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.
When it comes to the list of musicians who ride skateboards, you may not expect to see a Tre Flip from underground hip-hop legend Aesop Rock. And if that surprises you, then his Impossibles are really gonna fuck you up. It was inevitable that his music would cross paths eventually even if it’s something that he never really pushed on too hard. In his newest project, he collaborated with friends and fellow Portland skateboarders Kurt Hayashi and Jake Gascoyne to make a music video of sorts for a track called “Hot Dogs”. In addition to the video, the song is available on 7” vinyl courtesy of Rhymesayers and all proceeds from the track go to the Grind For Life Foundation to help people with cancer. We caught up with Aesop to find out a little more about what into this project.
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So which came first, the idea for the song, or the idea for the video? The song was first and was originally not going to have a video. I had kinda written this rambling thing over this drunken loop. I played it for Jake and we just started talking about video ideas and trying to make a skate piece that coincided with the sound. Often people skate to hype shit, and this song is more tired and dreamy, so I think the challenge was in seeing if we could still match the video and audio - Make skating seem like a late-night, often exhausted act, instead of going ham all day at the park. Kurt was way on board from the jump and that was that.
Would you call it an official music video?Yea sure. It felt more like a “project”, maybe because so much of the video aspect was on Jake and Kurt, and they know the tech-aspects of filming skating more than I do. We’d all pitch ideas out, Kurt would make the idea look good, and Jake had to skate in the cold while I waited with a warm jacket. But I guess functionally it’s basically a music video.
Have you had skating in any of your music videos prior to this?A group I’m in, Hail Mary Mallon, had a video called “4AM” with some kids skating through NYC at night. I also rode a penny board in a video for another group I’m in, the Uncluded, on a song called “The Earthquake”.
Jake Gascoyne (The skater in the video) is pretty good, but how was he at nailing his takes? Was he an every try guy or did he waste a lot of film?Ha! God - I honestly felt horrible for him. This was filmed during the winter and it rained constantly. We got maybe one day every two weeks, and he couldn’t wear a jacket because he didn’t have it on in the beginning. Kurt and I were fully bundled in bubble jackets while Jake was literally running in circles trying to warm his legs up. It was pretty miserable for him. That said - Jake rips and knocked em all out pretty quick.
Who’s dog is chilling in the parking lot, and where did he come from? That’s Margot, Jake’s Dog (in real life). In the video, she’s somewhat mysterious.
All of the proceeds from the 7-inch sales go to Grind For Life right? How did that come about?I think we all felt like the project became pretty collaborative throughout the process, and we certainly weren’t in it for the money. I think at some point the charity idea came up and that was that. Grind for Life was mentioned, and I lost a very close friend to cancer in 2008, so it all seemed right.
How many nights did you guys shoot? There’s no way you did it all in one night right?Nah it was a battle with the weather the entire time, not to mention the normal security guard crap. I wanna say it was 4-5 nights. Plus all the dumb little bits with me in there take a little extra time to get right.
Out of all the characters you played in the video, who do you identify most with? Angry homeless guy?You know, you’d think so. I went in thinking that. But man, once I slipped into that road worker outfit - I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more like my true self. Felt awesome.
Which came first for you, skating or rapping?Skating was 86/87. I wrote a rap song with my brother in 89.
Was either one born from the other as far as your introduction to each?This is funny - I actually think about this a lot. In the beginning, they were 100% separate. I liked art, skating, and music, and they were 3 individual endeavors - what I couldn't find in one, I found in the others.
Earlier skate videos were a lot of punky junky skate rock. To me, that’s what skate music was. I also loved rap, and another part of me was learning about hip hop and trying to actually see if I could do it. But I kept them separate. So when skate videos started bringing in rap music, and brands started to make their identity more in-line with hip-hop culture, I actually didn’t like it at first. I keep things compartmentalized in my head, and having those worlds meet was too much for my young mind.
That said, eventually, I got over that. In 2017 I can look back and say that skating introduced me to so much amazing music, not necessarily rap but some rap, but just tons of amazing shit. If I ever had a skate part, I would probably lean towards using a Jawbreaker/Husker Du type song, even though obviously hip-hop sort of took over my life and career.
What do you do most of these days, rapping, producing, or skating or something else we’re not even ready for? I toured a ton in the last year, and came home feeling entirely burnt on music. Lately, I’ve been drawing a lot and skating as much as my old body allows. I have a couple music projects done that will come out over time, so there is new stuff coming. But yea, right now I feel like drawing and skating and maybe traveling to a jungle somewhere.
You post a lot of skate clips on your Instagram, do you get hit up by fans a lot that are stoked to see you ripping?I appreciate you using the term “ripping” in regards to me - hahah. My skating is pretty bad, but skateboarding remains the single most enjoyable activity I have come across on this planet. For a lot of years it just turned into transportation for me - a vehicle for the store, but even then it was vital to my day. The last few years I’ve been trying to get some tricks back and enjoy it while I still can. Again, this is something I’ve always kept away from my music - so I do get messages when people see me tre flip at 41, when they maybe hadn’t seen me on a board before. I feel dumb a little because I realize I’m not great, but I also try not to care.
Are there any other rappers you know that skate? Maybe any that we may not know about? Murs skated, and may still. I’ve seen Yelawolf do a pretty steezy tre. A couple months ago I ran into Louis Logic, who told me he rode for Chapman at one time, which kinda blew my mind, because Number 9 (Chapman’s previous company) was all over Long Island, and I had a lot of friends skate for them at the time. A couple of the Atoms Fam guys from NY skated in their youth. I’d imagine there’s a ton more.
Do you have any other skate related projects or just music stuff coming up we can look forward to?I have a few things happening, some music projects and some other projects in more experimental arenas. Nothing strictly focused on skating, but I’m sure it will happen.