chrome ball interview #113: barker barrett

chops and barker go to therapy.

design & layout this image: mj

So going back, how did you get down with the Shut crew from all the way in Eastern Pennsylvania? The world was a much bigger place back then, were you going up to skate New York City a lot at the time?

There was actually a skateshop near my house called “Ambler Trophy”. It seemed like a lot of the previous generation’s lifers would come through there still, like Chuck Treece. There were only so many skateshops at the time and meeting these guys who had been around and seemed to know everybody, it feels like that must’ve been my connection to the next step.

Being on the East Coast back then, it was common to find yourself on many of the smaller teams that were in the mix. Like, everyone in my area, we all started out on Team Toxic, because the guy who owned Ambler Trophy had also started Toxic Skates. So just about everyone I knew that was good enough was on Team Toxic. That’s just how it was.

Contests were the most important things going at the time. Not only for the competition itself, they also served as melting pots for all the different area scenes. That’s where you got to meet everyone from around your region. And if memory serves, I met the majority of what was the Shut Crew at a contest in Ocean City, Maryland, of all places. Rodney, Sheffey, Chris Pastras… the whole crew was there. I’d never actually heard of the brand before, but I still remember them tagging “Shut” on the ramp-to-wall, which kinda blew me away.

It’s not like they asked me to join the team that day, things weren’t like that back then. Everything wasn’t so pronounced. But being so close to Philadelphia, and then a little bit further than that was New York, I kept venturing out more and more. And with time spent, it just made the most sense to go to New York. So that’s what I did, eventually staying at Jeremy Henderson’s loft a bunch. Things just went from there.

Where on the Shut timeline is this?

This is early on. Jeremy Henderson was still on Dogtown at the time. It’s still very much in that hand-shaping boards on a rooftop period… even though the hand-cutting would continue on for a while, basically up until the mass production started with Cow Skates. The majority of my time with Shut was at the first Mott Street space, where illegally spraying and cutting boards in the basement was the routine.

So were all the riders involved with cutting boards back then? And how good were those boards to skate?

No, it was mostly just Rod and Bruno doing the cutting. But the boards would always come out pretty alright. This is when it was just the Dog Scare board and another one that I can’t even remember. But I feel like once they figured out the Assault Vehicle and the Shark, that’s really when it started going. The Street Posse board came a little later and was basically a smaller blend of those two shapes. Once it got boiled down to those three boards, that’s when things got a little more consistent.

What was the vibe like there as a team member?

Shut was a fully-functioning family. There was obviously love underneath it all but you also had a lot problems and arguments there, too. People getting on each other’s nerves as if they were related. I imagine it being a lot like foster care... not that I claim to know what that’s like, but it really was like a family put together from all corners.

With you getting on so early, could you recognize when word started to circulate about this tiny New York brand? Or were you too close to realize that heads out west were starting to pick up on it?

Honestly, you couldn’t help but see it.

Again, contests were so important at this time, especially on the East Coast. That was your only contact with anything outside of your own little scene. But you started seeing Shut out there more and more. People began to know what it was. And not only that, the reality of the situation was that if we had six guys in a contest, that’s who typically got first through sixth place. It’s a trip to think about how many times that actually did happen. But when something like that starts to become the norm, you can’t help but feel that you’re part of something special.

One thing that helped spread Shut to San Francisco was during that summer where I had met everyone at the Ocean City contest, I was making a big trip out to California. On that trip, I ended up staying in Oakland for about a month or so and that’s where I met Coco, Rick Ibaseta and the Carroll brothers. Coco was actually bi-coastal at that point, spending half of the year with his grandmother in San Francisco, the other half with his mom out in Jersey. But I know that connection really helped out with Shut’s popularity in the Bay area. Rick Ibaseta even rode for Shut later on out there, which was kind of our big West Coast push for the time.

Thrasher always gave us a lot of love, too. They’d put our guys in there pretty frequently, which was always cool to see. They really seemed to love that New York-San Francisco connection.

But there were a lot of factors that helped spread the word of what we were trying to do. Not a lot of people know this, but the original Shut actually had a Bones Wheels sponsorship. That was a big deal at the time. Boxes of wheels were always coming to the warehouse and if you weren’t the last person to show up that day, you might get a set. Rodney and Bruno both had pretty deep contacts in the small skateboarding industry at that time, so it did seem like Shut was getting out there, to a degree.

You mentioned the Mott space earlier, what was that place like? How would you describe the inner workings of Shut back then?

It’s insane because this is back with how New York used to be. It’s not the way it is now… but at the same time, I’m not talking about 70’s garbage strike New York either. People definitely like to romanticize it as being much more “dangerous” at that time, almost like it’s a catchphrase for back then or something. I mean, it wasn’t completely safe by any means, but it had been much worse before, ya know?

The Shut office was just a tiny cement room with a desk and what was essentially a walk-in closet. That’s where they’d cut the boards, spray ‘em up and stencil them. After that, we’d hang them on coat hangers through the mounting holes to dry, so you always had wet boards hanging around everywhere. But that was pretty much it.

