If Alex Olson is not skating or DJing, he’s running Call Me 917 and Bianca Chandon. Everybody knows he’s got a lot going on creatively.
Since Alex has been a No Comply Member for a while and he’s got a headline DJ gig coming up this week in San Francisco we chatted about why he needs new waves in his life and can’t stop surfing, why he thinks skating is at a breaking point, his all-time creative inspirations, how Guy Mariano got him on Girl, filming for ‘Swoosh’ and ‘Cherry’ with Bill Strobeck, watching Cult of Tom, the reason he loves Funkadelic and his favourite art, photography and skate spots ever and more.
When did you first get sponsored?
I wasn’t on anyone at first. I got flow with a bunch of people.
I had a rare circumstance where I got a cover on The Skateboard Magazine in 2007 and I then got put on flow on Alien Workshop and Nike.
I had just got a cover, and so I figured I was going to progess to the next step and that they were going to put me on Alien.
I called up and talked to them but I didn’t say anything about it but they did’nt mention anything about it.
I was a bit shy, naturally, and I just called up for more boards and also just to see what they would say about me potentially getting on but they just said ‘cool cover and that was it!
I was like…ok.
After that I was bummed. I thought then that I wasn’t going to go anywhere.
Why did you think that?
I dunno, maybe in retrospect, I was handling it with more of a kid mindset because I thought it was all going to happen to me immediately.
But shortly after I got in touch with Scott Johnston and he got me on Lakai flow and as Scott was hooking me up they said they wanted to put me on.
I thought, wow this is gnarly!
Then I had to tell Greg Hunt I was kinda sad because I wasn’t going to get on Alien.
I thought maybe this isn’t going to happen for me, so I just hit him up to ask him what my cards were. I basically found out I wasn’t going to get on so I told him thanks for everything.
Where did you get boards after that?
I’d been skating Toy Machine boards before Alien Workshop and I was skating with the Girl guys, around the time Guy Mariano started coming back around again.
I went skating with Guy and he asked me where I got my boards from and I told him I don’t get boards from anyone and I just stopped getting boards from Alien.
Then he asked me if I would like to get boards from Girl!?
It was a really big moment for me, it was at this beach thing, the Huntington Open.
It was a big deal. It was an honour to be asked by Guy Mariano to be on Girl.
I couldn’t believe it.
I started filming with Girl, I went on a trip and somehow got the most footage. That doesn’t usually happen to me! But after that trip they put me on.
It’s strange but when you go to the right places, it can all happen.
I don’t think it’s strange.
I think it’s the people you’re with that motivate you.
Or the people around you that intimidate you or that maybe you are fearful of that make you think I need to turn it up, show up on a board, and put yourself into uncomfortable positions to not to be seen in a certain light by people you look up to.
Sounds gnarly, what trip was that?
It was just a US Lakai road trip.
The first one I went on, I don’t remember when it was, I remember it was gruelling though.
Who inspired you to skate transition?
I was inspired a lot by Julien Stranger and John Cardiel.
I wanted to skate like them but Lakai was more of a “fresh”, street orientated company at the time. Skating was divided at the time and I felt differently.
What did you think at the time?
A lot of that stuff I did with Girl was hokey though.
When you’re a part of it, a lot of it felt cheesy. I was like this feels like Powell.
I think after Pretty Sweet came out that was the the boiling point, after seeing that video, I was like this is pretty far from where you guys originally were.
I signed up to Girl for Mouse-days era.
I slowly stopped skating with Mike Carroll or Mike just faded away and it just got to a point where skating for Girl felt like being on Powell to me personally.
I was romanticising of a time that did not exist anymore, Girl had changed and it wasn’t what I wanted for myself at that time.
You were on Brian Anderson’s short-lived 3D for a bit right?
Brian was fed up so he started 3D and I thought maybe I’ll go over there with him.
At the time I did’nt have the confidence to do my own thing nor did I think people would care enough if I did. I did 3D because I thought there’s no way I’m going to do my own thing.
But then when that started I saw the 3D board graphics I was like woah, that looks like a lot what we left at Girl, the vision we should be, were trying to break new ground, why are we doing the same thing?
For whatever reason I think Brad Staba was pressuring Brian to do stuff.
Yeah 3D did look like Skate Mental
Anyways, I thought 3D just isn’t for me, I’m going to leave this now before it starts.
It’s like if I was an actor and you read a script and you realised that the part you were about to audition for was not for you.
I knew I would leave later so I thought I’d leave when I did.
I think it hurt my relationship with Brian at the time and I just felt bad but I just thought I’m leaving because I’m not happy where I am and this is part two of that and I don’t want to fuck you over too or maybe I did.
