No shame in our game over here at CVLT Nation – we are huge fans of LEVIATHAN and we were impressed with the caliber of his latest LP, Scar Sighted. We are beyond stoked to bring you Part I of our two-part interview with Jef Whitehead aka LEVIATHAN. In the first part of the interview, we wanted to focus on his early years, from skating the hills of San Francisco to becoming a tattoo artist and much more. Stay tuned for Part II, which will go live in early 2016!
What was your first skate setup? Were you a Road Runners wheels fan? Do any pictures of you in O.P. shorts exist, or did you burn them all?
First board was a yellow fiberglass Santa Cruz bought at a garage sale…I was all of 12, so I don’t remember what wheels were on it besides they were red…and no photographs of me in corduroy shorts exist as far as I know, but O.P. was definitely worn…it was cheap..ha.
What 70’s skater influenced your style the most?
I’d have to say our lord of self destruction, D. Peters.
I have mad memories of you attacking the hills of San Francisco and then doing these power slides to stop. When did you realize that you had a love for fast things, be it skateboarding or the music you listened to?
There was a big hill in front of my house in Soquel, California, that I ruined myself on daily before I moved to the City. When I first moved to SF, I lived in Diamond Heights, so the first hills I scraped my skin off on were between there and the high school I went to about a mile away. Skating the streets of SF and hard, loud, and fast musicks definitely went/go hand in hand….all things visceral and “dangerous.”
Pre-order Scar Sighted vinyl box set HERE!
I heard you mention before you had something to do with the Anti-Hero logo – can you break that down for us?
I just did 4 boards for Anti Hero this past week. Before that, I did some board graphics for AntiHero in the late 90’s…the AH eagle icon was done by someone else that was doing art for DLX. All them dudes are lifers and I’m super honored to do some new stuff for them.
Did you you realize in the 80’s that you and your friends – like Tommy Guerreo, Julien Stranger, Mike Archimedes, Mickey Reyes and Natas – were changing skateboarding forever? If you could also touch on how important the Bay Area was to street skating and why, that would be cool…
You mean the “Sick Boyz”…ha. I was just skating everyday with some super talented dudes…all the names you just mentioned have so much natural talent (skating, art, music, etc…). As I said, those dudes are lifers and all of them have done a great deal for skateboarding and skateboard culture worldwide. SF has so many legendary spots/hills it was one of the perfect places for “street style” to evolve. I definitely remember pushing from one end of the city to the other many times. In my opinion, Tommy Natas AND Mark Gonzales changed how skateboarding was/is looked at forever.
When you look back on the art you have created in your life, and envision the art that is still to come, what impact do you think growing up in an open-minded city like San Francisco has played in your creativity? Did being a part of the 80’s SF Punk & Skate scene give you the confidence to pursue art?
I’ve always made pictures in one form or another. Reflecting on those days, the music and skating had the common bond of rebellion, for lack of a better way to put it. I had done a few flyers for bands I was in during the mid to late 80’s. I moved back to SF around 1991, and Tommy and Jim Thiebaud were just starting REAL and actually wanted to use my art …This was right at the same time I started tattooing. I did boards for Jim Thiebaud, Rob”Sluggo” Boyce, Salman Agah, Julien Stranger and others and the “heart grenade” icon for Thunder trucks. Thiebaud was writing poetry/prose and used some of the junk in my sketchpad as illustrations. I don’t know about now, but SF in the 80’s-early 90’s, was a pretty “free” place to grow up; you could do/be/get into whatever you wanted…lots of unique and groundbreaking music and art.
Why do you think you have always excelled at individualistic activities, ie Skating, Art, Tattooing and making music by yourself? What do you think this says about your personality?
