This release is a little more important to me than most. During childhood I transitioned from the standard Bones Brigade fandom and really got into G&S skateboards. "Footage" really influenced me, though at the time I wouldn't have been able to necessarily tell you why. At some point I bluntly moved on and found the Alien Workshop, but it was only until years later that I understood the full ramifications.... that unbeknownst to me, eveything I loved about G&S at the time had left and set up camp as AWS in Ohio. I still went through my phases as a kid and in taste... 101, Foundation, Toy Machine, but settled back in with the Workshop around '96 or '97. (Oddly enough though, my draw to those brands were the riders -Jason Dill, Heath Kirchart, Josh Kalis, who all ended up on Alien eventually.) I was old enough to have my own sense of taste by that point, and was able to actually verbalize the how's and why's as to my choices. Running a store since the age of 13, seeing literally every board release for more than 20 years, there are really only a handful of companies out there that "get it". Every brand needs to sell product, but it's just so obvious that few do it for the right reasons. Being from the midwest, I have always identified with the ethos of the Alien Workshop. I am a small account and represent minimal buying power, but they have always treated Silo like family. In the 16 or so years I have dealt with the company on a weekly basis, faces have come and gone, but it is with great pride that I can call The Workshop "Home". I have been fortunate enough to tour with them, hosted demos and video premieres, released multiple Silo edition boards (with total creative freedom, most importantly), and generally have had such a sense of comradery through the years that my very definition of Skateboarding and Alien Workshop are included in the same sentence.
While my Vans Syndicate history is not quite as long, it is with equal emotion that I can consider the design team friends, and agree with its direction on a personal level, supporting it from the beginning (and being approved to carry the line since 004 releases, though I immediately scooped up everything I could in the warehouse 001-003).
It is a perfect storm, so to speak, that
Mike Hill, Creative Director / Lead Designer of Alien Workshop, was recently approached about creating a Syndicate release.
The following is a conversation with Mike regarding Syndicate release 022.133. Included in the Spring '13 Vans Syndicate "These Days" Zine is an excellent article with some must see imagery, so please, consider this a supplement to an already great spotlight on Mike and his work.
Mike, I'd like to start out with a couple broad questions, and then hone into the details, if that is ok.... As Creative Director / Lead Designer for the Alien Workshop, you have traditionally built series / editions, rather than one-off graphics. I am not sure who did that first, but I distinctly remember the paper mache series as a kid, and remember the impact it had on me. It is more commonplace now, especially with the amount of pro's per team and the need to create cohesiveness, but I always saw the Workshop's graphics as exhibitions--- a consistent group of work, rather than a typical skateboard release. I guess, I am simply complimenting your design as more of an artistic approach, with strong theme and narrative, and often in 3 dimensional media vs the standard vector art. How do you currently approach creating a board series, and has anything changed in recent years? (BRANT in GRAY
I think the series format sort of grew out of the goal from the beginning to have consistency in the Workshops visuals. The mache decks probably established it for us unconsciously because of them all being the puppet / diorama setups and wanting to do something different with deck graphics that the sublimated slick bottoms allowed. Screen printing 4c process photographs on full nose to tail decks and holding detail wasn’t really an option then. Everything was fairly primitive, the pro name / logo was sent as physical flat art with color overlays showing where the color would go and a scaled deck crop template was sent wit the 4x5 slide of the graphic. It was t-square / triangle, letraset rub on lettering, rubber cement and blue line pencil stuff. The approach now is still similar in the sense of a loose idea to take across the pros decks for a season. For myself I tend to think of it as railroad tracks, if you have an idea it establishes a track that you can build on, especially when you have ten decks in a series. It allows the idea to curve and morph around as you work on the lot and go back and tweak ones you started first. Often just starting with a series name can be what starts the track. The new sendHELP Series were that way. I think it happens that people think the graphic should or does tie directly back to the pro's personality or that sort of thing, and for myself that isn't really the case in a series. It gets to be too limiting of trying to slot it all together that tight. (Mike in SEAFOAM)
The Workshop has such an iconic history... how much of that do you enjoy revisiting, and how do you balance the "classic" Workshop while still moving forward with a progressional brand? It means a lot to me to have a kid stoked on a new series, but at the same time, having a young skateboarder be excited seeing the "Abduction" graphic for the first time, or a collector come looking for a specific Warhol model, etc.
