Brian Anderson interview

Nike SB and Girl Skateboards rider and all-round nice bloke Brian Anderson has been at the forefront of the skate scene for years. He managed to take some time out of his busy schedule recently during the London premiere of Nothing But The Truth to talk to Moose about art, tattoos, politics, Amy Winehouse, culinary careers and much more.

Photos: big thanks to Jon Humphries for the majority of these great shots and sequence and Moose for portrait and deckchair steez. Words and interview by Moose.

So, Brian Anderson, welcome to Crossfire, how are you doing?

Very good thanks. I’m glad I could do this interview!

No worries, how’s London treating you?

It’s fine; it’s been good weather. I actually really like it here, it’s a little expensive, but I really like the old buildings and stuff. I’ve been here quite a few times so it’s comfortable.

You used to ride for Savier, which was a Nike sub company. What was that like?

It was nice at first, it was fun to build to the team. Brad Staba and I got Tim O’ Connor and Stephan Janoski, and we just had bad communication with the owner and designers after a while and it became difficult to maintain the direction that we wanted, so we, Brad and I, ended up leaving and then shortly after Tim and Stephan left, then I think it just fell apart unfortunately for them. In the end we didn’t really get along so, I didn’t mind. And then I didn’t have a sponsor and then Nike approached me.

Did you know Nike were getting ready to make a full skate team?

I knew some of the guys on the team already, I knew Reese, Chet and Richard Mulder, and Daniel Shimizu, Gino, maybe a couple of other people, I don’t remember exactly who was on at the time. Oh, Todd [Jordan] and Supa– God, they already had quite a few people when they picked me. So yeah, I was happy because I knew the people that run the skateboard part are skaters, so I knew it wasn’t gonna be like this corporate people I had to answer to. I know them and they skate so it’s comfortable.

You don’t see Nike as this corporate image then?

Yeah, sure I do in some ways, but I don’t because I’m behind the scenes and when I go up to Nike, the skateboarding part is in its own little corner. It’s still in this huge Nike corporation, but I mean, Vans is pretty corporate too nowadays, you know. I mean, I would feel bad but I know that my friends who have their own company, like Lakai, they’re doing really well so, it doesn’t make me feel that horrible because my friends are still doing really good doing more ‘core’ skateboard stuff I guess people would call it.

Why do think Nike seem to get hated, when they’re doing the same kind of thing as Vans?

Because it’s Nike. It wasn’t born out of skateboarding, you know. Vans was born out of skateboarding so it’s more core skate culture affiliated. Yeah, its weird, sometimes I think about it. I ride for other companies that are pretty core, and I’ll always support them. I feel ok because I have balanced sponsors.

Do you think there’s a place for you on the basketball team?

Ha, I don’t think my ankles will allow that!

Nothing But The Truth- how long has it been in the making?

I think about 3 years, maybe longer. I went on a lot of trips but in the beginning we went on trips with a lot of people but it’s harder for me to get stuff done. Towards the end we had smaller trips – like 3 or 4 guys- and that’s when I got the most productive. And then I got hurt at the end so I only have like 2 minutes, and I have Gino at the end of my part so that makes me feel comfortable.

How does travelling with Nike differ from other team tours?

When we go international we get a business class ticket, which is really nice after going on tour for 10 years. But once we’re doing our everyday filming it’s exactly the same as most of my other companies for the most part. We get in a van in the US and drive around sometimes, you know, drive from California.

The best way to do it! Who’s idea was it to have skaters act in the movie?

Well they wanted to do something at Nike, so they decided to hire some directors that were really creative and weren’t gonna do something corny. They knew we wanted to do something comfortable for us. They didn’t really tell us a lot about what we were going to do, we didn’t really have to act, we just got there and they said, “Ok, this is the situation, just be yourself”, so it wasn’t really that uncomfortable. It was just a lot of anticipation, it unfolded well and they edited it pretty well.

So you weren’t going to get Spike Jonze involved?

No, (laughs) I think he’s going to stay over at Girl. I don’t think Rick Howard would be too happy about that! (laughs)

Where did you draw the line with the scenario ideas?

Actually they just wanted us to be ourselves. For me, they originally had the idea that my tattoos would disappear when I wake up in the morning, and then they decided to do it where I would disappear because I do that a lot, I don’t like big dinners and stuff. But we didn’t use all my footage because some of it came out kind of grainy, but what we used is fine. Mine’s kind of short but I’m happy.

Are you happy with your part though?

Yeeeah, I wish it was longer but I’m happy with it. I’m proud of it.

Any funny incidents happen while filming?

