Interview: Max Olijnyk / Photos: Paulgar & Joe Bonin
Since his small screen debut in 1996’s Welcome to Hell, Brian Anderson has been a steady contributor to the neverending moving image bank of skateboarding.
Think about it: Jump Off a Building, Modus Operandi, Yeah Right!, that surprise switch tre-heavy part tacked onto the end of Super Champion Funzone… all the way up until Giovanni Reda’s VICE documentary released in 2016 in which Brian calmly announced he was gay, and basically woke the skateboarding world up to itself.
That truncated list of Brian’s oeuvre seems more than enough for one guy, but just last week, he released Lannibug, an 8-minute long part created with his friend and collaborator Paul ‘Paulgar’ Roura, spanning the dim, dark early days of Covid right up to the strange, hopeful present in Fred Gall’s New Jersey. It’s a video with a lot of heart, and also a love letter to Alanna Gabin, Paulgar’s partner and Brian’s friend, who died in early 2021. I spoke to Brian and Paul one afternoon after they had spent the day painting a Pride mural in the Lower East Side.
You started filming this part around Easter 2020. To me, that feels like years ago.
BA: As a matter of fact, I was thinking about that as I was walking down the street in Manhattan today. I remember the initial lockdown when all the hospitals were full and all the ventilators were taken. Walking on the street, everybody really kept their breath to themselves for the most part, except when you’d go into one of the major train stations and it would be really sad, with the homeless people. That was such an eerie time, and it seems like two or three years ago.
And that was around the time you relocated out to New Jersey, right?
BA: I went down there in March, right after Tampa Pro. That was the first we started hearing about Covid, and then New York City went into lockdown, right?
PR: Yeah, I was already in New Jersey because I’d been working with Freddy Gall on a project for about a year already at that time. Even before Covid, I’d been trying to get Brian to come down and skate a little more, but once Covid hit, I was like, Brian, you’ve gotta come. We were skating all these spots that were pretty much untouched. Freddy and I were cutting out fences, pouring concrete wherever we wanted. The vibe was just so good, and finally, we got Brian down there and they just clicked immediately. Right off the bat, we got that Anti Hero ad, right?
Obviously, you guys knew each other beforehand, but it seemed that linking together and getting back into that skate rat lifestyle was a great way to get through a really heavy time.
BA: It was. I would leave the house for the day, and I’d be talking to my siblings and they were worried about their house and really terrible things that everybody was really nervous about at the beginning. Everybody having to work from home, that part was really wild. But then we’d go out skating and we were able to step away from the news a little bit. We were conscious of what was going on, like, we had our masks and everything, but we were lucky to have that, and we knew it.
PR: Yeah, we kept it really safe, actually. For one thing, we stayed in New Jersey instead of skating in the city where we all usually skate. There was nobody on the road, even. It was almost like the whole state was just ours. Freddy would be driving at, like, 90. Cops didn’t even blink. The few encounters we had with cops, they didn’t want to come anywhere near us.
What was your vision for the part?
BA: I just wanted to get an Anti Hero ad first, honestly. I was like, I want an ad, bad. We didn’t think about a video part. We were just skating.
PR: My primary focus was working on Fred’s part. Freddy’s got every spot in New Jersey dialled, or ideas for spots. So, he would come up with a plan for the day and I would text Brian, ‘Brian, you’re coming out.’ We slowly started getting things, like we got that Anti Hero ad and then Brian left Indy to go to Ace, and they asked if I could shoot an ad. So by the time we got a photo for the ad, we already had maybe 10 tricks or something, so we started thinking about doing a little part. Basically, we went into it with no plan and we came out with a double-song part.
I was going to say, 2021, Brian Anderson eight-minute video part, it’s not something I expected. How does this differ from your previous parts?
PR: We’ve been referring to them as albums.
BA: Yeah, it’s like a different kind of record, you know what I mean? I remember one day we were skating in Jersey, Fred looked at me and was like, ‘You know, we make the best of what we’ve got, right?’ That was what we were doing.
PR: And as we all know, Fred’s spots are basically not spots. And Fred’s much shorter than Brian, so watching Brian skating some of these Fred spots could be quite comical.
It’s like that movie, Twins.
PR: Yes! It was The Odd Couple, man.
What do you think your responsibility is as a pro skater at this point? Do you need to keep filming video parts?
BA: I still think it’s important to stay relevant, to at least have an ad or two a year. I have a tough time sometimes because I’ve been doing it so long. Sometimes I give myself a hard time, but I try to stretch and get out on the board, and something usually comes up, you know? Whether it’s throwing something in a little Krooked trip that I went on in New Orleans or doing a Nike SB shoot, I always seem to come up with a little something where I feel like I’m keeping everything moving. For me uniquely, being involved in the queer community and doing stuff with art, that’s really cool for Nike and Anti Hero too. Not the queer stuff per se, but I love contributing to board graphics and apparel designs. I have a unique situation, but I still wanna skate. I still wanna feel alright when I see my name on a board, you know?
