CCS Customs X First Thursdays Interviews: Jay Howell
November 05, 2021 - CCS launches the Customs X First Thursdays program with one of our favorite artists: Jay Howell.
Between all his footage in Naquan Rollings' edits in New York, his phone clips all over L.A. and his ads for brands like Huf and Chocolate, Carlisle Aikens seems to be everywhere at a time when a lot of people are nowhere. Carl sat down with fellow New Yorker and co-host of the Mostly Skateboarding Podcast, Patrick Kigongo to talk about navigating through 2020, music in skate videos, and what it's like to be part of a very important new chapter for some of skateboardings most iconic legacy brands.
Interview by Patrick Kigongo
Patrick: First of all do you prefer Carl or Carlisle?
Carlisle: Carlisle is my full name but everyone calls me Carl. Whichever is easy.
P: And who do you ride for?
P: Shoutout to the Valley.
C: Yeah of course.
P: So you’re riding for Chocolate at a time where not only is there a lot of nostalgia for the brand’s heyday in the 1990s but there’s also a lot of goodwill towards them.You’re part of a new generation of skaters replenishing and refreshing them. And there’s plenty of chatter from the skate internet or #skatetwitter about Crailtap turning you pro. You’re clearly exceeding expectations. But do you feel any pressure?
C: Pressure… I guess the pressure that would come with that title. Yeah. But, nah, I don’t think it really scares me. I think as long as I know that I’m skating for fun and I want to be the best I possibly can be. Then, I don’t know, I think I’ll be good.
P: And what about riding for a company that actually has some history?. You’reskating for a company that has been around for almost 30 years. Does it come with any sort of expectations? Like, do you gotta live up to the brand’s ideals or the brand’s history?
C: It’s been really welcoming, honestly. Everyone at Crailtap is super sweet, super nice. And it’s literally a big family and the, almost 3 years I’ve been on now, they’re all super enthusiastic, super welcoming, and I’m just so hyped to be part of a company that has been around for so long. More than so many other companies. So it just means a lot more to me.
P: So basically it’s like somewhere for you to put down roots, like what can I contribute to the history of this brand? How can I help write the next chapter?
C: Yeah it’s crazy to think about it like that, but, yeah I guess so. Just keeping it moving.
P: So I grew up learning about pros from 411 and the occasional interview but as far as I was concerned, professional skateboarders were like vampires. You figured these guys lived in coffins. There was a sort of remoteness. By contrast, your generation is online all the time. You’ve got an ill social media presence, but we don’t see Instagram stories of you ironing your shirts or anything like that. How do you establish a balance about what to share, what not to share, what’s oversharing, and what’s giving people a little bit of insight into the life of Carl?
C: All this is fairly new for me. I’ve always used instagram and just posted whatever I want, but, recently I have all these followers, and all this “fame,” I guess. To dumb it down. These kids follow me for skateboarding. That’s what they really want to see. And I’m sure they’d be stoked to see whatever else I’m doing, but I usually just try to keep it professional. I just keep it skateboarding and that’s fine. Also whatever hobbies I have, like photography. I like shooting photos of my friends so I’ll still post that. I’ll still post personal stuff, just not too personal. I keep it to what I want them to see for sure.
P: Which is new. That’s establishing a pretty even balance because even just two or three years ago it seemed like for most younger pros it was just like, man we’re posting whatever.
C: Naw, for sure. I mean some people share their “image”.
P: Social media has changed so much just in the last decade. How have you been managing, or not managing, your physical and mental health in the last year, with everything going on?
C: In the beginning of COVID it was a change for all of us. For everyone. Especially skaters, like, “what do we do? Who do we skate with? Do we film? Do we go out? Do we still do this?”. And I think mentally, for me not to go crazy I had to skate. So I just kept it to me and my roommates, honestly. And then my friend, Naquan Rollings, who films, he was staying with us for a while so we would just keep it small. Just go skate spots in Brooklyn mainly and just skate by ourselves. I think skating really kept the mental in check to keep me out there moving. Other than that it was definitely weird being around the city with everything closed, and no one really outside. And masks. At first it was just like, damn do we wear them? Is this a real thing? Or are people just making it up? We weren’t sure what to think at first. We wanted to make other people comfortable, so we wore them out and just kept it small.
P: New York has been through a lot in the 41 years since my parents came to the USA. Obviously the heroin, crack, AIDS, the ‘93 World Trade Center bombing, 9/11, 2003 black out, we could go on all day, but you know everybody has said that this has been unlike anything else.
C: It was definitely insane seeing New York like that. Even when I used to visit as a little kid New York was never like that. So, it was definitely an experience for sure.
P: So you’ve been kicking it and filming with Gang Corp and with Naquan for the last couple of years or so and that’s been awesome because you’re kinda presenting a New York that I identify with. And it's also uniquely y’all’s own. This is not a knock at other filmers coming out of New York. But y’alls is, speaking frankly, it’s black. It’s the music, the presentation, the swagger, the interaction with the public. Y’all dropped a few joints last year (***ACAB***, Kill Bill, Rerock, and “ Buss ”). They really captured the tempo and the mood of New York, with the combination of COVID and Black Lives Matter and George Floyd memorial protests. What’s that like being in that energy, especially with Naquan who, honestly, is an auteur?
