An Interview with Alex Olson (circa 2012)
It was 2012. Alex was waist deep in Tumblr questions asking about his move from California to New York and I had moved to the city a year prior and was searching for the perfect pair of camouflage pants to flex at art school.
Instagram didn't have all the amenities it does now, so if by the off chance your favorite pro had a Tumblr, you had an opportunity to barrage them with questions about their penis size, favorite trick and "is (your other favorite pro) really (some bullshit)?". Many sifted through the garbage or the less glamorous to answer the "fucking love your skating bro!!!1!"s, but I found Alex to take most or all of the questions launched at him head on with a cryptic grace.
I decided, that with no prior experience, this 18 year old, who had never met a professional skateboarder (with the exception of an awkward run in with Jake Johnson at 12th & A directly after I exclaimed to a friend, "There aren't even any good skaters here!" I was 16, fuck off.) That I was qualified to contact Alex on Tumblr and somehow schedule an interview, at Cafe Pick Me Up, through awkward chain of emails.
Here is the product of a severely unprepared 18 year old and Alex (who if you're reading this and you're bummed on it, sorry I guess).
Dane: I kinda like this one, uh, did you look at Nike as being a different way back when Nothing but the Truth came out? Opposed to today, did you think it has a different aesthetic to it?
Olson: No not really I mean... it seemed like Nike…I looked at Nothing but the Truth as they had all this money and still they didn’t produce a good video. That’s like known as one of the worst videos.
Really? You didn’t think nothing but the truth... I mean…
No you know a lot of people were, uh, anticipating it to be really good and Nike.. You know its Nike, so I think they had what’s it called and people were expecting a lot from them and I don’t think they really it just wasn’t a good video. Supposedly...I don’t know someone said recently, “I watched the video without the skits and it’s actually really a good video.” But I think the skits put such a bad taste in everyone’s mouth that like no one cared.
Yeah I’m gonna try to ask you not too much about that because it kinda seems like everybody fucking hounds you about that stuff and it’s like a little weird.
No dude, ask whatever, please.
Alright man we’re going to ask some LA to NYC questions.. LA to NYC when traveling to spots in either city which one would you prefer over the other?
Oh here, yeah.
Just skate to every spot rather than drive?
Um, yeah I mean just that alone, just skating to another spot, your warmed up, I don’t know it’s more spontaneous, it’s just more the style I like, I don’t like getting in a car. I like how everyone can meet up and if someone has to break out they have to break. Yeah, they can just do that whatever, it’s good.
Someone brought up Dylan’s Gravis part that came out a while ago and you said that like all those spots were in a like 5 block radius and you wanted to do that with New York City is that still a goal as far as filming?
It’s not a goal I just liked the fact that he didn’t travel and actually stayed and found spots, but these were all spots people knew of, but they were like gnarly spots and he was the only guy that stepped up and skated them. But is it a goal? Uh I mean it’s always a goal to have footage in New York so yes and no.
Alright, what’s your take on the view of skateboarding for fun vs. working?
It took me a long time to find a balance between the two because I think doing videos and stuff you really start to not like skateboarding... At least I didn’t... So I don’t know. I just started.. I mean it took me a while that’s why there wasn’t that much coverage of me for a long time because I wasn’t happy with it. So I’ve found that having fun is completely different than trying to… I’ve made it more of a work-oriented thing where I’m ok like I have to do this. More focused I guess. To get like photos and videos
I remember in a Transworld interview you had like a couple weeks after the Lakai video came out um you talked about other AMs being able to nollie flip a 10 stair. Can you nollie flip a 10 stair?
No I don’t think so… I mean I would like to, fuck I don’t know maybe, yes... The real answers yes but it would take me a lot longer than most of the AMs.
Yeah man that was just a joke question, I’ve been thinking about that for fucking forever…
No no that’s fine, I get it.
Have you been working on any new art or any shows coming up?
Well that’s why I’m supposed to leave here, New York, I’m supposed to leave New York to work on a show for New York, but in LA because there’s a studio out there, so yes and no, but I don’t know what’s going on with it right now. The guys that are putting it on aren’t getting back to me.
