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Interviews, Originals April 11, 2021April 17th, 2021

Catching Up with Austyn Gillette

Interview by Robin Pailler | Photography by Dakota Mullins

It’s been almost a year since we last checked in with Austyn Gillette.

A lot can change in 11 months. Then again, a lot hasn’t.

Although vaccines are now readily available, Covid-19 is still running riot.

Cheap Perfume finally blessed our digital screens, yet Jake and Austyn still have no official shoe sponsor; although that might be changing sooner than you think…….

Yet despite entering a new decade, the modern world is still royally fucked.

On a more positive note however, FORMER is still going strong. And with the latest collection gracing our beloved Boutique, there’s no better promotion than an exclusive interview.

But with Dane on Daddy duties, Craig seemingly unreachable, and Jake having spoke to us just recently, the onus falls once more on Monsieur Gillette.

And to be honest we’re delighted. Since there are rarely people so openly honest and care free as Austyn is. And despite juggling a multitude of daily chores, he’s always willing to give us the time of day, without ever making it feel like a chore.

What up Austyn? Where you at right now? You still like pitched in a tent in a yard somewhere?

Hey! No finally got some refuge back at the house. 

Back in Highland Park?

Yeah, kicked the tenants out and moved back in. It was this whole thing, just living in a little cabin in my friend’s backyard. And then I was like, “I’m getting closer to 30. I have a house. I like my space. My mortgage is cheap. I bought at a good time. I’m going to fucking move back into this thing at all costs and get Walter’s backyard back”. That’s pretty much where we’re at. So yeah that was in December. So not long ago.

Any housemates?

No just me, my girlfriend and my dog Walter.

What’s the vibe over there with restrictions? I heard restaurants are starting to open up?

Yeah they’re starting to open up at like 30% capacity. We were actually inside a restaurant yesterday. That was the first time I’ve done that in a while. I mean, my girlfriend has the vaccine, I don’t have it. But it’s starting to become like that weird conversation where people are vaccinated and you’re like, “oh I don’t have that” and then you feel weird. Most people in the US will have been vaccinated by the time this comes out, so I think it’s starting to open up. It’s looking bright.

Got yourself a new president too?

Yeah, that feels good. I mean, I haven’t really read the news. I only do the Sunday news. I like doing the catch up for the week, or I’ll listen to NPR for the week.

I think that’s the best way to be honest.

Yeah it feels good. I mean, I’m sure there’s things that are pretty concerning, but I don’t know. I don’t consider myself naive, but I’m just like, ‘Fuck, that’s not the way to start the day. And what am I gonna fucking do?’.

Exactly. What was Florida like? I saw you guys were out there the other week?

Yeah, most people thought it was just this kind of free range, ‘do whatever the fuck you want’. But I think that was just on South Beach. And we weren’t staying there. We didn’t really see that. But downstairs from like this little condo that we were staying at, there was like a couple of clubs and it looked like an orgy or something. Nobody had masks. It was fucking insane. That was the closest I’d seen people in so long. But it was oddly refreshing. I actually enjoyed it and that kind of messed me up. It goes against everything, but it was so nice to see people just fucking living.

Was it just you and Jake on the trip?

Yeah, it was Jake, Andrew Peters and our buddy Geoff who’s filming this new clip that we’re working on? So yeah, just the four of us. 

What are you filming for exactly?

The film is for our fall collection and we try to put out videos or something to look at that’s not clothing as much as possible. We try to balance merchandise spam with the media and films we do. It’s supposed to come out in August when we launch the collection, but it’s not going to be this big drawn out video as we only have a few people in it.  But yeah, we’ve got a few people on the team in Europe now. Talks of an Australian team. Possibly a girl in the UK if she wants to skate for us and then yeah, we’ll see what it turns into. But I don’t think it’s going to be like a Cheap Perfume sort of thing like, here’s your part, here’s my sponsor me tape and you don’t get sponsored after that. Yeah, I don’t think we’ll do that again……..Hey can I get some blue spirits, please.

You’re back on the smokes?

Yeah, took a break. Back on. Not good.

I just quit again. Last time we spoke I remember we’d both quit. But I fell off after three and a half months.

Yep same.

And then I quit again recently, it’s actually day 23 according to my smoking app. 

