Interview by Reuben Barrack
Bryan is a very social guy. He learned from a fairly young age how to balance skateboarding and music while working a full time job, which allowed him to make connections with all different types of individuals who helped shape his creative pursuits. He knows how to party but also keep his shit together. He also understands that skateboarding, like punk rock, has no rules. This encouraged Bryan to start his own independent, collective recording project titled ‘Goal Achiever’ with the inclusion of various local bands in the San Diego community, and a little help from his day job savings mixed with a natural DIY spirit and attitude. From getting knocked out at his first punk show to learning his first ollie, Bryan knows how to roll with the punches and embodies the vision we aim to showcase here at Shieldless Mag: well-rounded, talented and multidimensional figures who love skateboarding for the pure act of performing it. On that note, fuck the rules, squat the world. Here is Bryan Phillips.
First off, how are you doing? What’s new in the life of Bryan Phillips?
I’m doing good. I quit my job, so that’s cool. I quit on my birthday because I didn’t want to work there anymore. I was a bartender at a party/brunch restaurant and it was a fucking grind. I would get in at six or seven a.m. and I would leave by two or three p.m. I would have time to do what I wanted when it came to pursuing my artistic endeavors, but I didn’t have the energy or mental bandwidth to do them to the best of my abilities.
So, I saved up a bunch of money and now I am an unemployed piece of shit [laughs]. I’m still very busy with my bands and recording, but now I just get to wake up by 10 a.m. most days instead of six. So I’m not a full degenerate.
How old are you and when did you start skating?
I’m 27 years old, freshly. Trying not to freak out about that. I started skating two times [in my life]. My first board was a Mongoose board from WalMart, I got it when I was about 10. And I just fucked around on it. Made my first really shitty ollie attempts on that, and then I kind of put it away and picked it back up from 15-17. That’s when I first started learning tricks.
What inspired you to start skateboarding?
I have a fraternal twin brother, and I was the smaller of the two, which psychologically fucked me up. My brother’s great and we have a great relationship, but I grew up in a sports family and when you’re a child and it comes to playing sports, if you’re bigger, you’re better. I mean, there’s more to it than that but – you get it. My brother was huge for a kid and I was fairly average sized, and compared to him at playing soccer I wasn’t as good. That automatically gave me a strong distaste for team sports; I was bitter about their competitive nature. They always rubbed me the wrong way because I felt like they held a value set that I didn’t identify with. So I was an outside kid and still very physical, but I didn’t know what to do with all my wiggles! Skateboarding was perfect for me because it’s active, but there’s no rules.
Also I could skate better than my brother. It was the only thing I could do better than him, physically. I figured it out before he did. I remember I did my first, proper flatground ollie that wasn’t rocketed, and my brother got mad. He was super angry with me [laughs]. After that I was like ‘I still love you, but fuck you, I’m better at this than you,’ and that’s how I got into skating.
“I still love you, but fuck you, I’m better at this than you”
When did you start learning how to play guitar?
My mother taught me how to play guitar. I was a church-going child, my family was extremely religious. I’m not anymore. I didn’t like going to Sunday school when I was young, I thought it was dumb. I’ve never respected top-down power structures. There’s nothing wrong with giving respect, but it has to be earned. Anyways, my mom would teach the little kids at Sunday school, and she would play guitar for them and sing songs. So I would play for them too and that’s how I started.
What was your first introduction to punk music? When was your first punk show?
My first punk show, I was fifteen. This is kind of a wild story. The pirate punks had what they called ‘sewer shows,’ which is a bit of a misnomer because it was in the runoff system under the 94 [freeway]. My friends Ashley and Nathan knew about these shows and asked me to come check it out. We all lied to each other’s parents and said we were staying at each other’s houses then took the trolley to city college from the outskirts of East SD. We walked for miles, drank what we could on the way.
We found out we had to get to a certain intersection in the San Diego metro area where we could get through a hole in the fence to get under the 94, walk along the side of the freeway and then drop into a manhole cover. We were all really excited when we finally got to the intersection but we didn’t see anybody or understand really how the fuck to get in. But then we saw this man with a big, blue mohawk smoking a cigarette. He dipped into the fence and we all followed him, there were two tunnels and you had to stick to the right. There was a band playing and people smoking everywhere, it was really intense for my otherwise pretty sheltered 15 year old self. It was pretty late at this point and we weren’t sure how long the show would go, so I jumped into the pit. The moshing, it was wild and addictive. It hurt but I liked it. And then, I totally blacked out… not because I was drunk, but because of aggressive head trauma.
