Caleb Barnett Interview

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Portrait courtesy of Ben Colen.

Caleb Barnett reminds me of Brian Anderson and, as BA is one of his idols, I hope he’s thrilled with this comparison. There are the obvious similarities between the two; their imposing frames, lanky power and occasionally looming pre-trick stares (clock the opening seconds of Hockey 3 then check BA’s Welcome to Hell frontside blunt). However, the most striking resemblance is that, much like the other big man, Caleb’s imposing stature gives off the impression he could be reserved – which is completely incorrect.

It’s a shame Caleb’s explosive laughter can’t be perfectly conveyed in written form as, after we got off the phone, it stuck with me for a few hours. Within minutes it silenced any worries I had about speaking to the 21 year old Hockey rider, who appeared out of the blue less than two years ago – manhandling various street kickers scored to an ominous Jóhann Jóhannsson track, who I’d managed to discover very little information about beforehand.

Born in Columbus, Ohio (an appropriate state-based connection considering he rides for one of Alien Workshop’s spiritual successors), Caleb moved to Detroit, Michigan at three years old. At 11 he moved to Arizona, living there until he was 17, before taking a three-year stint in LA.

During his time in LA, Caleb occasionally bumped into Jason Dill on Fairfax Avenue and he befriended Sage Elsesser. This lead to him being flowed Fucking Awesome boards and shortly after becoming roommates with Na-kel Smith, he joined the combined FA/Hockey crew on a US tour. Over the course of this trip, Covina’s finest pawnbrokers, Donovon Piscopo and John Fitzgerald, warmed to Caleb and pushed for him to get on Hockey. Hockey 3, Killshot, so on and so forth… He’s called New York home for just over a year now.

A couple of days after the premiere of Trust Fall, I got on the phone to Caleb to talk about becoming part of FA World Entertainment’s gang of eclectic outsiders, classic New York spot appreciation, starring in a music video for Blood Orange, filming with Jacob Harris and boying off interviews.


Straight nollies are an underutilised trick but this spot was made for one. Caleb clears the rail and crack before enjoying a skeleton rattling ride away on Sacramento’s finest tarmac. photo: Ben Colen

Last week you mentioned that you were in the middle of moving house. Where in New York have you moved from and to and how difficult is moving everything you own across a city so large and hectic?

I used to live in Bed-Stuy and I’ve moved to Chinatown. I got rid of as much shit as possible beforehand, just so I had less when I moved into my new spot, I feel you’ve got to almost start over.

I actually live right around the corner from Johnny Wilson. I live with two other people. I’m not ready to live by myself yet, that doesn’t sound too fun. They both skate and they also work in set design.

You’ve lived in a bunch of different cities before you settled in New York. Where, in and around all that moving, did you start skating?

I started skating in Arizona. I used to play basketball and run cross country when I lived in Detroit. When I moved to Arizona I saw a bunch of kids from my block skating. I’d never really seen that and I got into it because I was curious.

[Laughs] alright, so the first board I got, or the first board I did an ollie on, was a Speed Demon board. It was a blue bandana board that belonged to my friend. It wasn’t even the first board I owned, it was the homie’s board, but I borrowed it for a month and a half then he asked for it back, randomly.

My first actual board, that my mom bought for me, was a Paul Rodriguez Plan B board and I got it on Craigslist. The trucks where called Frontage and it had plain white wheels. It was a crazy set-up. I didn’t really understand where you went to get boards so I just went on Craigslist.

Did you ever hang out at Cowtown Skate Shop, in Phoenix, when you lived in Arizona?

Yeah, later on in my life I started fucking with Cowtown. Before then it was Zumiez and this skate shop, where I lived, called Phenom but that only lasted for like three months. It was too hard for the owner. There weren’t enough skaters around. It was a random ass shop though. They only had dipped boards. It was all white dipped boards and all black dipped boards, [laughs]. But yeah, once I found out about Cowtown, it was the only place I went to at one point.

