of us from the Midwest had moved out to California, he decided to give it a try as well.

Mike ended up getting a job printing decks at G&S and then got promoted to the graphic design department for skateboarding.  From there, he was able to talk Larry into hiring me under the condition that we were going to make a video and keep the skate program strong.  That was the beginning of G&S Footage. Our whole goal was to build up the team and work on this video. It was exciting but at the same time, G&S was kinda falling apart. Chris Miller had quit and we were worried that Neil was about to leave, too. Because of that, we began to build a really strong amateur team.  


Was the AWS plan already underway while Footage was still in production? In hindsight, the future Alien guys’ parts do seem a bit more artsier/Alien-esque than the rest.

I think you’re reading into that a little bit but Mike and I were definitely closer to the dudes who eventually left. We spent the most time with those guys and therefore, filmed them the most. The Neil stuff came from him jumping in the van with us on a trip back East. He decided to come along for the ride. We stayed in Ohio for a few days and then over to West Virginia for a day or so. That’s where all the Falcon footage came from.

We probably talked about a company on that trip, but more as a “what if” kinda thing. Nothing too serious. We just didn’t like California. We didn’t make a lot of money and here we are living in expensive North County. It’s hard growing up in the Midwest and moving out there when you’re young and struggling. The skating was awesome but it just wasn’t like back home.

We have to get into Blender’s part a little more. How was that even made? Did you guys set out to make more of a documentary-style piece with him? Was he at all concerned with expectations and tricks?

A lot of his part was filmed on that trip I was just talking about. Because it was only Mike and I with Neil in a van driving cross-country, he got more and more comfortable with us filming him. He’d only be hanging out and being himself but we couldn’t help but film it. He’s super funny and animated when you get to know him.

Mike did most of the filming. Luckily, Neil trusted us that we wouldn’t do anything with the footage he’d be bummed on. It was incredible to capture him doing all this stuff. He didn’t care what people thought of him or the part. There was stuff that he’d want to do but he never seemed too worried about getting this or that. It was more about him being Neil. He was already this beloved figure but I think people were even more stoked on him after that part came out.

"Summer of 1990: Did a 30-Day, 10-Country tour of Europe all by train with Claar, Heintzman, Florian Bohm, Sean Miller and our Euro riders at local stops." 

Were you around for his infamous graphic critique?

Oh yeah, that was in PA while we were filming Sean Miller. We were actually trying to get to New York but the weather was bad. If you listen, you might be able to hear me talking on a phone in the background. But yeah, that was all Neil going off the cuff, hanging out and being himself while we figured out where we were going next. He did stuff like that a lot and if you didn’t capture it, it was gone.  

Did you guys feel any boundaries creatively within a religious G&S that could’ve possibly led to the Alien split?

I know what you’re saying but those boundaries were honestly more self-imposed by us. We never wanted to do anything they’d consider disrespectful or blasphemous because they were such good people. Larry, his wife and the entire staff treated us like family.

We just wanted to do our own thing. We had so many ideas with what we wanted to do and how to do it. I’d seen how both Tracker and G&S were ran, I thought I could really do it. Both Mike and I had college degrees. We didn’t have much money but figured it could work out if we applied ourselves.

There were all these bad signs regarding G&S. It didn’t look like it was gonna make it… which was honestly our biggest concern. We might as well go back home, away from the industry chit-chat, and try doing our own thing against all odds. We were homesick anyway.

"This ad sums up the daily struggle for mankind."

But with all due respect, G&S had to be bummed on you guys taking so many of their riders, right?

Yeah, there was a terrible sense of guilt for doing that but like I said, I truly didn’t believe their long-term business health was good. And with the exception of Neil and Steve, we were the ones who originally found each of those dudes for G&S.  We were all very close. Mike and I felt like we at least had to extend the invitation. It was their decision to stay or quit. 

Did anybody say no to the initial migration? Mark Heintzman? Willy Santos?

Basically once Footage came out, Mark was selling too many decks for us to possibly be able to produce and ship.   He was making a ton of money. I had to be honest with him that we couldn’t match that. I know he wanted to be with Rob and Alien but he was truly better staying with G&S at the time.

Willy was actually on the original team. He was on Alien Workshop. It was a done deal. Somehow the new team manager of G&S found out and bought Willy a moped that enticed him into staying. True story. It probably worked out for the best because Willy started killing it after that and went on to have quite the prolific career. Plus, G&S was located literally miles from Willy’s house… I felt like he’d be happiest riding for a CA-based brand.

He seemed skeptical of us having a legit chance of success.  I mean, we were trying to go back to Ohio! To Willy’s credit, everyone thought we were crazy. Nobody got what we were trying to do and nobody thought it was going to work.

Point being: buying that moped was a wise investment for those guys. I couldn’t buy him a moped.

"First Workshop Location. McCook Ave, Dayton; plywood walls and doors, plastic sheeting ceiling. All DIY."

Are there any specific inspirations that played a role in the initial Alien Workshop concept?

Certainly Behold a Pale Horse was a huge part of it. I also had this friend who was really into conspiracy theories. He had a bulletin board back in the day before websites. He was always printing stuff out and sending it to us. Mike was fascinated by it all and would always take it deeper.