What are your views on the production of skateboarding videos today? Do you prefer raw skateboarding with minimal b roll footage such as mid 90s skate videos like Stereo’s Tin-can Folklore or Toy Machine’s Welcome to Hell? Or today’s HD Empire with seemingly more b roll than actual skateboard content.
Uhhh the first one. Um I was thinking when you said Stereo I was thinking of the first video and that video was rad but it also had b roll footage I don’t know it just all has to work…
Because Tin-can Folklore was like um..
Yeah way more raw in a visual sense.
Yeah (Ethan) Fowler...and fucking...
Visual Sound is good though.
Yeah, I have nothing against b roll footage, but it just seems like..
Yeah it’s a bit too much now, like everyone has it and its one of those things where it’s oversaturated; it was cool when it was first coming around, like when Ty (Evans) did it.. I mean they always did b roll footage… and the cinematography itself is cool. I like when Alien Workshop does their whatever… all that weird stuff. It just had to work. But the general b roll… like whatever a moving slow shot and slow mo and all that shit can go fuck itself. I don’t like it, I like more the Antihero style. But guess what, if everyone started filming like that I’d probably like the b roll footage.. probably not though.
Yeah, I feel like it’s.. The raw stuff going to make a comeback, man.
It will, I mean Palace kids are probably doing that and they’re kinda like the hip underground brand right now.
Yeah, so you back Palace and Polar and all those dudes and stuff?
That’s rad.. Let’s see. Oh alright, this is like based off a question someone asked you about the fucking P-Rod, Jaws, Felix beef and whatever. Uh you said that lines were like hard to come by?
Yeah, do you disagree or agree on that?
I disagree because then you have dues like Vincent Alverez..
That’s one, think about how many pro skaters there are… That’s one guy...You know what I mean?
Yeah, no, I feel you, I understand that.
You know, just lines were more common back then, I don’t know there’s like Danny Garcia, Stefan Janoski, all those guys , Caroll, you’d see lines more… Pj Ladd, when he lived in Boston, did rad lines. Lines are like really how you see how the person skate, not just one trick, you actually see the person push. You see how they stand on their board, it’s more… I like it. A lot of kids don’t realize that.
So you think kids are just losing the whole--
Just tell me kid that nowadays you think has a really good line.
I mean like a lot of the New York dudes like (Billy) Mcfeely? Phil Rodriguez…
I don’t even know who the fuck that is.
Aw fuck dude come on those guys are great.
Well I’m just saying name like an AM that is like...or AMs
Nestor Judkins, dude.
Yeah I mean I don’t know... I feel like lines--
You’re just feeling that with larger pro skateboarders, lines aren’t like as prominent as they used to be.
That’s a perfect way to put it.
Are you utilizing the line or are you going for a lot one hit wonders?
Well the thing is lines fill up your video card so, and I’m trying to fill that up. I don’t know. I like seeing lines of Heath Kirchart, like when you do lines at a table school that’s awesome. I just say that because Jaws is a kid that’s not going to any lines. That’s why the kids asking like how they’re disagreeing and those are the dudes that come from the type of era of people doing lines...and I don’t know.
Yeah that puts that into better perspective for me and I agree more so now.
I mean, it’s cool, you can disagree.
Yeah I think all those AZ dudes are sick and I think everybody’s just fucking ripping dude, I like it all.
I wish I could have that mentality.
Do you put much thought into the lifestyle aesthetic of your blog or do you just present it to the public what interests you?
Wait hold on... is there a train of thought of how I want to be perceived? Well I think the name and all that stuff I came up with is like this is what I’m in to. And what I am into is I guess the style of the blog. I stopped posting photos and all that stuff
Not on purpose it just takes time and it’s annoying. When I first started there weren’t that many… I mean there were photo blogs, but there weren’t like Tumblr blogs. And whatever, I would just put up shit that made me laugh or thought were cool, like anyone else with a Tumblr.
Do you think that questions from your Tumblr fans, your massive Tumblr fan base, kinda like drive the blog in a sense? Like that’s why people come?
Yeah for sure. I mean that’s the only thing there is left to the thing, unless I make something I can showcase on there. I don’t think if it didn’t have that, no one would go to it; there wouldn’t be anything on there. It’s just kids asking questions.