Sonic Youth also had a practice space in the same warehouse as our little Shut space. We’d always see them around back then, which was cool.

We didn’t really get boxes, but it’s all relative anyway. Back then, you’d spend almost as long on a sticker job as most pros ride their boards today. Boards lasted much longer back then, especially when they had to be hand-cut and sprayed.

Personally, I’d just stop by and pick things up as I needed them. I’d usually stay in the city for about a week, just to make it worth the trip, so I typically put something together when I first got there and then bring another board back home to tide me over until my next trip.

Not the ‘70s but still not safe, what was your sketchiest experience out skating the streets of New York in the ‘80s?

Well, I remember waiting to use a payphone to get in Jeremy Henderson’s building when I saw someone almost get slashed by one of those Dollar Store box openers. Evidently that person had also been waiting for the phone… I guess just a little too long by his standards. But the guy came out of nowhere. He’d been pacing around in circles, mumbling to himself. Next thing you knew, you heard that “vrrr-dididit” sound of a box cutter blade coming out and he takes a swipe. It was close, too. Whoever it was that had that receiver in his hand, he saw it coming in just the nick of time and was able to go back on his heels, letting go of the receiver. It just missed him.

Another one, we were at the Harlem Banks when somebody lost their board and it hit this poor old woman in the ankle, ripping her stocking. It drew blood. Man, that’s the last thing I remember. All I know is that it quickly became a situation where we all pushed as fast as we could until we couldn’t push anymore. Dicey.

Sean Sheffey, Boy King.

Did you get to see much of young Sheffey back then? I’ve often heard this era being regarded as his prime. Anything stand out?

Oh yeah, Shut was probably his prime. Just because street skating was still so new, he’d go off into these unchartered waters that nobody had ever seen before. What he was able to do on one of those hand-cut boards back then was insane.

Again, that Ocean City contest where I met those dudes at, that was also the first time that I’d ever seen him skate. I think that was actually the day he got on Shut, because he’s riding a Gonz board in the contest. I still have a videotape of it that’s incredible… but even at the time, there was no question that you were witnessing something so raw actually form itself out of nothing. Because he was so unhinged. He had all this power… but wait, he has all this finesse and control, too. You’re not supposed to have all that. But that was Sheffey, man. It was shocking.

You could never really put him in a box. He’s always been so all over the place, for better or for worse. Super rad but also very complex. Like, I remember going on the road with him back in the day. He traveled with a Bible and only ate salad with lemon. That was it.

But literally every time we went anywhere, he’d be doing things that were years ahead. Skating curbs with Dressen and Natas at a trade show in Long Beach. A dream come true, right? Well, SMA had this old World War 2 bomb as a prop in their booth. Somehow, that thing ended up getting put on the curb we were skating out front. No problem, Sheffey still skated the curb and would just pop over the bomb. That made an impression. Oh, and at the Convention Center that same trip, Sheffey’s doing no-comply boardslides down legit, real handrails. This was 1989 or something.

He’d do stuff that would be so mind-blowing, all the rest of us could do was just look at each other in disbelief, like, “Well, that’s happening now.”

I still remember him skating “something” at this “spot” where the concrete met asphalt. He skated it like a hip, but there was seriously nothing there. There was no transition. There was no bump. It was just a line, a seam, but he’s skating it and doing all kinds of crazy shit on it. Well… okay.

A few years down the line, Sheffey and I were on a Surf Ohio tour with H-Street and some Alva dudes. Mike Ternasky was there and I still remember watching his reaction to seeing Sean skate for the first time. You could tell, man. It was written all over his face, like, “This is going to happen. This has to happen for us.”

Sean Sheffey, 1989.

So you were there when Ternasky stole Sheffey for Life?

“Stealing” is a pretty strong word. I believe it was more of a “nab” or even just resigning himself to “nabbing”. I don’t know the exact chronology there, could’ve been a layover. But as a company owner, especially for H-Street at the time, Ternasky had to at least try. He would’ve been nuts not to.

My point is that he was blown away and this is the guy who’s used to watching the H-Street team skate every day. There was literally one night on that tour where I was in a hotel room with Steve Ortega and Ray Simmonds when Hensley walked in, seemingly bewildered.

“I don’t even know what’s happening out there. Sheffey is backside 180ing over oil drums.”

The whole scenario didn’t compute. Because the best dude in the world is now confused by what he’d seen… which was how the rest of us typically felt after seeing Matt skate in those videos. So to see Hensley bewildered by what he saw Sheffey doing, it was wild, man.

Sean Sheffey, 1989.

So with all the contest sweeps and Sheffey blowing doors, was it apparent that so many Shut riders were going to go on to bigger things in the industry? Even with being so far away from California, did success in skateboarding for a lot of these guys seem pretty much inevitable?

