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February 17, 2007

{     Interview : Jeremy Fish     }    

Late last year I touched base with Jeremy Fish to do an interview while he was in Philly for the "Little Creatures" show. I get to the Lineage Gallery and Josh, the owner says, "the dude is upstairs." I climb to the second floor loft and say, "what's up Mr. Fish? How's it going?" He responds, "not so good." After a brief conversation with him I find out that the issue was hanging the nine decks he made, which were seemingly unmountable due to a wall that Ben Franklin built. Relocation was looking like the only option. Clearly, Jeremy was about to flip out. I tell Jeremy that I know a little something about concrete walls and could help. He looks at me skeptical through the corner of his eye and says, "yeah, I really am about to flip out and I can't do anything until I get this done." After a minute of small talk Jeremy gets up and is muttering, "this drill bit sucks. I need a new bit." I ask Josh, "do you have a hardware store around?" He points me two blocks away and hands me 20 bucks and says, "get what you need." I race to the hardware store to buy concrete anchors and hammer drill bits. Less than 10 minutes later Jeremy and I are hammer drilling the shit out of this plaster/concrete/brick wall. After 30 minutes of serious labor we are all high fiving each other and talking about how the decks will never pull out. From there Jeremy and I go bullshit in the loft and put some shit on tape. At the end of the evening I was rewarded for my last minute labor, paid in full with vinyl toys. On that note, take a few minutes to read all the things you might not know about Jeremy Fish.

Manuel: Now that we have that installation stuff taken care of, tell me about the mythology themes found in your work. Is this something that comes from your childhood or is it something that you developed as you grew older?

Jeremy: I think it is a little bit of both. My mom was a teacher, so my sister and I had this ridiculous library of children's books. During my early childhood we kinda lived in the middle of nowhere so there was not a lot to do but sit around and flip through all these books. Like most guys our age I was raised on Richard Scary and Dr. Suess, all those golden children's books. I think there is a definite element of that that comes through in my work, that and the older cartoons. I will admit that I am not as into reading as I am into watching cartoons or at least when I was little I wasn't. So I think its a hodgepodge of both. The last couple years I have gotten really into the Grim Brothers. I always knew that they were the original story tellers behind a lot of the old Disney stuff or shit that they took and reworked. So I started to follow them a little deeper and got more into their stuff, and it's as classic as mythology story telling gets. I think it's something that I draw a little bit into just because it's something that I got into the last couple of years. But yeah, as a kid Richard Scary, Dr. Suess and cartoons. As a kid you live those cartoons, I would get up and run around the house and really just pretend I was in it. I really hope that does not wear off. As corny as it is, I like that and still have very clear memory of that stuff.

M: What was it that attracted you to skateboarding and what was your first real skateboard?

J: All the dudes in my neighborhood were into it and it just caught on really fast. The summer between 5th and 6th grade I bought a Santa Cruz Jammer, which is like a really crappy bullet, no concave. It was probably the first price-point complete that Santa Cruz put out. The first like real skateboard that was sold as a complete that wasn't sold in a toy store. It came with Indy trucks and pretty good wheels, but really it was just a piece of crap. I bought it used for 80 bucks with money that I got for my birthday, which still to this day seems like it was cheap. So I rode that thing forever and then it fell apart so my grandfather and I refurbished it. We sanded the whole thing down and patched all the parts that fell apart and repainted it so it was kinda like new. Then my grandfather made grip-tape. He was like "I have never seen sandpaper with adhesive on it." So he was basically like "we will just glue it on there."

M: So that is where you got so tech with the glue gun.

J: Probably yeah, I don't really remember how he adhered it. I feel like he had some fancy glue or something that he made but however he did it, it never came off. That shit was perfect.

M: How did you first get involved in the skateboard industry?