There was also that punk rock ethos of the 1980s with spreading messages about resisting authority, thinking freely and doing what you want. We felt compelled to speak on certain things but didn’t necessarily want to spell it all out for everyone. We wanted to let them interpret things their own way. We weren’t preaching, we were merely suggesting. We wanted to get people thinking and were willing to take chances.   

It would be appropriate to interview Mike to get his views on all of that. He was really the creative force behind it all.  We discussed nearly everything and sometimes disagreed but I think there’s balance in opposing viewpoints as long as there’s a common goal.
                          
Let’s clear up some long-standing Alien rumors: Was Alien Workshop always going to be the name? Is Alien just Neil backwards? And is the logo is really a distorted Denny’s sign?

We met at a Denny’s once when we were trying to figure everything out… just because there happened to be one midway between Orange County and North County. Denny’s was where we discussed the formation with Neil and Rob. We tried thinking of names there but had nothing to do with the logo.

We struggled for a while to think of a name but once “Alien Workshop” came up, we knew we had it. There was never any other name. Again, it came from that crazy friend of mine who’d told us how the Stealth Bomber was actually built in alien workshops using alien technology. I remember explaining it to those guys and as soon as I said the words, they all lit up. That was the name. You also have to remember that Dayton is where Wright-Patt Air Force Base was as well, to take the irony one step further.

But Alien being Neil backwards had nothing to do with it. It wasn’t like the Lien Air.


What was Blender’s role within AWS? Partner? Inspiration?

Neil was a massive inspiration. His ideas on things, his photography and videography skills and his musicianship… even down to his music choices becoming a huge influence on everybody. And, of course, the way he skated.

We just really liked Neil and wanted him to be part of the company. He did so many board graphics for us… the Notebook Series, the Pitre Olives and Dyrdek Fazer Guy come to mind immediately. 

The thing with Neil is that he was never an invested partner. We wanted him to, for sure, but he wasn’t interested. He was all too aware of how risky it was and honestly, he was proven right for the first 2 years or so. Here we start this company and skateboarding almost completely dies right afterwards. I definitely thought about him as I was picking up a Sunday paper to find a part-time job in order to eat and pay rent. It was bad, man. Knowing that I left a stable job and the opportunity to work in skateboarding somewhere else in California if necessary, was always in the back of my mind as we struggled. At times, I was crippled with self-doubt. 


How did those early ad concepts come about? No skating anywhere… and I honestly don’t even know what that first ad is.

I don’t think there was a hard-fast rule to not show any skating. The idea was more about not wanting our ads to be just another photo of a trick with our logo in the corner. We were so tired of that. Mike wanted to do something a bit more thought-provoking.

That first ad is actually a paper mache doll that Neil had built and painted. That photo is the reflection of it. We were toying around and experimenting. The latin quote fit in there and we were so stoked. We thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was all a collective effort.


Did you guys really believe in all these conspiracies? I always heard stories about how Alien was stockpiling and burying gold…?

We believed it. Mike definitely did, for sure, and converted me into being a believer.   It was so clear to us how many untruths we were being told. At our age, we were supposed to believe what was being taught, despite being able to see all the inconsistencies and the corruption. The greed.

The company wouldn’t have worked if we didn’t truly believe. You couldn’t fake it or it would’ve looked like some shitty t-shirt brand.

We did prepare. We did buy gold but we never buried it. We bought farmland and generators. We bought guns and ammo.  We made sure that we had our own water wells that couldn’t be tainted. We tried to set ourselves up to be self-sustaining the best we could. We figured better to be safe than sorry. We talked about it often and felt like something could and would happen inevitably.  Here we are now, all these years later, and there are tv shows about this very same thing, “prepping.” Who would’ve thought?


Talk about how Memory Screen was made. Was it always intended to be skating + art? How long did all that take?

We started Alien in October of 1990 and the video came out in August 1991. We started going on filming trips pretty much immediately after leaving G&S. We didn’t really have much money and had to buy a camera so we didn’t have a way to edit back then. We had to rent an editing deck. At first, we rented it for a week and, me being the money guy, I really had to push to hopefully get it all done during that time because we couldn’t afford to rent that thing for another week. We still had to buy tapes and make boxes.

Unfortunately, it still wasn’t done so we had to use a credit card for another week’s rental. We got it finished and duplicated locally here in Cincinnati. It all happened pretty fast.

But yeah, two weeks of pretty much round’ the clock editing.

Is it true that only the “Lil Ethnic Song” bit got finished that first week and the entire rest of the video was edited during the second?

Yes, that’s true. Neil had introduced us to J and we were so honored he’d given us this song, we wanted to make it as good as possible. It was important to start the video off that way.

I remember giant stacks of tapes and having to go through the entire thing, looking for that one moment with the right image. This was before computers. No files, no mouse. Just back-to-back edits, all on video. It was mechanical and ridiculous. One finished minute could take hours and was ruined if you needed to change anything, which we did a lot.


What was the initial reaction to Memory Screen from both the riders and the public-at-large?  It was definitely an unexpected way of presenting a skate video.

I think Rob and Duane knew what to expect but some of the other guys were clearly not happy. You can probably figure out who. Everybody has a different vision of how they see their video part and unless they sit in during the editing, the results are never going to match their expectations. We didn’t let anybody sit in with the Memory Screen editing process and generally didn’t encourage that for any of our videos as it tended to make things too complicated.

