Full-disclosure: I only came to know about a guy called Tommy Guerrero, who happens to be a prolific musician and an even more iconic skateboarder, about four years ago. Yet, I can tell you that ever since, he became a figure that I closely follow – whether reading some (farily rare) interviews or digging deeper into his incredible musical legacy.
On that note, it’s Tommy’s music that brings us here together. You see, when I was introduced to his signature trip-hop beats by a friend, it was by way of “Soul Food Taqueria”, the album that landed on the ever innovative Mo’Wax imprint in 2003. Such record is still one of the greatest welcome cards to Tommy’s abilities, both as a multi-instrumentalist and a musician with a flair to experiment with a multitude of ambient sounds. If “Soul Food Taqueria” was sunny and warm, for instance, “No Mans Land”, which was released in 2014, had a more tense atmosphere, like a storm brewing on a desert.
I may have mentioned only a couple of albums, each one built decades apart, but in-between these projects, Tommy Guerrero released a generous collection of records and collaborative projects, thus assembling a body of work that never looses touch with the times. And proof of that ever progressive direction is neatly carved in the latest addition to Tommy’s sonic estate: “Road to Knowhere”.
Released at the tail end of 2018 on his Too Good label, Tommy’s most recent album draws on his recent explorations of outlandish sounds rooted in Afrobeat and Ethio-Jazz tones. It’s an exploratory journey through dusted rhythms and surf rock spells, which sees Tommy further developing the architecture of his music.
In the midst of his crazily busy schedule, Tommy found some time to tell me more about “Road to Knowhere”. More than focusing solely on the elements that piece together such intense record, I was particularly interested in knowing about how he balances his daily duties with music-making or where he sees skateboarding fitting these days in his life. Along the way, he threw some wisdom gems about letting the flow of the creative process take you wherever it may be. Reading it through, I feel these are words worth holding on to for a good while.
Hey Tommy! I was just reading the two-paragraph description about “Road to Knowhere” on Bandcamp and it says that in the midst of your activities as a designer and art director, your found the time to become a recording-artist. What keeps you busy these days and where does music fit in your day-to-day life?
My days are not regimented. I have so many different things going on that I prioritise my list on a daily basis. The one constant is my son – when he’s with me, everything else is off the table. Music happens when I’m either working on an album or have a string of shows… Or sometimes it’s just when the inspiration strikes and I feel the need to be creative.
Then I’ve also been making small screen prints with a Gocco printer and stencils – I need more than one creative outlet or I’ll go crazy. Also, I’m working on a collaboration with FTC that should drop in August as well as a few other projects. [There’s] always somethin’ brewin’, which is good.
Yeah, keeping that inner-fire burning. But about your latest album, I find it as rad as your previous ones. I’m a particular fan of “Soul Food Taqueria” and “No Mans Land”. Where do you feel you’ve progressed your sound and art in “Road to Knowhere” comparing to your past projects?
“Road To Knowhere” differs in at least one very specific way- almost every song is in 6 and not standard 4/4. It happened naturally. Every time I’d pick up my bass, it’d end up being in 6 – so I went with it.
I’ve also been listening to a lot of Ethio-Jazz, Afrobeat, Highlife, Taureg, so I think that has seeped into my being. I also play most of the drums/percussion on the album. Chuck Treece plays on a couple of songs and Matt Rodriguez plays on other couple ones.
So your references are based in what you’re tuned into at a particular moment…
I’m informed by what I’m listening to and what moves me at that time; whatever has an emotional impact – that’s what I’m drawn to. I also love surf guitar tones, big verbs trem and delay – they create a sense of space. I have a desire to move to the desert… but I can’t handle the heat! San Francisco is neither hot nor cold relatively speaking.
Is there anything in music that you feel you still would like to achieve but you still haven’t arrived there yet?
I’ve achieved something?! That’s new to me! I just go where the muse takes me. I have a new album that I’ve recorded with Chuck that is my approach to Dub. Live drums and bass and then layered sounds and instruments. Fun shit. It’ll be out in Japan in April or May.
Who are your role models these days motivating you to keep on producing and putting music out?
I don’t have any role models. It’s all a very solo journey. The need to be creative is what drives me. Instruments just happen to be the tools or medium that I work with. I like making shit. It’s more about the process than the end result.
Fair enough. And what vibes or emotions get you amped to create music?
Hmm… It can be a tone, a rhythm, a riff. Anything – even non musical. Or it can be playing music with friends – that’s the best.
Would you say that skateboarding culture – and your legacy in it – has a way of shaping and informing your music?
Not sure that it does other than the DIY ethos – just like punk. The fuck it attitude. Just try and keep trying – fall down and keep getting up.
How often do you skateboard these days?
I just skated before writing this. But not daily as my body – knees and back, specifically – won’t allow it. But I still have the fire, which is frustrating at times. I want to skate, but I’m shutdown by physical limitations. But I had a good run.
What important important lessons are you collecting along the way as a musician?
As long as the music is coming from an honest place, don’t worry about what people think or about attaining accolades or rewards. The music will take care of you. It’ll see you through good times and bad.
I liked those words, man! Are we going to be able to see you playing in Europe anytime soon?
I’m working on a tour in August right now – we’ll see if it comes together. It’s difficult as it’s expensive. That’s one of the main reasons I never tour. I have to hire a band and pay them on top of all the travel expenses and so on. It all comes out of my pocket usualy. My hope is to just break even.
A chat for Staf Magazine. Photo by Claudine Gossett. Album cover by Nathaniel Russell