Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mike Vallely - A professional skateboarder with punk rock roots

Mike Vallely's first Thrasher cover, August 1986

Growing up as a skateboarder in New Jersey, through the mid to late 80's, Mike Vallely was THE skater that a lot of us Jersey guys looked up to. Not only was Mike from New Jersey and skating for Powell Peralta, the best team/company in the business, but he had a street skating style that was all his own. Here in Jersey we didn't have the bowls, skateparks and surplus of giant half pipes in every back yard, so the streets and parking lots were our turf. Mike Vallely took every curb, step, parking block, loading dock, wall, railing, beat up street ramp, made it look like the coolest and funnest thing to skate and of course we all followed suit. I specifically remember Mike's step by step on how to do a no-comply over a parking block in Thrasher, then seeing a crew of 10 of us trying to emulate it in a suburban shopping mall parking lot. No question, Mike was an innovator, a guy who played by his own rules and hit it hard every time, all the time.

Summer 2006 I get a call from my friend Larry Ransom who interestingly enough, found himself working as Mike Vallely's personal assistant. Mike was about to hit the east coast on a skate demo / band tour for his band Revolution Mother and they needed a merch guy. Larry asked if I'd be interested in spending a week on the road dishing merch and lugging equipment and I couldn't say no. I'll never forget the night after the first demo and show, hanging out in a hotel room with Mike and Larry and asking Mike a million questions well into the AM. What was it like filming the Blue Tile Lounge scene in The Search For Animal Chin? Why did Stacy Peralta have you running through a grave yard in Public Domain? What were all the color variations of your first Powell deck? Who did the artwork for the World Industries Barnyard board? Trust me, the questions kept coming as did the answers and I felt like a 12 year old kid all over again. That entire road trip was a good time and on top of everything I thought I knew about Mike, he turned out to be a stellar guy as well.

What I didn't really know all that well about Mike Vallely was his history with hardcore, punk and music in general. I had heard rumors of him showing up to some hardcore shows here in Jersey, knew that he did the bands, Mike V and The Rats and Revolution Mother, knew that he sang the My War Black Flag songs for the well talked about Greg Ginn Black Flag reunions of 2003, but that was pretty much the extent of it. After seeing Mike a couple of weeks ago while he was on a promotional tour and talking to him about Double Cross, I got the idea of approaching him about an interview. Most people already know his rich history in skateboarding, now we'll try to get to the bottom of his second passion… music. This is part one of what will most definitely be a multi entry interview. As Mike would say, Stay Strong. -Tim DCXX


Mike with a tuck knee at Surf Ohio, 1987, Photo: Bill Danforth

When did you first come into contact with punk music? What music had you been into before punk? At the time, how did punk tie into the world of skateboarding?

Before punk I was way into KISS and Elvis, and well, I still am. But that was music that was meaningful to me in the same way that punk rock would be. Growing up in the 70's I listened to the radio, that was my main source of finding out about music as a kid. I listened to Casey Kasem's American Top 40 religiously, I liked a lot of the songs on the radio, and well, the radio was cheap. When it came to buying records though, which was really rare for me, I was very cautious in what I purchased. I can remember most of the records I bought as a kid because I didn't buy that many. I owned KISS Alive!, KISS Alive II, Cheap Trick At Budokan, Billy Joel 52nd Street, AC/DC Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and a bunch of budget priced Elvis records.

I was definitely trying from an early age to lay out my own identity with the music I liked and listened to and regardless of the popularity and staying power of the stuff I've mentioned at the time, most everyone around me only cared about the current hit songs on the radio and everything else was yesterday's news. So, being into KISS and Elvis and the other stuff I was into in the late seventies was not very glamorous and I got a lot of grief for it. It wasn't that I didn't like the stuff on the radio, I did like it, but I also liked this other stuff too, that was where I went wrong.

When MTV started up in late 1981, I became an instant MTV junkie. It was the only TV I watched. Before school, after school, before bed, it was all about MTV. What an amazing time to be a kid, I wouldn't trade it for anything. MTV was a lot broader in what they played than Top 40 radio and if you put in enough time watching MTV you'd come many across artists and bands that were slightly outside of the mainstream. I started leaning further away from what was on the radio and looking for music and imagery on MTV that spoke to me in some way. A lot of it was New Wave or crossover punk and a lot of it was just a matter of being able to say I liked something that no one else really knew about - but the truth was most of it was just like the Top 40 stuff, lacking any substance. But it got me thinking that there must be something else out there, that there must be something off the radar, not on the radio, not on MTV, something with some real substance, something with some real soul. And although I didn't really know what punk rock was or even that it was really out there, in some ways I started looking for it.

