IN CONVERSATION WITH LEO ROMERO
TALKING ART AND CHATTING SHIT WITH LEO ROMERO.
SB: Hey, what’s up Leo! How was the gig on Saturday?
LR: It was sick! It was surprisingly fun.
SB: It was in a photo gallery in Claremont, right?
LR: Yeah it was like a photo gallery/record store thing.
SB: Awesome. Just so you know, because of California law and all that shit I have to let you know that I’m recording this conversation. I’m not about to get deported for this interview.
LR: No worries! We’re all being recorded 24/7 anyways so you’re fine.
SB: So, I have a list of questions and topics that I’ve been sent but I think that’s just premeditated corporate media bullshit so if you’re down to just chat about art and whatnot, let’s do it.
LR: Yeah, I’m good for whatever.
SB: Tell me about the band. How did that all come about?
LR: The band basically happened because a friend of mine, we would play music together, doesn’t play music anymore. He’s moving on to other things and, before we started doing our own things or whatever, there was my buddy Eric [Evans] (who still plays in the band now), who was a part of our little musical situation. And as my friend left, I asked Eric: “Are you still down to play music?” - and thankfully he was still down. From there we started from scratch, all over again. I mean, I didn’t have much stuff before this band as far as having an idea of what I was trying to do - not that I have an idea of what I’m trying to do now - but it was very loose… just learning how to play in front of people and having a good time mainly.
Once me and Eric started figuring out what we were trying to do, he had some drummer friends and asked them come in to see if they were a good fit. We were playing a show and needed a drummer for it so he asked Mark [Morones], who’s in the band now, to see if he was down to jam out and join us at the show. I didn’t meet Mark up until the day of the show, so we practiced for the first time that day. After the first practice, having just met him and still getting to know him, I could just tell how he was…with his sense of humour and just the type of person he is…we just clicked pretty easily. We practiced and afterwards he was like, “Ah man! That sounds cool!” He was stoked on the stuff just as much as I was.
We played the show and the people that were there who had seen me play before were surprised, and came up to me like, “Woah. That actually sounded good”. When they had seen me play before, it was more like getting me drunk and playing shows and just doing whatever. You know what I mean?
SB: Good chemistry is really important when it comes to creating art collectively.
LR: I definitely had good chemistry beforehand but for me at that point, it was more about having a good time than anything else. Not that it wasn’t a good time anymore, but from playing with Mark -he’s a really great, talented drummer. So just from there, as a musician myself, I started to realise how to play in time and have more structure rather than just being super loose. I think people saw that little tiny shift, and they recognised that it wasn’t just a bunch of noise being played anymore.
That was basically the first instalment of what Travesura kind of is. It was Mark on drums, Eric on keyboard/guitar and me singing and playing guitar as well. Pretty much from there, it just turned into just randomness.
We were recording and I wanted a lap steel guitar in the song, and Mark mentioned his brother, Shawn, was a guitar player. Not only was he a guitar player, but he was excellent, like one of the best guitar players I’ve ever heard. So he came along and it sounded awesome. Right after he recorded with us, we had a show coming up. I asked him if we wanted to play the show with us and he did. I think he just enjoyed playing with us, enough that he just, kind of stuck around. You know? So that’s how we got our guitar player. And he’s the sickest guitar player ever. We kind of went through bassists a bunch because it’s hard to find people to play music with you. So you do need to have that chemistry. We hit up one of our buddies who was super good, super cool, but he didn’t want to travel as much and be as busy as we were trying to be. He just came to us and was like, “Hey man, I’m still friends with you guys but I don’t know if I’m really trying to go for it as far as going on tour and stuff right now.” He had work and other stuff going on, which we totally understand. It’s understandable.
So he went off, and we were still trying to figure it out. Next there was our buddy Jared [Henderson] - he has a studio and we practice there - and we love Jared. He’s fucking awesome. He’s a good drummer, and a good bass player. He’s an all-round multi-instrumentalist. We basically forced him into the band by saying that we were going to practice in his space and he was going to play bass. He didn’t say no.
That’s how we came about. Really organic, as cheesy as that word sounds. There's a really natural thing that occurred in this band. Even the band now, every show that we play, there’s always different instrumentations of stuff, there’s always different musicians and people. Sometimes people can’t make it to the show so we can’t play with them. Sometimes I play by myself to a live audience. It’s always switching out.
