A Conversation with - Silas Adler


Skateboarding never really leaves your heart. For anyone who has come up through the culture, it will always have a part of their soul. One such person is Soulland founder and creative director Silas Adler. A friend for some years now, I am stoked to see Alder go right back to his artistic roots and create a range of graphics that will adorn the boards of Eric Koston & Guy Mariano’s Numbers team. We caught up with Silas in Paris to find out more /

So… Numbers X Soulland!  How, when, why, who?

Well Eric and Guy launched Numbers between our first and second FRI.day project with Nike SB. It was around then that we started talking about how it could be fun to do a project together that was outside of the SB realm. 

So you guys were developing a friendship by this point? 

Yes and for me it's very interesting to follow Eric starting a new brand. And also seeing that no matter how established you are or where you've been in your career, with starting something new there are always obstacles. It's quite humbling to think about that. I mean it's still running like a small start up operation. And I had seen that they were doing artist additions, so that's why we just started talking about it back and forth. This was a while back and then all of a sudden I had the idea base and we then spent the last half-year developing it and making it work.


So was it a simple process of like, okay, I've got this artwork, how do we apply it across the board? Or did you have to create that whole concept and even make it into a piece before you could apply it to. 

I mean the actual artwork was done before the project. I did it two summers ago when I had my second child and I had some time off. You know, when you have a baby, everything is put on the side or goes up in the air. I was at home a lot with my wife and our kids and I needed to have a project to do in the evenings just to focus on. I started all these collage backgrounds just on the printer and then I decided to glue a thousand round objects that are found in books and magazines and flea markets and thrift stores and stuff like that. So it became like this very meditative thing.  I mean finding a thousand round objects in books and magazines that you think are good enough to use, and then gluing them on in similar patterns.  I had made a bunch of ideas in A3 size and was adding the objects on each A3 in a balanced way. 

So its much more back to the hands on way you started the graphics that would become the Soulland signature?

Exactly. Now a lot of the collage work I do for Soulland is often straight on the printer and then once I do the cut outs and put them back on the printer. And I can never repeat it again. But with this project I printed out the backgrounds and then I applied all the other elements with glue. So it's like a mixture of doing something that I can never redo and then adding something tactile that is there for everybody. 


Are those pieces now mounted and in the office in Copenhagen? 

No, not yet. It’s a big project to get it mounted. If I want to do it properly I have to figure out where to have them so that they could be displayed all together. Or put them in one very big frame.  But I think to have them all framed separately will look the best. I have framed a couple but I haven't framed them all. I probably will as part of the launch of this project. 


Will you do it for some kind of opening or launch in Copenhagen? 

Yes for sure.  

So what was the process of applying the artwork to the boards? How involved were the Numbers guys? 

You know when we were talking about it, the brand is called Numbers and then I was like, okay, this collage is interesting because my whole thing was like a thousand objects. So that's why I thought it makes sense, you know? So then we had a solid base, and what we did in terms of doing the boards and the apparel was to almost say like “fuck the process”.  And become less precious with the visual and just blow it up or zoom in so it becomes something completely different.  Which I actually think is a much better result for the boards and the shirts. And I needed to do all that work to come back to actually realizing that we just needed blow it up. So you only see about 5% of the artwork across the boards. Because the whole thing is so much bigger than what is actually on the graphics. And that's what I love about the doing collage work like that. 


You have done a lot of artwork over the 10 years of Soulland, Have you ever considered doing some kind of exhibition or documentation of this work? 

No, I mean I never really thought about it in that context. I think it's a little bit tricky because I don't see myself as an artist in that way. The art I do is art for clothing and I have such great respect for art and artists that are devoting their life to creating pure art. Because their life it's a fucking all or nothing situation you know, and if you think it's hard succeeding at selling clothing or whatever. I mean doing art is like a needle in a haystack. And the stuff I do is for clothing and it's not art In the Gallery Sense. 
But I would say with this project, it makes sense to show the original work together with the boards. And we are planning to launch it in Copenhagen in May. 


