MIKE LILLY’S LOVE FOR BLADING IS THE STRONGEST ITS EVER BEEN
AN INTERVIEW WITH A STYLE MASTER
When I think of Mike Lilly, the first thing that comes to mind is style.
For Lilly, it all began in 1986 with a field trip to a roller rink in Tampa, Florida. At the prime age of 3 years, Lilly found something distinct and intriguing with having wheels beneath his feet. From there, his passion would blossom, fluctuating along now a 30+ year journey on skates.
He was distinct in his upcoming days in the early 2000s, a promising AM for Roces, donning tight jeans, a wild sense of humor, and an intriguing yet fully bad ass approach to blading; Mike Lilly was and still is rock and roll.
With all of Lilly’s ups, came a handful of downs. Throughout that, however, his passion for blading remained, even if it weaned at certain points prior, today, Lilly attests, it is at the strongest it has ever been.
This interview was conducted on January 28th, 2018. It has been revised and condensed from the original conversation.
So we’ll talk about your beginnings obviously. Let’s get into this first photo, this is of you back in 1986, you’re 3 years old here… is this the first time you had wheels underneath your feet? Or was there a previous experience?
No, that was the first time. I had gone on a field trip with a preschool I was at called Storybook Ranch, and that lady is Ms. Franky, she was the lady that ran it, she’s the woman in the photo with me, and that was the first field trip I went on and it was to Skate World in Tampa. That’s where that photo was taken. My parents went too, I guess they thought, “if he can get on skates, we can taken of picture of it”. And I did, so they did.
So from there, did you develop a passion from that point or was it a few years later on? Cause this photo is dated in 1986, and we don’t really see an inline skate until the 90s I believe around that time.…
Yeah, even when I started elementary school, field trips were a big deal and we would go to that skating rink, and I always looked forward to it. I remember being in 1st grade and being really stoked to go to the skating rink for a field trip, because I knew I could do it and it was fun. Every time I went I had so much fun. I have really early memories of me at the skating rink and thinking, “man, I’m going really really fast.” Just feeling comfortable doing it.
So let’s fast forward a little bit. Obviously you get on a pair on inline skates, you get into the street aspect of skating. When does that happen for you and where are you living at that time?
I was about 11 years old. I had bought some skates from my best friend at that time, this guy Brandon Laxton I went to school with. He sold me some Tour hockey skates. I really didn’t skate them. I mean I skated them around my neighborhood. But I would go to the skating rink…essentially my social life began at the skating rink. I knew people there that I didn’t go to school with, so I was always looking forward to seeing them on Friday and Saturday nights.
So I had the skates that he sold me, and we used to mow lawns together, and then I slowly transitioned using them at the skating rink, but then I saw a kid that had a pair of old rollerblades, like, they had to be lightnings or something. And that was probably in later 1994, and that’s when I saw NISS or the X Games on TV…once I saw that, I was obsessed with it. My grandma was living with us, and she wouldn’t have much to do, so she would always tape skating off of ESPN for me. Cause she saw how stoked I was about it, so my grandma was sort of the first person that really did anything to encourage me to start doing it.
Dude that’s fucking awesome. You wouldn’t think that a grandmother, of all people, would encourage something like that, just because of the danger aspect, you know? So, you get into skating, and, in 2000s, you start to come to more of a forefront. You get your up and coming feature in Daily Bread in 2004. In that time period, who are you skating with and where did this drive to hone in on who you were as a skater? Your style was something very distinct to me when I first saw you skate….
Well, even in the late 90s, I was living in Tampa, I was skating with Sean Santamaria, Kyle Walling, Justin Ayan, Josh McDonald, this guy Russ Brown from Clearwater, and then, when I was 19, I moved up to Tallahassee cause we use to always go up there for trips, cause there’s tons of shit to skate there, it was hilly, which weren’t use to, and it was about 4 and half hours away. So, around that time, Sean was living in Tallahassee too, and I think style came to me early on, like I still was a teenager, watching the England video,Jon Julio, Josh Petty, Dustin Latimer, Dominic Sagona, those were the guys I was obsessed with because they had distinct style, all of them had shared a fluid style.