Honestly, no. Because it was such a weird time back then. All you had were these superheroes out in California. It was the time of the Bones Brigade and the late 80’s vert gods. All that stuff seemed so unattainable and completely different from what we were doing.

There was such a finite number of people skating back then anyway. It felt more like you were either going to do this because you loved it or that you were going to have to find something else to do. At the time, skateboarding did not seem like something that was going to propel you anywhere. You were just going to ride this thing and have fun.

But look at us, man. Mike Kelly, Kepper, Chris Pastras, Sheffey… we’re all still out there doing this thing! We stuck around! And it’s so great to see.  

Brian Blake.

What about those team members that flew under the radar, possibly never getting their due?

Brian Blake and Billy Baker… but especially Brian Blake. Wow.

Yeah, he’s the one that everybody brings up… but the only thing I’ve ever seen of him was a pushing shot.

Just like witnessing Sheffey’s development, knowing Brian Blake and watching him skate was also a privilege. I feel like between those two, there was a constant feeling of disbelief that we all experienced with shocking regularity.

Brian Blake could do anything. Like, I saw him do body varial 540’s on vert back then. Totally gifted but entirely soft-spoken about it. He’d just do something incredible like that, almost at random, and all you’d get out of him was maybe, “eh.”

“Brian, that was rad!”

“Was it? Cool.”

Billy Waldman, proper kickflip.

What about the curious case of Billy Waldman? I don’t think people know how good he really was, they only know Rubbish Heap.

People don’t know how good he still is. He’s another one who just has “it”.


I’m sure. Something like that doesn’t go away.

Why do you think Rocco did him like that in Rubbish Heap?

I guess it was the shortest distance between two points. That was probably the easiest way to digest it. Pure marketing, man. Occam’s razor.

Some people’s skateboarding has to be seen in-person. It doesn’t always translate to video. Billy was one of those people. They could’ve focused on his skateboarding but if you really think about it, what they did instead was genius. Because it’s indelible. We’re still talking about the Demon Child 25 years later. The World team at that time was essentially Ron and Jeremy with a few bolted-on components. Everything else was kinda extra to those two guys and ultimately left up to how Rocco and Rodney wanted to present it. 

Jeremy Henderson in his loft.

Good point. Tell us more about your experience at Jeremy Henderson’s legendary loft back in the day.

Oh, it was such a boiling pot of creativity at the time. It was one of those things that if you saw it in a movie, you wouldn’t believe it. A gigantic space full of art with jazz playing constantly. Sitting on the fire escape, smoking weed…

Basically how it went, you’d go over there and spend the night, wake up the next morning pushing noon. There would always be talk of going skating but you’d never actually leave the house until 3. Jeremy would put baby powder in a sock, put one sock on and then throw on a record.

“You gotta listen to this!”

From there, he’d go over and glue a piece of wood to a painting he’d been working on. Pull out some paints, paint for a little bit. Turn you on to some crazy coffee concoction. Then he’d put on his other sock. Now we’re moving onto shoes. We might make it out at some point but it doesn’t really matter because you’re having so much fun. It was literally an improv’d life. It was pretty amazing.

And the people who would roll through? I remember looking at his photo albums with him, like, “Yeah, that’s when Hosoi stayed here for a bit.”

He had photos of Hosoi and Chris Miller at the Harlem Banks! Nobody was living anywhere close to how he was at the time. How does one even find themselves in such a catalytic incubator of everything like that? It was incredible! Nothing was missing from anything that you could possibly be interested in there.

Sounds perfect. But weren’t you guys supposed to be into the whole graffiti vibe with the four-finger rings and all that?

What’s funny is that for how “urban” or whatever that Shut torch has become, I would say that Shut was, at least, equal parts punk and even metal. It was all wrapped together back then. The big thing was Public Enemy not being played on the radio because it was too controversial. So, in a sense, hip-hop was punk back then. It was just as anti-establishment.

Back then, the Alcatraz Bar, right off Thompkins, would serve anybody. So we’d always hit up that spot and Harley from the Cro-Mags actually worked there. So that’s what kinda started tying it all together. The Cro-Mags, Gang Green, Anthrax… the whole New York punk and metal thing were infused like that, really.

You have Sonic Youth’s practice space next door to the office and Harley from the Cro-Mags is serving you beers underage…

Right!?! It was insane.

You could skate down the street with Jeremy and every couple blocks, someone would know him. And this is New York! That’s not supposed to exist in nature.

You’d go out to some club from his place at whatever time. There would be bouncers standing out front with their arms crossed and a line around the corner, but we’d walk right in. That’s just how it was.

Didn’t you turn pro for Shut at the very end? Wasn’t your graphic a dude in a shopping cart going off a launch ramp?

Yeah, Ken Sigafoos did that graphic, which is awesome. This was at the very tail-end of Shut. If I remember correctly, Bill Weiss won an ESA qualifier riding that board, which was actually the first time I ever saw my first pro board in-person.

But between the owners and myself, my turning pro for Shut was a very even situation. They asked for my input in everything and I was able to design my board how I wanted it.