SB: Do you think that the copious amounts of travel you do has an influence on how you approach being in a band? Or the way that you write and record?
LR: I think that the amount of travel that I do influences everything in my life. Most definitely my music as well. A lot of the songs that I come up with aren’t necessarily autobiographical songs. I mean, sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not. But I definitely take stuff from being on the road. A lot of my writing is about traveling and being on the road and just living that vagabond, troubadour lifestyle.
SB: As an artist myself, every time I travel somewhere new, or even when I travel to the same cities over and over again, the change of experience definitely affects the way that I create from it. I think it’s really interesting to see how, as an musician/artist, that influences you too. We’re living in a really beautiful world, besides all the fucked up social/political bullshit that’s going on, and I think that we have so much to learn from it. The ability and freedom to travel is so pure and so honest with what it gives us.
LR: It’s interesting because people just assume that everything is better outside of where they live. With travelling, you get to learn that it’s all about perspective really. You can go anywhere and see that it’s just as terrible anywhere…. just as like it’s good anywhere. It’s all about what you put in and what you get out of things. For me, as far as inspiration for writing from traveling, it’s never an instantaneous thing where I can go somewhere and write a song about it. But I think that if you’re a creative person and you travel a lot but don’t get inspiration from it, then that’s a bit bizarre to me. Maybe you’re not taking in wherever you’re at, and you should.
SB: What’s the difference between your music trips and your skate trips?
LR: Skate trips, or the ones I go on, are pretty busy, in as far as we wake up early, skate all day into the night, drive for hours, skate all day, have a demo, skate for the kids as hard as we can, then go out skating right afterwards. It’s pretty busy. It’s pretty gruelling I’d say. And music trips…Music trips are so easy compared to skate trips. With music trips you’re just waiting around for sound check and theres not really anything more to do. It’s funny because when I go on a skate trip I don’t really drink that much. I’ll have one night where I go out and party with everyone, which everyone does because it’s fucking fun to go off like that with your friends on a skate trip. But that one night can fuck me up for the whole next day and maybe even the day after, because with skateboarding you need to be fully tuned in with your body. And it’s not that with music you don’t have to be, but with skating you have to wake up early and get right back to being 100% physical and it’s demanding on your body as far as your mind, your legs, your fucking everything. When I’d go on a music trip with these guys they would be hungover and they’d be bummed but I’d be like, “What?! You guys don’t have to like skate right now! This is the best! This is the life!” It’s easy as fuck.
You end up being tired but, as far as being physically exhausted, I’ve been physically exhausted on skate trips like day after day after day. On music trips, it’s not nearly as demanding on your body so I think that they’re easier, in that sense. But they parallel the same. You’re traveling around new towns, new cities. Meeting new people who are cool, doing what you want to do. I guess that the only shitty thing with music trips is you might come across a shitty sound guy or get your shit stolen, but there’s a lot of things that can go wrong on a skate trip. You can get injured, you can get kicked out of spots by cops, you can get arrested or get a ticket. You can get a spot skate stopped. There’s a lot more variables that can ruin a whole skate trip.
SB: Do you think that you’re so…‘well seasoned’…with music trips because you’ve had so much practice with skate trips?
LR: I’ve been doing it since I was 16 years old. The longest break I took was when I broke my ankle a few years ago and I was off my board for about 8 months. That was the longest I’ve ever taken a break from skating and it was depressing and awful…And since last December, I’ve been home no longer than 10 days at a time. I don’t really like being home, and when people travel and want to go home or need a long break, I don’t understand it. Like I said, I’ve been on the road since I was 16 years old and I’m pretty used to this lifestyle. It’s not for everyone! It’s definitely hard a lot of the time. Sometimes you don’t know where you’re staying or where you’re gonna be sleeping but for me, personally, I love it.
SB: Yeah, dude, I see you and then the next day you’re off somewhere. Then I see you again, and the next day you’re off somewhere else. Like fuck. That’s the life. I love travelling. I love spontaneously booking a trip. When I was living in London it was like…pull off an art show Thursday night and Friday morning fly to Berlin for a few messy days. Or kick it in Bordeaux for a couple of days and then take a little drive down south to Spain. Now I’m in California, it’s more like a little surf trip down to San Diego here and there, a weekend in Mammoth during snow season or a skate sesh up in SF or Portland. That kind of shit is so awesome. I don’t care what tomorrow’s plan is, as long as I’m there chilling and enjoying myself that’s all that matters.
