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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

During a little break in the news this week, a couple of us here at WEEKEND EDITION walked down the street to the local skate shop to get into that skateboard-culture groove.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: We were preparing to talk to Tommy Guerrero, a member of the legendary Bones Brigade of street skateboarders in the '80s.

SEABROOK: Do you know who Tommy Guerrero is?

Ms. ADDIE BELIE(ph) (Asylum Wake Skate Snow): Yes. Gager.

SEABROOK: He's like one of the original skaters.

Ms. BELIE: Yeah, way back when. I've just been playing catch-up on the old-school skaters lately.

SEABROOK: Yeah?

Ms. BELIE: There's been like a real resurgence in interest in them.

SEABROOK: Addie Belie works at the skate shop called Asylum Wake Skate Snow. She's dressed head to toe in black, nose ring, wide-gauge earrings, bullet-studded belt. We explain that since Tommy Guerrero's '80s skate-guru days, he's co-founded his own company, Real Skateboards.

He's - now he's doing music. Have you heard any of his music?

Ms. BELIE: No. I didn't even know that.

SEABROOK: But his kind of music is really not punk, it's not thrash or anything like that. It's much more sort of slow, jungly, groovy kind of thing.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BELIE: There's that whole culture, too.

SEABROOK: Yeah?

Ms. BELIE: Skating is one of those things that just kind of transcends all cultures. Like you have the hip-hop kids who do it, you have the punk kids who do it, and then you have the kids who like listen to Depeche Mode or feel like dancing every day, you know, and they skate, too. So I mean, you can't really like pigeonhole people when it comes to skating.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: You can't pigeonhole Tommy Guerrero either. He's been called a three-headed beat: first skateboarder, then entrepreneur and now a one-man groove factory whose beats and base lines seem ready-made for the streetscapes of the skate culture.

But San Francisco native Tommy Guerrero says his music, like skate culture, defies neat definitions.

Mr. TOMMY GUERRERO (Skateboarder, Entrepreneur, Musician): I've seen it in so many different categories inside record stores that it's hilarious. I've seen it under jazz, which at times has some elements. I've seen it under electronica, which some of the records I use electricity, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUERRERO: And I just - it's just rock and roll, really - instrumental. I don't know. It's really hard to say.

SEABROOK: I know I've read in past interviews that you do not like being called a skateboarder-turned-musician.

Mr. GUERRERO: Well, I think you are who you are from the get-go, you know? I don't think you turn into anything. I think you develop as a person, you know, as you go through life, just like anything, and things really find you. That's how kind of I feel about skating. You know, it found me, and the same with music. But you know, around the same time I started skating when I was nine, and I started playing music when I was about 12. Me and my brother and friends were in punk bands from '79 to about '84, so I was playing music pretty heavily then when I was skating. It's just when I turned professional is obviously when music took a backseat because I was too busy traveling, things of that nature.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: I read an interview you did with (unintelligible) magazine about your recording set-up. You do all your own recording. Is that at home?

Mr. GUERRERO: Yeah.

SEABROOK: And what kind of gear do you have?

Mr. GUERRERO: Tech-Dock(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUERRERO: Well, I have - obviously I have way too many guitars. I'm sure my wife can attest to that.

SEABROOK: As a wife of a guitarist, I know all about that.

Mr. GUERRERO: Yes. There you go. One more -ism. And you know, a lot of basses as well. But I actually have - my main bass is a '63 jazz that is just something that I'll never part with. It's actually plug in and go. It's direct. I rarely mike amps and stuff because of the situation where my studio's downstairs above, basically, right underneath my son's bedroom, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUERRERO: And most of the time I'm working at night, so you know, I can't really, you know, turn up the Marshall to 11 and like, yeah, let it rip.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUERRERO: So it's all direct. And so you know, there's a sense of immediacy for what I do as well.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: You know, I know - again we get back to the skateboarding thing, but you've done so many different, interesting things in your life. You've been an amateur skateboarder that just totally ripped apart all the pro skateboarders when you first started. You became pro. Then later, you started your own skateboard deck company, and all along, you've been doing music, and now it's your main focus. Is that right?

