[Interview] Shaun White Presents Air + Style at The Rose Bowl: Snowboarders + Skiers + Kendrick Lamar, Steve Aoki, Diplo, The Flaming Lips, Phantogram, Portugal. The Man, Sleigh Bells, and More

We’re ten minutes into our interview talking about Air + Style, the snowboarding/skiing/music event that Shaun White is bringing to Los Angeles — its U.S. debut — on February 21 and 22 (purchase tickets here), and White’s dog isn’t having it. “Sorry,” White says. “He’s outside fuckin’ barkin’ at people.”

The Rose Bowl is about to get barking as well.

White needs little introducing. He has won 10 ESPY Awards, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and is the most-decorated X-Games medalist — a true iconic figure in snowboarding.

But perhaps you haven’t heard: he’s also in a touring band called Bad Things. The synthrock group is set to perform at Air + Style alongside heavyweights such as Kendrick Lamar, Steve Aoki, The Flaming Lips, Diplo, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Sleigh Bells, and Phantogram.

“We toured with Phantogram, who are friends of ours in New York,” White tells me. “They’re blowing up. They had a single, “Fall in Love,” and they’re playing Air & Style as well. So that will be great.”

White now owns Air + Style, a 20-year-old event first held in Innsbruck, Austria in 1994. It sets out to combine the best in snowboarding (Sage Kotsenburg, Mark McMorris), skiing (Joss Christensen), and music (Kendrick Lamar, The Flaming Lips).

I recently spoke to White about bringing Air + Style to the United States for the first time.

So this is the first Air & Style in the U.S. What made you want to bring it to the Rose Bowl?

I go way back with the event. I was a competitor there, had some of my first major wins in 2002 and 2003, so it was really big for me. And I remember loving this event, and it was super exciting and I was becoming well known in Austria, which was just a trip, when you’re 15 or 16, you know. (laughing)

So, I remember being a part of it there, and my career took me in a different path at one point when I entered the Olympics and other things. And the event grew and I became a host of the event when it moved into China five years ago, so it was a really cool role for me — promoting, hosting, all of that.

But I thought, “we should do something bigger, I’d love to do this for the United States.” And so, I knew the owner, and I opened the door with that, when we got to talking I just said, “look, if I’m going to be part of this, I want to go all the way.” So, I became the new owner of the event, and from there, the plan was still to bring it to the United States, and I’m thinking, “gosh, I grew up riding Big Bear, Snow Summit, these mountains…it’s actually so much nicer to ride when it’s warm and soft, you know, pleasing conditions outside.

I remember skiing in warm weather once, somewhere in West Virginia. The best time, for sure. 

Yeah. Yeah, people are like, what, you grew up in Cailfornia? And I’m like, “yeah, I rode in a sweatshirt, it was awesome.” People I know in New York are like, “it’s gonna snow, are you pumped?” And I say, “I’m from the beach, man.” I love to snowboard, but I get out after the event. (laughing)

As for the Rose Bowl, I remember being at the Bowl for like a flea market, and people were scattered all over the outside as well as the inside, and I was thinking it would just be a perfect scenario for us. Plus, it’s so central to L.A.

Well, let’s talk about the athletic talent. You’re not competing in the event, but you’re playing music with your band, and I’ll get to that in a minute. But can you talk about the roster of talent — you have Sage, Mark McMorris and others.

It’s heavy, man. There’s always like the funny talk about me and the industry, and how I don’t like the cold that much, but these guys live in the mountains and ride 24/7. Mark’s from Canada, I mean…it’s kind of their life in a way. I’ve always lived a different lifestyle; my friends are musicians and artists and actors — just because of the area I grew up in. So, it’s great to have them standing behind me in support of this event. For me, it’s awesome to have that happen. Of course, Sage won the Olympics, McMorris in an X-Games gold medalist may times over.