J: I got lucky as hell. I went to school in San Francisco and a lot of the friends I was skating with also worked for companies that were getting real big back then. So anyway, I got a job at a print shop that was doing all the printing for Deluxe, Slap, Thrasher and Think among others. When I was offered this job I was in Portland, and the dude that hired me... well his boss just randomly didn't come in one day. So my friend who was the assistant manager at this place that was taking in big money every week. This was a big business for a 21 year old dude, and all the sudden his boss just never came back, the people that owned it were the same owners that started the northern california skateboard industry , same guys that started Indy and Thrasher were like here take the rains. They were like "better hire an assistant" we'll see you later. So he was like, dude I am fucked, he had only been there a year. He knew how the place ran and how to do his job, but he didn't at that point know how to be the guy in charge. So he called me and said "I will give you this job, but you have to be down here in like two days". So I packed my shit and ran down there and that was what kinda opened the door. I was the production manager and we were still printing boards at that point before all the companies went to transfers. That was really dope. In the past I had done a lot of printing from posters to stickers, to wallpaper, prior to getting out of school. Yeah, so through Print-Time I learned a little bit more about how board graphics were done and definitely a more professional way of doing it than what I had learned on my own. But anyway at that time I was doing little art shows, in cafes and small galleries, and the guys from these companies would come. So then the guy that owned "Think" finally started to get into what I was doing and started giving me some freelance gigs. Like do a t-shirt here, a board graphic there, one off's of stuff, and Slap asked me to do a t-shirt, then Thrasher. This was like the first few things I got to do, but they all did really well and they all were really psyched so eventually the art director at think quit. I guess they were like: "the dude in the print shop is finally doing pretty well so why don't we pull him out of the printshop"; so they gave me the job as an art director. But right after school there was no way that I could have gotten that job. I only got this far because I dug myself out of a basement with the "hey you guys wanna take a look at these" or "hey, you wanna check these out?" I kinda got a lot better after I got the job. I just put more into it as soon as it was a full-time deal.

M: Then you went on to start your own underground skate company "The Unbelievers". I have been hearing some nasty rumors about it, so what is the status of "The Unbelievers?"

J: It's the Done Believers. It's over. I got hung out to dry this past spring in this nasty turn of events. We did the company for four years on a paper thin budget. I made some people some money to pay their mortgages, while I was still sitting in a cold shack with no heat. Scott had some weird shit happen to him and he ended up moving to France, to do something that he had to do. And I supported it because he's my friend as well as my business partner, so at one point he was in France for like two years and I was kinda holding the reigns. I started the brand, but I was never going to be like a team manager or a skateboard company owner. I wanted to do graphics and make cool shit and had no real interest in holding up the tent. So all of the executive skateboard company decisions became mine and it really started to wear on me. But at that point I was still pretty ok with it and we got an opportunity in the last year with this other manufacturer and distributor out of San Diego. Same company that was doing our heat transfers and they really loved what we were doing. They felt that this company could be so huge but nobody really knew who we were. But that was how I like it, coming from working in this huge company I didn't really want that exposure so much, we didn't care about ads. In the beginning I guess i did. We launched some ads, but the company didn't really generate sales the way we thought it would from ads. So the ad budget got pulled like eight months into it. Then there was this part of me thinking, "wow, imagine we can still be selling a thousand boards a month just on word of mouth." To me that seemed pretty good, even for small company numbers, those were big. So this dude was like "we're gonna take you in, give you a solid ad budget, you can do more soft goods, make a video, do a tour." He was basically telling us that we could do all the things that were just not possible before. So we got all excited and pulled away from our existing manufacturer, the guy who we had done it out of the gate with. Who in my opinion is a really righteous guy and a really awesome craftsman and deadly concerned with the quality of his skateboards and his reputation, but really could not ad and subtract any better than I can and I am not the guy who should be running a business. You really need somebody in there that can do the math, so consequently we pulled away from him while the new manufacturer got his act together. So I was in Taiwan in July and I had half of my catalog finished for the trade show this fall and I was ready. Then this dude e-mails me and is like: "hey, sorry to lay this on you while you are overseas, but I'm having some trouble with my loans, I think I am going to put the whole thing on hold for another 6 months or so." This guy really just hung up the company. If I hadn't pulled away from the existing manufacturer I could have kept doing it at the pace we were going. I was doing twenty graphics a year. It was a big strain on my time and even though I wasn't making dick on it. Long story short, we got fucked.

So yeah, I e-mailed him back and was like: "fuck you, you hung me and my company out to dry and I have no interest in continuing to work on this brand with people who front on money they don't have." This was the same problem I had with the first guy. First guy made all these promises when we sat down to meet, then a year later he denied he ever said them. So, I was about to go to bed with another company that still didn't have the money to take it where it should go, so I just couldn't do it. Honestly, the hardest part was Putting Scott Borne and those guys in that situation of looking for a new deal. Sure they are skateboarders and they are my friends in the end, but it really sucks to have to tell your friend "hey your skateboarding career is over." I mean, I was never nearly good enough to be a pro skateboarder, but because I draw or whatever, I can go on to work for these other skateboard companies. More so than a pro skateboarder who went and did it, that kinda feels shitty. Scott went and did it. Scott did what he did and he did it super well and I think he earned a spot in the history of the sport. But does that entitle you to a career that will last you a lifetime? Probably not, skateboarding is just not that generous and it does provide that hard. It won't provide that hard even if you do whore yourself, unless you are that top 20 dude, it's a tough gig for sure.