Why do you take the questions?
I don’t know, I like it, I enjoy it. When I was little, or younger, I loved to ask pros questions and stuff, so I feel like it’s the little kid in me, on the opposite side... like role reversal. I know kids get stoked when they can ask stuff so…
No dude, this wouldn’t be happening if you didn’t do it, so that’s rad man.
I feel like, I don’t know, I just like doing it. It kept me afloat for a few years in skating.
I would’ve gotten kicked off companies. I probably would’ve gotten kicked off Vans if I didn’t have my blog at the time.
Really? What was the deal with leaving with Vans? I was kinda avoiding that question.
I wasn’t happy I didn’t like my teammates, I just didn’t get along with them, I mean I got along with them but I never hung out with them, none of them really stoked me, like I wasn’t like stoked to go on a trip I was more annoyed. Like fuck, I would be annoyed when they called, they kinda did some lame shit with me and they just left a bad taste in my mouth. But they were really cool too, so I feel bad talking shit on them to a certain degree. It was just like shoe drama.
I just recently heard that the Versa was supposedly influenced by you.
I think that was in a contract. When I left Lakai, I had it in my contract that I got a shoe in some way. And I think Vans didn’t want to give me a shoe, so they made this roundabout way that covered their ass on the contract and gave me that. It kinda sucked. Because it was just a lame deal because I made this shoe and people thought it was my pro model and when I was designing it they weren’t really listening to me …it was lame.
What do you think of Gilbert (Crockett) and the new shoe, the Stage Four that came out for Vans?
The Stage Four if you asked me that when I was a kid I could have answered that, but I don’t know what the Stage Four is. Is that the same thing in a way? It’s like a bullshit way for them to give you a shoe but not give you a shoe. Think about it, they can put your name on it, they use your likeness, but they don’t have to give you a royalty. So it’s like they’re using you to sell a shoe, but they don’t have to pay you
Fuck, I didn’t know that.
A lot of shoe companies do that. It’s kinda lame I don’t like it... I mean it depends, if you’re like just happy. I was so excited to design a shoe…
Did it come out to your specifications?
No that’s why it was annoying. The designers there bothered me; they just didn’t listen to me. Skating for Nike and skating for Vans…now being around Nike, they respect their athletes, not just skaters but they take their opinions and they’re really focused on that. But Vans is like, ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about, we get paid and we do this, like you don’t know. Let us deal with it. It’s not a good environment for creativity.
Yeah I was just looking at a bunch of Vans, they made one that looked exactly like the Janoski, I thought it was funny.
Yeah that thing is like the bestselling shoe, though. That’s like the new constant one or um…I’m trying to think of another shoe that was really big before that
Like the Accel…PRod 1s... maybe that was a lie, I fudged that one a bit.
No it like shoes when like everyone has them…
Aw shit, Reynolds 3s?
Yeah I mean kinda, if kids had them a lot. I don’t know, what’s a popular shoe? Anyway that’s the best selling shoe for a long time. Like Rick Howard 1s from DC.
I don’t remember them.
Those were a bestselling shoe at one point. Like everyone had them. Janoskis are like that, they have to make them basically because they’re losing a sale if they don’t. They didn’t want to make the Janoski.
Maybe shouldn’t say that.
Oh no I won’t put that in.
But like Stefan came to them with the design and was like want to make it like this and they were like it looks like Vans and were not about that. And he’s like no - he wanted his shoe and they made it and then were like they’re not going to sell and…bestselling shoe.
Damn, Stefan had it right.
Still has it right.
Ok this is kinda heavy, not meant to insult anyone, but do you think professional/influential skateboarders gain more relevance in the art world due to their skateboarding career rather than their talent in art?
I’m trying to think, can you give me a reference.
Ok. See I don’t know well it’s a funny thing, you work in a gallery, so you deal…what kind of gallery do you work in?
I work in like a contemporary art, its cool.
Yeah I love that stuff, its cool. A lot of people don’t like contemporary art, like I Ed Templeton hates contemporary art. But if you’re a contemporary artist, you go to art school to learn about art and it’s not about the piece, it’s about the thought process and all that. And I don’t think that skateboarders …I’m drifting off into something else.
