We've all heard the noise. Along with getting to ride one, being a skateboarder also grants you exclusive membership to one of the most creative subcultures on the planet. And just as most of us get addicted to the juice we get from rolling, many of us also get heavily hooked on the endorphin mainline that comes with limitless creativity. And on the highest altar of skateboarding's creative hierarchy, board companies—in their purest uncorrupted form—represent the heart and soul of everything that we believe in. They each tell our story in their own way, and each represents a new chapter in our big book of why.
Having gone through the highly publicized team downsizing, and temporary brand death of Alien Workshop last year, Gilbert—along with Jake Johnson, Tyler Bledsoe, and former DNA TM Chad Bowers have since begun writing a new chapter in our book that we now know as Mother Collective. Seeking the very same creative freedom that Mike Hill, Neil Blender, and Chris Carter sought when they left G&S in 1990 to start AWS, Gilbert and his cohorts at Mother are now poised to repeat the experiment from the same location, on their own terms, a quarter-decade later. With his part in the Vans video simmering, the following are Gilbert's thoughts on it all along with his milestone that we call a Pro Spotlight. No more corporate blues.-Mackenzie Eisenhour
PORTRAIT / O’DONNELL
Let's start with the obvious one. Break down how Mother came about and how you chose to ride for them?
Mother is here because Chad Bowers believed that there was a place for something like this, and Jake [Johnson], Tyler [Bledsoe], and I agreed. It's inspired by music and art, and skateboarding pretty much is music and art.
How quickly after the demise of Workshop did this happen? How long were you in limbo, board sponsor-wise?
We talked about it [Mother] almost right away. But we didn't do anything for six months because everyone had shit that they had to sort out. There were a lot of reasons that we didn't want to rush it, and I think that it came out a lot better this way. We all got time—both for us, and for Chad—to refine what we wanted to do.
I really like the basic premise of it—just highlighting all the influences: the music, artwork, and lifestyle like you said—that came with being a skateboarder.
Yeah. I'm just psyched too because I've always been so heavily influenced by all those things. Then, along with that, we all get to have as much input as we want in our own graphics, ads, edits, and everything else.
Who is on the team right now?
Just Tyler [Bledsoe], Jake [Johnson], and myself.
No ams or flow?
No. We haven't done any of that yet. The first boards are being shipped right now. We're just trying to get it rolling now and then we'll figure that out when we need to.
“IF THIS [MOTHER] DIDN’T EXIST THOUGH, CHOCOLATE WOULD BE MY FIRST CHOICE. I’D BE BANGING AT THEIR DOOR. I LOVE THOSE GUYS.”
Were you talking to any other companies right after AWS fired you guys?
Not exactly. I did briefly talk with Sam Smyth about Chocolate. I love those dudes, and it was just one of those things where I was already pretty much in with Chad [Bowers] and Mother. It hadn't really happened yet, but we had been talking about it a lot so I knew that that was what I wanted to do. If this [Mother] didn't exist though, Chocolate would be my first choice. I'd be banging at their door. I love those guys. I love Marc Johnson. I've looked up to him my whole life. But it was just timing I guess.
Can you give your perspective on everything that went down with AWS?
My perspective is probably just as good as whoever is reading this. I don't know what happened. We all got fired, nobody called us. Well, Chad called us, but he got fired too, so it was sort of him calling us all to tell us we were all fired together.
Have you talked to him more about it since?
Yeah. I've always talked to Chad a lot. He had a huge hand in getting me on Workshop. I had talked to him first when I was getting on, and he talked to everyone about me. So he had always been my bridge between [Mike] Hill/[Chris] Carter and the team, before I knew everybody. Then when things started to get weird, he was the one who let us know too, like, "Hey, shit's getting weird over here, but we still have jobs for now."
It's funny because Hill and Carter sort of had roles similar to Chad at G&S. They left G&S to start Workshop, now Chad has moved on from Workshop to start Mother—and all sort of motivated by the same search for creative freedom.
Yeah. It's really cool to see where he's at now with his ideas for it. To see it go from just talking about something to just being able to do it. It's amazing. It's fun. Every time we talk about ideas, we just get juiced. We bounce everything off each other, and that same process is happening with Jake and Tyler, so it's cool to be a part of this artistic process.
It seems like in that sense having a super-small team is perfect. The bigger the team gets the less voice the riders have.
It's pretty sick to just have us three.
What does the tagline "No more corporate blues" mean to you?
I think there are brands out there that have so-called "corporate" ties that are doing amazing things; like Vans for instance is obviously tied to some corporate structures [Editor's Note: Vans is owned by VF Corp.] But Vans allows me to do what I want to do, and they understand that skateboarding is a creative process. I think that there are certain corporations in skateboarding—or backers, like we had with Workshop—that don't understand that this isn't solely a moneymaking business. It's a creative business. My favorite musicians don't make a lot of money off of their music. My favorite artists don't make a crazy amount of money off of their art. In the same way, my favorite skateboarders and skateboard brands don't make that much money either. That's just how it goes. Some corporations start out by coming into skateboarding looking to make money off of it. That's obviously the wrong intention for you to initially get your hand in it. That's just wrong. It always comes across wrong in whatever they put out, and eventually they leave badly. I don't think that that tagline is supposed to be super obvious, but that's what it means to me.
“I DON’T HAVE ANY HARD FEELINGS. IT’S WEIRD TO SEE IT ALIVE AGAIN FOR SURE. I DON’T KNOW THOUGH. I DON’T HOLD ANY GRUDGES.”
You guys just left a company that pretty much died due to corporate involvement, so I think most people would read it that way. I did want to ask you too, though—this was something I talked to Pontus Alv about—it seems like the board brands do best when they are left completely alone as far as corporate backing. But on the shoe side, Mother riders might ride for Vans or Polar riders might ride for Converse, Bianca Chandôn/(917) riders might ride for Nike. It seems like this is becoming the new dynamic.