M: You recently put out your collaboration with Aesop rock "the next best thing." What inspired that and do you have any more collaborations lined up?

J: Aesop is one of my all time favorite rappers and a mutual friend of ours. I mentioned to him that I was a really huge fan and his wife knew my work and liked it. He moved to San Francisco after he married this local rock and roll bad ass named Allison. So we ended up meeting, and I am not a big fan of hanging out with my hero's. You know how it is, you meet them, they suck, then you kinda don't like what they do anymore. We e-mailed for a while and I really got the feeling he was pretty normal. He is not a pretentious guy and he didn't come off that way so I was like: "ok' let's meet." At the time I really did not realize how similar we were. We both grew up skateboarding. He is from the Northeast, he's like a year younger than I am. We had friends that we both knew and hung out in similar places. We were like brothers from different mothers, same sorta cultures, but you get to an age where you take either one thing or the other seriously. He took music seriously and I took art seriously. It's not like I never tried to write a rap in my life, but it was something that I wasn't any good at. But working with him was cool, I actually got to help him design the song. I came up with the idea after coming across a big stack of those Disney records and books. So I brought them over to his house and showed him all the funny things, but I didn't have a record player. So he was like: "we should fuck with these. Make a book and a 7"." So that was how it started. Not only was I really able to get to know someone who I had always admired but he was also really like minded and really respectful of what I was doing. The guy is also really clever. Like he is just not a dumb dude, he went to an art school, he's a painter, he can paint. He can even draw better than I can on some levels. Maybe not line oriented character stuff, but he could draw you better than I could. It's kind of annoying, I hate people who are good at everything and he's is one of those dudes even though he would never admit it. But yeah, I am doing his next album cover and packaging, we actually kinda talked about doing the set design for his tour this coming summer. So I could make like giant characters they could fold them up and take them along. Since he doesn't have a lot of friends in the city, I get lucky and him and his wife take me along to a lot of shows. We saw a show at the Fillmore and he started talking about how you can't just have a banner and a DJ anymore so hopefully something good will come out of it. I can honestly say this next record is the best thing he has ever done. I was really scared because San Francisco is not a sad or gloomy place. His music is sad and gloomy, in a way he can find the ugly beauty in the dirty urban side of life. Living in San Francisco, I was thinking to myself that this is going to be the "Bambi-est" album you ever make. So when he handed me this record done I was still kinda scared but I really love every song on it except one which is his favorite. But seriously it's the best thing he's ever done and I am stoked to be a part of it.

M: Do you have plans of doing a lot more commercial work or are you focusing on painting?

J: No, I like to keep a steady balance. I don't really just want to work off of gallery work. I like to do the commercial stuff because it trains me to think in a way that I might not otherwise. It pays better and sometimes I even have a better relationship with my clients. Sure I do get ripped off and jerked around by some of these corporations and sure it gets frustrating. So there are those times when I think I should just do fine art, but then at the end of the day even galleries will be like this brown one sells really well but the blue ones don't. So could you please do more of the brown ones. Yes, I am calling the shots, but whether it's gallery money or commercial money, somebody always wants to grab the wheel and steer it for me. I don't bend much, but in a commercial work I try to be flexible. I do understand that this is my job and I don't want to think it will only last a few more years so I try to bend as much as I can, without feeling like I am being raped.

M: I first started seeing your work in "Slap Magazine" in 2002. It became something of a staple in "Slap" for a few years then I just stopped seeing it. What happened and where did you come up with the idea for the Big Stupid and any chance for a Cameo?

