Pushead, the man who dwells in weird, wonderous daymares.
The artist whose vision is so strong, so visceral that in a
few short years he's gone from underground obscurity in Boise,
Idaho, to practially reshaping the look of hardcore/metal/skateboard
graphics. Pushead, the seasoned skater and demon voice behind
Septic Death, an eccentric musical tornado that plays hyperspeed
jazz as hardcore, a dynamo of creative energies. One hand releases
records on his own Pusmort label and the other conjures graphic
design for Metallica, Zorlac, Aerosmith, Blitspeer and Prong. His
ears remain tuned to the latest skull-busting sounds he raved about
for years in the Puszone and other articles. Try to pin one tag on him,
and he'll inevitably disagree. Then he'll tell how he's suffered
from overindulgence in his passions-the skateboard injuries and the
relentless ringing in his ears from years of high volume sonic
warfare. Pus lives his hardware. Kids no longer draw skulls the same
flat "Jolly Roger" way, but instead, the Pushead way. Shopping mall
t-shirt racks are full of his vibrant "Kuro" (Japanese for 'Black')
line of shirt designs. Pushead has waged a war of silent aesthetic
terrorism for years, and now he's winning. Still, the man remains
a virtual recluse, only stepping into the spotlight for occasion such
as his fall '89 art show at New York's Psychedelic Solution gallery.
Pus rarely does interviews and assures that this will be his last for
quite a long time.
What are your feelings about interviews
Interviews can be informative and a great source of entertainment.
The chance of finding that type of interview these days seems a
bit slim, since most interviews are promotion for the individual or
group being marketed. Since the questions are generally centered around
that product, you can really fall away. Then, if that individual or
group has nothing to say besides the promoting, it's a yawn-fest. Then
again, there are the powerful few who hold a certain amount of 'sell power'
and you'll always see them regardless of promoting products, even to
the point of non-intelligent interview mumbo-jumbo about their personal
hygiene. Again, it's only entertainment. I tend to stay away from doing
interviews. Just a choice I made-to have the art talk rather than myself.
To avoid being misquoted and saying the same thing over and over again.
Some people take what is said in interviews too seriously. I hope my
opinions are just that and are taken for entertainment. I can't really
figure out what I'm promoting this week-Ha!Ha!
What is your skateboarding history?
I started in 1964, '65 in San Bernadino, CA. My father was a carpenter
and made my first board from hard wood. We were lucky enough to find some
used roller skates that had nice, wide, for those days, clay wheel. I
had no idea there was a skateboarding boom on then or that there was a
magazine. It was just something that I did and enjoyed. We usually
just cruised the sidewalks, but when some friends of the family moved,
they left the kidney ppol in their backyard drained. We used to
hop the fence and skate in the bottom of it-little carves and stuff.
We never went on the walls or even thought that was possible. The
closest we ever got to the walls was rolling marbles down the incline.
Skaterboarding for me was just cruising around until I saw these
two Hawaiian surfer guys doing all these freestyle/surfing type
tricks. I rushed to watch and eagerly wanted to learn. I learned
quickly that when you tried these new tricks you fell down a lot more.
When did you move to Idaho?
In 1970. My father was tired of the smog and Idaho was a premier
place for fish and game, so we loaded up the car and moved to Boise.
I was still skateboarding then, but no one else had one so we all
shared. We'd go downhilling a lot, no tricks or anything, just semi-
fast craziness on clay wheels. I gave up when the deck finally gave
way with no possible way to fix it. It wasn't until 1974, when someone
at my high school showed up with one of the new fiberglass/urethane
wheels deck and I hopped on and cruised the school halls that the
feeling was back again. Within a year, I had one of the new breed of
decks and it opened up a whole new world.
About 1975, becasue Boise is plentiful in hills, we really got into
slalom and downhilling. We started this small race network and just had
fun. This lasted a while. I got antsy with my skating and my job, so I moved
to Alabama with my relatives. I lived about 20 minutes from Pensacola,
Florida, so I was there all the time skating at the skatepark, finding
pools and getting great skate experience. I moved back to Boise where a new
skatepark had just been built. It had a tremendous amount of faults, but
you found areas that worked and skated it. For Boise it was something.
When did you move back to southern California?
About 1978, I got antsy at my record hop job and wanted to skate in some
new environments, I lived in north San Diego County and became a regular
at the Del Mar skate Ranch. It was a gas in those days, though I hated
wearing safety equipment. I never wore the elbow pads, hated the things.
I skated a lot of the So. Cal. skateparks, most weren't that exciting, but
there were a few that were worth the trip.
Didn't you do a bunch of artwork for the skate industry around that time?