You either loved Memory Screen or hated it but it definitely was never ignored. It got people’s attention and we sold a lot of videos. It got the name out and allowed us to start building. A lot of skateboarding purists looked at it like, “What the fuck!?!” but it let us to turn our younger riders pro and sell their product. Luckily, they believed in what we were doing and stayed with us.

Understand that this was the era of quick edit, trick-to-trick videos that had little to no other content.  Skateboarding is peculiar in the sense that everyone is expected to do the same things at the same time to be considered “cool” or “current” no matter how lame or even nonfunctional it may be.  Case in point: the 38mm wheel with size 2XL pant-era. 


As a team manager, how was it dealing with Scott Conklin and Bo Turner?

I just remember going down to St. Pete to film and it being so much different than I had imagined. I always thought of coastal Florida as being all fun but these guys skated in some really rough areas. Not where they lived, but where they skated was not at all the friendliest of neighborhoods. I think this is why those guys were the way they were. Skateboarding wasn’t widely accepted by anybody back then, especially in those sketchier areas and coming up like that can have a certain influence on you.

I honestly couldn’t tell you how many fight stories I have involving those guys. Bo, Scott and Lance in an altercation with Chris Gentry at a party in Houston one night... I can’t even remember them all.

Scott was always a nice kid. I never really saw his wild side. Honestly, I never saw Bo or Scott actually start a fight but they definitely didn’t take any shit from anybody. But Scott wasn’t that hard to deal with as a team manager at all.

Bo, on the other hand, was someone who I really worried about. He was continually pushing the boundaries. He was always getting into fights and seemed to enjoy it a little more. I remember him ending up in a mess of trouble after pulling a shotgun on some kid, as the story goes. Yeah, I was definitely worried about Bo for a while there but he turned out just fine; he has a solid job, married with kids and is doing well. Scott’s doing great, too.

"Fred, Dill and AVE in NYC. Speaks for itself."

Give us your best Fred Gall story. Kalis recommended the State Trooper story from Tennessee.

Oh, that’s a good one. Good one, Kalis.

We were on a filming trip for Photosynthesis, a bunch of us packed into this RV, and I’d been having a lot of trouble with Freddy. Repeated trouble. It got to the point where I basically told him if he fucked up one more time, I was sending him home. He just kept on getting beer and smuggling it into the RV for the long drives when he wasn’t supposed to. I’d be up front trying to drive this fucking RV and he’s in the back with Dill and Ave doing God knows what. Kalis was there, Ryan Gee was along for the ride… there were way too many fucking people on this thing, sneaking on contraband unbeknownst to me… unless they were smoking weed, obviously. I didn’t mind weed as long as it wasn’t in a moving car. It’s simply part of their lifestyle and had no ill effects on them whatsoever.  Drinking, on the other hand, creates nothing but trouble.  Always.

We stop at this store somewhere down in Tennessee because someone needed to get underwear or something… and Freddy just disappears. He can be really slippery like that.

“Yo, I’m gonna go over to the store, yo!” and he’s gone.

So I’m sitting in this RV with all these kids and who knows what all they’ve brought on to this thing. I look around and see a Tennessee State Trooper come rolling in the parking lot with Freddy in the back.  

“We’re fucked,” I think to myself.  “What now?”

The cop gets out of the car with Freddy and immediately starts shouting at us in his southern accent. Evidently he had picked Freddy up as he was crossing 4 lanes of traffic with a suitcase of beer in his hand.

“Who’s in charge here?”

“Me.”

“Are you the Dad?”

So I start going into the situation and it’s really hard explaining to the police why I have a RV full of way too many underage kids, none of whom are related to me, and we’re all in Tennessee for some reason… or why Freddy’s now trying to bring back a case of beer for everybody. The cop is standing there grilling me with questions and here’s Freddy trying to do this move where he stands in-between us with his back to the cop, whispering things at me... like the cop isn’t going to be able to see any of this or figure it out. It looks so sketchy and ridiculous but he just keeps on doing it!

“What the fuck are you doing!?! What is this hi-jinx?”

He’s trying to communicate to me the fake name that he’d given the officer and I can’t decipher what the fuck he’s trying to tell me.  All the while, here’s a State Trooper trying to make sense of it all.

So now I’m sure Freddy and I are going to jail. We all probably should’ve gone to jail but the cop ended up being cool and only made us throw the beer away. Luckily, Freddy didn’t have anything else on him and was released back into my custody somehow. But wow, I could’ve killed him. Everyone else was laughing their asses off.

You could easily write a book about Freddy. There are so many good stories. Despite his penchant for wild partying literally anywhere in the world, he’s always been a good-hearted and polite kid. He’d come stay with me in Ohio for weeks at a time and was never a problem. He might be up at 4am cooking food and smoking blunts but that’s about it. Alcohol can typically be the catalyst for his trouble but he’s always a great kid to be around, not to mention an amazing skater and living legend.


How do you even begin to wrap your head around a situation like Lennie Kirk?

Like all our guys, I really care about Lennie. I tried very hard to help him and I really thought I could until I began to realize the full scope of his illness. It was very hard because he is so bi-polar. He could be the coolest, nicest kid in the world. He’d do whatever you asked him to and never argue. But he started getting in more and more trouble, always having to call me to bail him out or lend him money. He was always broke… he didn’t make much money as an amateur and was living hand-to-mouth in SF, struggling to get by. He did start doing better when he turned pro but with the illness and the injury, he became increasingly erratic, emotional and often difficult to deal with.

