Thursday, October 14, 2010

Music Skateboards Interview

Several weeks ago, I posted about Music. Here's an interview with Anthony Ianiro and Eric Sandell... the conductors of Music Skateboards. I was happily surprised with how thorough and well thought out their answers were to the questions I tossed their way. Enjoy.

New York has a deep history of board companies that goes as far back as the 80’s (Shut, Zoo York, 5Boro, Official etc). What’s different about Music that will separate it from the rest?

Eric: You see a lot of companies come out of New York and immediately identify themselves with "being from New York". And why wouldn't they? Just walking down Broadway or jumping on a subway here is a life changing experience. The companies you mentioned I think have taken that idea, or that feeling of living here and have translated it into brand. They've done it so well that you have cats in Boise, Idaho pushing down their one traffic light Main Street on a Zoo York set up wearing a 5Boro t-shirt. If that's not successful marketing I don't know what is.

So when we came into this we said to ourselves "okay, there's these monsters of the New York skateboarding industry who have dominated and completely own the NYC aesthetic, so we're going to have to approach this from another direction." And I think that was the moment me and Anthony looked internally, and focused on things that got us excited and shaped us as people who love skateboarding. We figured if we're doing something original that gets US excited first, that enthusiasm translates into the company and then hopefully people who see our series hanging on the wall at their skateshop. So yeah, we're a New York company, but we don't make that the cornerstone of our message. This environment made us who were are, but I feel like we're taking that notion and applying it to a different set of tools. Namely MUSIC Skateboards.

What are your skateboarding backgrounds? What era did you start skating in and who did you look up to back then?

Eric: I started like most people did. I got a crappy Nash skateboard from toys'r'us when I was 9 and would just ride it up and down the street all day. I was such a dork I even made my mom buy me fluorescent yellow and orange spray paint so I could "customize" the top. It was just horrendous. Anyway, some kid I never saw before came down our street on his BMX and saw what I was riding. He stopped and got off his bike and started to approach me. Immediately I figured he was gonna punch me in the guts and take my board, riding off down the street laughing. He said "Lemme show you something." Stepped on my skateboard, and did an ollie knee high without moving. He didn't say anything, just kicked the board back to me, got on his bike and rode away. It was a significant moment for me, in seconds he opened my eyes to an entire world I had no idea existed.

So you get a bit older, you start riding that shitty skateboard further and further from your house everyday and you start to see kids riding skateboards also. But these kids are riding boards with "H-Street" & "Vision" on the bottom, and a bunch are riding boards with a shark on the bottom. They're doing ollies and grinding curbs, and they're going FAST. You can imagine what that must have been like for a kid who only thought skateboards were made to ride down hills in front of your house with. This was like 88-89, so for my next birthday I got a Sal Barbier H-Street board, the one with the Raiders logo. I rode then whenever I could but never ran with a group of people who skated, and I think that's important when you're just starting out. You tend to feed off that energy you get from your friends learning and landing tricks, and I never had that when I was really young.

So finally around 95 I happened to run into some neighborhood people who had set up ramps and snagged a few parking blocks, and it was literally instant friendship. We all spoke the language so we already knew each other it seemed. Over the next 5 years I spent most of my free time skateboarding in my own neighborhood or in the city. This was mid-late 90s NYC so the landscape was completely different. There were more spots, more people ripping, more discovery happening then that rivals any other time in skateboarding. What I mean by that was it seemed a lot more accessible. You didn't throw on Trilogy and see lines done using multiple cameras, no rail tricks with lights and generators in the background. What you saw in videos of that era, you could jump on a train downtown and see the same thing. No one was risking their lives yet to get footage (okay maybe Jamie Thomas), it wasn't on TV either, it was ours, our tight little community. And within that community, specifically here in New York there was so much talent you could see skating any day of the week. All the Zoo York heads, 5Boro people, Wenning and Pappalardo were young then but you could already tell those cats were gonna be famous one day. Rodney Torres paid so many dues it's unbelievable, he was doing stuff months, sometimes years before anyone else here was, flip-in to noseblunt slides, crazy manny tricks, flip-in-flip-out on ledges, just mindblowing.

