JZ Radical of Natural Koncept
Almost two decades after its start in 1994, the Natural Koncept skating team still rides with some of its original crew and uses the same artist, Katch 1, as when it began. While bigger corporate brands are falling apart, Natural Koncept recently released its third film, “Creepin For Life.” I sat down with NK ringleader JZ Radical to talk about the team’s style, how it’s managed to survive and why it takes so long to put out each video.
Matt Marquez: Tell me about your new film “Creepin For Life.” It took fours years of footage to make, is that right?
JZ Radical: Pretty much. We dropped “Dysfunctional Family” early 2008. That video got NK a lot of hype. As a crew we wanted to make sure “Creepin’ for Life” was on that level with lots of amazing spots and of course epic tricks. We took several trips across the U.S. to get the footage.
MM: How do you know when you’re finished filming? It seems as though you could go on forever.
JZ: As a crew we pretty much just decide. Like we gotta drop this video. The kids are waiting. I feel like we have a wild card with Natural Koncept because we have Katch1. So we have all this skating, but you can intertwine it or glue it all together with really cool art –– that’s what makes it a really cool NK film.
4 years to put out a proper video is normal. Baker, Girl, Chocolate – some of the raddest companies use roughly the same timeline.
MM: Katch has such a distinctive style, how does that influence what you guys are all about?
JZ: A huge part. Katch is like the platform of NK. He’s in the van drawing on everyone’s skateboards and T-shirts & skating every spot along the way! Katch is the man! Everyone is just getting hyped. So the more tricks you get, the harder you kill it, the more love you get, the more pieces of artwork you get from him.
MM: Was that you I saw in “Creepin” trying to skate a rail and on the other side was a 20-foot drop?
JZ: Yeah, that tends to be the kind of situations I get myself into. Sometimes the more death-defying the consequences of missing it will be, the more I know I’m going to hold on. That’s one of the things I look for –– the drop-off kind of grinds that people haven’t done.
The trick you’re talking about is across the street from the Marcy Projects. I moved there and saw that handrail from my window. I looked at it for three or four months every day. I would touch it, sit on it, look at it, and pretend to do it. I think it took ninety-five tries. That was probably one of the best tricks of my life.
MM: How many countries have you been able to skate in now?
JZ: I just reached 45 countries around the world that I’ve been cruising, and I’m getting my personal summer trip planned so I’m going to add on Russia, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey this summer.
MM: When you plan your trips, what do you look for?
JZ: At first when I was 18, 19, I wanted to hit up Europe. That was awesome. Paris, London, Barcelona. Lately it’s been South America. I’m just trying to see the world and skate all the rad spots! I like Morocco, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Greece. Portugal has been really fun. Just trying to explore these really awesome places that haven’t been hit as much. There is just something beautiful about trying to take this modern or contemporary art form of skateboarding to places far out in the world. Shredding around in Vietnam was wild!
MM: It seems that skate videos are embracing new technology to look super polished. Your videos still have a gritty look –– is that something you try to go for?
JZ: Yeah. We are definitely trying to stay away from the super high production steez. I just like the way older skateboard videos feel. I want there to be some puking. I want there to be some skating in the rain. I want there to be a couple really big falls. I want there to be some partying. I want you to have a feel of what that person is like off the skateboard as well as how they schralp on one!
MM: It seems really important to have that culture. With Natural Koncept, there’s a continuity that you don’t see in other teams.
JZ: You’re so right. First of all, most companies every few years hire a new artist to do a new series of graphics. So having Katch do all the graphics going on eighteen years now is awesome. Two, if you’re going to put everything you have towards our company and skate as hard as you can, work hard, send in footage and photos, be yourself, and have your own life but commit to Natural Koncept –– we will 100 percent commit. Kale Sandridge, Choppy Omega, those are a couple of the original guys still on the crew. Sean Reilly, Chris Kays, Dave Davis, Bob Gnarly, and Brendan Leung have all been skating with Natural Koncept for fifteen years. That’s incredible. Many brands can’t say that more than half their team has skateboarded for more than fifteen years on the team. I feel really good about that.
