A couple months ago I went up to Echo Park to interview Brian Lotti for an article that I wrote for the second issue of The Kayo Magazine that corresponded with his new collaboration with Organika. I was super stoked on the chance to sit down and talk with Lotti. I’ve been a huge fan of his skating ever since I can remember and he’s also an amazing artist with an interesting story. I knew it would be a really cool conversation, but this interview really flowed – and that’s coming from someone that’s done hundreds of them. I wanted to post the full version here since the print version is just a summary with a quote and there’s a lot more in there. Brian was equally hyped on everything we talked about, so it was only right to share it with all of you. Check it out below.
48 Blocks: Your roots are from Salt Lake City and Vegas when you first started skateboarding. Tell us a little bit about your history when you were little and you first discovered skateboarding and lead up to when you actually moved to California.
Brian: I lived in Salt Lake City in Utah, it snowed there a bunch; but I had relatives that lived in California. My cousin lived in San Jose, and one Christmas my aunt got me a skateboard. She sent it to Utah and it was under the tree. I was into BMX at the time and then I got into skateboarding and it was just the funnest thing ever. I saw the Bones Brigade Video Show – the first Powell video. Watching Lance Mountain sloppy curbs and stuff, and skate ditches; then I saw Thrashers and I saw Transworld magazines. In the magazines street skating was starting to be a thing. I lived in Utah, so I did’t really know anybody; but somehow I started meeting kids and I started street skating with kids in Utah. Then I moved to Las Vegas and experienced that whole crazy scene – skating ditches and bank to walls. It was Vision Streetwear, Gonz boards, jump ramps, and then H-Street. I skated Vegas and got sponsored, there was really good stuff to skate in Vegas. I would travel to California to skate in little contests and stuff or just to skate with friends. My family was big on me going to school, I had to get good grades to skate. So at a certain point when I graduated high school, I was like “alright, I can move to California and skate with the big boys; but I gotta go to school at the same time.
48 Blocks: So when you moved to California, you were skating for H-Street.
Brian: Actually, when I was a senior in high school; I was living in Las Vegas, I was skating for H-Street, and the H-Street guys decided to start a new company with Chris Miller called Planet Earth. For some reason they thought that I would be a good fit for that, I was into like nature and animals; I think I was vegetarian at the time or becoming vegetarian. I thought Chris Miller was rad, so I got on Planet Earth. I turned pro for Planet Earth and Sal Barbier turned pro for H-Street. I was still a senior in high school. That kind of sealed the deal, so when I graduated from high school I was like “all right, I’m going to school and I got a job – I’m gonna be a pro skater in California, let’s do this.”
48 Blocks: Let’s talk a little bit about that time period. What was skateboarding like back then?
Brian: I guess skateboarding in the late ’80′s and early ’90′s was pretty undefined. Everyone kind of knew everyone and the scene was small. There was two magazines, Thrasher and Transworld. Maybe one video would come out a year from some company. Everyone knew everyone, the scene was small and skateboarding wasn’t cool. My friends used to get beat up in high school for skateboarding. When I turned pro skateboarding wasn’t that cool, there weren’t a lot of people that did it. It wasn’t really that defined and it was more about just having fun. It was like, “what can we do today?” or “this guy did this yesterday, can you do that? Can you backside lipslide on a flat rail, oh that looks sick. Maybe you can backside lipslide shove it – oh that’s easy, okay. Maybe you can backside lipslide to fake.” I don’t know, I guess it was a lot more casual and it wasn’t that serious.
48 Blocks: Gotcha. What about art, when did painting come into play and what influenced you to start creating art?
Brian: I always drew and painted and messed around with stuff – even in high school. I went to this school, and for whatever reason I didn’t really get along with a lot of kids in school. I would spend lunch hour in the art room by myself making stuff. I was pro for a couple of years and had always kind of dabbled and drawn, but at a certain point I broke my shoulder really bad and I was really messed up. That’s when I got really into photography and painting. I remember buying a bunch of oil paints and I was like “ah, these smell good” you know. I got a canvas and started painting and I was like “wow, this is sick; there’s something to this.” That was when people like Jeff Tremaine were working at Big Brother and Marc McKee and Sean Cliver. Those guys were really cool, they were like “oh, you’re painting – why don’t you try this or do those; or here, here’s a roll of film – go take some pictures.” I got pretty interested in that stuff and I was around people that were being pretty encouraging about it too.