In September of 1984 I entered my freshman year of high school and that's when I had my real awakening. I befriended this older kid Keith Hartel, who I'd known from around the neighborhood, and I knew he was into some different shit, but as I was entering high school and he was entering 11th grade, he came to school that first day with a mohawk and a look in his eyes that said he clearly knew something the rest of us didn't. I wanted to know what he knew, and what was cool about him was that he was all about sharing, and he opened the door for me invited me in and I owe him big time for that.

The first day that I hung out with Keith he shaved my head and made me a mix tape which started with Black Flag's Rise Above and that also included music from The Misfits, Youth Brigade, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, and numerous other bands. This shit blew me away. It all sounded different but it all had an intensity like nothing I'd ever heard before. The Black Flag tracks stood out. Rise Above was an anthem that resonated with me with my first listen. I was hooked.

Keith mentioned that I should get a skateboard. Skateboarding and punk rock were nearly inseparable at that time, or at least all of the hyper active punks skated. It was a non-sport physical activity that seemed like a natural extension of the music we were listening to. It made total sense to me and I got into skateboarding and punk rock simultaneously. And I really found a physical release and a creative outlet like none other in skating.

Mike on Christmas morning, 1977, Photo courtesy of: Mike V

How did you view the distinction, if at all, between punk and hardcore? What were your favorite bands as you got more into the music?

The bands I liked back then are still the bands I like today. Black Flag and Minor Threat are the two heavies for sure. I also dug and dig Husker Du, The Descendants, Social Distortion, Bad Brains and Suicidal Tendencies. I didn't view a distinction back then at all. To me punk was punk. It was a spirit as opposed to a sound. I listened to The Pistols, The Ramones, The Clash, Gen X right along with Flag and Suicidal.

Hardcore punk was still just punk to me and I liked the diversity of the different bands I was discovering. I actually caught a lot of grief from other punkers for still liking other more mainstream or metal music at the same time. I would listen to Minor Threat and Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest or Van Halen back to back, I was into what I was into, but it didn't go over so well with others. I figured out very early on regardless of how cool punk rock and skating were and regardless of how much they meant to me individually, both scenes were just like everything else. There were always other people making rules for what was cool and what was acceptable and this I found and find to be utter bullshit.

So, the idea of being part of the scene or the idea of a scene at all never really stuck with me. Skateboarding and punk became individual to me. I didn't measure my interest in either against anybody or anything else. That's not why I searched these things out, that's not why I pursued this style of music or my skating. I got into it because I was looking for something different, something that was mine. I didn't and don't care about the status quo in society, in punk rock or skating. Fuck the status quo.

Mike summer 1985, Photo courtesy of: Mike V

You moved from NJ to Virginia in the mid-80s, tell us about the local punk and hardcore scenes and what you saw that impacted you? What type of inspiration or motivation did punk and hardcore music have on you personally and on you as a skater?

By the time I moved to Virginia Beach in 1986, I no longer followed the music scene in any real way. It became repetitive and boring. The only way I could have stayed in it back then was to have started my own band and make my own music, which wasn't happening, so I had no interest. I needed something new and I didn't feel like after the summer of '85 or so that anything new was happening. It was the same old bullshit but with even more politics. Shows became violent fashion scenes and uninteresting.

Skating remained cool because I did it alone, for me. It was an outlet. I still had my records and I still had the music and it still mattered...but not as a movement, not as a scene, there was nothing there. And although the audience was much smaller for a lot of this music that I was into, I saw it become as stale and as uninteresting as the shit on the radio, maybe even more so because it was so bitter. Metallica was probably the only band at that time that broke through and impacted me in any real way. My six months living in Virginia Beach were highlighted by the release of Master Of Puppets and getting sponsored by Powell Peralta.


Tell us about your first band, Resistance - where/who/when? What do you recall about the show with 7Seconds?

The band was probably formed in early '85 with Mitch Gurowitz on guitar, Don Bruno on bass and Jose Perez on drums. I joined the band for several rehearsals and one show in the spring of '85. There was another singer (Joe Wertz) before me but when they let him go, I jumped on it. I wasn't even 15 yet, so I was young and I had a very young voice and there was probably some novelty in having this "kid" sing for the band, but I felt like I had something to communicate and so I pursued it full on.

The one show we played was in New Brunswick at a place called The Rubber Room with Aggression and 7 Seconds. There was probably twenty five people in the room when we played. I was grounded that night by my parents so I had to sneak out of my house and run from Edison, two towns over to New Brunswick to play my set and then run all the way back to my house and sneak back in.

I was let go from the band soon after the show for skating too much and not having any money to help pay for the rehearsal space we had in Manville which was a bullshit move and it left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt I was doing and could do a good job for the band but I was dismissed for no real reason. The thing that really sucked about it was that all of my musician friends at that point were locked up in bands and there were no bands for me to join just then and so I did at that point just dedicate all of my time to skating.