I’m saying that I feel like a lot of professional skateboarders have taken their influence in the skateboarding realm and used it to become -
Well you already have an audience you know so you can already do something and have a draw to it already than just being a random guy with no following behind it deciding to do something. So you already have an audience built, you know that’s why Ed’s so successful now, he didn’t go to school either. Mark is so different, everybody loves him. He has Midas touch, but I don’t know it’s weird. Because Ed shoots photos but he never really bring his photos into skating, but he brings his drawings and paintings into it and I think sometimes when you do that it waters your work down…
I think my whole deal on it is… I’m not angry or upset or anything, not necessarily confused either, I can’t find the word for it. Just ahhh.
Because you don’t think their work’s good?
Not that I don’t think their works good, I think they’re talented, but people don’t like you because of your art, they like you because of your skating. And I’m totally down for the art and skateboarding convergence but sometimes…
Yeah man I get that. I understand that, but they’re not big fine artists. Which guy is a big fine artist?
Yeah I don’t expect them to be.
If I were to do it, I would try to keep them both separated. Even though that’s hard to do. Yeah I see what you’re saying. You’re putting energy into 2 things instead of one. Like Lance Mountain... he comes from an era when doing that was just an expression, it wasn’t a thing. I just think it’s one of those things where you put all this energy into skateboarding and you have these goals as a kid, like I want to be this and achieve this, and achieve that, and once you go pro and do whatever, that whole thing, do a contest, do a film a video part, it just becomes a circle and there’s no more goals to reach, and dudes get bored, get older and you can’t do this for the rest of your life, so they find other things to be creative in.
I never thought of it like that. I have nothing against art and skateboarding.
Do you keep your art and skateboarding separate?
Yes for sure, because I feel like once you put it into skateboarding its already devaluing what you’re trying to do.
I don’t know next question, we could talk about this for hours…
(Shuffling print outs of Alex’s Tumblr questions around)
It’s funny you have those printed out.
Yeah I have to remember this stuff man… I read in one of your questions that you come up with a lot of your one offs, I think that’s pretty fuckin’ cool.
Yeah I mean I love that stuff... I feel like back in the day skaters would design their graphics and now it’s not, whatever, the graphic designer has to do it.
That’s rad dude. Do you come up with... fuck …I saw the uh I don’t know if it was an olive oil or lemonade one. Did you do that one? That’s fuckin’ hilarious dude.
Yeah, It’s awesome now having an iPhone you can just take a photo send it to the graphic designer and be like lets incorporate this in some way…. Do you like re-appropriated art?
What is that?
It’s like when someone takes like literally a photo.
Like a photo of a photo?
Like Richard Prince…he took a photo of the Marlboro man, and then it was an ad for cigarettes, but he took the photo that had already been shot, from a magazine and then printed them really big and sold them. So like you’re re-appropriating it as art, instead of an advertisement.
Ok alright, I’ve never really heard of that, that’s cool.
Some people really really hate it or, because you’re not really making anything you’re just stealing, that’s how some people look at it. Or people love it, and you get away... But it’s like a tricky thing because you get sued for it.
As far as where I stand on art, I have this theory on art today how everything’s kinda like it used to be skill and no theory, so you used to have like skill and just wow you can draw a guy really well, like humanism, and I think its transformed into this thing like wow I have a fucking white canvas but there’s this theory behind it.
Well that’s the whole thing with going to art school; it’s not about the piece it’s about the story behind it. And I love that I want to learn how to bullshit like that…but you have to go to art school for that that’s how they teach you.
I don’t know man, I go to FIT for graphic design and they’re just, I don’t know, I don’t want to give anything a bad name…I think like art school…you don’t need it.
A lot of people think, well, not a lot of people think, I think, whatever, if you go to art school, yeah I think you just learn the lingo, how to talk about it and give it a story. Everyone loves a story. It’s fucking making the Kool-Aid and drinking it, it’s crazy to me.
Do you ever read Slap?
The message board? No it’s just a bunch of girls gossiping. But Bill (Strobeck) does, you know Fat Bill. Just for fun because it’s not towards him. He just finds good stuff. The kids do say funny shit and when they Photoshop stuff I love it.