48 Blocks: That’s kind of interesting with my next questions. Cause it seems like that Big Brother scene and being around Tremain and Cliver influenced you artistically, but at the same time I read and interview with you on the Chromeball Incident website where you mention not being completely psyched on the World / Rocco “someone has to lose” ethos, which is kind of different than the path that you took after that. So, I wanted to ask you about your feelings about the direction of that company at that time and if you were conflicted at all about what they were doing?
Brian: In hindsight, it’s really just my own stuff that I was dealing with cause I was just an insecure kid who basically had a bunch of shit that I had to deal with. It was tough being in that scene cause you kind of had to have thick skin to be in the Rocco camp, you know. Yeah, I don’t know – in hindsight, what was the deal with Rocco and the whole World Industries thing? It was awesome. They made the best boards, they had the coolest graphics, Big Brother was totally fun and totally awesome – I loved all the guys that worked there. I guess I was just bummed, some of the graphics that would come out would be a joke on you. You’d be like, “that’s cool,” but in the end you came up on the short end of the stick. That was the way sometimes, but whatever.
48 Blocks: Directly after that you went on this introspective philosophical pursuit. You went to Hawaii and studied Zen Buddhism. Was that sort of a result of that time period?
Brian: No, really – I had my existential crisis because my dad passed away when I was fifteen and I always moved around when I was a kid. I had stuff that I had to deal with. I probably got as serious about skateboarding as I did because my dad passed away and I was kind of in a quandary. When I couldn’t skate the way I wanted to, I was like “fuck” and I started freaking out. So yeah, getting into meditation and getting into making art and stuff – it wasn’t skateboarding, I love skateboarding and I think skateboarding is awesome, it was because I had some life lessons that I had to deal with.
48 Blocks: What was life like during that time period while you were in Hawaii? What were you doing? No one really knows about that time in your life.
Brian: Right! Sessioning man, I was fucking seasoning. I was working at this retreat center – the Zen Buddhist Retreat Center. Cooking, I was one of the cooks there, and meditating – doing sitting meditation and just kind of getting a grip about who I am. Taking a look at life, taking a look at life and taking a time out – taking a breather.
48 Blocks: After that you went and finished art school in Northern California, then you returned to skateboarding in 2004. How had your perspective of skateboarding changed after taking that break and finding yourself?
Brian: I think I appreciated skateboarding in a whole new way when I came back. It was like “wow, out of all of the things in life that you can do – skateboarding’s a pretty cool thing.” You have a lot of freedom and as a pursuit in this world it’s pretty rad. It’s not about killing people or doing damage, it’s pretty pure expression of freedom or whatever – being alive. I think I appreciated it more, I wasn’t salty about being some little pro that got on the short end of the stick.
48 Blocks: I wanna talk about film making. I read in another interview you said that your painting prepped you for film making. I can see the artistic connection in your landscape paintings and your films which depict people cruising the streets and adapting to their environment. How do the two mediums play off each other for you?
Brian: Painting and film for me are both about seeing things. Seeing the landscape, what’s cool about the landscape – it’s just cool to see skateboarders, I think with the context of skateboarders it’s cool. It’s like yeah, that guys doing a trick, but what if he’s doing a trick in relation to this other thing – this hill or this building or something. For whatever reason when I came back to skateboarding after being away it was always like “how can you make skateboarding seem interesting to people that don’t skateboard.” Show it in a way so people understand it as this pure thing that’s pretty rad.
48 Blocks: So Karl Watson, we were just talking to Karl on our way up here and he talked about you being one of the biggest influences on his skateboarding. He actually just realized that recently after re-watching your Now ‘N Later part and seeing certain tricks. Talk a little bit Karl and your memories of him. You were around him, he was part of the World camp when you were on Blind. I’m sure you guys knew each other for a long time. What do you remember about him?
Brian: I remember skating with Karl at the Embarcadero mostly, skating in San Francisco. Yeah man, he always had a smile on his face and he was a total little skate rat. I just remember each time I would go back to San Francisco, he was a little bit taller and getting better and better. Then I remember that I quit – I wasn’t really into skateboarding, but I would look at magazines and just kind of follow what was going on and I was seeing that call was getting better and better and better. I think it was seven or eight years ago that I saw footage of him and I was like “gosh man, he’s like doing some rad stuff. I remember he did this nose manual trick off of this ledge that dropped off. He did this nose manual to 360 out, and I was like “fuck man, I wanted to do that!” But he did it, it’s like there it is – that was rad.