Mr. GUERRERO: Well, I'm at the company pretty much every day. I've been taking off Fridays to work in the studio more, but it's really flexible. I don't have to be there every day. I have - mainly, one of my jobs is to take care of one of the companies called Crooked Skateboarding, which is Mark Gonzales. He's a figurehead for it and does all the art, and I do - I manipulate all the art and lay it out on the skateboards and do all the layouts for the ads and stuff.

SEABROOK: What's the thread between all these things? Do they all feed your - that Zen place, that right-brained creative place?

Mr. GUERRERO: My manic energy?

SEABROOK: Oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: But I wouldn't call your music manic at all.

Mr. GUERRERO: No.

SEABROOK: If anything, it's groovy and moody.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GUERRERO: Yeah. I mean, once I sit down to actually play, I mean for me it's a total release, and it lets me sort of let the music absorb me, and it pulls me in and, you know, I try to let it take me where it wants to, you know, and sort the vehicle or the conduit for something else channeling, you know, channeling something good out there. And that's the main thing in the music that I try to get to, a place where you transcend, you know, this whole existence and let it take you and see what happens. And I've had it happen a couple times at live shows, and it's, you know, you open your eyes later and you're looking around like, whoa, where am I? So that's a goal.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: The producer and I stopped by the local skate shop here by NPR, just to sort of get in the mind space for this interview, even though you're, you know, you're not - it's not your main thing anymore.

Mr. GUERRERO: Good luck with that.

SEABROOK: And we talked to a couple people there, and it seems like skating isn't just about doing tricks and a form of transportation. These are things that people use it for, but it's this whole culture of music, the clothes, the graphic design. Do you still fit in to that?

Mr. GUERRERO: Yeah. Well, I mean, first of all, I'm around it every day still. You know, I'm a the company. And I think the main thing about skating and any sort of creative artform is basically trying to escape being a 9-to-5 person. It's sort of out of necessity because I know they won't fit into that mold, so they're like man, I'd better find something else quick because I'm sure not getting up at 8:00 to go sit in traffic to - you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUERRERO: It's just one of those situations. But yeah, I think I fit right in. I mean, it keeps me young, for sure. People never ever even imagine how old I am. It's pretty funny when I actually tell them, or they look at my ID and they're like, whoa.

SEABROOK: How old are you?

Mr. GUERRERO: I'm 40.

SEABROOK: Oh, that's young. That's - 40's the new 30, or the new 20.

Mr. GUERRERO: Someone else told me that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUERRERO: You know, tell all of my joints that, as they gobble glucosamine, you know? In the morning, I'm like I've got to get up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: I think 40's the new 30 is something that people like me say that are just terrified of getting older.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUERRERO: Yeah, because 50's down the block, and you're like, whoa. I mean, you know, I remember not even thinking I'd be here at this age, so you know.

SEABROOK: Right, planning up to 21, and then from there on, it's all blank space.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUERRERO: Exactly.

SEABROOK: So with all of this stuff and all the things you've done and are continuing to do with your company, with everything, the CD - do you still have time to skate?

Mr. GUERRERO: The question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUERRERO: You know, it's so funny. There's always something that keeps me from skating for the most part. I mean, you know, I've trying to go to the skate park that's in, you know, where I live. It's a little skate park. It's not even very fun. But I went there just a couple weeks ago and it was closed due to vandalism. You know, somebody had poured some paint or something, and it was just like - I'm just an old guy who's just trying to go to skate before work. I mean, give me a break here, you know? I actually made time to go skate, and it was closed. And I was like, oh man, if I hop the fence, I know I'll get arrested. It's just, you know, I'm like I'd just better go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: You're all grown up now.

Mr. GUERRERO: Nah, not even. Hardly. You know, I think about skating every single day.

SEABROOK: Tommy Guerrero, whose new CD is called "From the Soil to the Soul." It's on Quantum Projects TVT Records. Thank you so much.

Mr. GUERRERO: Cool, yeah. Thank you very much for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: Full music cuts of Tommy Guerrero and links to a couple of his skate videos at npr.org. This is NPR's WEEKEND EDITION.

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