And this was pretty heavy, too — the original creator of the event, it took some convincing, but I told him, “let’s put skiing in the event.” And he was like, “Uhhhhh…” Because he comes from that day in age where they didn’t want skiers on the mountains, they were kind of cutting them off at every turn to create their own companies or be part of the snow industry at that point, So, it was a very frowned upon thing. And I said, “look, my generation, most of us ski and snowboard — I don’t see the difference. It’s kind of an old thing and outdated.” And you don’t want to be the guy excluding the skiier. So I brought skiing on, which was a big change for everyone. I’m really excited about it — we have Josh Christensen and Bobby Brown, really talented riders.

So let’s talk about the music part of it. The lineup of artists is world class. Can you talk about how you started to think about the lineup, and maybe who you wanted to perform?

So, it kind of went down…and thank you, man, thank you. Because I’m really proud of our lineup, and I’m really excited to see everyone perform. It was a mixture of things. It was my wishlist of bands I hadn;t seen before, and people who were available, and then, you know, friends — people who I could call.

The Flaming Lips was a great example. We bumped into them a couple of times, and we got invited to play a show with them on New Year’s Eve up in San Francisco at The Warfield, and after the show I’m telling them, “you gotta come to my show!” And they’re like, “alright, alright!” (laughing) So that was like our last big addition to the roster.

But being a musician as well, we have met bands, we’ve been able to bump into people and become friends. We’ve toured with Phantogram, and Cults is a group who grew up in San Diego. And obviously Kendrick Lamar, who just did SNL. I’m pretty excited about it because it’s a mixture — you have the Steve Aokis and Diplos of the world, and then you have Flaming Lips and Portugal. The Man and Surfer Blood…Edward Sharpe. It’s gonna be great.

Bad Things

And then your band, Bad Things. How long have you been touring with them?

(laughing) So that was funny because I was like, “We’re not gonna play. I don’t wanna play my own thing.” But then I’m like, “well shit, I’m gonna be so jealous when everybody is playing we’re not, you know?” (laughing) And then it just got to, “why not, you know? We should be playing to have fun, because that’s what the event is all about.” Just having fun and playing music. I just got too much in my head about what people might think, so I was like, “you know, we’ll play an appropriate time slot!” (laughing)

But the band, you know, it’s kind of funny how this came together. I won my first guitar at X-Games, it was an American Fender Strat. So, it was a trip. I wasn’t even supposed to play it — I think you were supposed to hang it in the wall, it was a really nice guitar, and so…it was bright yellow, said “First Place” on it. (laughs) So I started playing the guitar, and I just fell in love with it. I would travel with it, and keep an amp in my board bag, and pedals and all these things. Oh, and you find out there’s different voltage in Europe and your amp blows up. (laughing)

It’s kind of like speaking a language almost. You make friends through music, and that’s what it really did for me — it kind shaped my life at that point. It’s really funny, people think sports really changed my life, but it wasn’t…(Bad Things) really kind of put me on a different path, because at that point all my friends were super into hip hop and Eminem and Ludacris, and this got me into the rock genre. And so anyways, I started playing with friends in the neighborhood, and this guy Anthony, he grew up on the street above me. He’s in the band, back up singing and rhythm guitarist — he was the guy who showed me how to play, he studied music in school. So, we linked up and things got pretty serious when we moved to L.A. There was a guy names Jared Palomar who was in Augustana, so we grabbed him, and then we met our lead singer, Davis LeDuke.

And I wouldn’t let anyone listen to us play, I was super weirded out about it. And they were like, there’s this one guy from Warner Brothers who is super honest, and he’ll just walk out if he hates you. So I was like, “alright, I like that!” (laughs) Because I don’t need anyone to come pat my ass and tell me I’m special. Be real, you know? (laughing) So he came over and he said, “this is cool, I think I have some thoughts.” And from there we got really motivated and kept writing and writing. It was an interesting process because we completed the whole album before we ever played a show.

And then at Lollapalooza we lucked out — we had one of the main acts drop out, and we took their slot because we just happened to be there. (laughs). They’re like, “the main act dropped out, we need a band to fill this slot.” And we’re just standing there with our instruments there like, “uhhhhh….” (laughing) So, like, fuck, okay! But anyways. (laughing)

Purchase tickets to Air + Style at The Rose Bowl in Los Angeles here.

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