STANCE became the official supplier of the Yomiuri Giants and they brought their ambassador / artist Russ Pope to Japan. The idea was to watch the Giants game and give away prints he had made for the team. Skateboarding, art and baseball intersect for the first time in the 100-year history of Japanese professional baseball.
──RUSS POPE (ENGLISH)
[ JAPANESE / ENGLISH ]
Photos courtesy of STANCE Japan & Waguri
Special thanks_STANCE Japan
VHSMAG (V)： Can you share some background about yourself?
Russ Pope (R)： I started skateboarding in the seventies. My dad made me my first skateboard in 1975 when I was five. I'm 52. So I've had a skateboard since I was five but got super serious about it in the 80s. I started skating vert ramps and stuff.
V： Who were your sponsors?
R： Small Room, Spitfire and Thunder. Small Room was a cool small brand from the mid-80s. It was when Blockhead was big, so we used to travel with them a lot.
V： How did you start working behind the scenes in the skate industry? You started your own skate brands.
R： Yeah. I started Creature. When I rode for Small Room, I moved to Santa Cruz, and I started working for Santa Cruz. I was the Santa Monica Airlines and Speed Wheels team manager. I did that for two years, and then I decided I wanted to leave and start my own skate brand. I went to tell Novak that I was gonna leave and start my own brand. I had a whole small business plan and I showed it to him. He's like, “You don't have to leave. You can do that here.” So we started Creature there at NHS. And then when I left Creature, they shut it down for a while and I started a new brand called Scarecrow. And then I worked for a bunch of people before I started Transportation Unit. I was working for Vans, doing all the Off the Wall Gallery program, and I was a Vans supported artist doing their apparel stuff. I was also working for Converse, did all the contracts with Louie Lopez, Alexis Sablone, Milton Martinez, Sage Elsesser, Sean Pablo and so on. It was good times and then two years ago I left, and I'm still homies with them.
V： When did STANCE come into the picture?
R： I've been at STANCE since day one. The very first office I ever went to, Ryan Kingman brought me in and there were five desks. All the original founders were in one room. I was at the initial kickoff party launching the brand in 2011 and I've never left. I’ve done at least one project every year since then.
V： STANCE is the official supplier of the Yomiuri Giants this season. Could you tell us about the partnership?
R： Yeah. STANCE has a baseball program and is an official supplier to all 30 MLB teams. And Yomiuri Giants is our official team in Japan. So I was like, “Let's go to do a baseball project in Japan.” Basically they gave us free rein of the whole place, it was insane. We spent two days doing giant stuff, and the second day was a skate shop tour.
V： What does STANCE do exactly as the official supplier for the whole MLB teams and Yomiuri Giants?
R： So in the US, we provide socks to every team in MLB. So they’re required to wear STANCE socks. And here in Japan, we provide socks to the Yomiuri Giants.
V： You told me before the interview that you weren’t interested in sports when you were a kid. How did you become a baseball fan?
R： When I was a kid, we only listened to one type of music. It was punk rock and only rode skateboards and nothing else was allowed, you know? And then as I got older, I started listening to more music. And now you can do all sorts of shit in skateboarding and it's okay. So as I got older, I started to like baseball. It’s a historic sport that was born and raised in the US. Multiple generations of families go watch baseball games. I like the history of it and it's not as meat-heady as American football. They smash into each other all the time and it just seems so dumb to me. Baseball's a little smarter, right?
V： How did you start to draw baseball players?
R： I draw everything. It's my visual diary. When I go to a show or travel, I'll draw the buildings or the coffee I'm drinking. If I see someone interesting eating pizza, I’ll make that drawing. As I started liking baseball, I thought baseball drawings looked really cool. Then I just started making drawings of them, and you can make them kind of funny too. Last year, I did a drawing for each day of the World Series and they were animated too.
V： You went to the Tokyo Dome to watch the Giants game and in the morning, you went to see the practice. You signed the prints and gave them out, right?
R： I gave it to the coaches, the team manager and a bunch of the players. The rookie pitcher who had won the game the day before was there, and we got to go hang out with him. There was an American player from Miami, and he came and hung out. We gave one to him and a bunch of the other players on the field, which was so sick.
V： How were their reactions?
R： They were stoked. But I didn't know, it could have been something like, “What are you doing? We're practicing baseball. You look like a stupid skateboarder. Get outta here.” But they were so nice. Motoki coach was sizing up at first though. At first, he was kind of checking out. And then we started talking, and then he just cracked a smile and he hung out and talked, and he was super nice. I actually think he was happy to get the print. I passed the test (laughs).
V： Is there a particular player that the drawing is based on?
R： It's a composite of multiple players. If I watch baseball on TV, I'll make drawings of the players I'm seeing. We don't get Giants games in the US, so I had to find all these photos of baseball players. So it doesn't represent a particular player. It’s the Yomiuri Giants. The colors are correct, it's got the STANCE socks, the Giants uniform, the Y and the G on the hat.
V： I heard you were at the VIP room watching the game. How was it?
R： Yeah, like a luxury box. It was beautiful. We had a nice sushi lunch and drinks, it was air conditioned and leather black-and-orange chairs, it was crazy. I actually got to do some live drawing during the game. We left the crazy box and went and sat right behind home plate, drawing the pitcher, batter and catcher. Every one of these is like 15 seconds, just drawing fast.
V： You went to skate shops and gave away prints as well. How was that?
R： It was cool because I got to meet people I haven't met before. I'm a creature of habit so whenever I come to Tokyo or any town, I go see my homies. I would go see CB at Heshdawgs, Yok from Sunday's Best, call Yuumac from Advance, and that would be it. But we did Stormy, instant, Batsu… It's always nice to meet new people.
V： I heard you had dinner with the Giants fans and they were all saying, “Nice game.” Is that going to be the title of this trip?
R： I just made that up this morning. That wasn't the title, I was calling it “Weekend in Tokyo” at first, and it's not even Tokyo because we were in Kashiwa, we were in Chiba, we were everywhere, you know. But after the dinner with the fans, we were saying “Nice Game” to anything that was good happening throughout the day (laughs).
V： I think that’s a nice title. I was surprised to see skateboarding, art and baseball come together like this. Are there new challenges that you want to do with STANCE?
R： When I first started, STANCE was only making socks. Now they have outerwear. They have beanies, shorts and t-shirts and stuff. There's all these opportunities to infuse art on other products other than just socks. So I want to branch out into these other product categories within STANCE. And hopefully doing more trips like this. baseball definitely is a new area, you know. So it's cool.
Born in 1970 in Los Angeles, CA. After having a skate career as pro for Small Room he started Creature and Scarecrow. He has participated in various projects as an artist. Currently he is an ambassador for STANCE and runs his own skate brand, Transportation Unit, based in North Carolina.
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