I did feel responsible for it but I had to face it the shoe did not fit.
Better at the start than in the middle.
There were loads of trials and tribulations that just added up and it just wasn’t the right fit.
With that said, I started to get boards from Deluxe.
I was getting flowed figuring out what to do and felt pressure from Nike, they were like what are you up to?
So I started Bianca, I didn’t want it to be a skateboard thing, I wanted it to be an experimental art project, something without a category definition.
Bianca and Call Me 917 are killing it. What have you been up to?
Not skating that’s for damn sure.
Yeah. Surfing that’s my new obsession.
Unfortunately it’s taking over and it’s my new disease.
How did you get into surfing?
Skateboarding is cool, it’s part of my life but I don’t get the same thrills.
Also, I don’t like filming. The amount of effort it takes to get a trick is not that rewarding.
As soon as you get a clip your like I need to get 30 more of these?
Being at my age now and the climate of skating now and the sheer ability of where people are at and I’m talking from pros, younger and older, dudes who are on it, you want to be able to keep up but at this point it’s so far ahead, it does’nt feel good.
It probably feels like when an older woman’s looks start to fade or a runner who starts to age and slow down or whatever, it’s the realisation that you are no longer the pretty girl in the room anymore and you might be slowing down.
A woman whose beauty faded maybe should have worked more on their personality
Regardless of that woman, she still feels that pressure because there’s a younger pretty girl that possibly makes her feel less attractive in the knowledge that there’s younger guys who are more attracted to them than to her.
Regardless, you and I don’t know what that feels like but that’s probably true for any athlete.
I don’t mean ‘I’m an athlete’ but I’m sure Magic Johnson felt like that when Michael Jordan came around or..I dunno I can’t think of anymore basketballers.
Do you worry about filming?
I’m not worried about it.
It’s one of those things I tried to get footage and I couldn’t get footage and it made me realise that filming skating for me is not the same as it was.
For all the videos I’ve been in I’m the guy who shows up in the fourth quarter and scores a bunch of points and that’s worked many times but throughout my history that’s how its got done.
Cherry was filmed mostly in a day.
Fully Flared, it was mainly in one day or one trip.
I stacked a lot of footage for Pretty Sweet and I was only filming for six months.
I’m a last minute Charlie.
For example the Swoosh video, that was all in three days.
When your recipe doesn’t work anymore that’s when your foundation starts getting shook, your like OK, what’s going on, as your so used to it, when it doesn’t fire then you start trying to troubleshoot.
So what motivates you to skate?
My skating is all based on emotion, all of that stuff, any of my footage, it’s all based on how I’m feeling.
I can tell you in Swoosh that came of the back of a long winter in New York.
I was feeling stir crazy.
I went to Paris in April, I went to see my dad prior in California, and when I skated in Paris I was really excited to skate as I hadn’t skated the whole winter.
What about Cherry?
Pretty Sweet had just come out, I disliked the video and all the pressure that came with it and hadn’t skated for 5 months.
I was like dude I wasn’t skating and Bill Strobeck was saying come on, come out!
I’m wearing all white and pigtails and a Supreme box logo and we came out, and my friend Jeff was in town and I was excited to see him, little kid style and he was filming for Boys of Summer and suddenly that’s when the inches turned over and I was like let’s go!
That’s how it has always been, if I’m excited I can get footage but if I’m not I can’t do anything. I’m really motivated by emotions, it’s a really dangerous combination.
It shows in the footage.
Right, you’re not in the moment.
What do you think about kids who film every trick they do?
Yeah but they don’t know anything else so they can’t compare.
They have technology that helps them be in the moment and whatever the future is like, they will look back at now and remember it as the time they were in the moment, if you get me?
For sure. What’s your favourite skate video?
I tried to watch a skate part two days ago, I couldn’t finish it. I dunno, it’s one of those things.
We’re at a boiling point.
I think skating needs to change, everyone is so talented now but they’re not doing creative tricks or they are creative, they do really hard tricks but it’s still not enjoyable to watch.
Skating definitely took a big turn in 2014-2015, tricks, the boards, people, a lot of skaters started getting sponsored who weren’t naturally talented.
But we’ve hit a wall where you know that guy can go down the biggest rail or on ledges but it all just looks the same, there’s something missing, it’s a generational thing too.
How do you mean generational?
I realise each generation has a particular style of how they hold their bodies and this new generation they’ve learnt to square and hold their weight so well and so many other things, everything is achievable nowadays it seems.
Not everything’s memorable nowadays though
Yeah, it’s not the same as when you talk about Jay Adams going to that Del Mar contest and when he showed up and nobody knew what he was going to do.