It was just kind of a crazy situation, because we had all done 3 years of the NSA contest thing: qualifiers, regionals and finals. Not that this was some set-in-stone path for turning pro but it did seem like a prerequisite at the other companies. It became this thing where, like you said, opportunities started presenting themselves and people were leaving. I was kind of the last one standing, so the white kid from some dirt road village in Pennsylvania is now pro for the urban skateboard company with four-finger rings.

But even the last man standing eventually went to Planet Earth. How difficult was that for you?

Oh, it was super hard. And yes, there was a lot of back-and-forth correspondence between Rod and I. But it was Buster Halterman who was really my pathway to Planet Earth. He was from Pennsylvania as well so we were always kinda on the same radar together. He’s another one that I feel super lucky for, just the timing… to have this incredible vert skater literally skating in a barn that close to me? That’s pretty extraordinary.

Planet Earth was just starting out and the team was supposed to be Chris Miller, Eric Jueden, Buster Halterman, Brian Lotti and myself. I couldn’t say no to that! Looking back, it almost seems like an out-of-body experience to be lumped in with that group, like I’m watching from the outside. But Planet Earth was huge for me.

Talk a little about your big debut in Now N Later. What all went into the filming of that for you? 

(laughs) That was literally 2 days in San Francisco and probably a day at Cheapskates. The huge VHS Camcorder that we filmed the Cheapskates stuff with is still at my Dad’s house.

I barely remember the San Francisco stuff. I couldn’t even tell you who filmed it. Again, I watch that part today and so much of it seems like somebody else. It’s crazy how your memory joggles things.

Like what?

It’s hard to explain. Like, you start to get further along in your years and in your skating, when suddenly a trick will come along that feels so natural.

“Oh, wow! I learned a trick! That’s rad!”

But then somebody posts a clip of you on Instagram from 20 years ago.

“I’m a fucking idiot, I actually did that trick in my first video part.”

What once seemed like a golden goose is actually just some shit I could do in 1991.

What trick was it?

A frontside pivot-to-board-to-sugarcane on transition, a half-nelson.

You forgot you could do those?

Apparently! (laughs)

But honestly, I still feel pretty good that it was able to come back to me!

That’s a good one. But how come you only got a couple days to film? Everybody else seemed to get much longer.

I’ve taken a lot of things for granted and I doubt that I exactly tightened the screws on myself to film. That was probably part of it. And also, I just didn’t exist very well in San Diego.

Planet Earth was a big motivation for me to move out to California as I was no longer tied to New York so much anymore. So I gave San Diego a shot, where I could be more in that mix with everyone, but it just wasn’t a productive place for this guy to be riding a skateboard. Coming off those H-Street videos where they were documenting everything, I felt so many cultural differences back then. It seemed like you could never just go out and roll around. They filmed everything, which to have that kind of record is rad but it can also be a little much. I wasn’t used to all that.

What did you think of hearing Lotti’s description of you in that part? That had to make you a little self-conscious, right? With your “weird views”?

Yeah, but it didn’t serve to make me any more self-conscious than I already was. I mean, being a person of not nearly enough years getting progressively balder? The whole thing is a minefield! I have no idea what all I was reading into that stigma. And now I have to be in all of these pictures, too? I was a mess!

Sure, you can wear a hat. That works in most cases. But if you go to a contest, you have to wear a helmet. I always had to figure out some kind of slight-of-hand in how to put my helmet on real quick.

That was really a thing for you?

Oh, for sure. It’s one of those things where once you finally get over it, it really is a life-changer. Just being able to become comfortable in your own skin, which is literally what that term means.

Where did your first Planet Earth graphic with the dude at the door come from?  

That was some alien. (laughs)

To be honest, that one misses me a little bit. I do remember that being in the last run of nonsymmetrical concave boards Planet Earth ever put out. But I think that graphic was submitted to me. Also, I have trace memories of someone I’ve met in the last 20 years or so telling me that they were friends with the guy who drew that graphic.

“Oh, really!?! Who is that again?” (laughs)

I don’t want that to come off as sounding ungrateful. It’s just so weird when your head is spun on other things. You’re actually distracting yourself from what’s really going on because you’re so caught up in your own horseshit… like putting on a helmet. Adolescent-to-young adult bullshit about people paying attention to you. That’s the shit you get hung up on.

“Are they looking at me?”

“Of course, they are! You have a picture in the magazine!”

One of my favorite pictures of you in a magazine is your 5-0 on “the Barker Rail”. I think that’s the only time I can recall you ever skating a rail. How’d that one go down?

(laughs) It went way down. That might be the lowest rail to actually exist in nature. Somebody had cut the top part off. But it’s rad that it has the kind of staying power because there’s pangs of embarrassment all over it for me.

It’s almost too low to grind… which, I guess, is kind of a trick. Where it sits within those stairs, you have to land on it right at that point, right there, or you’re just going to go right past it. You actually have to teach yourself to ollie lower in order to hit it.

