Interview by Jacob Sawyer / Portrait By Rich West
It was a pleasure to be able to do this interview with Zach Riley in our second Offerings feature following Casper Brooker’s a few weeks ago. You will have seen Zach killing it in the Blips- Cover Version video or shredding all the way from Land’s End to John O’Groats in Jim Craven’s Island. Also if you visit our shops in person, the chances are that Zach will have been one of the friendly faces looking after you. Recently you may have seen some of the amazing work he created during lockdown in the latest copy of Vague magazine.
It’s refreshing to be able to feature a staff member on the blog. Zach and I have often found ourselves wandering Covent Garden streets together looking for photo opportunities. On one of these missions we passed an incensed lady tearing down posters off a hoarding. I would have walked past but Zach found it fascinating and filmed it on my phone which led to an interesting conversation with someone we would never have had otherwise. I’m mentioning this because it’s one of the first things which came to mind after he agreed to do this interview, I knew that his unique way of looking at the world would make for a compelling selection of recommendations.
PREVENT THIS TRAGEDY – Thrasher Magazine (2009)
Wow this is a pretty pure Thrasher video. What was going on in your life when you first saw this?
I must have been about 13 when I first saw this. I had been skating for four years in a little town. We had a little magazine shop where you could get Thrasher from. I remember getting the mag and it came with this free DVD. It was one of them where you would constantly watch it every day because it was one of the five DVD’s you’ve got. It’s quite nostalgic to me now, especially referencing some of the parts which were super dope. Sammy Baca and Andrew Allen for instance.
Had you seen anything like it at that point?
One of my first videos actually was Dying To Live. Big, American skating and lots of handrails. I remember the first handrail I ever did was outside an Iceland in a carpark. It was three stair, the handrail was super high and it was barely a foot long. I remember doing a backside boardslide on that which is pretty ridiculous. It was just completely different to how I was experiencing skateboarding. It was very intriguing in that sort of way.
It was just completely different to how I was experiencing skateboarding. It was very intriguing in that sort of way
Prevent This Tragedy has a good cross section of skaters in it.
Yeah it’s insane who is in it. The main line up is super sick and then everyone else in between in the montages, people with just a few tricks, every those are memorable. Somebody does a front board front shuv out on a bench which is kind of a ropey trick but he has a big Circa sticker on his board and that always stuck out. There’s so much good stuff in there.
It has the first proper breakout part for Andrew Allen.
Yeah I guess, the first footage I ever watched of him. It’s interesting being older and realising what he was up to and watching things happen for him. I have good memories of that part though, it’s one of my favourites for sure. Switch ollie to hill bomb at the start and then the tricks at the Library spot in SF, nollie heel up and then front 360 over the gap. He’s got the steezy Dickies on. It’s so funny, Dickies are still a big part of skating but it’s transitioned quite a lot from that brown Dickies look. He holds on that front three and does the cheeky little manny at the end. Classic line, so good.
From acid dropping off a massive roof to switch back lipping a handrail like Ronnie Bertino. One of a kind.
Yeah it’s always changing. He switch backside 5-0’s a hub and backside 180 fake nose grinds it. It’s so good. I guess his skating has always been like that, just doing what he wants to do it looks like.
Then Emanuel Guzman’s part is like the ultimate ATV Thrasher part.
Haha yeah I guess, so Thrasher in todays age. He’s walloping and running around like a mad man.
I remember at the time there was an influx of DVD’s coming out, being on mag covers every month but this release really stood out.
Yeah you had so many DVD’s in paper sleeves in your pile. The cover was banging too, the colours were super sick
Is there anything in this video which has directly influenced you?
Anyone who was intriguing to me at the time was in it. I really loved Baker at the time but I also really loved Creature. I was 13 or 14 and into everything, absorbing everything I could. We had just got a bowl in our local area at that time and that really opened things up for me. We previously just had a normal skate park with a concrete mini ramp, jump box, and a flat bank with a ridiculous rail down it for no reason.
So Sammy Baca opened up the bowl for you…
Yeah his approach, just skating, just going for it. That was very honourable for me at the time as a kid. Learning to pump a bowl, it was my first experience doing it and then I had this video and it carried on from that I guess.
There’s great Raymond Molina stuff in this video
Yeah he’s really dope, super casual. It’s a short part but it’s powerful, leaves you wanting more. He’s got the neatest kickflip.
What video during your tenure working at Slam has had the most screen time do you reckon?
