As I was reminiscing with Jahmal Williams about boards past for this post, it made me realize how little I knew about his first sponsor, Molotov Skateboards, but how hard-hitting that underground company was, with its avant-garde, super-simple graphics (remember, this was 1990), not to mention its lineup of future stars (Jahmal, Mike Graham, even Navarette, believe it or not !) and general acts of artistic randomness -such as making up fake pro names and running sequences with only the beginning and the landing of a trick.
Noway these dudes can be still around, I thought. Well, at least one still kinda is and actually maintains a great Tumbler page for Molotov.
His name is Andy Schansberg, and he happens to have moved pretty close to where I am at present. So here’s a little Molotov retrospective, pretty much in the bulls’eye of what I think defines Memory Screened’s Domaine De Prestige irregular feature : small companies with a major graphic interest.
From when to when did Molotov skateboards exist?
In 1989 I was working at a skate shop and going to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I did the research and found out the company that was pressing decks for Santa Cruz Skateboards was located not far away in Wisconsin. Over the school break, I took a tour and picked up some blanks in a concave that I liked. I started shaping them in the shop, doing the graphics and put together a catalog then I found a screen printer in Minneapolis.
I made some Molotov t-shirts and stickers in 1989. The first decks were pressed in 1990. In 1993 I packed up the Molotov space in Minneapolis and made the trip out to San Luis Obispo to join Small Room. In 1994 the first Molotov slick bottom decks came out in the CCS catalog. Not long after that Small Room closed up shop and that marked the
What was the intent behind creating the company?
I’d been making art and doing zines all along. I wanted to have a studio to make music and art but I wasn’t sure how that would support itself. I had thought about doing a shop but I wasn’t sure I’d get anything done with customers coming in and out.
The scene in Minneapolis was strong and it seemed like companies were doing pretty much the same thing at the time so I figured a DIY brand that broke the mold would get some support, at least locally.
When I started Molotov I didn’t model it after what anyone else was doing at the time. It represented skateboarding from my perspective. Everything was based on the music and lifestyles of the artists that had inspired and influenced me…my interests.
A good anecdote from this time? ASR-related maybe?
It was the early nineties and Rick Kosick picked me up at the airport and took me to ASR. Molotov didn’t have a booth so I carried the boards around the show in a duffle bag. As a kid, every time an ad said ‘send a buck for stickers and a zine’ I did. I always thought that was what it was all about. I was carrying stickers and zines around and just meeting people.
Why did you choose to make up fake pro names?
The companies at the time had the same basic approach to using pros to build their brands which all seemed to represent an industry formula that didn’t translate for Molotov. I had no plans to turn anyone pro, just loved skating. We used names that we made up for fun and started with Frank Nova which was my brother’s nickname….
My brother Matt and I would get together and essentially throw a dart at the phone book to come up with names that, to us, were interesting. It was very much like making up a band name.
The first one – as I mentioned before – was his nickname “Frank Nova” which came from driving a brown 1979 Chevy Nova. The Frank Nova and Marvin Schenk models were the first two. Incidently this same brother is the architect responsible for designing the Alamosa Skatepark in Albuquerque, NM.
Who was the OG team and who are some of the now-famous skaters that were on Molotov?
Initially I did a catalog with friends that I skated with, my brother Matt a.k.a. Frank Nova, Ted Sheu, and Karl Pearson. As the team grew it consisted mostly of people I met through skating when I first moved to Minneapolis. Some of the locals at the time were sponsored and getting coverage, Justin Lynch and Dave Leroux were pretty much the resident pros at the Oasis Skatepark. John Muldoon, Ian Lavine, and Monte Hillman were riders from that scene featured in some of the early Molotov ads.
Milwaukee locals Al Partanen and Sam Hitz would come up on the weekends. I got to know Turf Skatepark local Pete DiAntoni and asked him to take photos for the Molotov ads and catalog. Darren Navarette rode Molotov at one point. Brad Marr was skating downtown a lot. The street scene was already big and it was growing. The first time I saw Ryan Fabre skate, I was blown away. He was a Minneapolis local at the time, but I didn’t see him often…sort of a legend.
I had access to a darkroom and I started shooting photos of riders like Brad Marr, Scott Herpst, and Danny Jansen. They were all ahead of the curve. The team was filming and there was talk about doing a video. I was getting into some video editing just before the move to California.
How about Jahmal Williams and Mike Graham? How did these two happen?
We got a call from Beacon Hill, a shop in Boston. They said we needed to see Jahmal skate. His video was short and I remember rewinding it over and over… not only was he good but he was also super creative. Speaking to him it was obvious that we were on the same page, so he was on from the get go.
Jahmal and Mike were both in the Boston area. It was around the same time I received some photos of Mike and knew he was good…his style spoke for itself. We talked and it clicked. I haven’t been in touch with him but I hope he’s doing well.
How did you get to meet Andy Jenkins?
I had friends who took trips to visit Andy when he was doing Club Homeboy. Bend zine was a favorite of mine. The first time I wrote him, I sent him drawings, writings and a zine I’d done…and he sent me a stack of Bend zines.
Years later I was living in Chicago and I received another package from him. Those drawings and writings I’d sent were in a book he put together called I Check the Mail Only When Certain It Has Arrived. Andy is a busy guy…huge inspiration.
When was the last time you put out boards under the Molotov name?
The boards we did with Small Room came out in 1994. After they closed up shop I focused on art and travelled a lot, I did some Molotov zines and Tees during that time but it wasn’t until 2002 that I again pressed some decks.
The last time production models came out was in 2007 as limited edition decks and they sold through just a few shops. I had a show in Los Angeles of the one-of-a-kind Molotov decks I’ve done… it’s one of many ongoing projects.
Have you done graphics for other companies after that?
Recently Jahmal Williams asked me to do artist series boards for him and Jerry Fowler with Hopps Skateboards.
I’m really feeling the vibe with Hopps and I’m stoked for the new decks coming out. That’s a company to watch…Jahmal is building something based purely on creativity and skateboarding.
Planning for a second coming?
I like to think of everything as a part of a continuum…I’m open to variations on that theme. As far as Molotov being brought back as a company? It will happen when the conditions are right.
What are you up to these days?
I have a studio in Culver City where I’ve been working on some pretty large paintings along with works on paper and some sculpture. I’m a member of The Mixtape Club.
I also work at an ad agency in Santa Monica which is just a couple blocks off the beach.
The neighborhood is fresh…and it’s close to where my girl lives so I get to see her a lot…we meet at the beach for lunch. Life is good.
More Andy Schansberg? This way, please…