Interviews / Isle / Lost Art / New Balance Numeric / Speedway / Vase

Tom Knox on ‘Vase’ & Isle Skateboards

(Featured: speedwaymag.wordpress.com, 27th April 2016.)

Tom Knox has been a well known figure in the UK scene for about ten years now and following the release of Isle Skateboards’ ‘Vase’, his exposure to the wider world felt like it was a long time coming. After delivering an outstanding opening part in possibly the most important British skateboard video since Blueprint’s ‘Lost And Found’ [2005] it is hard to think of someone who deserves to have their name (well, initials) on a board more than Tom. With fatherhood imminent towards the end of last year, Tom managed to find a spare hour talk all things London, Isle Skateboards, ‘Vase’ and his friendship with Jacob Harris. 

December 30th 2015,  9:19pm.

Tom Knox, portrait by Henry Kingsford

Photo by Henry Kingsford.

What part of London are you from and who did you grow up skating with?

I’m from North London; Finsbury Park to be precise. I grew up skating with my brothers in the area I’m from, some of them used to skate, some still do. The guys I was at school with skated so I was always with them and then I started making trips into Central London. That’s how I met the people I skate with now mostly. 

You’ve had a few different sponsors over the years before Isle and New Balance Numeric. Including Blueprint during the Make Friends With The Colour Blue[2010] era. How did that come about?

Jake (Harris) actually started filming for Blueprint right near the end of that video. I think (Dan) Magee met Jake once and asked him if he wanted to film some stuff, I guess he knew he could film with a VX pretty well. Through that, Jake showed (Paul) Shier and Magee my footage and they were down to start giving me some boards. I had some footage in that video when I was a kid. I got on in that last little run of the company, when it was already owned by the Canadians and was kind of turning shit. I definitely missed out on the glory days, the Blueprint that I knew and grew up watching.  Some of the riders were still there but it had definitely fallen off. That company means so much, especially to my generation; I grew up watching Lost & Found, I watched that every day and that video meant quite a lot me to.

What sort influence did Blueprint have on you as a whole?

I guess I when started skating I didn’t really watch videos. My friend owned First Broadcast [2001] and Waiting for the World [2000] so I watched both of those videos quite a lot. Then I had Lost & Found and that was the one that influenced me because it was a time when I was getting really into skating. I watched that all the time, I guess if you watch something so much as a kid it will just influence you. They were skating English spots, and I’m from London, so I would watch that and go out skating and pretend to be them, you know what I mean? Bought some stripy tops at one point because (Danny) Brady was wearing that (laughs).

After Paul Shier and Nick Jensen left, how did you make the transition over to Isle? 

I didn’t actually know that Blueprint was going down. I felt that it was going then on the day that everyone started quitting at once I had no idea what was going on. Pretty soon after that either Nick or Shier hit me up about Isle. At the time I was pretty confused about what was going on and I was probably one of the last to quit. Not because I wanted to stay with Blueprint, without the team it’s nothing, but just because I didn’t know what was happening. It was all a bit confusing.

You’ve known Jacob Harris for a long time and have also been in all three of Jake’s videos; Square One [2009], Eleventh Hour [2013] and Vase [2015]. How would you describe your relationship with Jake when it comes to filming and what effect has he had on your skating?

Fuck, is that how many videos it has been? I think I had an Emerica part with him too. Wow. Yeah, four parts… He definitely helps and understands the way I skate so he will see spots and call them out for me and we work more as a team. I feel when I’m filming with him it’s like we’re doing the trick together. I’ve been filming with him for nine years now so it’s just very natural. I really enjoy it and have so much fun filming with that guy. He can be pretty late to the session sometimes but apart from that he’s the best dude to do it with and he’s so good at skating you actually warm up at the spot with him. There have been a few occasions where there are tricks you want to film and he has done them just warming up, which can be a bit annoying (laughs). But it’s good to have someone to actually go skate with; you can film something and if not you can just have fun skating around that day.