What prompted the move from LA to New York?

I went on a skate trip. Then I broke up with my girlfriend and wanted to get away from LA. At this time, my friend’s room was available too, randomly, so I just took over his room and moved here.

Has the change of scenery influenced the way you skate?

I don’t think it influenced the way that I skate, it’s just different. It just has more of the shit I want to skate. I like being able to skate, or ride a bike, to a spot and not drive, you know? It’s a totally different scene but I feel like it works better for me.

[New York] has more of the shit I want to skate. I like being able to skate, or ride a bike, to a spot and not drive, you know? It’s a totally different scene but I feel like it works better for me.

How do you pass the time when you’re not skating?

I play the bass a little bit. I started playing five or six months ago. I got into it because I was at Sean Pablo’s house and he had a bass there. I was playing it, which was fun, then he said I could have it so I bought an amp. During the winter I would be in my room, playing for hours, practicing and trying to learn because I’m not really any good at it. It’s just fun to play around with and make tracks.

Prior to this, the only real information I managed to gather about you is that you’d moved around a lot. Is this your first interview?

Yeah, kind of… I did an interview with Jenkem Mag but I don’t think it ever came out. I called them out for talking shit about Call Me 917 and then it got weird, [laughing]. I heard they were talking shit on Aiden [Mackey] and the 917 video which had just come out. I can’t remember exactly what they said but I was staying with Logan [Lara, Call Me 917 filmer] and I felt a certain way so I brought it up in the interview. It got all awkward so maybe they got pissed or something. When I was on the phone with the dude it was fucking weird. He would be dead silent and I’m thinking, “Dude, you’re the one that’s asked me for this interview, I’m not going to just come up with shit [to say],” [laughs].

So, from that experience, how did you feel about doing this one then?

Because I don’t have an interview out, I wanted to do another one that was cool. I wanted to have something which people can read about me. I felt like I needed to do it.

In a short space of time you’ve gone from being an unknown skateboarder to being in a position where millions of people know who you are and have an opinion about what you do on a skateboard. Does that play on your mind?

Yeah, I get weird about it sometimes. It’s crazy going to different places, going to Europe, and seeing people who know me. How the fuck do you know who I am? [Laughing]. It’s fucking crazy, going from being myself, just skating and doing whatever, to… Whenever I go to a skatepark I feel like I’m being watched. It’s definitely different.


Caleb is 6ft 6” and this ledge still looks massive. I’d never heard of Frontage Trucks until he mentioned them but apparently they’re damn heavy. Perhaps having to compensate for that at a young age explains where his pop comes from… Backside smith with a much better undercarriage, Sacramento. photo: Ben Colen

Let’s talk about you and Hockey. It’s pretty well known how everyone who rides for Fucking Awesome and Hockey ended up there – whether it’s due to their former connection to AVE and Dill, through Alien Workshop, or the crew which formed around cherry [2014]. Whereas you and Diego Todd appeared out of nowhere and instantly commanded attention. Which was refreshing. How did you fall in with AVE and Dill?

I’d randomly see Sage [Elsesser] around. One time we were skating and he asked if I got shoes from anybody. I told him that I’m not sponsored or anything. He offered to get me hooked up from Converse, so I was getting Cons for a little bit, and then one morning he texted me asking if I wanted to start getting FA boards.

I was getting flowed, just skating and doing my thing, and then I started hanging out with Na-kel [Smith]. He became my good homie, and I would skate with him, but I had a job and I lived in Moorpark, California. I wasn’t able to skate as much and then Nak got an apartment and he said I could move in with him but [it meant] I just had to quit my job.

So, I quit and then Nak got me to come on this FA trip. At first, AVE said, “We’re just keeping it to a small crew,” because he didn’t really know who I was, but Nak pushed for me. Then Dill said I should be on this trip. John and Donny were fucking with me so they started saying I should get on Hockey and after that trip I started skating for Hockey. That was my first trip and that’s pretty much how it started.

