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Interviews, Originals September 9, 2020January 11th, 2021

In Conversation with Chris Jones

photo: Marcel Veldman

*This interview was originally published in Volume VII, May 2020.

Interview by Robin Pailler | Photography by Henry KingsfordMarcel Veldman

When it came to choosing interviewees this issue, my immediate thought was Chris Jones.

Not just because he’s one of my favourite skateboarders responsible for one of my all time favourite parts [in Vase]. But because he’s always come across as one of the most well informed and interesting skateboarders out there, a strong advocate for charity work, unafraid to discuss taboo topics from mental health to political conflicts. He also has a knack for making sketchy look sick: exhibit A below—yep that’s a make, in case you didn’t catch the recent Nike x Isle video. 

So with a global pandemic playing out in real time, I couldn’t resist reaching out to discuss the current situation in London. How people can ensure they keep their mental health in check and what the future holds if we’re ever allowed back out in the streets.

photo: Henry Kingsford

What up, Chris? How’s lockdown life treating you so far? Are you in London or back in Wales?

Hey—not bad thanks, just sitting in the sun—I’m in London at the moment. I moved into this place in January and was meant to be moving out at the end of the month but that might change; I might have to stay a bit longer because I can’t really go anywhere. There was a moment when this started where I was tempted to get to Wales but at that point it already seemed quite serious and my Mum’s quite old and is high risk, so I didn’t really want to take the gamble. But it’s been fine actually to be honest. I suppose the weather’s made a big difference.

I’m pretty good at occupying myself. I think it’s from being a skateboarder and that being my job for the last few years, you do get a lot of downtime anyway. I feel like I’ve already gone through that weird existential crisis where you don’t really feel like you’re doing anything and that you should be doing more with your life. I think I’ve got better at just chilling really. You know, creating little things for you to do throughout the day. Giving yourself little chores and a sense of purpose maybe and yeah, just cooking. I’m definitely more easily pleased these days.

I feel sorry for the people that are struggling who rely on a materialistic, consumerist lifestyle, living for the weekend etc. But perhaps this will be a grand awakening where people re-evaluate what’s really important in life?

I think we’d all like people to realise that really. You kinda hope this experience of people not needing to fill their time constantly doing things and just being able to be more comfortable with themselves, more assured and content really. More appreciative of the smaller things that we all take for granted. I am kinda skeptical though, that things will, not necessarily go back to how they were but….I don’t know, maybe they’ll get worse (laughs). I’d like to think people will be better and more chilled but it’s hard to really say isn’t it?

Definitely. Especially because as individuals we live in an echo chamber where we tend to only share experiences with people who share the same beliefs, when there’s clearly different viewpoints that we perhaps don’t merge with so often.

Yeah it’s true. I guess it’s like when you’re leading up to an election or something, you surround yourself with people who vote for the same party and share the same politics or beliefs and then it’s quite easy to convince yourself that your party is going to win an election. I guess if you’re able to take yourself out of it a little bit and surround yourself with people who have alternative viewpoints, then you’re able to get a better sense of what the general consensus actually is. Not that I’m hanging out with Conservatives…

photo: Marcel Veldman

How did the week prior to lockdown in London unfold? Personally I was shocked at how slowly the nation and government reacted?

Leading up to it, I suppose it was on the news but it seemed very specific to China and there wasn’t any worry I’d say within my circles. But as it spread and was getting worse in Italy and other parts of Europe, the UK kind of took a different approach: this idea of herd immunity where they thought that maybe by not going into complete isolation and just introducing social distancing that potentially things would carry on as usual. I remember pubs and stuff being open and it was all a bit weird for a bit. Everyone had this weird conflict because the communication was basically terrible. It was all mixed messages. You were being told by the government to do social distancing and not to do things that aren’t essential and whatever. But then pubs and like people’s jobs were still going ahead. Employees were still expected to go in and it was this weird conflict of interest. People felt like “Ah I shouldn’t be doing this but my job is saying I have to, otherwise I’m going to get fired”, so it was a weird position for a lot of people to be put in. 

