Pitre's musical ride leads back to Alien

You have to understand that throughout the history of skateboarding, [at least up until the early 1990s], 99 percent of the manufacturers were based in California. The sunny weather, no salt on the ground because of snow and the beach culture all contributed to it being the premier location to skate and run a business. Then in 1990, Mike Hill and Chris Carter, who worked at G&S Skateboards, decided they wanted a fresh start from the norm and moved to Dayton, Ohio, to form The Alien Workshop. The new skateboard company's biggest coup was the addition of legendary skateboarder and artist Neil Blender to instantly create credibility and a buzz. Along with pros Blender and Steve Clarr, Rob Dyrdek and Duane Pitre were the first amateurs on the team.

Dorka Hegedus

Duane Pitre was among the first amateur and pro with Alien Workshop before following a career path in music.

Pitre was the underground skateboarder's skateboarder: he hailed from New Orleans, [from which only H-Street superstar Sal Barbier had broken into the mainstream], and no one had ever heard of him -- so why was he on such an elite team? Pitre didn't get a lot of coverage so his reputation was the stuff of urban legend. And he was in one of the most groundbreaking and talked-about videos of the time -- Alien Workshop's "Memory Screen." The stars had aligned and Pitre was on his way to becoming the next biggest thing. So what happened?

Well, as the years went on Pitre's attention turned toward music, and professional skateboarding fell by the wayside. Learning to play the bass led him to an array of instruments, and his mind narrowed in and music became his obsession. Skaters are good at taking an interest in something and following it to an extreme and perfecting it. I spoke with Pitre about skating, music, his new album/collaboration with Alien Workshop and getting back into skating.

As skateboarders we become obsessed with whatever we're into. Is that how you got out of skateboarding and into music?
Absolutely. Skateboarders give their all -- we live, breathe, eat, and sleep "it." Although what "it" is may change at some point in a skater's life, which it did for me. I thought it was me who in fact had an obsessive personality, but I suppose you've shed some light on the topic, and many skaters are obsessive.

How did you transition from skating to music?
I moved to San Diego in March 1994, which started the days of the "Alien House", which housed myself, Rob Dyrdek, John Drake [all three Alien Workshop riders at the time] and Kelly Bird [he skated for Real]. A few months after living there I bought an electric bass with the help of Pat Duffy [who played guitar and lived right down the street from the Alien House]. After that, each day went almost exactly the same, like this: wake up late, eat lunch, practice bass, go to Pacific Drive [skateshop] to meet up with our peeps, go skating, eat dinner, then at night do what 20-year-old pro skaters did in Pacific Beach at that time: hang out.

Practicing bass seemed to gradually take up more of my day, and more of my "head space." I started playing some acoustic guitar as well. I eventually started playing in a band and was skating less and less; my mind was always on music.

In the end of my pro skating days, my first music tour took place during the period when I was getting what was being called "retirement pay," which is pretty funny to think about, seeing that I was like 24 years old. After I got back from that tour, it seemed to be the dividing line between pro skater and full-on musician. I continued to play in bands, and switched to electric guitar.

After doing that for about six, seven more years I decided I no longer wanted to play in a proper band, I wanted to do my own thing -- that individuality that attracted me to skateboarding I suppose. I started doing experimental/ambient/drone solo guitar stuff [lots of effects and looping pedals] but eventually was bored with the results. I then moved to NYC and learned about a new world of experimental music and realized I wanted to write compositions that included classic string instruments [violins, cellos, etc.], wind instruments, and such. So I had to teach myself certain music theory and learn how to communicate with these performers, learn to speak their language and to get a proper understanding of what it is I wanted them to do in my compositions. I studied for two to three years and then started carrying out rehearsals and performances with said instrumentation. And that, mixed with some computer music I've recently been getting into, is essentially where I'm at today.

Did you keep an eye on skating throughout all these years?
After that dividing line between pro skater and full-on musician I really didn't look back, for many years. I was all about forward progress [my own at least] and didn't pay too much attention to what was going on in the skateboarding world. It wouldn't be till the last few years that I started getting interested, on some level, in skateboarding again … though from a different perspective now.

If you had to explain your music to an average Joe, how would you explain it?
Hmmm, not an easy task I'll tell ya. My music pulls form several different worlds, but for the most part it has one foot in underground, DIY music and the other in what might loosely be called the academic avant garde or experimental music. My influences vary quite a bit [relatively speaking I suppose], from Brain Eno [ambient] to certain jazz music, to traditional world music [such as Indian and Japanese music], to quasi-gothic music such as My Bloody Valentine, to Led Zeppelin and Sabbath, Terry Riley, sludgy metal and the list goes on. But all of this stuff has contributed in some way to what I do today, musically speaking.

A lot of this mentioned music has a centralized focus, that it is contemplative on some level, and has depth. I try to create music along these lines as well. My music is abstract in that there are no obvious narratives or melodies or things that are easy to follow. I try and make music that is challenging to a listener, not purposely "hard" on them necessarily, but that makes them think, maybe look inward to an extent. We live in a society that focuses quite a bit on exterior, where as most of the music I've mentioned above, that has influenced me, focuses inward … especially those musics from the East. There is plenty in this world that is obvious, I try to make art [via sound] that is not, in hopes that the listener, may learn something about himself or herself, myself not excluded.

Did ya get that, Joe?