Just watching Omar of course is always entertaining. It’s cool, a lot of these guys are my close friends, so we just had the regular times that we do, you know? Just joking around…

In the trailer, there’s that backside flip out into the car.

Oh yeah! That was in Shanghai.

They don’t stop for anyone there!

That was scary, I didn’t see it coming and everyone was yelling at me, “Brian! Stop! Stop! Stop!” and I didn’t hear them. So yeah, I nearly got really hurt or killed!

What’s been you favourite Nike shoe and why? You into the Air Jordans?

You know I didn’t really wear Nikes before I was sponsored by them. When I was a kid sometimes but right now, probably my favourite shoe is the Blazer high. I like it because it’s a thin sole, it doesn’t have the popular Vans stripe that every shoe has nowadays, which is fine. It also hurts my feet but all thin shoes hurt. But I like the Blazer the most because it’s good for manuals and flip tricks.

Do you think Nike with their industry influence could bring back the lace-saver?

I hope not! Maybe they could have an optional one you could install if you want to.

Will we ever see some of your artwork on the limited editions?

Yeah, I think so. I think that’s something we’re working on in the next year actually. Probably I would prefer more just on the insole, you know, because I like the outside of the shoe to look clean, unless it was something tonal, like grey on black- something that’s not so loud. That’s just my personal aesthetic preference.

What are your influences art-wise, or in life in general?

As far as art when I was younger I always liked the graffiti style of Keith Haring– pop stuff. I dunno man, I hate to say it but just real common people. Not common, but just… I wasn’t exposed to much so I have to say stuff like Warhol and stuff. I don’t really study art so much, I just learned about mainstream people. Also, the only other person that comes to my head is Georgia O’Keeffe, I always liked her flower paintings. And I was always inspired by skateboarding like Ethan Fowler, Mark Gonzales, Ben Shroeder’s one of my big idols, so probably mostly Mark and Ben, but nowadays Nick Trepasso.

What are your favourite countries that you’ve been to?

On this tour, Shanghai was really fun. Barcelona was the best because got to skate there, it was warm weather. I love that place, I know the town very well so I don’t need any maps. The train is very easy, so on this tour that was my favourite. In the past, I loved going to Japan, Australia was another favourite place. You know I’ll tell you what I really miss is going on trains all summer long to four or five contests, maybe five years ago. That was so fun and it’s lost, it’s gone now, you know like, Lausanne, Montpellier, and Gemeente, Radlands in Northampton. That whole contest was so fun to just get on the train every five days and go to a new country. I miss that, those were my best memories.

What’s your worst injury you’re ever had?

Real simple things that just, I mean, I have to go knock on wood because I’m real superstitious, hold on… (Brian gets up to touch wall). Recently, I folded my ankle five hours after I got to Paris to do a European tour, and I couldn’t skate for three months. That was in May, almost six months ago now. That was kind of the worst as far as like, it just drained me not being able to skate, it was really depressing.

That’s frustrating.

Yeah, but I just tried to go to the gym and take a lot of vitamins and drink water… and whiskey too.

Are you a bit of a health freak?

(Lights up cigarette) No, I wouldn’t say so. I balance it out. I started smoking these, they don’t have any drugs in them, they’re just straight tobacco. I try to balance it out, but I think I’m pretty good at rebuilding cells after all the damage that I do considering. I’m kind of a primitive person in some ways, in my brain.

Don’t you find it weird that skaters seem to recover quicker than other people?

Yeah, I think it’s just you’re so used to pain. I don’t know, I’ve probably broken and kept skating, and if I got a full body X-ray I’d be really surprised!

Like breaking wrists, carrying on skating, taking a month to get it checked out and finding out it is actually broken!

Yeah! (laughs) I broke it three months ago!

Did you ever think you would be a professional skateboarder?

I didn’t plan on it. I was going to go to a culinary school after I graduated from high school. I went to California with my friends and then I went back to Connecticut where I grew up. My friends in California said, “You should come back out and try and skate! Take some pictures and see what happens”. I said ok, sure. So I went back out, and I ended up skating with Ed Templeton and the rest of the Toy Machine team. Then a couple of months later I sent them a video, and they put me on the team! So it sort of just unfolded.

Lucky break!

Yeah, mostly because of Donny Barley. Actually, completely because of him because he took me to skate wit the Toy Machine team. Ed Templeton was my favourite skater when I was a kid, so I was so psyched to skate with them.

What did you do at college?

I didn’t go. I went to go look at the campus, and I was going to go to culinary school because I used to cook for a long time just in this one restaurant. So I only really learned how to cook really fast, I didn’t learn many techniques or anything, I just learnt how to put a lot of food out and not lose your shit.

Yeah, I’ve done that before!

Yeah, so I really thought I was going to do that. I’m still interested in it.

