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In Conversation with Stefan Janoski

Interviews, Originals November 22, 2021November 27th, 2021

Interview by Robin Pailler | Photography by Thomas Campbell

This interview was originally published in Volume IX, July 2021.

Hey Stefan how are you and Jess? How’s things over there right now?

Heelllloooo Robin! We are doing well. The animals love that we never leave anymore.

How’s the past year been for you in California? It feels like it’s been such a crazy year, especially in America with Covid, the fires, elections, social injustice…etc. how has it affected you in terms of reflecting on the world?

The past year was okay sometimes, horrible sometimes, and really great sometimes. It’s definitely weird times we are in. What a strange year for everyone. A really strange and shitty year! The shittiest year and not enough toilet paper. If the world was a reality show, it would be labelled a horror comedy. Maybe this is a reality show for gods or aliens. 

I see the people being forced into a system that is like a high stakes basketball game played with a deflated ball, it’s hard to dribble and no one is winning except the beer sponsors. 

Or, it’s like being born with a broken skateboard, and told you must skate handrails to survive. Relevant quote: “Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.” – Bertrand Russell 

I also wanted to ask how your family were doing? I know your family home in Vacaville was sadly lost to the fires. But it sounds like no one got hurt and all the pets made it out ok?

Thanks for asking! Everyone is doing well, considering. My father and his wife Libby have lived for thirty years on the top of a mountain in a house that my father built before I was born. They lived off the grid until recently—the only electricity was from a generator (the same kind we used to use in skating to light stuff up). The last few years before the fire they were fully solar. Almost every year they would have to evacuate because of fires. But this year, unfortunately the fires burned everything. Literally everything, not even a bush left. And it was an emergency evacuation so they only took the horses and the dog. Everything else gone. So that was an intense traumatic experience, especially while in the middle of a pandemic. So yeah everyone is ok, the horses are fine, but it was a very big loss for my father and Libby. Plus they are mountain people so it’s been a big adjustment to live in the town, which my dad calls the big city. They do have very zen attitudes, and are impressively calm about the whole situation. I still haven’t seen my parents in over a year, but will be visiting soon. (Hi Mom, hi Dad, if you’re reading this and I still haven’t visited, sorry, I’ll be there soon!)

What survival traits did you and Jessica inhabit during lockdown? I guess it allowed you to focus a lot on your art right? Sculpting, painting, music…

We practiced humour, meditation and contemplation. We spent our time cooking, reading, writing, making art. Jessica is studying horticulture and we worked on our numerous projects. I guess we had it pretty easy compared to some. We enjoy hanging out together. 

This is the longest in over 20 years that I haven’t travelled for skating which was a huge change. But even before the pandemic, I’ve always been a little socially distant . 

How did you stay entertained? Any guilty pleasures? I know you kinda got addicted to RuPaul’s Drag Race right? Any standout movies or books you’d recommend?

I’m always entertained. I think life is entertainment! I’m entertained by what entertains. Just sitting and thinking has always been a favourite activity of mine. I try to remember to take everything as entertainment. The past is fiction and the future is fantasy. Idiocracy is now a documentary. What’s not entertaining? I have no guilty pleasures, my pleasures are guilt-free. I feel completely comfortable shouting: “I love Ru Paul’s Drag Race!” We watch it all the time, and during the lockdown we just rewatched the whole series over and over, and over. Team Katya! I also love the shows The Great Pottery Throw Down and Painting with John. (Sorry John, I know you told us not to tell anyone.) We also love comedy! I think comedians are the some of best philosophers we have right now. Finding the hilarity in all things, even in tragedy, can be very helpful. Books, books, books. All books, all genres. Reading is fun. The only thing I don’t like about books is there’s too many to read them all. Some current authors I like right now are: Patricia Lockwood, Zigzag Clayborn, and David Wong. FYI, The Nanny is now on HBO, all seasons. It’s about a woman working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens, when her boyfriend kicks her out in one of those crushing scenes. Where was she to go, what was she to do? She was out on her ass. So over the bridge from Flushing to The Sheffield’s door—she was there to sell makeup but the father saw more. She had style, she had flair, she was there. That’s how she became the Nanny.

Going back to your art—our time together in Brooklyn feels like so long ago now but you already seemed like such an accomplished sculptor at that point and that was almost seven years ago now! Can you talk a little bit about how it’s evolved over the years?

Thanks Robin! That was fun when you and Pierre (David) came over! Our Brooklyn house was a fun creative place. In Brooklyn at that time I was making huge simplistic paintings and impressionistic style bronze sculptures. In California I’ve been making smaller more detailed oil paintings and sculptures with more realism involved. I try not to limit myself, or get too specified. If I like something I usually try it out. You never know if you’re good at something unless you try. “As long as I’m this or that, I’m not all things.” – Eckhart 

You’ve also been working on short films and stop-frame animation in recent times. Can you talk a little about God I need a girlfriend, the inspiration behind it and how that project came to light.