48 Blocks: So, obviously you guys linked up for this new project with Organika which is a board series and there’s going to be an art show attached to it as well. When you were conceptualizing it, what themes were you drawing upon? You mentioned that each board in the series has a theme to it. Tell us a little bit about this project and what it represents.
Brian: Yeah, I grew up on the edge of the suburbs riding bikes through trails and skating in ditches. I’ve always been into landscapes. A lot of the stuff that I paint has landscapes in it. I’ve been wanting to do a series of boards where they’re vertically formatted landscapes – usually when you think of landscapes, you think of a horizontal, but I wanted to do a series of vertical landscapes with different colorways for each of the boards. Each of the landscapes would be a different kind of areas and maybe kind of represent or express the guy who’s board it is – like his nature, or in this case represent where the guys live or skate or what not. Everything kind of has this bird’s eye perspective. You’re kind of looking down from the sky and there’s a path, there’s a trail that kind of runs up through it – a river, a road, a street. I tried to pick a view that kind of represented each guy – like this is the Bay Area, from the Oakland Hills – looking down at downtown Oakland, Berkeley, my imagined view of Mount Tamalpais; this is kind of like a sunset view when everything clears up and there’s clouds, there’s little sailboats in here. These are block prints, eventually these are going to have color; it’s kind of a fun process to do for these graphics. This is nature mixed with a city (points at one graphic). This is pure nature (points at a different graphic) here’s mountains and a river for some reason I thought this would be a cool graphic for Adelmo, just kind of wild, raw, pure, nature. This is kind of like a countryside landscape (points at different graphic), kind of like a farmstead, rolling hills, but there’s a barn, a little tractor, roads, some trucks, two hawks circling, that could be Mount Shasta – when I drew this one I was thinking of Walker Ryan. I thought this would be something that he might be kind of familiar with in North County above San Francisco. And then with Quim Cardona, I was thinking of a view – I didn’t wanna do New York City per say, but I was thinking of a city – some little city or town in New Jersey where you’re looking out towards New York or a little downtown area in New Jersey; but it could be anywhere. It’s the general idea that it’s a landscape, you’re looking down, it’s a path with buildings or mountains, it’s all kind of the same – I guess nature. That’s one of the things about this series, it’s all the same nature, but it’s different too. That was the fun thing to play with, the buildings kind of look like a mountain canyon.
48 Blocks: Yeah, I think with this board series it kind of directly relates or reminds me of something that you mentioned in your Huck Magazine interview about the concept of the “New Natives” and various people being affected by their surroundings. It’s really reflected in this artwork, so it would be rad if you further explained that concept.
Brian: Yeah, right! Like skateboarders, people that ride bikes, people that ride motorcycles – we’ve been out in the landscape for so much of our lives that we know areas really really well. Some people know every city in California, every part of it totally well. Day after day, people are out skating – out in the landscape. I think a big part of what we dig in skateboarding is not just doing tricks, it’s our relationship to places and different places, and how we kind of move and journey about. That’s a big part of our life. So yeah, in a way I would say skateboarders – they’re like the new natives, or people that ride motorcycles – we’re like the new Indians. We have a relationship to places and for a lot of us that’s probably more meaningful than the the things we have or any little thing that we do. A big part of our lives is where we play and our relationship with the landscape.
48 Blocks: Awesome. Tell us about your film project Mountains To Sea, is that still in production right now?
Brian: Shoot man, I wish. We did a pretty big push to try an raise funds to get an actual production into gear, but man – it’s hard to get money for videos these days, especially for alternative videos. I mean the spots and the ideas and plans are still here, but we gotta wait for the right benefactor.
48 Blocks: So outside of this project with Organika, what else are you working on currently and what do you have planned for the future?
Brian: I’m working on a series of paintings right now. It’s kind of a mixed series – landscapes, portraits, and kind of imaginary landscapes, and some skateboard landscapes – landscapes that have skateboarding in them – paintings based on film stills or photographs. Painting and working on some more skate graphics.