Yeah. I think it goes along with what we were saying about us having a voice now with Mother. I think back in the day, most companies started along the same lines. Basically people wanting to do something different—people wanting to do their own thing and wanting to express themselves through the brand in any and every way they can think of. And that starts with a small amount of people, people that give a shit. The board brand usually carries a lot more of a person's identity than their shoe sponsor.
Yeah, like the board brand is sort of the heart and soul of what we're preaching. So it makes sense for them to be uncorrupted.
Exactly, and at the same time, board brands don't make a lot of money.
Right, and the shoe brands do, so it almost makes sense to have them be more corporate.
You said you didn't hold any grudges as far as Alien. Is it strange to see it come back now?
I don't have any hard feelings. It's weird to see it alive again for sure. I don't know, though. I don't hold any grudges. I think that it happened for a reason, and I also think that we're in the position we're in now with Mother and all this new juice because of it. It feels right.
The Vans video will be out by the time people read this. Speaking to all the people in the future who have seen it, how are you feeling about your part?
I'm pretty happy with it. I've sat down with Greg [Hunt] three or four times to work on it. We sort of just went through it, weeding shit out that I didn't want in there. Just figuring out how we would tie it all together. He has great ideas, and obviously his filming and editing are amazing, so I feel good about it. It's really cool to see what he's doing, but it's also just weird to see five years of footage together.
Is it weird to have all Workshop boards and shirts throughout?
Oh yeah. That's almost all of it. But none of that bothers me. I still respect all the time that I rode for Workshop. I loved it and I loved Workshop, so I'm proud to still see all of that in there. There's one clip in there, though, that is actually five years old and I look like a fucking teenager [laughs].
“I THINK THAT HIS [JAKE JOHNSON’S] MIND FIELD PART CHANGED THE WHOLE PERCEPTION I HAD OF SKATEBOARDING.”
Have you guys talked about doing a Mother video?
We've vaguely talked about it. Obviously, at some point that will happen, but it's not anything concrete yet.
Is Jake Johnson fully healthy now? He had a couple injuries, right? A motorcycle accident or something too?
I think he actually had a couple of motorcycle accidents, but I'm not really sure. I know he's healthy and skating now though.
Is he still just traveling around, or has he settled somewhere?
He's in Japan right now, but he's living in Upstate New York—like an hour outside of New York City. He moved back there, and I think he's planning on staying there at least for a little while. I haven't spoken to him lately, but over the past few months, just getting everything rolling with Mother, we were keeping in touch a bunch. Hopefully, when it gets a little warmer I can get up and skate with him in New York more.
What about Tyler Bledsoe? It seemed like he went through his own little thing over the past few years. He was off etnies, then everything happened with Alien.
Yeah. I think he's doing really good now though. He's filming something for Fourstar right now. I've seen a clip or two from that, and it's really awesome. I know that he's been ripping lately—just skating back and forth between Portland and LA.
How has your approach to filming changed since Ride The Sky ['08]?
It's a lot different. I don't think it has been fully conscious, but I was just telling Chad [Bowers] the other day that if I had to name a single person who has had the most influence on me since I was a kid, it would have to be Jake. I think that his Mind Field part changed the whole perception I had of skateboarding. It flipped the switch in my mind, like, "This is how you can do it." Ever since that part, I approach everything differently.
It seems like he set the mold for a lot of stuff recently. He wasn't the first to do no-complies or switch wallrides, but when he did them everybody had to do them. Even with less flip tricks, he seems to be pushing that basic side more too. Almost like the backlash to über-tech.
Yeah. I think a lot of people are inspired by him, including myself. It's not super conscious for me—and maybe it is for other people as far as a backlash or something—but I think that the way skating is going, there are definitely two different directions to the way people do it and also the way people view it. For me, sometimes it's just hard to give a shit about everything. A lot of stuff that I see certain pros doing I can't even relate to. Somewhere along the way, something gets lost. I guess I can relate it to art in the sense that if you're looking at some super technical realism painting—and it just looks like a photo—if I'm looking at that, I'm not going to give a shit necessarily. I'm going to see it and probably just walk right by it.
“I’M NOT GOING TO JUST PUT SOMETHING ON MY SKATEBOARD OR WEAR SOMETHING FOR NO REASON. IT’S ALL THERE FOR A REASON. I JUST CARE TOO MUCH I GUESS.”
Like it's technically amazing, but it doesn't stand out?
Yeah, right. I'm not going to remember it because there's nothing there but a picture. But if I see some fucking shitty-ass folk-art painting that somebody did who didn't go to art school, doesn't understand any sort of composition, or have any tools but is just making art for the sake of making art, I would be way more attracted to something like that.
I think you nailed it. You talked about your OCD last time we talked. What are you obsessing about these days?
I don't know. I just care way too much about everything [laughs]. I can't just put a pair of socks on or I can't just put a pair of jeans on. I'm not going to just put something on my skateboard or wear something for no reason. It's all there for a reason. I just care too much, I guess.
And you're still not drinking?
Yeah. Both of my parents had trouble with alcohol, so I just never messed with it. Like I said, I get carried away with everything. I have a really addictive personality. I know that if I started drinking or doing drugs, I'd probably ruin my life. So I'm probably not going to do those things.
All-time Virginia legend?
Prediction for best part in the Vans video?
Agave. That's what we used to call AVE.
All-time favorite skateboarders?
Marc Johnson, Anthony Pappalardo, Anthony Van Engelen.
All-time best board company?
Alien Workshop, Mind Field era.
Order Vans Propeller on iTunes now.