Interview by Nick Shields
The local San Diego artist, Loser Heavy, known for his punk show flyers and funny prints hanging in SD coffee shops, most recently gained notoriety for his full series by Zero Skateboards that just recently released last week. Blaine Slingerland grew up in Hawaii as sort of an outcast coming up in the very small and unlikely punk and skateboarding scenes on the islands. His self declared skating prime peaked right around the time Zero was a thriving industry leader and their videos shook the entire skate culture for years to come. Inspired in his youth by videos like Toy Machine’s Welcome to Hell and Zero’s Misled Youth, Loser Heavy found it a surreal opportunity when asked if he would do a full series for Jamie Thomas’ legacy brand. Blaine is a very humble dude and very grateful for being given the chance to work with a childhood hero of his. We wanted to get to know the artist and see how this all went down and what it’s really like working with The Chief… and sorry for blowing your anonymity Blaine!
First off, is Loser Heavy like an anonymous pseudonym, or are you pretty open that it’s you?
I mean, I think the intention was it was supposed to be some kind of anonymous tag. But I’ve been pretty open about who it is. I don’t really care if people know but it’s also kinda cool if it is an elusive thing. I sign everything as Loser Heavy and I don’t really have too much stuff social media-wise that points at Blaine Slingerland being Loser Heavy, but yeah I’m not too worried about it.
There’s definitely some coolness factor in it being an anonymous thing but maybe professionally it doesn’t always help.
I think at the end of the day it’s like, I work freelance for a job, I do web design stuff. My illustrations and my art become another way to make freelance money, just doing custom art for people. But where I was actually getting paid was doing websites for people so I created a separate branding for Loser Heavy because it was more of a punk and skateboarding oriented thing. Initially it was less of a, oh I wanna have an artist tag and more of a I just need to brand my illustrations a little bit differently.
How long have you been putting out art under the Loser Heavy name?
I’ve probably been putting out art under the Loser Heavy name for about two years. What I would consider to be the beginning of my illustration career was maybe like four years ago. It hasn’t been too long.
How would you describe your style of illustrations?
I think it’s just because of the background I come from. I grew up skating and playing in bands and really the whole concept behind doing illustration and starting to draw stuff was that I was just trying to make cool flyers for punk shows. I just wanted to draw some skeletons and weird bones and shit just for show flyers. I think really it’s kind of blunt I guess, really stark black and white. I don’t do anything too detailed, and I really just try and keep it to be an “in your face” and high contrast kinda punk style.
“I really just try and keep it to be an ‘in your face’ and high contrast kinda punk style.”
Well I think you’re nailing that! How long have you been skateboarding?
I think since I was in the seventh grade, so I was probably twelve or thirteen. I’m thirty-five now, so whatever the math is on that [laughs]. Initially when I started skating I lived in Hawaii and we had a little south Kona skate rat gang. From like 1999 to 2004 were probably my most serious years as a skateboarder where I think I was the most capable. Then I moved to California and started going to school and stuff and slowed down a lot. I just got more into [forming] punk bands and going on tour, skateboarding fell by the way side until just recently.
Three years ago our friend got a mini ramp for his birthday and we just started skating his mini ramp all the time. Then he moved away and was like, “Hey, do you guys wanna take my mini ramp?” So that was when my reintroduction to skateboarding happened.
So that means when you were at your peak those were heavy Zero days, when they were really thriving! Was that company and their videos a big influence for you at the time?
Oh yeah, Welcome To Hell, Misled Youth, those early Tum Yeto videos. Toy Machine, Foundation, and Zero. That was our shit for sure! Because we were also punks in Hawaii and that was a weird thing too. The main music that everyone listened to in Hawaii was super chill, it was reggae. We were dressing like punks and we were getting into punk at the time we were also getting super deep into skateboarding. Zero was definitely that company that reflected “The Rocker.” Everybody was skating to Rush and Black Sabbath, so that went hand in hand with where we were going in our lives anyway.
Also from a filming aesthetic too, because I was getting really into videography and filming skateboarding. I loved the way those old Zero videos were filmed where there was always a big fisheye and it was from a low angle. There wasn’t a big emphasis like, okay, let’s show that crooked grind from three different angles and we’re gonna put two of them in slow-mo. You would just have to catch it really quick like, holy shit! That guy just crooked grind this huge rail and they’re not going to show it again. So I really liked the aesthetic of like black and white skulls and how the videos were filmed and the music that was in the videos, the full package of those companies really resonated with us.
