Interview Alfred Rodriguez Photo

Interview with Alfred Rodriguez, designer and former art director at Baker Boys (Deathwish, Brigada Eyewear, Shake Junt…)

May 11, 2021

Alfred Rodriguez discusses growing up in California, starting in the skate industry, hanging out with Brian Herman and Antwuan Dixon, designing for Adio footwear, driving three hours to go to work, becoming an Art Director at Baker Boys, hiring Brian Romero as an illustrator, designing the Biggie and Tupac board graphic and much more.
Where are you from?
I was born in Lompoc, California and I moved around pretty much all my life because my parents had me when they were teens. Since my mom and dad were in gangs when they had me, I kind of bounced around as a kid, staying with whoever wanted to watch me and take care of me at that time. I spent the majority of my youth years in the Inland Empire, specifically in Riverside and Moreno Valley, from there I moved to Victorville and that’s where I started my career in the skate industry.
How did you get into the skate industry?
I started working for Pharmacy Boardshop and I hung out with Donny Donovan and Wayne Herman many nights just talking ideas. When Brian Herman was in town, he would cruise by and hang out. Twan [Antwuan Dixon] cruised by often but I would mostly see him at the shop along with all the guys in the high desert. Even Terry Kennedy was out there at one point. From there I started working for Adio footwear, I was really fortunate to get that gig so I was driving from Victorville to San Diego, which is about three hours one way. I was driving about six hours round trip. At one point I just started sleeping in my car, I was like, “F*** this, I’m not driving anymore”. After about three months of working there, I got my own place down in San Diego. I worked at Adio Footwear for about eight months. At this point, the company was sold a few times to different companies and I just didn’t see myself going any further with Adio Footwear.