[Laughs] I’m going to have to say Baker 4 because Jesus Christ, it’s brand new but I feel like that is on every day. We probably put that on about three times a day.
It was nice rewatching this because it was one we would play in the shop a lot.
Yeah it’s a good one and all the montages are cool. I like that Slash is in the montage bit and is in Baca’s part. It’s got the classic Brian Anderson backside blunt slide too.
Oh yeah on that hubba with the kink at the end.
Yeah that really weird park hubba that looks like a monument. That’s really cool. Obviously it’s got Peter Hewitt in there doing a boneless which is always nice. There’s something about the montages in this video. Each section is intense, banging in it’s own right and the montages give it a whole other element.
Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism – FUMIO SASAKI (2015)
From beginning your DVD collection to this. Tell us about this book. Did reading this change your way of living or affirm choices you had already started implementing?
I’m pretty slow at reading so I took this in over a two month period, little bits at a time. It’s a really good read. It has this visual element at the start with images of hat people own. It’s quite funny seeing what people have to offer. Someone would have a MacBook, a torch, a toothbrush and a sleeping mat, like people who go camping all the time. I read a little bit at a time.
I had been interested in minimalist art I guess which probably has nothing to do with minimalist living. I was trying to figure out space in everything I guess, it can get a bit crowded sometimes. I have always, over the years, been pretty terrible at hoarding things. Before I read this book I remember having birthday cards, a collection from when I was like 6. Twenty years of birthdays cards. That was five years ago when I binned them. I constantly collect things so this book definitely helped. It was more the recognising of space. The spacial thing is super important.
It seems quite patronising someone telling you to get rid of all of your things and saying it will be better for you. But what I took from it was, it’s whatever you need it to be. Even if it is just getting rid of that book do you know what I mean?
It’s pretty funny that I asked you for a photo of the book and you said you had already handed it on to a friend.
Yeah, I won’t be able to quote the book exactly but it says that the first thing you need to do when you put this book down is to look at something you own and get rid of it. Your first item, the first thing you reflect on. As soon as I had read that I told my friend about the book and that I had enjoyed it. I got off the phone to her and instantly sent it to her in the post. That was one of the first things.
I suppose it teaches you to promote and prioritise what you truly value ultimately.
Yeah I guess so. I had that book and I probably could have kept it. I have stacks and stacks of books. I’m terrible but I’m not, I’m just doing my thing. It could have been another one on the book stack but that would have ruined what I read in a way so it became one of the first things I got rid of. It means that I had passed it on to someone else so they could have that idea of changing things or not too. Going back to the book, I kind of liked it because all of the pages were falling out so I was actually adding to the book itself which I found kind of funny. Putting it back together with silver duct tape and stuff so by the end it was this big bulbous thing which was originally a thin book to have on your shelf. Quite contradictory but quite nice as well.
You can be as barbaric with the whole idea as you want. Get bin bags and throw it all away. Or you can take it step by step. This guy photographed every object that he ever had and keeps and stores images of them on his laptop. Anything with any memory or nostalgia attached to it he photographed. Quite a crazy way of living. I was actually reading that book or had started to read it again when I was staying at Tom [Day]’s.
I was in the countryside and I had maybe two bags on me because I left everything in my studio in London. I had not too much with me and was living a fairly minimalist existence then in away, living out of a backpack with no personal objects around me. But I had all of Tom’s objects around me. I was going out and reading that book, then coming back and making things with all of his rubbish. He has a big area full of loads of junk and stuff which is really cool. That’s how I made that work which appeared in Vague. It was sort of a nod at the book because I was reusing things and then getting rid of them. That whole body of work is just documenting something where you are never going to see that physical form.
It was sort of a nod at the book because I was reusing things and then getting rid of them. That whole body of work is just documenting something where you are never going to see that physical form
I guess from reading that book and general art history. I know that the book isn’t specifically about art but the way I think about things is how it is reflected through that. There were these objects that I didn’t want to keep physically but I kept them in that way of documenting them. They are always going to be there you know.
A stripped back aesthetic born from these ideas was commercialised by Apple to some extent but truly lived it can be radical and challenges capitalism.
Yeah definitely, it challenges it but also it is sort of endorsing it as well. It sounds mad to say that but for instance the guy who wrote it owns a MacBook so he is also endorsing one of the biggest symbols of it. He has these material objects which hold a lot of things for him personally. One of his motivations was that he didn’t want to burden people with his things if he was to pass away. When I read that I also felt I didn’t want to burden anyone but I also think some people would be stoked on having this or that.