True. I won a contest designing the Del Mar Skate Ranch logo and got
30 days of free skating. I did a bunch of stuff for UFO, I did that
Saucer on the pool at 8:00 a.m. It was a spur of the moment deal. They
decided the night before,called me up at 6:00 AM and we drove out to
Escondido to the Kona Bowl (A legend in those days) to paint the hip
wall. It was first time to the Kona Bowl and when I saw the coping, I
understood why UFO made the saucer wheel(first conical wheel). It stuck
out so far that if you'd grind it your wheels would be nowhere close to
hitting the surface. Painting the wall wasn't the easiest task. Kona had
lots of vertical and quick transitions-I kept sliding. I was just about
finished with it when Tatum and all the UFO team skaters showed up.
They kept skating by over my head, so I had to finish fast. When they did
the photo session, I was amazed at how high Tatum and Sigurson got past
the coping. The photos don't do them justice.
What was your favorite skatepark?
Del Mar was always a blast. I loved that front reservoir. That's all
I really needed. I wasn't into competing with all the skaters who
skated the main pool for photos in the magazine, doing the same tricks,
the same line. That wasn't for me. Even someone like Jeff Tantalus-
who was so defiant with his 40"x 5" deck, hand-made and hand-painted,
with his 'wood' rubbers and only skated the Del Mar Kona pool-had more
lines, more angles than anyone in that pool. He just couldn't work it
the same. So the 'magazine few' thought he sucked, but he did what he
did. Grant used to tease me about all the tricks I'd make up in the
reservoir, but it was all in fun. I did notice that when the pros came
down for a contest, they'd watch the locals. Any interesting trick they
could steal, they would, to help them win. A few of the tricks I invented
I taught to the younger skaters who had potential and needed something
for their edge in competition. Kyle Jensen learned the pogo in a few days
and could do it so well the right way-no stopping on coping. It was his
trick and gained him contest strength and exposure. Kevin Stabb did the first
fakie ollie and it was an accident. He was real young, like 12, and we were
trying to teach him a rock in on coping. Since the shallow end of the
Del Mar Kona Pool was really small, it was great for younger kids. He
kept on doing these fakies back and forth trying to get his courage up
to do the fakie rock. But every time he would unweight his back foot
wrong and the board would pop off the coping. He kept falling, but one time
he bailed and the board landed perfect and jetted to the other side.
Great. Now Kevin stays on. Keep in mind that this was the late '70s
and ground was still being broken to what would occur in the late '80s.
As for skateparks, I like Marina Del Rey(especially the Brown Bowls) and
Del Mar the best.
Didn't you skate the infamous San Onofre pipes?
Yes, I went there. It was paradise. My all-time favorite place for
sure. The first time I went I was antsy, considering I drove...all the
outlaw stuff you had to do, all the military stuff, hiding the car, hiking,
etc. Some things I'd rather not say. But when you got there, it was great.
At least fifty pipes were there at the same time, some all in-sync, some
individuals, but it was perfect. Gliding back and forth. A great memory.
Why did you move back to Boise?
The basics. Lost my job, couldn't find a new one, low funds, so I went
back to where my family was. Even though i was bummed at the time, it was
probably a really good thing. I really went into illustrating more than
I already was. Plus, skateboarding was really underground, which made it
much more fun. We had no skatepark, thus the dawning of ramps began in
What artsts have influenced you?
It's a long list-I collect art books and I usually crave new stuff, but
I'm really picky at the same time. Over the years I've discovered some
incredible talent, so here goes...My favorite artist is Virgil Fenlay
who drew in the 30s through the 60s for pulps, sci-fi books and mags.
He drew in mostly black and white and created so many different types of
detail style it boggles the mind. After that, in practically no order:
Alex Nino, Berni Wrightson, Will Eisner, Dave Stevens, Sir Alma-Tadema,
Gustave Dore, Franklin Booth, Go Nagai, Sylvio Cadelo, Arthur Rackham,
Rene Bull, Kenneth Smith, Ernst Fuchs, H.R. Giger, Dean Cornwell, Enki
Bilal, Al Hirschfeld, Kevin O'Neil, Bill Sienkiewicz, Burne Hogarth
How was the Psychedelic Solution gallery show?
It was interesting and fun. It was a lot more work thatn I thought.
It really isn't something for me, and I don't plan to do
another one for quite some time. I did what I did so that the
people who were interested in seeing what the originals looked like got
the chance to do so. So many times I can spend hours on an illustration
and when it comes to being printed it never comes out like the original.
You would really hope it would, but about 50% of the time it doesn't.
