Former Thrasher photographer Nik Freitas has released five albums since leaving the magazine in 2002, toured with Bright Eyes, Grandaddy and Rilo Kiley and he still finds time to skate. His new record 'Saturday Night Underwater' is out now.
Who, or what inspires you to create music? Do you consciously sit down to write songs?
I think the inspiration starts as a feeling, and it can happen pretty much whenever. I hate to say it, but I think the best stuff starts happening when you're feeling down and shitty about something. Or pissed off. It usually starts as a melody, with maybe a few words. I don't really sit down and try to write a song anymore, if you do that, it usually ends up sounding forced and fake. It's been the case that for the past few years that I usually have a song written out in my head before I sit down with a guitar or at a piano, and by that point I'm just trying to figure out the chords to what I'm hearing in my head.
Do you think pro skateboarders nowadays have a different attitude to those in the 80s and 90s? What do you think of all the changes skateboarding's been through?
To be honest, I haven't really kept up with skateboarding. I've occasionally tried to check out some new videos and stuff, but that's about it. Everyone looks pretty much the same from what I've seen. Don't get me wrong, I mean, the tricks they're doing now are mind-blowing - a switch backside lipslide down a handrail is just insane. It's sick. But at the same time it almost seems robotic, like a video game. When I grew up skating, there was so much style involved. Each skater had his own way of doing tricks. Tom Knox doing a kickflip looked totally different to when Salman Agah did one. There was no 'right' way to do a trick. Any way you did it was dope. Now with all the videos and video games, everyone's kickflip looks the same. I remember it was so hard to learn a kickflip, and if you could to do a kickflip, you were super good. It took me forever to figure it out... Just trying to land one took forever! Now kids have videos on 'how' to do a kickflip. We didn't have that. A kid now learns how to do a kickfip in the first week of skating. He can barely ride down the street but knows how to do a 360 flip. It's so crazy.
Do you think modern skate videos have lost their soul? It's all about HD cameras and composed soundtracks now.
Again, I haven't really kept up with the videos, but I think a composed soundtrack to a skate video is a great idea. I'd love to do a music soundtrack for a skate video. You can't fight the progression of stuff. Music, movies, art, skate videos... It's gonna change. Maybe it loses some 'soul' along the way, but what are you gonna do? When I started, skating was dead. I was the only person that skated in my class when I graduated high school. It was such a revolutionary time period, when street skating was really starting to begin - the possibilities seemed endless - dudes were doing so much cool shit. You had to really use your imagination to come up with new stuff.
Do you think skateboarders are naturally creative people?
Totally. At least that's how it was when I was growing up skating. I got into skating for exactly that reason. I was drawn to it. The artwork, the vibe... I loved being in the streets, you see things differently and you're just part of everything around you. I remember skating for miles, just pushing for like, hours, to go skate some curbs in a parking lot. If someone asked you where you were going, they wouldn't even understand it! You weren't in a car protected from the world around. When you were on your board skating, you were in the middle of it. Regular people see a red painted curb and they think, "I can't park there", whereas when I see a red painted curb I think "5-0 grind!"
What are your favourite places in the world? Places that either skateboarding or music have taken you?
New York City. Prague. Paris. I love Europe. There are a lot of great cities in the U.S. too. I love Austin, Nashville, Athens and New Orleans.
Do you have a home-studio set up?
Heck yeah. I record all my records at home. I'm really into recording gear, the old vintage stuff. Old synthesizers. I love the way it sounds.
What pictures in skateboard magazines stood out to you?
So many! I was a big fan of Tobin Yelland's photos. His photos really captured the whole thing, not just the trick, but just everything involved in it. There was a real mood in his photographs.
Did you get into photography through skating, or vice versa?
I grew up skating, so I got into photography through that. It just seemed to co-exist to me. I took a class on the basics of photography and started taking my camera everywhere when I went skating with my friends.I tried to make my pictures look like the ones in the mags. After a few years I started sending my photos to Thrasher, and eventually they thought they were good enough, and they printed them in the magazine. I just kept at it for many years. Eventually they asked me to be on the staff. Jake Phelps was my boss.
What was the story behind Rowley socking Phelps? He's not the only person to have done it...
Oh, I didn't know about that. My friend Richard Paez socked Phelps and broke his glasses. Jake loved it, he was always down for Richard after that.
Was it hard to leave the mag? Was music at the point where it was overtaking your work at Thrasher?
I was over it. Jake knew it, I think. I wanted to play music. That's that. I remember walking into Jake's office and just sitting down and telling him that I quit. He was really cool about it. I know it sounds cheesy, but he said "If your heart isn't into it, then you shouldn't be doing it". He shook my hand and told me I was always welcome at Thrasher.
Working for Thrasher had a pretty big influence on my life. I was young, 21, 22, 23 years old... Thrasher isn't just a mag, it's the whole thing. I was proud to work and represent Thrasher. I learned how to take criticism, but also to stick by what you do. I learned that the most important thing, when you're making something, is to make sure it represents you, even if nobody gives a shit. I learned how to say "Fuck you, this is how I do this."
What about music? Did being around skateboarding help you get into music?
Yeah, all the music in the skate videos was rad. More than anything, it was the mood the music would put you in. You would skate differently depending on what you were listening to. If I was gonna skate a pool, I wanted to hear Slayer. If I was gonna skate a ledge, I'd want to hear hip-hop. If I was trying to do a line in a parking lot with like a bench, manual pad, and some stairs then I'd want to hear some punk rock or something. I really got into all styles of music early on. I played drums in the jazz band in high school too. I loved all the music in the first Stereo video, or Gonz's part in the Blind video, just cruising the streets to jazz music and killing it! The old H-Street videos too. I think the first Consolidated video had great music - Karma's section was where I first heard King Crimson.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Umm... I'm not really listening to music at the moment. I was listening to some stuff last year. The last Bright Eyes record is super good. Jenny and Johnny. The Dawes record is really good. Blake Mills made a record last year that's one of my favorites.
How did you get hooked up with Conor Oberst?
I was playing guitar on tour for my friend Jim Fairchild's band All Smiles. Jim was the guitar player in Grandaddy and was friends with a lot of people out there. Jim encouraged me to bring CDs of my own music to pass out to people, he's super cool. We played the last show of a tour in Omaha, Nebraska - I've always loved Omaha and the people there, just always a good vibe - and there was an after-party and they passed around a guitar, and I played a song. This guy Ian, who we had been hanging with the whole night, came up to me and asked if I had made records, or had a CD, so I gave him one. Ian turned out to be Conor Oberst's cousin, and he passed the CD along to him. I've since become really good friends with everyone who was at that party and of course, Conor.
You played a lot of shows in 2011. Do you get accustomed to touring life?
I've been traveling in cars, vans, buses, trains and planes through either skateboarding or playing music for 15 years. It's become second nature to me.
What are your plans for 2012? Are you bringing 'Saturday Night Underwater' to Europe?I'm not sure about 2012 yet, but I really want to get back over to Europe and play some more shows. I had a really great time playing over there this summer, the audiences were so cool and respectful. When the audience is like that, it really helps you play better, you want to give back and try to stoke people out.