Even in the midst of today’s mega-media all-at-onceness (to quote Marshall McLuhan), Skateboarding culture remains as dynamic and engaging as it ever has been. For anyone who’s ever stepped on a skateboard — and stayed on it for that first run — the culture surrounding that act leaves a dent in you. It’s often a butterfly effect the results of which aren’t recognized until years later.
“It sets up a certain mentality — it did for me,” says Duane Pitre about stepping on a skateboard and being immersed in the culture. Once pro for Alien Workshop, Duane has long since moved on to music — his current outlet being an eerie, atmospheric outfit called ILYA — but he still feels the impact of skateboarding.
“It all started with Back to the Future… He got up, got his skateboard, and — as Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 calls it, ‘stitching’ — he held on to the backs of cars…” After seeing that, Duane was hooked. “Me and my cousin — he had a lady in his neighborhood that started selling skateboards out of her house — we checked it out and they were kinda expensive. So, I cut grass for a summer, saved up, and bought a Valtera from the toy store. That was in the summer. Then for Christmas my mom got me my first real skateboard, a G&S Foil Tail with the Q-bert graphic, City Street two-tone wheels, and red Gull Wing trucks… I was set.”
About a year later, Duane moved out of the “dead end” of New Orleans and landed in St. Petersberg, Florida where he met Bo Turner and Lance and Scott Conklin. Duane was eleven years old, younger and less experienced than his new skate crew, but he spent a year and a half in St. Petersberg getting educated: at school during the week and by skateboarding all weekend.
Upon moving back to New Orleans, Duane found that his drive for skateboarding out-stepped that of his old, land-locked skateboarding friends there. “I kinda saw outside of the New Orleans box, you know what I mean?” The surf-influenced, coastal scene in Florida had opened his eyes to the wider world of skateboarding. He entered an NSA contest and got sponsored by G&S at the age of fifteen.
When Alien Workshop happened, Duane ended up on the same team as two of his old Florida buddies, Bo Turner and Scott Conklin.
So, how did Duane Pitre The professional Skateboarder become Duane Pitre The Musician?
“…Speed Freaks came out — Dinosaur Jr., fIREHOSE, Bad Brains — that’s what started it right there. That’s why I’m here today playing music — because of that video.” Duane moved out to Encinitas, California with Workshop personnel Rob Dyrdyk, John Drake, and friend Kelly Bird. He got a bass, taught himself to play it, and started looking for people to play music with. Mark Waters’ Goldenrod label, with its roster of hot local San Diego bands (bands like No Knife and Boilermaker), showed Duane that you could play this music at a smaller scale. Realizing this, Duane’s skateboarding career was doomed. Music consumed him.
“The Workshop guys were like, ‘you have to skate, man. You’re pro and you have a board, you can’t just play music,’” Duane says of the transition. “Once I could play music outside of my room, then it really started to take over.” Duane did his first stint and tour with a band called Interstate 10, which quickly ran its course and landed him in Camera Obscura.
Camera Obscura was a sonic onslaught, a scathing, synth-weilding, post-hardcore maelstrom of sound. Their power was in the layers of sound that they flooded their listeners with: dual male/female vocals, keyboards, bass, drums, guitar, samples — all often at the same time. “Hardcore meets My Bloody Valentine,” was how one adept reviewer described them, and I’m inclined to concur. As explosive as they were, the five-person unit crumbled after a short time of noise, tours, and one full-length record (To Change the Shape of an Envelope on Troubleman Unlimited — go find it!). After leaving Camera Obscura, Duane went the other direction and started experimenting with softer sounds.
“I started doing a project called Pilotram,” Duane explains, “which is all super mellow, ambient, boring, very soundscapey, very minimal… I say it’s boring — because I think it is — but I love doing it and some people enjoy it… I mean, Brian Eno’s ambient stuff is not exciting, but it’s good.” While doing Pilotram and playing with San Diego locals The Dropscience, Duane saw ILYA play, really liked what they were doing, picked up their demo, went to their website, and saw that they were looking for a guitarist. Having always joined bands among friends, trying out for a position was a new experience — and a new sound. “That’s why I think I’m involved with a band now that’s very different from anything I’ve ever done.”
As their website says, “While most other indie groups sound like rock, ILYA sounds like art.” ILYA’s sound is the eerie product of five minds other than Duane’s. Blanca Rojas’ vocals visit these songs from another world. The music atop which her vocals glide is like silk, but just underneath this smooth surface lays the constant threat of turbulence. It’s driving, but sparse, and it’s easily as powerful and visceral as anything as abrasive as Camera Obscura. Duane, Hank Morton, and Matthew Baker bring the subtleties via guitars and keyboards while John Mattos (bass), and Geoff Hill (drums) give it all structure. Poise is the Greater Architect, their self-released debut, which will be re-released by Second Nature Recordings by the time you read this, is a haunting collection of tense songs. Oh, sometimes they’ll sooth you into a false calm before they betray you altogether, but make no mistake: These songs are not happy with you.
So, while ILYA might not have a lot to do with skateboarding, their current line-up and sound owes a lot to the culture. Duane Pitre wouldn’t be straining those sounds out of his guitar and touring the country with them if he hadn’t made that first step onto a skateboard. A butterfly effect indeed.
For all the latest on Duane, check out his website.
[Originally published in SLAP Skateboard Magazine]