Which one you using?

Smoke Free. 

That’s the one. Those affirmations in the morning. Motivation to continue.

I miss it though. The urge never goes away. 

Yeah what’s up with that? There’s nothing better.

And in every fucking film they’re smoking.

I remember the first time I quit, I started getting into watching Mad Men and I’m like, ‘What am I doing?’. The gateway.

Totally. Getting back on track. How did you feel about the reactions to Cheap Perfume? Because when we spoke you weren’t sure about putting it on Thrasher and then it ended up on there anyway, which I guess makes sense with the audience they have.

Well it was a pretty strenuous process. We’d been done filming for the video for like eight months. I think I filmed one more trick within the last six months, but I was already on to something else. It was mainly getting the music rights. It’s hard to explain to most people how important it is to use the right song for a video part, but Thrasher has a whole budget allocated to getting music rights. And Tony V (owner of Thasher) bless his soul, I don’t know if it was him personally, but he ended up buying all the music for the film. So I owe a lot to him. And as far as that platform, I think that that has been the best place to put out stuff for us just because it’s a pretty broad audience. But it’s weird. I don’t know if people watched it, or they have the patience for it. I didn’t see…..I don’t know what happens when you’re done with video parts anymore. Like, I used to do it as like, a way of, “I’ve progressed. Here’s my progression. Here’s what this country looks like. This is how you can skate things. And now, it doesn’t really matter. So you kinda gotta shift it. And that’s been hard as well, because I grew up sending sponsor me tapes and never knowing who was doing what until it came out. I still have that mentality and I think I need to shake it. You kinda just throw shit at the wall now and don’t care about it. You just stay relevant. It’s different. Staying relevant is different now. People talk to me about the film and they’re like, “crazy part!” and I’m like, “yeah, did you see Jake’s part? Did you see anything that he fucking did in that film? You wouldn’t even be talking about my footage if you just watched the last five tricks that he did. The attention span has a scary future.

Blows my mind that whilst watching it I was like, “how do neither of these guys have a shoe sponsor?”

Yeah I remember thinking the same thing. Watching that video and thinking, ‘I don’t have a shoe sponsor’. I think Jake might be talking to Nike right now, officially talking to them. I’m hoping that works out. But I told him to leave the door open for anything to come in. Don’t put your eggs in one basket, especially a basket that might crack a bunch of eggs. And this could be just some weird skater rant and you could tell me to shut up too. But I’ve come to that realization that we have forgotten that those big companies that are in skateboarding, never supported it until fucking 5/10 years ago. So how are they supposed to understand that it has importance or value? 

I’m kind of hoping this might give birth to a new era of independent skate shoe companies, like seeing Pontus (Alv) launch his shoe brand Last Resort recently.

Yeah but it’s a hard, hard business. I think a lot of it is that shoes just take up space. The space that it takes to house that sort of inventory almost puts you out of business. 

Talking of shoe sponsors. HUF obviously played a huge role in your career in recent years and I think everyone in skateboarding was so shocked and heartbroken to see Keith pass away so suddenly. I just wondered if there’s anything you want to say regarding Keith, who he was as a person, his legacy and what he did for you personally.

For me, I saw him as  someone who could equally distribute support to everybody. Everybody felt it. So that right there in itself, is such like a powerful thing to leave behind. It’s like, ‘you did that for everybody that you came in contact with. And that takes a lot of energy and you decided to be so selfless that you’ve put so many people before you and it’s very admirable. I’m happy to have spent time with him and known him and felt what he was able to give. I mean that seems to be the consensus because he helped everybody. He’s helped e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y! I think that’s a really powerful thing to leave behind. I feel really lucky that I got to see him the day before [his passing] at his house. So I’m pretty grateful for that. And I’m sure all the people that got to see him were pretty grateful as well. because not many people knew. 

Do you have a favourite memory or defining moment that you’ll always treasure with him. Because when we interviewed Jake, he spoke quite candidly about how much he valued the fact that Keith was one of the first people who treated him like an adult y’know? 