How intimidating was Anthony at first? You’re a big guy, and I can’t imagine you being intimidated easily, but it’s AVE…

Oh shit, I would just stay out of his way. AVE is cool as fuck but he knows what he wants to do. He’s been skating and doing this shit [professionally] for so long. When I’m on a trip I feel that it’s just a case of: “I’ll stay the fuck out of AVE’s way,” [laughs]. But he’s funny as hell! He’s so fucking funny but he looks very stern too. All tattooed up and shit…

“He’s been skating and doing this shit for so long. When I’m on a trip, I feel that it’s just a case of: “I’ll stay the fuck out of AVE’s way.

AVE and Dill have lived, to put it lightly, and a result I imagine they take it upon themselves to reel in the FA and Hockey riders where necessary. I’ve heard you don’t really drink so do you think they feel less concerned about you blowing it?

Yeah, they definitely try to make sure we ain’t fucking up. Dill actually told me [slips into a Jason Dill impression]: “You’re one of my favourite riders. You’re easy. I don’t have to worry about you.” [Laughing], he’s stoked that he doesn’t have to check in on me.

How far back do you and Diego go?

Me and Diego don’t go back that far. A year and a half, maybe two years, but I’ve driven up to Ventura County and kicked it with him. Diego lives in Ventura County, and so does Benny [Maglinao, FA and Hockey filmer] so I feel like Diego was always on Benny’s radar.

How did you feel about getting the ‘Ams’ board together? It must feel strange having a ‘prequel’ to your eventual pro board.

I like that board, I think it’s cool. But I feel like it sucked too because… It didn’t suck, but people had all these comments about it, thinking I was pro.

“He’s not pro yet, I want to see more footage.”

I just thought, “Let me do my shit, this ain’t a pro board.”

You ever hear the joke about how if you were good at playing guitar you’d get on Habitat instead of Alien Workshop? What’s the deciding factor between getting on FA and Hockey – if you can beat AVE in an arm wrestle do they put you on the tough guy team?

[Laughing], I feel like Hockey is the rugged squad. It’s very diverse and it seems like Hockey is the rougher side of FA.

In Hockey 3 you skated to a song called ‘The Beast’ which is from the soundtrack to the film Sicario. Have you seen it?

I haven’t seen that film but everybody was stoked on that song. Benny was asking me what I wanted to skate to, I told him I want to skate to something operatic and he came up with that. I hadn’t seen the video until it premiered. I was stoked as fuck.

There has a been a bunch of movie references throughout Hockey’s output; a couple of GoodFellas nods, a Robert DeNiro Raging Bull board, some John Carpenter stuff… I get the impression Benny is a movie buff. Does riding for Hockey, and Benny and Dill employing those allusions throughout the graphics, allow you to discover new things or do you not look into it?

Benny is definitely a nerd about films. He’s always getting hold of VHS tapes or something tangible – something to have. He studies it and somehow comes up with graphics from it.

Yeah, it could influence me. I guess the way that they think of things makes me want to be a bit nerdy about shit in my own way. It doesn’t necessarily make me look up the films they use [as references] but it inspires me to think outside of the box more.

I guess the way that they think of things makes me want to be a bit nerdy about shit in my own way. It doesn’t necessarily make me look up the films they use but it inspires me to think outside of the box more.


Blasting out of kerb cuts will never cease to be fun and I’ll always be entertained by the spots concocted by sticking an object in front of one. Ollie into the beaten track, Ventura. photo: Ben Colen

Benny has one of the most recognisable and unique approaches when it comes to filming and editing. The same goes for Jacob Harris who just put together, Trust Fall, which you have a part in. How much time did you spend in London with Jake while you were working on the video?

I spent ten days on Jake’s couch but it was winter the whole time I was in London. It was raining and I didn’t even really get to skate. It was grimy and kind of depressing. I had met some chick out there and it felt like I was on some heartbreak hotel shit, [laughs].