Larry Blossom

Duane Pitre does an ollie tail grab at Hippie Park in New Orleans.

Somehow your music reminds me of Alien Workshop, is that a coincidence or am I imagining that?
Certainly not a coincidence, though I don't think I fully realized it until a few years ago. The single, largest creative influence in my life was definitely Alien Workshop. The creative masterminds behind the Workshop aesthetic were Mike Hill with Neil Blender. Those two certainly, along with Sarge [Chris Carter], helped shape who I'd become. The Workshop aesthetic had a huge impression on me at the age of 15-16.

Those guys were like the older brothers I never had, turning me onto different ways of thinking, such as taking your own path and not following what others are doing. They did so by moving out of the land of skateboarding, California that is, to move to Dayton, Ohio, and start a skateboard company, one that didn't even showcase skateboarding on the first few magazine ads. People were very skeptical at first, like "what is this arty crap" and "where's the skateboarding?!" This didn't phase them. This "do things differently" attitude I learned from them certainly still has its hold on me today … it helps and it hinders life, which prevents one from getting too comfortable, but instead, promotes working towards new goals.

And aside from all of the life lessons I speak of, the art and graphics were experimental, certainly, and I loved it, it was exciting. The first video, "Memory Screen," which I was in, showcased this approach to art and skateboarding. The music they chose to put in the video was also right up my alley. I was a big Dinosaur Jr. fan, [who I learned of from the 1989 "Speed Freaks" skate video], when I met Mike, Carter and Blender. It was awesome to find out they were [starting with Blender] friends with J. Mascis and were all about using Dinosaur in my videos parts, [and they still have a strong relationship with J. and Dinosaur]. Dinosaur Jr. was the first band that started what was to be a 20-plus year personal music journey that led me to where I'm musically at today. I connected the dots essentially.

With your new album you've teamed up with Greg Hunt to make a music [or visual] video. How did that come about?
Greg contacted me shortly before "Mind Field" [the last Alien video, 2009] was finished and wanted to use some of my music in the video. It was the first time we met, though we probably met way back in the day when he and I were pro, though I don't remember. I was way into having my music in the new video, no doubt. With "Memory Screen" having influence on what I'd later do musically, having the chance to have my work in the new video was full circle, a circle of giving. So that my music, in a skate video, could possibly inspire someone, like other videos did for me 20 years earlier.

My music ended up being used for the "Mind Field" DVD menu, the ender of Heath's part and some strictly visual transitions in the vid. I felt Greg's approach to Mind Field had the ethos of Memory Screen, but was a unique creation of Greg's, new and fresh. I loved the way my music worked with his shots and editing. Within a year or so I was doing a live solo performance at a place in Brooklyn, where I was living at the time, called Monkey Town. This place had four large screens in a square room; with couches and food served … basically you had to have some visual element to project onto the screens. So I contacted Greg to see if he'd be down to quickly create some visuals. And it just so happened that he was even going to be in Brooklyn for the performance. So he shot footage around L.A. and put something together, quickly, without even hearing the music that was to be played. He did the live projections and it worked out great.

After the show I mentioned that we should work on some sort of project in the future, though not as rushed and with more time to work it out. That project would turn out to be the video for my new record, called "Feel Free," which was just released on Important Records.

How did the collaboration with the album and Alien come about? You've gone full circle.
The Workshop has always been supportive of my music and I kept them in the loop about most of it throughout the years. I sent them mp3s of "Feel Free" as soon as it was mastered, way before it came out. Then, while finalizing artwork for the record, John Brien of Important Records, who used to skate back in the day, said "what about decks"? John was aware of my past [skateboarding] of course. What he was implying was "what if Alien did a board in conjunction with 'Feel Free'"? So I contacted the Workshop and they were totally down. It was all natural, pushed and encouraged by others … which makes it even more special.

Oddly enough too, speaking of full circle, the title "Feel Free" was taken from skateboarding. See, one of my good New Orleans buddies, by the name of Larry Blossom, created a few years prior what you might call a creative movement, rooted in skateboarding, but not limited too it, called Feel Free. "Feel Free" the composition [which makes up my album of the same name] was written right after my move back to New Orleans after being gone for 16 years. It was a direct result of my new/old surroundings and reconnections. So in homage to this I chose to borrow that title as it very much fit the piece of music, in many ways. So, seeing that this collab skateboard dawns the album graphics and title, with the latter being inspired from skateboarding, is truly full circle, more than I could ever have imagined and/or orchestrated myself. The universe has its ways!

Has the collab with Alien re-sparked the skateboarder in you?
Well, it isn't the Alien board collab that has triggered this re-spark. Moving back to New Orleans at the end of 2009 did that. Hanging out again with my old crew, being back in the city where it all started for me. Having had enough time pass to appreciate it in a new light. Allowing it to be fun again, to allow myself to feel free while doing it instead of getting upset if I couldn't pull a trick, like how it was in my heyday or feeling like I had to skate. If all this wouldn't have happened in the last couple of years I would not have felt right about having the "Feel Free" board come out in conjunction with the album. But it makes total sense for me at this point in my life. Skateboarding and music now live side by side in my life, I wouldn't say evenly, but nevertheless, in harmony.

That said, I think I finally realized just last week [and I told my good friend this while up on the deck of our DIY concrete park here in New Orleans] that I'm fully aware that I am a skateboarder, first and foremost, before anything else. And I am very proud of that.

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