Around that same time, I was approached by somebody I knew over at Deathwish and they asked me if I knew anybody that could freelance in Los Angeles. Since I knew I wasn’t staying at Adio I mentioned, “Hey I can do it you know, I’m down”. They told me to come down to the warehouse in North Hollywood to meet Erik Ellington, Jim Greco and all the guys. Erik and I talked a bit about what they needed and what their budget was for the position. After our conversation I was offered a designer position. At this time, the salary was low, but there was no place I would have rather been. Now I was looking to move again, so I was trying to figure it out. On the plus side, after 3 months of working there, we agreed to increase my salary. So I started working for Deathwish, I was driving from San Diego to LA. It was a three hour drive each way again. Luckily, Jim and Erik didn’t mind me crashing in the warehouse. Lots of fun nights at the warehouse. Only DJ Chavez and Steve Hernandez know what I’m talking about [laughs], maybe Poodle remembers.
Interview Alfred Rodriguez Decks 1
What did you do at Deathwish when you started?
We just started talking about graphics, figuring out what we need to get done for that season, what boards were made, what boards needed to be completed, what graphics needed to be taken down to apparel, wheels, hats, or any other accessories that we were doing at that time. We were also doing Brigada at that time, we were doing Shake Junt, so Shane Heyl would come in. Milner and I would work with Shane, Jim, and Erik to create all the artwork and ideas. At the time, Milner was helping out with some bands so he took off and I basically became the art director for Baker Boys. For a while I was the only artist at the distribution, but shortly after I hired Matt Dobbs and then hired Brian Romero. Beginning of each season, we would meet and talk about all the ideas we had and how they would work together. From there I would try to meet with each rider to see what they were into and how we could incorporate those ideas into the collection. If we couldn’t include the riders’ ideas into the board series, we would just create one offs for each rider. I just wanted each guy to be stoked to ride Deathwish boards or want to wear the soft goods we were creating. I always loved working with Slash, Lizard, and Furby. Shit! All the guys were rad. Jim always had the best ideas. Look at all the rad shit he’s doing now!
How important is it for you to work closely with riders for graphics and apparel?
Well you want them to wear it. We had a lot of different personalities from Slash to Lizard to Antwuan to Jim to Erik to Furby. Everybody that we had on that team at that point was all different, no one was the same. If we created a graphic, other riders would ride it but we wanted them to be soaked on their own ideas and back them more. A lot of time, I would text Slash, “Hey Slash what’s up? What are you into? What kind of graphic do you want this season?”, and then we would pretty much hash it out. Lizard too, he came in a lot, he was always at the warehouse so we always saw Lizard in person. Twan came in from time to time, it just depends on what he had going on [laughs]. When you saw Twan, it was like seeing bigfoot but it was always great. Twan is the best, super happy, always smiling and with the biggest heart. I knew Herman and Twan for many years prior. Once I started working for Baker Boys, it was really cool to be a part of all the homies again because I was only doing graphics for Pharmacy Boardshop.
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Who were you working with in the art department?
Over the time, we had a few guys. Milner, he was the OG. After he left we hired Matt aka Poodle. As time passed, we got a lot busier and hired Brian to illustrate full time. I tried to have Brian only create illustrations. From there one of the other artists would color up the board and create the type. Once Poodle left we hired Thomas. We had some rad people back in the days that were contributing artwork, even the freelance guys, we had a lot of freelance guys that we worked with, I wish I could remember everyone we worked with.
So you started working at Deathwish just when it got created, what was your input into the definition of the brand?
A lot of the stuff was really set as far as the aesthetic. The logo was set, Fos that runs Heroin Skateboards did the type for Deathwish, he created the alphabet for all the riders’ names and everything. In my background as a kid, I did a lot of graffiti art so having that spray paint element to Deathwish really attracted me, that’s what made me want to be a part of the company. I just remember thinking this is badass, “This is f***ing LA, this is a badass company”, and I knew the potential that we had with the brand. So when I came in, I pretty much just tried to mold it to fit that definition of what I thought Deathwish was. Also, having input from Jim and Erik, they’re there every day in the art department, they have a lot of input and final say on everything. But as far as aesthetic, I just wanted to keep true to that street, very grimy, what Baker is known for, but keeping it more of a grass graffiti style LA-based brand. Deathwish is for the streets!
Interview Alfred Rodriguez Biggie Tupac Baker Ad
Like Jay Strickland and Baker.
We tried new things with Baker branding trying to keep it fresh. It was always very important to keep the true roots of what Baker stands for. From the brand colors to the Baker type. At the time, we started to play with the type more in a design element way. We always want to keep the brand foundation because that’s what a Baker customer buys into, that’s what the customer expects, that’s what the customer loves about the brand. I don’t know Jay personally. I never met him but from what I know I think Jay is rad. What he did for Baker really gave them life. Without him they might have not been where they’re at honestly, they needed an artist, they needed somebody to take the reins and establish the foundation and their brand identity.
What was your favorite thing to work on as an art director?
It’s funny you ask that because a lot of people hate doing tech packs, a lot of people hate doing the groundwork, but I feel like that was one of the funniest things because you’re the final say on that board. If you f*** it off, you’re the one that’s responsible for everything. The artist creates a beautiful image but it’s your job to make sure that it translates into the products. So I like that aspect of it, also creating each collection was fun, coming up with this idea of what we want to create, what’s the bigger theme of each season. A lot of people don’t know this but back in the days, the only other company we felt that was in competition with us was Real Skateboards. Only Brian and I know this because we were the art team at that time. We would look at their catalogs every season and just try to one-up them. I feel like we had a direct competition going on, I feel like they would see our stuff and then they would want to do something a little bit better. And we’d see their stuff and try to do something better. I felt like we had a battle going on as far as who had the best art in the industry.
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Is it part of this rivalry between Los Angeles and San Francisco?
No, I think it’s more on an art level honestly. I think as artists, we’re more full of ourselves, we don’t even think about the skateboarding aspect at that time, we’re creating the graphic and we’re creating the artwork. I think the only thing we are thinking is making sure that the graphics aren’t covered by the trucks. I think when creating art, we’re more focused on our artwork than the actual location where we’re at, like LA versus San Francisco. I love San Francisco!
How many decks have you designed so far? With all the brands you’ve been involved with, Pharmacy, Deathwish, Baker, Nine One Seven, Life Extension.
I would say over 75 boards. When I left Deathwish, I had every board from the time I was there to the end, and I left with 174 boards. I don’t take full responsibility for a board if I didn’t sketch it, draw it, color it and create the type. If I didn’t create all those elements of the board, I didn’t create the board. A lot of the boards that we created at Deathwish were created in group effort. This allowed us to create more boards each season but not all boards were created as a group. It was mostly for a series.
Interview Alfred Rodriguez Decks 2
It’s interesting to know this because usually the artist does everything on the board.
But you have to think about the amount of boards that we were doing at Deathwish. It was usually two people. It was Milner and I at one point, it was Poodle and I at one point and it was Brian and I at one point. So everything that was created was created by two of us, it was crazy. Work never stopped, Jim would give you a call at one in the morning if he had an idea, that’s just what it was, it never bothered me. We would be out partying together, Erik and I would be having drinks and talking about graphic ideas. Erik was always down for my ideas. I wanted to create a Kings logo flip but Jim wasn’t into it. So I talked to Erik about creating a sample hat. After we got the samples, Erik went on a Supra tour and he got photos in the hat. From there we created a beanie, crewneck, t-shirt, and board. After that, the Kings logo was one of the main logo boards that we would recolor each season. It was the graphic that was never supposed to be created to the graphic being used on every product that we could make [laughs].
Was it common to create prototype graphics, give them to the riders, testing the waters and having feedback on it?
Over the time, there were boards that were created for Jim when I was there. He’s the boss so he can do whatever he wants. One board that I created for Jim was the Street Sweeper. He came in one day and said, “I want a shotgun on a board with the silencer on the end with Deathwish on the board”. I believe Jim gave me the photos, which were low res, but we always made it work. That was one board that Jim wanted to create as a prototype. Once we created the boards, everybody loved it so we added the board to the catalog. We’ve done that over the time. A lot of the times when we had dip boards or stained veneers, we would do nature veneers, but only the pros would get those. Once everybody saw those boards, they wanted them so we add those to the catalog. Other than that, we usually made every graphic, that was the thing we were always sure of all the graphics that came out of the art dept.
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Is there a board graphic that you like the best among all the graphics that you’ve done?
There’s a few graphics that I’ve done over time. I think the best graphic that I liked the most that I’ve done was the Biggie and Tupac.
I knew you’d say that, it’s such an iconic graphic.
So the way we created that board, Andrew [Reynolds] came in, he said, “Hey I want to be in this graphic, this is what I want”, it was the iconic photo of Biggie and Tupac. While Andrew talked to me I noticed he had his Starbucks cup in hand. Then I remember thinking, “Are you sure though? This is gonna be sketchy because we can get sued for this shit”, he’s like, “Yeah yeah, who cares, let’s just do it”. So we set up for the photo, I had two people stand in to set Andrews arm height. He was still drinking his coffee so I said, “Keep your cup in there.” I figured it’ll make it funnier because Starbucks wasn’t as popular back then. We shot that photo in the art dept. It was funny! After that we created the board, t-shirt, crewneck and we created an ad. We sold out the boards three times before they were released. That ad even got one award for best ad in Thrasher magazine or some shit like that. So it was funny and its culture, its hip-hop culture and Los Angeles and New York culture. That photo is an iconic photo, no matter who you have in the photo. I wanted it to be done well. So I made sure to put the shadows on Andrew so it looked like he was there. It was great, that was my favorite graphic.

