The skate legend is back in the groove.
Skate legend Tommy Guerrero is back in the groove with his new album, Lifeboats and Follies.
Tommy Guerrero has an unusual relationship with the past. On one hand, he can’t escape it. As a stalwart of the Bones Brigade, Powell Peralta’s zeitgeist-defining skate team, the role Tommy played in Californian skateboarding history is too fundamental – too damn important – for him to ever evade being bugged for stories about ‘back in the day’. On the other hand, he embraces it – least not when he’s rummaging for vinyl treasures or dropping solo records seeped in seventies funk and soul.
The former street-skating poster child is now a forty-four-year-old dad who splits his time three ways. Having left the Bones Brigade to start Real Skateboards with long-time friend and Powell Peralta teammate Jim Thiebaud, Tommy spends his days “crunching numbers” as a “computer monkey” (read: head honcho) at Deluxe Distribution – the Baobab tree of radness that Real mushroomed into, with brands like Spitfire, Thunder, Krooked and Anti Hero all doing their thing under the same San Francisco roof.
When he’s not neck-deep in the nine-to-five, or putting out creative collaborations with brands like Levi’s or Vans, Tommy’s either indulging in family time with son Diego and wife Melissa, or skipping off to the studio to get groovy on guitar. But this ain’t no hobby. The master of melody has collaborated with the likes of Prefuse 73 and Money Mark, has a dedicated fan-base that stretches from SoCal to Japan, and has notched up an impressive roster of releases, flying solo on six. Now, having just dropped Lifeboats and Follies – his latest anthology of Latin-soaked sounds – Tommy’s proving once again that there’s way more to his repertoire than just the hill-slashing antics of a kid from San Fran.
HUCK: Your place in Californian skate history is set in stone, but at what point did your love for making music come into play?
Tommy Guerrero: Around 1980. Me, my brother Tony, [photographer] Bryce Kanights and some friends started a band called Jerry’s Kids. Not the [Boston hardcore] one people may have heard of though. We were before them. After a change in members, [the band became] Revenge, with Shrewgy [skateboarder Steve Ruge] on vocals. Then came Free Beer with Mike Cassidy.
How did you balance your time between music and skateboarding?
When I turned pro, I didn’t have time to dedicate to a band, so I would get my fix by recording solo tunes on a four-track recorder. I would jam with people here and there, but usually I would just be solo, playing bass. It all started out of the necessity to make music, and here I am.
What is it about skateboarding and making music that means so many people choose to indulge in both?
Hell if I know! They both have a rhythm and fluidity unlike anything else, as well as a Zen-like state of being. Skating can be really rhythmic.
Thomas Campbell [Galaxia Records co-founder] once joked that your dream life would be accompanied by a seventies soft-porn soundtrack. What do you say to that?
Sounds good on paper, but then I’d have to learn how to use a wah-wah pedal. Isn’t life like porn anyway? Everyone’s just trying to get laid and paid!
You have a large palette of inspirations, but if you had to pick out one, what would it be?
That’s a tough question. Maybe late sixties, early seventies Brazilian music – when bossa nova fused with funk and soul. Guys like Jorge Ben.
There seems to be a healthy interest lately in world music from that era, from sixties African rock to seventies Thai psyche funk. Are you a world music buff?
[I’m into it] but I know very little. It’s all released by various labels and I hear it on college radio all the time, but later never remember what it was. Also, I am suspicious of compilations. Often the whole isn’t very good, and some shit shouldn’t even be released; there’s a reason why it’s never been heard sometimes. It’s interesting how pervasive American funk was at that time, and how short-lived it was. So much was born from protest.
Is that something you find missing from modern music – that sense of politics?
Not necessarily. Just the reason or intent seems to be missing, or perhaps has changed. Money seems to be the key motivator these days – in pop music, anyway.
How much of a record collector are you?
I have about two thousand records in storage, and another five hundred-to-seven hundred and fifty between the studio and home. I thinned out the collection several times. […] I’m not a DJ, so it’s hard to justify having all those crates. They’re back breakers.
Where do you look for gems?
Flea markets, thrift stores, antique shops.
You have a huge following in Japan, and often put out special releases just for that market. Why do you think you are so well received over there?
Man, I have no idea! But I do think they have a broader palette than Americans in regards to music. It also comes from skating and going to Japan since ’89. I have been steadily building a crew of people who dig what I do.
Speaking of which, Living Dirt is a Japan-only release that came out last year. Care to elaborate on that project?
It’s more of a concept album. The approach was to create a ‘live’ album in the studio. I set up four to five ‘stations’ of instruments, some with looping devices or effects. I had drum samples that I would loop to a pedal with the bass line and then add guitar, keys, sounds, percussion. So, what you hear is all played by me live, apart from the drums. No edits or overdubs. There are some cool moments, but it’s all very linear, and has more of a soundtrack vibe.
Is that something you’d be interested in doing one day, scoring a soundtrack for a feature film?
I think that’s where I want all of this to go, at some point. I just have to be given the time and perhaps a little cash for studio time. Any takers?! [Laughs]
You’re still very much involved in the day-to-day running of Deluxe. Do you see yourself living off just the music at some point?
Hell yes! I’m not meant to be behind a computer or trying to crunch numbers! It kills the soul. [But] I have a family and bills to pay, so it’s not really a possibility right now. [It may be] in the near future, I hope.
What does 2011 have in store for you?
Man, just trying to keep sane. This year brings great change for me, for better or worse. I’m going to have a radio show on the Deluxe site. [We’ll] play music, do interviews and have guest DJs as well. It should be fun! It’s still in its conceptual stage, but we plan on nailing down something solid by early spring. I want it to be flexible. Keep it fresh, have different people [giving] interviews: artists, skaters, musicians – my people! I’m over standing in front of a fucking computronic [sic] device. I need to really create something – more music and maybe some visual art. Touring is difficult when you are a solo artist with no label backing. Musicians have gotta get paid, so it comes out of my pocket.
Word on the street is that a Bones Brigade reunion is on the cards. Can you tell us more about what form it’s going to take?
It’s all top secret. They’d have me assassinated if I divulged any info.
Have you guys gathered to cook marshmallows at least?
Marshmallows, nope. Tofu dogs, yes!
I always had the impression you were not really too concerned with the past, and more focused on the present. Am I right?
Very true. Life is fleeting and full of surprises. Live in the moment, that’s what I say.