When I started skating with him I was a kid who enjoyed skating stairs and stuff. I met those guys and because they were skating around the whole of London, you explored it all. He was really influenced by Static [2000] and all these videos that, at the time, I wasn’t watching so he definitely had this vision for skating. When we started filming together he would take me to a cool spot and I would probably be like “It’s alright…” and he would just say “No, you should do this here.”

As the years went on I guess I naturally caught that eye for spots, he definitely influenced me a lot. Then Eleventh Hour came and we were just on the same page. I wouldn’t say anyone was directing anybody, he and I would just call out spots that we should go to. He always has spots he wants to do shit on and there have been quite a few tricks where he’s been like “Yeah I’ll give you that one.” I definitely had just as much vision as him when filming so I would have the confidence to say “Maybe we should film like this?” Sometimes he would listen, sometimes he wouldn’t but I always trust his judgement.

Tom Knox - Eleventh Hour

Trademark fast footed finesse as seen in ‘Eleventh Hour’.

A lot of people probably won’t know just how good Jake actually is. There isn’t a great deal of footage of him as, obviously, he prefers being on the other side of a camera.

I think Jake was always really good at skating but he kind of stopped because he was filming videos. Then after Eleventh Hour finished he started skating again a bit more. He was always good but he got so much better, to the point where he started getting sorted out and Slam (City Skates) sponsored him. I mean he’s not trying to make it as a skater at all but he’s happy to accept free things. It’s very impressive to watch that guy skate in person. People are always shocked when he’s skating and they find out he films these videos because I guess people assume that filmers don’t skate that well.

How did it feel to see Eleventh Hour received so strongly? It even won ‘Video of the Year’ at the Bright European Skateboard Awards in 2013.

[Editor’s note – this interview took place before BESA 2016 where Jake also won the award for ‘Videographer of the Year’, Tom won ‘Video Part of the Year’, and Isle won ‘Brand of the Year’ and ‘Video of the Year’.]

It’s surprising. You spend all this time on these videos parts, and Jake really is my best friend so we’re just hanging out anyway, but we just started filming this video, which was meant to be the Grey video. Then the year goes by, you’ve got some good footage, you put it out and suddenly everyone is like “It’s so good!” It’s quite shocking because of course you’re not expecting that good of a response. As you said, it won the European Award for best skate video and it was up against some fucking good videos. So to win that when it was just Jake going out to film whenever he could… He puts in the work but it’s always quite surprising how well his videos are received. People seem to really get a good feeling out of them.

Vase has been around a two year long project. Did you start filming for it basically as soon as Isle began?

No, because when Isle started we were still filming for Eleventh Hour. That’s why Eleventh Hour has a little Isle section in it. After that Nick and Shier didn’t really know what they wanted to do in terms of a video. They didn’t ask Jake to film anything in the beginning and then after a while Jake mentioned to them “I can do a promo for you guys.”

There were a few spots in Vase that also appeared in Eleventh Hour. Was that by choice or coincidence?

That was definitely by coincidence because I can’t actually remember if I did skate them now, I can’t remember the same spots. But I would say once you skate a spot it gets into your head and you get ideas about it. You have that thing when you’re falling asleep and you think “Oh fuck, I could do that on that spot…”

One that stood out was the road gap with an island in the middle; where you did switch flip to manual and then popped to the side of the road.

Yeah, Jensen skates that in Eleventh Hour! Me and Nick skate all the time and when he was filming for his Eleventh Hour part I would go to those spots with him. So for Vase, when trying to think of spots to skate, I would definitely go back to other ones I’ve seen in footage. Especially because I would watch Eleventh Hour before going skating, I really enjoy that video.

How do you find watching yourself skate? I know Nick finds it a bit awkward.

It’s a bizarre feeling. At a premiere it’s completely different; you get so nervous that the whole experience is almost a blur. Watching yourself skate is a weird one because I guess filming yourself skate is kind of egotistical in the first place. You’re getting people to film you do your tricks and impress other people to some extent, (laughs). I definitely feel proud when I watch something of mine when it’s all done but you can always spot your imperfections or something you didn’t land. Or you land something sketchy and no one else gives a shit but you care because it’s all about those little personal victories when you’re filming a part.