Did you see the whole (Jason) Dill ‘style on you’ shit? Somebody asked you a question on Tumblr.
I remember, I tried to look.
It’s basically this picture of Jason Dill doing some ridiculous backside 360 ollie on some bank thing. And some kid photoshopped him out of the picture and put him like ‘downriver’ because he said that in an interview. And then they just kept doing it about random shit related to Dill.
Yeah I love that, it’s funny. It’s funny when it’s not on you.
I was going to ask a question about Brooklyn because I thought it was pretty funny. Your response to a question “I’m moving to Manhattan next month, I’m 21 and I don’t know a thing about the city. What are some of your favorite places to go?”
Those questions I hate actually because I actually have to think about them. Sometimes I take the time…
Your response was “just hang out around where my friends live – lower east side, Chinatown. Food is easy in NYC and meeting people as well. You’ll be fine. I don’t really go to BK but it’s cool out there.” I thought the last part was just hilarious because you live like a stop away.
Yeah I know but still. I was there last night... It’s not like I don’t go. I just don’t ever really go. I feel like that’s where all the young people move. Like here (Lower East Side) and there.
Are you ever going to move out to NYC full time?
I don’t know. I always get that question asked. The only thing is if I was making money or I had to be here, I would do it in a heartbeat. But I don’t. And my industry is in California so it makes no sense really. Or if I had enough money to have a place here and in LA I would fuckin’ do that, but, I’m waiting
So are you staying in a hotel here?
No I’m staying at friends. But that’s the dream. Have 2 places, bounce back and forth. Have you ever been to LA?
No I’ve been all around, but never in LA
I don’t know. LA is a lot harder to like. It’s really easy to like New York because there’s a lot of shit going on, LA is a lot slower pace.
I was going to ask questions about pretty sweet and all that bullshit but…
Dude ask anything, ask away.
What kind of skateboarding do you like? Like what kind of style?
I don’t know, that’s so hard to describe in a way.
Pin it to like 3 or 4 pros or AMs.
Oh like, who I enjoy watching? Well everyone likes Mark Gonzales because he’s creative, different, unique... blah blah blah...we don’t have to go on about that. But like BA (Brian Anderson) has the same type of Gonzales niche. Dill does when he’s like skating skating… Ave.. Ok like.. style, power…style and power…like when PRod does a trick in person I’m like blown away by how good someone can do something, like how precise it is. I’m impressed by that sometimes. It’s not like my favorite, but I enjoy seeing that...precision. I don’t know, I’m just trying to think of…these are like my favorite skaters…(Sean) Sheffy, Ave, BA , (Mike) Carroll, like Sheffy’s powerful, like this huge guy on this little board, he has so much power…Carroll has a lot of finesse and I don’t know has style as well. Rick Howard, style guy, finesse. Some guys are really light and some look like they’re a meteor coming crashing down, I don’t know how. Natas is another guy with like a lot of power. People like love Natas and I wouldn’t say he had the best style but… A) He was so ahead of his time in making shit up with Mark Gonzales, but also he was this big powerful guy and I don’t know power, there’s not that many powerful skaters. Like Reese Forbes is a powerful skater. Andrew Allen is a weird like power finesse dude. He’s just big.
Yeah…how do you feel about the spread eagle tre flip?
I hate it. Fuck, that needs to go away. It’s just gross. I like Ethan Fowler’s tre flip, Jason Lee’s, and Brian Anderson’s tre flips, and Carroll’s.
4 favorite tre flips right there?
I guess, I can’t think of more…Anthony’s (Van Englen) switch tre flips. BA’s switch tre flips. I don’t know I just like when it’s rounded out… not like when it’s not rounded out at all, it’s just caught but I don’t even know how to describe it.
It’s like a kickflip basically
it doesn’t go far out and you like bring it back. I used to love that and I thought that was the coolest way to do it. And then when I got older I thought, no, it’s better to have it just come under you and just land. Ethan Fowler has a good one. He has, yeah its kinda ninja style, but it’s not out, it’s up
Yeah it’s with him the whole way.
I don’t like when...I mean some people like when it goes out and they bring it back…the yo-yo.
