Interview with Brian Tucci, legendary DC pro skater & musician
Every kid is in search of a group to belong to. My tribe was skateboarding. I found my escape vehicle to a subculture that had its own language, clothing, music, hang out spots, and best of all, it had no rules. California was the skateboard mecca because the industry was created there. We modeled ourselves after our Californian heroes like Christian Hosoi, Natas Kaupas, and Eric Koston. But there were also guys who came from fringe scenes. Think Rodney Mullen from Florida and Mike Vallely from New Jersey. Their unique talent and East Coast origin caught the attention of the skateboard world. Brian Tucci from Washington DC was of that caliber.
For all the kids at home in the late 1980s replaying their worn out VHS tape of “Hokus Pokus,” like me, Tucci left an indelible mark in our memories because he not only dominated DC skate spots, leaving benches and curbs in rubble, but he also helped create an East Coast skateboard community at Pulaski (aka Freedom Plaza). Pulaski gave birth to some of the best East Coast skaters, such as Sean Sheffey, Chris Hall, Andy Stone, Pepe Martinez, Pooch, Reese Forbes, and John Igei. Their rise to the professional ranks inspired the next generation of skaters like Darren Harper and Bobby Worrest.
My friends and I trekked to Pulaski every weekend to watch Tucci and these pros innovate tricks on Pulaski’s famous marble ledges. Tucci’s creativity extended to music, which gave me the opportunity to reconnect with this local legend and collaborate with him at CULTA. Check out my interview with him as we discuss his legacy, Pulaski, music, and cannabis.
- Senior Director of Marketing, Renier Fee
Brian, I'm excited to get you on our blog.
I'm stoked to do this.
Intensity Skates was your first sponsor, right? Tell me about getting on the team.
Yes, yes, indeed. I was familiar with how the shop sponsorship worked because I used to race BMX. I purchased my first board from Intensity Skates. My mom said she wasn't going to buy me any more boards so I was like, “I better try and see if I can get a sponsor. See if I can get a hook-up.” And one of my really good friends, Ahmed Deshae, he had a video camera. I'd maybe only been skating six or seven months, but we went all around and we filmed. We filmed as much as we could. I gave the tape to Intensity Skates, maybe it was to Lance Dawes or somebody at the shop.
Do you still have a copy of that sponsor-me tape?
I do not. I think it does exist but I've yet to see it surface.
I would love to see that. Who else was on the Intensity Skates team?
Oh man, a number of people. For sure, I remember Lance Dawes being on the team. This amazing Lansdowne skater, Bobby Bassett. He was on. Blake Carzone. Quite a few other people. Hojin Chang, I remember being on.
How did you make the jump to H-Street?
Well, that was literally through my affiliation with Intensity Skates. They had sold enough boards in this area that I just got some flow from them. And then soon after that, Mike Ternasky [founder of H-Street] came to DC, I guess he had homies that lived out here. He linked up with me and we skated, and I filmed all my stuff for [H-Street’s] Hocus Pocus [skateboard video] at that time.
But did you know that you were on the team or was it more of a try-out?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I had the good boxes pretty consistently from them.
Did you feel pressured to move to the West Coast?
Not really so much pressured. I did have an opportunity to go, but I was in school at the time.
Did Mike Ternasky ever explain the brand vision to you?
He was definitely a true visionary when it came to motivation, especially with filming, connecting all the dots with the big picture. Music and everything, how it’s all related. I would have conversations about all kinds of bands that he would later go on to use in [Plan B’s] Questionable [skateboard video] and stuff like that. He definitely had a strong vision.
Were you skating with any of the other H-street team members at the time, or were you solo in DC?
When Mike came around, he would bring somebody. The second time he came out, he brought Brian Lotti with him. I went on a trip to New York City with Brian Lotti and him. It was really cool. It was a Tompkins Square Park contest. Way, way back.
What was Brian Lotti like?
He was always a master technician and the nicest human being. He's super cool and it was good to be around those cats to able to learn from them. I had the opportunity to go out to Las Vegas and skate with Lotti as well.
Yes, indeed. The first time when Mike came, we went out skating with Sheffey. Sheffey rode for SHUT at the time but Mike definitely knew of Sean. He was on his radar from very early on.
What was Sean Sheffey like as a young dude? Do you still keep in touch with him?
