Words: Stuart Gomez
Interview: Joey Shigeo
Over the past 25 years, Jamie Thomas has emerged as one of the industry’s most industrious. His work filming and editing Toy Machine’s early videos paved the way for the epic rock operas he would produce with his company, Zero.
Now in its twenty-first year, Zero continues to be an influential force. The Chief’s gift for recognizing talent borders on the spiritual; future legends were cultivated within Black Box, and let loose with an uncommon work ethic, stamped with the Thomas seal of approval. The current Zero team—as diverse as past iterations, if not more—has the benefit of Thomas’s stunningly clear vision; they may not see the big picture the way he does, but they’re in good company.
The next Zero video project in the works is a little something called Damn It All. The similarity to Zero’s groundbreaking first video, Thrill of It All, may be coincidental but both videos share a certain tone. Thrill signaled the beginning of something new and exciting as Thomas set off on his own venture; Damn is the triumphant first video project since Zero’s departure from Dwindle. His circumstances may have changed but once again Thomas is rolling independently, and he won’t stop until he’s good and ready.
A lot of moving pieces going on for you in 2017 so far… it’s tough to know where we should begin. Let’s start with Zero. What’s the story with taking it back under your own distribution?
We were at Dwindle for two-and-a-half years and with where the industry is and how small Zero is these days, it made sense for us to be independent. The support we received from Dwindle was awesome, it helped us regroup and stabilize the brand, but I feel we lost touch with some of the retailers and elements of the business that need personal attention. We have a really small, but solid, crew now and everyone weighs in on everything we do; it feels the way it did when we were first getting started.
Frontside 180 nosegrind. Los Angeles, California. Photo: Messex
Last year was the twentieth anniversary of Zero. For a brand with such a long legacy—no doubt there are various eras of the team—how do you feel about today’s team lineup?
I’ve loved all the phases of the team throughout the years. All the memories from tours and working on videos together are priceless. But, like anything, change is constant. Things feel great right now, we skate together every week and we’re filming for the new Zero video, Damn It All. Nothing brings the team together like a video project; the goal of creating something special with your bros naturally strengthens the bond between the team. I feel like the team sets the tone for the brand; if the team is tight, the brand is tight.
This has probably been covered in detail before, but how do you approach editing a part? Does the process differ when putting together your own part versus a part for someone else?
I’m not sure if I have a different approach for editing my part versus the team’s except when I find a song for myself early on. I’ll edit my part as I go, which helps me direct the part cinematically. If the song is slower, I make sure to film lines and plenty of long-lens tricks; if the song is fast and upbeat, I focus on filming combos and fisheye tricks. This approach would work for the team as well, but they usually don’t pick their songs until the deadline is looming.Editing is my favorite part of making a video, you get to carry out the vision you’ve been dreaming about for years and highlight everyone’s hard work. It’s a great feeling watching it all come together.
"I’m enjoying the journey and I intend to keep it going ‘til I got nothing left to give."
The title of this interview is “Roll ‘Til Death,” but we noticed that your Zero ad in this issue said “gnarly Chief retirement part coming soonish.” It was crossed out but is that true? Is Damn It All going to be your last video part?
Nah, this won’t be my last part. I don’t think there’s any benefit of setting a finish line. I’m enjoying the journey and I intend to keep it going ‘til I got nothing left to give.
How do you cope with aging and what are important factors in having a long career in skateboarding?
Aging is tough, but I’ve found that I have to spend more time on maintenance and taking care of myself. I do yoga several times a week these days, I don’t drink or smoke and I eat as healthy as possible. That said, the abuse I put my body through does catch up to me; I have to get knee surgery in two weeks, but I'm kinda looking forward to it ‘cause it's been bugging me off and on for two years.
Backside 50-50 transfer. Sacramento, California. Photo: Landi
"My first knee blowout in 1999 made me acutely aware that skateboarding was a gift and not a right."
When did you first become aware of your own mortality, and begin to think about the Jamie Thomas legacy versus simply just going out and skating?