J: I did the Big Stupid for three years and Mark Whiteley, the editor of Slap, gave me complete creative freedom. Mark is one of my all time favorite people and at the time I really needed it. I have been given so many great opportunities as a result of "the Big Stupid". It was funny because they were like: "We want you to do a comic". I never read comics growing up, I never had any real exposure to comic books growing up, so I looked through a bunch of comic books and was like: "I can't do a comic." If think if a guy who doesn't do comics tries to do comics, the guys who really do comics will look at your work and know that you don't do comics and just think you're a prick. So I was like: "how about I just draw two pages every month." They were like: "what, we are just going to print drawings that you did". I told them that I would try to keep it more interesting than that. I had some ideas about doing collaborations early on, but I didn't put it into effect for a long time because I figure these guys are not going to know who I am. If I am e-mailing my heroes I wanna have enough of these done so they can see it and know what it is. So about a year and half into it, I started contacting some of those guys who I really looked up to and for the most part I seemed to get a pretty decent reactions, "oh yeah we've seen your shit, we think it's cool, we'll do it." There were a couple of dudes who were like "I don't know about this", but for the most part I think even they would have come around by now. I really had the sickest guys lined up to work with. But then there was a weird control shift at High Speed and right after I turned in the 36th episode at the end of the 3rd year. Which came right in the middle of the collaboration thing. I was planning on doing that for two years and was a year into it. Then Mark called me in and was like: "look, you gonna want to fight me right now but we've had budget cuts and we have to eliminate outside contributors that doesn't directly influence the magazine. It's not that you don't but that is money that we could use to pay photographers. I didn't make much on The Big Stupid anyway, like $300.00 a month or something." But it is like anything you do just for the love of it.

M: It kinda takes me back to the magazine stuff we were talking about earlier.

J: Yeah, when you do something purely for the love of it at some point you're going to have to let it go. You gotta just hope that the residuals of what you did will take you on to bigger and better stuff. It's sad and it sucks but hopefully it will take you down a better road.

M: You did a movie this year, will there be a sequel or do you have any other short films planned?

J: There won't be a sequel, because it was a one off idea that was funny, and the sequel might be funny but it would not be that funny. I would love to do more film projects. The guy that I worked with on that is really fucking amazing. He did the Stereo's video, he does the Krux commercials.

M: He did the Stereo's "Way Out East" movie, I love that video.

J: Yeah, he did that, he is amazing. He is a young dude and he is just so good at what he does. He works for a post production house on the side, so when he does projects for fun they trick it out for free. So he took it into the studio that probably would have charged us 50,000 dollars and had these guys that sit around and get paid crazy money, to fix it up. I saw it when we finished the ruff cut and then saw it later and was pretty impressed with what they did. So we were all really happy. Aesop was super stoked. We won some awards. Complex voted us "the best conceptual project of 2006." Different film festivals around the country got in touch with Eric. It was invited to be this collage of short films by real filmmakers. Spike jones and others, like proper guys making films. So Eric was really stoked on that. It was like the first thing he had done that kinda made its way out of skateboarding. So he's really jazzed and I would love to do something with him again in the future. But that is a huge invest in time and I just don't have time anymore. I have a hard time making time to just go do fun shit with my friends. Things like that usually take at least a few weeks. At 32 years old it is hard not to be screwing off for a few weeks without feeling guilty at some point.

M: Yeah, this is true for sure. I read an interview a few weeks back and you said that Jeff Soto was the guy you were keeping your eye on... who recently have you been keeping your eye on?

J: This guy from San Francisco that I used to live with that won't ever make it on a grand scale because he is his own worst enemy and his own worst critic and he is kinda nuts. Matt O'Brien who used to ride for Real back in the day. He rode for them in the mid 90's and left just before he would have probably turned pro, he had a few good video parts. He had a really dope part in Real to Real was it..? But anyway, he went on to start making pictures, actually he was making art even back in those days, but different art that what he is doing now. His stuff now is just sick as fuck. He's channeling into some real kinda high art circles in San Francisco. He is definitely not going down these roads at all. He kinda looks down his nose at what I am doing in some senses. But he is going to kill it. He is a really really crafty guy, really independent and starting to draw really well and I think with the combination of those things he could really go on to something special. But more in this type of niche I have my money on Aaron Horkey. That guy is so amazing. He makes me want to stop and get a job at Safeway or something. It's humbling to look at his stuff. I would say that he is somebody the world should pay attention to. It's true though, when I mentioned Jeff Soto, he wasn't really that big when I said that, and look at him now. So yeah, I think Aaron Horkey will be the next big dude. You can find some of his stuff at

M: Rad, I will check him out.... So you have done shoes, clothing, skateboard graphics, magazines, and gallery shows. What could possibly be next for Jeremy Fish?

