When Animal Collective had not one, but two songs, in Alien Workshop’s Mind Field, I knew a special connection had been made between skateboarding and a great band. I remember sitting at the premiere—Jake Johnson’s part started and “My Girls” began blasting through the speakers and later Dill’s part was paired with “In The Flowers.” Animal Collective’s unique sound combined with the aesthetic of the film and the skating was simply perfect. I’ve gotten to know Brian, Noah, Dave and Josh from AC very well since then—they’ve become some of my best friends. I’m always surprised by their deep knowledge of skating when we talk. You might be, too, after reading this interview. —Atiba Jefferson
Did you ever skateboard?
Noah: Yeah, I did. I was never really any good but I did skate.
I tried but I could never master the ollie and I just gave up.
When did you start skateboarding?
N: Probably when I was 11 or 12. My older brother skated.
Do you remember what your first skateboard was?
N: My first deck was a Lance Mountain. It was gray and it had cave paintings on it. And then I had a lime-green Alva deck.
Dave: Seeing The Search for Animal Chin kind of blew my mind video-wise. It’s what got me into skateboarding. I had a pink Tony Hawk with the chicken skull on it. I also had a Tony Alva and a Mike McGill, and I skated pretty intensely back then. I wasn’t super great or anything, but I had a fun time. Later, I had Alien Workshop decks, Foundation—a bunch of them.
I tried to skate when I was younger, like ten or 11. I had a pink Steve Caballero that I used to skate around my neighborhood and there was a crew of us. I couldn’t bomb hills and I came very close to an ollie, but that was about as good as I could do. I just didn’t have it in me. And then in my early 20s I tried skating again. I got a little bit better and I could ollie. I skated around Manhattan and Brooklyn a lot. But then—it’s such a lame injury—I was just skating, I hit a rock, flipped off my board and landed on my back. I chipped a bone in my shoulder blade and it put my arm out of commission for three or four months. After that I was like, I’m not good enough at this.
Do you notice a connection between Animal Collective and skating? If so, what do you think that connection is?
B: When we were younger, like in high school, Dave and Brendan Fowler skated quite a bit. There seemed to be some connection between indie rock or punk and skating that we were tangentially a part of. I think once we got more into psychedelic drugs it didn’t feel as connected. And then sometime in the 2000s, I feel like I just noticed skaters. Maybe through you—you were into us more than I expected. I think I saw skate-music interests as being maybe a little too narrow. And so I was surprised and psyched. I think Noah put it best—the sound of skating is a big attraction for him. Maybe that’s why he likes it.
N: That does sound like me.
B: Yeah, and certain sports—ping pong or tennis—all these games that we’re interested in, they have sounds, like these very textural sounds. And once Noah started saying that, I started to take my kid to the skatepark all the time. I can’t stop thinking about the textural element of skating, from an audio perspective. But I guess that’s a question I would turn around to skaters—what the connection is. Because like I said, it kind of surprised me how much skaters liked our music ten years ago or so when I started paying attention to it.
N: Well, I feel like I got into a lot of music because of skate videos and I feel like it plays a crucial role. But I also think there’s an element of, maybe more so in the past, but kind of like non-conformity to the culture of music. It’s like standing up against something. Also, I really get off on the quest to land the thing and the pain that it takes to get to that point. I enjoy that aspect of skating a lot. And I think there’s an element of that to music creation in terms of it not always being like a clear path to the thing that you’re trying to do and the failures that are involved in getting to that point.
D: Definitely skate videos played a big part of hearing music for the first time. There’s something about the music going with the skating and it really linking up and being awesome. When we really started playing music together, that’s kind of what I was into. So, for me, when I was getting into music and playing in the band, skate videos around that time were really big for me. Like, Girl skateboards’ Goldfish—it’s just so musical. And after a while it seemed very diverse in terms of the different types of music you could find in a skate video. Like you’d go from hip-hop to punk, Bad Religion, Dinosaur Jr., to Del the Funky Homosapien and all that. That’s kind of like our eclectic state of mind, too. And just into the late-’90s skate videos, having a lot more electronic music and stuff like that, I guess we just found our way in there somehow in terms of tastes. I feel like skateboarding has always gone along with trends and created trends for people. And I feel like at a certain point we’ve somehow just kind of gotten woven into that fabric.
N: I kind of feel like skateboarding culture has set the tone for a lot of things for a long time.
D: I mean, especially for people like us who were into DIY shows. There’s a kind of punk philosophy to skateboarding that’s similar to getting into DIY music.
J: I really dig and agree with that. I feel like in my life, there’s a lot of activities or pursuits that I sort of look up to in that regard. And I feel like skating just fits into that. There’s something admirable and inspiring about that kind of single-minded personal determination to conquer a tough task and the satisfaction you feel on the other side, so that’s something that resonates with me.
How was it for y’all to see your own music in skateboard videos?
B: We were in a Cliché video first and I was surprised when they asked us. But it just seemed like it came and went and it felt like a novelty thing. A lot of our friends are into skating. It’s cool—we were in a skate video. But then I was just more attuned to skate culture when Mind Field happened. Brad was friends with Dill and we had become friendly with you, Ako and Spanky.
N: I remember French Fred hooking up the Cliché thing and I was really psyched about that. That and Mind Field—those are the two first things that I remember. I was definitely super excited about all of that.
It felt like an honor and I was floored, especially for Mind Field
since I was familiar with Alien. It didn’t register with me at the time, other than just personal satisfaction that it had happened. I didn’t think about it resulting in younger people finding out about our band that way. I just didn’t make that connection. It was like, Wow, this is sweet.
I recognized it a lot, especially when we go to LA or something, skaters would be coming out to our shows. The crowd was changing.
Who are some of your favorite pro skaters? Who have y’all personally met?
B: Tony Hawk was the only skater I could even name in the ’80s—or Tony Alva. But Spanky’s the one I’ve stayed in touch with the most. I remember him hanging out in a hotel room one time and he pulled out this list from his wallet and it was just these little life goals or whatever—this piece of paper he keeps around. And one of them was “Have a conversation with Animal Collective.” We talked for a long time and he’s a deep dude. And now I appreciate talking to him even more with what he’s doing with Baker, being a creative director. He’s been more of a window for me into how wide skating interests can be, with art and creativity. But yeah, I still say I get the most mileage out of Eric Koston or Andrew Reynolds if I mention those names to people interested in skating.
N: I like Nik Stain. I was psyched to meet Jerry Hsu. I think his skating is super cool. He just seemed like a cool guy so I was pumped up to meet him. Sean Malto, super sweet guy. Dylan, obviously.
D: Oh, man, I don’t know. A lot of skaters growing up—Mike McGill, Tony Hawk definitely. I liked Birdhouse’s Ravers and The End. I’m a fan of all of Andrew Reynolds’ parts so meeting him was a big deal. All the skaters I’ve met around LA—Jerry and Spanky, they’re just such sweet people. It was awesome to be able to hang out. These days I’m really liking the Deathwish team.
J: Lance Mountain and Tony Hawk.. Ray Barbee always seemed really sweet to me. There’s a certain type of flow I just like watching on the street. Everyone I’ve met
is just really sweet. Spanky, Jerry, Koston—everyone.