The first guitar to knock me for six was on Funkadelic’s 10-minute, LSD-induced, mind-melting masterpiece ‘Maggot Brain.ʼ I heard it in my friendʼs basement when I was 14 years old, kissing a skateboarder crush at a Halloween party. The kiss wasn’t memorable, but the guitar blasted me to another plane and blew my mind. Fast forward to the top of 2020, and, amid the global pandemic, I came across a clip posted by visual artist Nadia Lee Cohen of a moustachioed guitarist with ink-black curls, snakeskin and flanked by stacks of Marshall amps, called Stolen Nova. He was playing his own rendition of ‘Maggot Brainʼ, and it stopped me in my tracks and sent shivers down my spine like the first time I heard that record. I knew I had to reach out to him.
Since then, we’ve stayed in contact through the metaverse off the back of a mutual appreciation for funk, metal, hip-hop, cowboy culture, London, and even my hometown of Calgary, Canada, where he’d played gigs. He’s since appeared across California on a headline tour, recently shared a stage with Sky Ferreira, and had his music synced by Marvel in their series She Hulk while still finding time to lay down features with multi-instrumentalist and Pharrell collaborator DIXSON.
Stolen Nova is the solo project of Josh Landau. Born and bred on the west side of LA, Landau was a Santa Monica high school student obsessed with Black Flag, Bad Brains, and, like me, Hendrix and Prince. His upbringing revolved around the Dogtown and Z-Boys lifestyle of the neighbourhood, surfing Venice Beach and skating in the empty swimming pools of Beverly Hills. He was the frontman and guitarist for stoner-punk trio The Shrine, who toured the world with Iron Maiden, Slayer and Black Sabbath. Firmly rooted in skateboarding, The Shrine played parties for Thrasher magazine, soundtracked skate videos, and collaborated with Obeyʼs Shepard Fairey. This led Landau to design a signature shoe for Converse and a skateboard with legendary Z-Boy Jim Muir, before carving out his own sonic and visual aesthetic as Stolen Nova.
When we speak, Landau is between modelling a campaign with Brixton x Fender, and on his way to the studio for a session with long-time pals, American punk rap group Ho99o9. Behind a megawatt smile, he waxes lyrical about what the future holds, guitar skills, and skating in empty pools and his dog Lola.
Where do you feel like the magic happens for you the most with your music?
When I walk my family dog and play guitar. For years and years, I’ve walked Lola around the neighbourhood with the leash on my wrist, singing early Bob Dylan songs. There’s honestly no distractions. I’ve come up with so many riffs that way! I’ll end up pulling out my phone and propping it up on somebodies wall to record my ideas. That is where so much magic happens. I actually haven’t been able to walk her for the past six months – we had to take her leg off because she had cancer. But now she’s cancer free, back to normal, and I’m so happy to be back out with her again, playing guitar and skating.
How does skating play into your music?
They’re almost inseparable, really. Some hot older cool girl gave me two burnt CDs of Operation Ivy and The Misfits Collection 2 compilation, which got me so hooked on music. Then the Dogtown and Z-Boys documentary came out somewhere down the line, and it was like, “That’s it! This is my life now!” That documentary Stacy Peralta made had such a significant influence on me. It was the first place I heard the Stooges, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath and Hendrix. I was already skating and just getting into punk, but when that came out, it was like, “Oh shit! This is everything I love,” and it happened right here in this neighbourhood! I went to Santa Monica High School, across the street from where Bad Brains, The Misfits, and The Vandals played. A lot of those dudes skating in the ’70s and ’80s were still hanging around and a lot of all the old bands were still playing shows we got to see.
You got heavily into the Dogtown world and developed an affinity for skating in empty pools. Did you ever get caught?
I got completely hooked on the surf style of skating. Bombing hills, skating the banks, and backyard swimming pools. We just copied them and were fully gung-ho with gas pumps and the gear for draining pools. We were sneaking into Beverly Hills and Bel Air houses, driving down alleys and looking over walls and fences we could climb over. I still am: I’m just travelling more now. I’ve never got into too much trouble. I’m usually pretty good at talking my way out of it. I’ve gotten caught by police before and angry homeowners who said they were coming back with a gun or whatever, but it’s worth it. They won’t ever build a skate park that will come close to skating in an empty swimming pool.
At what point did you start getting serious about music?
I was always really serious about music. In high school, I started a band called Rabies and was like, “Okay, we’re gonna make T-Shirts, we’re gonna book a tour, I’m gonna go out of my way to make sure we can play at the skate party that’s happening at the ramp.” We were a hardcore punk band that sounded kinda like Adolescents and Black Flag. I booked us a US tour when I was 17 on MySpace, and we went around the country and played like 44 shows, everything from skate parks to house parties and community centres. When I look back on it now, it’s fucking bonkers. After high school, we wound up breaking up, and I thought, “How am I ever gonna find people that I wanna play music with again?” It seemed impossible.