But that did make me more open to the idea of minimising things for that reason. It talks about minimising to maximise conditions. I remember reading that he only owned four or five tops which can all go in the wash together. That took out the wait time of having to hold out for the white wash for instance. Consciously opening up time for other things. It freed up space and stopped procrastination
[Laughs] I just remembered I leant that book out twice actually. I gave it to my friend Pip and she read it and then gave it back and then I read the rest of it at Tom’s and then got rid of it again. Hopefully it doesn’t come back to me a third time. I did take a picture of that book, it was a to do list of about 60 full of tips. I took a photo of that which was all I wanted from that one book which is kind of cool.
GLASSWORKS – PHILLIP GLASS (1982)
What initially turned you on to Phillip Glass?
It has a utopian feel, utopia but dystopia also. It opens things up and gives you space I feel. I find it super relaxing. You either love it or you hate it I think. I love watching Koyaanisqatsi for example.
Chris Pulman recommended me listening to him and watching that film.
Such a great combination there. The film maker Godfrey Reggio and Phillip Glass. That whole film. I guess I would take away a lot of that stuff in my work, it goes back to art again. Referencing ideas and other things which have no relevance to art but do in a way, the whole conversation between things. I remember listening to him quite a bit. Then Jim Craven used him on a promo for SEVEN which is really cool. He used the track from the Glassworks album called Floe.
That’s the crazy second track.
Yeah it has all the emotions, ups and downs. It lets you come in and out of it which is something I really desire. I have no musical history, I couldn’t tell you anything concrete about it but I just know that it really does something for me personally. It was nice to hear it next to skating as well. It was just the promo and was made up of bits and pieces but it just worked really nicely. Obviously Jim is a good friend of mine now but I remember having that in my mind and it always made me feel very comfortable.
Would this be on the playlist when you’re creating your own work?
Yeah definitely and I listen to the Etudes album a lot when I’m making work. Etude means a short musical composition typically for one instrument. It gives me inspiration. You can look in your phone nowadays and you have everything on your doorstep. He really strips it down, he was coming from a different time completely from where I am right now but it’s still very relevant to everything.
He is also associated with minimalism.
Yeah there are loads of artists who did things with him or were big fans of his work. The New York period. Lots of his albums are great and he’s done so many things for films. I like that he sneaks into every element. He has never really sold out but definitely openly done some high profile things.
I guess this is the album that was meant to bring him and his work to a wider audience. This was the crossover.
Yeah I guess it was opening it up a lot more and was newer kind of stuff.
They made a special mix of this album specifically to be listened to on a Walkman.
No way I didn’t know that, that’s a sick fact, that’s so dope [laughs].
That kind of sets the scene for when this came out. The Walkman was a new way of experiencing music and taken into account.
Yeah fully, it’s constantly transitioning this album too. It can take your mood or what you’re doing in a completely different direction. So intense one moment and then it strips everything back. I went to see his ensemble in October last year. I don’t really go to shows and I’d never been to a performance like that before with a full choir and his whole team of people. I was there in a hoody and I remembered I had a shirt on underneath. I took off my hoody and felt better, everyone was looking very professional and it was in the Barbican as well.
I remember sitting next to a guy with circular glasses on. We looked at each other, I smiled and then he smiled back. He had his hands very comfortably in his lap. We both sat next to each other peacefully with the common nod of being about to sit here and have a super nice time. He didn’t say anything but we communicated with facial expressions.
I don’t know how to describe it but I remember feeling very comfortable afterwards and cycling home with a tear in my eye, feeling very open to the world again
I remember feeling very comfortable with my surroundings. It was a transitional period for his music too, it was changing parts and it never stops, no breaks and it’s a 90 minute performance. There were at least 60 people on stage giving it their all, It was intense. I don’t know how to describe it but I remember feeling very comfortable afterwards and cycling home with a tear in my eye, feeling very open to the world again.
BILLY ELLIOT (2000)
For anyone who hasn’t seen this film set the scene…
It’s just about a young chap who just wants to get out and live, that’s how I see it. He’s got a lot more to give and I love that. There’s a lot of shit going on in the world and I get it, it is just a film but it does something for me. The intro is straight up T-Rex. I get so much from this film, it’s fun and optimistic.
Is this a childhood favourite you would have watched to death?
