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Tom Knox interview

03.12.2014 - ExclusiveArticleVol. 02 issue 06

Tom_Knox_portrait_GREY_copyright_Lex_KemberyInterview and photography: Henry Kingsford
Portrait: Lex Kembery

Since your last Grey interview, you left Emerica to join New Balance Numeric. Last October you went to meet the team in New York and filmed some tricks for the Pinnytown edit. How was that experience?
I was pretty nervous, but it’s always the same on those trips: you get there and you feel like they’re some tight group, but after a while you realise that some of them haven’t even known each other too long and you fit right in.

It was also my first time in New York and I really liked it. I’m definitely going to try to get back out there. It was winter when I was there and because it got dark early, we didn’t get to go to too many spots. Also we were filming with Red cameras so it wasn’t easy to just cruise down the street and film a line. You’d go to one spot, unpack, pack up again then go to another spot. There were reflectors, all that stuff. So I’m definitely up for going back on more of a typical New York vibe, going around with a VX (Sony VX1000) and a fisheye, so you can just film anything.

Didn’t Arto Saari tell you to jump down a double set?
Yes. We were rolling past this double set and he said, “Front shove that,” because I’d being doing front shoves down a three-stair at the previous spot. I didn’t really want to do it – it was cold and it was about to get dark – but I just thought, “If Arto Saari is asking you to do a trick, you at least have to give it a go,” so I did and I got it in the end.

Tom_Knox_Switch_Heeflip_Clapham_GREY_copyright_Henry_KingsfordSwitch heelflip, Clapham.

You’ve recently got back from a long stay in LA. How was your time over there?
I had a really good time in LA. New Balance wanted me out there for a month to hang out with the team and film for a project that Russell (Houghten) is working on at the moment. They got me an apartment in Echo Park with Jordan Trahan.

Can you tell us anything about the project?
Russell is using Red cameras with fisheyes. The footage looks a bit like VX, but obviously with Red camera definition.

Were you only skating with the New Balance guys while you were in LA?
Most of them live out there and they have wives and girlfriends and all that, so a lot of the time a guy called Aaron (Brown) from Small Wheels would pick me and Jordan up to go skating and Stevie Perez would join us most days. It was perfect because we had guys skating with us who had cars and didn’t mind coming to pick us up. Without a car, you’re fucked out there.

Russell released some drone footage of you soon after you arrived in LA. How did you find filming with a drone? 
That was my first day there. I was really jetlagged, but also really hyped because I’d never skated a schoolyard, so it worked out OK. I don’t usually like drone skate footage, but that dude is so good with it. He gets everything so perfect.

Is it not a bit unnerving, having this thing flying above you?
You just skate and you hear this buzzing in the background.

Tom_Knox_switch_5050_GREY_copyright_Henry_KingsfordSwitch backside 50-50 into bank, Lyon. Photo: Fred Mortagne.

Do you know how he made the Urban Isolation film?
He used a program to edit out every car that he didn’t want in. It was gnarly, apparently. They were going out early in the morning thinking the locations would be empty, but there was still lots of traffic. Some of the stuff they were trying was pretty dangerous. The freeways out there are gnarly. We’d see spots out driving and say, “Shit, that looks skateable,” but those boys actually did it.

How did you find LA generally? I know you skated there when you were very young, but what about from an adult perspective? In many ways it’s the antithesis of London.
Yes, it definitely is. It’s very spread out and it’s hard to get places. You need a car. Public transport is shit, absolutely rubbish. I know quite a few people who have been there, got hurt or not had people around to skate with, and had quite a bad time. Also, you can’t drink on the streets so people go to bars every night. Luckily we had a porch and a patio at the apartment, so we’d have people over instead. One night (Paul) Shier came to pick me up in his car and I ran out to meet him with a beer, and he was like, “You can’t have that fucking beer in here, get out!” And you can’t. If the police saw me in the back with a beer, they’d stress. Obviously I’m used to being in London, where it’s completely fine to drink anywhere.

What about spots? London is associated with a certain type of spot and again you could say LA is the opposite in this respect.
What I found out there was that even if you found some really cool-looking, unusual spot, it would still be rinsed. There are just so many skaters out there who are skating all the time; shit just gets rinsed.

After Eleventh Hour, you’ve become associated with skating rough London housing estates, especially long lines. Not long ago, you were known for skating bigger stuff, rails and stairs. Was this a conscious shift?
Not really. I’ve always tried to skate everything, even as a kid. I just wasn’t that good and didn’t know where these spots were. If I was filming something or shooting a photo, it was a lot easier to jump down some stairs than to try something else.

Tom_Knox_180_fakie_50_GREY_copyrigh_Henry_KingsfordFrontside 180 fakie 5-0 revert, Southwark.

Has your friend and filmmaker Jacob Harris been influential in this shift? I know he has strong views about spots and their impact on the aesthetic of his videos.
Yes, definitely, him and everyone else I skate with. There are just so many incredible spots in estates that it’s hard to film a part in London and not skate them often. It’s not for aesthetic reasons most the time, though. We just skate them because they are really good. With the long lines it was never supposed to be my trademark or anything, it’s just that spots link up so well in London. The roads are often small and you can cover a long distance with objects to skate along the way.