(laughs) But it’s such a great photo!

Oh, it’s a great photo! Again, blessed! I feel blessed! I couldn’t be happier. Yep.

Geoff Graham can make anything look amazing, which he obviously did in this case.

What was that Cheapskates scene like back in the day? A lot of heavy-hitters came out of there.

Sean Miller, Tom Boyle, Dan Tag, the Charnoski brothers… holy shit, Jay Sigafoos. Dudes were constantly coming through, too. Cheapskates was a big part of my life, man. I basically lived there for years. It was my everyday thing. If I was in-town, I was going to stop by there at least once that day. Skating there for hours, sometimes until the owner would literally turn the lights off on us. It didn’t even matter if you were mid-run, you were done. When he closed, he closed.

Some of the raddest days back then were whenever Mike V would show up, because he spent so much time on the West Coast. He’d come by and we’d be trying to pick up on all the latest stuff he’d brought back with him. That’s how tricks spread back then.

I remember one time him doing the craziest run on a vert ramp that I’ve ever seen, still to this day. But it’s not what you think. It literally consisted of nothing but frontside grinds up top and whip shuv-its on the flatbottom, every time. Frontside grind, whip shuv-it, frontside grind, whip shuv-it, frontside grind, whip shuv-it… and this on a vert ramp. It was fucking crazy. And to date that, it was our first time ever seeing the “Don’t Eat My Friends” board.

How would you describe your approach to mini-ramps, and lip tricks, in particular? Who or what inspires you in this regard?

Jason Jessee was a big influence. And I specifically remember a big shift in my thinking after seeing Ben Schroeder at Raging Waters. That was huge for me.

But I’ve come around to the realization that skating for me, personally, is essentially about exploiting mistakes. For example, I never did a backside tailslide on a mini-ramp until I did one to revert, because I can’t come in forwards. I realize that same thing applies to people doing backside tailslides on ledges, somebody just might be more comfortable coming off to fakie. There’s a roundness to it.

A bad frontside grind is an invitation. Let it tell you what’s going to happen and try to exploit it. Don’t jump off or even try fighting it. Just see what happens, because you never know.

We talk about this same type of thing whenever we have our little therapy sessions at the curb. A frontside slappy is not like a kickflip, where it’s either a make or broken from the get-go. With a kickflip, you’re either going to do it or not going to do it from the second you initiate. But a slappy could go wrong and still be fixable… it might turn into something else. You gotta work your way through it.

Slappies and lip tricks go hand-in-hand like that, because a curb is really just the smallest quarterpipe you can skate.

What is your all-time favorite lip trick?

It’s probably something I can’t do anymore.

Backside lipslide-to-backside smith grind was always satisfying whenever it actually happened. It’s weird because that’s a really hard one to feel so natural.

For future generations, what’s the secret to a good backside smith grind? You’ve always had a beauty.

(laughs) Honestly, it’s as much of a pose as it is anything else. You just gotta manifest it.

My biggest problem was always hitting my front heel on the coping, so I have a tendency to bring my front foot back and angle it with my toes pointing towards the nose.

Think of it like a skateboard trophy: Drive it with your backfoot and pose it. I mean, I think that’s how it works. (laughs)

How difficult was transition’s decline in the 90s for you as a “mini ramp champ”?

Yeah, it was disheartening to watch but I kinda did it to myself, too. In being a bludgeon for punishment, I moved to San Francisco where the only ramp around was Bryce’s, where you could maybe skate once or twice a week. So in a way, whether I realized it at the time or not, I had largely transitioned myself out of transitioning. Yeah, San Francisco is a skatepark in of itself but perhaps I did hobble myself somewhat by making that move.

The thing with that decline of interest in transition skating, there was still a good amount of people doing it. Wade Speyer, Alan Petersen, Cardiel and Julien were all still around. This is when all that stuff created its own marketability as “all-terrain”.

The hardest part about that time was everyone going down that black hole of worm-burning flatground tricks. Everything got so redundant after a while, which was actually another advantage of living in San Francisco. You could still go out all day with your friends and skate around. Letting the spot find you and getting inspired. Even if you’re just going from Point A to Point B and back.

But the 90’s were such a closed-minded time in skateboarding, especially for anyone skating outside of that very tiny box. Would you ever get vibed by other pros?

Nothing like that really stands out from back then. I think that was a benefit of being pretty low-key and flying under the radar.

There was a fundamental shift in skateboarding at that time. You no longer had to spend your 10,000 hours skating transition to become of note in the industry. The path that kids were starting to take had changed to flatbars and handrails. But that flatbar school of skating was much more concerned about the next wave of up-and-coming flatbar kids than my spine transfers, skating a curb. I wasn’t a threat to anyone there. No threat.

How was riding for Planet Earth after Ternasky’s departure? Things definitely seems to shift in tone there after that.