“…let’s show that crooked grind from three different angles and we’re gonna put two of them in slow-mo.”
Yeah the way they cut those videos all fast after they land the tricks would force you to have to rewind the VHS tape if you wanted to see it again!
Yeah, and you would get so pumped listening to the songs. A lot of the music that I got into in those early years came from watching those videos. You would just hang out in the credits section in the thank you’s like, okay cool, I can see that they thanked Black Flag so let’s look up Black Flag and try to go through their library until we find something.
That’s rad! So let’s get into this Loser Heavy Zero series. How did this collaboration come about?
It’s funny, but you can kind of trace all this stuff back to punk and skateboarding. My band Therapy was playing a show at The Casbah with that band The Spits, they show up in the latest Zero video. We went and played the show and when we got there somebody was like, “Hey do you guys skateboard?” and we were like, “Yeah we skate or whatever,” and they said “Well you’re gonna be stoked to know that Jamie Thomas is going to be coming out to this show!” Jamie Thomas’ Misled Youth part kind of created the foundation for how gnarly I ever wanted to be as a skateboarder. I don’t usually fanboy out but this was something really cool for us.
So he showed up to our show and watched our set and afterwards he came up to our merch booth. He was going through our merch and was like, “Hey, who does your guys’ art?” I was standing there like, “Well I do most of it” because I had done our record cover and a couple tape designs. He said, “It’s really cool man, I’d love to put this on a board some day.” I was like oh he’s just being nice or whatever ya know, I didn’t think he was being serious to any degree. Sure enough like a week or two later he hit me up and was like “Hey man, I’m going through your instagram and seeing a lot of stuff that I think would work really well on boards. How would you feel about doing a series?” And that’s just how it started, it was that simple of just playing the right show on the right night.
“…it was that simple of just playing the right show on the right night.”
Jamie has a bit of a tough reputation sometimes, what was your experience like working with him?
It’s been super easy, and I appreciated what he did. Basically in his approach he was like, “Look, this is what I don’t wanna do. I don’t want to tell you what to draw because in my mind I’m seeing your art and I’ve already got ideas of what I want out of it. So, I’m just gonna go and take stuff that you’ve already done, and you let me know if you’re cool with me putting it on a deck. And if so, then you don’t even have to draw anything new.” So it’s been kind of a weird experience because I didn’t actually draw anything new to put on those Zero decks. That was all stuff that I had already done. So, it’s been super painless. It’s been a really fun experience, he’s been really present and like texting me back kind of giving me a rundown of how it’s going to go before it really happens.
What stuck out to me was that the bottoms of the decks don’t say ZERO on them, which is kind of abnormal for that brand. So it feels like he really let your art shine on there.
Yeah, I was kind of hoping that it would say ZERO on the bottom just to get that recognition of being like, That’s my fucking art on a Zero board! But I think because of the art style, all of the decks are laid out in a way where half of it is white and half of it is black. I think that lends well to my art style. In the end, I do appreciate that it just lets the art be the art and it just tells you who’s board it is and that’s pretty cool.
Did you have any say in which rider got which graphic?
No that was Jamie’s say. I don’t know if he brought those to the riders and asked them what art they wanted or if he kinda just assigned it himself. But when he came back to me originally he already had the names on there.
How’s it feel to see “Art by Loser Heavy” on the top of the decks next to the Zero logo?
I mean all of it, honestly, is really fucked up [laughs]. I mean I never expected it. It’s been kind of a weird ride because I was just doing art for free, drawing punk flyers, I was just trying to get people to go to our shows by having a cool looking flyer. I’ve done some record covers and some stuff for local bands like All Beat Up and some others. But definitely nothing on this level, so it feels like a real ramp up. I don’t really know where to go from here, I’m like, What can I do that’s better than getting my art on a Zero deck? It’s been a trip for sure.
I’ve been out of San Diego for a couple weeks now, just traveling around and I haven’t been able to actually see any of the boards yet in person. I’m excited to get back and get a run of them and take a look.
I’ve got two in my living room right now and they look pretty rad!
