Skateboards and Guitar Chords: Tommy Guerrero Reflects on a life of Skating and Music Making

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Skate legend Tommy Guerrero was one of the biggest names in skateboarding in the 1980’s. As one of the Bones Brigade, Powell Peralta’s famous skate team, Guerrero would go on to head up Real Skateboards and produce instrumental California chill records on his own label, TOO GOOD. Blending rock, soul, jazz and funk, his albums contain some of the best, soothing summertime grooves you’ve ever laid ears on. This past year, Guerrero released his latest work, “Perpetual” which just continues to prove his prowess in the music world. Ladies and Gentlemen, Tommy Guerrero.

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On your website it says Perpetual is a continuation of a Japanese release. Could you talk more about that?

“Perpetuum” ( ficticious word) is an album that i released in Japan
exclusively in 2014. “Perpetual” has a few new tunes and a  different cover design-by Chris
Johanson.

Are there certain moods or thematic threads that tie each of your records
together? What were you thinking about when you went into this record and
what ties it together?
There are no conscious threads but my style is what binds them all.
The intent was to strip the tunes down and create more of an atmosphere
than being concerned with writing “songs.” Though there are some
constructed tunes the album is about the journey and not the destination.

Do you see the album as one complete product, or a series of songs?
As a whole, all the tunes have a similar feeling/sound/energy.

How long were these new songs in the works?
It’s hard to say as I don’t block out a window of time when starting a new
project. I don’t have that luxury. Does it matter? It’s where i’m at now.

Would you say this record sounds a bit more sinister than the others?
Not even. The last one, “No Mans Land” has a dark feel to it.

You are the only musician on the record besides an occasional addition? Do you
always record alone?
Yeah, because I don’t have a band. I’m all I have!!!

If so, how do you know when a song is done? How many layers do you
traditionally put down? Is it harder to record alone and know when a song
is complete?
It’s all about the feeling of the tune. It will tell you what it needs and
when to let go. There are no set rules/approach etc. It’s the same as any art-it’s about
the moment and your mood.

Is this your first album with your own studio? How does having your own
studio change the recording process? Do you have to set personal time constraints so you don’t get in too deep? Do you tend to labor over the final product more than if you were had a set
schedule in someone else’s studio?
I have always recorded in my own space, whether it’s a bedroom or rehearsal
space -it has to be on my own time/terms/wallet. I don’t make demo’s or layout rough idea’s. it’s all in the moment. What you hear is where i was at at the time of the recording.
Now that I have an actual studio i can be loud…! So this changes the way I record as well as the tones of the instruments and setting up mic’s, amps, percussion, drums, etc is a more recent challenge. It can be creatively draining as it takes a good deal of time.

How do you go about starting a new record? Your albums seem very cinematic.
Do you have visualization in your head of what the sound will be?
Man I never know how it all starts. it’s usually a spark of inspiration. It can be a song or the tone of an instrument or just the need to be creative. The cinematic aspect comes from an emotional space, in the moment at that time. The visual  comes after the recording.
How often do you tour? Who do you bring along? Do you/will you ever hit the
east coast?
Very rarely! No band- no label for tour support- no funding etc. It’s all very DIY.
I have to hire friends to play so it all costs me $$$. Lately it’s been Josh Lippi-bass, Chuck Treece-drums… a trio. I usually go to Japan every year as i have a label that supports me there. I bring whatever is necessary for the gig. i try and keep it as minimal as
possible. I travel light.

How did you develop your style? When you started out you were playing more
punk rock, but certainly developed a completely different signature sound
over the years. Who were your influences and inspirations?
It happened over time. There is endless inspiration out there-just be receptive.
Musically, for this album, I’d say these artists are some of what inspired me. I’m still on the same trip now. Gabor Szabo, Mulatu Astake, Marc Ribot, John Zorn, Coltrane

How much do you think your setting influences your sound? In Boston right
now it’s cold as hell and I listen to your records and dream of the Cali
Coast. When I play your music while I’m driving the Cali Coast it seems
perfect. Does it just seem natural to you based on your roots and setting?
I have heard that you are a product of your environment-i tend to agree.
You are influenced by everything around you even if you are unaware.

How long have you had your own label? Is it primarily formed as a way to
release your own records, or do you have any other bands on the roster (I
couldn’t find any info on it)?
It’s just a vehicle for my stuff-for now… ( TOOGOOD )
But i did release my brother’s band( EL DIABLITO’S) album-“COME HELL OR
HIGHWATER” earlier  this year… killer surf rock. I have some plans/possible release’s in the works but it depends on other’s and that’s always a difficult position to be in.

What kind of guitars/gear do you play?
Fender tele’s now-80’s Japanese models. Fender amps. I have way too much gear to list!
I’m going to have a flea market gear sale soon… need to divest.

What do you envision as the ideal setting for listening to this record?
Anywhere and anyone who wants to lend an ear.

As an instrumental artist with a certain playing style, is it harder to
develop new songs whereas rock bands can play the same chords and can just
vary the tempo and change the words?
YES! I am constantly trying to shift my approach as I get tired of myself.
I was over the standard rock chords years ago- I don’t even know how to
play em! It’s to ensure that I don’t write crappy 3 bar chord tunes-the
greats have already shut it down. Many do it well though-it’s just not my
thing.

I feel like I first heard your music from a Thomas Campbell surf movie. Is
it true you don’& surf or even swim?
Can’t swim so i have never surfed-never snowboarded either.

My friend’s first deck was a Tommy Guerrero and he wanted me
to ask you who your favorite skaters of all time are.
Jay Adams-Tony Alva-Duane Peters-Steve Olson-
Christian-Lance-Gonz-Natas-Julien-Curtis Hasiang
Ethan Fowler-Tony Trujillo- Grant Taylor-Raven Tershay-
Dennis Busenitz-so many rippers now.

There’s a picture of you skating on the album jacket. Is that
still very much a part of your life?
I skate when the body permits… a couple times week if it holds up.
Always roll my zinger. I have been at dlx for 25 years so i’m surrounded but skating on the daily.

Are there similarities btw skateboarding and guitar playing? Do you see a
similar way in which you approach both?
They both keep me sane… it’s my way of escaping the world.

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