After a, literally, year long email volley and endless fruitless requests for an interview, Aaron Meza finally just recently caved and agreed to answer a stack of questions for us at Theories of Atlantis. After the initial request and a mild argument over his worthiness to be interviewed, I heard nothing back from Aaron for months. But then every few months I would receive a random email from him saying only things like “Just wanted to let you know I’m still blowing it!”.....and then another a month later saying “How worthless am I?”. It became apparent eventually that Aaron had little interest in the limelight and I found that fact somewhat reassuring. It seems that nowadays people will do almost anything for attention. So to run into someone who couldn’t really be bothered was kind of refreshing. But still, I wanted the interview. Then, randomly, one day I opened up my email to find all of my questions answered. Amazing.
Now, if you’re reading the name “Aaron Meza” and can’t figure out where you’ve seen it before, perhaps you remember seeing it in the filming credits of some of your favorite videos growing up. Or maybe it stuck in your head after reading something credited to him on the Crailtap site. Or, maybe one day you came across it while reading the staff credits in an old issue of Skateboarder Mag. No matter how or why the name is familiar to you, the fact that it isn’t burned into your brain just speaks for how humble the guy is. Because Aaron has been a part of some of the sickest video, print and web creations in recent memory. I would go as far as to say that Aaron has been actively involved in the some of the sickest cultural offerings in skateboarding for the better part of 20 years.
When I first wrote Aaron, one of the initial replies he sent asked that the interview not focus on the FTC “Penal Code” video. I begrudgingly said “of course not” although we both knew that the bulk of my questioning was going to center around what, in my humble opinion, is one of the sickest skate videos ever made. But, aside from being the man behind the first and second FTC videos, Aaron has also acted as editor of Skateboarder Magazine when it was rebirthed earlier this milenium, helped to run the Crailtap website, helped wear a plethora of hats at Girl Skateboards and contributed his filming talents to some of the best videos of the past 15 years. So let’s dive in and see what the dude has to say for himself, shall we?
What’s up Aaron? Thanks for getting around to answering these questions for me. So…..could you start off by filling us in on where you grew up and how you started skating?
I grew up in South San Francisco. I had some friends who got boards so I got one too. After about a month or so it really clicked that this was the funnest thing I had ever done. I was about 13.
What would you say your position is over at Girl these days?
I wouldn’t say it, but it’s Visual Media Marketing Manager.
Ew…that title is a mouth full. So, what do you spend most of your time doing over there?
Editing video, helping with ads, doing Crailtap, filming on trips, helping with ideas in general and stressing out Carroll.
What specifically do you do at Crailtap?
I do the Daily Randoms, Top 5’s and Featured Features.
Are you still able to keep up with everything? Magazines, blog sites, web videos, industry gossip, team changes and new skaters on the scene?
It’s almost a full time job just staying on top of everything. I look at every magazine at least once but only read bits and pieces from just a couple. I check a few sites and click on what looks interesting. There’s too much to keep up. At one point in my youth I really thought I couldn’t get enough magazines, videos, photos, basically enough skating to look at. I was wrong. Just from glancing at everything I can kind if absorb the major team changes and stuff. I might not be able to keep up with what bearings a dude rides for, but it’s not like I think Chris Cole is still on Fallen, either.
You’ve been involved behind the scenes of a lot of media that I’ve been stoked on for years but rarely get credited for it very much. With all of the interesting things you’ve been involved in, why haven’t I seen more interview with you in the past? Are you uncomfortable in the limelight?
I’m quite comfortable with the limelight. I just haven’t done anything to deserve to be in it. I think I would handle it about as good as W. Axl Rose or Tom Cruise.
Haha…..ok, I’ll take note. I would bet that most of the people reading this had no idea that you were editor of Skateboarder Magazine for a long time. How did that come about?
It was something I always wanted to do. Two of my friends were magazine editors, Lance Dawes and Jake Phelps. I was like, “I want to do that!” and I got the chance to do it and so I did. Mike Ballard was instrumental in getting me the job.
How long were you at Skateboarder and why’d you leave?
I was there about five years and left after a good opportunity to go back to working at Girl and a major staff meltdown. It was really fun while it lasted, though.
Do you think the printed magazine is less relevant these days or would you say it’s more important than ever?
I can’t lie and say it’s more important than, ever because it’s just not. I think some of things, especially culturally, that magazines provide are really important to skateboarding. A lot of websites don’t have a voice (a lot of mags don’t either). Also, magazines still have way gnarlier skating in them compared to about 90% of what’s on the web. But for the most part people would rather watch video than look at a photo, and even less people want to read. That’s the main reason why the web has become more popular than mags.
I can’t speak for everybody, but I think most east coasters felt ignored by the west coast media and companies for a long time in the 90’s and early 2000’s. But, with the FTC video “Penal Code” and with Skateboarder Mag’s content, it seems like you made a point of giving a bit more of a nod to the east coast scene than a lot of others from the left coast. Was that intentional or just chance?
I think it was more about friendship. Lots of people from the East Coast moved to SF in early 90s and I met them thru Huf and skating Embarcedero. So when it came time to make a video or do stuff for Skateboarder I’d just go to the people I knew more or less. Fortunately a lot of them were great skaters and cool people. Pleasure was all mine. One time I met Harry Jumonji and he shook my hand and said to someone we were with, “I know who Aaron is. He looked after mad New York heads.” I was really stoked that he said that and I never even really thought of it like that, but it was cool to hear. Plus he might have used the N-word instead of “heads.” which probably made me feel even cooler.
And I can’t forget RB (Umali) who was a major contributor to Penal Code.
It seems like each the cities of SF, LA, Philly, NY and DC have had their moment as the most influential city of their time. It appeared as if you were lucky enough to be involved in the golden days of both the SF and the LA scenes. Which do you look back on with the most fondness?
