Welcome To Hell Week may be over according to the calendar, but it’ll never be over in our hearts. Plus how could we say we did it right if we didn’t hit up the big, bad Chief himself? Jamie Thomas was on a mission to wreck everything in sight during the Welcome To Hell tour days, as you could probably figure by watching him destroy every city they stopped in during the Raw Tour Tapes. It makes total sense that after a bit of turmoil and last minute edits, he got last part to close out such a heavy video.
We caught up with him just as he was about to board a flight to Russia and got him to talk despite some interference over the loudspeaker and general crowd noise. He dropped some insight on the video’s rollout, skating with The Muska, and how he eventually moved on from Toy to start Zero Skateboards, along with a couple other gems you may not have heard before.
Can you talk about where your head was at during Welcome To Hell?
What motivated you to make the video, considering it wasn’t your company?
When Ed asked me to ride for Toy Machine, he basically called me and said, “My whole team quit and I wanted to see if you’d be down to help me rebuild the team.” I was like, “I don’t know…” After I left Invisible and was trying to look for a sponsor, it was the most compelling to have this conversation with Ed, a skateboarder that I looked up to as a kid. An amazing artist, an amazing skateboarder and he was calling me and asking me to help rebuild Toy Machine. That opportunity for me was the chance of a lifetime, so I was like, “Yeah, I’ll help.”
I was really feeling motivated to make something out of my career. I had a little bit of success, I had the cover of Transworld, a couple of video parts, but I was still trying to figure out what I had to offer, and when I got on, they just put out that video Live, and it was a very strange video. Ed just kind of threw it together. It wasn’t very purposeful, it was just stuff from the past time period and I basically just was like, “Ed, we really have to film a video. If we’re going to rebuild the team, I’d like to get some guys on the program, and I’d like to film a new video part to let everyone know who’s on the team.” Pretty basic. So we filmed Heavy Metal, and we did that in 6 months.
I really enjoyed the process of filming and making a video and after that, it was basically like I got the taste of blood. I knew all of it was rad, editing, filming, dreaming about music and putting skating to it… it was something I did as a kid, but now I had the opportunity to do it at a real level.
How did you edit?
Heavy Metal we made beta to beta, you just take one trick at a time and you lay it from tape to tape and you organize how you think it may go together. But then Toy Machine invested in computer editing equipment, and then I I gave it a shot and learned how to edit on a computer for Welcome To Hell.
How did you come up with the flower montage idea before one of the most legendary slam sections of all time?
Well, during Welcome To Hell, I started discovering the art of skating to music and how much of a difference it can make. Once I got a computer, it was like you can look at every single beat in the music and you can lay out every trick to the beat of the music. I kind of discovered a whole new form of thinking. Before I even filmed the tricks, I would dream up how I would imagine the tricks looking.
For that slam section, everybody was going so gnarly that I knew there was going to be a slam section. You never try to make a slam section, it’s just a product of however hard you try for the video. However hard everyone’s pushing it, you end up with that many slams. I really thought slam sections were rad because they showed you what the guys tried but didn’t do, or they showed you the cost of what it took to get that video part. I always had a lot of respect for those sections and even though they’re painful to watch, you respect the journey that the people go through to get their footage.
I listened to that song we used a lot as kids and I always thought it’d be rad for a part, but then when I got to editing, I was like, this song is too fast for a skate part. It’d have to have 100 clips cut super short in order to fit it with the song. So it didn’t work.
But then I thought, it’s got this really slow section. What if the slams were in slow motion and then it sped up and they stayed sped up? Then I was thinking to myself, what if it was something that was a complete juxtaposition that was very relaxing and you didn’t really know what was coming and you kind of thought the video was over and you were unwinding, and then as you were starting to unwind you’re hit with all these slams.
So The “Jamie Thomas Method” of creating a skate part would be listening to the song and imagining tricks and lines to the song, and then going out and filming for it, is that right?
Well, my part was pretty much filmed to the music. I would listen to it and in certain parts I’d come up with ideas for what would fit in that section.
But sometimes it’s tricks or a specific line that I think of, and sometimes it’s just the filming style that fits in that section and you just wait for a trick to come along and you go “There it is, there’s the trick.” Long lens, slow mo… Depends on what your circumstances are. Sometimes you find the song before you even start filming and sometimes you find the song halfway through.
