This December we had the pleasure of going to the private opening of Element’s first UK flagship store in Convent Garden, London. We were lucky enough to meet a host of Element’s team of advocates and riders as well as founder Johnny Schillereff. On top of meeting so many recognisable faces the real icing on the cake was the honour of having the opportunity to chat with legendary professional skateboarder, musician and photographer Ray Barbee. Ray put out some of the most stylish and timeless skateboarding anyone’s ever seen in his part in Powell Peralta’s 1989 video “Ban This” and that talent shines through in his music and photography today.
As a skateboarder it’s an honour to meet you, thanks for taking time to chat with us…
I’m super spoiled man, it’s crazy when I think about all the opportunities and being able to do it for so long. I had no idea when I first started skating that I’d be 43 still having fun and making a living.
It’s no secret that you’re an avid musician and photographer as well as a skateboarder. Could you tell us a bit about the Element “Perspective” and your roll as a part of it?
It’s a series based around photography and images. The cool thing is that the skaters, advocates and personalities that are a part of the Element program are so creative and are pushing out having multiple interests outside skating, photography being one of them – they’ve got a big pool to pull to pull from. I love Nick Garcia’s eye – he shoots really cool photos.
Guys like Levi Brown or Nick Garcia are guys that a lot of people don’t know are into photography and shoot, so for them to be able to share images is one of the coolest things about the perspective…People get to find out that these guys have an interest in photography and shoot cool photos. Everybody likes to see their image put on a shirt.
What’s the story behind your images in the collection?
I gave them two images. I gave them one from a festival I played just outside San Francisco called Treasure Island, the other was in Osaka from a record store that we visited out there. I just liked the perspective because they had records all on the walls and then you had the records in the bins…
I love black and white you know? Black and white’s my favourite by far and a lot of it’s because I love printing in the dark room too. There’s just something about being in charge and in control of the process from the jump… Once I’m done with my roll I don’t have to send it to anybody, I process it myself, I know what I want it to look like – then when I print it I can treat it the way I want, I don’t have to explain it to somebody. That’s another thing I really appreciate with black and white, not just the virtues of it being very accessible and simple in the fact that you can do it at home.
Colour’s heavy… To process colour and to print colour is like a whole other thing and thankfully I’m not excited about colour. Another aspect that I really love is that we don’t see in black and white so there’s no rules really. People are either emotionally affected by what you’re doing or not but they can’t say it’s wrong – with colour people tend to have stronger opinions… We see our skin tones, so when they see a photo – if this photo comes out and my skin tone is red or orange people can call it out. Like “those colours are weird, their skin tone’s weird”, they already have a pre-conceived idea of what it should be… Black and white is just free – because we don’t see in black and white it’s full expression, it’s however you wanna treat it. Sometimes I’ll take a print and I’ll just burn it, I’ll just print it down and make it dark. They can’t say it’s wrong, they can just say they don’t like it. Black and white also has way more to do with shapes and form so you approach it differently. When you suck the colour out of things and reduce it to shades it gets interesting.
Element’s grown into a global phenomenon since it’s birth in the 90s. What’s it been like witnessing something you’ve been a part of for so long grow into something so big?
Well you know, Element becoming more recognised or growing as a brand started with Bam [Margera]. When Bam did Jackass and then pushed into Viva La Bam and that whole craze – that put a lot of eyes on Element. So there’s a lot of that that’s put Element on the map within peoples’ consciousness and with a lot of people that don’t come from skateboarding. That coupled with just skateboarding in general pushing out and becoming way more mainstream, commercial, whatever you wanna call it…
Element has a legitimate place in skateboarding and has risen up with it, then it’s able to benefit off of the notoriety of skateboarding – so it’s kind of all these things that pushed it to where it is, but I think to answer your question… It’s been a really cool journey. It’s not just Element it’s skateboarding in general. I started skateboarding when I was 12 so that’s 84’/83’… Part of the excitement of skateboarding was that it was just this mysterious thing. I didn’t know what the culture was, I just got excited about the skateboard and it opened me up to this whole new world – but there were very few windows into this world, especially back then… So when you go to school, during that time if you were into skateboarding there was this brotherhood, this camaraderie because there were very few people doing it. Nowadays everybody’s wearing skate inspired brands so you don’t know who just thinks skateboarding’s cool and doesn’t do it, or who are skaters. It’s hard now… You can try and look for Ollie holes but back then you didn’t have that challenge. Back then it was like, “you’re wearing vans? Dude you skate.” There was no doubt about it…
It’s really interesting to look at footage and photos of you from around the time that ‘Ban This’ came out. Shell-toes, turned up jeans, no complys… All seems remarkably familiar to what we’re seeing near the forefront of skating right now. What do you think about the comings and goings of trends in skateboarding?
