A Conversation with Mike Vallely of Revolution Mother

This is the original transcript of the interview, only minor editing has been applied for readability. This has been the basis for articles but has never been published in the original form.

Wortraub: You are doing Vans Warped right now, both as musician and skater … how is that working out?

Mike: Well, actually it is the first time that I am on the tour at all. Being out here this summer, with the band, touring is great. And I am skating as well. It is working out great. It is like a dream come true. Being on the road with my band and skating are the two things I love most. That is not hard work for me, that is who I am. That is what I love to do. It is working out great, I am having such a great time.

Wortraub: Is that the ideal combination of both worlds that you are in?
Mike:
I think it is. This is why the Warped Tour started. It started because of skating and punk rock music. For me this is a great environment, a great venue to showcase my skating and my music as well. So, yes, it is the ideal combination.

Wortraub: Do you see great differences in those two worlds?
Mike:
For me, both skateboarding and music come from the same place. They are both creative outlets for me. Forms of self-expression. I skateboard to express myself, I make music to express myself. For me, they come from the same place. It is about the same thing. Within this culture, the action-sports, punk rock culture it is all intertwined and the music and skating go hand in hand.

Wortraub: So, what is the appeal of it? What was it for you?
Mike:
I think, the appeal for me was … I saw punk rock music as a place to go with my feelings and my thoughts, my aggressions. It is a great outlet for that stuff. And the same with skateboarding. Music and skateboarding both offer you a way to express yourself and be aggressive in a somewhat positive matter. That is the appeal. I think we are all looking for that release, that outlet. I think music and skateboarding offer that in a fairly productive and positive way. That is a good thing. That is why I have been a pro skater for as long as I have, that is why I am persuing my music now. It is something I feel strongly about it. Something I need to do for myself, but also something I like to share with other people.

Wortraub: When you started out, both music and skating were different though. Truly underground and off the people, not an industry, not co-opted …
Mike:
… well, I am glad that I got into punk rock and skating when I did. When it wasn’t about the money, it wasn’t abouth the fame and it wasn’t about the hype. And I am glad for that, because it has always kind of kept me in check and focussed on what was important. The best years of my skating and the best years in music for me was when I got started in 1984-85, before I was sponsored. That is what skating was for me. A profound impact on my life and something I carried forward with me every day. So now to have skateboarding grow into what it is and for the music scene to have become so big, something like the Warped Tour even existing. There is a lot of bullshit you have to sift through, but it also means there is an opportunity for me to share those core beliefs that I have, the things that I learned when I first started. About skateboarding, about punk rock, the whole Do It Yourself mentality. I am interested in a large audience, I am interested in sharing with as many people as possible: at least the spirit of the thing, and the things that I really value as being important. Of course, if something gets this big, there is a lot of non-sense that comes with it two. That is why it is up to people like me and others that grew up in another time period and have been affected by skateboarding and punk rock music in the same way to get up there and share it, share what they have learned and pass on the torch if you will.

Wortraub: You started off with your skate career still a teenager in the 80s and have seen skating become a major trend and then go down again. You had a two-fold relationship with the industry. How are your feelings about skating and the industry now?
Mike:
You know early on and up to the nineties I had this love-hate relationship with the industry. I wanted to be a pro skater. I valued the idea of being a pro skater. It was something that was important to me but I did not know how to balance making a living and doing something I loved. Very difficult for me to deal with that. And then once you start getting sucked into the machine and spit out by it, it is disheartening. It is disheartening for someone to put you on a pedestal and then knock you off and smash you to pieces. At a certain point I had to put myself back together. I had to stay true to who I was and continue to do it my way, no matter what anyone else says or does. And that was very empowering. That is a very empowering thing to go through: to survive. And it take some courage, some bulls and a never say die attitude. And I developed that over the years and luckily I developed that because I was a skateboarder. Skateboarding taught me that. When the industry tried to kill me, you know, they couldn’t because I had been empowered. I had already fallen on my face and gotten up enough times to know that I had what it took. So, when it comes to the professional aspect of what I do, it is no longer an issue, it is a reality of it. There is a business side of what I do, it has to be addressed, but I focus on the creative aspects. It is the saving grace. If I did not get to skate and just had to work in the skating industry, I would go crazy. But I get to skate and I get to play music … sometimes skating itself is the saving grace from skating and playing music is the saving grace from being inside music business.