LR: I don’t understand the way of ‘American life’. You work hard and then you retire and see the world. To me it’s like, you work hard to go travel. Since I was 16 I’ve been working my ass off, or skating my ass off, to do what I want and I don’t want to worry about it when I’m older. I’m trying to experience it all while I’m young and still able to fucking kick ass and jump around and be hungover and play music every night and skate every day. I’m not trying to wait.
SB: I was having this conversation with my mate the other day, and I’m interested to know your take on it. I think skateboarding is an art. I think everything from the way someone holds themselves both on and off a board, the way in which they curate their video parts, the dynamic within the different pro teams - I think it’s artistic expression. And on the other hand, my friend believes it’s purely a sport, a physical recreation, and is only interested in the athletic aspect of it. I’m not saying that they’re mutually exclusive; if anything, they’re completely harmonious, but I wanted to know what you thought from your perspective as both an ‘athlete’ and an ‘artist’.
LR: I don’t necessarily think it’s an art. But it’s all down to perspective. I mean, you’re right if that’s what you think of skating. Some people can think that someone doing a trick is art, and I don’t personally think that. I think that some of my favourite skaters have style that’s sick and that’s fucking awesome. In that same argument, it’s in the Olympics now. People are trying to claim that it’s not a sport, but Nike is a huge part of skating right now. If you’re going to make the argument that it's an art, then you have to make the argument that it’s just as much of a sport as it is an art form. But I think of it as a form of entertainment, because that’s really what you’re doing. You’re producing something for someone to enjoy. When I go to a demo, I try to perform the best I can so that kids can enjoy the show. I think that they’re there to see you be a pro skater. I think of it as more of entertainment then an art form or a sport, but that’s just my own realm of what I think I’m doing. Obviously someone like fucking Nyjah, he’s an athlete. He’s a buff fucking dude who rides for Nike and Street League. And there’s nothing wrong with being a buff dude who rides for Nike. And then there’s skaters who aren’t even that good but they’re super stylish and look cool on a board but kinda suck at skating. It really doesn’t make any difference to me.
SB: I like that everyone can have their own take on it, but still enjoy and support it equally.
LR: Yeah! It’s a bummer that there are people in a certain realm of skateboarding that try to dictate what it is. Realistically, fuck them. If you’re some older skater and you’re trying to tell some little kid what’s good for them, then fuck you. If a kid wants to wear Nike or Converse or Emerica and look up to Heath Kirchart or Nyjah or Dakota Servold, who the fuck are you to make it about anything other than what they want it to be? It’s always these older skaters that try to dictate what it is. Fuck all those dudes. Let the kids at the skateparks do what they want. I don’t care. Who the fuck gives a shit?
SB: Theres a lot of weird stigma around skateboarding and where people want it to go. It’s all bullshit. I think the reason skateboarding is what it is, is because a bunch of different people with different personalities found something that was for the ‘outcasts’. Or whatever we like to call ourselves to feel better about the fact that we’re all fucking weird and probably wouldn’t have any friends if we didn’t skate.
LR: Exactly! And honestly, when I got into skateboarding, it was 100% different to how it is now. I got into skateboarding because I was a loser getting made fun of by kids in high school, getting called gay for wearing tight pants. And now people are getting into it because it’s a popular thing to do.
SB: It’s ‘cool’.
LR: Yeah, its a cool thing to do. Not that it wasn’t a cool thing to do when I was younger, but no one was doing it. You felt like you were on to something. Now that it is a popular thing, people are trying to turn it into a subculture. Theres no subculture about it. Everyone who tries to talk shit like that or say anything about it usually rides for these corporate companies that fund their fucking bullshit anyways.
Realistically, skateboarding to me is talking shit with your friends, having fun, skating for little kids and not ever trying to grow up. I try to treat it as much as I can in the same way now as I did when I was younger. Obviously there are some things that I have to do, and some obligations for me as a professional skater, which I totally understand. And I take those seriously because I take my sponsors seriously, and I take what they’ve done for me seriously…and I don’t take anything that’s come to me from skateboarding for granted. But, at the same time, I will make fun of everything because I find it funny.
So yeah, I take everyone who supports me seriously, but I’m definitely not going to take myself seriously.