Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mike Vallely part II

Mike Vallely, Brooklyn NY, 2010, Photo: Sean Cronan

Here's part two of our interview with skateboarding legend, Mike Vallely. Again Mike dives into his punk/hardcore history, shining light on a side of him that has rarely been discussed. Thanks to Mike and Larry and stay tuned for more that's surely on it's way. -Tim DCXX

What would you cite as stand out shows you saw early on? What were defining moments in a live setting that would influence you to want to do your own bands down the road? Who were your favorite frontmen?

The first show I ever saw was Black Flag at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ in October of 1984. That was it. That was the most defining moment of my life where in a way, the rest of my life was spelt out for me. That's when I knew I would pursue music in some fashion at some point, but more so that's when I knew that whatever I did for the rest of my life I would do it with intensity. That's what Black Flag was for me, specifically Henry Rollins...a lightning bolt of intensity that struck me down and lifted me up, and that intensified me for the rest of my life. I was fourteen years old and I was finally all the way alive. Black Flag at City Gardens was a door getting kicked wide open and I wasn't gonna miss the chance to walk through it. I was keenly aware that this was something important.

I'd say Henry obviously was and is one of my all-time favorite frontmen. I saw the Circle Jerks a few weeks later in New Brunswick at The Court Tavern and Keith Morris was great too in his own way. Those two shows were big for me for sure. And I saw a lot of other local shows with local bands playing like Bedlam and AOD and others. All great stuff but nothing could touch or match that Flag show.

As far as other frontmen go, I never saw Minor Threat play live but Ian was obviously a heavy, and Danzig too. I'd end up seeing both guys later on in other bands they did and they are both great performers. I've always liked Mike Ness too as far as punk rock frontmen go.

As far as all-time frontmen go I'd keep Rollins on my list but would add Bon Scott, Ronnie Van Zant, Paul Stanley and Roger Daltrey as well as The Boss and The King, I'm sure I'm forgetting a few others.

Invert at The Barn Ramp in New Jersey, 1985. Photo: Mike Spotte

In the skating world, who were other people you connected with based on love for punk/HC? Who was most into it, and who did you have the most in common with on a musical level? As the decade progressed, how did you see punk/HC fit into the landscape of skating?

The guys I skated with when I really became a full on skater weren't really that into punk. Things had really diversified in the skate scene by '86 and hip-hop, rock, heavy metal and punk were all sort of equal components of what we listened to. I stopped going to shows and skated more at that point and although I knew plenty of skaters that listened to punk, I didn't make that the basis of any relationship and I wasn't interested in being a "punk rock skater" or anything like that. I was all about just being me.

The music still mattered and I still loosely followed the evolution of the punk and hardcore scene but I was in no way about the punk or even the skate scene at that point. I was just about doing my own thing, that's what the skating and the music communicated to your own thing. I was never interested in being a spectator to or a follower of anything.

Larry Ransom and Mike V at the private Vans ramp, 2010, Photo: Mark Choiniere

How many cool people involved in punk/HC bands did you meet via your skating? Who were people you came in contact with that you formed friendships with? Was there anyone in punk/HC you ended up being friends with through skating that you had never imagined?

Traveling all over the world for the past twenty three years or so, I've obviously met a lot of people who I've connected with through skating and music and the common ground they share. I can't tell you how many times I've met people from such and such a band who were fans of my skating and I unfortunately never heard of their band to later find out they are a big deal of sorts. But yea, no doubt there's a sort of connection there and I've been given more CDs and invited to more shows than I could ever listen to or attend. I love it. I think it's really cool to have that kind of connection with people.

My assistant Larry Ransom is a guy I met via skating and punk music. He was one of the first, if not the first guy to ever approach me with one of my original Powell Peralta Elephant decks in the mid-nineties for me to sign, long before skateboard collecting became a trend. That stood out. The next time I met him was at the first ever Mike V & The Rats show, he was working for Revelation Records then and we talked music. Then he came on tour with Mike V & The Rats to sell merch for us and we ended up talking about the Powell Peralta days in great detail. We just really hit it off and he's been involved in my skate career and my music in a very integral way since 2004 or so. Although he works for me, I'd definitely call him a friend and I'm glad to have gotten to know him and share many adventures with. We always have a good time and an amazing soundtrack.