Where do you unfortunately have to cut the line? Were you ever worried that you were enabling or potentially exploiting him?

I felt I was careful to not enable him in any of this. I always tried steering him away from partying or doing drugs, even before the injury, because I could tell it didn’t work for him. Generally, that’s when he’d get into trouble.

I never felt like we exploited him because we didn’t force him to do anything. All that religious stuff in Timecode was what he wanted in there. He got a camera, shot it all himself and sent it in to us. It just came in the mail one day.

The breaking point came on a demo tour we went on shortly after Timecode came out. He was completely out of control, doing so many things that just couldn’t be tolerated. For example, I remember going to Woodward Skate Camp for a demo… they didn’t even want us there in the first place because of our team’s reputation. But after begging this guy to let us in, we do a demo that goes great and the kids are stoked. So afterwards, I’m heading back to the parking lot and there’s Lennie with our guitar amp and a microphone, preaching to all of these kids. He’s screaming about fire and brimstone and talking down on people because of his religion. Being very offensive. I literally grab the mic from him and he starts yelling at me! It was ugly, man. He’s calling me the devil in front of all these people. A bad scene.

After the tour was over, I had to break it down to him, like, “I tried really hard but this just isn’t going to work. Unfortunately, this is where I’m at.” It was hard because I’d never kicked anybody off for disciplinary issues before. It was usually for non-skating or a retirement-type of thing.

I did talk to his Mom as a way to hopefully get him some help. I really wanted her to understand the complexity of his issues but she basically just started preaching to me, blaming the devil. She was dead-set that the source was spiritual and demonic in nature. It wasn’t something she felt could be treated or approached scientifically. This was all face-to-face, too.


Lennie claims in his interview to have “healed” you at some point. Do you recall anything like that?

I’m the king of calling bullshit on anybody’s unlikely claims but yes, the faith healing story is true. I’m certainly not a subscriber to fundamentalist religious beliefs but I’m not altogether unspiritual either.

I was having a lot of neck and back pain at the time and kept telling Lennie about it because he was actually staying with us at the time.

“Sarge, let me try something, man. You gotta believe in me and give it a shot. I can help you with the will of God.”

Fuck it, I’d been in pain for a week or so at that point and I’m down to try anything for relief. Ok.

So he stands over me and rubs some sort of oil on my hands. He’s begins to hold one of my hands while putting his other hand on my head in a very confident and procedural way. He starts reciting long passages of prayers that got more intense as he went. It built into this sort of peak that left me grinning a bit, wondering how these types of things could possibly do any good at all. He then asks me to repeat a few things along with him, stomping his foot a couple times as he picked up the verbal pace. He finally steps back, and I’m not even kidding in the slightest, the pain was gone. Instantly and completely.

I was shocked. Totally tripping out. He was so proud, convinced that his doing that would instantly turn me into a devout Christian. Not so but I do feel there’s something to it. To this day, I can’t explain it and have never revisited the process.

"Freddy, Tim, Getz and Wenning, 2003." Ph: O'Meally

Incredible, man. So how did Habitat come about?

Habitat basically came from hiring Joe Castrucci. We’d put an ad out for a videographer/team guy to work with us for Photosynthesis, which obviously turned out amazing. Joe filmed a lot of that and edited it along with Mike. I honestly couldn’t tell you which one of our videos is my favorite but I can still watch Photosynthesis today and be stoked. So much of that came from Joe.

Over the course of working on the video, it started to feel like the Alien roster was so huge. Joe was starting to be in the mix more on the company side of things and obviously had a lot of talents in addition to the video stuff. He ended up coming to us with this very in-depth concept for a brand. He had all types of planning and execution ideas and it just made sense. Everyone else had multiple brands. Girl had their Chocolate, Alien could have their Habitat. It was different enough from Alien to where they could both work. Joe just ran with it.

A lot of the Alien guys never really gave it much respect, especially when it started. I think it was more about competitive jealousy than anything else. They didn’t want to see us divide our team and focus energy or attention away from them.  It was admittedly a big shift.

Joe’s done a great job with Habitat over the years and has really proven both himself and the concept… even though I know many of those same riders would still never admit it.


One theory is that the creation of Habitat bummed out Rob and Josh, eventually leading to the creation of Seek. Any truth to that?

No, that wasn’t the case. Habitat was Joe’s company through us. It wasn’t a rider’s vision or project. But I will say there was a very serious rivalry in Philadelphia at the time between Josh and just about the entire Habitat team. That was interesting.

I know Josh referred to them as “Habi-wack”.

Yeah, I got to hear a lot of stuff like that but, like I said, I think it had more to do with competitive rivalries between young skaters. Kalis was on top of his game but then you had Wenning and Kerry coming up, pushing each other so hard. It was amazing to watch them continually raise the bar. Footage would come back and it was insane. I mean, Pappalardo switch ollies the fountain, Wenning switch backside 180’s it right afterwards. The lines that would come from that place were incredible. It was an amazing scene but those dudes were pretty cutthroat with each other as well.


Anyone of note almost on either Alien or Habitat over the years?

There was always talk of dudes as possible riders. Someone would get stoked on a dude and try to put him out there as an option. It’s hard to remember all of those conversations.  I usually let them simmer. A new rider was a serious commitment so I never liked to rush into it. Keeping everyone happy and motivated is always a serious challenge in the world of skateboarding.