Yeah, I remember reading that. He probably treated me the opposite [laughs]. We had a different rapport than him and Jake. But yeah, he had the ability to never make anybody feel inferior even though he had such a big presence. A really big presence, not just in skateboarding, but just as a person. I don’t know, just seeing how he carried himself. Seeing how he could go from working for ten years straight, to going on a trip with team and having energy to push around how he always did. With that being said, he would have to go to the doctor the next day to get a shot in the shoulder at the skate spot just to like, hang out with us. And I think that those memories were pretty cool. There was some footage that came out not too long ago, of Dylan, HUF and I and we all did like three flips. I think it was in Copenhagen. Just watching that footage. I was like, Wow! I mean that was just us messing around. But I didn’t realise how powerful that was just seeing that. It was pretty emotional. 

I can only imagine.

But, yeah. Life has thrown some curveballs. A lot of them. But I think I’ve developed a set of tools to digest it a certain way and view it not as like, being a victim of it. Because that would be an easy place to go. But more as lessons. 

Well that’s good to hear. Just to bring you into a more positive space. How’s being back on Habitat going?

Fantastic! I love it! 

Do you guys go on trips, What’s the score? 

We went on a trip a couple months before everything locked down. We were on the east coast and it was kinda nice to be back. Back in the van. It was mainly just Joe (Castrucci) and I in the front seat. Stefan (Janoski) right behind us. And then Brian Delatorre and a few of the media crew. Mark (Suciu) was definitely on the trip with a few other guys. It’s nice to go on a trip and nobody’s on their phones (laughs). You know? We had so much to talk about and so much to catch up on. And there’s there’s just a lot of intellectual stimulation coming from Joe and Stefan. Those guys inspire me. It’s pretty exciting to be around people that still want to create shit after doing it for so long and they still have so many original ideas and views on the world. That to me is what matters to me. As I’ve gotten older, I’m like, ‘I don’t give a fuck if that’s the cool thing. I just want to be happy. I want to be around my friends. I want to be close to them. And know that they’ve supported me the whole way through and I should be doing the same.

I mean, there’s no point hanging out with people that don’t bring you any joy or fulfilment in any way y’know?

Yeah and I think skateboarding is such a short lived experience and we see it as an eternal career. I don’t see the point of sharing time with people or brands that don’t align with you.

Do you still see Stefan often? I haven’t spoken to him in ages.

Yeah, he’s definitely a hard guy to get a hold of. He lives in the hills, so he doesn’t have the best service up there. But yeah, we probably hang just about every weekend or two. 

I always feel he’s moving places.

Yeah, he moves around quite a bit. I think he might be moving somewhere else again soon. Him and his wife get the bug and they kind of scratch the itch and they just go. But he’s really inspiring. He’s got a cool way of navigating through the world. In terms of his outlook as well.

I just love how he doesn’t take anything too seriously. 

Not at all. He’s always the one who gives great advice. He’s just like, “who cares? Just be around your friends. Like, who gives a fuck? This thing is silly”. And he’s always had that mentality and good things have come to him. Just by positioning himself around good people. That seems to be his North Star. Yeah. So I think if you could follow that path, I think you’re on the road to happiness, because he seems like a pretty happy guy. And it’s always been that way. I know people would say that because of Nike and his success with that, but he was always like that. 

Is he still doing crazy sculptures?

Everyday! It’s incredible. Just how his brain works. He just flips life inside out. And you kind of see that through his sculpting.

Do you still hang out with Danny (Garcia) regularly? 

Yeah! We were just recording in the studio. I stopped by his studio a few days ago actually. He’s currently recording a buddy of mine. Just stopped by to see what’s up, But yeah, I’ve been seeing him more. We’re actually working on a project together with Habitat, Jason Hernandez and Stefan. So we’re in sync right now, which is really nice.

Talking about music. How did this score for Dominic‘s latest clip come about?

Well he did my first music video. He starred in it. Him and his friend Lauren. They both worked on it together. But he was the main character in it. And we kind of roll in the same friend group. He brought the project up to me maybe eight months ago, and I sent him a demo of the newest song and was like, ‘this is what I came up with. I don’t know the concept of what you’re doing’. And he’s like, ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing either. I just shot this stuff and I think it looks cool’. It doesn’t need lyrics. It doesn’t need anything. And I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll just try to do my best’. He wanted to use the demo, but I ended up re recording it with Danny and kind of making it bigger. It was more a little check in for me. It’s been a while since I’ve put something out and I was like, ‘okay, well, this still exists’. I’m still trying to be proactive with it. I haven’t been the past year. And I think that’s why I wanted to do it because I was like ‘okay, I’m sitting on like, six songs right now’. And it was nice to do a project that had nothing to do with what I’ve been writing. It was a pretty easy process.