In the beginning, it was amazing. But I feel like one problem I’ve always had with sponsors is that I tend to operate on a hermit-level... because I just don’t want to be a bother. I never get involved in the inner-workings of the operation and I skate my boards way past the time they should’ve been skated. Even to this day, I’ve been putting off getting shoes from Vans for 6 months now, simply by not emailing. I just don’t want to bug people.

I can’t speak for Chris Miller but I do know that particular time in skateboarding was kind of a bummer for a lot of us. All of a sudden, it was all this crazy slow flip stuff. Sure, that stuff is rad but what did it have to do with anything? I was never sure but that was the reality of the situation we were all facing.

I didn’t even know where I fit in at the time, to be honest.

Weren’t you on Zoo York for one ad? A lipslide at Wallenberg on a banana board? What happened there?

(laughs) Yeah, I was on Zoo York right at the very beginning for one ad.  

That little board was fun. I used to skate with Thiebaud a lot back then and he absolutely hated that thing. I remember he used to hide it from me all the time, like, “Come on, man!”

But yeah, Rodney and Dan Zimmer came out, right as they were relaunching it. We sat down at my place in the city and talked it all out. Then we went to Wallenberg and I lipslid that ledge for the ad. We were off and running. I actually had the first board on that version of Zoo York… but then I did them wrong again. First, I quit Shut and then I did it to them again by quitting Zoo York. Creature had emerged within maybe two months of my getting on Zoo York and I really liked what they had planned with everything.

I’m not even entirely sure how Creature came about. I know that Russ Pope and those guys were working on SMA up until that point, when all of a sudden, they weren’t. SMA literally disappeared over night and there was suddenly this new Creature thing. But I thought it sounded cool.

Rodney couldn’t have been too hyped.

Actually, this time was a bit more amicable. There was much less negotiating this time compared to when I left Shut. He seemed pretty okay with it, which in hindsight, makes much more sense now with the direction that the company was about to go in. It was just ultra-tag logo boards up to that point, not much else. It wasn’t until a little later, like around the time Illuminati came out, that they really started to show their hand in what direction they wanted to take.

Creature and Scarecrow… what’s the difference?

Creature has always been through NHS, Scarecrow was out of CCS after Russ, Jason, myself and few others had decided to take it elsewhere… and yeah, that’s a weird time there. Good, just weird. We’ve all moved on. (laughs)

I actually think Scarecrow still exists somewhere, maybe through Jim Gray or something.

It’s tricky having a company owned by every skateshop’s biggest competition. That was definitely a problem that I don’t quite think we foresaw happening.

Were you into all that retro-horror stuff?

I honestly have ridiculously fond memories from back then, in a marketing sense. Being able to step into something that you can sink your teeth into and roll with was a lot of fun. I really liked it because it was so different from everything else that was going on at the time. I wasn’t so connected to that Zoo stuff anymore, after having gone through Shut the first time. This Creature stuff felt like something new and fresh.

The marketing was simple enough and I’ve always felt that Jason and I complimented each other’s skating very well. It made perfect sense to me. Jason’s boards were all of the horror vampire stuff while mine leaned towards the science-fiction realm. Obviously Creature’s gone on to become quite successful in later years, maybe we just chose the wrong time to be doing it? Skateboarding did have a pretty narrow view of things at the time.

But that’s the great thing about skateboarding, it always seems to be perpetually kicking itself back down. Skateboarding always finds a way to remind everyone to get over themselves.

Yes, you are champion of the 12-stair. But really, we’re all nerds. We’re all just fucking nerds.

But so much of what both you and Jason were doing back then has become trendy now. That’s gotta drive you nuts.

It’s just one of those things, man. I think it had so much to do with the downtime in skateboarding. But if a switch kickflip backside tailslide is what everyone is doing, why the fuck are you doing it? We don’t need another one. Those guys are doing it just fine. There were entire skateboard companies at the time who were putting out videos that you could easily double-expose over a Girl video…. same spots, the same tricks.

And yes, this is all coming from someone who can’t do all that stuff so this is a little loaded. But at the same time, I’d much rather go out and just let skateboarding happen. Perfect happens but there’s way more character in watching something being managed rather than executed.

Why have you been writing “Heretic” on your board for so long? I know you’ve made some clothing branded as such, too.

That comes from the old Grove St. House in San Francisco, 1664 Grove, that I was adopted into by Matt, Dennis and Jon McGrath. Lots of people came and went… Drake Jones, Lennie Kirk. But it was a great house inhabited by people who lived to skate. We all loved this thing that was largely seen as a fringe activity by the real world. And not only that, we all felt that we weren’t really affiliated with any of it, either. We were on the fringe of the fringe. We skated together as our own little group, completely outside of everything else. That’s where the idea came from.

Skateboarding is a heretical practice. Street skating is an act of redefining and renaming things that are already something else. A curb is not something you skate until someone skates it. Now it has been redefined as something else. So there we were, feeling alone within a group where we are all heretics to begin with. That’s the idea anyway.