I've also formed acquaintances with some of my early punk rock heroes like Rollins, Ian, Keith Morris, Mike Ness and others which has been cool. Meeting, befriending and performing with Greg Ginn was a pretty wild experience as well.

Mike V performing with Black Flag, Alex's Bar, Long Beach, CA. Photo: Mark Waters

What were and are your thoughts on straight edge, both on a personal level and as a larger subculture? How did this tie into your skating and some of the destructive things you saw around you with other skaters, or anywhere in society for that matter?

Straight Edge was something very meaningful in my life at a very important time in my life. I was never one of the boys. I was never into the locker room talk and all that bullshit. It seemed very obvious to me throughout middle school and going into high school that most of the kids around me saw drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sex as the only real rites of passage available to them - or worse, as the only real destination for their post childhood lives. Man, that was never something I was interested in. It just seemed so small time.

But at the same time it was hard to navigate one's way through it - that shit was always there. That's what I hate about drugs and alcohol and meaningless sex. It is the trade of those who are so uninspired to do anything else with their lives, of those who hate their lives. I wanted to do something with my life and I loved my life fiercely, so I saw drugs and alcohol as mindless distractions. When I discovered the music of Minor Threat I suddenly had music that further justified my thoughts and feelings with a slogan and mantra. Back then, at that time, that was really fucking important. So for me at the age of fourteen, straight edge emboldened me further to follow my own path.

But then like the skate and music scene, straight edge as a scene or as a movement really didn't inspire me. Once again, it just seemed like other people making and trying to enforce rules of living, codes of conduct and that kind of shit and I wasn't interested in that. I was and am only interested in leading an authentic life of original experience, I didn't want or need anyone to interpret anything for me. Straight Edge began feeling like a religion and I fucking hated and hate religion. Like, if I drank a beer or broke a commandment I was going to go to hell or something idiotic like that. People cling to crazy shit and I've been as guilty at times as the rest, but it definitely became clear to me that straight edge was becoming something impure and cult like and it stopped speaking to me.

The music still speaks to me for what it is...but I'm not a part of any group of people. I would never call myself a Christian or an American or straight edge, I have no interest at all because you know why? I'm none of those things. I'm me.

Mike V and Ian MacKaye at the Dischord House, 2001, Photo courtesy of Mike V.

By the end of the 1980s, were there any new punk and HC bands you were following? Things had obviously changed from 1985...what types of differences were there in the punk/HC culture compared to when you first found it? Were these for better or worse in your eyes?

I really got into Fugazi in a big way. That was the first band since I'd discovered punk and since I'd discovered Metallica that impacted me in any real way. I also listened to Shelter which I really liked for what it was. You know I've always connected with music on some emotional level so I could listen to Shelter and hear what I wanted to hear and it was a time in my life where I was searching for something more, so there was some emotional connection there. Intellectually, I probably couldn't relate with it but there was something there. I really, really dug the first two Danzig records too.

At a certain point good music is just good music. I mean now, I still listen to all three bands but I'm not really into any of them in any profound way. I'd say Fugazi and Danzig put on some of the best live shows I've ever seen and that I'm a fan of both bands still, but I wouldn't say that their music is integral to who I am in any way. I guess that's why Black Flag has always remained one of my favorite bands. Their songs are timeless, they deal with raw personal feelings and emotions and are all about saying Fuck You to the status quo. That shit just stands up better.

The early nineties hardcore scene looked like a bunch of guys all wearing the same costume. I was not into it at all. I mean, obviously great bands were killing it then and it was an important time for a lot of kids who were getting into the music, but I had moved on. It no longer spoke to me. It no longer mattered to me as an individual.


Ian MacKaye and his skateboard, 2001. Photo by Mike V.


Anonymous said...

Danzig II is under discused and underated! I love that album!

Anonymous said...

cool interview

Anonymous said...

Great skater and one tough dude from NJ. All respect to Mike V.

Anonymous said...


sacha said...

bad ass. 100% dude.

Anonymous said...

The Jake said...


peterwhite said...

awesome dude.

Anonymous said...

Mike Vallely's got my back

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