Sean's always a natural ripper, the most style, just free-flowing creativity. Sean's rad. I don’t keep up with him but I saw him the last time he was out here for the big Kennedy Center thing.
Chris Hall called you the "originator" and many consider you the unsung hero of the DC skate scene. What do you think about that?
I was fortunate enough to get opportunities to get exposure outside of the city very early on, so I guess in that sense, yeah, I feel really fortunate. I'm grateful that they think that way. So many people contributed to that, I can't take responsibility for it.
Who were your heroes back then?
I looked up to a lot of people. When I first started, I was skating a lot with Pepe Martinez and one of the guys that mentored him, Jay Madrid. Of course, Chris Hall and the DC heads during that era.
What's your favorite memory of that era?
There's some definite stand-outs, I remember there was a contest at Pulaski. I remember Mike Vallely was there and they had like some wooden ramps and Jahmal Williams was there. That was a crazy stand out memory for me.
You eventually went on to skate for some other brands and then start your own brand. Tell me about that transition.
I got to ride for People skateboards in the early to mid '90s. I was with them for a number of years. I got to do a couple of boards and videos.
The slave ship design. Oh my God, it's so powerful, it still sticks in my mind.
That's definitely one of my favorite graphics. But I wish the company would have stuck around to do another run. I think they only did less than 500 of those boards.
Tell me you kept that one!
Years later a friend of mine somehow acquired one for me. Very, very thankful for my friend, Jemel for getting that one back for me. It was definitely one of my favorite graphics, for sure. It was a statement on how I felt about the skateboarding industry. I guess it still has some relevance today. I don't want to have a Kanye moment here but it was definitely directed at the company at the time. Even [Darrel] Vaughn’s board had a very similar theme. It had pie charts and percentages and numbers. Very pointed. That was our parting shot, before People went down.
What happened after People skateboards?
I moved back to California to skate a bunch of stuff out there in the San Francisco area. I started working at a Deluxe. I was working as a shipper there, so I got some insight into the basics of shipping and distribution. When I got back to DC, I saw how they had their own kind of industry and their own thing out there and I wanted to do at least something to that effect here.
That’s the origin of Grand National and Concrete Game?
Previous to that, I had a brand called Gorilla Tactics. That was like, I guess, '98. It was fun doing that. I did that for a little while. That was me getting my feet wet. Later on, that turned into Grand National. So maybe five or six years later, I brought it back as Grand National. Kind of the same manufacturer, same premise, for people here in DC. Concrete Game was me trying to go at it from a different angle and I'm a lot more heavily involved in music now. It's a way for me to bring all these passions together--art, design, skateboarding, music.
Had that passion for music always been there? When did it come about?
I'd say around 1991 as I had really been getting serious with skateboarding. I'm just about to go pro, then I got injured. I got injured, and I got into music. I was a vocalist in a local rap band for five or six years. I'm now just producing it myself and doing it on my own terms.
We can't skip over this music group. I think the group you're referring to is Three Levels of Genius (3LG). You guys opened for some incredible bands like Wu-Tang, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One. That's a pretty heavy list.
We were very, very fortunate, definitely had good management.
Where can we get our hands on some tracks?
That I don't know. I think it's all kind of just word-of-mouth kind of thing. Hopefully we're going to try and do like an archive, like a retrospect video somehow.
Did you ever release an album or an EP?
Yeah. We did on tape. I think there might be a CD out there floating around. I might not even be on the CD, they had a number of heads in the line up, so I think I might have even been out of the band by the time the CD came out.
How would you describe the music you're making now?
The music I am making now is basically just beats, instrumental beats. I guess to categorize it would be like low-fi hip-hop.
What gear are you using to make the music?
I have an SP-404 Roland sampler and I also have a phone app I use called Koala. I have a little PT01 Numark turntable. I got a new tonearm for it and a fader. I’m constantly making practice beats with sample vinyl and trying to learn the process.
What was the process like to create beats for CULTA teaser videos?
It was cool for me because it was an opportunity to try to step my game up from the process that I had been really working with, primarily Koala. I had just gotten started using this Serato studio thing that they got, a little workstation.
Can we catch you on the streets? At least we need a retrospective video.
I'm trying to still stay focused with it, at least enough to just keep my ear to the streets and just be hip to what's going on. Hopefully I’ll try and get out and do some filming. I have some clips laying around.
Maybe we can get you to film something for CULTA.
Yeah. For sure!