12/17/10. My introduction for this interview is simple…It’s Mike Fucking Vallely! Read it.
The Mike Vallely Interview
TIS: So what’s this I hear about you recently breaking your arm while playing with CT’s Danbury Whalers Hockey team?
MV: Yeah, I don’t really know what happened. I guess it’s just the way my arm hit the ice, and perhaps the padding I had on my elbow, and the fact that I was kind of standing still and my feet fell out from under me, so I didn’t have any momentum. It’s been hard to reconcile because I felt like the way I fell wasn’t that severe, like it wasn’t a fall that was going to damage to me. It was definitely a bum out.
TIS: Yeah, and that was your first league game right?
MV: Yeah. I had gotten to skate in a scrimmage game and had gone through about a week and a half of training camp, and prior to that, I had training here in California for about two months. So it’s kind of a bum out for it to have gone down the way it went down, but at the same time it was also at a moment where I was actualizing a dream, so I find it’s hard to get too bummed about it. It was a very joyful experience as well.
TIS: Sure. So you mentioned training out in California and I’m actually out here in CT and wondered how you hooked up with a team from our here?
MV: Well I’ve been trying to get on a professional Hockey team for upwards of five years now. I’ve talked to a bunch of different teams through the years, and skated, and practiced with quite a few of them, mostly West Coast teams- a team in Fresno and a team in Bakersfield. I had moved the dialogue far enough to where the teams were considering doing something with me from a marketing and promotional stand point, and they understood how much passion I had for the game, and that I could be someone who could help promote the game to people who wouldn’t normally be tuning in.
Basically it always came down to taking a roster spot. The teams wanted to do it, but by league standards, I’d have to be signed to a contract, and that’s where it became harder than we’d anticipated. If I signed a contract that meant someone else wouldn’t be playing. So through certain Hockey connections I had made, I was introduced to the owner of the team in CT. It was a brand new league, and brand new team. He came out to see me at a signing I did at Zumiez, and we met for lunch and talked and he said he was willing to sign me for a contract, and so that’s basically how it went down.
TIS: Cool. So switching gears, I grew up on Powell Peralta’s Bones Brigade and wanted to know what your experience was like during your time with them back in the 80’s?
MV: Yeah, I grew up on the Bones Brigade as well. The very first skateboard video I saw was the Bones Brigade Video Show and I’d always valued the Bones Brigade and Powell Peralta as the ultimate in skateboarding. So it was June of 1986 when I was asked to join the team, and it was a dream I wouldn’t have even dared to dream. I would dream of being a pro skater, but I never dreamt I’d be discovered by Lance Mountain and Stacey Peralta, who were two major heroes of mine, and be asked to skate for that team and be a part of their company. It was really heavy man. I mean so heavy and so unbelievable that we’re still talking about it, you know what I mean?
MV: It was a long time ago but it was a heavy thing for me individually, in my personal life, I mean the fact that I had actualized this unbelievable dream. I think there was a bigger story happening there too. When I got sponsored, it symbolized a major change and a major shift in skateboarding. Through getting sponsored and becoming a part of the Bones Brigade and Powell Peralta, doors were being opened. The entire culture was shifting from ramps to street, and I sort of became a poster child for that. So not only did I get sponsored, but I was also put on this “pedestal” and this became a sort of sensation in skateboarding which hadn’t really happened before. It was a very intense time period in my life. I was fifteen years old and went from one day skating the streets in front of my house, to being a part of this team. I was based on the East Coast and was suddenly flying out to the West Coast all the time, and skating with guys I’d been watching in videos and reading about in magazines. It all happened so fast and was a really incredible experience.
TIS: That’s amazing man. I personally began skating back around ‘85 and have seen tremendous growth in the sport, and that’s just an outsiders perspective. You’ve obviously lived it and been and integral part of it, so I wanted to know about your experience of skateboardings evolution, from a first-hand account.
MV: Well when you see what it’s become today, you realize that it’s still so very young, and it’s still got a long way to go. But yeah, it’s a sport, and these guys are athletes, and that’s the new language. That wasn’t the language when you and I started.
TIS: Haha, definitely not.
MV: Right, we didn’t call it a sport necessarily, and skaters definitely weren’t thought of as athletes, we were thought of as misfits, you know?
TIS: All too well.
MV: It’s just changed so much. Prior to Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Christian Hosoi and those guys, a pro skaters career usually lasted 2-3 years. Steve Caballero has been a pro skater for 30 years now. So when I came on board, Steve was already pro, but I became a part of a generation that had proved this wasn’t just a trend or a fad. I posted a video on Youtube a few days ago of a news clip from 1987. It was of a Bones Brigade demo in Florida and the reported said before airing the footage, “I heard there was a demo in town but I thought the fad had ended”, and so many kids are commenting on this video saying, “What is this guy talking about, a fad?” They don’t understand that at that time period, that’s how it was looked at. That may sound sort of minor, but to me that shows a huge difference in how far things have come.