Awesome! [laughs] I think because I didn’t do new art for them and it’s sort of been in this weird production state for a while, I don’t really think I’m gonna get that excitement overload until I’m actually able to hold one of the boards. Then realize like, Wow! This is a skateboard, I’m gonna put some trucks on this, I’m gonna do a kickflip, and then realize it’s a Zero deck and it’s my art on the bottom.
Hell yeah! How long did it take from the initial idea of the series to the boards coming out?
That Spits show was in August of last year.
Social media is pretty crazy, have you seen any response since they posted about it? Like any gain in followers or people hitting you up?
I think that was actually a lot of the selling point for Zero in this, because they aren’t a huge company anymore. They weren’t able to be like, here’s a shitload of money for your designs. But they have like half a million followers on Instagram or something and they were really clear about being like, “Here’s the thing, we can’t offer you a shitload of money but when we start posting about this we’ll push your art really hard.” In the last couple days [since they posted about it] I’ve definitely seen a surge in new followers and just people hitting me up. It’s super appreciated to have Zero posting about it and having the word out there and really supporting me as a small-time local artist.
Yeah that’s what I think is super rad about it too. A lot of companies are just licensing out the rights to cartoons and stuff for graphics nowadays. So it’s cool of them to go out and seek local artists that also skate.
Yeah it felt like the perfect union for me. It was the epitome of my punk and my skateboarding roots finally hitting this perfect stride together, where my skateboarding icon from my childhood asks me to do art because he saw my punk band play somewhere.
“It was the epitome of my punk and my skateboarding roots finally hitting this perfect stride together,”
Yeah that’s a crazy circle!
[laughs] Yeah it’s also cool because I’ve been skating for twenty years and I’ve been playing in bands and touring, and dedicating my life to being involved in the punk community too. So after twenty years, to have that give back to you in a way that feels fulfilling, I’ve pumped all this time and money, and effort into skateboarding and punk rock, and now those things have given back to me. I feel like it’s a real win for D.I.Y. culture and real proof of the formula.
What’s next for Loser Heavy?
It’s hard to say, I’m kinda just riding this wave and seeing where it takes me. It is gaining me a little bit of recognition, or definitely a lot of recognition in the skateboard industry and it’s been a weird journey. My art keeps getting pulled in different directions and when I feel like I’m gonna settle in one area, then it changes again. Originally I was just making punk flyers, then I started doing some work with Flower Chainz, it’s a pretty cool clothing brand and they do a lot of anime-based collab stuff. So it was looking like I was going to start drawing a lot of anime stuff.
Then during the process of that happening I got hit up by a wrestling company, like a brand that was creating clothing just for pro wrestling [laughs]. So I started doing wrestling pieces and then I started getting hit up by wrestlers. So I was just kinda like, this is weird, I guess I’m going to be a pro wrestling artist. Then that kinda just stopped and I went back to doing local bands’ record covers and cassette covers. Sure enough, through that the Therapy album cover was what Jamie looked at. So I guess now I’m a skateboard artist. So now I’ll probably just do that until the next thing comes about and sends me in a whole different direction. It’s going to be a hard thing to follow-up. This is way above anything I would’ve expected in an art career. I really have no idea man.
“I guess I’m going to be a pro wrestling artist.”
My last question is, what pays more: a Zero series or a punk flyer?
[laughs] I guess it depends. I mean, the quickest answer is Zero boards, for sure. Because generally I don’t charge any money for a punk flyer but what I do is I’ll just draw out a piece of art and really have no plans for it. Then I’ll [end up] making a flyer out of it but I’ll still sell prints of that original art.
Cool man, well that’s it unless you wanna throw in any shoutouts!
Shoutout to everybody who supports any artistic ventures that I take, whether it be coming to one of my bands’ shows or really just coming to any San Diego punk shows. There’s a pretty cool resurgence of really involved people in the scene. Like Bryan [Phillips], who’s a powerhouse all around as far as being in bands and helping us book shows and doing his thing with your mag. So people like that and supporters of what’s going on in the San Diego punk scene. Anybody who’s down to buy my art or hire me on to draw a record cover, or a skateboard, or a wrestling shirt or whatever it is [laughs].
Buy the Loser Heavy x ZERO Skateboards series at your local skateshop, and if you don’t have a local skateshop then buy ’em Here.
Cop some prints from Loser Heavy from his website loserheavy.com
Keep up with Loser Heavy on Instagram HERE.
Find music from Blaine’s band Therapy on bandcamp.