An AllSwell Music Series Interview
By Laura Rubin + Glen Walsh
I met this crazy-sweet-fun Japanese snowboarder, skateboarder and photographer in the Bend, Oregon airport. Our mutual friend Leah Dawson text introduced us. He needed a ride and I had a rental car. I thought I was doing him a favor. Turns out my luggage didn’t make it and Rip managed the whole scenario like a pro, bag rerouted for same day arrival. Then he offered to drive because he knew exactly where we were going, cranked tunes and turned the whole situation into an episode of a show called Funtown. So it’s more like “Mr. Good Vibes” was doing me the favor.
I now know is this wasn’t an unusual scenario. Not only is Rip one of the most positive people you’re likely to meet, the guy is a legend in his own right: from shooting skaters on the streets of Tokyo, to carving turns in deep powder in Niseko and multiple collaborations with Stussy and Vice in between. Born Tomonori Tanaka, his appreciation of American skate and surf experiences is evident in his answers to the questions below, which we tried to keep in his own charming cross-culture voice.
Let’s start with an old school question. What were you listening to in Junior High?I was BMX freestyling from 7-11 years old admiring this guy Eddie Fiola. He plays music when he rides. Stuff like “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince and “We Built This City” by Jefferson Starship. And some break dance influence like “There’s No Stopping” by Ollie and Jerry, “Rock It” by Herbie Hancock.
Then in Junior High I got into skateboarding and I got this tape "Skate Rock" from Thrasher [Magazine]. It became setting stone kind of influence. Kept me skating hard and made me dream to have an American life.
Also I got into Dance Hall Reggae from 14 years old after went to this club "St. Anns” in Osaka. My skater friends took me to this reggae club and they enter me into this dancehall contest. It was so much fun and I got hooked on it quick.
I wish footage of that dancehall contest existed. First album you ever bought with your own money?
Not album but I remember I went to this major record shop in Roppongi and they had these music video player with $1/a song kind. On the way home from elementary school alone I always love to drop my coin and see RUN DMC “Walk This Way” and Bon Jovi “You Give Love a Bad Name.”
American classics, right there. So it sounds like music was a big part of how you grew up. What was the soundtrack from your early youth?
I started to see all my hero skaters in person. Tommy Guerrero plays Public Enemy and singing in his contest run. Christian Hosoi always plays music for his run and doesn’t start skating till the break come up, make huge deal on music was cool. I saw Ed Templeton wearing “Nothing Shocking” Jane's Addiction T-Shirt that made me buy the album next day and became my lifetime favorite music
We love a good roadtrip. What musical memories do you have from roadtrips past?
I went to Senegal to see these djembe drum masters. I see all drum circles all over to understand what’s good of these instruments. But it was completely different in Africa. Like 10 years old kids are way better than any pro in Japan or any other place.
You travel more than you don’t travel. How does a life on the road affect your musical choices?
I am maybe an old school guy. I used to travel around the world with huge Case Logic (CD case carry 100) for a long time. I’m not carrying music around since MP3, iPod but I don't like the idea of easy access to all, shuffle, just showering in music. I like to listen to music I love focused from my heart.
As a couch surfer philosophy, I want to find my mind balance in the reality. I found myself that I use music as my mind home. If reality goes wrong I go back to headphone and forget about it. Or if I need to be pumped up, I go back to the music world I love and set up my mood. I figured its kind of escaping uses.
First concert you ever went to?
My mom took me to a Stevie Wonder concert around 1985 in Tokyo
Sounds like you have a very cool Mom. Most recent live show?
Rob Machado took me to KABOO 2016 in San Diego.
So far your Mom still sounds cooler than Rob Machado. Do you have certain music that puts you in the mood to create?
All these music came up in skate or snowboard movies motivated me to go out and skate or snowboard, pump me up. Dense fast music takes me faster pace and shuts my thinking process off and stuff. More instinct, drive kicks off. But to get inspiration from music, I listen music that slows me down, slower than my heatbeat. That allows me to feel heartbeat, music that has a lot of space and my head becomes fountain of ideas and creative juices.
What are some of your go-to first listens of the day?
I get a lot of music from movies. Some favorites…
“Obstacle” by Interpol. I picked up this song from snowboarder Terje Haakonsen’s part in the movie "White Balance."
“Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap. I picked up this song from a movie by Nicolas Muller called "Fruition."
“Know How” by King of Convenience. It’s in the movie "Brokedown Melody." I love the part with Gerry Lopez and Keith Malloy surfing Pichilemu.
And, what music puts you in the mood for nookie?
I don’t know word "nookie"
Glen will explain it later. Favorite lyricist?
You know what’s interesting about people in Japan listening to overseas’ music?
People buy so many music, rap and punk and rock and all without understand what they singing, including me back then when I was 15 years old. After I met my hero skater Eric Dressen in Hawaii ‘89, he started send me letter with stickers. I was the happiest skater in Japan. I totally did not understand what he wrote. So that became the reason for me to open my dust collector dictionary.
His writing was so gangster and all kinda broken and slung...so I had hard time understanding it. But that became a trigger for me to motivation to learn English.
Then, I tried to read Thrasher magazine, sing these song like Eazy-E, NWA. Watching Ren and Stimpy, Beavis Butthead. They were my English teacher.
Basically my favorite lines I learned quick were "B%#ch shut a f@ck up, get a f@ck out of here. Yo Dre! What's up? Give me funky ass bass line" or "Happy Happy Joy Joy."
And since then, lyrics were the all my textbook of English for me. Also became my mind stabilizer, my youth mind energy counselor, my life coach. I still don't understand even 10% of lyrics when I hear music. My goal for near future is study English enough to understand songs when I listen and these poetical sentences. And training my mouth to rap like AdRock.
Eazy-E was your English teacher. I bet he would have been pretty pleased about that. Favorite music venue?
For any live concert, I love to hear it in Japan. Do you remember when you come to Japan in 90's, you always wanted to go to Electric District and grab new headphone you can't buy anywhere else in the world? Looks good and sounds actually better. I think Japanese music audiences are sound nerds and have good ear in general. They set up all speakers super well with quality entertainment.
Audiences are quiet and super focus listening to the music. Artist trip out for bit because everybody silent but they will feel the absorption and connection with audiences after a few songs. Roadies, PA, stage assistants move like machines. Someone told me, "Playing in Japan make us feel like we practice in all over the world and come back here for prime performance.” So I think venue in Japan is pretty dialed in general.
With a life lived mainly on the road, Rip’s latest venture is Eat Ride Rad dedicated to teaching young people how to eat healthfully, inexpensively and easily on the fly. Follow along Rip’s adventures.
Photo Credit: Kage