Talking The Killing Floor with John Vitale

Josh-Anderson_Zachary-SnellenburgerThe Killing Floor’s newest recruit Josh Anderson. Photo: Zachary Snellenburger

Who rides for The Killing Floor?

Lance Chapin, Mark Gutterman, Josh Anderson, Nate Guest, and Andrew Gray..

Where does the name come from?

It’s from an old blues song that Howlin Wolf wrote. I actually just saw some little thing with Mark Gonzales recently where he likens street skating to the Blues, due to how most people didn’t have access to the vert ramps or parks back then. Just having to make do, or make something happen from what was there already without skateboarding even being a part of the equation. That kind of helped me realise what I saw in common between the two when I chose the name I think. To me skateboarding has always been based around an idea of interacting with your surroundings. I grew up outside of Atlanta in the pre 2000’s skating nothing but street, and a bit of ramps/obstacles we built ourselves. They were flawed, even though built for skateboarding, they had quirks that got to you. Street skating is the same thing. Every spot has its own personality, you have to see if you get along and mesh with it or not. These days theres so much built-to-skate terrain. It’s all so well made. its a lot of fun, and definitely a blessing to have, but some of the soul and the blues is gone I think. Maybe thats why my generation, and the ones that pre dated mine see skateboarding a little differently than the current one. I guess it’s a bit of an nod to the past with the name. I wanted to conceptualise The Killing Floor by some of the things that were hugely impacting on my personal perspective of what skateboarding was.

Would you talk a little about your influences?

They are all over the place really. Theres a good amount of musical influence, as well as some definite inspiration from art. Abstract expressionism, collage stuff… influence can come in so many different forms. I like art, or even skating, that is “loose”, that feels like it just somehow came out of you… not premeditated, at least not overly so. That approach always makes for an interesting outcome I think. I try to utilize that approach when I do graphics too. I tend to wait til’ the feeling is there, then I try to dive in and swim around until something comes out of it.

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How has the modern media and pop culture ‘sank its fangs’ into skating? – I completely agree by the way…

Glad to hear you see it like that as well. Skateboarding has always been a cool thing to do. People are enamored by it in general. It’s one of those things that catches your eye, sometimes it’s popular in our culture, sometimes it’s not. Currently, it feels like everything is popular. Modern media, pop culture, and just social media in general has brought everything to the mainstream. There’s no subculture anymore. Skating was bound to fall victim like everything else. That, and it’s predominantly controlled by corporate money now.

What kind of kids do you hope The Killing Floor will appeal to?

I wish it could appeal to all kids, That would mean that most kids had a healthy imagination nowadays hopefully, but really, it probably mostly appeals to the 20-30 something olds. A lot of the graphics might go over younger kids heads, the ones of whom it doesn’t, you guys are cool. Keep it up.

I suppose I intentionally brand and curate it like that. I try to make the Killing Floor something that i would get hyped on if i saw it in a shop. I’m 36, so it’s a lot to stuff that appeals to me. I’m not putting skulls and cartoon art on the boards. Theres some of that stuff that I like too, but it’s not what TKF is about at all. A lot of the boards have real concepts or people, or events inspiring them. I always wonder how many sales I must lose to younger kids, but I like what the brand is about. Hopefully there are plenty of people that like the things they see in it like I do I guess.

What brands do you back?

I run Love Child Inc.. We distribute TKF, Politic, and Scumco and Sons in the US, so I obviously back what all those brands are doing. Other than them, I like what Isle is doing, Pass-Port, Northern.co, Magenta, Quasi and WKND. There’s a lot of stuff I like right now. I think Polar’s new video is really good. Skating is in reset mode right now.

Andrew-Gray_heelflip_Garric-Ray2Team rider Andrew Gray, Heelflip. Photo: Garric Ray

What do you have planned for 2016?

A lot of refining and progressing I guess. I think skateboard graphics especially are in a period “enlightenment” sort of. What I mean is that anything is seeming to go. People accept any new idea pretty openly for the most part. There are brands putting out solid colored board graphics. Take it all how you will, its a unique time in branding and the skateboard industry is opening back up to new ideas like it did in the 90’s after the crazy popularity skateboarding had in the late 80’s. I look at skateboard graphics as an artform. Just like I see skateboarding. It’s a product, and it’s an object with a different purpose that’s meant to be abused and ultimately destroyed, but that actually makes it a pretty exciting and interesting canvas for a body of work or for a creative project. It’s a whole different process of creating, and presenting the artwork, as well as preserving it too. The preservation of a board graphic is totally by chance! If no one keeps one, how does it exist after its gone? So I’m hoping to expand on my vision of what I see the brand progressing into, and on what a skateboard company can be. Theres no rules is the rule for 2016 here.

How did the Mike Daher guest board come about?

Mike is an old buddy of mine, we had been talking about the idea of a guest board for a while, like 2 or 3 years. I think the time was just right. It was rad, it seemed like there was a lot of Daher love being given on the internet randomly, shortly before the board came out. He just deserves the love. He had such a short but utterly groundshaking influence on skateboarding.

Have you seen the Magenta Daher guest board?

Yeah, it’s rad! That would generally be sort of a weird thing I guess, but I see it as sort of an eclipse of inspiration, or respect for a style of skating. Mike deserves to have two guest boards out simultaneously. Especially where skating is right now. Ours was in the works for a while, but I think its rad that I wasn’t the only one to feel like he was owed a board currently. So much respect to them for that.

Do you have any other guest boards planned?

Yes. There’s a couple really good ones currently in the works. We just released a board in our Spring 16 drop for my old buddy, Jake Rupp. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to give some of my biggest personal influences a board. It’s humbling and inspiring. Hopefully I can keep paying a little humble homage to more folks that made an impact on me. We have a pretty rad one lined up for summer too. Something to look forward to.

Who does the graphics?

I actually do most all of the graphics. I’m the creative Director for the brand. I love doing guest artist projects, I try to collaborate with at least one artist I am inspired by every season. That’s really where TKF came from, it began as more of a creative project for me than a brand. But I’m happy with what it has grown into!

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Where does ‘the planet is doomed’ hat slogan come from?

The phrase “this planet is doomed” is actually from a book written by Sun Ra. It’s his book of science fiction poetry. I did a Sun Ra board graphic inspired by it a couple years back. But I also thought the statement was really currently relevant. It seems to resonate with a lot of people, And it’s very vague. People don’t necessarily know how to take it. You could be a nihilist, or a environmental activist. It means what it means to you, but I thought it was rad that it made so many people think. It catches people’s attention. Be prepared to be stopped in the street, or the grocery and questioned about it if your’e wearing that stuff haha.

What’s your view on shaped boards? You have a few in your range.

We only tend to do shaped boards in our F/W range usually. It’s sort of a once a year thing for us, if that…The rest of the year we focus on “regular” popsicle shaped skateboards. That’s our thing. I don’t really skate shapes, but a lot of my friends do. They are rad. It’s cool that we can all skate whatever we want nowadays. Skateboarding is totally open minded shape-wise now. I remember when popsicles were all you saw. No one “seriously” skated a shaped board. Or if you did, it was definitely noticed. Now you can just skate what you want. I like to treat the way we include shapes into our seasons like more of a special thing, or like a homage to when they served their purpose in skateboarding’s chain of relevance, but it’s really cool to see people all skating different kinds of skateboards nowadays.

Interview by Daryl Mersom. Give him a follow @fakiehillbomb. Photo’s courtesy of John Vitale.

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