Bill Strobeck

"In Philly I saw like two homeless guys blowing each other and eating McDonald's afterwards."
Portrait & Interview by Maggie Lee

The first time I met William Strobeck I was filming something and he took a cashew from a snack bowl and put it between his fingers, moving them like there was a person dancing with a cashew hard on. He was wearing a leather daddy hat with a chain on it and a denim jacket. We didn’t really talk. A decade earlier, I had been in my bedroom watching his video for Alien Workshop's Photosynthesis. What was the deal with Jason Dill's bedroom in that video? I remember wishing my room was allowed to be that messy. He had one mattress on the floor and mattress up on the wall without sheets and there are one million receipts on the floor. None of the clothes were on his clothes hanger. That film was an east coast thing. I loved the style and wanted to recreate and surround myself in how it made me feel. Ever since, I have been following Bill's work, whether it photographs or films, they are so iconic and timeless. Damn, Bill is so sick!

How did you dress when you were a kid?
When I was really young my mother would take me to thrift stores to get all my clothes. She didn’t have that much money really, and probably would go there just to buy shit for herself. I went through a lot of different phases in my teen years. No joke, I would show up to school wearing slippers and random shit like that. I would also shop at Big and Tall stores because as skaters we wore oversized clothes back then.
You were a weirdo?
I wasn’t weird, I was real normal... at least I thought I was normal.
You were a skateboarder… did you dress like a skater?
I started skateboarding because of the style of it. Skateboarders looked cooler back then. They for sure looked different than everybody that I went to school with, and that was very attractive to me. The skateboard culture wasn’t really around me. I wanted to look like the kids I saw in the magazines. I would go to school with bleached hair and stuff like that, like I was part of some cult that was just so much bigger than this small thing that was happening at my school.
Were you going to shows?
I started going to hardcore shows around ’92. At the time all these rad cultures would go to these shows: skaters, people that wrote graffiti and liked hip-hop, kids that didn’t even like the music would go. They would all show up to this one thing and hang. I think everyone kind of felt normal. No one was judging each other. It didn’t feel like there were any walls up.

Photosynthesis, Alien Workshop, 2000

Why did you want to move to New York City?
I lived in Philadelphia for seven years. Time had taken it's course and it just became really boring to me. A few of my friends had moved to the city, so I moved here as well.
What year was that?
I moved here in 2002, but I was coming up here since ’98, filming skating and stuff.
How did you start working for Alien Workshop?
I had been given a camera as a gift and started filming a lot. One of the guys that was on the team lived in Philadelphia had asked me to film him. He ended up being a pretty dominant guy in skateboarding, especially in Philadelphia. The people at Alien Workshop were getting all the footage. Eventually they just asked me to work for them. 
Were you nervous? You were pretty young, right?
I was a little nervous at first, being so young and filming peopIe that I looked up to. I was, like, 19 or 20.
Was that when you met Jason Dill?
When I met Dill he had just moved to New York. He was so wrapped up in the style of the city. He was taking all this shit in that was happening here, like a sponge, and putting it into his skating. It was very artistic. I felt like I was making a project with him. He had a vision, and he wanted to do it, and it felt like I was helping him create his vision.
What's your favorite Dill tattoo?
I don't know, but he has a Winnie the Pooh on his arm. It's kinda funny because this other Irish kid that I grew up with named Kevin Griffen, who I was best friends with, was obsessed with Winnie the Pooh as well. Then I moved to New York and met Dill and we became really good friends. He would get his girlfriend all these Winnie the Pooh things he'd find. It’s so weird, cause him and Kevin are born in the same month.