There was a lot coming out in the news but then there was also like gossip and whispers. I guess at that point in London there was acknowledgement, at least within my social circles—a lot of my friends introduced social distancing a bit sooner and even practiced some form of self isolation before it was made mandatory. So yeah, I guess in the beginning there was a sense of “There’s no way it’s going to affect us”, and then when it did start to happen in the UK there was this lack of understanding of the severity of it, because things weren’t necessarily made clear. 

I mean, I am sick of reading the news because it’s all mixed messages, but I was reading this article yesterday about the UK’s approach at the beginning of the crisis potentially leading to it being one of the worst affected places in Europe, because of the herd immunity approach they used so early on. It basically allowed the virus to spread quite significantly so the projection (based on other countries) was that things in the UK would get dramatically worse still and that potentially a peak could happen around mid-April—potentially up to 3000 deaths a day, which is insane! But then I immediately read another article saying that information was based on assumption and not actual data analysis and should be met with skepticism…so there’s still a lot of confusion.

I guess in some way I am sympathetic to a government worried about causing mass panic in terms of preventing food hoarding etc. But then it seems they’re trying to politicise the whole thing to cover up for their shortcomings.

Yeah, I think there is this lack of accountability for the mistakes the government made in the beginning and it’s masked by this jingoism and language. It’s kind of annoying me how this use of language is being used to make it seem like a war. It’s quite unsettling. It doesn’t sit well with me, that use of language, like: ‘The nation needs to come together’. But it’s kind of masking errors made at the beginning by not acting quicker. There’s no denying that they lagged in the beginning which is now proving to be very crucial—you can see that from statistics coming from other countries. I know this is unprecedented but there were warnings from other countries to the UK about the seriousness and it wasn’t taken seriously. 

And weirdly the language around it is quite, ageist too I guess? Like: “Oh it’s only gonna affect old people so why should people be bothered?” That’s not cool. They’re people too. You can’t discriminate just because someone’s older and you deem their life as having ‘less value’. 

I agree. All the signs of what was to come were there, yet there was a similar mentality to the pro-Brexit stance of like, ‘Oh we’re British, so it can’t affect us, we’ll be fine’.

Yeah it kinda is. It’s like there’s a sense of superiority amongst the nation. That stuff really doesn’t sit well with me because it gives this sense of ‘being above’ others in many ways. It’s a terrible way to approach problems, this sense of superiority over other countries in the world. Like: ‘It can’t affect us—we’re British! We won two world wars and we’ll win this!’ What are you on about? Those things that are being brought up are just so jingoistic and just…not fucking helpful in this current situation. 

photo: Marcel Veldman

Totally! As someone who’s spoken so openly about problems with mental health and anxiety, how is all that’s happening now affecting you?

I guess at the moment I’m ok actually. I had a bit of wobble with my mental health in January; I just had a moment where it kinda turned for a few days, and it was quite difficult around then. But since then I’ve become a bit more knowledgable of the things I need to do to keep on top of it and to keep it at bay, essentially. I’m sure like everyone I have anxiety about loved ones during this time. So for me, I’ve been going to this McDonalds car park that’s closed down nearby and just skating. Just being able to skate that car park on my own, I feel very lucky to have that because for me it’s a really good way to stay on top of my mental health. Whereas I understand for people who have lost their jobs and can’t pay their rent, and perhaps don’t necessarily have an activity like that to keep a healthy mind, it’s gonna be a lot more difficult. I’m quite grateful at the moment. You just keep doing things to keep that little monster from reappearing. How about yourself?

I mean, I’m definitely trying to remain optimistic and part of me hopes this might be some sort of grand awakening for mankind, where people start to understand what they really value in life and key workers for example, get the respect they deserve.

Yeah I think I’m kinda hopeful of something similar, because y’know; teachers, bus drivers, nurses, they’re all so overworked and so underpaid and these are the jobs that are essential and necessary. I’d like to think there’s a bit more respect for that and with the NHS [National Health Service] and people coming out clapping, I’d like to think there’s an awakening in that sense because now there’s the potential for quite a dramatic change after this.

From seeing how quickly these changes have been implemented, there can be a big shift in our way of life and consciousness and a more unifying sense of community and respect for these key workers. A better welfare system that’s more supportive of people. I’m hoping for there to be that change and appreciation for the smaller things too maybe?