C: Dude, it was super cool. It was just cool to see while living it, while we’re making videos every month. Something’s happening every month during these weird-ass times. And we were just in my room when he was editing those videos. And it kind of felt like we were the only ones doing something like that.
P: I think that was a big question mark and you did really provide something, especially out here on the west coast with not being able to travel. I haven’t been home since Christmas 2019. Y’all basically gave me a video postcard.
C: Without a lot of content coming out it felt really cool to give skateboarding to people when there just wasn’t a lot of it, and it wasn’t supposed to be happening, I guess you could say.
P: What was it like being in the thick of the protests and being a skater and being a black skater? Do you feel like you were carrying any of that weight personally? Or do you feel you were more of an observer of what is happening in America today, specifically regarding race relations?
C: I kinda felt in awe, you know? Like, it does feel like an attack against who you are as a person. I mean, it really depends on how deeply you feel about it. But for me, black people are just like family. Like, brothers and sisters. So personally I supported the movement. I was also an observer. I did take place in some protests, not all of them. It really affected all of us. Me, especially. But, I’m glad it happened. Well, not all of the protests.
P: The fact that these protests even reached middle America in these little towns where there’s no black person for a thousand miles. I think that’s where you felt like, “Ok, this is something very very different from previous racial justice protests.”
C: Seeing it was crazy. These protests were just miles and miles and miles of people. So I was just like, damn, dude. Shit’s real right now.
P: There’s definitely a generation gap in skating between those who want to use their platform and talk about social justice and racial issues, and then there’s the “shut-up-and-skate crowd.” There’s been a lot of discussion about racial issues and there’s unfortunately been a lot of negative chatter on SLAP, in the Instagram comments, and those folks on Facebook. I don’t subscribe to the idea of “Oh, we’re all skate bros, blah blah blah.” I think it’s essential to call out racial injustice specifically anti-black racism. At the same time I have to acknowledge that these commenters are not just random bystanders. A decent number of them are current and former major players within the skate industry. How do you bridge the gap or do you build around it?
C: I for sure want to bridge it. I always try to post whatever I can just to get it out there. I think skateboarding culture is something known for its camaraderie, you know? So if people see us as brothers and sisters and like race doesn’t matter, and that we get along then I feel that it’s important for us to just provide information to everyone that watches skateboarding and follows skateboarding. Because I feel like they look at us and see us together so it would be easier for us to relay that message. Personally I don’t look at the comments. I just do whatever I feel is right. And I do see some DM’s where people thank me for sharing about the Asian hate, the Black hate, any hate. That’s that’s just who I am as a person. I love everyone, so I’m happy to just keep sharing that and make sure it stays relevant, especially in the skate community because it’s important.
P: It’s been great seeing skating kinda grow and mature in real time. Seeing rank and file regular skaters, non-sponsored skaters, or just shop rats, out there leading the protests. Out there raising money and organizing. When you compare that to, say, certain major professional league sports organizations which have whole departments devoted to diversity, equality, and racial inclusion, who will just put out a statement and post a black square. Again, by contrast, last summer you saw regular skaters pushing the brands to act. I think that was incredibly powerful because you don’t get the same kind of thing in professional sports. Full disclosure, I used to work for NFL Media and I was there during the Colin Kaepernick protests. Let me tell you, it was uncomfortable at times.
C: I can only imagine.
P: To see that regular folks who work for NFL Media and obviously the players, are quite diverse. But when it comes to team ownership, team structure… we know what it looks like. On a lighter note: Knicks or Nets?
C: Shit. You know, I’m not too big of a sports fan. I wouldn’t say I’m not a fan, but I never really watched it growing up. Which is weird because my dad played professional football. But, I’ma say Knicks.
P: Nice. Unfortunately they’re streak just ended, but they were on a 9-win streak and it was ill. So, you came up in Chicago but also Santa Clarita and now you’re in Brooklyn. Tell CCS readers something about Santa Clarita, cause I think that when most people think about Los Angeles they just think about Central LA. Santa Clarita is 30 miles northwest of Central LA, but is still part of LA County. So, tell them something that they wouldn’t know about it.
C: Umm… Apparently it’s a lot more racist than I thought it was.
I think that’s due to everything that’s going on. When I bring up Santa Clarita people say, “Oh that place is pretty racist.” and I was like “It is?”. I kinda just skated with my friends cause my friends are cool with me. I stayed in this little bubble, is what I’m trying to say. But, now that I’m older and I visit Santa Clarita quite often I’m noticing it a lot more.
P: Yeah. It’s the wisdom that comes with maturity. All of a sudden you start seeing or experiencing things you didn’t before. Like getting pulled over in your own neighborhood.
C: Yeah. I’ve been pulled over a lot there.