It can be really frustrating as an artist to see something come out really
awful and not even close to the original. When it does come out right
there's a great sense of satisfaction. So, the gallery show was just a
visual thing and gave people chances to purchase some artwork since I
had never had the opportunity to sell my originals. Except, of course,
to Kirk Hammet(Metallica), who is a major purchaser.
How did your work with Metallica come about?
Originally, after I had met the guys, James wanted to do an illo for the
inside of 'Master of Puppets' that showed the four of them as elongated
zombies. Well, Metallica went to Denmark to record, and James left me
with this number for their management company and told me to contact them.
I called it and some elderly woman answered. It was a wrong number.
With no way to contact James, I was out of luck. By the time Metallica
got back from Europe, it was too late, so James had me do a design for
their upcoming 'Damage, Inc.' tour. The second design I did for them
never saw print, as I wasn't happy with it and it was a bit unusual,
different than what they wanted. So, the second piece to appear was the
'Crash Course in Brain Surgery' which was for their European tour. Now
I'm working on stuff for their new material.
How did you go from punk/hardcore to the metal scene?
After I moved to san Francisco in 1984, I was in more of an environment
to witness a lot and do more work. While I was in Boise, I did most
of my work through the mail-stuff for Tesco, the Necros, SSD, FU's,Zorlac
and Rattus all came out of that period. Before I left Boise, the new
metal explosion was happening and there were some bands I heard that
were really good. Stuff like Slayer, Metallica. Living in S.F., I was
able to see these bands, the energy, and it wasn't much different
than the hardcore scene, just to some degrees, different people.
I met Kerry King (Slayer) and gave him some of the shirts I had done.
He dug it and we talked about doing something for Slayer, but it never
came about. Then, of course there was C.O.C., who were already an unusual
hardcore band, and this new metal crowd dug them, too. They had me do their
'Animosity' sleeve, which took a while becuase the label people bugged me
too much and it was irritatin. I was doing art for C.O.C., not the label.
When the LP finally came out, I had even more problems getting paid and
getting samples. I ended up having to buy one just to have a sample, but
luckily, not all labels are like this. I was also doing the Metallica
thing. All in all, I still dig hardcore and still want to work in that
area, but I dig metal stuff, too. I had roots in early Judas Priest,
AC/DC, Rush, Montrose and didn't give those up because I dug hardcore.
Is it hard working in the music industry?
It depends. It's different; things work on a different base. It you don't
get a call back you can't take it personally. The industry can suck you
in, chew you up and spit you out if you let it, but I guess any industry
is like that. It has its rewards. The last minute projects can come at the
wrong time and it's hard to figure out how a band can spend six months to
record but they want finished art in two days. Still, I can't deny it's
fun and I enjoy it. I've met lots of really nice people who are usually
nicer than the bands they work for. You get to see that backbone, that added
success to a successful band. I've met lots of bands, lots of people I
thought I would never know. Of all the bands/individuals I've met, the
nicest was far and away, Aerosmith. Really sincere. Of course, I can't
include Metallica because I'm really good friends with them.
How did your association with Zorlac come about?
It must have been ten years ago. Jeff Newton, the originator of Zorlac
which was a very underground company based in Texas, called me up and wanted
an image that was very Texas/South/voodoo-oriented, and I wanted a
revamping of one of his decks, the 'John Gibson', his main (and only)
pro model. I already knew John from the times he was at Del Mar and protege
of Chris Strople. Obviously, Jeff was very happy with what he got, and
that was the beginning. Off the top of my head, I don't know how many
illos I've done for Zorlac. Just like Cort was at one time the
main designer for Powell-Peralta or Phillips or Santa Cruz. Strangely
enough, prior to my Zorlac association, I had finished a design for Jay Smith
for his first pro model with Powell-Peralta which I had done with Jay's specs.
It was a skull character with an iron cross...really punk, which
is what Jay wanted (this is 1980), but Jay was really bummed when
Powell rejected it, saying it wan't their image.
I know that Jeff Newton, becasue he lived in the South, took a lot
of grief for images which the religious groups looked at as being
Satanic; certain shops and distributors wouldn't carry him. Maybe it
was anarchy/rebellion in the skaters, but the whole design as a graphic
took off and all the companies went for it. Now it seems like a lot of
board graphics are so tame, like the kids want decks that are parentally
approved. Kids will tire of that, too.
What do you think about the current censorship debate?