Wortraub: Why do you think the industry tried to get rid off you?
Mike:
Well, it is not so personal. It is business. Someone decides that you are no longer of any worth to them, then they just want to sweep you under the rug and be done with you. That is their decision. They can do that anytime they want. I just did not want that to happen. So I had to fight. A fight to stay in, to stay a professional skater. I have fought for so long, so hard that they have given up to get rid off me, because I am too much of a fight.

Wortraub: So, they decided your time was up and you disagreed?
Mike:
Yeah. I mean, everyone’s time comes up. Ok? In 1988, 1989 I was the man. I was one of the top street skaters in the world. But it is a very fleeting moment, it comes and it goes and is over with. After that, how do you stay involved? To me it was never about being the best guy. It was never about winning any competition, getting a medal or that kind of status. It was just about sharing skateboarding, that is what I learned from my heroes, like Lance Mountain or Mark Gonzales. I knew that I could still participate on a professional level in the skateboard community without having the blessings of the magazines or the videos. I did not need anyone on my side. I just needed to go do it myself and prove myself. And I have done that. I stopped listening to what the people had to say. I stopped following and did what I wanted to do. And throughout the years I have created an image for myself, I have build enough audience. And by now, I think I have crossed a threshold and there is no turning back, this is what I do.

Wortraub: Musically something similar happened … punk was underground, was picked up by the industry, like Green Day or Offspring and now has come to be a main stream thing? Do you think it still has that touch?
Mike:
I don’t know. I am not really impressed by what I have seen over the years. I mean, the bands you have mentioned, they sound great. It is good music. But is it punk? I don’t know what punk is anymore. To me, punk is a spirit, it is an attitude, it is a way of living your life. I feel very much alive, in the punk rock spirit, everyday of my life. I have chosen to live my life on my terms and do it my way. I think, that is the punk rock mentality. I do not even know if I play punk rock music. I think in spirit it is, but I don’t know what you would call it musically. I don’t know what punk rock is anymore.

Wortraub: One of your main influences in music is Black Flag … what is the most important aspect of their music? What inspired you about them?
Mike:
Black Flag is the first band that I ever saw play. And to this day it still is in the top 5 of the most important moments of my life. It was so intense, so passionate, so real. It struck a chord with me and I decided when I saw Black Flag play in 1984, that no matter what I did with the rest of my life, I wanted to do it the that much intensity. I guess, it was inevitable that I would persue music at some point. I thought, I would have persued it earlier in my career. I just happened to get really good at riding a skateboard and I got busy with that. Black Flag influenced my skating, Black Flag influenced my life. And it influences my music as well.

Wortraub: What was the main aspect though? The DIY attitude or rather the aggression that it transports? I mean Henry is a huge fucking ball of anger …
Mike:
I definetly relate to that. I find my music to be an outlet for that. All my skating as well. The DIY mentality is some really empowering stuff. That is probably the greatest gift I got out of skating and punk rock music. Even if I was unable to persue music or became unable to ride a skateboard I still would have learned so much about one of the secrets of life. And one of the secrets of life is, if you want to do something, then you just go out and do, do it yourself, make it happen. I mean … before I got into Black Flag and punk rock, I loved music, I loved Ozzy and he played in arenas, that was unattainable. You can’t be Ozzy. It is a far away and distant dream. But then Black Flag comes to your town and plays at a club and they destroy the place. You can go: ìWell, I can do that!î That is attainable. Punk rock music was a very positiv thing, it empowered me and made me discover myself and finding my own individuality. That is the greatest gift and something I cherish to this day.

Wortraub: But you have actually accomplished more of the Ozzy-Thing … I mean you are playing Vans Warped now, right?
Mike:
Yeah, yeah. But as far as a band is concerned, we are fairly low on the tour. We got a lot of miles to go, building an audience. But you know, I feel good about what we are doing. And we can build an audience. We are having a great summer anyway. That is our attitude. We are doing what we are doing and if it turns into something big, cool, if not, than we are having a good time.

Wortraub: Sounds more positive, than any statement I heard about you. You are infamous for your inacceptance of other peoples opinions and judgements …
Mike:
Well, business is in check. I handle myself. There is still a lot of assholes you have to deal with and a lot of bullshit. That is the way it goes and you got to accept that. But I still have that Fuck-You mentality and at the same time I am very positive about what I am doing. That is the duality of life. That is the way it goes. I don’t live by anyone else’s rules or concepts. So in that sense, yes, I am always in conflict with somebody. It is not major though. If you go through life as an outlaw, you accept it, you are on the outside of a lot of things. Life is a rollercoaster ride. Right now, I got a lot of people behind me, supporting me, feeling good about what I am doing. But their minds will change in a couple of years and they will hate me again. That is something I laugh about now, I can’t worry about other people. What they think. I have to do what I have to do.