Would you say that Rabies is where you fell in love with music?
We all worshipped punk. We’d put on the Dead Kennedys DVD and trash my friend’s room having a mosh pit. We’d devour anything we could about punk. We read all the books, watched all the documentaries, and there is magic to that for sure. At some point, you’re always chasing that magic and that buzz. I ended up following those bands we loved backwards. “Okay, that band was listening to Black Sabbath and into Coltrane and the Stooges.” I kept breaking through these walls discovering who and what my heroes were inspired by the genres that influenced them I didn’t expect, and eventually I started this band called The Shrine.
How was The Shrine different?
The band was more heavy ’70s rock, and we ended up going around the world a bunch of times. We played a lot of skate parties for Thrasher magazine, got really busy, and a lot of my teenage dreams came true.
Suddenly I was playing with the same legends who I first learnt how to play on the guitar. About five years ago, we played a Black Flag set with Keith Morris on vocals at Shepard Fairey’s art show! Suddenly I went from learning how to play Black Flag songs in my parents’ garage, to practising with Keith Morris standing in front of me in that same garage.
Speaking of idols, I read somewhere that you have a shrine of Edvard Munch, Tony Alva, Phil Lynott? Tell me more.
Ha! Sort of. I have a signed board of Tony’s, a piece of tile from the dog bowl pool he did the very first air in the 1970’s, and a poster of the documentary of his I scored.
Secretly that’s my side hustle. I composed the score for The Tony Alva Story | Jeff Grosso’s Loveletters to Skateboarding and got an award. I make tons of music for Thrasher as well. Talking about skate movies, another film that inspired me musically was Fruit of the Vine, a super film about skating backyard pools.
What sparked the decision to go solo?
My band, The Shine, was on tour opening for Slayer, and it was an absolute dream come true. I’ll play their records and listen to South of Heaven for the rest of my life, but it felt like we were reaching some kind of apex, and other music was calling me. I was listening to tons of different stuff. Bob Dylan, Kurt Vile, Coltrane, Frank Ocean, Prince and new music. Honestly, looking around at the metal fans and the audience in that world, I felt like I had to do something else before I was one of these 50-year-old guys in a fucking denim vest. I went through a breakup, and it felt like, “Fuck, time to play some other songs, time to play some other shit!” I went to London and had the most magical summer of my life, stumbling into strangers’ house parties and even wound up crashing in a penthouse on Baker Street looking onto the Sherlock Holmes statue!
Off the back of your trip to London, what made you decide to debut your first Stolen Nova single, ‘Vortex’, 30 feet up, dancing on the edge of your own billboard while playing an electric guitar?
Alright, so this may be where skateboarding and music truly came together for me. When I was launching Stolen Nova, and I saw that people have these billboards on Sunset Strip, I thought, “Fuck, I’m diving in the deep end. I’m doing a new style. I’m going with this. I’m going to lean in really hard.” We booked this billboard, which was actually crazy cheap. And I was just applying my skate rat mentality to it to try and cause some commotion and get people excited. It was also coming out of the pandemic and there’d been no shows, so I just wanted to do something exciting. All of my friends that were filming me were all skaters and skateboard photographers/videographers. So when authorities started freaking out below they knew exactly what to do. They said, “Fuck you. Don’t touch our stuff. We’re not going to stop filming.” One guy was flying a drone. They all had my back. I wanted to cause trouble and have some fun, and I did that. It got my heart beating like crazy.
What’s been your most memorable gig?
The very first Stolen Nova show nine months ago. The excitement in the room was fucking crazy! I played this little showcase that a lot of bands play in LA called School Night. The number of friends and people that turned out to see me play the very first show when I’d decided to do a different style, a different look and something I’d wanted to do forever and talked to friends about through the pandemic, that was just so sick. When I actually pulled the trigger and played that show, it went off and was magic. I remember Nadia, my girlfriend, looking at me after the set and just being like, “Yeah, you’ve got this. You’re gonna do it!” It felt so fucking incredible.
What fuels your passion?
I get super passionate at live shows. A lot of times, when I’m watching bands and people I love play, I’ll have to leave the gig early to go to my studio. I’ll get so inspired by them and wanna make some noise too and be a part of it. “Dip my fingers in the paint and play!” I saw a lot of people give up on their passions over the years. But it was always in me to go after my dreams, make the connections, do the work, and not be afraid to fail. Just try shit. There’s always been a fire burning in me to chase music, chase the next thing, hustle any way I can to keep play- ing and keep being in a creative space.