How do you feel when people ask you about the clothes you wear and like your style of hair?
I mean those questions are just annoying to answer just like…and then I have to be careful what I say.
Because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I guess?
Well it’s just the companies I skate for, off the record, they will get pissed if I’m not saying like ….well, “I don’t wear Nike clothes, I wear Uniqlo.” So those questions are just annoying like I don’t know dude I just wear like what I see.
What you enjoy.
How do you feel about the whole team handsome thing?
Um...it’s cool...um whatever…it’s funny.
I think it’s like dying down.
Dying down? No it’s not like we said like…it’s just like an inside joke, it’s stupid, it’s just funny and it’s fun to fuck around. It’s nothing?
I’ll ask a Tumblr question, “Do you get vibed at Stoner Park?” Like how do you feel about the vibes like when you go to a place and like …do you feel more comfortable in certain places that others? Like Stoner Park.
Well of course. Stoner Park like I know a couple people there and its one of those things like I don’t know, no I don’t get vibed out…I mean I get vibed out some places, but that shit happens when you’re a kid. When you’re an adult it doesn’t happen unless you’re the buttfuck out of Kansas City or something skating in some park where you don’t know anyone. That’s probably the only time you feel like that, when you don’t know anyone. Or when there’s some asshole trying to be like super good. But I think that you build up a wall from that shit. You’re just like oh, whatever.
What about like, not necessarily Tompkins, but New York compared to LA parks?
There’s that new LES park that looks amazing.
I haven’t been to it yet, kinda bummed
It’s alright; I mean it’s open today...
My board got stolen from the gallery I work at.
Really? That sucks.
Are you planning on having a Nike SB Chronicles part? I know it’s supposed to go in installments, do you know which one yet?
Yeah the third part. Anyone who was on girl is going in the third one.
Oh so it’s like you, Cory (Kennedy), Brian (Anderson).
I feel like the 2 younger dudes can just do it like that because they stack footage so quick. Me on the other hand, I like need mental thoughts and it’s like a whole mind uck. But I’m kinda excited. That, in my head, is gonna be my last part. So I don’t know.
I don’t know I think so. I mean who knows. Whatever.
Well it’s like those videos take so long I mean this one took, last one took 4 years, this one took 4 years. That’s 8 years. The next one’s going to be a year and a half. It’s the last one that I’m really going to try…the others, whatever. I don’t give a shit about. I mean like Rick Howard is gonna have…his part now is going to be better than his part when he was younger.
I had a question, but I forgot it… do you see yourself working in skateboarding like in the future ever, after pro and retirement, or just focusing on art and music?
Yeah that’s why I do those things. To be honest whatever, I guess, kids would ask “oh we want to see more footage of you” and stuff, and that’s because I was really tripping out on like the fact of uh, what’s it called, oh I have to give up skateboarding. Like I never gave that any thought and the fans kind of shook me into that reality and I was like oh no…I really don’t have any other talents. And that’s why I got so heavily into photography. Like I would go and assist because I need to learn some kind of craft, because I’m going to be so fucked. And be like a team manager…I mean team managers are cool and all, I don’t want to discredit them…it’s just not what I want to end up doing. You know, like a professional baby sitter.
Have you thought about going to college at all? Or getting a GED and going to college?
Maybe not college, but definitely looked into getting tutors and doing that in my spare time. Focusing on that soon. Just like getting a tutor and focusing on whatever I want to learn. I mean I take piano, but that’s not really…well anyways…a tutor for a bunch of other stuff. Like I thought about maybe getting an art history tutor. Because I feel like you would just learn faster than like sitting down at school. But I don’t know you’re not certified, but I don’t think that really matters anymore.
No honestly not at the place you’re at now...
I mean I thought about going to college, like art college, but it’s impossible. The skating thing is like a lifestyle, it’s not like a 9-5. Like oh there’s a trip, you gotta go or oh you have to be in New York.
Are you here on a trip or are you here on like personal--
I was here on a trip but I extended it to film for Pretty Sweet. And now I’m just here for the 4th
Is a lot of your Pretty Sweet video going to be in New York?
Um, not yet. We’re working on it.