I also think we live in an age where everything is documented and people will be remembered for how they acted and held accountable for their actions and that’s quite important as well. I think the media also plays a crucial role in how this all plays out.

It is crucial. I mean with the media, no matter what source I’m reading I approach with it with a sense of skepticism and I guess everyone should really. But it is crucial that representation is as fair as possible. And whilst I do think they’re trying, there is still a sense of leaning one way or another, but people are relying on them, especially with the government’s daily briefs. And whilst there are still certain aspects that are vague, there is no better time than the present for things to be very clear and honest. That’s another thing which you’d hope would carry over from this, that sense of clarity and for politicians and the media to be more clear and level with people. It’s definitely crucial.

photo: Marcel Veldman

Are you still doing CBT to help with anxiety?

I’m not doing CBT anymore. I stopped a while ago as I couldn’t afford to continue with the therapist I was seeing. I wanted to restart therapy at the beginning of the year when I experienced a return of my anxiety but didn’t want to pay the high fees that I was paying for a private therapist, so signed up get it through the NHS which unfortunately can be a long wait. During that time, Jan/Feb, I started an introductory course in Person-Centred Counselling and reading books that discussed other forms of therapy to CBT. One in particular that resonated with me was a book called The Body Keeps the Score [by Bessel van der Kolk] that discusses alternatives to talking therapies and provides evidence that suggests that therapies which deal with stress through the body, such as yoga, can sometimes be more effective. Because I knew I wouldn’t get to see a therapist for some time, I started to try some of the new techniques that I was learning in my counselling class alongside the books I was reading, some of which included yoga, running and trying to be congruent. Since applying these methods, I have been free of anxiety since January; hopefully it means I have found something more suited to treat my anxiety than CBT. 

What would you recommend for people suffering with anxiety during these uncertain times?

I can only suggest some of the things I’ve personally found useful during all this:

* Stay active – make sure you get out to do your allotted exercise time.

* Keep in touch with friends.

* Cook and eat well.

* Try get at least eight hours sleep.

* Give your days structure by writing your plans for the day first thing, so that you can tick them off as you go along. 

* Stop reading and watching the news if it’s giving you anxiety.

* Get involved with your local Mutual Aid group so you can help with your community.

* Lay off the booze if it’s making you feel bad.

* Choose a book over TV.

* Get some sun when you can.

* Make your bed and get dressed every day.

* Start a new activity/hobby if you’ve got the time.

* Do yoga.

I heard you’ve volunteered to help during the Covid-19?

Yeah, I mean I haven’t done much yet but I signed up to this thing called Good SAM. It’s this app that you log into and the idea is that I act as a community responder which basically means that if someone in my area is having a problem and needs some shopping or their prescriptions delivered, or they need help in other ways—the idea is they contact the NHS or their GP and they’re forwarded to this app where they put an announcement and you respond to them. 

I’ve also been involved in these Mutual Aid groups in the community that I found online and from that you can join a WhatsApp group that has a spreadsheet where every day there’s stuff that basically need to be done. So from that I’ll get phone calls from people who need assistance. From putting money on their electric meters, to getting their shopping or picking up their prescription. And it’s really nice because it’s a small WhatsApp group, specific to the area I live in, so all the people on there literally live within the same estate as I do. So that’s been a really nice thing to be part of. I’m kinda sad at the thought I’m going to have to move out because I actually feel part of the community here and I’m familiar with everyone on my block and my estate now. There’s a real sense of community—really good grass roots stuff—book swapping, donating food and all sorts of amazing stuff. It’s really nice to see. It’s helping me have a sense of purpose with my day too.

photo: Henry Kingsford

You seem to be very socially aware and have often been involved in volunteer work. Where does that passion stem from? 

I don’t really know where my interest began. It’s not like my parents ever did any social work or charity stuff. But I think I’ve just always had a feeling that it’s everyone’s responsibility in society to give something back and help each other out and to be understanding of people’s situations as much as you can. Be as helpful as possible. A lot of it came down to having a philosophical thought that if I’m gonna have to work a normal job in my life I want to be more…this sounds really preachy actually and I don’t want to come across all preachy but…I feel like I’d rather spend my time helping someone else out and do it that way than working just to make someone else a load of money. I think that’s normal just in the sense of having a moral obligation to help others that have perhaps less opportunities than I do. I think it’s something that can really be achieved in society—if everyone just did their bit it would be such a better place. And I can be selfish just like anyone else but I try to not be. Sometimes it feels like I’m painted as this sort of…social justice warrior or something, but I just feel like this should just be the norm. I’m less surprised by the people who do stuff and more shocked by the people who don’t, because we all have a responsibility.  