And I see you modelled for Human Recreational Services. How did that come about?

Oh yeah. So I was living with Magdalena (Wosinska) and she’s a pretty prominent photographer and a really good friend of mine. We’ve been friends for about eight years. I was living with her for the past few years and she would hit me up all the time about shoots. She’s like, ‘Hey, eBay’s doing this thing or PayPal has this, or Facebook’s doing this’. And I’m like, ‘Fuck! I can’t do that stuff’. But she’s always like, “you’re gonna make a shitload of money”. And I’m like, “I can’t do it”. I’ve always been a big fan of Erik (Ellington) and what he’s done. And he’s always been super, super sweet. And he asked me to do it with her and this guy Akwasi. And we were already going to the desert cause Magdalena has a place out there so we kind of just went out there and just had some dinners. And then during the day, we shot some stuff. But yeah, it has nothing to do with skateboarding. People are like, ‘is this going to have anything to do with skateboarding?’ and that’s the last thing he wants to do. That’s why he started the company. He’s like, “I don’t see this as anything that has to do with skating”. His inspiration for the HRS shoes clearly comes from a world outside of skateboarding.

He’s so great to talk to. I’ve had so many deep conversations about life and existential crises’s. 

Yeah, he sponsors a lot of people, He’s always on the phone. And most of the time it’s not even business, it’s just him helping people out. I mean he’s shifted his whole life around. And he talks about it openly and who he used to be and who he is now. And I got a lot of respect for that guy. 

Let’s talk sml wheels. How’s it going?

Business is booming! I don’t know what happened but things have really changed for us. We work with Keen Distribution here in the US and are distributed globally now, so we shall see where it goes.

Yeah Mike and those guys have done a really great job with Keen!

Yeah, they’re the best. They’ve kind of shifted our whole entire business pretty quickly. Within the past year or two. I think sml is actually a real company now.  I mean, James (Craig), Aaron (Brown), and I now have to file taxes for the company and occasionally have some dough to do projects. But yeah, we’ve kind of taken it a little bit more seriously. Now that that it’s a real business. So we we’re texting all week long and probably meet up once or twice a month, just to kind of chat and see what needs to be done. It’s hard when it’s a wheel company, and we have so many people on the team, and you’re like, what can we do with that? Because we want to support these people, and it’s just a wheel company. But now we have the ability to fund projects. And I think we’re doing something with Tom Knox and Jacob Harris. I think we’re gonna pass them a little bit of a budget and try to do something with everybody in the UK, Mike Arnold, Chris Jones etc. It’s pretty exciting to have the funds to do those projects and like, give those guys the ability to do that just through a wheel company. If it was Spitfire or another company of that size, then it would be a lot harder to give everybody a chance. I feel like hopefully we could actually be a household name in the next few years. So I’m pretty excited about that.

I wanted to ask if you and Aaron ever talk about making some kind of sml wheels video project but I guess it’s such a big commitment. So if you guys can just sort of fund individual projects it makes sense. 

Yeah I think that’s probably a bit stronger. Whereas like, the people that do have wheels or trying to get a pro wheel or just some sort of signature wheel can freely make what they want. I feel it’s a better focus on the riders individually or with their crew and where they’re from and what they’re doing, rather than here’s a compilation of everybody that rides for the team, and you might not remember most of it. So thats what we are working towards. But I mean, even you and I talking about it, it’s kind of in the same conversation we have internally and we’re asking, “what should we do?”. We don’t really know what the fuck we’re doing. We just know that things are going well, and people are supporting it. But yeah, it was 15 years ago when we started. Yeah, when I was 14 or 15.

That’s mad.

Yeah that’s pretty wild. Having a business for 14/15 years. And still going and doing better than ever. It’s really wild. But I’ve never…..I mean, most of the success is because of Aaron. Aaron does everything. He does all the legwork. Pretty much. I mean, luckily, Keen helps him out to alleviate that stuff and doing sales. 

