Steve and I have talked about arranging this chat over a few beers so he can let rip with a few of those harsh opinions he’s so well known for, but, it turns out, we’re instead doing it sat in a Berlin café over a late morning breakfast; albeit with last night’s excesses a tad too close for comfort.
So, having roped Jan Kliewer and Arthur Derrien in with the offer of a free meal in return for some help with questions, we set about finding out what life is like for Steve now that he’s sponsorless and exactly how true that Negasteve nickname is...
….That’d be a great graphic: [a deck] with milky cow teats on the bottom, people hanging on it with swoosh shirts. Hang on to that teat as long as you can, fuck it! Haha.
Jan, you start. Your good at this shit.
Steve: Yeah Jan, say something smart…
Jan: Where did you start skating… How old are you… Where are you from…
J: I didn’t prepare for this…
Alex: Me either, I’m hungover as…
S: Isn’t that how it is supposed to be done?
J: You’re starting off a new career as CEO of Ashes Griptape. Is this the end of your pro career?
I hope… No, I don’t know what it is really. Ashes is just… I don’t know what it is…
Nollie back heel. Ph: Sem.
J: You were saying earlier that is was your plan to fail in the first year and that you’re good at failing, so you hope to fail at failing…
Yeah, since I’m good at failing [and] if we fail at failing we might succeed in creating something that’s fun, I don’t’ know actually hook up some people we like. Save skateboarding… If that’s possible.
A: That’s a bold mission statement.
I’m going to make that statement: Ashes is going to save skateboarding.
J: What made you choose the important niche of griptape to pursue this mission of saving skateboarding?
Everybody needs grip. It’s so versatile: you can sand wood with it, you can do your nails – you can do so much with it. Also we did some research and we had our marketing department working on it and we saw that the biggest profit margins are in griptape…
J: I heard you were at Bright tradeshow acquiring tips from industry insiders on how to market your product…
I was speaking to the insiders and the gave me some tips on how to milk it as much as possible. The best business scheme is to rip everyone off as much as possible, don’t do anything cool, don’t be creative, don’t do anything you like and sell your soul. And it will totally work.
A: So what’s the sellout plan?
Basically our product is going to be just the sheet. No grip on it..
A: Non-grippy grip?
Nothing. It’s just the logo actually. Fuck it.
A: No cuddly bears or rasta graphics on top?
There’s no huge logo on our grip so you can’t be really cool. Sorry. People will just have to trust you when you say it’s Ashes.
Switch frontside wallride. Ph: Sem.
A: You also mentioned a possible bespoke dirt series… Or is that secret?
Yeah. Do you want to talk about the Dust team?
Well we have the Dust team, which is like heavy hitters representing Ashes. I’m not going to mention to many names right now because you know they’re like ambassadors.
J: Is Dust the A level or…
Dust is the A level because we looked at the industry and we figured we’re going to do it all backwards. So you have to be over 30, washed up, we take you blow the dust off of you – your career – and bring you back. Everyone else has flow riders, what are we going to do with them? We can’t take them on a trip. They need their parents to sign a waiver maybe.
A: You’ve done a trip already, right?
We’ve done 2 trips.
A: Dust or…
Well there was some normal riders on that one too, but pretty much all crust. I’m not going to lie to you it’s a pretty crusty team.
Frontside boardslide pop out.Ph: Alberto Polo.
A: I’ve got a griptape question for you: Are you selling it by the sheet or by the roll?
It’s all by the sheet. No rolls.
A: Bigger margins in sheets, I suppose?
I don’t even know, I think it would be cheaper to make rolls actually. But everybody orders by sheet. Maybe we could do some for the riders but then rip them off. “Yeah, yeah, it’s like fifty sheets…" But we actually only give them thirty..
A: I heard about a guy making extra loot by cutting the sheets in half and selling them to scooter kids for the price of a full sheet..
I was thinking 4 or 5 pieces… The scooter market is definitely something we are looking at. The marketing department figured out that scooters are way cooler than skating. Sorry. It’s just the way it is. You’ve got to face the reality these days. That’s why we chose our first tour in Croatia: those are the markets that are coming up these days.
A: If there’s anywhere to make money these days it’s Eastern Europe
They’re rich as fuck. Also you can fool them: “If you want to be a part of Europe this is how you do it: spend you money on worthless things you don’t really need." “Then, once you’re in deep debt and trouble: welcome to the club!"