So in terms of the colours of the boards, were they chosen by the brands or?

That's another interesting thing, and I have to give credit to Eric and the team for coming up with the idea of the different colour bases. Because I created the work on white paper, so the base is white and most of the detail it is caught up within this base. However when you take away the base and change the colour it really creates a new feeling with the visual. The graphics are also made in a way that you can hang them all together as one piece. Or have them separate. But the wood grains will always be random and change, which I really like. And that's also classic Soulland. So in that sense, it's like there's something that's, a synergy between the two sides.

I was going to ask you this, are you more comfortable with it now because I know it was quite a sacred thing for you.

I mean in the beginning skateboarding was a very sacred thing. I did a project a while back that didn't really come out right. So I was little bit afraid of doing anything with skateboarding again. But now I feel like it’s done the right way and so for us to sell this in core skate shops is the most important thing for me. I'm not interested in having this at places that don't appreciate the culture, product and the story behind it. 

Well this isn't you doing a skateboard. This is a skateboard brand working with you as an artist.

I mean it's pretty fucked for like 12 year old me to think I'd get to do a pro board for Guy Mariano you know. I mean that's really like on my list of top things of all the time.  Also I feel like in some ways it feels more special for me to do a pro skateboard then doing for instance even the SB projects. Because on a personal level the pro board is everything in skateboarding, you know, like the whole industry, the whole look, everything. It's all based around that pro board you know. Of course now there's so many brands and there's so many pros. But I really think back of the relevance of those old pro boards. 


Yeah remembering as a 12 year old how much it took to get a new board. Exactly how much you had to save up to get one.

Yeah I remember my first job was when I was 13, and I was a bus boy at this skateboard distribution company. And when I stopped working there I had to pay full money for boards again which sucked. Back then you know, there wasn't any ways to just do your own board. There wasn't even any shop boards then. You had your brands that you would buy and for my crew and me it was Girl and Chocolate. And I skated so many Guy Mariano boards.


So that’s a real moment for you to come back full circle and be doing a graphic for his board?

Exactly! I remember very clearly when I watched Mouse or for the first time. Up until then I saw a lot of skateboard videos but it was like 411 or some of the Transworld videos. You know like very classic skate videos. But Mouse was different.

I'd say around 95, 96, there was like this explosion of videos. Everyone was doing a skate video, even Shorty’s who were bolt makers.Before that there'd been a slower culture of dropping skate films.

Right! But when I saw Mouse the first time, where the mouse is dropping Mike Carol off to work at an in-N-out burger. With all the skits done by Spike Jonze and the music done by Eric Duncan.  It was different, and that soundtrack still is so great. 


Did you also used to record the soundtracks out the back of the video player?

Yeah Yeah, we did. And I remember when Napster came we used to search there for the tracks.

But in that video, I mean when a Guy Mariano's part came on and he skated to a Herbie Hancock. I still watch that part every once in a while. I think it's for sure one of the best skate parts of all time, like still to this day it's insane. And it's true. I mean it's more than 20 years ago.


I always think that you can note timelines in your teen years via the board you were riding and the music that was in certain skate videos. You also discovered music via those skate videos back then. Most of the time they didn't even credits, maybe because they weren't really supposed to be using them. 

I mean for me it was the same. And it was the same time I started to get into digging creates and buying vinyl. And some of the older dudes at the skate shop who were also digging, they would sometimes let yet you know the list of songs.


I remember asking you and Eric (Koston) what your favourite video part was when you first launched FRIday, do you remember what it was? I can’t remember now.

It was a great question. And I think Eric’s was Mark Gonzales in video days and mine was Guy Mariano in Mouse yeah. I mean Mark Gonzales in video days is probably for street skating the part that really shows it from a cultural and emotional point of view. That's where it shows street skating in the purest form. I mean you look at it and you feel the joy of having fun skating. It really shows that. 


Anyway so what are the next steps with this project? Just a one off or?

I don't know. I haven't even thought that far. In general we take it one project at a time.

CultureGraeme Gaughan