Yeah, I really like making films. God I need a girlfriend was an idea that went from a drawing, to a sculpture, to a poem, to a song, to a stop motion puppet animation, to a short film/music video. It was just something really hilarious to me—the title is the punchline. I had a vision of a man named Adam who cuts out his rib in the hope God would make him a girlfriend, just like the literal, totally factual, completely believable story in the Bible… 

I’ve always really loved stop motion animation. I had the idea for God I need a girlfriend to be a stop motion film for a couple years. And then I saw the film Pool Scum by Movie Mountain and I was blown away and thought, here are the people who can help make my film a reality. It turned out Silas B Neil was friends with Foster Huntington who runs Movie Mountain so he connected us and we instantly hit it off. God I need a girlfriend won awards at lots of film festivals, around 15 of them. Some of the awards were for best animation film, others for best music video.  

Another film I made recently is called The Bat and the Matt. It’s a short rhyming story that I illustrated. I had my friend Anton Thallner animate my drawings, and I scored and narrated it. That film also won a bunch of awards at festivals. Lately I’ve been making more music video type films that will be coming out soon. Available on iTunes. Haha no, all my films are free right now, just go to a fucking website to watch them: afuckingwebsite.com 

How’s skateboarding going? How’s your approach to skateboarding evolved in recent years? You still skating Biebel’s place a lot?

It’s gone! (Cry, cry, cry whilst stomping feet). No more Biebel’s world. It’s a tragedy. LA is now less cool than it was. Other than that skateboarding is going great! I’ve been skateboarding longer than I haven’t, so I’m getting pretty good. My approach to skateboarding is similar to when I was 13 years old. Go skate with friends, or alone, have fun, try to learn tricks, and film stuff. I love skateboarding; I think it’s really fun. 

How’s things at Habitat? We spoke to Austyn recently and it seems like the whole family has been reunited? 

Habitat is great! I’m still on my favourite skateboard company. I’ve always loved Joe Castrucci’s art and films. His graphics and editing skills have always been ahead of the times—trendsetting. But yeah, reunited and it feels so good. It’s very cool to have Austyn back on the team. He is one of the best skateboarders in the world and a very stylish, interesting, talented, creative person. We go skate and hang out a lot in LA.

Austyn was telling us about a trip you guys went on just before Covid with Joe, Delatorre, Suciu etc. How was it being back in the van with those guys now everyone’s older?

Whats up Dela! That was fun! Are we older? I think Mark is. We sat in a van for long periods of time, interspersed with Suciu doing a million (not an exaggeration) of the most difficult tricks a day! And eating nothing but Sheetz, some kind of gas station deli that’s all over Pennsylvania, which is really sheety, and makes you feel like sheet. We drove from NY to Ohio, watching Mark rampage the streets. But honestly, all of us can sit in a van together for 11 hours and never get annoyed with each other or run out of things to talk about. 

Can you talk a little about the Habitat project you’re working on with Jason (Hernandez)? What’s the plan and how’s it been going?

No, I can’t talk about it, well I could but then I’d have to…you know. I can tell you this: Jason Hernandez has been filming, and what he’s filming are skateboard tricks. There’s a rumour of a double SOTY? Right now it’s very hush hush. It will probably change the world when it comes out. If it doesn’t change the world immediately, then give it ten years for the people to catch up. Or, Austyn, Jason and I have been skating around LA trying to film tricks, and Austyn is really good. There will be a film coming soon to an internet access portal near you.

You obviously love playing music, do you ever go hang with Danny Garcia and jam on tunes with him? I’m surprised you, Danny and Austyn haven’t released a song together.

Good idea! We should release a song. Coming soon. Available on iTunes. We do hang and play music together. We all hang out sporadically and jam. I really haven’t released much music I’ve made. So far just some instrumentals in skate videos, and my award winning (wink-wink) music video, God I need a girlfriend. But soon, soon. I will either put out some songs, or go straight to a ‘Best of’ double LP. Or maybe I’ll do a full length musical movie in the vein of Purple Rain. 

We haven’t spoke since Thomas Campbell’s last film Ye Olde Destruction—can you talk about how you came to be involved and what those filming missions were like?

Thomas makes such great art and films! I love his style. Cuatro Sueños Pequeños is one of my favourites of his. I knew Thomas had been filming YOD all on 16mm film for a while, and I finally was available to meet up for some missions. The first one came together when Thomas was going to San Jose to film for YOD and invited Omar Salazar and I to come up and skate. So we flew up from LA for the day, skated with Thomas, Loue Bartletta, Eli and Israel Forbes. Thomas had an old car and a launch ramp that they had been skating for the film. We cruised the streets and freeways with the launch ramp strapped to the roof like a fin, looking like an ancient, metal battle-scarred shark hunting for skate spot prey. Another mission was Mark Suciu and I drove from LA to Bakersfield for two days to skate and film at the DIY park there. That was really fun! All star cast those days, legends everywhere you looked, ripping.