I feel like you’ve contributed in a huge way, not just through your skateboarding and your creativity, but also through your openness. Coming out a few years back was huge for skateboarding, I think. It seems like a much more open and fun place to be a part of now, and I think you were a big part of opening the doors a bit. I bet you hear people gushing like this a lot.
BA: Now it’s more kids at the skatepark will be like, ‘BA, whattup, legend!’; but in the two years after the VICE piece, people would come up and tell me a story about how it helped their little brother, or their family or themself. I’d thank them and fight the tears back until I got back to my apartment, like, whoah. I didn’t know I was going to hear things like that in my life. I’m a 6”4 Norwegian shipbuilder, but goddammit I’m sensitive. It’s cool to see people open up like that, and to see they feel a little more comfortable and not so scared.
Now people are taking it further. Once it simmered down after the VICE piece, I didn’t do as many photoshoots or talk to as many queer magazines. People like Leo Baker can go hard with that and really achieve something, you know?
PA: And we get to focus on having fun again, just riding skateboards like when we were teenagers.
BA: I’m psyched to be involved, of course. We’re doing a mural right now with Clown Skateboards from the UK and the folks at Lisa Project (Little Italy Street Art). They asked me to do a mural to coincide with Pride, and Paul is helping me paint that. I still like doing a bit of everything, and at the end of this summer, I’d like to get into doing some apparel. But for the rest of summer, I want to work on our next record. I’m going to do so many manuals—that’s my goal. This was just the Jersey Coronavirus lockdown video, now we’re going to hit staircases and hubbas.
Can’t wait for that one. For this part, did skating that much take a toll on your body?
BA: Yeah, because we were skating every day pretty much. Let’s see: I had a shin splint, that went away, then I did a backside ollie to tail and hit my ribs…
PR: The shark bite, we had to go to the hospital.
BA: Oh yeah, at the pool in Albany. My board slipped out and I popped my heel open.
That Albany pool footage is pretty wild.
BA: Oh yeah, it’s so fun there. You hear owls and everything.
PR: It’s a trip going up there. There’s a rumour that this is the last summer it’s going to be there.
Paul, the film is dedicated to your wife, Alanna, who passed away last year. For those of us who didn’t know her, what was she like?
PR: Alanna was my partner for 15 years. She was the fuckin’ love of my life and I still don’t know what happened, unfortunately. But she’s still here with us every day. She was the biggest supporter. If she saw something in you, she’d do anything she could to lift you up. I’ve been going through it so hard and I don’t think I’ll ever be through it. But I try for her and I try to keep myself going; it’s what she would want to see us doing.
Was it a good thing to have this crew and these projects to focus on after she passed?
PR: Because she came from a skateboarding background, she never gave me any hassle for going out and spending 14-hour days with the guys. She’d actually kick my ass if I wasn’t being productive and doing those 14-hour days. Being out with my friends and family is probably the best thing for me right now.
BA: We went to Miami.
PR: That trip was like four days after she passed. But what was I going to do, sit in my house with snow on the ground, by myself? Or go with my friends to finish something that she was so supportive and proud of from the beginning? It was really her spirit that gave me the strength to pull together and go do it. I’m not trying to bury myself in work, and I can’t hide from people and cry all day either. It’s about finding balance right now. Taking the mental health days and also channelling my emotions into something positive and productive. I want to keep going no matter how hard things are. For myself. For her.
And at the point of that Miami trip, we pretty much knew we’d be dedicating whatever this was to her. That was also a huge drive. That put me back in contact with Stuart from Mogwai, and my friend Matt from A.R.E. Weapons, who gave us their music pretty much in support—I met both of them through Alanna. She knew everyone; her reach was far. Music, art, fashion, film, photography. She was a producer; that’s what she did. She produced creativity.
Well, it’s a beautiful thing you’ve produced together in her name.
PR: It means the world to me, and I know that she’d be so proud. Even down to the guest tricks in the part. She loved Stefan, she loved Freddy.
PR: Oh my god, she knew Alex since he was a little kid. Even our friend Kevin Eager, she told us we should go skating with him. It’s all about friends and family. Get off your couch and into the streets. Give life your all and go for it.
Thanks, Paul, thanks, Brian. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
BA: I look forward to people staying healthy on this planet, and hopefully seeing more of our old friends again. I’m hoping everyone’s families can stay as healthy as possible. Also, I see people are learning more about the importance of climate change; through Covid, people have been reading more information and maybe we can try our best to turn things around.