Thrashing through streets on a skateboard and producing groovy electronic music in a basement studio may seem worlds apart, but Tommy Guerrero has uncovered their many similarities.
Guerrero, a skateboarding legend who released his second solo album, A Little Bit Of Somethin', on Tuesday, said he approaches both activities with the same mind-set. Or lack thereof.
"The thing about skating and music is I don't really think too much about it," Guerrero said. "I just let it come. Whatever flows naturally is going to be best."
Skating and making music also provide Guerrero with the same sense of freedom.
"Freedom from thought, freedom from myself," he explained. "When you're skating, you're not really thinking about things. And the same with music, most of the time."
A Little Bit of Somethin', released on Mo' Wax through Beggars Banquet in the United States, features 14 tracks written, performed and produced almost completely by Guerrero, a guitar and bass veteran of 20 years. The moody album jumps from dark, bluesy songs such as "So Blue It's Black" (RealAudio excerpt) to Latin-influenced beach-party ditties like "Pescadito" (RealAudio excerpt).
Just Chillin' At Home
Guerrero recorded the entire album in his small San Francisco home studio, using a simple four-track recorder for many of the tunes. From his years of skateboarding on half-pipes and in empty swimming pools, Guerrero said he was well aware of how to use a limited arena to his advantage.
"Less is more, I've learned that," Guerrero said. "People think you can't make a record on a four-track. Why not? If the idea and feelings are there, that's what really counts. Of course, sonically, it's nice to have something cleaner; we're so used to these pristine recordings. But I really like the rawness of things and just being able to put the music down when you feel it."
Guerrero left the Powell Peralta skateboarding team in 1990 to launch his own company, the iconic Real Skateboards, and was an original member of the legendary skate team Bones Brigade. He also starred in many of the original skate films, including "Future Primitive" and "The Search for Animal Chin," and appeared in "Gleaming the Cube" with fellow skater Tony Hawk and actor Christian Slater.
He said music is more of a hobby than a job. He only writes or records when he's in the "right mood."
"Most of the time when I record it's when I'm kind of feeling the blues and it tends to come out more," Guerrero said. "But that's just my nature. I'm not a wound-up person. I'm more laid back. Maybe I play because it relaxes me, I don't know."
One of Guerrero's collaborators on the album, abstract DJ/producer Gadget, praised the former skateboarder's music for its depth of emotions.
"It's all so easy for him," Gadget (born Jamie Kahn) said. "His music is similar to his skating style, smooth and flowing."
Old, New, Borrowed and Blue
A Little Bit of Somethin' combines a wide array of Guerrero's influences, from John Coltrane to Santana to Tortoise. On "100 Years" (RealAudio excerpt), Guerrero uses a thick bass groove, gentle guitar plucks, soprano vocal samples and some Latin percussion to create a jazz number reminiscent of experimentalists Medeski Martin & Wood.
"It really reminds me of being very old and kind of traditional, but in a contemporary way," Guerrero said of the song.
Other songs, such as "Azucar" (RealAudio excerpt), rely more on guitars. In contrast to Guerrero's debut, 1998's Loose Grooves and Bastard Blues, none of the tracks include vocals.
"I do write lyrics, but I can't stand to listen to my own voice," he said. "The two songs on the first record were out of necessity. One is about my uncle passing and the other is about some hard times I was going through. I listen to mostly instrumental music and it's really nice to sit back and get a feel from the instruments themselves and not have somebody cramming words down your throat."
Guerrero names DJ Shadow among his favorite producers but said he doesn't pay much attention to new music, focusing instead on discovering jazz records from the '70s.
"I love making beats, but if you listen to too much of that stuff, you can get influenced too heavily, or you can get caught up in the one-dimensional thing," Guerrero said. "And I like to do a lot of different types of music."
Guerrero is working on an album with Gadget that he said will be released in the fall on Gadget's Function 8 label. Guerrero also will release a double album by his side project, Fortraque, which will compile several obscure songs he has recorded on his four-track.
"When I'm using [the standard] 16 tracks, it takes more time," Guerrero said. "I like to be limited. You could fill 16 tracks and they could all be crap. You have to know what not to play."
Although he is still recovering from a serious back injury, Guerrero said he plans to get back into skateboarding, though not competitively. While his two hobbies have much in common, there is a major difference, he said.
"Usually, in music, you don't really break any bones," Guerrero said.