A lot of people probably don’t realise how close you and Thomas are but you’ve obviously known each other for many years. I seem to remember him telling me you crashing on his sofa back in the day? How did you guys first meet and how has your friendship evolved over the years?

It’s very fun to work with Thomas. He has a very creative aesthetic that I love, plus we get along really well. He’s so cool and laid-back but also such a motivated person. I met Thomas almost 20 years ago. I was staying at Micha Mattson’s house called the  “Santa Fe” house in Encinitas CA and Thomas had a studio in the garage. I had hurt my heel pretty bad and could’t skate. Micah was out of town and he let me stay at the house. So I would just be in there all day being a complete pile. At that time in my life, if I couldn’t skate I would just completely turn off and wait to be able to skate again. So I’d be in the house laying around, watching tv or playing the drum set that was there and Thomas would be in the garage painting and when he would take breaks he would tell me amazing stories about the Gonz or the Muska, all these amazing skateboarding stories. I’m pretty sure he thought I was just some loser on the couch, haha. After that, I was always a fan and kept up on his art and films. We ran into each other a few years later and we laughed about our Encinitas time together, and how the weird kid on the couch turned out to be me, and we have always kept in touch since. 

This year will mark the fifth anniversary since Dylan (Rieder) passed away. It’s touching to see the last photo he posted was of you playing guitar on a beach. I wondered if you could share some thoughts on what he meant to you as a person and perhaps a favourite memory you have of him. 

I love Dylan. It’s devastating to not be able to see or talk to someone you love. Although, I do still talk to him a lot. That was a really fun and special beach day. Dylan was a special person. One of the coolest people ever. He was so talented, smart, funny and such a great friend. It was crazy when my friend became one of my favourite skateboarders. Dylan was truly a trend setter. His fashions are still being emulated everywhere I go and I love it.

Sometimes people just have this thing and Dylan had it. Dylan was naturally cool; his style had charisma, and his charisma had style. Dylan was a prodigy, with skating, fashion, music and whatever he did, he did it well, and he did it cool. He was always doing things earlier than most, so of course he also had to be early in going to the next phase or dimension that our self or our consciousness enters or returns to in this combined hallucination we call reality. I miss him every day.

As you get older how has your approach to life changed? You’ve achieved so much both in and outside of skateboarding. What personal goals do you still hope to achieve in the future?

Thank you. Skate until the wheels fall off, my body. My personal goals are to not set goals. 

Another goal is to become famous enough to be a guest judge on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, then after that, to become an eccentric recluse. My life is in constant change and also stays exactly the same. And as life goes on I feel more confident in doing whatever I want. To live entertained is my only hope for sanity.

You’re obviously very consciously aware of the important things in life. You’re vegan, you care about the planet and you’re using your platforms to instigate real change as demonstrated with the new Nike SB Flyleather shoes. What drives your desire and motivation for change and good in the world?

I’m just into being considerate, and empathetic. I hope humanity learns to live more harmoniously with nature. I try not to be diluted into thinking human beings are important or special, or deserve something because we invented fast food and imaginary friends. Most people are so unimaginative and herd-like they believe in someone else’s imaginary friends.

I eat a vegan diet, and I dislike the commoditisation of animals. But then a lot of styles of my shoe are still being made using leather. Moving away from leather I think is important and using recycled materials and making products and production more sustainable is the only way to go. The Flyleather shoe is such a great step, and doesn’t lose any of the style or quality by being more eco-friendly.

Before we wrap this, some quick fire questions. Favourite skateboarder right now?

Brian Anderson.

A skate part everyone should watch? 

Kyle Leeper in Subtleties. 

A book everyone should read?

Just want to add in here; I personally don’t think anyone should do anything. Ok now having said that…read Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Then read Rick James’ autobiography, Glow. Also I think the book by David Wong: Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick, is a great book. 

A film everyone should watch?

Sorry To Bother You by Boots Riley. Schizopolis by Steven Soderbergh. 

An album everyone should listen to?

I think everyone should listen to the album Vagina by Alaska Thunderfuck and the album 3 by Violent Femmes. 

One piece of advice to make someone’s life better?

How about two pieces from one of the great philosophers of our time, Ru Paul Charles.

“Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.” “If you don’t love yourself, how and the hell are you going to love someone else?” Can I get an amen?! 

Something we can all do to make the world a better place?

Eliminate the omnipresence of unacknowledged bigotry and unconscious prejudice in most human evaluations. 

©Wasted Talent Magazine
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