My first knee blowout in 1999 made me acutely aware that skateboarding was a gift and not a right. I’m not sure what a legacy is worth, I don’t think about it that much; I just want to keep moving, keep growing, becoming a better version of myself with skating and life.
Do you think that it’s been necessary to mellow a little bit when it comes to rails/gaps?
I think mellowing out is just a part of getting older, a progression of emotional maturity and self-preservation. That said, I want to push it as far as I can at each stage I’m at. Sometimes, I come face to face with my perceptive limits; if my confidence is high and I’m feeling good physically, I go for it and if I feel ill-prepared, I accept the loss with the intention of coming back when I’m ready. I’m still up for a challenge, I think it’s a part of who I am.
How do you designate that fine line between company owner, professional skater, and maintaining a personal life?
Time management is the key; allocating time for each aspect of life. I help the kids get going in the morning, then spend a big chunk of my day working on Zero. I don’t really think about being the owner, my role is to lead and support everyone involved while making sure they have the tools they need to do their jobs.My personal career has taken a backseat to the team, the brand and family for the past ten years or so. I skate after work when the kids are busy and one day with the team on the weekend. I also try to go on tours and family vacations several times a year to devote some undivided attention to skating and the family.
"The vision of the outcome keeps me going."
360 flip. Los Angeles, California. Photo: Acosta
You’ve always seemed to be very project oriented, what motivates you and how has it changed over the years?
For me, there’s nothing more motivating than a project. The vision of the outcome keeps me going. As the project progresses, I get obsessed with getting closer to the end goal. Without a project, I feel like I’m just skating around with no real purpose. I think the only way my motivation has changed is that a large portion of it has shifted to spending more time with the family. My wife and I have three kids and spending time with them is amazing. I love them.
Give an example of a moment/era in skateboarding that you feel super nostalgic about.
I think I’m nostalgic about almost every era after enough time passes, but Welcome to Hell and Misled Youth were the golden years because everything was happening for the first time and I was so focused. Basically, before I shared my skating time with business.
"There’s a rebirth happening in skateboarding similar to the early ‘90s and I can’t help but be hyped on it."
Wallie Judo. Los Angeles, California. Photo: Acosta
Who are some of your favorite skaters right now?
I love all the dudes on our team and I’ve been skating with this kid Cruise [Mosberg], he’s one of my new favorites; he’s only eleven, but so rad and spontaneous. I wish I could skate more like him. But, outside of our crew, I get hyped to see footage of Dickson, Slash, Figgy, Louie Lopez, Tom K, Ben Kadow, and Wes Kremer. I also get hyped on seeing anything from the dudes I came up with: MJ, Ellington, Reynolds, Greco, and Rowley.
Tell us about the new shoe company you’re involved in, Straye. Where did the idea come from and who’s involved?
Straye’s a shoe project by Angel Cabada (the founder of KR3W and Supra). He grew up skating and he put together a small crew of dudes to focus on making quality skate shoes more accessible and affordable than ever before with a creative and carefree vision.
He asked Muska and I to be a part of it and I’m so hyped to be working with Chad again. Muska and I have an ownership stake in the brand, but our role is purely to be advocates or ambassadors; Angel’s in the driver’s seat.
Is it strange for you to not be in control of a project that you’re that heavily involved with?
It was at first, but the crew working on Straye is amazing. They all know what they’re doing—they each have ten to twenty years of experience in skate footwear. I also have my hands full with Zero, my career, and family.
"Worry about the shit you can change and support the shit you love and ignore the rest."
The skate industry, hell, the country, the world, is in a crazy state right now. Describe what you think of the state of the industry and where is it gonna go from here?
I think there’s a rebirth happening in skateboarding similar to the early ‘90s and I can’t help but be hyped on it. The older we get the more resistant we are to change, but it seems like our only choices are to bitch from the sidelines or embrace the change and join the fun. Then there’s the threat of the corporate encroachment of skateboarding in regards to footwear, energy drinks, and the Olympics. I think it’s pretty simple: worry about the shit you can change and support the shit you love and ignore the rest. Skateboarding will always prevail.
Shop the extremely limited Jamie Thomas "Roll 'Til Death" collection, available now at the Zero webstore!