Nathan and some guy next to him who he didn’t even know saw some sort of scuffle going down, and these shows are all self-regulated, so they decided to break it up so that the show could continue. Nathan’s pulling people apart, he looks down and said ‘Oh god, who’s this poor bastard? He’s beat to fuck’ And then he realized ‘Oh fuck, it’s Bryan! We gotta go!’ So then we had to gather our friends leave. I don’t remember any of this because when I hit the ground my head made intense contact with the concrete floor. I was knocked unconscious, and bleeding pretty profusely from the side of my head. When I came to, Nathan’s arms were forklifting me and my heels were dragging as he carried me away.
Then we had to stumble home, but there was no where for us to stay because we all lied to each other’s parents about where we were staying. So we called our friend who had recently graduated and we crashed on his floor. I took a shower and pressed a paper towel against the side of my head. I didn’t get stitches, but I definitely should have.
And that was my first punk show [laughs]. I really got initiated! From that moment on, I knew I could do that for the rest of my fucking life, and so far I have.
“And then, I totally blacked out… not because I was drunk, but because of aggressive head trauma”
Growing up in SD, a hub for skating and punk music, were there any videos that influenced both your skating and style of music?
Videos from the late 90s to mid 00s were the ones that formed my taste. We’re talking Misled Youth, Emerica’s Yellow, Welcome to Hell. Baker 2G, that video is iconic.
That was the first time I heard the Locusts, local heroes [from San Diego]. Yellow had The Adolescents, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag. Jamie Thomas and Adrian Lopez skated together at the end to Danzig, right?* As of recently, Garrett Hill skated to “MTV, Get Off The Air” by D.K. So, you can tell where my musical and skate foundation are. The marriage of punk rock and skating goes as far back as the bowl and vert skaters [of the 1980s]. It was more ubiquitous at that point. But I didn’t really get into skateboarding or punk rock for that matter until street skating was king.
*Yes, skatevideosite confirmed.
Why do you think so many skaters gravitate towards music as a creative outlet?
Freedom of expression: the ability to take nothing but your body and make something new out of it. Skating and music: on the one hand they’re archived through records and skate videos, and on the other it’s very much something to be experienced live. When you’re playing, you experience a zen-like state, which is why I like skating so much.
If you know me, you know I’m a very high stress person.
I have a hectic brain. It usually feels like I’m held hostage by my own internal monologue, it has me at gunpoint [laughs]. In All Beat Up, I explore a lot of my own anxieties and trepidations – issues that I wrestle with in my own brain when it comes to who I am and what I’m about. But when I skate, all of that shuts off, for at least a couple hours. The only thing going through my mind is the motions of a kickflip.
And that’s really important to me because I’m not good at being a meditative person. When I skate or when I play a show, I get to open my eyes wide and actually perceive in the moment. That’s why it’s so addicting. People who have intense meditative practices spend their lives searching for what punk bands and skaters get to experience all the time. It’s fucking magical.
“I’m held hostage by my own internal monologue, it has me at gunpoint”
Who are some of your favorite punk bands? What does punk music mean to you?
By way of influences, when it comes to legacy acts, I’m Dead Kennedys or die! I also like heavy metal a lot too, so I’m really into Uriah Heep. I like Thin Lizzy a lot. Early Ceremony really speaks to me. Also MC5! By way of modern bands, Pile is one of my favorites. Baptists as well. Also Iron Lung and Power Trip. A lot of my favorite bands are also here in town.
A lot of people from the scene skate! The folks in Therapy, I skate the ramp in their backyard all the time! Jimmy, the drummer from Bayonet, fucking shreds! Daniel Ramesco, the drummer from bobxross also rips! I joined a punk band full of skaters when I was 18 and that’s how I met Jeremy [Garcia], the current drummer in All Beat Up. He’s one of my best friends in the whole world and also my roomate. He’s way better at skating than me, he’s fucking amazing!