I’ve been watching it a lot recently as well actually [laughs]. It does something for me. I’d watch it when I was younger and I watched it a few times growing up. But watching it recently, it’s just empowering. Even though it’s rough and ready it has such a beautiful vibe, an elegant approach. It is just a movie but that happens to some people and people are passionate, I like that it can give you that visually. It’s so good
It does something for me. I’d watch it when I was younger and I watched it a few times growing up. But watching it recently, it’s just empowering
It covers a lot of issues. Thatcher’s Britain, the miners strike and class divides. It also tackles homophobia, toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes, police violence.
So many issues but It’s optimistic and it’s so conscious for it’s time, it’s so funny and so serious at the same time. With all the things I picked this ties it up quite nicely, everything is so action based. The intimacy I get from all of these things. I guess I grew up in a weird sort of town but I always felt quite open to things. I was ready to be a part of something more which is why I’m here right now doing what I’m doing. Playing it by ear. I had an ongoing desire from being in a little town where people are doing whatever to get by. I think it’s so beautiful that people embrace it or want to move on. I like the flexibility of it and that I can go back home and there will be a fair few people I can catch up with, I like that.
In reference to the Billy Elliot film I liked it because of what it was, it is what it is. Obviously there is a shiny light at the end of the tunnel because it’s a film but it gives you all of those emotions. I related it back to Alexander McQueen, I watched a documentary about him and linked the two together. He had such an honourable lust for everything, he was so passionate and I like that. Whether through the film or through that I like making these references.
Kids should watch this one.
No hesitation. Maybe you don’t need to read that book or want to listen to Phillip Glass but Billy Elliot? For sure! The soundtrack is banging. If you haven’t watched it I don’t know what you’ve been doing but sit down and enjoy yourself.
Thanks for these recommendations Zach. How have you found life since the pandemic brought it to a halt? We saw some sick clips out at Tom Day’s.
Yeah I was out at Tom’s for a while which was really needed. I can’t thank him enough to be honest. I came back to London a couple of months ago and I’ve just been building things back up. It’s been nice to come back and see London in a different settlement. I’ve seen the same four or five people for the last two months but even coming back here, I was in a new environment. I’m on a whole new street with no-one really around as well.
When I got back I felt really positive. For me, my experience of lockdown is that it was opening, it helped me so much with everything that was going on personally. It gave everyone some time, I know that wasn’t good for some people. But for me, I was able to come back and have a new purpose and skate as much as I could before Slam re-opened. I wanted to be as productive as I could without burning my engine out straight away. I had skated the same 3 foot quarter pipe with concrete coping for so long that to just skate down the street more than ten pushes was exciting, it was like being a kid again. The nearest shop is at least a five minute skate away so I’d dash it down to there. I felt re-set.
UNDER A ROOF OF RAINBOWS by ZACH RILEY. Built at Tom Day’s. From Vague Issue 15
You back doing days in the shop? How do things feel out there on a community level?
I’ve been back, It’s been nice, mostly people have been super respectful. I normally work at West, working at the East shop has been a positive change. It’s crazy how many people are now getting into skating. This whole lockdown period of reflection has definitely shone a light onto how people are willing to embrace new things which is really beautiful.
When we started doing the isolation Station posts they focused very much on the pandemic and it’s effect on us, skateboarding etc. When George Floyd was murdered I started using this space here to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement. As the weeks went on Breonna Taylor’s murder shocked us, Jacob Blake and Anthony Huber’s murder following that. We are at a crazy point in history how do you feel about the state of society and our role within it right now?
I think our role right now is to be as helpful as we can be. It’s been shocking for me, everything is so physical. It’s clear, it’s so apparent right now and it always has been which is the most worrying thing. Something which has never been addressed. It’s hard for me to even think that these things are going on, it’s so distressing. We all need to come together.
Do you think we all need to educate themselves more?
Yes without a doubt. I definitely need to educate myself more too.
Are you hopeful we will see change?
In our time? Yeah I feel that we will. There’s so much momentum, there needs to be change and there’s more information out there. There’s no putting your head in the sand now, there’s passionate anger. I hope there will be a utopia one day.
Any words of advice for anyone out there reading this?
Go and have a nice day, hug someone, embrace something new. Do whatever makes you happy.
Thanks to Zach for taking time out of his schedule to speak to us and keep an eye out for future ‘Offerings’ in the coming weeks. Be sure to read the first one we posted with Casper Brooker. While stocks last visit our Books & Magazines department and add a free copy of Vague magazine Issue 15 to your basket to read Zach’s feature in there featuring all of the work he produced during lockdown.
Also check out some of our ‘Isolation Station‘ posts which were the forerunner to this feature for more recommendations.