Definitely! Not only that, I think it feels incredibly rewarding to help someone out.

Yeah! I mean, there’s no such thing as ultraism. There’s no kind act without a reason for it. You help others to feel good as well, but it’s okay to accept that, y’know? As long as you’re not putting yourself before someone else, that’s the key. You shouldn’t be doing it to make yourself feel better. The priority should be on what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to help. But essentially yeah, it’s rewarding and it’s really inspiring when you see movements, organisations and charities that do make a big difference amongst people’s lives. You see how much of a positive impact that can be and it’s hard once you’ve seen that, not to carry on in that light. 

When I started off doing my volunteering stuff, it was with Kid’s Company, this charity in London I worked with, and that was my first introduction into charity work really. Seeing how much of a lifeline that was to some of the children and how important positive influence is—that really inspired me to carry on in that vein and try to be more active in helping I guess. I feel like my skills are quite limited so there’s only a certain distance I can go with my helping people but whenever there is a chance for me to do something, if I’ve got the time to do it then I’m more than happy to.

I couldn’t agree more and although I’m not religious, I do admire how every religion tends to promote a ‘treat others how you wish to be treated’ mantra.

Yeah I mean, I’m not religious either but there’s definitely messages from that which I feel should just come naturally, regardless of beliefs.

Totally. I also wish people put themselves in other people’s shoes before judging.

I think everyone has got to make an effort in life to try and experience empathy and like you say, put themselves in other people’s shoes. To try and see things from someone else’s perspective. It’s not an easy thing and by no means is it something you’ll always be able to achieve but at least you can try to. And I think there’s messages in theology that people should listen to and it is interesting because those messages essentially are just rules to being a good person. You don’t need to take all the baggage with say, religion. The messages are positive in themselves. But I do find it hard as well when people can’t really see from someone else’s perspective. But then you might not be able to because that person’s background or experience could be so different to yours, whether it be a political or cultural difference or something else, but it’s just important to at least try and make an effort and take a responsibility with that as well. Educate yourself on the matters that you can and be more helpful, more empathetic and more understanding. It will just benefit everyone in the world more. It’s only when people start behaving in that way that things can really get better, to be honest. 

photo: Marcel Veldman

Whilst it’s really refreshing to have an articulate conversation with a skateboarder outside of skateboarding, I do have some skate related questions here. 

Go for it!

With the Nike SB x Isle collaboration that launched recently—including another banging video clip by the way—how tough was it filming during winter?

So it started with us trying to film in December but the weather was so bad that the whole of that time no one filmed anything really, so we kind of started in January but it was a bit of a slow start. 

Basically the whole time we were filming we had terrible luck with a few things. It rained so much at the beginning that we just couldn’t get out. It was weird; it just rained for weeks so I think by the time February came round we hadn’t even filmed properly. And then we were going out filming, it was severely windy for a few weeks so that was impossible too. And then it got cut short because of coronavirus. It’s usually not that bad but in regards to myself, there was a lot more stuff I wanted to do—specific things I had in mind—but I didn’t get as much content as I would’ve liked personally. Jake still did amazing job with what we did have. And Casper and Nick both did some amazing stuff so speaking from an individual perspective, I just wish the weather hadn’t been as bad and we’d had better luck really. So it was harder than usual, to be honest. But it was fun working on another project in London. I hadn’t had a project in London for a while so I was quite stoked because it is one of my favourite places to skate.

How much involvement did you have in the conception?

It was mainly Nick & Jake. I’m obviously not too involved with the videos and the artistic direction but with the shoe, we had a WhatsApp group going where we were discussing the shoe, what model and design we wanted, so I was involved in those conversations. But I would say my involvement is little, very little (laughs). I’d love to have more I guess but Nick and Jake have so many great ideas and they’re very creative people. Nick’s so creative whereas I’m not the most creative person, or maybe I just don’t have any confidence in my creative ability (laughs).