Martin said...

Man, these last few blogs are bringing
back so many great memories. Waiting for Thrasher to come in the mail (when it still had the cardstock on outside to protect it from getting chewed up). Anyways, please keep the 'original' skate rock coming. Thanks again.

jamie kaz said...

Growing up in Edison and living in Va Beach for the past 18 yrs, Mike V is a Legend anywhere I go. I was at a Revolution Mother show a few years ago in Norfolk, Va. It was my son's first show and after the set, Mike came right up to me and my son, said hi and apologized for the bad words. Before the show we were looking at the merch table and the nice guy who was working it gave my son a Mike V and the Rats pin. I went home and posted pics of the show and my old friend Traci from NJ said her husband was on tour with Mike. I put 2 and 2 together and realized the nice guy working merch was Traci's husband Tim. It's weird how we're all connected, especially through music...Sean Kazelsky, Virginia Beach

Benj said...

I remember seeing photos of Mike V. in the 80's, and seeing him skate at Kendall Park Roller Rink, and always thinking that there had to be some sort of connection to the punk scene with him. The way he dressed and shaved his head - he was like NJ's answer to Ian MacKaye. I met his mom once around 1992 or so in New Brunswick. She said "you look like a skateboarder. My son is a professional skateboarder." Really looking forward to reading about his musical history after following his skate history for 20+ years.

Anonymous said...

very cool indeed. never knew mike's exact ties. glued into this one.

RIPPER said...

fuck yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

NICK6 said...


Sickniick said...

Bad ass blog, errr zine whatever you wanna call it!. I'll be following you guys for sure!

Kevin White said...

So rad, Mike V is a living legend and Double Cross is the best HC site on the net, this is a perfect combination of greatness. Looking forward to rest of this interview.

Ben Edge said...

I saw Mike V. do his first spoken word performance in Santa Barbara in late '96 or early '97. He had a home made poetry zine/book thing called Grand Canyon, that he was reading from. He was nervous as hell.

After he did his thing, I asked him if he liked the band Lifetime, figuring he's from NJ he might be into them. He said he didn't keep up with the new bands and had never heard of them.

A few months later, I saw Lifetime play, and told Ari about meeting Mike. Ari said, "Yeah, I went to high school with that guy. He always called me 'Artie.' That's what he thought my name was."

Anonymous said...

artie lol. curious to read the other parts, never really knew much about mike v's connection with hxc.

MIke V said...

Not only did I go to high school with Arie... I lived across the parking lot from him in Edison Village on Blueberry Court for awhile. By the time he was doing his thing -- I was already just doing mine. I didn't follow the scene at that point and wasn't really clued into what he was up to. I always knew his name was Arie... If I called him anything other than that (which I don't think I did) I I was probably just giving him shit. He always seemed like a passionate, meaningful guy... At that time however, I was on my way out of town.

Anonymous said...

mike's translation: that dude arie/artie was a nerd.

Anonymous said...

cool website

Mike Sterling said...

Iv been inspired by Mike V for many years now. Im only 17 and i think its pretty cool how iv grown up listening to alot of the music that he mentioned hes grown up on. Kiss, Billey Joel, Bruce Springstein, Elvis, The Clash, just a lot of great music. Over the last few years i have been listening to more punk bands like Black Flag, Social Distortion, and Revolution Mother. This music really influenced me and now i have my own skate punk band. (although im the only one that skates) I hope to meet Mike someday and think him personally for all hes done. Great article man i wanna read more!

Anonymous said...

Slept on this shit!!! So good. I remember many of these pics. That Thrasher cover was on my wall for so long!
And the wall handplant varial bit, that shit was sick!
Classic NJ!
Good shit!
Peace. Shawn

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Mitch Gurowitz said...

Hi, I'm Mitch Gurowitz from Mike's first band (Resistance), and while I'm sure Mike is telling the story like he remembers it, there was quite a bit more. I'll basically say that the band was falling apart at the time and I really enjoyed having Mike as part of the group. He had a level of energy that everyone else would see in his skating career to come. I have fond memories of skating in Mike's backyard (My skating was dreadful, but I always had fun).

The story about the band and practice money came from someone who was in another band and ran a fanzine, he has died since and I feel it would be improper to "call out" something on someone that isn't around to defend himself now. There was a very little bit of truth in it, but most of it was fabricated.

I've followed Mike's skating and music and am proud of his accomplishments. If he reads this or if anyone knows how to contact him, I'd be happy to say hello again. I'm really easy to find on facebook.

btw, the gig with 7 Seconds was originally supposed to have Social Distortion as the headliner, but Mike Ness went into rehab and cancelled.