Yeah, I’ve done a few small runs of clothing with that in the past. Hopefully I’ll be able to share a little bit more of that again shortly, whenever I get my shit together.

How was your tenure as iPath Team Manager in the early ‘00s? Who would we be surprised to hear as having things surprisingly well together back then?

(laughs... a long time)

…if anybody?

(laughs) I don’t know if that question even applies to the subject. I didn’t even have my shit together.

It was a rad time but it was totally insane. It was something that we definitely all took for granted. We were all given more than enough rope to hang ourselves with.

The most shocking thing for me at that time was the incredible foresight of Matt Field. What he was able to do was incredible. I’d go shopping with him for sample stuff and think he was nuts half the time, but it always seemed to work. I even remember when he first told me the name of the skateboard company he wanted to do: Rasa Libre. Oh man… I mean, I told him it was rad or whatever. But in the back of my mind, I totally thought he’d gone fucking bananas. What the fuck is a Rasa Libre? What are you even trying to do with that? It’s the absolute craziest name I’ve ever heard.

But, of course, it becomes a monster. No, you are not nuts. Evidently you have an inherent eye for these things. I was mistaken.

It just got too big, man. We had way too much fun.

You always hear about Freddie being the wildest in a bunch, but was that the case with iPath? I know a few of those dudes can definitely get pretty gnarly.

Oh no, Freddie is unmatched. He’s an insti-fucking-tution, man.

Off-board, everyone on iPath was pretty mellow. Insane, but mellow. Obviously, they could get wild… but Freddie is just Freddie.

What’s your best Freddie story?

The one that always seems to stick out in my mind was 6 or 7 years ago when I was helping build a park in New York. I ended up seeing Freddie at Clem’s Bar over in Brooklyn. I still remember him walking up, because he wasn’t drinking… which was odd.

“What’s going on, Fred?”

He starts explaining to me that he’d somehow gotten some gnarly infection in his mouth from skating BQE. Maybe from rubbing his hands to his face? I don’t know. But this infection was gnarly enough to where he couldn’t drink, due to the antibiotics he was on. So because he’s not drinking, he’s telling me all about how he’s been the designated driver recently. That he’s been driving his girl and friends around from drink spot to drink spot. I remember he was even complaining about how stupid everyone was acting.

Silently, I’m thinking to myself, “Wow, this is amazing! It’s so wild to hear this coming from Freddie. Maybe he’s gonna be okay after all!”

I kid you not, the next thing out of his mouth is, “Yeah, it fucking sucks. I can’t wait to get fucking drunk again. I hate this.”

He found absolutely not benefit from his situation whatsoever. It’s like moments of clarity don’t even apply to Fred. And I’m not saying that in a bad way, it’s just that his Fredness overrules any and all sound logic or reason. I love it.

“These guys are a bunch of fucking idiots… I can’t wait!”

So how did The Otherness come about? And seriously, Shannon May!?! So rad.

Yeah, Shannon May being on there is the best.

Honestly, we’re still working on getting us all together in the same room, which has never happened. But at the same time, I actually think that’s one of the radder elements to it.  

There’s been kind of a synchronicity in it all. When I moved back to Oakland a few years ago, Mat O’Brien was living here as well and things just started working themselves out from there. It was all organic, basically coming together from the top-down. Thom has been tight with Marc since the Maple days, Mat was brought in after that, then me. Tony Cox. And other than Shannon being this mysterious iconic dude from Louisiana, I’m still not totally sure how he got into the mix… which makes it even better.

The idea for The Otherness is a bunch of like-minded inside outsiders, if that makes sense. We wanted to do a company that celebrates collaboration and all of the things that we appreciate. Taking everything from out there that gets us psyched and incorporating it all into what we’re trying to do in here.

I gotta ask, what happened with MJ? And what’s that mean for the company?

I honestly don’t know what happened there. It largely happened outside of my little circle of awareness and who I talk to. But yeah, we’re still in good shape.

Like I said, from the beginning of this thing, it’s always been more about collaboration and amplifying the things we think are cool. I feel like that’s how we look at the members of our team, too. There is an underlying appreciation there, that’s the connective tissue… Liking what the other guy brings.

That being said, I don’t know where the conflicts lurk. Honestly, it only made sense to me that Marc was part of The Otherness because it didn’t make sense to me that Marc was part of The Otherness. That’s not a statement about Marc, specifically. I think that same thing could be applied to every member of the team, which makes it rad. I don’t think Marc’s leaving really changes anything because it was already baked in the cake. It’s not about a “roster” or even individual members of that roster. It just is.

Who came up with that name “The Otherness” and what does it mean, exactly?

Well, we were floating around “Dodo” as the name for a while, with it being relevant in being irrelevant. Present, but extinct. We liked that but ended up thinking that it was probably too close to those Shorty’s bushings for the overall brand. I’d still love to see embroidered dodos on shirts, though.

The Otherness, to me, is one of those terms that means something different on Wednesday than it did on Tuesday. It can apply to everything or nothing, because it is the other. And yes, it is an otherhood of others.

