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The AWS Resurrection and The Workshop Ams

By the time you read this, the relaunched Alien Workshop will have officially beamed down their five new ams. They are Joey Guevara, Frankie Spears, Paul Liliani, Max Garson, and Brandon Nguyen. The resurrected all-am roster—perfectly suited for the Am Issue—caps a tumultuous two-year stretch that saw the drawn-out exodus of staple riders, the technical "death" of the brand, followed by a much-publicized "resurface" under the Tum Yeto Distribution umbrella late in 2014.
While plenty of ambitious armchair critics, former riders, and clairvoyant bloggers have since given us their stories as to why, how, and because of whom all of this transpired, the people we haven't heard from is the Alien Workshop itself. Here, on the occasion of their first tour, in the words of longtime Sovereign Sect liaison Brant Van Boening (who is working closely with AWS OG creator Mike Hill) is that story. Still rooted—heart, brick, mortar, and soul—in Ohio (not in Southern California as some have posited), the following also provides the first reports of their new HQ in the Midwest—a former top-secret nuclear weapons research bunker capable of withstanding an atomic blast and soon to serve as the new mothership. The hour is here, again.
Words by Mackenzie Eisenhour
Photos by Jonathan Mehring

Frankie Spears, backside ollie. (*Click to enlarge)

Frankie Spears, backside ollie. (*Click to enlarge)

Interview with Brant Van Boening

When was the decision made to officially bring Alien Workshop back?
We accepted the terms in October officially and began working on this new chapter "on the clock" November 1, 2014. That's around six months from the PVH [Pacific Vector Holdings] dropout, and in reality a very quick turnaround with so many things to consider.

Was there an actual decision, or was it always a given it would resurface?
The "end" of Alien Workshop via PVH, I think, brought mixed emotions for everyone. The brand is forever, and no one would want that to go away. That said, the issues over the past few years have been exhausting, and I think there was almost a subconscious sigh of relief when the lights turned off, all awfulness aside. A terrible day for skateboarding, but I think the team, office, and art department had been jerked around so much through these transitions that the breaking point was reached long ago.

Brandon Nguyen, wallride. (*Click to enlarge)

Brandon Nguyen, wallride. (*Click to enlarge)

When did the actual relaunch begin?
Rob [Dyrdek] had started to reach out after the dust settled. Habitat was well placed, and he had finished negotiating personally paying off the debt that the licensing company had created. It is my opinion Rob just couldn't let this whole thing go down on his watch. He is an excellent businessman, and this was a definite black eye. The brand was solvent and very much relevant and the creative better than ever, yet through the evolutions it became underdistributed, micromanaged, and an endless sea of frustrations. Bridges burned. Accounts bummed. Team riders leaving. This is not what the Alien Workshop has stood for all these years. I think for Rob it was a wake-up call. He sees the future and knows that this was just a blip on the radar and that, done right, Workshop will continue to influence skateboarding for years to come. Rob is one story, but convincing Mike Hill that things would be different is another thing entirely. Without Mike Hill's hand in this, there is no Workshop. Period. That brought on the most discussion, not the "why," but the "how." Ultimately, we feel good about the current terms and are proud to be creating products for the Alien Workshop once again.

How did you guys decide on building a whole new team of ams?
After we knew we were building from scratch, Brennan Conroy [TM] brought up a few names and we explored those options briefly. This is in regards to existing pros or "soon to be" feasibly by launch. Ultimately, when looking at timetables there's the harsh realization that nothing should be rushed just to fill out a pro roster. Brennan continued coming up with guys he liked, and we were doing the same. We watched so many videos in such a short time, during this process we collectively decided we had to have kids who were down heart and soul.

Did you feel like you found those riders?
The five we have basically jumped in on the spot. No second-guessing. They get it. The interesting thing is that four out of the five actually have roots with the Sect from before. They were in the ranks but sheltered from all of the drama of the previous configuration. So yes, it's a "new" team, but these guys are not green behind the ears. I personally like to think of it as our sleeper cell. Brennan had Miguel Valle all set as our filmer, and things started falling into place from there. Joey has told his story with TWS, Frankie was at the top of everyone's list, and Paul is someone that I cannot believe is not already a household name in the States.