Well, I guess that says I do better work by my lonesome…ha. Skating and making pictures are definitely sole ventures…tattooing is not. Making musick can be awesome alone or with another/others…but, skating AND making music by oneself can be about discovering oneself. Certain musical expressions are impossible for me to create with another person involved..at least in the tracking phase of the work. For me, that level of concentration and focus can only be achieved alone. No compromises. My girlfriend STV and I have been mixing numerous demos, kind of chronicling the past three years since we met, for our project Devout. It’s quite rewarding to work with her. Devout is different than either of the musical expressions we’ve put out in our own projects, but what we’ve been doing together is finally taking shape: Devout’s “sound” is being formed kind of by “osmosis” I guess.
Why and how did you make the transition from pro skater to tattoo artist?
I was never a pro skater – I was a sponsored amateur at best. I got my first tattoo from Theo “Jak” Moreno in high school with a machine made out of a slot-car motor… around 1990, I had started trading skate shit for tattoos with this cat in Huntington Beach, and kinda got the “bug”…I started tattooing July of 1991.
What bands were you really into during the 90’s? Looking back, was this a raging decade for you?
I was still listening to a lot of bands from the 80’s. As far as 90’s bands: my palate was all over the place…everything from Cynic to Bastro to Aphex Twin to Sort Vokter and so on…
You have a very distinctive tattoo style…what was the catalyst that pushed your style in the direction it has taken?
Ha…I guess, with the exception of my attempts at “traditional” Japanese tattoos, I’ve always tried to make tattoos that I’d wear myself…Having done it since 1991 and seeing how some of my earlier works have aged, I seem to be making things simpler and simpler…especially in today’s “high def color bomb” world.
You grew up in a scene that did not discriminate from sub culture to sub culture. A perfect example of this would have been your high school crew…Can you speak on how Hardcore kids, Metal Heads, Death Rockers, Peace Punx and Art Weirdos all hung out together? How do you think being a part of a scene like this influenced the way you create music to this day?
Haha…the peace punk – crimped hair, cloves, and Patchouli. It absolutely had an effect on me: I embraced all those musicks. There is brutality, darkness, and beauty in all those “genres.” And the time you speak of is kinda before metal-heads and punks weren’t mortal enemies…even though I think SF was a little more relaxed on that front anyway. Seemed to take a minute for the metal fans to dig punk rock. I think I Against I and Discharge helped…Ha. The music in my head is all over the place, usually not so genre-specific.
What events and inspirations led to you recording “Time End”?
Both the coming to understand and welcoming running out of time here…as well as the consideration of a place where time, as man understands it, does not exist.
What drew you to Black Metal as a form of expression?
Finally coming across expressions, musically or otherwise, that made complete sense to me…that dealt with the darkness, the unattainable, and beyond…that gave me a feeling no other form of music had: horror and beauty all at once. Music is the most powerful force/energy I know…it’s always full of contradictions and absolutes.
Your album titles and song titles are very vivid…what’s your process in coming up with such strong words?
At times the words come with a lot of struggle, other times they kinda pour out. The music always happens first and most times it’s hard for me to relate “words” to the tones afterwards…since Massive Conspiracy Against All Life, I’ve spent a lot more time on the words.
What emotions were the driving force behind the sound of “Scar Sighted”?
Worship, joy, hatred, paranoia, grief…The same as it’s always been: psychic purge, for lack of a better term…getting the expressions out is necessary for me to be relatively “pleasant” to be around…ha.
Why has Leviathan been so prolific? If you were a touring musician, would you be able to create as much as you have?
Probably not…It’s been a minute since I’ve been alone with Tascam 424…and with the time to use it…ha! Although the last two LVTHN records were done in an actual studio, I feel I can create best alone. Because I didn’t tour, I was able to put all of my time into writing and recording. We are currently building up gear slowly and have been building a proper recording studio in our basement. Excited!
How does having a partner like Stevie Floyd impact the outcome of the sound, textures and emotions that went into creating Scar Sighted?
STV is a die-hard musician/artist…she is always filling me with plenty of inspiration and excitement about music, art, and creating something everyday. We found out we were pregnant right before I started tracking and had our daughter, Grail, just before the final mixes. Throughout, STV was 100% about me doing my thing and very supportive through the whole process.
Stay tuned for Part II coming in 2016…