But the best parts that I’ve had is when I find the song early and then I film to the part, cause then you can match the tempo of the song. I used the song “I Just Can’t Wait” that was pretty slow in the Fallen video, and I was able to push slower and relax when I was skating. I originally put a line to the song where I was pushing fast and they were out of sync. I’ve always been stressed about going fast in my parts, and then I just had to mellow out and just relax and enjoy skating and just push casually.
It’s all about vision. Any great video that anyone has ever put out, or any great movie is having a vision for the end product and then working backwards to make that product meet the vision. That’s how I saw Welcome To Hell as well.
What was your main goal or takeaway for the viewer watching Welcome To Hell?
I just wanted to make a video that makes you hyped to go skating. I wanted to be able to captivate the viewer, engage them the whole way through, and then leave them with the excitement for skateboarding. That was my goal, and then it was just find a crew of dudes that are down to make that happen, find the music that fits that vibe, and put it down throughout the video.
You have a song thats mellower, like you have Elissa’s song by The Sundays, and then you have Iron Maiden or The Misfits, Sonic Youth… all those things play off each other. You let the viewer relax for a moment and then you’re picking the pace up. I kind of learned that throughout the process.
It’s almost like directing a horror movie, relaxing and then the moments of action hit you…
I think about it in my mind, my favorite movies start with some fight scene and end with some victorious scene, and skateboard videos aren’t that different. You have to engage the viewer and keep them engaged. It’s not always easy, especially these days in such a short attention span theater.
Back then it was a little bit easier, I just did it with ups and downs in music throughout the video. That’s the big picture, but each part has to do the same thing too. Each part has to start with a build up, then it mellows, then it picks up again, then you have a grand finale. It’s like anything in life that’s great. A fireworks show, a movie, whatever.
How did you feel when “The Muska” got kicked off Toy Machine at the video premiere?
I was a bit conflicted about Muska’s exit, but really what was going on was that our relationship was already suffering because Chad was hurt and he wasn’t able to film and skate the way he wanted, and I was actually progressing. I had found a rhythm and a way to work and I was learning and filming.
There was no doubt that Chad had more hype for the video. When he grinded that triple kink, there was no doubt that he was just such a raw, rad dude. But our style’s were totally different. He was very spontaneous and he just went out skating and whatever happened happened. He wouldn’t have too much planned, whereas I would come up with an idea that I thought would look a certain way and then I would work to learn the trick and then gain the confidence gradually in order to go get the trick.
For Chad, that method was too contrived for him. He and I started not skating together that much, and that was the first tension that sort of started brewing. And then there were rail tricks that Chad was super good at that I didn’t know how to do when I first started filming, but as time passed he and I were skating together so I started getting inspired to learn the same tricks, whether it was tailslides on rails or even lip slides. Chad was way ahead of me on the rail game going into Welcome To Hell.
But I was just so psyched and having fun skating rails that I was progressing and pushing myself. It wasn’t to take him out but because he was hurt, although it kind of seemed like that. It seemed like I had this methodical system to take him out, and that was never the case.
It created this tension between he and I that was kind of boiling over by the time the premiere came about. He really wanted last part, and he had all the hype, but he didn’t have the video part because he only had half of it finished. I was just like, if he wants last part he can have it, I don’t really care where my part goes. This is the best thing I’ve done in skateboarding and I’m just thankful that it exists. I wanted the video to be good, and I wanted people to like it. I didn’t want to get into a feud with Chad about who gets last part and have him not be a part of the video.
But at any rate, there was an issue with the computer on the day of the premiere and the computer crashed, and once we finally got it all working again it was 2 or 3 hours past the premiere time. By the time I got to the theater, Ed was there and he was like, “Chad quit the team. He got super wasted and was screaming at me in front of everybody, it was a really shitty scenario, and now he quit.”
And I was like “OK, well do you want to try and get him back on? What do you wanna do?” He was like, “No, I think we should let it be. The whole thing went down in a crazy way and I’m not psyched on it. If he wants to get back on, I think we should let him go.”