Yeah it’s interesting, what most people see as no complies we always called step-hops. It was my friend Randy Smith that I grew up skating with who turned me on to the straight step-hop – where you snap the tail and then you hit it off your leg and hop with it… Neil Blender came up with that name the no comply, he did it off a parking block. Those guys would bonk off the parking block, so we just saw a distinction and we called them step-hops, but I guess what I’m saying is.. It’s really neat to see the new kind of interest towards that approach…
For me skateboarding’s interesting because there are tricks that come into fashion or whatever you wanna say – and then they’re gone, but they’re just gone… Some people are doing pressure flips but for the most part, they’re rare. Bonelesses went through that for a little bit… I guess on a personal level I get excited in thinking step-hops and these tricks we got into doing and stumbled across – like if those get put into a place close to say a kickflip or a tre flip, those tricks aren’t going anywhere. Kickflips aren’t going anywhere, 360 flips aren’t going anywhere.. It’s just kinda neat to think that it might be in that realm… Time will tell right! People could hop on the next thing, but I think the interest towards it is a good sign that skateboarding is getting back to a good place where it’s fun. I think there’s a sense of rebellion against the gnarly videos that are just hitting you over the head with this amazing skateboarding. I think there’s starting to be a disconnect with people wanting to get into skateboarding and that fun aspect that excited a lot of people to get into it, so I think there’s a bit of a response to that in like, “we’re gonna have fun and we’re gonna embrace this approach.” It’s way more carefree and it’s way looser… It’s closer to what I grew up being inspired by and what got me into skateboarding, it’s fun! But it’s all packaged in there, it’s not this idea of, “I just wanna cruise.” It’s like, “I wanna push myself and have fun doing it.”
Do you think you’re seeing that more in footage that has come out this year like Supreme’s “cherry” and other montage-like videos?
Well that’s what I’m saying! The very fact that there’s a resurgence or interest towards step-hops, no complies or whatever you wanna call them… It’s the proof and indication of how people are treating skateboarding now. Like, “Lets have fun I wanna get back to this approach!” Then you have brands like Polar and you have brands like Welcome. You have Pontus Alv and those guys that are being very obvious in getting it back to where it was, having fun and embracing it – I think that Cherry has a lot of that feel. I was really surprised how many people were doing no comply step-hop kind of ideas. It’s cool because it’s progressed to other levels too, I’m just hyped that it didn’t die off with the pressure flips.
Where do you see the future going with skateboarding? Do you think it’s going to stay as cool as people think it is right now?
Skateboarding’s always gonna lead trends, It’s always gonna be one of the number one influencers in street culture. I think skateboarding’s always gonna have that ability, so I don’t think any of that’s gonna change… I feel like it’s just gonna grow and be even more diverse. It’s eventually gonna get into the Olympics, its just inevitably gonna go there… You’re just gonna have all of these different kind of camps. You’re gonna have that camp of people who train to skateboard in the Olympics, you’re gonna have that camp that’s in Street League and the Dew games. Then you’re gonna have the Supreme “cherry” camp and the Girl & Chocolate camp… You’re just gonna have all these different camps and they’re gonna just exist, so I think they’ll be more of that – but it’s always gonna progress.
The cool things is that with the web, with youtube, with people doing really cool blogs and things that champion the history of skateboarding, and the access kids have to look into it is a huge part of keeping skateboarding in a healthy place. It’s a huge part of keeping skateboarding what it’s been over the last X amount of years. I trip out when I meet kids that are just like, “We loved your part in Ban This and Public Domain it’s inspired me!” I’m just like, “That’s crazy how do you know about me!?” There’s such a gap but they’re online and figure it out. They’re searching on youtube or whatever and with instagram, social media, the web… It keeps all these important moments in skateboarding alive and helps them not to fade. When someone like a Jay Adams passes… There are kids that just got hip to Jay Adams and what he brought to skateboarding. It’s much the same in music like what the Stones, Zeppelin and The Who did for all these American Blues dudes that everybody forgot about. It took these young English enthusiasts in Blues to be like, “These are the dudes! Muddy Waters! BB King! Robert Johnson!” Then all of a sudden, “Oh these guys are awesome!” These dudes were always awesome, you didn’t care until these dudes started saying that they cared… Skateboarding has that. There are people that care about the history of skateboarding- because they care about it people coming into skateboarding will get hip to it and start caring about it. That just keeps it all in a good place. So I think the future’s good because of those kind of things…
What about the future for you? Do you have any projects coming up inside or out of skateboarding that we can look forward to?
Yeah I’m trying to get better so I can get some licks in for the Vans video – and then Element’s working on a video too.
Are you going to have a full part in that?
Word willing, if everything goes good I’ll be able to be a part of that… I’m working on a new album so hopefully next year there’ll be a solo album, then at some point doing a photo book. With Element we’re actually doing a capsule collection. It’s gonna be geared around my interest in photography, so I’m excited about how I wanna approach that. I wanna do a really cool camera bag -we wanna do a little book to come with it. Then the goal is very much like this, the launch of the line. I’m sure I’ll come perform and hang prints from the little book that will be packaged with the collection.
Words: James P.Lees
Imagery: Lily Brown