From mutton chops to moustaches, Jason Lee remains one of the most beloved figures in skateboarding. It just so happens that we have to share him with the rest of the world.
We couldn’t have been all that surprised at his success though. Every word he uttered in Video Days became an instant classic. Fact is, the camera loves him. And when you’re already blessed with one of the best styles in skateboarding, it’s not difficult to see where those two bona fide classic video parts of his came from.
I think it’s hard for the kids who weren’t around for Jason’s first go-around to really wrap their heads around just how good this dude was at skateboarding before he got into acting. So often this type of claim is made in hindsight. But make no mistake about it; Jason is one of the all-time greats. And to see him back at it, shredding full-force as Earl fans look on in disbelief, well, it’s like he’s all ours again.
Alright Jason, so I’m just gonna get right to the heart of this. The 360 kickflip is undoubtedly your trademark move. Over the years it’s become a staple in any self-respecting street skater’s artillery, yet very few have even come close to executing it with the same style and grace as you. You definitely still got it after all this time. So, for the sake of future generations, what is the secret behind a Jason Lee 360 kickflip?
The secret is that it’s not a pop. It’s one fluid scoop motion with everything working in total unison.
Teach the world to sing. Now since we’re already on the subject, who’s three flips get your official seal of approval?
Jovontae Turner had a damn good one. Nate Jones, Daewon, Eric Koston, Clint Peterson and I’m sure a bunch of other rad skaters out there that I’ve never heard of because I’m old and don’t know who all the skaters are anymore.
There’s just so many of us now. So how were you first introduced to skating and what was your first board?
When I was young, my Mom got my older brother and I plastic skateboards that we rode everyday. That was in the early 70’s. Later on in Junior High, I got a cheap Variflex complete and started skating again.
Is this around the time you met Ed Templeton? I know you guys were pretty close back in the day.
Ed and I basically grew up skating together. We hung out everyday … eating shitty food with too much sugar, playing Nintendo and skating. He’s rad.
Weren’t you on Schmitt Stix with him for a minute prior to World?
You know, this sounds stupid but I honestly don’t remember. Maybe I was on flow? We’ll have to ask Ed.
We’ll get on that. So how were you introduced to Steve Rocco and SMA/World Industries?
My girlfriend at the time found Steve at an ASR tradeshow in Long Beach and brought him outside to watch me skate. She was supportive and super rad to have done that for me. I think this was 1988. Steve and I set up a time to meet in Hermosa and I skated for him. I remember I did a 360 flip down some stairs which I’d never done before. I kinda pulled that out of my ass. But he was stoked and put me on SMA Rocco Division.
I’m not sure if very many people know this, but you actually ended up quitting high school in order to chase your dreams of becoming a pro. Those were some pretty lean times for the industry back then but it worked out pretty well for you. Would you recommend someone else to take such a risk?
I always advise people to just do whatever. I just followed what made sense to me at the time. The point is that it’s not really for me to say. I definitely believe in following what feels right versus going along with “the way things are.” You’ve gotta be responsible for your choices and actions though, and you gotta do what you do for the right reasons. But it’s okay to be punk rock with your approach.
Back then, Rocco barely had any money at and I’m sure you could’ve gotten on just about any team. What made you stay with Steve in those low-budget times? Was it clear to you from the start that what Steve was doing was important?
I was just stoked to actually be sponsored. Steve’s warehouse was small and he only had a few warped Rocco decks, a few t-shirts and some wheels on the shelves, but I was thrilled. I felt that I had arrived. I didn’t really know where it would all lead or what he was trying to achieve; I was just happy to be on a company getting free boards. And I was stoked to have been so enthusiastically recognized by Rocco as I was that day.
So was it hard being the only rider on Blind besides Mark? Being in a fishbowl with one of your heroes like that couldn’t have been an easy thing.
I wouldn’t change a thing.
What would you say was the most important lesson you learned from him?
To be an individual and don’t give a shit.
Awesome. So Video Days. I know you guys filmed that thing for about a year. Was that stressful for you? You were pretty young and at a critical point in your career. Were you ultimately pleased with your part? And did you choose the Milk and Husker Du songs or was that Spike?
We filmed for a long time but it really didn’t feel like it. It wasn’t “work” in the way videos are now. I think Spike introduced me to Milk’s music but I’m pretty sure I picked the songs. And yes, I was pleased with all of it for the most part.
The Benihana’s intro. I’ve always heard that was aimed at Mike Ternasky. Is that true? And did you ever see Danny Way’s retort mid-boardslide in Questionable?
Yeah, that was a dig at Mike which I regretted even before his untimely death. I was just being an immature and spoiled little 21-year-old skater. But no, I’ve never seen Questionable.
You should check it out. Now I know you improvised the “War Outside Your Window” curtain call, but was does “No War for Heavy Metal” mean? Was that just another random joke that turned into classic material?
Yeah, just randomness.
So many classic things from that video have turned out to be completely spontaneous. Did you have any idea that so many of your improvised jokes would be included in the final cut of Video Days? It really adds a lot of flavor to the video but it’s gotta be kinda weird having these things quoted to you 20 years later?
That’s the rad thing about skating back then and just being young and stupid was that we just went with the flow. We didn’t think too much about it, like “Man, this is gonna be legendary!” So it’s surprising when people quote stuff but it is always nice to have touched somebody’s life in some way.
Your dilemma involving what would become Natas’ Satan graphic is pretty legendary but do you remember when the plan for the “Dear George” Powell spoof boards was hatched? Were you at all scared being such a young pro taking direct aim at the biggest company in the world at that time?
I wasn’t scared because I trusted Mark. It was his company and I was cool with whatever he wanted to do. Plus I was young and I guess I just went along with things. It was all just fun and “whatever”.