Personally I looked up to people that were in my immediate circle of friends, Sasha and Charles Lamb, who I could just sit and watch skate all day, Benny Leung, Ray Wong, Keith Harrison, all the Jade guys, people who not only excelled at skateboarding, but were also just overall good people and a blast to be around. This was also the time I met Anthony who I've been friends with ever since. It was such a great time to be skateboarding, it's a real shame a lot of that is gone now.

Anthony: I started to skate around 1986. Like Eric, my first board was a fluorescent orange Nash Executioner. Skated that damn thing for a long time. I got a paper route and saved to buy my first real board, A Schmitt Stix Joe Lopes with the M.C. Escher influenced graphic, Thunder trucks and Powel Crossbone wheels. The day I got that setup was the most exciting moment in my childhood. Every weekend we would be at the Brooklyn Banks at 9 in the morning, and skated till the sun went down. Many of the people I skated with during that time are still my good friends. Never thought 24 years later skateboarding would still be a big part of my life. Back then my favorite skaters were Lance Mountain, Neil Blender, Mark Gonzales and Mike Vallely. Still look up to them.

You had mentioned that this is your second go at a board company. What happened with the first one? Best lesson learned from that experience?

Anthony: In 96 I started Jade MFG. We were doing well for a few years with a dozen or so shops on the East Cost, distributors in Europe and South America. By 2001 it ran its course. Running your own business is not easy. You work very hard for little or no pay for years. The stress of it finally got to me. It wasn’t fun anymore, so I saw no reason to continue. Best lesson learned? Every brand is different, Don’t do what others have done and expect to be successful. It doesn’t work.

How did the name Music for a board company come about?

Eric: Once we established how we were going to approach the idea of a skateboard company, we took a close look at the things that make skateboarding not only such a unique experience but also a universal, multicultural appeal you only see when you turn on say, the Olympics. For me it was three main things. First, take an hour and go to your local skatespot, even if you don't skate just sit there and take it in. You'll witness things most people only get from listening to jazz records or turning on their favorite radio station. You'll watch some cat try and frontside crook the ledge, while his friend tries over and over to three flip a garbage can on its side. Meanwhile, two people even further off play a game of skate. Literally what you're experiencing is a composition. It's rhythm, it's repetition, there's breaks, there's peaks, accents, etc., etc. The sounds you're hearing and the scene you're witnessing have all the fundamentals of a well wrought piece of music. Maybe it comes from skating in the mid-late 90s, when a big part of skateboarding was just hanging out with your friends, just killing an entire day at your local skatespot. You might not have landed anything that day, but subliminally, even if you didn't understand it, you were drawn back to the same flat ground and shitty ledge day after day. Much in the same way when you're driving you instinctively turn on the radio, you might not be listening but you like to have it floating in the ether.

Second, when you get older, you find your free time slipping away from you. Unless you invented Facebook or you're an artist who throws paper plates around a gallery in Berlin twice a year, chances are you work a 9-5. These days it seems more like 7-7 and thus, your skateboarding time is now maybe catching a 3 minute clip on youtube during your lunch break. Some do the impossible and become pro or moguls in the industry and thats their life. Most of us will never experience that firsthand, and the older you get the more detached you start to feel from that lifestyle. But if skateboarding was ever a part of your life, even if its been years since you stepped on a board, hearing that sound of a pack of skaters blazing down the street takes you right back. It sounds like fun, like freedom, like happiness. That sound can only translate to those whom skateboarding has truly left its mark on, to anyone else it just sounds like bearings spinning against asphalt. I don't care how old I get, to me that sound will have more life to it than Mozart.

Third, and this goes back literally to the beginning of skateboarding, is this idea of genre. I remember sitting on the wall at the Brooklyn Banks and looking out at the crowd who gathered there on a Saturday afternoon. Over there you had the kids wearing Menace Tech, cream colored Fila tennis lows skating a 101 board trying nollie hardflips to fakie over and over. You had the two guys shirtless with military cargo shorts and 62mm wheels carving the banks themselves, powersliding with a loud "SCREEEECH" for an hour. Maybe there was a pack of kids from North Jersey there, every one of them rocking DC shoes (always the "Boxer" model) and doing 50-50s on the ledge behind the banks or trying late shuv-its out of wallies. So here you are, surrounded by all these different styles of not only skateboarding, but what they're wearing and how they handle themselves and speak to each other. You'd never see such a potluck of young people anywhere else, and they were all getting along, they were laughing, clapping, giving a whistle when someone finally landed that trick they were trying for 3 hours. That's an extraordinary thing you don't see everyday, not anymore.