The real ethos of the matter, between skateboarding and punk rock is that there are no rules. That’s essentially what makes [both] so awesome. The only rule to being in a punk band is to say you’re in a punk band. After that you can literally do whatever the fuck you want. Punk rock is a celebration of freedom at its utmost. As long as you do it honestly and you’re out loud about it, then you’re being as punk as you possibly can be. And if anyone tells you otherwise they have a lot to learn about punk rock. The same goes for skateboarding… it’s a reaction to a pretty oppressive world – they’re both reactions to the same thing as far as I’m concerned, which is a very narrow view of what your life can and should be about. And when they’re both done in their best ways, the reaction is ‘Fuck you! I don’t need to have a 401k… I don’t fucking care. What’s important to you doesn’t have to be what’s important to me.’ Fuck the rules, squat the world.
Do you think learning new trick gives you the same sense of gratification when creating a new song?
They’re pretty different for me. My song writing process [in All Beat Up] is fairly personal. I’m also in a heavy metal band called Tome and we perform as wizards, writing songs about a wizard’s journey. Songs are more born out of jamming than written. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, just play fun heavy metal. With All Beat Up I’m a lot more intentional with my song writing. I think about how I can complicate certain riffs and songs that have inspired me. And I try to find a way to pull from them in a way that doesn’t ape them, but pushes the genre forward.
Whereas in skateboarding I am certainly pushing my boundaries, but I’m not nearly good enough to push its boundaries in any fucking way [laughs]. But I’m always excited by the prospect of learning a new skill. If I’m really hitting a wall when recording a band, or with song writing, I’ll do what I refer to as my ‘two-fers.’ I’m kind of a flatground guy, so I’ll go outside and do every flatground trick I have on lock twice. After that, I move onto tricks I can only do sometimes, and I try to land those once, then I’ll start throwing hail-mary’s. It usually takes me an hour to get through everything. That’s how I clear my head and get my brain unclogged. So creating songs and skating serve different purposes, even though they are related as creative pursuits.
You recently started a recording space in your home for local bands called Goal Achiever. Tell us a little bit about that and why you felt the need to cultivate this project?
With Goal Achiever, I’m very much about improving myself and pressing myself to get better. When All Beat Up was getting started, I realized that I didn’t have money to record anything. It can be really expensive, and I was intimidated by the whole process, so I decided to teach myself.
I bought everything I needed one piece at a time over the course of a couple years while teaching myself online. I was watching YouTube videos about how to [record] on the technical side, as well as listening to interviews by rock and punk music producers about the choices they make when it comes to mixing and setting up recording sessions. I went on a long journey of learning and made a lot of mistakes.
One day, my neighbor Deb Reeves popped up out of nowhere! She was walking her dog when she heard us practicing in the house and decided to knock. Deb teaches recording and post-production techniques at a local college and as a part of her program, she had to spend a certain number of hours out in the real world making real music. She saw my studio and was willing to donate some of those hours to me while at the same time taking me under her wing to show me the finer tools of the trade from a real professional. Through her pointers, I gained the confidence to start reaching out to other bands and start making records for them, and that’s how GA was born.
The whole attitude behind GA is also very much inspired by the punk scene here in the mid city. It’s very supportive, there’s no shit talking or competitiveness. We all help each other out a lot. We’re here to give each other connects for tours, help each other record music, or helping someone to make merch. Everyone can do something for each other and it’s really fucking cool. With the decentralization of music these days and how it’s fully spread out, it’s easier now to gain traction as a DIY scene than it was in the past. Everything I’ve ever gotten through GA or All Beat Up has come from an eye-contact hand shake. Nothing I’ve gotten has come from social media. I form real, concrete relationships with people and that’s how [we] end up going on tour, putting out music, and getting good shows.
You also concluded a tour recently of the West Coast with a few bands in GA. What were some of the highlights?
We went from Tijuana up to Seattle, hitting pretty much every major city along the way. It was a D-Wrex and All Beat Up split tour. It was cool to do a tag-team tour! A big highlight was Seattle, we played at a punk house called the Pizza Palace started by a bunch of young kids [18-20]. They recorded our entire set with a VHS camera, it was sick! They’re down for the cause and are really about fostering their own DIY scene. Nobody handed them the torch, they just picked it up and lit it themselves and I really respect that.
What sort of advice can you give for any young punks out there trying to balance gigs and a dayjob?