I didn’t really know what went down, but I knew that if Ed felt that strongly about it — and Ed’s a very non-confrontational person — that it must have been a big deal, and it really impacted him. We went back to my place that night and premiered the video at my house. I lived at Pacific Beach at the time. It was an amazing private premiere and I talked to Chad that night and he was retracting his quitting, but I had to tell him that he was kicked off.
Do you think Muska was a better natural skater than you?
[pause]… No… I think Chad and I were really similar in our ability on a skateboard, and I think that he had less creative restraints than I had. It took me a long time to realize what I had to offer, and he always just had this raw energy about him.
I think Chad had more charisma, but I think talent wise we were in the same ball park. I think Chad’s charisma has been what’s carried him through everything. He’s got such an infectious personality that’s so rad to be around, and he’s got so much energy, and it doesn’t matter what he’s saying, what he’s talking about, or what he’s doing. That energy just transcends him. He exudes it and it just affects everyone around him.
What were you thinking with the 50-50 one foot with the headband on?
I don’t even know what I was thinking… My hair was getting kind of long and getting hard to manage so I started wearing hats and beanies and I started wearing a headband at one point. Everyone thought it was goofy.
I just knew that I could 50-50 a rail and take my foot off and but I just needed to find the right rail. And no one had done it yet so it was kind of like, I thought it’d be cool. We were kind of pushing the boundaries for what you could do on round rails at that time. One foots weren’t really cool at that time so I was probably tripping. I felt like for whatever reason the headband and one foot looked like it had something going on but I don’t really remember what I was going for.
The other thing is, I have clips of other makes where I roll away from the trick but for some reason I like the one I used, cause I think it had more character, where I hit the dirt and kind of fall face first. I like to try and find when I can have a little bit of character to tricks and when it comes naturally.
I tend to also overdo things. I don’t know if you’ve heard this but I do the same trick over and over again till it feels the way I want it to feel.
Doesn’t Reynolds also do that?
Yeah, I know Reynolds did that in Paris with the back three, I do that as well on a lot of tricks because, it’s kind of fun and challenging and I expect to feel a certain way when doing a trick. Until it feels that way I just keep doing it. I think sometimes when you hail mary a trick and you ride away, you don’t get the satisfaction of it because you kind of only accidentally made it.
I never really wanted to accidentally make stuff because I wanted to get the feeling in the moment that I had it under control and was going to do it. Therefore at the end of it, I had the maximum satisfaction of what the trick had to offer.
And I know that’s kind of tweaked, some people are just like, “Oh I got it on film, I just wanna keep moving,” and people used to trip out on it.
Who invented the commitment handshake? (When you try a trick next try no matter what)
I don’t remember where or when it first happened, I just remember taking it very seriously. I still do it.. [laughs] I think it came about around Heavy Metal.
I just remember starting to do it as a promise to your buddy that’s there with you that you’re going to commit to the next one. I remember that was a big hurdle of my whole career and life, committing to that first one. Pushing up to it, you’ve dreamed about it, you know you want it and then you get there and sometimes you signed up for something thats gnarlier than what you’re up for and its kind of like you push up to it and push up to it and you’re like, what’s going to push you over that edge?
I think coming up with a handshake or something like that, you can’t back away from that, it’s a code. If I’ve been bitching out for a while and I cant commit on my own I just go, “OK, I’m here for a reason, I’m wasting everybody’s time, let’s resort back to old faithful,” and you never bitch out on that.
Is there anything different or special about the handshake? Or is it just a normal handshake where you say something?
It’s this very serious handshake where you look at the other person and you’re just like, “Alright, right here. No more bullshit, I’m going to commit 100%” You know when you cheers someone with a drink and there’s some people that are a lot more serious about their cheers, they want you to look in the eye and then you drink and you drink after the cheers and then look at each other again?
It’s kind of like that. You look at the person, you give them this endearing look of commitment that theres no more bitch outs, and now it’s time. Everybody knows ok, this is it, he’s going. I think I’m the only one that’s stuck to it do or die, I mean I’ve bitched out a few times, but it’s really rare and I usually try and make that my word. When you give someone this handshake, basically its a promise. Sometimes it takes that, for me it does anyway. I still have bitch out problems, I’ve been facing these battles my whole life.