Where you do always see it, this idea of genre or style mixing, is inherently in music. How many different styles of jazz are there? Of rock? Of classical? Go to a music store (though even rarer these days) and under "rock music" you'll have classic, indy, metal, popular, all these little sub-movements form together to make a complete genre. Skateboarding is the same way. Look at the last Workshop video or all the Workshop videos for that matter, what made them so epic is how diverse those riders are in both personal and professional style. Really when you compare the two, music and skateboarding, its striking how much they have in common. We figured this approach, via MUSIC Skateboards, would be the best way to explore this theory.

Seeing as the company is called Music, what do you guys typically listen to?

Eric: Anthony is a lot more musically inclined than I am. In high school I listened to typical fair, Tribe Called Quest, De La, Wu Tang (hometown heroes, I was born and raised on Staten Island). After that I listed to a lot of the Rawkus stuff, then later West Coast indy hip hop, Project Blowed and weirder stuff like Anticon and Shapeshifters. I feel like I aged quick however, these days if I listen to music it's oldies or classic rock, but mostly jazz. I can listen to Charlie Parker all day. In fact, there's a great radio show weekday mornings on WKCR called "Bird Flight" that plays ONLY Charlie Parker. The host, Phil Schaap, knows more about Charlie Parker than most people know about their own mothers, its insane. But thoroughly entertaining.

Anthony: I’m all over the place when it comes to what I listen too. When I was a kid, watching videos like Speed Freaks, Public Domain and G&S Footage introduced to music I would of never heard if I didn’t start skating. These days, some of my favorites are Neil Young, Animal Collective, Echo and the Bunnymen, Field Music, The Smiths, The Beach Boys, My Bloody Valentine, Non Phixion, Velvet Underground, Nick Drake and Arc In Round.

Your artist did a great job with the first series of board graphics. Where did the idea of it originate and how difficult was the execution?

Eric: The design went through many different variations. At first photographic, then very specific, then uber minimalist. Winter was quickly approaching and we started asking ourselves "What are we trying to say here?" Obviously, we're trying to introduce this concept of music and genre and associate it with our company, an introduction if you will. We took that idea and applied it to music itself. If you were going to explain music to someone who's never heard music before, where would you begin, how would you explain where all these diverse sounds come from? So we broke it down into its three major sections, wind instruments, stringed instruments and percussion instruments. Once we had that dialed in, we figured we had a series right there. Then came the painstaking task of figuring out the design. I always dug the work of Lou Dorfsman (google em), this graphic designer for CBS back in the 60s through the 80s. He had a very typographic style, almost collage-like and mondrian-esque, but his compositions were very bold and the message would literally smack you in the face. Design like that really appeals to me I guess. So I took that system and applied it to the overall idea.

That whole winter was spent designing after hours after my day job, just hours and hours of drawing instruments every night. It was fun though, when you do work that's YOURS after fucking around with client work all day and having to march to their orders its nice to sit down and jam on stuff that belongs to you. Also, the idea of doing a series, albeit not a new idea, was one that I felt I wanted to stick to, but at the same time keep the direction on the overall brand identity. I look at a lot of companies these days, companies who's boards shops can't keep on the walls, and more than half the time I don't know what they're about. You go through their catalog history and the series don't relate to each other and the designs don't relate to the company. When you take a broad perspective of a company, I think the aesthetic should reflect the idea. I never understand it when companies do a "hubcap series" one month, and then the next month its a "sneakers series". Where is that going? Is it just random? I just didn't want to run artwork like that. I want someone to come to our website or lay all our catalogs out a few years from now and look at the designs and immediately get the idea, without even having to know the name of the company, I think that's a staple of good design.

There are two schools of thought for starting a new company. Team first, product second. Product first, team second. You’ve chosen the latter. Is there a particular reason why?