Stud, 2012

Can we talk about filming Mark Gonzales on roller skates?
I had seen a photo of Mark on roller skates that someone posted online and noticed he was in New York, so I hit him up. He said that the next day he had some free time to meet up. The day came and it happened to be 99 degrees outside. He told me he wanted to roller skate from the Lower East Side below Delancey Street all the way up to 63rd and Lexington, which is pretty far, especially on a day where it’s supposed to be over 100 by noon. I ended up following him with the camera and kind of just let him do what he wanted. It’s how it always is with him. He does what he does and you document it in the way you want. The crazy thing is I ended up almost getting killed. He went under this tractor-trailer that was waiting to turn, I went behind him filming, and my backpack had hooked on a screw that was underneath. My arms were still in my backpack, I couldn’t move, but I shook it off, it unhooked, and I ran out from under the trailer. All the guy driving had to do was press the gas and the truck would've ran me over. I was by the back wheels, It was scary... I think Mark was even scared.
What is one of the gnarliest things that you’ve seen?
In Philly I saw like two homeless guys blowing each other and eating McDonald's afterwards.
What are your dreams like?
My dreams are really all over the place. I’m a really imaginative person in general. I’ve never had dreams where I’m dying or falling. They’re just really loopy and weird. If you could record them I wouldn’t even have to make a film, I would just put those out every month.
Why do teenage girls love skateboarders so much?
Girls love skateboarders. Skateboarding is a weird, rebellious thing, or at least it was at one time. The sound of skateboards going down the street will make you turn your head for sure. Girls do it too. Girls love skateboarders, they’re dirtbags, but fun dirtbags. 
What was your first crush?
When I was younger my mother was really sick with schizophrenia so I lived with my aunt and my uncle. My aunt’s friend lived five houses down from us and she had a daughter that was probably six or seven years younger than me. Since my aunt hung out with this lady, and they were best friends, I was forced to hang out with this younger girl. I remember trying to kiss her once. My aunt and uncle ended up moving away, so I had to move away too, and I wasn’t around that girl anymore. Sometimes I feel that I hang out with all these young girls because of that girl. I dunno, they're all super free and fun...

Sister, 2010

You have like a good handful of like girlfriends…
I also grew up with three ladies. I grew up with my mother, my grandmother, and my grandmother’s friend.
Grandmother’s friend?
Yeah, she lived with us, so I grew up around all women. I’m really comfortable around women. I have female tendencies maybe. Pisces is the feminine sign. You’re probably looking at me thinking that’s kind of funny, but I really believe in astrology.
I believe in it too. What are some films that have inspired you?
I love old Depeche Mode videos by Anton Corbijn,some stuff that Dennis Hopper has done. The Paradise Lost documentary was really fucking strong when I first saw it. It is a fucked up story, but those kids were interesting to watch. I could watch something like that, and make something based off the feeling I get from that. 
What is it you like about Dennis Hopper?
Well, the fact that he's a total original. He was very rebellious in such a smooth way. I don't watch that many movies. I have, like, 30 movies I watch, over and over It's hard for me to watch newer movies. Anyway, a couple of those movies were made by Dennis Hopper, like the Last Movie. When I watched it, I was, like, "This is what I think a movie should be like." He was super fucking out of his mind at the time he made that. I like that there's scenes missing and shit. There's titles wherever he wanted them. And he made that after "Easy Rider, which was such a big success. He was, like, "Well, fuck. Now they're gonna give me money to make the movie i really want to make." I just feel like that's such a solid movie. He was going against the grain. He did it. It's awesome. He's got a super solid career to look at.
What about Paradise Lost?
The filmmakers just caught something that I was instantly attracted to. I think my work was influenced by that. The people that I choose to document have very strong personalities. They kind of make my work. It's a little bit of me and a little bit of them, and it kinda makes one big thing. Without the people that I've documented, my work wouldn't be as strong. it wouldn't be as good. I get glued to certain people because I'm attracted to their personalities, the way they act, the way they are as people, because they just don't act at all. They just do their thing. They all are very different too, and there's something about them that I want to capture and show everyone else in the world. If you take away those people from everything I’ve done, the special things wouldn't even be there anymore. The special things wouldn't be there at all.

SC☺☺TERS, 2012

What else inspires you?
I can hear a song and the feeling I get will help create an image. The feeling of all these things together creates a new thing. That’s what art is: the projection of the things that have happened to you and your hang-ups. How you feel that day, what you ate an hour ago, it’s just all one thing. When I made “My Lovely Mess” that was just what was happening at that time in my life. I could take that same footage, the same exact footage and next month edit it, and it would be a totally different film.
What was the process for editing in the movie "My Lovely Mess"?
Well, you had asked me to do something for that film night that you put together, that movie literally only took four days to edit. I had footage laying around that I had filmed: I had gone on a trip to Jamaica, I had footage of my mother from the year before and the girl that lives in my family's house. All that was within a year's time. I just had it laying around. When you asked me to do it, I almost felt like you asked me to do it. I had to put something together because I only had a few days. I took all this footage I had and tried to make it into a film. That's how that worked out, I just made something that flowed out of a bunch of scraps that I had.
Yeah, and it worked out so well.
It worked out. I'm really happy with that.
Everyone was talking about it.
It was a small thing, and no skateboarding. I thrive on trying to do stuff outside of skating. I've done skateboarding for so long. This one is more personal to me than anything I've done.

From Sex Magazine #1 Fall 2012
Labelled Film