And yes, Mark did help talk me out of the Satan graphic along with Rodney Mullen, who didn’t like it either. Rocco was bummed when I said “no,” but I was happy I backed out. It was a big lesson in the importance of going with your gut.
So what was the story behind the Burger King bald cap ad? Most people saw that as a Mike V diss but you’ve denied it.
That ad was not a diss. I just happened to have shaved my head bald the night before the photo shoot, which is weird cause I’d never done that before. And the board graphic just happened to be what it was. Total coincidence. But even if I didn’t like Mike V, which was never the case, I would’ve been scared shitless to make fun of him like that. He would’ve cracked my skull open.
How difficult was it being on Blind, post-Gonz? I know they tried to put you in a “captain” kind of role, but was it just not as fun anymore? And can you believe the company is still going after all this time?
It was tough to hang around after Mark left. I felt like I should have left, too. I realized that I ultimately didn’t like feeling that I was working for Rocco on something that Mark had created so I left to start Blue and then, of course, Stereo with Chris Pastras.
But I always thought it was super cheap of Rocco to continue Blind, especially still using Mark’s famous hand-drawn logo.
What was the story behind your first Blind ad after Mark left, the one with the little letter you supposedly wrote describing the direction you were gonna take the company? Was that even you or did Rocco write that?
I don’t remember this ad. But if I did write the text, which I don’t think I did: I’m sorry, Mark.
How would you describe your relationship with Rocco back then?
Rocco was just trying to do what he felt was right, per his reality. But he was ultimately very harmless. Just different realities is all. A lot of it was fun and goofy. He wasn’t out to seriously hurt anyone. He was just a big kid doing goofy things and fucking with people because he got a kick out of it. And there were aspects of what he was doing that fit the time, and it did open things up in certain ways. But on the whole, it just wasn’t my vibe. The way I would fit with Pastras and Stereo was far more my thing. When it was time to move on, I moved on.
What are your thoughts on the notoriety his exploits have gained over the years? Many see Steve as this business visionary that forever changed skateboarding … for better or for worse. Would you agree with that view?
I honestly think it’s neither here nor there. That period feels like eons ago, and there are so many skateboarders now—and companies; things have changed so much that I think that period has sort of been left in the dust. I mean, there are plenty of kids out there that look shocked at the skatepark because “Earl” just did a 360 flip—they have no idea that I even used to be a pro skater.
Was there any fall-out when you did leave to start Blue with one of Rocco’s biggest rivals, Mr. Brad Dorfman? You were just about as O.G. SMA as it got. Did you ever feel targeted by Steve after leaving?
I forgot about Rocco after I left and just focused on the next chapter. There wasn’t any weird drama that I can remember.
This was also around the time you starred in Spike’s 100% video with Sonic Youth. Is that project what planted the acting seed for you?
It was rad because it was my first time skating in a “non-skating” world. I thought playing dead was me being a “real actor.” I was stoked.
And by the way, that video was directed by Tamra Davis, not Spike. Spike only shot the skating footage. He was in the video too but he didn’t direct it.
So after leaving Blind and having that short stint with Blue, what was your original intention with Stereo? And how much does that differ from it’s mission today, two decades later?
The original intention was to do something creative. To make the graphics and ads and videos “mean something.” It was more of an artistic platform; an extension of the creativity of skateboarding itself, which is very free and flowing.
Stereo represents skateboarding, creativity and individuality. It means the world to me and despite its ups-and-downs throughout all the many changes in skateboarding, Stereo is still the same at its core. I’m proud.
It takes so much more than just tricks to make a classic and there’s many things that make A Visual Sound stand apart from the rest. Obviously the skating is incredible but there’s also Tobin, Gabe and Ari’s involvement, the editing, Ululation, all the super 8 stuff.
It was really just us doing what felt right as creative people who wanted to do something different in skateboarding. It was just the right timing. And it was nice to have the freedom to be creative. All the people involved in Stereo at that time were rad.
Along these same lines, what do you think it is about Video Days that people just can’t seem to get enough of?
It’s unforced, natural, fun and spontaneous.
Which part of yours do you prefer? A Visual Sound or Video Days? They’re both so different from each other.
They’re both rad. Both are fun videos that make you want to skate so I’m damn proud of each of them. Skateboard videos should make you want to skate and that’s what we did.
What made you decide to leave Stereo and try your hand at acting full-time? Did the then-upcoming Tincan Folklore weigh in heavy on this decision?
Tincan Folklore really had no bearing on that. Keep in mind, 25 was kinda old back then.
Nowadays, skaters are still popular and making shitloads of money at 35. But back then, that age was super “old.” At least it felt that way at the time.
Yeah, I don’t really remember any pros over 30 back then.
I didn’t want to milk skateboarding. I felt I just wanted out and to move on to something else. I wasn’t as passionate about skateboarding as I had been before and I didn’t want to force it.
And we appreciate that. Now it’s fair to say that most see you as having one of the all-time best styles in skateboarding, myself included. The “J. Lee” style, if you will. In light of this, how would you define style?
I’d say that style comes from not trying so hard. It’s following your own path with pride and confidence.
So skateboarding seems to be the one constant for those of us that have followed your crazy career over the years. It seems to be something that regardless of your successes and fame, you’ve continually gone back to. What is it that keeps you coming back? What does skateboarding mean to you?
Skateboarding is more a part of my life than I had ever realized. I quit and didn’t have anything at all to do with skateboarding for nearly 10 years—then one day, how important it is it all came back and hit me. It’s defined so much of my life and my thinking. I wouldn’t be who I am without skateboarding and I feel privileged to have been a pro skateboarder.
Well said. That’s all I have, Jason. Any parting words of wisdom?
Buy a skateboard.