Frankie Spears, frontside feeble. (*Click to enlarge)

Frankie Spears, frontside feeble. (*Click to enlarge)

So choosing all ams wasn't some kind of message?
Logistically, it makes sense to have a younger team that we can invest in. These guys can become the new era and build their future accordingly. There are no rules. Since its fruition, the guys have been on filming trips nonstop and having fun together and ripping. They understand what it's about and are willing to put the Workshop first.

What's the official team as of July 2015?
We've currently announced the following three as I mentioned above: Joey Guevara, Frankie Spears, and Paul Liliani. Then two more ams currently not yet officially announced but will be by this publication date are Max Garson and Brandon Nguyen.

What was the biggest change in production?
This goes back into your question of the Workshop resurface. Part of the discussion of the "how" was focusing on the art direction. Alien Workshop has always had a strong message, and it was just not being conveyed through rounds of prebooking, corporate line chops, budget adjusted offerings, uninformed production managers. We needed a partner that was capable of producing and distributing products without nitpicking every step of the way. Someone that gets it. Tum Yeto is that company—100 percent skate, no BS, efficient, capable of producing items on time and getting them into local skate shops worldwide. That's all we want: for a kid who likes a board to be able to find it and ride it. So that's production. Using PS Stix and Creative Urethanes. Same vendors we've used for years that we all know and love, licensed and distributed by our friends at Tum Yeto.

Brandon Nguyen, backside 180 five-0 revert. (*Click to enlarge)

Brandon Nguyen, backside 180 five-0 revert. (*Click to enlarge)

Is the brand still based out of Ohio?
Absolutely. This brand is Ohio at its heart and soul, and we all know it. Without that Midwest ethic, we are dead in the water. The Workshop has always had the moniker "Issued under the Sovereign Sect." This is a greater vision Mike has always conveyed in the undertones of all Workshop propaganda. Under these new terms of agreement, Rob has released specific rights to build our own agency, and that is the very reason I'm able to grant this interview to you today. SECT is now a stand-alone, physical entity. SECT is Mike Hill, artist Phil Valois, and myself. We have been commissioned to create for the Alien Workshop. We answer to no one. This gives us an opportunity to communicate our message in its purest form. To put it plainly, this is now the Alien Workshop as it was always intended to be.

What are the Mound Laboratories? I was told Dyrdek had already bought this former top-secret nuclear weapons research laboratory for you guys to work out of.
Part of SECT jumping back into all this with enthusiasm is having the right space. You are correct; Rob has purchased for us a decommissioned government facility known only as "Building 100." This specific space is part of a larger grouping of parcels but is completely isolated from the rest. It was initially used as a precinct and training facility for the site's security forces. Approximately 5,000 square feet on five acres of land. It's entirely concrete and three sides underground with the exception of the entrance. Made to withstand nuclear fallout and the Lord only knows what else. It's in the final stages of renovation and will serve as both a way to isolate us from the outside world when necessary, but also as a place of outreach and education. Part of SECT was always this broader goal of teaching and community outreach. We now have a space to hold events and classes, for artists and friends to work out of, et cetera. Again, this is something that ties in directly with the heritage of the company. You can't make this stuff up! A true hub of creation.

Joey Guevara, frontside lipslide. (*Click to enlarge)

Joey Guevara, frontside lipslide. (*Click to enlarge)

From what I can tell, Mike Hill and Chad Bowers had worked together closely for a number of years. How did Chad end up splitting away to start Mother (now Quasi)? Was that his own decision?
Chad was both an art assistant and handled the team. He definitely put in his time and was a part of a lot of great things that happened. It's my understanding that during some of the last days he had seen the writing on the wall and was talking about doing his own thing. A lot has been thrown around lately about how it all went down, but I think the thing to focus on for us is that the Alien Workshop aesthetic is ultimately driven and curated by one thought stream. I would dare to say almost everyone under the age of 40 living in a first-world country has heard of the Alien Workshop, or has at least seen/recognizes the logo. In regards to its place in skateboarding, everyone has an opinion. Look at a Facebook post or our Instagram comments. Love it or hate it, people feel strongly inclined to voice their thoughts. This is also true within our own ranks. Team members have a fondness for a certain aesthetic or time, romantic notions of a specific ad or video part. We all want what's best for the brand, but we all have different ways of seeing that happen.

