Skate legend Tommy Guerrero shreds genres in the music studio
MUSIC Tommy Guerrero likes to skate down Potrero Hill. He's been doing it since he was a young pup street boarder — one of the first to go pro, in fact — cruising down those steep residential declines that, looking south from SoMa, resemble like nothing so much as that scene from Inception where the dream city folds on top of itself. Guerrero skates smoothly from one legendary SF career to another, a shape-shift neatly illustrated by the release party for his eighth solo album Lifeboats and Follies at Cafe Du Nord Saturday, Feb. 5.
Despite the requests for autographs that he still gets; the occasional cravings his beat-up body experiences for skating ("It's so raw and the energy is so fucking gnarly. Once you've had a taste of it, there's no turning back."); and a job that most ex-skate rats would kill for — he's the art director for Krooked, a subset of Potrero Hill skate company Deluxe — he's really more into music these days. "I would love to have all that time to work in the studio. I want to retire [from skate design] in a year," he says, half-jokingly — but still longingly.
Maybe it's a grass-is-always-greener thing, but until now he's done a good job of balancing his various passions. Even in the 1980s and '90s when Guerrero was grinding out his signature moves on the driveways and suicide hills of the city, back when he was popularizing Public Enemy in Japan by skating to the group's tracks during competitions, music was always playing a supporting role. He and brother Tony played in punk bands, including Free Beer (a name that made for alluring concert flyers).
Nowadays Guerrero makes layered instrumental music that's appropriately enough a mix of many different elements: chill jazz with electronic crescendos, a little Latin percussion, maybe a horn solo easefully inserted. Guerrero has a DJ-like impulse to play with genres. "I just hear so much shit in my head, this is what comes out." Apparently his albums cause havoc in the Amoeba cataloging system. "I've seen it in electronic, rock, alternative, even experimental or some shit," he laughs, sitting cross-legged in a patio booth at Thee Parkside, black leather Vans (his own signature design) on his feet.
He's in the middle of doing some promotional work for Lifeboats and Follies, but like the rest of his projects, you get the feeling that Guerrero would be doing the same thing even if he never got paid a dime. After failing to resolve differences with his old label, Quannum, Guerrero bought the entire stock of his last album, From the Soul to the Soul, back from the company. He's mulling over what to do with it — maybe give CDs away at Saturday's show?
Guerrero never gained the Thrasher notoriety he got from skating in his musical career. But he casually mentions that he is, as the saying goes, big in Japan. He performs there a lot and gets off on being able to take risks with in his live performances that wouldn't go over well with American audiences looking to hear the same old thing. "They can love J-pop and, at the same time, they can love John Zorn," he says of his Japanese fans. It makes sense that Guerrero would gravitate toward an audience looking for a more diverse experience, one that trusts that whatever he's popping off with — on the skateboard or mixing board — is gonna turn heads.
TOMMY GUERRERO: LIFEBOATS AND FOLLIES RELEASE PARTY
Sat/5 9:30 p.m., $12
Cafe Du Nord
2170 Market, SF