Have you followed Jake’s output, with full-length videos such as Eleventh Hour [2013] and Vase [2015], or were you more familiar with him due to the Atlantic Drift series?

Yeah, I had seen those! I didn’t know he filmed those videos until we kicked it. I was hyped. Because Nike don’t want you to have some random ass footage come out I was stoked knowing he was going to be behind it alongside Aaron Meza. Jacob did a really good job on the video. It was comfortable and fun. When we met we became good friends, I felt like I already knew him.

You met Casper [Brooker] and Kryon [Davis] on the first Trust Fall filming trip to Poland. What was your first impression of those two?

They were dope. I think I had already met Casper, in New York, but it was my first time meeting Kyron. When we met it was lit, I knew he was going to be my homie.

Poland is crazy, me and Kyron almost got into a fight with some dudes. We went to some party, and it was fun, but when we were leaving Kyron was taking a piss on a gate. This dude’s girlfriend was a couple of feet away from him and the girl called Kyron a ‘monkey’ or something.

He got pissed off. Then the girl’s boyfriend comes up and starts trying to press Kyron. I saw all these dudes surround Kyron so I walked over to de-stress the whole situation.

[Laughing], it was these Polish dudes and me and Kyron yelling back and forth. We were just like, “Yo, tell your girl not to call anyone a ‘monkey’, that’s disrespectful. Don’t be on some racist shit.”

In Trust Fall there’s a clip where you ollie over a fence and some stairs, flying past a security guard, who is wearing what looks like a bulletproof vest. What’s the deal there?

[Laughing], that’s some police headquarters, it’s a precinct or something, so there are mad cops. The Courthouse is over there so they’ve got the most tech security guards and police. I was getting kicked out but I thought, “Fuck it, I’m going to ollie it. Right here.”

I originally wanted to ollie over the bar and 5050 the rail but that was my first try ollieing it. I didn’t get to do the actual trick but that clip ended up in there because it looked funny, I guess. I definitely wish I would have grinded the rail.

Your part is mostly filmed in New York. Is there a difference in the spots in the city you would skate for fun as opposed to the ones you would have in mind when going filming?

Kind of. There’s this plaza-style ledge spot in mid-town, which is fun, but it’s a hard ass spot to skate. It looks like an OG spot. I’ve been trying to skate that for fun but I also want to be able to skate there how people skate Muni [the Municipal Court Building in Philadelphia] , or any other plaza, you know? I’ve been into plaza skating and that whole vibe of being able to chill at a spot, skate and film.

Reel off a few of your favourite New York spots.

My favourite is the CBS Ledges. The Williamsburg Monument in Brooklyn is really fun. What else is there… Flushing Meadows! I really like skating Flushing. You feel cool just by being there because there’s so much history. We’ve grilled there in the winter.

I really like skating Flushing. You feel cool just by being there because there’s so much history.

The first spot that comes to my mind when I think of New York is Tompkins Square Park. Last year you were in the music video for ‘Dagenham Daydream’ by Blood Orange which had some footage of you skating there. How did that music video come about?

I wasn’t staying too far from Tompkins around that time. I was subletting Genny’s [Genesis Evans] room at Gramercy Park on 21st Street and 1st Avenue. My friend, Jack [Greer], knows Dev Hynes from Blood Orange and Dev wanted to have somebody skating and doing their daily shit for that music video. Jack asked if I would be down be down and I thought: “Yeah, fuck it, it sounds fun.” I always skated Tompkins when I lived on 21st Street because it was a nice place to meet up.

Were you already a fan of Blood Orange and have any similar opportunities come off the back of being in that video?

Yeah, I was into their music. Any other opportunities? Not really, I got hit up to do some interview after it, somebody was trying to interview me for High Snobiety – some streetwear shit – but I didn’t do it.