So possibly going back to chef school then?

Maybe! I think maybe more graphic design or something, like trying to work in skateboarding. Maybe just charity, like just trying to help homeless people or drug addicts or something, you know. Maybe in another country, I don’t know yet, I’ll see what happens.

The drug addicts and homeless thing, you get to see that a lot through skating. Have you seen any really horrible things that have shocked you?

Um, yeah. I live in San Francisco, I’ve seen dead homeless people being covered up by police with a sheet in the morning, and seeing people just… fucking everything we’ve all seen as skateboarders, you know, people shooting drugs in their arm while your skating, they’re like right next to you. Almost falling off your skateboard and landing a foot away from a needle, you see it a lot. Yeah, just everything you see more sketchy stuff. You see people get hit by cars, all kinds of stuff in the city. But you know, that’s part of life I guess.

Last time we interviewed you we asked what you thought of the current state of American politics – you said you declared a preference for Nader. Who gets your vote in 2008?

Erm… John Stewart. (laughs) He’s not running, but he’s my favourite! It’s so hard to say right now, there’s nobody I really care for. I thought I was going to be excited about Hilary Clinton, but she really seems pretty fake right now. She answers her questions with laughter when she’s intimidated, and err, I don’t know who to trust just yet. I guess I’ll decide in the last few months, I have to really look into it in the next year.

Do feel skateboarders should be more interested in politics?

Yeah, it would be nice. I definitely understand why not- a lot of kids that skateboard, maybe half of them, I don’t know the percentage, probably come from a bad home or something and they’re not stimulated or aware. But that’s the cool thing about taking care of some of the young kids that come into it, you know. That’s the really cool thing about Girl, we have some younger kids and they go on tour with us and I feel real happy with the way we treat them, and keep them comfortable and grounded. That’s why we choose the people we do too, you know. We have this kid Sean Malto who’s just a really nice kid, and Mike Mo. So yeah, it would be nice if people cared a little more, but I guess that people in rock ‘n’ roll don’t give a shit, and art and all kinds of genres. I just hope for the best, man.

You mentioned Sean Malto; he’s absolutely exploding right now. He blew the kids away at the Southbank Girl demo. Is there anyone else coming up right now, or is Sean the man?

I think, and I’m not just saying this because he skates for Girl, but I think he’s the best right now. He’s really gifted and he’s so humble. He’s just such a really well balanced kid, so I’m really happy for him. Mike Mo too, you know, but Sean can skate transition and stuff a little more, so he’s super well rounded. But Mike Mo- he’s on another level. Aside from people like that that are on my teams, I really like Nick Trepasso- I can’t say enough. He’s my favourite; I hope he keeps going with what he is. And I’m really proud of Omar [Salazar] too. Omar got hurt, he left Foundation, or they kicked him off, and I’m just so proud of him because I think Alien Workshop is a great company, so I’m excited he gets to be with Heath [Kirchart] and Anthony Van Engelen and all, it’s amazing. And also because Habitat’s in there, it’s cool, he gets to be with Stefan [Janoski].

So you’re looking forward to the Habitat video as well?

Yeah, definitely, and I would really like to compliment them on their advertising. It’s so clean- I don’t get too excited about a lot of other skateboard companies, so I’m really excited to see it. Recently I was influenced by a Fred Gall interview because he had a lot of problems, you know, and I’m excited to see his skateboarding because I was amazed by him when I was a kid and now he’s skateboarding a lot again, and he’s cleaning his life up. I love all those guys, they’re so sick- Silas, Danny Garcia, Tim O’Connor, so I’m really looking forward to their video. Kerry Getz is an old friend of mine, so yeah.

The Nike video has obviously taken up a lot of your time recently. Have you got any other projects lined up, or are you going to take a break?

Skate. Mental. I’m trying to film a full part, I’m gonna help Brad [Staba]. I’m still going to skate for Girl but I want to have a full video part, and me and Brad are gonna make a Skate Mental video. We already filmed some skits and stuff, so that’ll be cool because Reese [Forbes] will be in it, and Mike Carroll and Howard and everybody’s excited about it so I think there’ll be other tricks in it too from guys on Girl and Chocolate, so the focus will be Skate Mental but there’ll be a big Girl/Chocolate family part in there too I think, so it should be a really fine video. We’re probably gonna do whatever the fuck we want and not worry about rights, and not make it so huge so maybe we’ll just use some really good songs I think! (laughs)

Choose your own songs?

Yeah, I got to do that with Nike actually. I worked on a song with Mark Mothersbaugh, but I was only there for a day and it’s just too quick to make a tune. It ended up not working out but they used it for another section in the video, but fortunately with our incredibly generous budget they were able to buy the rights to some really good music for the video, so that is so crucial to the mood and feel, so I’m really happy with the music we got.