How do you feel things are with Former overall? Are you still feeling a little burnt out or do you feel a little bit more alleviated now? Are you sort of able to step back a bit?

Yeah, that’s also the same thing as well. We’ve shifted our business completely. We’ve brought in two general managers. And there’s only five people that work for Former here in the US, but two of them are general managers. One of them worked at a bigger company, outside of skateboarding, that I can’t really say. And then we hired Eddie Miyoshi, who was the CEO of HUF. And then just before that, he’d been working at Volcom for 20, 25 years. So its safe to say both of them understand what not to do. But they basically shifted the whole business to where it alleviates everything from me doing the day to day and we can now afford to pay people to do what I’ve been doing the past year and a half and Craig, Dane and I can start working on building a skate and surf team, And have a budget to travel. Like now we have a travel budget. I’m hoping to have a budget to take on a few new riders in the next year. Things are going good. We opened up distribution in Japan, Australia, South America. We’ve also had Beast Distribution handling Former for the past few years in Europe and couldn’t think of a better crew to be with.

Onwards and upwards. Just a few quick fire ones before I let you go. Any recent film recommendations?

The last one I watched that actually really affected me was the latest Disney movie ‘Soul’. Did you watch that? 

Not yet but everyone’s raving about it. It’s had some Oscar nominations too.

Do yourself a favour and watch that. It definitely wasn’t made for kids. It kind of has this whole existential breakdown of life and death and the in between. I think it will affect you. I mean you’re probably going to get the same thing that we got out of it but I would definitely recommend that film. What else? I just kind of nerd out on and watch weird shit. Watch TED talks and listen to podcasts. And you know, in one ear, out the other, Maybe I’ll take a line from it or I’ll get some sort of…..I don’t know, my retention isn’t great and I get distracted pretty easily. But I at least try to consume myself with stimulating facts or knowledge so that hopefully, somewhere in my think tank, it’s jumbling around somewhere. Yeah, I don’t know why I thought about that film, but I think you should watch it. I think people should watch it if they haven’t. 

Music wise, anything you’re hyped on right now?

I’ve been listening a lot of MF Doom and Madlib, which has been new for me. Yeah, I’ve been pulling a lot from that as far from writing. Because usually, I mean, I’ll start a song with bass or drums. And I realised that I was thinking that I don’t, I’m not really pulling from the music that I listen to, which is a good thing in the sense I’m not stealing that. But I feel by simplifying that, and listening to like original sampling and how people were doing that, even the production of it kind of gets me excited. But I really like Madvillainy. Definitely the album that I’ve been listening to, or even like, Mm Food. I’m very late to the show I know. I used to listen a little bit more hip hop when I was younger, but I think I’m kind of getting back in there because I’ve kind of ran myself dry in every genre. I mean, nobody needs to know that I listen to fucking, Ray Price or Frank Sinatra. Sounds pretty cheesy. But that’s the reality of it. That’s what I do. But definitely, older music. I mean, nothing’s really come out in a while, so it’s been a nice time to kind of do your research and kind of go back. 

What’s in the pipeline for the rest of this year?

We’re doing that store at Wasted Talent’s pop up in Hossegor in August so we got a whole collection with Former that we’re doing with you guys, a collaboration for the store. We’re also doing a CI surfboard collaboration for that as well. That has nothing to do with skateboarding but as far as skating, we’ll be traveling each month until September. Every month going on a new trip somewhere. So the next trip is Atlanta to film with Jake and a few other people. Then filming a Habitat project. Trying to record an album. Trying to maintain friendships. Relationships. I’m going to announce a new shoe sponsor soon. Working on a pro shoe. Can’t say much more right now. What else? Design some more clothes. But mainly I feel like I lost a lot……I was just so busy working and trying to keep the company afloat during the whole pandemic. I kind of……I didn’t neglect friendships but I just didn’t have time to kind of maintain them. So I’m excited to get back to that becoming a priority and having people coming back into my life and kind of restoring what was lost. That’s a big thing. I’ve even done therapy. I did therapy yesterday actually and that was a big part of the conversation. I mean I didn’t lose friends. Well I did lose a close friend last year but you know for the people that I do have here that are important to me, I’d like to work on those relationships and put that at the forefront.

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