Brian Anderson was supposed to be on the original Habitat with Kerry but he bailed at the last minute. I had talked to him about everything and he was going to do it but then didn’t. Kerry almost bailed as well but we were able to keep him. I really wanted both of those guys… Ed Templeton was bummed. Understandably so.

Alien’s a bit harder to think of because we pretty much got everyone we wanted.

Wasn't Jacob Rupp supposed to ride for Habitat at some point? I always heard Josh put the squash on that. And what about Kyle Leeper?

Yes, Rupp and Leeper were both potential Habitat skaters later on. Castrucci and the team would’ve made the decision before bringing me in for approval and pay concerns. Not really sure why neither worked out but since that was for Habitat, Kalis wouldn’t have had much input either way.


What was your philosophy on “stealing” riders?

Habitat would’ve probably been the only time where someone could possibly see us as stealing riders but I’d heard that both Brian and Kerry were bummed at Toy Machine and wanted to ride for somebody else. We just threw out the option.

I never searched out for riders to take. We never intentionally went after anybody by offering more money. Generally how it happens is that you end up hearing from a rider that so-and-so is bummed for whatever reason. It usually happens on a trip together. From there, interest in Alien will be put out there and the riders will discuss it amongst themselves before calling me about it as a serious option. 

If a dude wants to quit, he’s gonna quit. There’s nothing you can really do about it. When Josh quit for DGK, I tried my best to prevent it but there was no stopping him. Same thing with Danny quitting to start Plan B back up. Once their mind is made up, they’re gone. Top level skaters don’t just call up and quit overnight; they’ve already spent a lot of time working out their new deal long before I get the “I’m quitting” call.  You just have to deal with it. Sell off as many of their boards as you can, which is always a big problem, and accept the blow to you and your company’s ego.

This is not Chris Carter. 

Your big screen debut… kinda, how did Dill’s Photosynthesis intro come about?

Dill is just so eccentric. I always used to have to call him in order to make sure he was doing what he was supposed to and push him for the video. Just constantly repeating myself, “You gotta film!”

This one day I called him and happened to have a tape recorder with me. I had to record it. There were days that he’d blow my mind with how ridiculous he was being. I really turned it up a notch on him and he had no idea it was being recorded. I purposefully kept saying things that I knew would get him even more animated. The whole thing was totally unplanned and unscripted... “the curtains” and all that, I was just making it up. He was dead serious, though. Some of his quotes in there are unbelievable… Dill is a great friend and a truly amazing person in so many aspects. 

Joe and Mike found the photo of that real douchey 70’s guy wearing the suit that was supposed to be me. At first, I couldn’t get over how lame that photo was but it made sense. It’s the perfect image for that guy who calls up riders to push them into doing whatever. Unfortunately, I’ve met too many people over the years who really think that’s me.

Like I said, I can’t pick a favorite Alien video but I do think Dill’s Photosynthesis part is probably the epitome of an Alien Workshop video part in every way.


Something that came up on the site was Pat Corcoran making negative comments about his Alien days, saying that he’d been inaccurately pigeonholed as “the rail kid” through the editing of Photosynthesis. Thoughts?

Wow, I don’t know what to say. This is the first I’ve ever heard of this. I’m sorry he feels that way. I’m sure Joe and Mike used the best footage they had. There’s a lot that goes into selecting footage for an edit. It’s not always just the quality of tricks. There are a million other things to consider.

It’s too bad he feels that way, though. That was never our intention.

What were your thoughts on seeing Dill on the Osbournes? What effect did you see it having on him and his board sales?

Honestly, you can’t really tell the effect something like that has unless you specifically market the premise. We never did that. I don’t know about sales but I do think it generally served to make Dill this larger-than-life personality. I mean, who else but Dill could end up living with Ozzy? How does that even happen? But there he is, hanging out in the living room with him, somehow all captured for an MTV show. That’s just Dill.


Describe the brief existence of Seek. How it came about and why it ultimately failed?  

Seek was supposed to be mostly Rob’s thing, giving him more of a stake and a cause to keep going. It was something different from Alien for he and Josh to head up and be a big part of.

Some people liked Seek, some people didn’t. I thought it was able to do some great things, making a go of it with a more international team. I thought Flo and Alex were amazing. Unfortunately, the business went bad pretty quickly… and when things start to turn the other direction in skateboarding, it goes fast. The resources for a third board brand just weren’t there. It was extremely taxing. We had to look at the whole thing honestly and realize that it was too much.

Colin felt like Seek was cursed from the get-go after Stevie bailed.

Stevie was gonna do it, man. I talked to him myself. He was already on Reflex and I had a good relationship with him. We had plenty of good phone conversations. I liked him… still do. I think he just got such massive pressure from Chocolate that he felt he had to stay… although it wasn’t that long afterward that DGK started. I always wondered if he already knew about that opportunity and if that weighed in on his decision.

You could be right.

He definitely wanted a lot of money to ride for us but we were willing to work with him in order to put together a super amazing team.  It just didn’t work out. It was hard on the guys because expectations were so high. It had a huge impact on Seek but we just had to move forward. We didn’t want to lament it but I was admittedly pissed and disappointed.  


I want to preface this by saying I’m a huge Mike Hill fan… but what happened with Don Pendleton and Alien? Those boards were incredible.