It recently came to light that the City of New York had approved development plans which would ruin Tompkins as a skate spot. A petition has been launched and the Quartersnacks guys arranged a meeting with the Parks Department so hopefully it can be saved. The spot has a deep cultural value within New York skateboarding for a number of reasons but what do you, personally, feel Tompkins gives to the scene in New York?

It’s important for the kids who grew up there. It means a lot to them and that’s where they did a lot of things for the first time; people met each other, learned their first couple of tricks, smoked weed, random shit like that. It’s sentimental, I guess, and it would suck to take that away from the future kids as much as the older heads. For the kids learning to skate – that’s taking something away from the next generation of skaters. It’s fucked.

Could you give me a good story or memory of Tompkins?

When Dill was having his Epicly Later’d he ended up getting arrested, [laughs]. I had just pulled up, and he happened to be filming something, and he had gotten arrested for smoking weed on the way there.

 
Caleb takes some time out from sessioning the TF’s flatground and puts his hefty pop to good use for this kicker to rail. Backside 5050, Covina. photo: Ben Colen

So, before we wrap this up, what’s on the horizon for Hockey?

Coming up in the future? There are a couple of kids I’ve been trying to get hooked up. I’m still growing, everybody is still growing so I feel it’ll grow as we grow.

They just went on a Europe trip and I didn’t get to go on that, because I was too busy at the time, but I feel like there might be something. Maybe we’ll work on a full-length but because I was working on Trust Fall I haven’t been able to go filming with Benny. There will be some shit in the future.

That clip of Gino is my favourite minute-and-thirty-seconds, or however long it is, of skateboarding.

Let’s finish this with a few quickfire ones. Who’s is your all-time favourite skateboarder and why?

[Laughing], fuck! This is so hard. Can I say a top ten?

Yeah, you can top ten it.

Alright so… Gino Iannucci, Keenan Milton, Lavar McBride, Karl Watson, Joey Bast, Brian Anderson, Alex Olson, Guy Mariano, Dylan Rieder, AVE, Dill… There are so many people I could name.

Favourite skate video of all time and video part of all time?

Recently, early Girl shit has been very impactful on me. Goldfish [1993] , Mouse [1996]… Fuck, I don’t know what my favourite part is. Kareem Campbell’s parts are some of my favourites. I really like Gino’s part in Trilogy [101 Skateboards, 1996] and The Chocolate Tour [1999] – the short one. That clip of Gino is my favourite minute-and-thirty-seconds, or however long it is, of skateboarding.

Who’s your favourite musician?

I honestly don’t know because I listen to so much, there’s different shit for different days. I’m really hyped on my friends’ band right now, they’re called Blair. It’s my friends Genny, Niko, Paul – my friend Tucker used to drum for them but they just got this new chick who plays drums for them. But that’s my shit, they’re having a show on Saturday.

Favourite film?

The first thing that comes into my head is South Central [1992].

If you could steal an FA rider and put them on Hockey, who would it be?

Gino. I wish Gino was on Hockey but it’s all the same shit, [laughs].

And if you could have any skateboarder in the world ride for Hockey, who would it be?

Tiago Lemos. [Cracks up laughing], he’s one of my favourite skaters as well.

What’s the most memorable thing Tyshawn Jones has said or you’ve witnessed him do?

The coolest thing is when I went on a Hardies trip to Miami and we stayed in this mansion. He made that possible and I really fuck with that. That’s a memory – being able to go to Florida with all the homies, skate and hang out in this big ass mansion.

Who’s the ruling king of S.K.A.T.E. at the FA Flatground Entertainment warehouse?

Honestly, somebody who would fuck you up is Diego because he has switch double flips and half cab double flips. Shit like that where you’re left thinking, “Alright then…” He’s got sketchy shit so I feel like he could fuck anybody up at S.K.A.T.E.

Interview by Farran Golding.

Thanks to Ben Colen for the photos. Browse his work at www.bencolen.com or follow him on Instagram at @bencolen.

Sign the petition to help save Tompkins Square Park’s asphalt and learn more about the issue over at Quartersnacks.

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