It's a seesaw of sorts. I appreciate that the classic stuff is still desired by some and it comes even from the team with them wanting to have some of the older graphics on their decks which is cool. I tend to think of it as you have the fondest memories of the best times in your skating and that includes the decks that were out at that time, or for younger skaters it may be the adage that the past is always better than the present. It happened with the music of the 60's, 80's & now we're re-entering the 90's. I don't fight against it but for myself I prefer things that are more current and progressive including the visual direction. It's a balance thing, Rob came in last spring and being part of the brand for so long, he really had strong feelings for the alien icon based graphics and I dug into that for a large part of last year. Focusing on layering bitmaps and ways to create something interesting with the older icons. We talk and get in battles in discussing the direction and the multi facet dimension to things that the brand represents to fans, him and myself so I'm excited to have those conversations to keep the open book of what the Workshop can be creatively going forward. My personal leanings these days are more psychology / sociology and new music based and using that interest to influence graphic ideas. It's a bit more inwards than what was done in the past so it may come off really obscure to others, who knows… everything is so surreal with whats happening in society's use of all the new technology. The raw fact of deadlines and amount of graphics inline is probably the biggest demon to battle. It gets so gnarly in the tunnel that when you get spit out the other end you don't really know what to do with yourself for days, kind of wander around off work thinking your letting something slip, it's a lame feeling and something Im trying to combat with leaving the country for a trip as close to completion of a gnarly deadline period just to erase it so you can start fresh again. It's textbook recharge talk but often a lot harder to pull off then TED talks make it seem.
To what extent were you aware of the upcoming Vans pipeline when you were approached about launching this product? ( Was Jason Dill already unofficially known to be Vans Syndicate First "Team Rider"? And to follow up, was the Alien Workshop release in the Pro Skate line already planned, or was that a natural progression, stemming from your collaborative work? )
I knew Dill was working with Vans on things but I didn't know any of the official details. Trevor from Vans asked me about the Syndicate project and when talking about release dates the team shoe collabs were brought into the picture. Not sure about how or when it was planned internally with Vans. I had worked with Trevor on a Heath Emerica / AWS shoe so we had met through email a few years ago with that project.
Mike Hill's personal Vans Authentic
Getting to the details, we have 2 styles include in your release, the first one being the Authentic. I know from our past conversations that you took direct influence from your own collection, as pictured above...Can you elaborate on this pair and your interest in reviving / reliving it?
Hmmm, I've had those pale green Authentic since the early 90's when we started AWS and wore them while screen printing the first decks we released, skating and walking in rivers. They were full of sand and gravel and I thought, these are my top pair of Authentics I've ever owned so maybe it would be appropriate to use them for the project. Also I was hoping the other shoe could be based on a boot so thought it would be good to have a basic, simpler low top for balance.
So that is where the heel stitching came from, the 90's silhouette? Neal Shoemaker (Syndicate Designer) had mentioned this point up in our previous feature, that your pair had brought back a nice detail long gone on the current Classic Authentic.
I actually learned that from reading Neal's comments in the feature. It was interesting to hear. I hadn't noticed the heel stitching switch in Authentics over the years, and Neal's thoughts on working that area into what it has become on the new Syndicate checkered Authentics was rad. I recently received a pair of those and they are super nice, the detail is impressive.
While we are looking at the image above, it is a perfect chance to ask you about the term "SECT" and its use. I personally always took the meaning at its face value, even putting it on the boards we did together, not really knowing the full history. What is your working definition of the word and how does it apply to you and the Alien Workshop?
The SECT came a few years after the Workshop started. Originally it was an idea I had that the Workshop would morph into sort of a creative commune, school or cult type thing. But not in a creepy Jim Jones way but more of a refuge or work outpost for like minded people. It would study, experiment and produce films, art, graphic design, music, skateboarding and take on the moniker SECT. Sort of like the various art movements over time, but wanted it to be in a place that you had to want to be there to participate out of genuine interest and not a place you could wander in and out of like a major city. Somewhere remote. Part of the reason for myself being so obsessed with skating along with the actual skateboarding itself was because it brought all of those other things into your world, and they all heavily influenced the direction you go later in life. You don't think of it consciously so it seems to take root deeper because of it. So in looking at the Syndicate project I knew it wasn't going to be an AWS collab shoe, yet since I am so connected to AWS with the work and involvement it seemed like it should have some tie to it or it would just feel odd. The SECT fit because in this original sense it is a wider vision that still lives in my mind and working on a project with Syndicate felt true to the idea of doing things together with like minded people. Rian and the guys at Syndicate are dedicated to it from the their history and vision with how it started for them. And in that sense it fits perfectly with your Silo decks with SECT on them.