SF for sure. I really lucked out in terms of place and time.
I flew out to SF in ‘92 to stay with my brother. I was 15 and he and I went to EMB and skated for a while. I was so terrified. I thought I was gonna get my face kicked in at any minute. Any interesting or sketchy shit go down at EMB in those days that sticks out?
It’s not really a sketchy story but I remember one time where I really realized that it was way ahead of the curve on setting trends. It was around the time when they had those contests at Civic Center and a lot of pros came in to town and would skate Embarcadero a few days before. I saw one of the visiting pros trying pressure flips to manual and I was thinking, wow, this guys a pro and he doesn’t know that no one does pressure flips anymore, that’s crazy. And he was a pretty big name dude. Not that I could do them at all, but, that’s just kind of how center of the universe it was at the time.
If you were being interviewed by some sort of skate historian, what one story could you tell him that would be able to capture what it was like in that scene in that era?
Well, I am being interviewed by some sort of skate historian, and that’s you Josh. And I’d tell him/you that asking someone to pull out one story that captures a certain era is too hard a question and that if you’re going to be a good historian you have to be more specific.
Alright, fair enough. Ok, well, you seem to have filmed for a ton of my favorite videos of the 90’s. “Goldfish”, “Lovechild”, “A Visual Sound”, the first Mad Circle video, “Questionable” and you made FTC’s “Finally” and “Penal Code”. All of these videos had a pretty hefty impact on me as a skater when I was growing up. Did these videos have as strong of an impact on you as well, or did it sort ruin it for you by being involved in their production?
By that time I wasn’t progressing much as a skater so it really didn’t ruin anything. I was really stoked to be a part of such great videos and filming with such great skaters. I was lucky to film with my favorite skaters right away. I didn’t have to film for a bunch of shitty videos first. It was straight to videos like Questionable and Love Child.
Who was responsible for the music used in “Finally” and “Penal Code”? Was most of it your choices?
It was most of my choices but Carroll always picked (and always will pick) his own songs. Kent picked the Del song and Huf picked his song too and I think it’s the best one on the video.
Yeah, that’s a serious jam. The Sade song “Smooth Operator” was such an amazingly perfect choice for Chico as well. Was Chico happy with the final result?
I think he was. I wanted to use it for Jovontae but he didn’t have a full part. So The Cheeks was the next smoothest operator.
And then with “Penal Code” (one of my personal favorites) it seemed like you made a conscious decision to use all obscure music. Was that intentional?
I think I was just using what I thought would be good to skate to. I didn’t have much of an agenda. A lot of the skaters I was with were listening to rap only. But I wasn’t like that so I maybe had a little more of a library to pull from. So I don’t really think that the songs were that obscure, unless all you were listening to was Showbiz & AG.
Well, I’m pretty sure it was the first time someone had skated to Van Morrison at least. I mean, it seemed to really challenge conventions. Some of the songs were definitely not your typical skate song. Seemed like you were taking a big risk there. In hind sight it stands out as being one of the sickest aspects of the video. But did it feel risky at the time?
I know that using a Mary J Blige song was different at the time but I was hanging around mostly urban kids and I knew that they would love it so I was down to use it. I was more into making something that the people I was hanging out with would like rather than what everyone else was into. I think I still kind of work like that. At Skateboarder I really had that mindset. To make the magazine that me and my friends would want to see.
Well, I’m not gonna look like much of a skate historian after I ask this…..but who are the 2 cameos in Chicos part in “Finally”? I always wondered that but never figured it out. Backside 180 the EMB rail and the switch treflip nosebash on the quarter pipe.
The backside 180 was Umar, an Embarco local and one of my first friends down there, and the switch tre on the quarter was (shame on you Josh) Rudy Johnson.
Oh my god, are you serious? Damnit, I can’t believe I didn’t know that. Shame indeed. OK, well what would you say are your 5 favorite videos of all time?
Sick Boys, Future Primitive, Video Days, Chin, and Bone Brigade Video Show. Can you tell what decade I grew up in?
Wow! Yeah, you’re about half a generation ahead of me there it appears. Do you still get psyched on modern skate videos these days? And if so, who’s work has been getting you the most hyped?
I don’t get as psyched because I don’t think you get as psyched on anything like you did when you’re a teenager. I think the web has taken away from some of the specialness of videos. Now I kind of pay more attention to how a video is put together and in that regard some of them are really good. Some of the guys that I like are Greg Hunt, Beagle, and the other filmers who work for Girl.
Are there any plans in the future for you to take on the production of another video project?
I’ll be doing mainly the web and tour stuff, which I like doing better. You shoot and edit more quickly. I don’t want to steer something where you film for four years them edit for three months. I’m glad to help though.
What about outside of skateboarding? You ever have any aspirations to do any work in other genres of film/video?
I do, I do.
What’s your opinion on internet video? Do you still have a certain respect for the full length dvd hard copy? Or do you think we should just give up that dream and go fully online?
I’m really not that concerned with how people watch a full length video, I just hope they keep getting made because of the quality of skating and the thought that goes into making them. But without selling a DVD and getting some of the money back to help pay for making them it’s going to be impossible to make them, at least quality ones. Or kids better start getting used to Monster Energy logos all over their videos. Green rails and hubbas here we come!
Is there anything we should be looking out for coming out of the Girl/Chocolate camp soon?
Full Carroll part.
Damn, that’s sick. I’ve been a fan ever since I saw his slow-mo back lip on that contest up box in “This is Not The New H-Street Video”. It’s pretty bonkers that the dude is still killing it. On another note, what’re the chances of you giving me all of Vincent Alvarez’s footage for Static 4?
Shit, he might have enough for both and Static 5.