A: Haha. Do you find yourself thinking more positive now that you’re a CEO of a company? You’re famed for your negativity…
Alleged negativity. I’ve always been positive. You have to understand the negative to see the positive. No? What do you want to do, walk around thinking everything is roses? Then you’re a fucking idiot.
Roll In. Ph: Alberto polo.
A: So you’re a realist?
A realist and a smart cunt.
A: Ha ha. How’s unsponsored life?
Actually, pretty fucking great.
J: It is huh!?
I’m not sure if I want sponsors again to be honest.
A: What are some of the plus points? Jan, join in if you want.
Yeah, ‘cause you’re blowing it on a sponsor level too…
J: Happy to do it..
What blowing it? Haha
J: Yeah I mean you can just skate and enjoy skating and don’t worry about shit.
No one calls you and wants shit from you.. “ Hey, we need you to shoot this photo. We don’t care how you feel..."
A: Do you find yourself more stoked on skateboarding?
No, I always liked skateboarding the same. That doesn’t change. It’s the only good thing about skateboarding.
J: The only thing?
Going skateboarding’s always the same. Sponsored or not sponsored.
A: Does the industry side of it sicken you then?
If I’m honest it doesn’t sicken me anymore. It’s a bit sad but you have to laugh at it. I don’t want to get to sad.
J: You can look this way it you don’t have look that way…
Is this some wisdom: all I know is this way goes this way?
J: I never really understand people that are sick of the industry. Just just take what you like and pursue that.
Exactly. The goodest part…
A: Good word.
The GOODEST part is that you can say: “Okay, there is the X-Games. There is Street League. They’ll wiggle their dick around and try to make cash. Take the money and run." All good, who doesn’t want to make money. But some kids watching that will get stoked and end they’ll skate street. It’s not like they can go to the megaramp around the corner of their house. We get to keep enjoying it and selling our griptape.
A: Haha. Do you find yourself watching it and hating it or are you more; I’ not watching it, it doesn’t exist.?
I don’t watch it. I mean I could watch it. “Oh, flying around. Cool." It’s like watching a shitty movie. You can be watching a shitty movie and be like: “I’ve got nothing better to do.."
A: So you don’t see it as making skateboarding more bland?
Well it’s going to make it more bland in certain ways, I mean they’re bigger companies so they don’t have time to actually think about what’s cool or what’s fun, they just take whatever is cool at the moment. They give new companies like Ashes the opportunity to do the new cool thing or whatever. They’ll take it from us eventually but fuck it. That’s the game.
A: I think the small companies are the ones who hold that power at the moment. It’s the small guys that are doing the interesting stuff.
Well that’s the fun part. That’s how cool skateboarding is. We can do whatever we want and eventually they’re all going to run with it because: that’s the cool new thing! Losers.
A: What’s your top tip for fucking up the next super company. Come up with something shitty that they’re going to cash in on.
J: I think that’s what’s kind of wrong about it: always trying to come up with ‘the next big thing’…
S: Well technically you don’t try to come up with the next big thing, you only try to do what you like and…
A: Turns out it’s cool…
Not always! Not everything I’ve tried has turned out cool.
A: What are some of your greatest misses?
I don’t know, there’s so many… What has been the worst shit I’ve done in skating, let’s see…
A: Starting Ashes griptape?
We’ll see about that one, eh!? Ha ha. Maybe riding for Antiz for 11 years…
That was pretty stupid.
J: That sounds proper bitter.
No, I’m not bitter at all.
Ollie over the bar to five-o. Ph: DVL.
Arthur: Ok let's hear about it then…
I’m going to start it off like this: All good things come to an end, so it’s okay, you know? It was always fun and they’re still my friends but I think they could have done a better job of things. They could have listened more to the riders like it used to be done. In all fairness to them Hugo and Ju Ju are running things and they’re in the office and were like fuck it we’ve got too much to deal with.
A: From my experience Antiz was always a family vibe, did that change?
Yep, that changed, on a personal level, but on a company level, when decisions are made and you ask the riders: “Hey, is this cool? Is this good? Should we do this?" And half the team says: “I don’t think, whatever…" And you hear nothing back and it’s just done, you’re like: “Oh, I thought we were all making these decisions together…What happened… Wasn’t that the deal?"
A: I guess that’s part of becoming a bigger company as well though isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s not like they have to ask every rider but I rode for it before it actually even a real company. I thought my opinion counted let’s put it that way. In the end it’s all good.