When I started skating I had that twisted Sister video moment where my dad came in my room and said “WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE!?” and I said, “ I’m gonna be a pro skater” and he said “THAT’S NOT EVEN A REAL FUCKING THING!” (laughter). So I had to prove that it was real, and I’m not alone in that. There was a lot of us that had to prove it, though sometimes I felt completely alone in it, in walking down that path. I mean it wasn’t an easy path to walk down. I don’t think anyone really cares, or if the stories will ever be cool, but to get from 1984 to 2011, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears man. There were pro skaters in the 60’s and 70’s too, who were all very important as well. There was Torger Johnson who was a pro skater in the early sixties, maybe one of the first pro skaters, if not the first. He influenced Peralta and Alva and those guys in the 70’s, that’s how big of an influence he was.
Obviously we know how important the Dogtown skaters were, and are. It was so cyclical at that point, and it had been a trend or a fad, but it was those mid-eighties guys that were the generation that made it real. So to be one of those guys, a pioneer, it’s very rewarding. There’s a lot of people who champion you and that time period, and embrace it because it means a lot to them, but then there’s other people that really doesn’t give a fuck. So you get both sides, and it’s tough. It’s tough being an older skater now and being seen like that and not being appreciated for just being a skateboarder, being classified you know? A lot of times I have to take a mouthful of bullshit from some punk who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about and I just have to laugh.
TIS: So people actually step up to you and say some shit?
MV: Yeah man, kids at skate parks will step up and challenge me to a game of Skate, but I’m over that, I really don’t care. I’m all about participating, and I’m all about being a part of this scene, but there’s certain vibes I just don’t get along with. I’ll play a game of Skate for fun with anybody, but if it’s for pure, true competition, then fuck you, I don’t care man. And they’ll try to apply the rules of the day to the game, where you can’t touch your board with your hands, or you can’t step off your board, etc and I want nothing to do with it. It’s like a game from a different planet or something and it’s hard for me to relate to anybody who would think of skateboarding in such a narrow way.
TIS: Yah man, that’s really unfortunate.
MV: Yeah, that’s not the way it always is, but it stands out because it just hits you so hard.
TIS: Yeah, but they obviously know better than to actually try to get physically confrontational with you right?
MV: Yeah, it doesn’t go there, but there’s a lot of time when skaters think they know everything because they’ve seen videos of you, and seen you on TV or the internet, and there’s ways of throwing jabs and being inconsiderate and not having your manners. I mean I’m not going to beat somebody up for talking smack to me, especially another skater.
TIS: And that’s lucky for them. So going back a to 2003, Greg Ginn invited you to sing for Black Flag at their reunion shows in LA, where you performed the entire My War album from start to finish. Can you tell me about that experience?
MV: Yeah, so my band Mike V and the Rats had been opening for Greg Ginn for at least thirty shows during a bunch of his performances over Southern California, and we became very friendly with him. I was, and am, a huge Black Flag follower. The first show I ever saw in 1984 was a Black Flag show, so they’ve always been huge in my landscape and a huge part of who I was. So we were really exciting about gigging with Greg, and as the gigs moved along we learned he was doing all of them and performing some Black Flag songs for what was going to be a Black Flag reunion show. When we caught wind of that, we asked about opening up one of the shows. He told us that unfortunately he wasn’t running the shows and bands were being assigned like the Descendents and Bad Brains, to make it a huge throwback night. So we were like cool, can we get some tickets (laughter).
So we left it at that but somewhere along the way the script changed. I don’t know exactly what happened, but it got pretty political at some point and Greg called me up and asked for Mike V and the Rats to open one of the shows for them. Of course I said yes, and that we’d be honored. He then asked me about joining them as a guest vocalist. He’d seen us perform so many times and felt I could do a really good job with their songs. Then he mentioned doing the whole My War record from cover to cover. I asked him, “Well what about the guy who originally sang on that record? Wouldn’t he do a better job than me?” and he said, “Yeah, but that’s not going to happen” so we’d like to have you do it. I didn’t really have to think twice about it. I mean it was like, are you kidding me? To stand on stage and perform these songs, from this band, and this record that meant so much to me. So I said yes and signed on.