It was about creative control. Mike wanted to do all things related to Alien Workshop graphic design. I’m still friends with Don. He’s an amazing guy and has gone on to have a phenomenally successful career. It wasn’t an ugly break-up of any sorts, it was just one of those things. It didn’t work out long-term.

We talked about not marketing the Dill/Osbournes but what about the Mini-Horse and Meaty boards? Obviously a big commercial opportunity but at the same time, I’m sure it bummed some riders out.

Yeah, they were bummed but it was a necessary evil to grow and take advantage of that opportunity. We wanted greater exposure, becoming more of a “brand” than a “skate brand”. We were trying to build an additional customer base using that medium and it did work. We sold an awful lot of decks to Dyrdek fans that hopefully got a lot of kids into skateboarding. That was always my thought behind it.


Fair enough. So looking back now, was the Burton buy-out the right move? Would you do it again?

Yes, I would totally do that over again. It wasn’t a mistake at all. I don’t think people ever really knew enough about Burton to have a fair opinion.

Our buy-out deal was done in 2008. If you look at the next 5 years economically, there was a gnarly global recession that hit. The buy-out probably saved us. We weren’t going to grow organically anymore. We were just going to keep on doing the same hardgoods business with our limited customer base. Burton created and executed great plans for our brands and taught me personally so much about business. It was a great learning experience. 

The only negative thing about the buy-out was that they needed to divest from us 4 years later. They just had too many brands and their business was hurting. That’s why they had to pull the plug on Gravis, Analog, Special Blend and Forum. It was taking away too much focus from the Burton brand. Add to that, Jake Burton was experiencing health issues. It was one thing after another.

Things were going well.  We were developing Habitat Footwear and all our companies were growing. We had a partner in Burton with global manufacturing, sales and distribution. The resources were amazing. But by the same token that made us have to sell Alien to them, now things were starting to look bad for Burton. It was a downward spiral for action sports, in general.


What was the process like with hiring an established director like Greg Hunt for Mind Field with the enormous legacy Alien videos have?

When we started Mind Field, we didn’t have an in-house filmer at the time. I wasn’t out with the riders as much anymore and we needed someone to lead the process. Someone to get in the van to make sure these guys were getting stuff done as well as hiring other filmers to work with and coordinating everything into one cohesive piece. Honestly, at this point, we weren’t able to do that at the level we knew it needed to be at.

Greg just happened to come out to Ohio one time while filming the DC Video. I was obviously a huge fan of Greg and his work, so I started asking him about what his plans were after the DC stuff was done. We needed Mind Field to be the best video we’d ever made, to go beyond what we’d already done in terms of quality and presentation. We knew Greg was more than capable so I asked if he’d be into it. He said he’d think about it and ended up calling me a month later to see if I was really serious about my offer. I was.

I never worried about any creative clash. Greg is obviously very talented. I was actually more worried about getting it done on-time and on-budget. The music that the dudes chose was a motherfucker to get licensed!

"Following Mind Field's release, we were honored to win most of the awards.
I was most proud of Best Video and Team.
Greg Hunt, Hill and the entire team made what I consider to be one of the greatest skate videos ever."

How serious did you take Heath’s retirement at the time? Is that a common one for riders to throw out every so often?

Yeah, the “retirement” thing comes along every now and then with dudes but Heath does not bullshit. He is not a bag of wind. I’ll admit that I didn’t totally believe him when he first mentioned it and I told him that. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t buying it. We ended up talking about it a while longer and by the end of the conversation, I knew he was for real. He’s so gnarly and driven about his video parts, he basically has to thrash himself over and over again to achieve that caliber of skating. It’s not easy.

When it was finally time, I did try to talk him out of quitting one last time.

“Nope. I’m quitting. I’m done.”

That was it.


We talked about team dynamic earlier... Berra and Dill obviously weren’t the best of friends on the squad. How did that all play out? And what happened between Berra and AWS?

Oh, man… that’s a bad one. I don’t want to “no comment” something but this is gonna have to be one. Sorry, I don’t want to air this publicly.  Clearly there’s no love lost between them. I will leave it at that….

Had to ask. We also talked about Kalis’ departure a bit ago. Did you guys really kill that Alien Abduction board that DGK put out shortly thereafter? Was that taken as a diss?

Yes, I killed it. I took that board as a diss and sent a cease-and-desist letter. I still have a copy of it. They used our logo, our intellectual property, and I didn’t like it. There was no need for it. I was already bummed out about Kalis leaving and then to do that on top of it? When you have trademarked property, you’re supposed to protect… let’s leave the legal mumbo-jumbo out of it. I was pissed. I didn’t like it so I sent them a letter.

Alien Workshop would’ve never done that to anybody. We were disappointed that he left but we had no beef with DGK. Why are you going to do that to us?


Was Dill and AVE’s leaving discussed prior? Was there ever an option for Dill to have more creative control or possibly a sister company?

It was never discussed. Dill never expressed any desire like that to me. We only talked about how he wanted Alien to be as rad as it could possibly be. His vision of the company was very strong. Their quitting still bothers me to this day. It was really hard for me.

I never thought they’d quit and start their own company. I didn’t think Anthony or Jason were interested in that. I knew that Jason had been frustrated with things but when he called to quit, it got very heated and did not end well. Jason and I were such good friends. He was like a son and a brother. It got very emotional for me. I was angry but he was just over it. He was quitting and that was it.

