Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Tommy Guerrero

As a teenage member of Powell Peralta's legendary Bones Brigade, San Fransico's Tommy Guerrero had a massive part in defining street skating as we know it. In the mid-to-late eighties, Tommy was the Bones Brigade's 'street guy' in an era moving on from vert domination. Along with the likes of Mark Gonzalez and Matt Hensley, Tommy pioneered fast, smooth stylish skateboarding. Just check Powell videos Future Primitive, The Search for Animal Chin, Public Domain and Ban This for proof. While all this was happening, Tommy was playing guitar in Bay Area punk band Free Beer, playing with some of his heroes and featuring on countless Thrasher Skate Rock cassette compilations.
After leaving Powell, TG and his mate Jim Thiebaud started up Real. Tommy still works at DLX, but nowadays spends a lot more time on his music, usually latin-soul-jazz-folk-funk-rock instrumentalism, but occasionally- as in 2000's 'Hoy Yen Ass'n' collaboration with Gadget- wandering towards downbeat hip-hop.
With 12 years worth of essential albums and EPs on labels like Mo' Wax, Galaxia and Quannum under his belt, it seemed like it was about time we had an interview with Tommy to learn a bit more about what he does...

Which came first, the music or the skateboarding?
Skating. Around 1975. Music came around 79-80...

And did one lead to the other?
Yeah. Skating was so inline with the punk ethos at that time. The whole 'fuck you' DIY ethic.

How do you manage to split your time your time between music and Real/DLX?
Well I'm not involved in Real too much these days, I'm the art mis-director for Krooked- I do most of the board and ad layout. I'm a computer monkey really, but I'm going to switch modes here soon. We're talking about a TG online show of some sort- music guests and shit. It could be cool, it could be lame. We'll see. I work at DLX four days a week, make sure my shit is taken care of then off to the studio. I have a six year old son so I have to make sure we get plenty of hang time. Two jobs plus working with Levis Japan, random design work and a fam is exhausting... too fragmented... trying to figure it all out...

Non-stop then? Cool. Who would you say are your musical influences just now?
Everything under the sun.

Are they the same as when you started playing?
Yes. I keep the punk attitude close- never know when your gonna need it!

Did you plan on making so much of your music when you retired your pro board?
No. It just sort of happened. I need to be in motion at all times or trouble comes my way, need to be in a creative mode to stay sane.

You've never really built any connection between your skateboarding and your music. What do you think of people using their position as a professional skateboarder to kick-start a music career?
Great! I just have a hard time with the self promotion. I guess if you tell everyone that you're hot stuff constantly they start to believe it.
I want a large stick that says "TG's great! Buy his music or die!" and I'll run around cracking skulls until they submit their cash to me.
The masses aren't the most self thinking lot. I also  want the music to be able to stand on it's own. The whole 'skater-musician' or 'skater-artist' label is a misnomer- you're either an artist or not. Same with music.

You grew up in the thick of a pretty amazing music scene. What do you think's the best show you've seen?
Bad Brains hands down. When they first came to bay area we played with them at Ruthie's Inn. They blew minds and shattered any preconceived notions about Rastas. I seen 'em at the Stone is SF way back, and me and my friends were nearly in tears... So intense.
I just seen 'em a few weeks ago- I almost cried again!! (laughs) ...old seashell collector.

Is it a coincidence that so many of your old Bones Brigade team-mates were musical? Have you ever thought of recording together?

Skaters are creative. And tenacious. Me and Ray (Barbee) have a band called BLKtop Project with Chuck Treece and Matt Rodriguez. I also play with Matt and Ray occasionally. Me and Stevie made a flexi-disc for Thrasher about 100 years ago too. Funny tune...

Do you record at home?
Yeah. Also at my friend Monte Vallier's studio, Ruminator Audio. He's recorded and mixed many of my projects

What kind of set up do you normally use?

Pro Tools, and a four track at times. Outboard mic pre-amp and just a bunch of instruments.

What do you find is the best environment for writing music? A lot of people have said it's on tour...
I don't really write. I just go. So much is written in the studio, I don't have the time or luxury to make demos- what you hear is what you get. I think the road has the ability to free up the mind from the daily bullshit. It cleanses. I wish i was on it now... 

You've worked with a lot of people in the past- do you have any plans for further collaborations?
Perhaps with DJ Krush from Japan. I have some others in mind but we'll see - everyone's so damn busy! The hustle is on twentyfour-seven!

Can you recommend some albums to the Sidewalk readers?
Too many. Here's a few...
Bad Brains - I Against I
john Coltrane - Ole
Bill Withers - Just as I Am/Still Bill
Anything by Joy Division
The Cure - Head on the Door
Grant Green - Ain't it Funky Now 1-2
Squeeze - Singles
Rush - Moving Pictures
Talking Heads - Remain in Light

Nice one. Finally, do you see any current skateboard companies doing the kind of thing Powell Peralta achieved?
Not even close...

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