The shows were at the Hollywood Palladium and were sold out. I don’t know the exact capacity, something like 4,000 people I think, and I think I did a stand up job in delivering the material, making it my own and belting it out. The crowd was a little indifferent to my participation, they felt a little ripped off, so it was a strange weekend, but I was on cloud nine, I loved every second of it. And like a Black Flag show should be, it was confrontational. I had no problem with that (laughter). I saw Black Flag in 1984 and as endearing as Black Flag is as a band, and as much as people point to them and love them, when I saw Black Flag play, people were fucking spitting on them, cussing them out and throwing shit at them. It was violent, and well, that hadn’t changed (laughter).
TIS: Woah. So you mentioned Mike V and the Rats and I know since then you guys have broken up. You then went on to form Revolution Mother, but you guys have been on hiatus for a while now. Can you tell me a bit about Revolution Mother as a whole, past, present and future?
MV: Sure, we’re going on just about over a year since we’ve played and that’s just a matter of us needing to take a break. I’d broken my leg in 2005 and was working on my TV show Drive, and my skating wasn’t really up to a level where I was comfortable with it, so that’s when I made a major time commitment to doing the band, because I was still a ways off from skating at this certain level. I put a lot of time into getting the band going and it kind of caught on. We went out on the Warped Tour for the summer of 2007, and that steamrolled into a European tour, which steamrolled into shows with Bad Religion, Social Distortion, and Danzig and we were just running it man. Opportunities just kept popping up and we kept saying yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. So towards the end of 2009 I was just like, “Woah, man”. We had record labels, managers, agents, just so many people involved and everyone was pushing for us to keep going, but I was like, hold on a second.
The general feeling was that the band was on the verge of “making it”, whatever that means, but in order to actually see that through, it looked like another two years of touring, with a new record thrown in somewhere in the middle. I thought about how I didn’t start this band to “make it”, and while that’d be nice, the work that would require and time away from my family and other pursuits I was interested in, I just didn’t know if I could reconcile it. I had to put on the breaks, which led to the band taking this year long hiatus. But we have a show coming up next month and we’re looking forward to that. We got together and it sounded great. The energy of the band felt great. I feel like the songs are really good and stand up.
I don’t know what’s next really, if anything, but we’re definitely open to playing some shows. We just want to keep it in our control, so everyone is comfortable with what we’re doing. We have four members in the band, plus the people you take on the road. It’s a very expensive pursuit and there’s not a lot of money out there to be made, unless you’re willing to commit your entire life to it. Especially when you’re at the age we’re at, and you have a wife, and kids at home, and bills to pay. It’s not an easy thing.
TIS: Cool, well I definitely dig the rock.
MV: Yeah, thanks man.
TIS: So I had no idea when I went to see both Paul Blart: Mall Cop & The Hangover that I’d be getting some Mike V, which was a pleasant surprise. Can you tell me the story behind getting involved with those films?
MV: Sure. With Paul Blart, the skating action was written into the script and part of the story. The more they developed the movie they felt the skating aspects, and these particular characters, were integral to the story. Apparently, they’d targeted me from the beginning as the real bad ass guy in the group. So from the producers to the stunt coordinator who was in charge of working with us, they were aware of who I was, and they brought me in to do a reading. I don’t know how well I did but guess it was good enough for them to hire me. Honestly, I’ve been called in like a hundred times and can’t say that I’ve always valued that opportunities. It’s often a sense of obligation, like “Hey, this could pay really well, because well, Hollywood pays really well” but I never put much stock in it. I wasn’t completely indifferent to this though.
So I was on tour and had a day off, so they flew me in from the Easy Coast to the West and I did the reading and honestly, it was almost a hassle. But they called me and told me I got the gig and I was surprised. Then they told me I’d have to be there for the entire shooting of the movie which was two and a half months and again, I was surprised. Most movies I’d worked on before took only a day or so, so I realized this was a pretty big deal. I got to the set and was involved in a very integral way, which was a fun experience to be a part of.
I love the movie and think it’s hilarious and I’m happy with my work in it. So it was really cool, and kind of came out of nowhere, and felt really good- especially the skating aspect. I got to do some different things skateboarding that I’d never done before, and one thing no one’s ever done before which was to skate from a ramp onto a moving element, which was the elevator, so that was really cool.
TIS: So that scene was full on legit?
MV: Yeah man, completely legit. So getting to do stuff like that was exciting for me. I love new challenges. So that’s how the Paul Blart thing went down. The Hangover came about because I had and have a personal relationship with the director of the film Todd Phillips, and he’s actually a fan of Revolution Mother and had come to some of our shows. He’d been asking me about writing, or giving him a song for the movie. I also knew one of the stunt guys on the film and they had a scene coming up which was considered a role as well as a stunt because it was in a van on the highway going seventy miles an hour and you couldn’t just put an actor in there. So the stunt coordinator suggested to Todd Phillips that he knew me and I had a good look for the scene and Todd said who Mike V, I know Mike V, let’s bring him in. It worked out that it’s the scene where the Revolution Mother song is playing, and it was just a really cool experience overall.