It was civil when I talked to Anthony. He talked about wanting to work with future generations of kids the same way we had worked with him. He framed it in a way that made more sense to me, that I could understand.

I knew Dylan was only a matter of time.


Did FA kill Alien 1.0? Did you think the company could survive such a momentum shift?

I think it would’ve been a challenge but I feel we could’ve. But once Grant quit shortly after, that’s when it got much more difficult. Now you’re talking a legacy departure of two dudes synonymous with the brand as well as the youngest, gnarliest kid who we’d been flowing decks to since he was 10-years-old.

We had very few people quit in the company’s history and when it did happen, it was normally for a big reason. Even when Josh went with DGK, they really took care of him. That was actually a great deal for Josh and his future. Even though I was upset, I understood why. But I never thought Anthony or Jason would want to leave and then when Grant quit, he told me point blank that it was because those guys had left. He thought of them as the fiber of the team and everything about Alien had changed in his mind now that those guys had gone. But once Grant quit, it wasn’t hard to see that everything was coming undone.

It was no secret that things were sketchy with our then-business partners. There are no secrets in skateboarding. There were holes in the ship and people knew. We tried to stay the course and keep our integrity but our riders didn’t like these backers we were involved with. Things were going in a bad direction quickly.

"DNA Staff & AWS Team, circa 2011. Shot at the Boulder Ave Warehouse by Brook."

How did Alien Workshop 1.0 actually end? It just seemed to spring up on social media one day. There was never an announcement and it seemed like some of the riders didn’t even know.

We’d been trying to make things work with this company that had invested in us. After Burton was gone, Rob had bought us back and these other guys came into the picture, investing in the company through Rob. It was a solid idea and could’ve worked really well. However, the fundamental problem was that they had gone too big, too quick. Simply stated, they ran out of money.

I ended up getting an email one day telling me that I didn’t have a job anymore. I’d been laid off. I knew things were sketchy and had reached a critical point but they assured me they were raising additional capital.

Just like that?

Just like that. Everybody else on the staff received an email, too. That was it. That’s how it ended, in this most unlikely fashion.

Like I said, things were sketchy but this company was trying to hold the course and raise some money to finance everything. It was their responsibility. I mean, this was a publicly-traded company in Canada that held several brands on top of retail stores. They had to be careful with what they talked about. We didn’t have full visibility. There were signs but they were optimistic. It just didn’t work. Suddenly, they were out of money and had to pull the plug. Boom. It was a total mess after that.

There was never an announcement because we felt everyone knew. There wasn’t much to talk about and I didn’t want to talk about it anyway. We were devastated. 

"Me and Rob: His first expensive whip. Circa early 90's, San Diego." Ph: Hill

How do you react when people blame Dyrdek for the downfall?

I don’t blame Rob at all. It’s not his fault. I blame the partners that he got involved with but Rob only had good intentions. He checked out everything and did his due diligence. It just didn’t work out.

That’s really about all I can say about that. Don’t blame Rob.  He loves Alien Workshop. He bought the company from Burton and invested a lot of time and money into the brands. 

I’d like to add that Rob spent a lot of money to get total control of the brands back in the wake of the last partnership fallout, too. He regained control of the intellectual property and generously gave the brands back to Mike, Joe and I while taking himself out of the picture completely. In a way, it has all gone full circle.

I know it’s Mike’s deal but do you have any emotional link to the “new” Alien Workshop?

It will always be part of my DNA, no pun intended. I think Mike’s doing great work there. It feels like Alien Workshop. I like what I see but for me, it’s more about the team, the staff, the incredible network of dealers and distributors that were such loyal supporters, all the skateboarders around the world who supported us and, last but not least, the physical location; the warehouse in Dayton, OH with our ramps, our staff and the inventory. All of those things together are what made it Alien Workshop for me.

I don’t have anything to do with the new team so I obviously don’t have the same connection and satisfaction. From Rob and Duane to Tyler Bledsoe and Grant Taylor; I knew these guys and cared about them. I don’t know these new kids but I still love the brand and always will.


So what are you doing now, Chris?

I’m licensing and selling stuff for Reflex right now. Nothing too stressful, though. I live life a lot slower these days. I unexpectedly had heart surgery in August of 2014.

Jesus.

Yeah, 3 months after I lost my job, I was out exercising one day and started feeling like I couldn’t breathe. It happened again a few days later and my friend convinced me to go to the hospital, even though I didn’t really want to. Turns out that I had a 90% blockage and they had to perform surgery immediately.

I’m probably lucky that things happened the way they did with the demise of the company because there’s a good chance that I might’ve keeled over right there at my desk. I wouldn’t have taken the time to recognize the symptoms. I would’ve just told myself that I was alright and got another cup of coffee.

My life was really fast for a long time but I had to reset after the surgery. When you come face-to-face with your mortality, your priorities change. I neglected a lot of shit for 23 years that I’m still trying to catch up on. I have a wife and daughter to think about.

For the first 6 months after my surgery, I could basically only go to rehab and rest. I was just so tired. Winter came quick. I found myself just sitting around, trying to make sense of it all. It was a rough year.

Special Memory Screen showing in Brooklyn with Chris and Duane Pitre, 2014. 

You can say that again.