Tom Knox, Kicker to Crooked Grind, Photo - Reece Leung

Kicker to crook. Photo by Reece Leung.

Something that stood out with Vase is certain parts almost have themes with spots. Nick has that footage skating bike lanes. Chris Jones has those tunnels in the second half of his part. Whereas with you, there is a bunch of roofs and road gaps to manual tricks throughout your footage. Was it intentional to skate those type of spots and present something different or just what you enjoyed skating?

I didn’t consciously think about it. But I do understand that if you skate a spot, enjoy skating that spot and get a bit of footage or a trick; everywhere after that day you see that similar spot but set out in different ways. I didn’t do that consciously with my part but I know with Nick, he would skate one bike lane and then suddenly everywhere you go in London you’ll see bike lanes, especially where he lives in North London which has loads of them. So he does one trick and is like “I can do that, that and that…” and suddenly has five or six tricks in a certain style.

Same with Chris (Jones); It was winter so most of the time it was raining and there are these tunnels you can skate. It wasn’t a conscious thing, like “I’m gonna go out and skate all these tunnels”, he just found one and did a line and then found another because it was in his head already. You’re not mapping out these spots and thinking you’ll do a different trick on all of them. It’s because you do one trick on one and that was going to be the only one in your part.

Nick did one of those tricks; he did ollie over and then gap to front tail. I remember that day, that was the first he did then he filmed four more or something. All skateboarders have that I think. Once you see one spot you kind of see it in different arrangements. When you learn a new trick you see that everywhere as well. The thing with skateboarding is it gets so into your head, you can’t stop thinking.

At the start of your part you’re mopping a wet road. It seems quite random but is there any relevance to that?

I think I might have been going away the next day and we wanted some film footage skating around the city but it was pissing it down with rain. I lived with Jake for two years in Peckham, basically during the whole filming process I lived with him. We’re at home getting cabin fever so I was like “Fuck it, let’s just film something weird.”

We had a few of these ideas and had a mop in the house so I said “Let’s go mop up the street because we want it to dry up” and he was like “Yeah do it! But act really bummed out!” I mopped for six seconds, he filmed it all, the roll ran out and that was it. Then I watched the part and that was at the beginning of it and I was tripping out because we filmed that as a joke, not really thinking it would go in so it’s quite funny he used it.

What’s the story behind that trick you almost made in credits; the backside smith backside 360 out at Euston?

Jake and I tried to film that backside smith backside 180 and that took us a few times going back because there was security. Then the last time I went I remember trying one and accidentally scooping a little bit more. I landed the back 180 that day, went home and it started going off in my head to try back three out. Jake and I went most of the days in the week and the weekend and found out the best day to go was on a Sunday and that’s it. Even Saturdays, the security comes out in a minute. Sundays; sometimes you could get twenty minutes at most, sometimes not even five.

We went there every dry Sunday for months, which was very rare; sometimes we would go once every two months. Also, Jake and I both had to be free on the Sunday, meet up, be skating near the spot to go there. I would say I probably went around ten times to go try it, maybe even a little bit more.

I remember one time in particular it was all wet on top even though it was dry everywhere else. I got these newspapers and dried the whole spot up. It took about twenty minutes to finish off the job and as soon as I did that the security guard just comes out, “What you doing there mate?” I was like “Oh fuck! You’re kidding me.” I hadn’t even got my skateboard up there. That was the kind of vibe that spot had. I went there one time and I put it down, rolled and slipped out. Then another one, rolled it to the bottom, slipped out and then got kicked out. I came back again and again to get another but we just could not get enough time to do it.

Tom Knox - Back Smith Back 3

 The one that got away…

Well, I think you’ve got an opening trick for your next part…

Ah mate, to be honest it kind of ruined my life for a little bit, (laughs). I’m happy it’s over and I don’t think I’ll ever try that again. It was so stressful knowing that on a Sunday you have to go do it because I wanted to do it so bad.

What about your last trick then, the gap to wall on the edge of that Underground station? That thing looks like it just shouldn’t be skated.