Eric: This is a controversial topic that I think speaks volumes about the state of the industry right now. Fifteen years ago, your company was essentially your riders. The way companies marketed themselves were through the faces attached to their brand. This was via videos and print ads. If your company didn't have big names attached to it, no one was going to buy your boards or even give your name a second thought. While I think that still holds true today, I'm not so sure it means as much. How many companies in the last 15 years have come and gone, how many of those had colossal line ups? I'm sure right now you can think of at least three without having to google. My guess is it's because of the access we have to media and the abundance of companies out there today. You have to wade through a plethora of fly-by-night material out there to find anything of value these days. And I'm not speaking of merely skateboarding. Everyone is a DJ or a producer now. Everyone is a filmmaker. Everyone is a writer. Its so easy to just produce. Some of it is genius, most of it is mediocre. So now what do you do? Look at what big companies, especially in fashion, are all about these days: craftsmanship, quality, attention to detail. These things are important again because they've been ignored for so long. I want to bring the same thing to MUSIC, I want to make sure the brand and the identity is right before we start thinking about expanding with a squad of team riders. I think for us, being so small and not having that layer coming between us and the consumer might look like a disadvantage, but I see it as being just that much closer to the people riding our boards. The team will come, but it will be done with as much care that goes into a board design, with detail and relativity in mind.

How’s the process of assembling a team coming along?

Eric: We're getting a lot of feedback from people really excited about the company and what we're about. We've created something with a strong foundation, and we want to make sure the people we bring on board represent that same ethic. There are some very talented cats coming up these days, and it makes sense when you look at how advanced skateboarding has become. There's kids out there skating now who got into skating because they saw the Lakai video. Imagine starting when that is the high water mark for skateboarding? That is going to inspire a ton of creativity and promote a skill level that just didn't exist when I started skateboarding. It's a really interesting time and I'm looking forward to bringing on talent that is a result of this new era.

In the past few months, you’ve gotten your boards into quite a few shops. Are you doing all the leg work to create all these networks or do you have a distributor of some sort helping you out?

Anthony: We’re very hands on with all the shops that caring MUSIC Skateboards. Many times a week, we jump in the car @ 10am, driving from shop to shop and don’t get home until 11pm. I find it’s the best way to service our customers is to know them in person. Let them know we stand behind every board, wheel or t-shirt we sell them. If they have problem/questions with any of our products, they can call us direct.

You picked Pennswood (one of the top woodshops on the east coast) to press your boards. What is it about them that stands out and separates them from your other choices?

Anthony: We spent a year testing boards from every woodshop in the US. Right away we realized we wanted to keep manufacturing on the east coast. With great companies like South Central, Chapman and Pennswood located here, why would we not? In the end, decided on Pennswood due to the excellent product and customer service they offered us. In return we could offer the same quality and service to anyone who rides a MUSIC board.

Aside from assembling a team, what’s next for Music skateboards?

Eric: With winter on the way, we're getting into the planning stages for the next series, which we're hoping to launch by next summer. Right now, we're still trying to get the word out and introduce ourselves to the community at large. It's not too hard to find us in the New York/New Jersey area right now, but I'd love to see more Music product in places like Canada and the Midwest. Its been a blast meeting people throughout the northeast and building relationships with some amazing shops. I know there's plenty more out there. The industry climate might have changed, but the community is still there. Its proven every time we visit a new shop and meet the owners and their customers.

I look forward to seeing Music grow. Any last words?

Eric: Just for everyone to take some time everyday and build. And by that I mean work on something, something creative, something that others can learn from or benefit. I know most of us get caught up in a lot of things that eat up most of our free time, be it a job, relationships, social networking etc. I get caught up in it myself. But I can't express how it feels to put a lot of hard work into something and see the finished product. The day we got our boards back from the wood company was a day I'll never forget. The day someone out there gets a line on video they've been practicing all summer is a day worth remembering. Picking up an instrument, starting a blog, taking photos, whatever it is. Putting an hour into something inspiring always seems to blend into other aspects of your life. I may have a shitty day at work designing comps for clients with bad taste, but when I stop in a skateshop on the way home and see a Music board on the wall, all the nonsense fades away and you remember whats important again.


Anonymous said...

Did you do this interview, or did it come from somewhere else?

Keith said...

I did this interview.

Anonymous said...

In that case, fantastic job. My next board might be a music board: I like the messages they are sending out. Since they are new and sold in skate shops only in the NY/NJ area, this seems to be the only place (is this true?) that you can get them online:

Keith said...

I'm not 100% certain where they are available online. Contact them at or post on their twitter or facebook pages.

chops said...

Well done, Keith!

Solid read. Keep 'em coming.

Big ups to Music.