Other graphics that we’ve done that I really liked was the 40-ounce cruiser. That was an amazing graphic, from the shape to creating a brown bag that went over the board. We gave a brown bag on the first series that we released of that board, we redid it with a purple liquid inside. With all cruiser boards, we photographed each board and just placed it on the shape. We created the label then printed the label, put double-sided tape on the label then shot the 40oz.
Interview Alfred Rodriguez Shake Junt Ad
No Photoshop?
Nothing was photoshopped! Even the Prison Shank board, we duct taped the handle with medical tape, we just had a piece of metal laying around the warehouse, so J Roy grinded down the tip of the metal and we just made it like a prison shank. We also did a spliff cruiser, it was a joint that we rolled super fat. Getting the shape right for the board took forever. Poodle and I rolled a bunch of joints. I have photos from that day, we bought a bunch of weed to just roll the joint for the cruiser. After we smoked all the joints with Doug [laughs]. That’s the way we did shit back then, it was a party every day, everything at Deathwish was just rad back then. It was grimy as f***, but it was great.
Do you miss these days at Baker Boys?
Hell yeah! Some of the best times of my life. It was a rad time because you come in and there was a new project every day. That was the cool part of being at Baker Boys. Everybody was doing everything, I was the art director and as an art director, I was basically the captain of the ship. I was leading our department to where we needed to be, just making sure that everybody was taken care of, making sure that everyone in my dept got the things they needed. Jim and Erik treated everyone like family. We would have barbecues all the time and free lunch Fridays!
Check out more of Alfred’s work on his website and on Instagram.