(Laughs), the dimensions are kind of perfect for a skateboard but I actually wanted to do that maybe four years ago. I remember mentioning it to Jake. You’re always going across London Bridge to skate, if you’re going south or north of the river, so you always pass that spot and I went to go check it out years ago and never got around to trying it. Then I needed an ender because I didn’t do that back smith back three and was going away so I was like “Fuck, I have to do something… Alright, I’m gonna go do that.” There’s a big crack in front of it that I actually got Jensen to bondo, it was so scary; once I got onto it I was ok though.

It was one of the tricks that stood out the most. Casper Brooker’s ender was really surprising too. How long have you known Casper for?

I’ve known Casper since I was a kid; he would come out skating with me and Jake sometimes, I was on Emerica with him so we went on trips together. When he got on Isle he kind of had other stuff going on and wasn’t skating with us as much. Nearer the end he started coming out filming all the time and really got into it. I wasn’t actually there when he did that ender but at every premiere that got one of the loudest cheers. It was good to see because he pulled it out of the bag with that one. It’s one of those tricks that looks really quick footed and massive and that means in real life actually trying to skate that thing is gnarly. I was really happy he did that.

As you and Chris skate for Lost Art and Jake, Nick and Casper skate for Slam; is there ever any joking shop rivalry between you guys?

I think they are jealous for sure (laughs). Those boys all wear Lost Art stuff though. It’s funny because you usually skate for your local shop, I’ve been going into Slam for years and even worked there but I feel Lost Art is a badge of honour.

Has it been surprising to see how well the video has been received in America and why do you think it has translated to that audience so well?

I guess I can’t really answer that because I’ve been part of the process of making the video so it’s quite hard to see it through those eyes. I would say people have quite a thirst for full length skate videos, especially well thought out ones. Nick and Jake spent a lot of time thinking about the art direction and the way they wanted to do it; they’re both really smart dudes and they’re not going to do a bad job. The only thing that could have gone wrong; maybe there was a fear that people wouldn’t relate to it to some extent, and especially Americans because it’s an English video but I’ve seen a lot of people comparing it to the Alien Workshop videos.

It’s funny because I don’t think it was intentional, but probably quite a lot of their influences are Alien Workshop, Blueprint and the stuff that Magee did. Jake isn’t trying to copy anything but he definitely has these influences. I think people just felt it had a vibe which videos don’t have that much anymore. Very rarely you find a video that makes you feel like you used to feel when you watched videos. I think people just enjoy that instead of watching an individual part on the internet.

I feel that Vase is one of those videos you have to watch all the way through. Even the introduction and end credits have a really enjoyable character of their own.

I definitely agree with that. Because I was involved, because of the 16mm footage and all that I really like watching the intro and the credits, especially because I can get that feeling from it, it’s nice. He really created a good aesthetic there. The intro and credits set up the video and what the video is meant to be, the skateboarding is just a part of it.

I think having the internet there has made it harder to want to make videos like that because people just don’t have that attention span. That’s why it’s always good having it on disk. It means you put it in your DVD player, make a cup of tea, sit down and watch the whole video. By the time the intro goes by, you don’t want to skip any parts, you watch the whole video because it’s not just skateboarding, it gives you a good feeling.

It’s just a better way to view skateboarding I think and with Jake’s videos, he’s always felt weird about putting individual parts out because he wants people to watch the whole video because he’s made it as a whole video. In Vase I think you can see that, there are lots of little things he’s done to make it a whole video and not just these individual parts. Some of them, halfway through you think they’re over, it has a little interlude and they almost start again.

With that in mind, did you feel conflicted about having your part go online?

Yeah, I did. Because I think people can get the wrong idea about a video through one part, I think they should see the whole thing. Jake and I just agreed it would be good for me and hopefully it will be good for the video because you hope it will make people want to see the whole video.

Isle Studio Vase - Nick and Jake

Jensen and Knox. Photo courtesy of Isle Skateboards.

I found it surprising that there haven’t been a great deal of interviews with you despite you turning pro and having the first part. It seems most of the interviews around Vase have been with Jake. What do you think to the fact that he is basically the star of the video in that sense? 