J: I want to make cartoons. Disney hit me up last year and they said: "we think you could design a great Saturday morning cartoon for 12 to 16 year olds", which is like the last age group to be serious about watching cartoons. So I was like fuck yeah! I hired a writer, got Aesop to write all the music. Then after a series of meetings with them I started realizing that this is something I would really like to do. I feel like I spent the better part of my 20's and now 30's and probably into 40's entertaining hipsters, who by the time I am in my 40s will be having children. By that time I think I will probably be at an age where I don't really want to entertain 20 somethings as much. I am already getting to the point where I don't really understand them? I am so far removed from some of them that sometimes they really annoy me. I am really grateful for all the support thus far, but if I am still doing this type of work for this type of audience than it just might drive me off a bridge. Art is really about who you are communicating with. I mean it's like with the whole gallery thing. I can't say that I won't always do this but I would hope that it is more like once or twice a year as opposed to 13 times a year. This is really the 13th show I have had this year. Fuck beating the life out of myself. I can see going on like this for a few more years, but at some point you're just going to burn out.

M: Speaking of beating the life out of something, if San Francisco and New York were to battle to death, who would win?

J: New York! San Francisco is better and cooler but New York is just tougher. Just because you put better and cooler against the tough and the tough will win. We have a better quality of life, we have a better climate for having a conversation with another person and we probably won't die from unnatural causes. However, if the two cities were to fight, not like the cities grew legs and had a fist fight but if the populations of each city fought New York would just demolish us. even if the mayor of New York enforced some sort of "one on one" thing going we would still get killed. Or if we had just the middle class of New York to go we would still get slaughtered. Even if you had the toughest people in San Francisco, we would still get worked in like 20 minutes and the fight would be in the mid-west someplace and New York would just kick our ass and keep walking and just go and take over SF. Yeah, I hope that never happens.

M: What would Jeremy Fish be doing if he wasn't doing the skateboarding art thing?

J: I have this rad back up plan, which would be bagging groceries, and I am not being sarcastic or condescending or anything. This is legit. I always feel like people in this world can be really hasty and fickle and I always think that I could always be the next pete rose or whatever and if I make one wack art show if I could be abandoned and that could be the end of it. So what are you going to do. After a lot of hard research I think I would be a grocery bagger. In all seriousness I think it's one of those jobs, you are laughing, but I am not kidding. Seriously, if it gets to the point where I am not even making money with my art or just need something else part time I would totally do it. They make ill money, benefits and pretty good vacation. It's not hard physically. When you leave at the end of the day it's not like you are going to bring your job home. This part about my job now I just never really leave. I mean right now I might go out and meet a friend or make a meeting but I am just showing up and thinking about what I need to do. Like earlier you saw, I honestly could not think until we got those decks hung. You're like "well you wanna do this now or should we wait." Like honestly wait, I had to hang the decks first because that is all I would be thinking about. So thanks for help. Thats the responsibility of being your own boss. To actually do something that you could actually leave at 5:00 would be rad. I could have a normal life and have girlfriends that didn't resent my work. I know there will be people that will be like you're lame and ungrateful, but I'm not. It's just really idealistic to think about that. I have had shitty jobs for most of my life. But I have seen grocery bagger do it till they are way old. They make like 20 bucks an hour which isn't a lot of money but it's more than enough to live on.

M: Do you think a grocery bagger really makes 20 bucks an hour?

J: Yeah, at Safeway, if you have been doing it for a while. Maybe not right out of the gate. Straight off you're probably making 10, 12 but after you put in a good 15 years bagging you are definitely 20 an hour. I don't know, that's my back up plan and that is where I am gonna go when all else fails.

M: Come to think of it, it is kinda nice to bag your own groceries.

J: You're the dude that is going to end my grocery bagging career.

M: So does jeremy Fish have any words of wisdom?

J: Yes, be careful of what you wish for because you just might get it and then what are you going to do.

Thank you Jeremy Fish, Josh and the gang at Lineage Gallery and the dude who loaned us the drill.

Interview: Manuel Bello
Images: Nate at Lineage Gallery

     » SillyPinkBunnies
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Top Fucking Notch

Posted by: Eric at February 19, 2007 2:32 AM


Posted by: THE PIXELS at February 20, 2007 10:41 PM

Those skateboard decks have got to the coolest things I have seen all year! NeeetO!

Posted by: Bastard Child at April 28, 2007 6:52 PM

J Fish is the f-ing king of all this ish.

Posted by: john at June 27, 2009 7:44 PM
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