I like to jokingly tell people that I was literally heartbroken over the company going belly up.

Looking back, having to deal with some pretty tough people and all the trappings of managing a business…  all of that stress did take its toll on me. We were so careful with everything because we felt such a huge responsibility to our riders and supporters. We didn’t want to disappoint so we overthought everything. I just cared so much… probably too much. We just wanted it to be the best skateboard company possible.  To me it always was and always will be Limitless by design.

thanks to Kalis, Whiteley, Bird, Aes and Chris for taking the time. 

26 comments:

Theodore Maider said...

The real issue here is if Carter watches Photosynthesis every day, does he still have copies lying around? If so, I'll take anywhere between 2 and 1,000

Greg Goodfellow said...

Absolutely incredible. It's always nice to be reminded that underlying the best of skateboarding is the DIY ethos of special individuals with heart and soul.

IN Gee OO said...

Great interview!

Much love from Germany.

Unknown said...

Superb, as always! Get Hill next!

Anonymous said...

Amazing, thank you!

Dave said...

Awesome interview, Chops. Thanks to Carter for taking the time to speak.

Kaz said...

Stoked on this. Thank you! What's the Latin quote in Alien's first ad? I don't see it.

Watson said...

Damn this was a good one Chops. I think a lot about what Alien could have continued to be if the rest of the team stuck around after Dill and AVE left. The Transworld Cinematographer edit was Alien at some of it's very best. Oh well though, all good things come to an end.

Crippling Doubt said...

Excellent interview. Cool to hear a bit about Seek, that always seems to be glossed over. Thanks Chops!

Jay b said...

Great interview! Great guy.

I so wish they'd release those early videos digitally in some capacity. I digitized my beat up vhs copies but it's not the same.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this interview. As a total Alien Workshop Fan it meant a lot.

gmcktexas said...

Great work, awesome behind the scenes stories. It's tough to read about the falling out with Dill, c'est la vie though. Thanks for everything Carter!

Keith said...

Nice one. You've interviewed so many of the moving parts of the original AWS. Hill and Dyrdek seem like the only missing pieces. Not sure I really care to hear about the latter but the former would be sick for sure.

As a lifelong Alien fan, it was sad to see it crumble. AWS did have successful reboots over the years. The tum yeto one just doesn't seem right to me. I do like that Joey guy and the Canadian though.

Jonz said...

what makes that moped thing even funnier is that tony says he gave willy his car to get him on birdhouse.

cousin harold said...

Great stuff as always.

chas one said...

Amazing interview. So good. Watching Footage changed me and gave me direction when it came out. I was lucky enough to meet Carter at the old Northampton, England comps in the early 90’s. Being the geek I am, I honed in on him rather than the riders. We chatted for a while and he was stoked that I knew the names of the logo designs etc. He generously gave me Dyrdek’s set-up and then hooked me up with a bunch of stuff a couple of days later at the Romford demo, just for being a fan. We corresponded a couple of times and I ended up on the catalogue mailing list for a few years. I was drawn to AWS because of their aesthetic, but Carter was the reason to would continue to back them, and they never disappointed. Please could you get this message to him somehow, just to say thanks? Alien was always a bit elusive to get in contact with people when you’re outside of things (and that was always part of the charm).

Scott said...

Fantastic interview. This is the best skate site. Long live the long form interview!

+ said...

I especially liked reading about the early days of AWS. The late 80s/early 90s era was a creative, exciting time. AWS was part of that.

troismutantes said...

Really great read. I sort of read this backwards - starting with Dill & AVE leaving and then going back to the beginning. Funny how the process of leaving G&S to start Alien parallels those guys leaving to do FA. Could just be how I read it though...

Anonymous said...

It is amazing to hear about the process in making Memory Screen. BTW, apparently the vhs copies in the original box are hard to find. There is a copy going for quite a bit on eBay. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Alien-Workshop-Memory-Screen-VHS-RARE-/322060679874?hash=item4afc4ffac2:g:X9QAAOSw9KpW~7AA

Greek said...

Great work dude. Really enjoyed this one.

Anonymous said...

Great read. Sarge, you're one helluva dude.

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Can we get a Louie Barletta interview sometime in the near future?

_the_notorious_bif_ said...

Chops,
This was an incredible interview. I have been backing AWS since day one and I've always had incredible respect for Hill & Carter, so to read an interview were one of them told the history of The Workshop from G&S to the downfall and resurrection was a real treat.

With that said, some of this interview rubbed me the wrong way. The Kalis DGK "Abduction" deck Cease & Desist was one of them. I respect that a brand needs to protect its intellectual property, but that board was parity and parity is protected speech. If it went to court, AWS would have to prove DGK was intentionally trying to mislead consumers. Come on... No skateboarder would think that was anything other than a DGK board poking fun at the Abduction boards AWS puts out when they "steal" riders (like they did with Dill & Arto).

The other thing that bummed me out was he was blindsided by Dill & AVE's departure. He knew they were unhappy, but didn't think they'd leave makes me think he kinda took those two for granted. That bummed me out.

Thank you Chops.
I really enjoyed this one.
-Bif-

Anonymous said...

Chris Carter is an exceptional dude. Equal parts dreamer and doer. Also hapoens to be talented drummer. Humble, bright, open. Great stories, history.

Christopher Lambe said...

Awesome interview ,thank you so much .