(Laughs), it’s really funny you picked up on that, that’s good. Before the video came out I kept kind of, not teasing him, but bringing it up because there was an interview with Jake coming out every few days. I’m really hyped on that because we’re not the best skateboarders at all, we’re not even near; in comparison to what people are technically capable of we’re shit. But between us having a certain idea with skateboarding, Jake’s view on that and the way he can show it through a video; people enjoy that.

It’s good to know that’s why people have had such a big interest in this video. People watched Eleventh Hour and really enjoyed that. Because Jake was behind that and he was making this they knew he was going to make something good. He’s such a big part of it, we’re just skaters and obviously we have our parts but Jake created this whole thing. We all make up a part of Isle and a part of this video but without Jake it’s just a load of footage jumbled up somewhere.

I think that’s sick. You don’t see that too often in skateboarding, you see an interview with a filmer here and there but with Vase, every interview was with Jake. Well, some were with Jensen but more about his art direction and stuff. Those two have a really good relationship with working together and I tried to get involved when I could with the art direction or at least just helping them with the balloons. I really enjoyed working with those two on that.

Did filming with Jake always have the same atmosphere as the video progressed? He doesn’t strike me as someone that would psychically show stress but as the deadline got closer did it seem to take a toll on him?

He was dictating the deadline in terms of filming, I think once he had filmed everything and started editing it; that’s when I saw him stress. Because he’s got all these interviews coming out and actually quite a lot of hype on the video so he was there like “Shit, I have to create something that people really like” and that people are hyped on and he didn’t even necessarily know how it would look.

He had this whole direction but when it came to do it, it is always going to be different. It’s not how you thought it was going to be so I think he felt the pressure then. In terms of just filming the skating he’s so mellow. Personal life is going on with everyone so sometimes you’re having a shit time, sometimes he’s having a shit time and you’ve still got to film when it’s dry and when you’re both free. In that respect it could get tense sometimes but it always works because the people that Jake films with, he’s always really good friends with them. He’s very close to everyone so because of that if you don’t land a trick you go get a beer at the pub afterwards or just hang out. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere.

I think it really comes across that you guys are a tight knit group of friends and not just a bunch of people on the same team.

It’s good because we were all skating before but it gave us an excuse to skate with each other and when you skate with each other, most of the time you’re not even skating. You’re just hanging out, travelling on trains and buses and waiting at spots for other people to do tricks. I felt like the team itself got a lot closer and that’s what it’s all about. That’s a big reason for Jake pouring his heart and soul into these videos because he really likes everyone on the team and wants the best for them and he wants to create something that they’re going to do well from.

Despite his claims that Vase is his last full length video, do you think he will make another?

Honestly, I don’t think he’ll make a full length again. I think he just wants to do other stuff because it’s quite time consuming. I hope he does, I would love to film another part with Jake. I don’t know how I’m going to do it without him. I would call it and say it’s going to be his last one unless he makes a ‘comeback’ in ten years, (laughs).

Tom-Knox-Curiosities-Social

So, rounding this off, I hear when you were handed your pro board at the London premiere you just blurted out “I’m going to be a dad”?

Well, yeah (laughs). I didn’t exactly blurt it but I was saying thank you and I’m having a baby with my partner Kelly, due in a nearly a week actually. She was in the audience so I thought it was nice to say thanks as it’s quite a big thing going on in my life at moment. It was really funny, I was just quite overwhelmed, I don’t know. It did kind of just come out, there’s quite a lot of overwhelming things going on.

How do you think you are going to find managing everything you have going on with skating around being a dad?

At first, of course I’m going to spend more time at home and then I’m just going to try and juggle it. I skate most of the time in London anyway and we live in London. Obviously, I might have to be a bit better with my time management and spend less time having beers after skating but I’ll be able to manage (laughs).

And maybe get Jake to show up on time more often if he does do another video?

Oh yeah, well Jake’s the godfather actually so as his duties maybe he’ll have to be a bit more punctual. He’s very honoured, (laughs).

Thanks to Jacob Harris and Chris Aylen for making this interview happen. Sorry for the delay Tom… – FG.

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