A: Let’s move onto some less dark topics…
Arthur: What was…
A: Or not…
Arthur: the whole nearly riding for Zero thing but staying on Antiz. Did that really happen or…
S: I was on the phone with Jamie (Thomas) sometimes, I guess.
Arthur: What made you stick with Antiz?
I could go and get wasted with them at the bar and be like: “Ah! Fuck it!". Pretty much. Haha.
Arthur: Do you regret it?
No! I never regret these kinds of things.
J: Who’s the better skater that turned down Zero? You or Mark Frölich?
Probably Mark Frölich. Maybe Chris (Pfanner), he got an offer too…
A: Right, I’ll keep it light then…
I like these dark corners of the skateboard industry…
A: The first trip I did with Antiz. You were on it. I hadn’t met you before. There was some weird kinked double set. Looking back I now think this was a test for me, or a game for you.
Ollie. Ph: Sem.
A: Because I’d even my fucking camera out of the bag you had switch ollied it. And As I was setting up my flashes you were nollie 180ing down it. First one I pressed the shutter on was the one you made.
You’ve got to fuck with people a little bit, no? I mean that’s real easy. One of the first times I ever shot photos with Helge (Tscharn) for instance: he’s a really nice guy, I like him, he’s fun but he’s stressful to shoot photos with, he’ll run around and set up flashes. We were at this little rail – Jan was there, he fucked up the footage though!
J: Yeah I did!
The camera was broken… I t was this little rail, wherever it was, So I’m like: “I’m going to try a front board on the rail." But he doesn’t ask what you want to shoot or anything, so when he’s set up you do a lipslide, so he’s facing the wrong way… “Hey Steve, we’ve got to talk about this…" “No shit!?" Now you get it, good…
A: What personality traits wind you up? You’re quite a cut and dry kind of person…
You kow how it is: you want to say “I’m not going to be the guy who’s a dick and judges someone on their first impression." But you do. Sometimes even when someone doesn’t say a word you can be like: “ I don’t like this guy." He might surprise you and, after a while you might like: “Fuck it he’s alright." But lots of times you’re like: “Yeah, knew it!"
The guy’s a dipshit… I don’t see the point in having to like everybody. I’m not going to be an asshole to them just I think I don’t like them or whatever, but I’m not going to be like: “Yeah bro! Sick! Yeah…" Then I’d be like everybody else at the Bright.
Our waitress interrupts:
“Are you finished eating?"
Steve: “Yes, thanks for asking."
Our waitress spills some uneaten food over Steve’s camera bag.
S: “Don’t worry about it, it’s only a million dollar camera in there… I’m kidding…"
S: See I was nice to her! Shit. Come on.
A: Yeah, but this is the thing, I don’t think you’re negative outside of enjoying being real and occasionally that falls into ‘being negative’…
It’s kind of like how English people are.
J: Sylvain (Tognelli) was saying once that you have your dark times, sitting in your apartment, way the fuck out in Prenzlauer Berg, just sitting there being all negative…
Just drinking beers alone at home? Yea,h well I don’t know, what do you want to do, be all happy and positive all the time? Doesn’t everybody have days where it’s like: “Fuck the world man, it’s all fucking bullshit. Fuck it. Might as well blow up soon." Better for me.
J: I don’t really experience you as this polar dude though. Bi polar whatever…
I don’t think you have to be bi polar or whatever. Whatever you think about things too much, maybe you smoke some weed and you’re like: “Holy shit, things are getting really heavy here…" I think it’s really good, you have a day or two… or a week… Ha ha… but then eventually you’ll find something that makes you really stoked and then you’re happy for weeks.
A: Seems like a rocky road…
But it’s the same with skating, some days after ten minutes you’re like: “I don’t even want to do a fucking kickflip, I hate this shit, let’s go chill."
J: You want to do it but it’s not working.
It’s not even the kickflip, the kickflip can work actually, but you’re like, “Whatever. Not feeling it today." Or even for a week. Then all of a sudden, for like three weeks straight, you go out all day, everyday. It doesn’t matter how much everything hurts you’re like: “Fucking do it!"
J: Speaking of hurting, how are things after your Achilles injury?
Well actually pretty good. I was out for a long period, so everything else healed because I had no choice. The last 2 or three years before that happened I was pushing it all the time. This stupid Gravis video part, I basically broke my toe twice and you don’t ever really let that heal. That never works. As soon as you’re kind of okay they’re like: “Can you go on this trip? You’re the main guy we’re pushing, we want your video part to come out!" I’m like: “How about you pay me…"