Your vision seems very clear for the Authentic, did the samples come out as you wanted on the first try? I like that the entire shoe is lined with the graphic, as opposed to just the insole...care to expand on that at all?
Yeah, I was stoked on the samples. We're use to disasters with first samples at the Workshop so I was impressed for sure. Neal had pointed out he was going to work on the print quality of the insole and is amazing with every detail. The overall print on the lining was a bonus for sure, as I've only really been involved with footbeds on AWS team shoe collabs.
The shoes are subtitled "Summer" and "Winter". I can guess the meaning may be just as obvious as it sounds, but howdid you first arrive at these distinctions?
I'm not sure about this. It may have come out of me talking to Neal about how I sort of have this thing where the boots I used for inspiration for the high top represent going to work and the authentics represent skating or leisure time. It's more of a mind game with myself where if I laced the boots on, then it was time to go to work, even if that meant sitting in front of a computer. Like a uniform, it puts you into a mentality to buckle down and take what you are working on with full focus and commitment. Sort of the opposite of a flip flop vibe. I can't imagine working intensly on a graphic series or vid work etc wearing flip flops. If it were up to me I'd pass a federal law banning flip flops. Even at the beach.
Mike Hill's personal boots, Cabelas
Addressing the boots then, lets move onto the SK8-HI.... What was Syndicates first reaction to the boots when you plunked them down? I can really appreciate you taking true non-skate function as inspiration and creating a Vans version for us all to enjoy.
Ahhha. I think I rambled on the phone with them about the boots in regards to the above discussion about work / leisure mindfuck before sending them photos so maybe that eased the shock a bit. I've went through I think 4 pairs of these boots over the years. I first got them years ago because they don't have super clunky soles so you can drive a manual transmission truck on expedition type terrain and still have feel in the pedals and they just became my top boot. So when the Syndicate project came up it was my first thought to try and see if they would be willing to work with it. Neal was really receptive, and we talked about other moc toe styles that Vans had done and sent some reference photos back. It settled back to the Sk8 HI and how to make the moc toe work within it. I flew out to Vans and met Neal, Trevor, Rian & Nathan for a day meeting. This was in Dec 2011. I didn’t know what to expect really but brought some ideas for the insole art and the boots of course. Have to say, I was pretty blown away on the plane back home at their approach to Syndicate and the history and how dedicated they are to each project. The amount of detail in every part of working on the SK8-HI was amazing. The resources of materials and to listen to how they were discussing how to make the moc toe work with the overall balance of the panels and that we wanted to have a cord in it so it wasn't just pinched up. Down to the speed lace eyelets and the laces with the matching mint striping running through them. There were swatchbooks and trim books popping up with every detail being discussed so deep it was insane and impressive all at once. The staff team they have with the skate program and Syndicate is incredible, it's no mistake that the things they produce are always so on point.
Since you've honed in on the tread and overall function of the original boots, lets rewind a bit and touch on that.... there is a small blurb in the Syndicate Zine article that references your interest in traveling and your adventures. Can you elaborate on a couple of those experiences, and how that has affected you? It is great timing that you just launched a capsule with Iceland / Sin Fang literally during the time of this interview.