Is music another passion for you? Who are your favourite bands at the moment?

Lately, rollerskating 80’s music a lot, I love that stuff, and Sheila E, I’ve been listening to her a little bit. I’ve been listening to The Strokes a lot again because they’re no longer a band and not popular, so I like to hear it. I wish I didn’t have to hear Amy Winehouse every time I went to the bar, that gets on my nerves! But I think that girl’s really talented too, it’s such a bummer when music gets blown up right away so quick. I was watching a programme last night and they were talking about when you start off at the top there’s almost nowhere else to go but down, so it’s hard to make a second record. I’ve been listening to Neil Young ‘On The Beach’ a lot lately. It recently came out on disc; it was only on record before, it’s an excellent album. Oh jeez, I don’t know, Stevie Nicks, of course from Fleetwood Mac. Oh yeah! I have this Stevie Nicks tattoo (rolls up his sleeve to show portrait tattoo)

No way!

Yeah, “Gold Dust Woman”! Fuck man, I don’t know, Def Leppard, Nas, Wu-Tang and Lil’ Wayne, I could listen to endless Lil’ Wayne all day, he’s my favourite.

(A waitress walks up asking if we want any wine)

Do you drink at all?

A lot! That’s why I’m not drinking these past three days because this whole trip we’ve been drinking on the airplane so we can sleep, and after Barcelona I woke up and decided to try and just take a break. So, it’s been three days now!

Barcelona does that to me too. Every time I’ve gone there, it’s just been a haze of booze and skating!

Yeah! And it’s good because you skate good! I wake up every day and skate all the booze out, and sweat and drink water.

It’s the only way to cure a hangover

Yeah! (laughs) But once 7 o’clock comes and the street beers come out, you’re just drinking Estrella’s then a whole other session of skating starts at Macba.

I love it there when guys come round selling you cans of beer for a Euro, you don’t even have to go anywhere to get it!

Like when you get out the club that happens too!

Anyway, tattoos. Have they always been a big part of your life? Where was your first tattoo and what was it?

My first tattoo is a cross on my right ankle when me and like five friends all did it when we were like 15 because we knew our parents wouldn’t see it because we could cover it with our sock! (laughs) And then my second one… I’m not gonna go through them all but I’ll tell you the second one (laughs)… the second one is cool too. Me and my friends used to do tattoos on each other while we watched Saturday Night Live, and I was gonna do The Clash. So one weekend we did ‘The’ and we did a little asterisk, and the next weekend I was like “What if I don’t like The Clash when I’m 50?” So, I said, “Just make it say ‘The End'”. I think I always wanted them because when I was a kid I was really into The Stray Cats, and that’s how I became fascinated by the whole sailor jerry style tattoos. They had someone help them with their image, that’s why they got all those tattoos I think, that rockabilly sailor style. And I think my grandfather had a few, they feel comfortable to me. I feel like if I didn’t have them, I would want them, so no regrets. I have a couple of messy ones that need to be touched up but other than that. I’m working on my whole back in the next year, that’s gonna be fun with a good friend of mine.

Hours and hours!

Yeah, I think it takes about 20 hours, more than that.

Going back to the pain thing; are tattoos that much of a pain?

Yeah, they hurt! I mean, on your… yeah, they hurt still. More than skating sometimes, because when you get hurt on your skateboard it’s quick then you walk away, but when you get a tattoo it’s pain for 3 hours straight. It still hurts, I don’t like to take pills but I did recently for one tattoo I took a pill, it was a little better. But there’s no way around it, they always hurt.

Have you got any you regret?

Not what the actual tattoo is, but just the artist that did them. Like one of my first ones, he did a messy job but I can get it touched up. Other than that, no, I’ve been really lucky. My friends Jeff Whitehead and Jim Lehigh did amazing work so I’m really happy.

The video premiere tonight; it’s a big event. Are you expecting a good reaction?

Yeah, I’m excited about it. It’s been interesting being in other countries and stuff with different languages being on screen and subtitles. It’s totally fun, don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been any problem or anything but this will also be interesting. I think also just walking around after and eavesdropping and hearing people’s thoughts. It’s kind of long and stuff, but it’s a big team so. But the skating’s really good and I’m proud of it, I hope everybody likes it!

Any last shout outs, or hellos you want to say to people?

Everybody here that’s helped organise this. I know it take s a lot of work, a lot of emails, a lot phone calls and I’m sure Seb’s been real busy. And everyone at Nike and all the skaters for supporting it. It’s been great, I hope everyone likes it.