Wortraub: I was even warned that your temper is so bad you might kill me over the phone …
Mike:
That is hilarious. People are crazy. That kind of stuff makes my life very entertaining. Even thinking that cracks me up.

Wortraub: Have you grown up then?
Mike:
I’ve grown, yes. Everyone should grow. Maturity is good. But at the same time there is a part of me that I have not been able to shake and I don’t think I want to. I mean, you need to have some conflict in your life, some aggression, something to fight against. Otherwise you’ll be in a herd. And if you get into so-called counter-culture, like skating and punk rock, you find out that it is just a different herd. Going against the grain than at least keeps life fairly interesting. I am interested in the path of most resistance.

Wortraub: Which brings me to your choices in career. After fifteen years of skating in 2001 you started the second career of music … why so late?
Mike:
It was a matter of timing. In the 80s I was on the top pro skaters in the world, I had a real run. In the 90s skateboarding died and I did not know anything else but skateboarding. I did not know what the fuck to do. I was just busy trying to survive. I was scraping any penny I could make, riding my skateboard. The 90s were dunking hard, I did not know if I would make it through. But when skating rebounded in the late 90s, because I never went away, I was still there. All I had was my tarnished name from the 90s. So I had to clean my act up, get it right. And there I was back on top. Around 2000 I had re-established my name, my career and now had some time and room to be able to search in my heart and soul. What other dreams are there? What do I want to do? Music was always there, as a dream, but I never had the time to do it. Come 2001 everything came together. I said, let’s do it.

Wortraub: Why then in 2005 did you change the band name and crew?
Mike:
Jason (guitar) and me thought we needed a change. We did not feel like playing the old songs anymore. We did not feel like pursuing that style of music. The band was broadening itself, but not quite. The idea of what we wanted to do musically changed and that just called for another name. Plus I never like the name Mike V and the Rats. That was something the band came up with, I was never comfortable with it.

Wortraub: You said, the style is broadening. So how would you describe your music then?
Mike:
I say it is music. Any direct, intense, passionate, aggressive music. You call it. It is punk rock in spirit, there is metal in there, there is straight up rock’n’roll. If I had to say something, I would say it is rock’n’roll. There are influences. Revolution Mother could not exist without Black Flag and Black Sabbath. We are very aware of that.

Wortraub: Yeah, your style of shouting reminded me of Henry Rollins …
Mike:
… yeah, that is pretty much inevitable. One, I can’t sing at all. Two, it was the first band I saw. And he makes the most of the little singing talent he’s got. I mean, he is pretty talented, but not with singing. I learned from that. I have been inspired and influenced by him and I make no apologies for it. He brings to the table, his energie, his passion … and that equips his talent. I try to take the same approach. I even share stories and talk to people, I go to schools and get kids fired up, but I am not as outspoken as Mr. Rollins.

Wortraub: So, you are giving back to the community?
Mike:
It is not giving back … to me it is just living. If you have been infected by something, moved and touched, than it is your responsibility to pass it on. I am more concerned about being a link in a chain. Giving it back sounds to me like I am on that hill, throwing down something for the peasants.

Wortraub: No, I meant the self-consciousness that you received from punk. You are giving it to the kids now, with what you do?
Mike:
Yeah, I think I understand what you are saying. I totally agree. I just look at it as a chain. I found something great and I am passing it on. The chain is a better image. It is the right thing to do, all on an equal level. I sometimes trip on the metaphors, but I agree with what you are saying. The sentiment is the same.

Wortraub: Last question: Your bio says Revolution Mother is a culmination of everything you looked for in a band … what would that be?
Mike:
I say it is a combination of everything that matters to me. This band is the best work I’ve done. This record is better than anything I’ve ever done on my skateboard. In the sense, that I am truly getting it out there. I can really express myself. Everything is just falling into place, and this is the result. I also mean the sound, it combines everything that I am into, the metal riffs, the hardcore balls. And it is all positive. It took 20 years in skateboarding and music to arrive at this point in time and to be here on the Warped Tour. It is clicking together finally.

Wortraub: Well, thank you very much for the enlightening interview.