Amazing, and I love that you seem to be having a bit of a resurgence lately. I was stoked to see that full curb part of yours a few months back. What was the inspiration there?

That was just having weekends off from work, we go out to the curbs and skate. Again, it was a totally organic thing. If we have both a Saturday and Sunday, we’ll typically skate for around 4 hours each day. Each clip is literally what happened to go down that day.

That part came from being inspired by the people I was skating with and letting things happen. Some of it was filmed on a phone, some of it by my buddy with a camera… he presses the button, it turns on, and stuff goes in the thing. That’s literally the amount of technicality we’re working with here. But I think it’s rad. I think that comes through and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

I still think the camera is a damn bail gun. Turn it on and things stop working. But whenever you’re skating for skating’s sake, not putting any type of pressure on yourself or making something out to be any greater than what it is, things can happen. 

Isn’t this the longest part you’ve ever had?

(laughs) It, without a doubt, is.

I mean, we’re not changing the world over here anymore. Every day is different and sometimes you gotta treat these curbs as therapy. If you think about it the right way, every single hit is different, which is interesting to me. I might as well celebrate that, right?

If I’m going to keep filming this stuff, then it’s gotta be what it is: fun. Simple as that. The minutiae may be a little different but the same is the same. What’s that phrase? Style is based on limitations? Yeah, that sounds about right.

What slappy hits the best for you during these therapy sessions?

It used to be frontside but now, I gotta say that the backside green room slappy is probably the funnest thing. Being so far inside the parking block that you’re almost carving a tiny bowl corner, trying to get as horizontal as possible. Just putting it all into the curb is so damn fun.

It’s magic, man. Just let it all go. If it comes back, you’re rolling away.

Would you ever do an all mini-ramp part like that?

I wish, but I haven’t skated a mini-ramp in almost two years. With time and age, you have to manage your expectations. I know that the parking lot is there, I know when there are no cars and I know what my friend’s schedules are. That’s the shortest distance between two points.

So what’s next, Barker? I’ve heard mentions of you possibly being in Boys of Summer 2, any truth to that?

Yes, that is true. I’m actually getting some clips together for that as we speak, figuring it all out. Super stoked to be part of it.

And aren’t you working with Thomas Campbell on his new project as well?
Yeah, I was just down in San Jose for a couple of days shooting some stuff with Caswell Berry and Jason Adams. We had a little curb session and shot some insert/pick-up stuff for it. I honestly didn’t know too much about it until he contacted me about a month ago. But I really dig Thomas’ enthusiasm, man. It’s all so on-purpose. He’s not just filming stuff, he’s really doing something with it. Pretty rad.

But yeah, other than that, I'm just hanging in there with The Otherness, man. I'm trying to arrange for us all to hopefully get together at some event in the near future. It would be cool to all be somewhere together at the same time and vibe off that. I guess that's the problem with being a bunch of grown-ups... we'll see how it works out. Fingers crossed. 

special thanks to Barker, Marc Johnson and Mat O'Brien. 


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Alex Morrison said...

Thanks so much for this! Always admired and respected Barker Barrett. I still have a vague memory of the night our solo paths crossed at the DMV parking lot in San Francisco in 1991. Was I high? or was it just the vibe....

Anonymous said...


Alex Valich said...

I got to watch the Shut guys from a distance in those early days in NYC and it was really magical to see in person. Shef was so ahead of his time it was insane. When he would roll up to a spot it was almost like a tornado hit. Brian Blake and some other dudes like Cosmo didn't get enough props.

As for Barker's take on managing vs performing a trick I think that's a very valid point and more people should look into that philosophy. It makes skating less robotic. I know it's one of the big reasons I started surfing years ago. I taught me to manage the situation in front of you for fun rather than force your will on a wave. Anyway thanks for putting this one up and getting into the early Shut stuff.

Justin said...

This was a great read. Always been a fan of Barker and it was cool he had interesting stuff to day.

B.Dee (Brian) said...

Barker is one of the best. A hometown hero for me and my friends.
I've been fortunate enough to skate with him and he never fails to impress.
slappies on slappies on slappies.

Anonymous said...

best dude. best interview

Anonymous said...

I saw Barker Barrett at the San Francisco DMV do a fakie backside smith slappy which is a trick that never even crossed my mind as possible

furthermore, two teenage girls were sitting on the curb waiting for him to finish his session

They all rode away on a 1980s BMX bikes with mag wheels

later that evening I saw him projectile vomit off the deck at Zeitgeist, then immediately do another shot

Anonymous said...

Amazing read. Thank you both.

Anonymous said...

oh please let there somehow be a barker miniramp part. that'd be sooo rad.

Anonymous said...

Parker Pherrette iz a Craprikorny Painsylvanian Gollywogg Collector$
Son who should be known for his
Impossibles onna street deck before
Rodney Mullen or Gawnz✅🔥‼️

Anonymous said...

I have footage of Brian blake