P: True stories. They’re just like, “Yeah, whatcha doing in this neighborhood, buddy?” We laugh about it now, but this is what happens in different cities and across different continents. Do you miss anything about LA, but specifically northwest LA County?
C: Uh, nope. Well, I miss my friends a lot. But, usually whenever I go out there I go out there to see them, skate with them, hang out with them. I was just out there yesterday. I was there for my friend’s wedding. It was my first wedding too. They know how to roll. It’s super fun. We all have those different friend groups. I got my friends in New York, I got my friends in LA and I love them, man. I feel like they made me who I am. I wouldn’t be anywhere without them.
P: So now that you’re certified bi-coastal but you’re leaning more East Coast, what is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about New York and what’s your favorite thing about New York?
C: Damn, dude. Favorite thing? I’d say just like skating down the street. Skating through Manhattan, and just being so involved with everything. So much action going on at once and I like diving in head first into that. And just like skitching cars and scaring the shit out of people with my skateboard. That’s my favorite thing. The camaraderie and just being around all these skaters and you see them everywhere so often and it’s just like you look over and “That’s Zered!” you know. What the hell? He’s right there. Or Tyshawn or something. It’s such a close knit place, and I love how everyone goes to these parks all the time, like Thompkins and you see everyone there everyday like a big family. It really is a big family.
P: And the most surprising thing?
C: Actually, what’s surprising is how I think New York changed the way I skate. Living in LA, I guess I could say I was just known for jumping down shit all the time. And I think New York really brought out the potential for my skateboarding to become more tech. I’ve been skating a lot more ledges. I never skated ledges this much in my life. And doing manuals. Keeping it low impact. There’s not a lot of jumping down shit out here. And if it is, it’s brutal. The ground sucks and you’re gonna get scraped up. I think it’s bringing out my ability to skate low impact things like ledges which is super surprising for me. Sometimes I’m like, “I didn’t feel I’d ever do this trick before” And I'll do this or that and I’m pretty hyped.
P: And is that something that was a natural, personal evolution or is it something that your friends and your crew and people you’re skating with have been inspiring you to do?
C: I think it’s my friends, cause as a skateboarder I tend to stay in my comfort zone a lot. I’ll see someone skating manuals, and it just looks so fun and it makes me want to learn. So I think my friends really help push me to be where I want to be in skateboarding.
P: What do you think skateboarding is going to remember about the 2020s?
C: Jeez, definitely COVID. Obviously. It’s pretty big. And besides the fact that skateboarding is just getting crazier and crazier every year I think they’re gonna remember Chocolate. I feel like it’s coming back strong. For sure. And I think this Chocolate video is gonna be pretty memorable.
P: That’s setting a very high bar for expectations, but it’s something that does happen. Every decade has a handful of videos that shape skateboarding or totally throw it into a different course. I think part of the nostalgia for the mid-1990’s is a combination of technology being more accessible, like more people getting cameras, and everybody having a VCR and, that’s when hip-hop crossed over into becoming a global cultural phenomenon. Speaking of music. What are you listening to right now?
C: Shit. I’m a fuckin big R&B fan. I like Franky Beverly & Maze, Black Coffee, Brent Faiyez, Amber Olivier, and Giveon. And I’m big on house music. Shout out Frankie Knuckles.
P: Is that the Chicago talking right there?!
C: Yeah. I mean, my mom was really big on house music growing up and she influenced me. It just really got into me, because she threw house music parties for a living growing up in Chicago so I would go to them a lot and old school picnics. That music means the most to me for sure.
P: So what’s it been like seeing house music used unironically in skate videos, because it’s been beautiful. What’s it been like for you, somebody who’s got a direct, parental link to one of the most important forms of American pop music in the last 40 years?
C: It’s been amazing. I’m like, “Bro, you don’t know shit about that!”
P: It’s been a long struggle as a musician and a DJ, but also as a skater, seeing music continue to progress and then seeing skateboarding cling to terrible skate punk for YEARS. Then it was just like “Oh, we’ll just put Wu-Tang in it. I love Wu-Tang, but we can’t have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
C: Yeah, man, for real.
P: There’s enough Wu-Tang to soundtrack every video, but it doesn’t mean you should. Now there’s this period where you’re seeing a diversification of taste. You’ve got young cats who are putting in drill and trap music in their edits. Others who are using vapor wave and dance music. I mean you’ve got to thank Palace (yea, they’re not from NYC), you’ve got to thank the Bronze cats, and people like Paul Young. People who are assertively elbowing their musical taste into videos. It's awesome to hear that you’re looking to do that. What do you think it is recently that’s allowed skaters to express themselves more freely with the music that they choose?
C: I feel like the world’s definitely changing into a place where you can be yourself and and it’s ok to be yourself and (people) really getting into that attitude of just who the fuck cares. I think everyone’s growing into being comfortable having it be more personal and it gets remembered. I think using unexpected music means it’s gonna stick around. It can lay the groundwork for people to come back around like “Remember that video? That’s a dope ass song. Let’s play that shit!”
Special thanks to Carlisle, Patrick and Tyler Cichey at Huf for making this piece possible. CCS 2021