TIS: Yeah, it sounds very cool. So in the about section of Mikevalleley.com, it says that your mission is: “To live an authentic life of original experience and pay back on a daily basis every ounce of guts he has to skateboarding and his ever expanding fanbase.” I think that’s pretty damn admirable and wondered if you could talk about how you feel your accomplishing that?
MV: Haha, I didn’t write any of that.
TIS: Yeah, I know, but still feel it’s true.
MV: Well here’s the thing, I’ve been credited with, and have heard a number of times through the years that I “give back” or “pay-back” or am “charitable”. Well I don’t believe any of that. What I do is I take action because I value the position I have, the career I have, the life I live, the people I interact with, my fanbase, my friends, however you want to say that. I value those relationships and I use the opportunities they present to me. So because I value them, I make time for them, and I desire to have a dialogue that’s positive, and communicative and moves forward, and is about something real, not just consumption. I don’t want to be an object of consumption. I like to get out there and participate because I care about it. It’s not because I’ve gotten filthy rich off the hides of young skaters (laughter) that I feel some sickening obligation to act on, and make myself look like I’m not that bad of a guy. It’s because I actually care.
If someone told me I had to give back, or I’m supposed to give back, or I’m supposed to do these things, I would reject that. My actions are those of valuing and caring. So it’s a bit of a slight change in perspective, though it sort of means the same thing. Where I’m coming from is that nothing I do is from a sense of obligation, although I’ve probably in the past spoken about it in that way, because I possibly didn’t have the right words to use then, which is maybe no different than the stuff on my website, which are just words.
TIS: Sure, I get that. So I work with kids, many of whom have had a rather tough life, and I know you spend a lot of time working with them as well, on top of which, you’re a father. In closing, can you talk about the importance of nurturing our youth and the importance of strong role models, which you’re personally seen as by many kids?
MV: Well role models and heroes are vital, and I think a big problem in our society is that we don’t have heroes anymore, or maybe the heroes we have are just so full of shit it trickles down, but those aren’t heroes, it’s something else. I grew up with heroes, people who made me aspire to raise my game, to dream bigger and I like to keep it that simple. Everything that I’m really about is being an individualist. I believe in individuality. I’m not out here on the front lines trying to create clones, or consumers, or worshippers of who I am, and what I do. I’m trying to nurture the idea that you should do your own thing, which is really powerful. I don’t like to get too involved in the idea that “I’m a role model” and that everything I do is right. I don’t think that’s the case at all, but I think who I am at my core, and what I represent at my core, is something that is meaningful, and can be something that other people can gain inspiration from. That’s not necessarily what drives me, but that’s also what I think makes it that much more powerful.
TIS: Yeah, well the work I see you doing with kids in your Drive show, and in general, definitely shows a man that gives kids something to aspire for, and I think that’s really cool.
MV: Well, you know, I feel like the best thing, as far as what I do with kids, is I treat them like human beings.
TIS: Amen to that.
MV: Yeah, I don’t talk down to kids. Usually someone my age who’s talking to a ten or twelve year old is yelling at them. Through skateboarding, I have an open line of communication, some common ground and common ground is big man. That enables me to travel around the world and no matter where I am, or who I’m with, connect with other young people, and I can have an instant dialogue and an instant relationship based on the fact that we skateboard, and when I’m doing appearances and demos, that’s not lost on me.
I understand that these people are all there to see me ride, that that’s why they’re in the building, and whether I have ten people, or a thousand people come out to see me, they still came out to see me, and I take that to heart. I strive to do my best every single time and I think that’s something the skate community knows about me and appreciates. I try to acknowledge everyone that’s there. I don’t see masses, I don’t see it like, oh there’s hundreds of people here and I’m overwhelmed. I just try to think, well I could be a kid in that crowd, or my daughters could be in that crowd, and no one wants to feel like they’re just part of the masses.
I always try to individualize everything, every person. I see individuals and that’s why I’ve never fallen for racism, or any type or classification of people. I judge individually, not by color or creed etc. But I also judge harshly, individually (laughing). I’m not like, oh hey everyone is so great, no fucking way! It’s not all love man, “judge and prepare to be judged, harshly”.
TIS: And I think we have our perfect ending. Thanks so much for your time man. Ever since seeing you in Public Domain I’ve been a big fan and really appreciate all you’ve done for the skateboarding community!
MV: Cool man, thanks a lot.