It started out about 10 or 11 years ago or so, I'd somehow gotten into wrenching on this Land Rover Defender as an escape in free time. I didn't know much about working on vehicles so it was a challenge to learn something new. I met some friends who helped and we started going on trail runs, camping in Kentucky, out West etc. So the boot hunt started with all this. Normal hiking boots have thick, stiff soles so trying to feather the clutch on technical sections of a a trail you'd just didn’t have the control. I always ripped the cardboard out of the old first Air Jordons so you could feel your board skating better and was sort of a freak about feeling the board with skate shoes. I met this guy who's become a good friend, who lined up trips out of the country doing self drive expeditions. So instead of sitting there bouncing around in the back seat you get to drive yourself, I did these in Africa, Mongolia, Labrador / New Foundland / Nova Scotia and Iceland. The Iceland one sort of affected me pretty strong, as I've been back many times since. On one of the trips I met up with the Workshop's Iceland distributor name Leon who also runs a shop in Reykjavik and he introduced me to the skate scene there. It's a small place and the skaters are really die hard / make it happen yourself, and I could relate to them dealing with the weather growing up skating in Ohio. I met Siggi at their local indoor park and we became friends and started flowing him Workshop decks and hang out when I visit. We had talked about doing a video piece on him and Iceland for a couple years and then by random chance I had the opportunity to meet Sindri from Sin Fang last fall during Airwaves Music Festival. I'd admired his music and artwork prior and it sort of fell into place to have him involved in Siggi's part with a Sin Fang song. The skating and music scene is pretty intertwined as it's a small place and the creativity in the output of work is something that I have great respect for. It is a very interesting country, and releasing the Siggi / Sin Fang videos and decks goes back to a basic tenant of AWS striving to do things of our interest and expose people to something they may not expect and inspire them to explore the same philosophy in their own way. The label on the SK8-HI has a nod to it with the art to the left of the Dome representing Reykjavik with an icon of the Hallgrímskirkja church landmark and the right side of the Dome has icons representing the farm where I live in Ohio. The plan is to split time living and working in both places…
photo from round 1 of samples
The SK8-HI BOOT will definitely be my go to for the next couple years in harsh weather... it is a perfect boot vibe without the bulk, and still skateable. The color is fantastic too....it is very distinct yet does not overpower or hint of "fashion". Very Utilitarian and a great contrast to the Authentic. I know the first samples seen above were more of a black hue....can you let us into the thought process as to the tonal shift to the Green?
I think I remember Neal saying the first ones coming back weren't quite correct but I didn't see that sample in physical form. We had went through various color swatches in the meet up to get the right dark green without it being too foresty. I love the tone the production shoes have, its a green hue but not like an earth tone feel. More militant.
One of the things Syndicate is known for are little goodies here and there included with various releases on special projects. I was so excited to see the stamp set. Workshop has always had a bit of a DIY ethic and the stamp idea is just brilliant! I am inspired by the fact that you have encouraged people to make a product their own.
The Syndicate guys had brought up having a inclusion item when I went out for the meeting. I kind of stewed on it for awhile trying to come up something that would be different yet feasible. We'd loosely talked about making rubber stamps for AWS off and on but it never really found it's place so I thought it could work for the special item with the shoes. The back heel scab works like a rubber stamp if you El Marko it up and stamp so I mentioned it to Neal to see what they thought of the idea. The fact that they would make a mold for it without batting in eye took me back. At the Workshop having a mold made generally turns into a red flag clusterfuck from the biz side as the resources and expense aren't in our normal realm. So yeah, I'm pretty stoked on the stamp kit and way it came out. The detail that is held with the designs is incredible and Neal coming up to make the rubber in the mint is perfect. The sticker sheet is so you can put the decal on the top of the block of wood you rubber cement the stamp on, to make it official Hobby Lobby style.
DIY stamp set to be included with each pair
Thank you for taking the time to elaborate on the details...It means a lot and makes the product come alive to hear about the thoughts and reasoning behind it all.
Yeah, thanks for the opportunity and all the support on this and the Workshop over the years. It's always rad to be around and discuss with others who are dedicated to what they do and your work with Silo and the energy behind it all definitely shows. Looking forward to future ideas with Silo / AWS that develop. The Syndicate project has been a great experience beyond the shoes, meeting a lot of great people and getting to know others better and I'm grateful for that. Thanks to Rian, Neal, Trevor, Nathan at Vans USA and Bobby, Mike, Bob and Alex of Vans Canada.
Click image above to shop online
PROJECT: 022.133 / MIKE HILL
STYLE: SK8-HI BOOT “S”
COLOR: MIKE HILL / DARK GREEN / VANILLA
MTL #: VN-0SDU80P
STYLE: AUTHENTIC PRO “S”
COLOR: MIKE HILL / MINT / VANILLA
MTL #: VN-0OZR8ON
- Summer, Canvas Authentic (all canvas lined)
- Winter, leather SK8-HI boot (all pig skin leather lined)
- Images of old paper machie board graphic footbeds and lining art
- Vans original waffle gum tread
RELEASE: available at Silo, sizes 6.5 -13.0, in store and at shop.silostore.com now.