It’s funny, I actually met Nick years ago at the Vans Propellor premiere in Leicester Square and felt like he “cool-guyed” me. It was only when I saw him talk about mental health in the recent SMiLe piece for the Ben Raemers Foundation that I realised it was probably just anxiety.

Yeah it’s easy isn’t it sometimes, to misread anxiety as someone being rude. I’ve made that mistake in the past where someone’s been a bit off and I’ve thought, ‘What’s wrong with them? Dickhead!’ but then you kinda realise. Nick’s a fascinating character when you get to know him. He’s got so many ideas, he’s great! It’s always fun working with Nick on a project because everything’s so spontaneous and done in a way that’s very entertaining and great to see. One day you’ll go out expecting just to go for a skate and maybe shoot some photos of the shoe with Sam Ashley, and then Nick will have this idea that he wants to blow blue pigment in your face or something. He’s quite unpredictable with what’s going to happen which for me is fun. I love doing projects with him.

Jacob’s edits always have this Lynchian/Tarkovsky-esque vibe to them. In the Moscow Atlantic Drift for example, there’s the passage with you getting drenched in a kitchen from some sort of water leak that echoes both Solaris (1972) and The Mirror (1975). What’s going on there?

I mean you’d have to ask Jake when it comes to his style of cinema, I can’t really speak on his behalf, but I guess with that scene what I took away from it is some element of pathetic fallacy, cause in a sense, as an individual there’s certain things that don’t always go as well as I’d like them to and when it comes to trying skate tricks, that happens quite often unfortunately. As much as I wish I could just land everything I try, there’s a lot of times that I don’t. In Moscow in particular there was this one trick, like a nose slide into a hubba. In fact I think that shot went along with me trying this trick where I’m just flying into the middle of the road, basically just doing myself in. I guess Jake didn’t tell me his intentions so I can only speak from what my interpretation of it was. I see it as some sort of pathetic fallacy in me not being able to land my trick and it always kind of raining over me. And I guess it’s kinda surreal which is like, what I sense from a lot of his videos. So I suppose things weren’t going my way. Maybe it’s always raining over Chris Jones? I’m not sure.

How did you shoot it? Was there a leak?

No we basically just made a few holes in a bag of water and Tom [Knox] stood above and basically made it look like it was raining and Jake filmed it on 16mm. I thought it was going to be my breakthrough into cinema and I was gonna become the next Jason Lee. But unfortunately I didn’t get any phone calls afterwards. I think I was just more….laughed at really (laughs). And just really wet. 

I just google searched Tarkovsky with the word rain and the scene I think Jake referenced is from Solaris (1972). Although watching that scene I think I did a better job acting. I think I would’ve been more suited to that role to be honest (laughs).

Jokes. With regards to Isle and the team expanding in recent years. I wanted to ask how that happened, with people like Rémy joining the team for example?

I suppose it was through the Atlantic Drift edits really. Jake asked him to be part of it and through being on trips it was just one of those natural transitions I guess. He was skating with us a lot and the time was right for him to try something else. It just seemed a normal thing considering we were all going on these trips together and we all got on. Good timing. And his skating’s incredible. It’s the same with Darius [Trabalza] really, it’s a natural fit, he skates with us in London, we’re all mates and with Isle, we’re all friends that hang out. And not just hang out, I mean, we all went to Nick’s wedding and Tom’s wedding and we go to their house and see their children. So I guess essentially when someone becomes part of that friendship group it seems natural to ride for Isle if they’re up for it. Same for Mike [Arnold]. It’s just a natural step.

Any plans for a new Isle full length any time soon or an official welcome part for the guys?

I’d love for us to film for another video but as far as I know there’s no current plans to. It’d be so nice to have a project like that to work on again. I guess now in the current climate it’s hard to imagine making any future plans! (laughs) I guess as it stands with Jake’s availability and doing these Atlantic Drifts, people have been too busy. But it’d be sick and hopefully it is something that will happen in the not-too-distant future. I mean there has been the odd conversation but nothing that serious. But yeah, it would be fun!

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