Do you still like jumping down stuff?
I do, but I don’t tend to do it so much now. It usually leaves me feeling fucked the next day. I can get back into it after a session or two skating stairs, though. Not too many people jump down stuff in London, so there are always new spots if you want them.

How is the upcoming Isle production, Vase progressing? I heard rumours it might be a full-length video.
As is always the case with these things, it started out as a short promo. We wanted to do something to show what we want the company to be, a video with all the people on the team. And the dudes just… I don’t know how you’d describe it, came out on fire…

They just went for it?
Yes. Chris (Jones) and Nick (Jensen) were stacking footage from the beginning. Then Sylvain (Tognelli) saw their footage, so he has been trying to get to London to film as much as he can. It’s progressed into this thing now. It’s not completely full-length at the minute – I don’t know if it will be – but I personally think we should try, because in this day and age you don’t get too many chances to make a full-length company video.

Do you work towards different themes or concepts with your video parts, like Nick Jensen does? 
No, I don’t really do that. I just try to film stuff that I am happy with and that I feel I’ve had to work for. Then, once I’ve got some footage together, I can see what I have and build on that. This sometimes leads to themes naturally, for example you might try to replicate a certain trick or line in a slightly different context, but it’s definitely not a conscious thing for me. Nick has been filming parts for years and has had so many amazing ones. He does go on these little tangents where he skates one spot and then keeps seeing variations of that spot everywhere. I think themes are good for him as it helps distinguish one part from another.

Tom_Knox_Wallie_Finchley_GREY_copyright_Henry_KingsfordWallie, Finchley Road.

How is Isle doing generally? Are any team additions planned?
Generally, I’m not sure. I don’t really get involved with sales and that kind of stuff. As for additions, we put Casper (Brooker) on. Vase will be the first really big thing we’ve done as a brand, so I guess we’re trying to keep the team as it is for now. After that, I don’t really know what is planned. But it’s a really tight crew, we skate with each other every day, morning ’til night. I was on Blueprint for a while, and I went on trips with them, but because I never filmed for a Blueprint video, I never felt properly part of that team. With Isle, I’m right in the middle of it.

You moved to south London not long ago after spending your whole life living in north London. Has this effected where you skate? 
Yes, it definitely has. My girlfriend lives in Kings Cross, so I still skate Cantelowes quite often, but I’ve definitely been skating a lot more spots in south London for Vase: Old Kent Road and around Peckham, that area. There is so much stuff to skate south. If you live north, you’re quite separate from it all, whereas if you’re south, you’re kind of in the mix. It’s been really good living in Peckham.

I know you had a bad run of luck with clothing sponsors, with Analog going out of business, then Quiksilver dropping its skate team just as you were about to get on. How did you get on Kr3w?
I just wanted a clothing sponsor that does trips and has a proper team and I found out that it’s pretty hard to find that these days. Vaughan (Baker, European Kr3w team manager) got in touch and told me about Kr3w. It’s a really close-knit team right now; there are only a few European riders and you’re not excluded from the American team; you get to go on trips with them too. So straight away I was down. I already knew Chewy (Cannon) and Oscar (Candon), so it made perfect sense.

Are you making a living from skateboarding these days? 
Yes. The money I make pays my rent and I have a little extra for food and travel. Luckily I don’t have many expensive habits and tend to be fairly stingy with what I buy for myself, so I can keep afloat.

It’s interesting to me that with the right sponsors, ams in the UK can make a living from skateboarding now. What do you think about this?
I think it’s a great thing if that’s what you want to do. It means you can put a lot more time into skating. I’m really hyped I can do it, but it’s not for everyone. You have to keep yourself motivated to get shit done. There’s a lot of free time for boozing and stuff, so it’s pretty easy to go down that route. Also, you have to take yourself somewhat seriously if you decide to try to make a living from skateboarding. People are paying you to do something, so you have to make sure you don’t slack.

TOM_KNOX_5050_GREY_COPYRIGHT_HENRY_KINGSFORDFrontside 50-50, Hornsey.

Mark Suciu visits London to hang out with you and Jacob quite often. You guys met along time ago, right? Have you always kept in touch?
Yes, I met him when I was about 15 in Paris. I was there with friends skating and he was there on a family holiday. We bumped into him at Bercy and he tagged along with us for the week. I actually didn’t keep in touch with him at all, but of course I followed his skating and watched him blow up more recently.

He came to London about a year ago to film for his Habitat part and randomly stayed with Jacob. Someone had asked Arthur (Derrien, Jacob’s housemate at the time) if he could stay. So we went skating every day – which was sick – and he has been back to stay at our new house since.

What’s the plan after Vase comes out?
I haven’t really thought about it to be honest. I want to go on some trips, maybe film a little Kr3w clip, try to get back out to the States at some point… I just want to try to travel and keep on filming. I really enjoy filming. Hopefully I can find a project to work on.