Neil Blender at the contest where he just spray painted on the wall mid-run.
The Gonz trying to jump over Pat Duffy, those things stick out forever.
It’s hard to be truly original now
I would say everything’s kinda washed out almost, overstaturated I meant.
Everyone is good, everyone deserves product and to be pro and there is endless media of new content, so you don’t get to to sit with anything or learn anything.
I remember when an album came out, back in the day you were forced to listen to the bad songs, you paid 20 bucks so you had to listen to all of it and you started listening to the bad songs because you became accustomed to them
Nowadays it’s like an echo chamber of ideas and tricks and trends. It’s different to the 90s it’s not as simple as it was but still things are mundane. It’s hyperised.
Both of your brands are definitely changing that though
Whatever thank you but we are at a breaking point in skating where there needs to be a fresh point of view, and right now for me it’s surfing.
Back in the days when my dad grew up with Scott Oster, they all skated and surfed.
I think you’re going to see that become a big thing, people doing both.
I think you will see more skaters surfing and I think that will be the next trick.
The Crossboarder is on the way!
No, really I think you’ll see it because kids from San Diego are becoming that good because they can do both.
When there’s no waves they skate and vice versa. I also think it would be more interesting if you saw that and it would bring a new perspective to skateboarding.
I don’t know what it is but I think there’ll be a change and I’m ready for a change.
My dad, Mark Gonzales, Neil Blender, those guys they grew up in a time when skateboarding was a diferent form of expression, there was freestlye, slalom, there was vert, there was street but now everything has become one.
Skating now is like eating a steak dinner with a different side of potatoes, whether they are mashed, or baked or whipped , or whatever it is, it’s not a new dish, it’s still the same, it’s just dressed differently.
I think modern culture as a whole just looks backward for inspiration, all we’re doing right now is referencing.
Agreed. Are you working on any new projects?
At the moment, no, I’m still finding what that is.
Staying curious, as you get older, your ability gets less and your curiosity lessens and if you’ve been doing something for so long, you’ve explored everything.
The whole 90s boom, I’ve already been there.
When I was 19 on Lakai, in 2005, I was watching old 90s skate videos like Eastern Exposure and old Consolidated videos, it is what is.
Kids now have an endless library of subculture they can look through online.
There’s so many sites and pages
Cult of Tom for example, there’s stuff on there I’ve never seen.
I wish that it existed when I was a kid, there was so little footage of Tom Penny, its great that Instagram page exists, but without Youtube and Instagram the progession of skateboarding would have been held back to where it is now.
All kids watched everything back in the day but I think the difference is now I don’t think kids go back to watch anything nowadays.
People just consume media differently, not just skateboarding, everything.
Who’s your favourite skate photographer?
At a time when skateboarding was changing he was documenting it.
He was young and experimental with his photography and he had a lot of iconic photos for me around the time the landscape changed from vert to street.
He was there at the right time.
Who’s your favourite musician?
I like Eddie Hazell from Funkadelic, he wrote Maggot Brain.
He was originally a guitarist for Funkadelic and when they started they wanted to be the black Led Zeppelin.
I loved the Free Your Mind album and at that time, LSD was a new drug being passed around at the time and everyone experimenting with it was creating all of these new experimental forms of media and music.
A lot changed due to that because a lot of people were sick of things at the time and the drug made people think differently in that time in the years 1964-1965 music changed drastically and art changed radically.
Free Your Mind was recorded all in one day on acid!
Funkadelic after a few years disinterested me, with Bootsy, it was too campy for me but Free Your Mind and Maggot Brain, the experimental ones were they were still trying to find their sound, I found those the most exciting.
Where’s your favourite skatespot?
Republique in Paris is one of my favourite skate spots ever.
I didn’t know about Republique we don’t have plazas in America.
I mean we do but you get kicked out, they’re not like these huge sprawls like you get in Europe, so I was so excited.
Once I got there my endorphins were overflowing.
Robert Heinecken is one of my favourite artists.
Walter Pfieffer. When I started Bianca, I was reading through books of his works.
Jurgen Teller is another one.
Vivianne Sassen was a huge inspiration at one point.
Maurizio Cattelan, an Italian artist who did work on toilet paper.
My friends have a DJ group called Rug and Tug.
Their parties have a raw energy unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before .
Lastly, do you have any advice for finding creative balance?
I’d say try and keep trying and get to a place where you can do the stuff you want to do and keep layering.
If you like writing and playing music, then depending on how you work, figure out a way to put them together.
I can work 12 hours a day deep into the night and that’s what works for me.