I think that continuity, people appreciate it. I feel we really carved out our own niche in the industry. And we just got this new little super ripper-shredder, Boner [Brandon Bonner]. He’s our little young gun. His first tour was the “Creepin’ For Life” USA premiere tour. He murdered it.
MM: It seems that skating culture changed a lot with YouTube. Did that influence how you recruited Boner? And what made you think he was a good fit?
JZ: Every five or six years you get that one sprinkle of like: We need that, we want that. And Boner was that kid. He rode for this awesome shop called Magic Bullet and the guy who owns the shop, Mark Eyestone, was this shredder, total Natural Koncept style. Apparently, we came through on a trip and little Boner was like, “Those guys are awesome.” Mark was like, “You know if you keep ripping maybe one day you can be on Natural Koncept.” We came through in 2010 and it was just the right day. He just killed it. Later, we sent him a box and like a week later he sent a new part back and it was just like, this kid is ready.
As far as the YouTube generation and all that –– as we’re sitting and holding a [“Creepin For Life”] DVD, it just feels outdated. And I love it. I like the idea of having a DVD and getting ready to watch it. Like when you’re a kid and so and so’s got the newest video and it’s really exciting. I’m actually almost finished making a separate version for iTunes, but I don’t want to release that for a few more months. I want people to sit down, watch the film, turn up the volume and feel the message we’re trying to send: Go out and skate and get dirty and do your thing.
MM: Putting together trips, putting together DVDs –– What does it take to run a brand and a team? How hard is it?
JZ: It’s pretty difficult. I really just suck it up a lot and live on little amounts of money. It’s a lot of juggling but fortunately we have had some strong support from the shops so I know if I’m going to do a tour, I could hit up my top ten accounts and say look this is what’s going down –– can I count on you to order forty skateboards?
We’ve had some support from Arizona Iced Tea. Milk supported a little bit the last trip. But really, I guess it comes from Katch selling some paintings and me saving some money from throwing parties and trying to do some stunt work, just trying to put enough money aside to get the plane tickets, which is actually what I’m doing right now.
I’m trying to lock something down for the last two weeks of September. As it gets closer it gets even scarier –– oh my gosh, the rental van, I need a hundred boards for the team and DVDs and all that stuff. But I think the most important thing is that everyone gets together for a big National Lampoon-style family vacation. Everyone is in the van and it’s gonna be a ton of fun, but we’re also going to shred new spots & get footage.
MM: You’re kind of living the dream for a lot of people: Running a team, going around the world. Is this something you always wanted?
JZ: Yeah, 100 percent. I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting in my life right now than this moment. Sitting here with you doing an interview with Milk is certainly exciting. For years now, [Mazdak] Rassi has really had my back, just been motivating: “JZ, keep doing it –- loved the last movie, that trip looked great.” Rassi has definitely been a huge support.
When you travel you just get these awesome experiences and you meet all of these new people. It’s inspiring. And skating new spots is the best, especially the ones right in the middle of the city.
MM: What’s the next thing you’re really excited about?
JZ: In November we did a 30-day, “Creepin for Life” premier tour cross-country from NYC to LA. I’m just about to start making the tour video with Sean Reilly & Katch so I’d like to have that almost ready when we go on this next trip. I’m super excited to be skating Moscow and St. Petersburg and Ukraine. In short, I’m looking forward to traveling –– looking forward to the next project, but we already have a ton of footage to finish going through.
MM: So it’s not going to be another four years?
JZ: Yeah, it probably will be until the next full feature. Maybe three.
MM: Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to?
JZ: Blair Alley at “Transworld Skateboarding”, he’s been on almost every tour we’ve done in the last 12 years. Arizona Iced Tea, Milk, the whole Natty Kon crew, Katch1, Adrian McElhaney, CMART, Bruce Weisfeld & Eric Munday.
*Interview has been edited for content, length and clarity.
Photos by: Tyler Nevitt, Blair Alley, French Kev, CMART, Izumi Hoshino, Chad Muska,