Oh Mike, you censorship fiend! I was raised in a way where I was
responsible for my actions. I can't ever remember my mother telling
me when I watched cartoons, TV or movies that I shouldn't inflict the
violence I saw on others. I just knew it was entertainment. But what
is sad is that you have both sides of the censorship issue throwing
so much stupid stuff around in hopes of gainaing a victory, it just
loses its luster. I haven't really seen anything that was a sincere
fight. You have a photographer in jeopardy, but there are works in
print that are far worse. I guess it's just the mentality and how
people feel threatened or how those want to threaten those feelings.
There are things much stronger happening that are the elements of a
much broader issue. Do you ever wonder how advertising can promote
something that's not tested as hot, but when it's tested, it fails
and disappears? How the public can be manipulated for something as
simple as toothpaste and how propoganda can fuel paranoia and opinions
run amuck without people thinking rationally at first, but just reacting
to the propoganda? The world is full of opinionated people who can't
opinionate the opinion.
You're a collector, correct?
I only collect art books and toys/material that I either enjoyed as
a child of enjoy now. Currently, I'm still searching for 'Quisp' items.
It was my favorite cereal as a kid and I have a Quisp corner on one of
my shelves. Stuff like cereal boxes, comics, giveaways. It's hard to find,
but something turns up every once in a while. It's a fun hobby. I guess
you could say I collect music, but not fanatically. I just like to listen
to all types.
If you were "stranded on a deserted island", what 15 pieces of
music would you want to have?
1)Genesis-Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
3)Mahavishnu Orchestra-Visions of the Emerald Beyond
5)It Bites-Once Around the World
6)Alice Cooper-Love it to Death through Muscle of Love
8)The Mission-God's Own Medicine
9)Hawkwind-Warrior on the Edge of Time
13)Fields of the Nephilim-Dawnrazor
14)Lenny White-Adventures of the Astral Pilot
15)Blue Oyster Cult-Secret Treaties
Who are your favorite skaters?
The ichi-ban choice is Jay Smith, even though it's biased since he's a
good friend of mine. Watching him is insane, to say it right. He didn't
win contests but he was fast, rubbery and tight. watching him do one of
his patented laybacks was a sight. Steve Caballero is another one,
especially for his commitment and his size. Rodney Mullen for his innova-
tion-most of the skaters today owe something to Rodney's ideas. I saw
Tony Alva skate at the peak of those hype days-L.A. versus the South,
late '70s. Some kids were bitching how he wasn't doing all the tricks
in the magazine, while they weren't acknowledging he was so tight, so
precise, so on the edge smooth and in control He is a true innovator of
the sport, besides, he was the one who made wild skate clothes for the
public first. New kids? Gonz, Natas, Sasha, Danny Sargent and even an old
timer like Bryce who still puts more into the sport than anyone I know.
Can't say these guys are my favorites. It's interesting to watch the
After all this time, do you still skate?
It's a lot harder now, the main reason is becasue of the workload. It takes
more time and I can't stay in skate-shape to mentally do all the stuff I've
done before, but I still skate. It's different now. You can feel the years
of skating in your joints; I'm always popping my knees, something that when
I was younger I had no idea that sliding on the knee pads and falling would do.
Still, the thrill of it is just as exciting. I am what you call an old-school
skater, raised in the barrier-breaking period of skateboarding when a two-
foor aerial was awesome, unheard of sometimes, and the fear element was so
'there' on something as simple as dropping in on a vertical which was
intense until that barrier was broken. And skating today is so vivid, as
alive as it ever was, that same element but explored to a new, thought-
provoking boundary and the future is being made every day. Sometimes
you wonder if it progressed too fast, that it would kill itself from
it's own self-competiton. What I know from skating and what I experinced
I wouldn't trade for anything. Sometimes you get a bit irrational with
'the fever' but it rolls on.
What can we expect from Pushead in the future?
I'm presently trying to put together all these ideas and imaginative
quests into some sort of 'fanclub.' I don't like using the term 'fan
club', but I'm trying to make something that offers graphic and musical
items to those who want them in limited quantities. What I know is that
it will have some sort of graphic magazine and a limited series of 7"s
including a Septic Death 7" of new material, plus the offering of signed/
numbered prints. Just fun, collectible stuff that's not the same as what's
offered in the stores. Seems to be a lot of interest and demand for it.
There will even be a limited resin sculpture just to get back to my interest
in fascinating design elements and fun stuff.
As far as artwork goes, there's stuff for the upcoming Metallica tour, the
next LP sleeve, a bunch of secret stuff (y'know, totally hush, hush...)
more Zorlac, and even Poison Idea wants something really perverse. Maybe
Gitter, skin pierced, hanging in the shower, blood flowing but no water
shooting out. Just that red iodine rushing from the shower head. But to
give it that quirk, Gitter's got a smile on his face and his dog is licking