I think that's where we landed with a lot of the team and management. These guys have ideas and opinions, and much of it was in different/conflicting directions. And some of that was discussed, but ultimately the decision was reached to start fresh. No previous baggage, no egos, no team hierarchy. It has been the Workshop's privilege for all of these people to be a part. And looking at where they're all at now, or if we basically say a year out at this point, they're also happy doing what they're doing. They get to leave their personal mark on skateboarding in a new way, and the Workshop thrives on with a new dawn and consistent message.

What do you ultimately hope to bring with this new incarnation of AWS?
It's a different landscape now. With everything cycling through faster and faster and all the new brands and commodities along with it, we're able to live somewhere in the middle. We have this long-standing history but are now operating as a start-up. We're hungry to break new ground and proudly move forward with our team. We have a video coming out shortly after the time of this publication date. I personally look forward to every bit of art coming out of the bunker.

Frankie Spears, frontside noseblunt-slide. (*Click to enlarge)

Frankie Spears, frontside noseblunt-slide. (*Click to enlarge)

BRANDON NGUYEN
What does riding for the Alien Workshop mean to you?
For me, riding for Alien means having the opportunity to be a part of a company that I have always looked up to. It means that I'm able to participate in something that I fully believe in.

How is the Sovereign Sect different from other companies?
Hill, Carter, and everyone that has been involved in Alien's past and present have always had a very specific and defined vision whether it be with its art direction, videos, riders, et cetera. I feel that looking towards their work provides a much better explanation than I could ever give as to how the Sect differs from other companies.  

First to turn pro?
It's difficult to say. All of those guys are incredible skateboarders, as well as people.

Brandon Nguyen, half-Cab backside wallride. (*Click to enlarge)

Brandon Nguyen, half-Cab backside wallride. (*Click to enlarge)

PAUL LILIANI
What does riding for the Alien Workshop mean to you?
It feels really cool. It's obviously pretty crazy how things went down over the past couple years, but the way they're doing things right now, everything feels really natural. We've all been on a trip together, and everyone involved is tight.

How is the Sovereign Sect different from other companies?
I think the history of AWS is what makes it different. Videos like Memory Screen and Timecode have such a unique aesthetic. Everything the Workshop has put out over the years has been different, but without feeling forced.

First to turn pro?
Joey Guevara or Max Garson.

Paul Liliani, nollieflip over the rail. (*Click to enlarge)

Paul Liliani, nollieflip over the rail. (*Click to enlarge)

JOEY GUEVARA
What does riding for the Alien Workshop mean to you?
I'm very psyched to be a part of Alien. It's been one of my favorites since I saw Photosynthesis.

How is the "Sovereign Sect" different from other companies?
Their graphics, music, style, and spot selection all tie together.

First to turn pro?
Brandon (Nguyen).

Joey Guevara, backside 180 nosegrind. (*Click to enlarge)

Joey Guevara, backside 180 nosegrind. (*Click to enlarge)

FRANKIE SPEARS
What does riding for the Alien Workshop mean to you?
Riding for Alien means a lot. It's amazing to be able to get the company going again. I understand there are huge shoes to fill considering what it used to be, but it's just a skateboard company and it's been through many changes before. I'm stoked on what's going on with it and getting to be involved, can't wait to see what the future has in store for it.

How is the Sovereign Sect different from other companies?
I think it's different because of how much effort Mike Hill puts into it. His videos and graphics are incredible. As well known of a company as it is, it's cool to know it's just a small company out of Ohio—and really still is.

First to turn pro?
Joey.

Frankie Spears, Ollie. (*click to enlarge)

Frankie Spears, Ollie. (*click to enlarge)

MAX GARSON
What does riding for the Alien Workshop mean to you?
I've been so inspired by Alien videos my entire life, but I never thought of the company as a possibility to ride for. I understand what it was before and what it is now. I've heard the wide range of spectrums of how people feel about it, all the ups and all the downs, but to me honestly, I'm just hyped for this opportunity to meet new people and skate new spots and keep it fun. I'm hyped on the new team, and I'm motivated to skate and film for whatever is to come.

How is the Sovereign Sect different from other companies?
I think the art direction is a huge part of it, but these days every company that's staying afloat has some sort of creative art direction keeping it alive. Alien has always had a unique way of portraying skateboarding, and I think that's what will help keep the Sovereign Sect different from other brands.

First to turn pro?
I'd like to see Paul go pro first because he's been down for Alien the longest.

Max Garson, switch five-0. (*Click to enlarge)

Max Garson, switch five-0. (*Click to enlarge)