You’re asking the wrong guy [laughs.] Fuck it dude, burn it down, burn your social security card… I don’t have any good advice in that capacity. But, I will say this: if you work for good people who understand your pursuits you should hang on to that for as long as you can. Do what feels right, and know that you don’t owe your dayjob fucking anything.
“You don’t owe your dayjob fucking anything”
With so many trends in skateboarding these days, do you think there’s any hope for sustaining a punk ethos within the culture?
Absolutely! Skateboarding these days is just corporate interests trying to squeeze money out of a rock. It’s a lot of big brand, athletic companies, who can operate at a budget deficit in skateboarding because they’re playing the long con. Mostly in footwear at this point. Mark my fucking words though! Soon enough there will be a deck company that is financially backed by big budget footwear companies if it hasn’t already happened. I’m looking at you, Numbers… [laughs].
The holy grail of personal skate identity is the deck brand, and soon enough that’ll be taken over by corporate interests, too. It’ll be like Redbull Skateboards, go fuck yourselves…
That being said, skateboarding as a whole used to be a counter-culture. And now it’s pretty mainstream. So, there’s going to be a sect of skateboarding that serves as a counter to the mainstream skate culture. And that’s whose media I will consume, and whose products I’ll buy. It’s not going to go away, it’s just going to change.
Is it important for skaters to support skater owned brands?
I make a conscious effort to not consume media that is backed by corporate skate interests. They. Do. Not. Care. About. Us. We are numbers to them. The quality of our culture will diminish as it is marketed as a commodity. There is no real life or soul breathed into culture if it is treated like a market. They are valuing sales over artistic integrity. Sometimes a healthy amount of weariness is important for a scene to maintain its integrity. I think it’s important to analyze someone’s intentions. If you’re only involved in skateboarding for a buck, or to look cool, I’m not here to tell you not to do it, but I am here to tell you that I don’t respect you. I see a lot of kids, they’re into it right now because it’s big on instagram, and they’re going to age out, which is fine by me. They’re not in it for the right reasons. They think skateboarding will make them cool, not because they like the act of skateboarding… you can smell it a mile away. It’s about why you’re here, not what you know. I’ve only ever skated for the pure enjoyment of the act and what [this] culture has given me philosophically and emotionally. I stand to gain nothing from it but broken bones and sprained ankles.
“I stand to gain nothing from it but broken bones and sprained ankles”
What can we expect to see from GA in the near future?
GA has been free for a while now, I kind of thought it might be free forever. It’s free-ness was very important to me, helping bands record who might not otherwise be able to afford it is deeply rewarding. That said, I am also a working class artist. I’m not like, sitting on a trust or something. The savings I’m currently living on are the crumpled booze and sweat-soaked dollars of a server/bartender- and they won’t last forever. ‘You gotta work to eat, you gotta eat to live,’ Aladdin said that.
What I’m getting at is the nature of GA is changing. I’m looking into getting a space that’s not my goddamn living room and making a real studio out of this pursuit. Call me a sell out, I don’t give a shit. The community service aspect of GA will never die, but it might change. What does that look like? I have no fucking idea, but I’m not afraid to find out. GA was born out of a desire to help working class musicians get a much needed leg up and that desire will continue to be its true north. I just gotta like, eat. And live inside.
What makes you happy/drives you to keep your passions going?
It is absolutely a sense of community, and this extends to GA, All Beat Up, and skateboarding. It’s everything to me, it’s why I wake up in the morning. I’m so blessed to be surrounded by my skate buddies and everyone in the SD punk scene.
Thanks Bryan, I think we got it! How should we wrap this up? Any final thoughts or people you’d like to thank?
Shoutout to everyone in the SD metro punk scene. The whole west coast punk rock community, from TJ up to Seattle there are so many awesome, kind people. On a personal note, thank you Deb Reeves for taking me under your wing and giving me the confidence in my own ability and to extend myself toward other [bands]. Alex from Sun Sick Studios for his guidance as well. Sean Slingerland for being such a buddy and being one of the most vocal advocates for All Beat Up and Blaine for giving us badass shirt art! Nick McInvale and all the guys in All Beat Up, Darrel [D-Wrex] and Jeremy who I love with all my heart. And to you rubez for being such a sweet guy. Thanks to skateboarding for ruining my knees and ankles [laughs].