I think there’s a charisma to them too.Josh Petty had this appeal of a rockstar, he was a chameleon in a way though, he could work in between different genres, rock, hip hop, trip hop… I definitely see that cast of skaters shows in the type of skating you encompass for yourself.
And also what made a huge impact on me, as far as when, I start wearing tighter fitting pants, and having this more rocker approach, was Jon Elliott in Brain Fear Gone.
I was watching that, and mind you this is 15 years ago, and the shit he is doing is a lot…it’s what a lot of people are doing today. And I think it’s incredible, because I think Jon was a bit understated in rolling during his time, and I always admired his approach towards skating because there were certain minute things he would do that made you rethink it; “dude, I can do that shit, that’s really fucking cool”. He would focus on these simplicities of skating, but it was rock and roll, you know what I mean?
The thing about his skating that was distinct to me, was he wasn’t one of the skaters that could anything anybody else could, but what he could do, he made it look really well. He took what he did, what he was capable of doing and made it look the best he could.
Only Jon Elliott could do something like that and make it look good like that…
For sure. And he was one of the first people I remember starting to skate interesting spots rather than people going to the same rail, ledges, whatever. same basic obstacles and doing their variations on them, he was skating things… he was the guy getting on the roof and grinding the little drainage pipe and dropping down and doing safety grabs. He was the guy taking simple shit and kind of making it more dangerous on an interesting obstacle, which was to me at the time, I had been skating for years, I been skating basic obstacles with my friends and and try to master what I could do technically on them, so it was refreshing to see a pro could skate different things and kind of open people’s eyes to new way of skating rather than just recycling the same old spots.
I think we are seeing that kind of skating more so now than we did in the past. Not to say the big stuff that like Haffey or Broskow did, it served its place in time. I think rollerblading has developed into its own mature level of doing certain things that still retain a high skill level but maybe not as much risk involved. It can still involve a shit ton of skill. That said, you’re acquiring this skill in the mid 2000s, you get on Roces. So who put you onto that and what was your experience skating for a company like that?
Basically, we were going to Birmingham, Alabama to skate with the Rejects guys pretty often. And Charles just started skating for Roces, Sean was skating Majestic 12s, and like, we were obsessed with making skating look a certain way, so the skates fit that, they looked like dress boots to us at the time. So I was showing more interest in those skates, and out of nowhere, Charles called me up one day and asked me if I wanted to ride for Roces and I was immediately like, “yes, I wanna do that, those skates look fucking amazing, I am glad they’re making a classic skate skate-able again.” So I got some skates and just continued filming Road to Nowhere in those skates, and I got used to them. It kind of like afforded me more of an opportunity to travel. Basically what Roces was, Charles Dunkle and Shawn Engler were filming and making media stuff, and Jon was giving us travel budgets and per diem things…
So, just to clarify, Jon Julio is involved in this situation prior to Valo. He’s brought on, he’s skating Roces, he’s working as a manager in a way…
Well Charles was team manager. Jon Julio was just kind of like, the connect to Roces in italy, to be like, “give these guys this budget”. And he kind of worked out those details, and Charles worked out who the riders were and what we were gonna do (with promotion).
So you’re on Roces, you are at what level with them during that time?
I was AM the whole time. I was never pro for them.
So you’re AM, you film Face the Music. You do this, Valo then happens, so then what happens with Roces?
Well, I was kind of confused about that, cause we just made Face the Music, and it made such a huge splash with everyone, like people were buying the shit out of majestic 12s. And, we had known…well, I had known through Charles that Jon was starting a company, and to what I understood, they were gonna co-exist.
But I think…I didn’t really know the business side of it. Like I had no knowledge of like any of the business side of anything in rollerblading. I just knew that I was skating on a pro level and I was skating with pros and making sections comparable to their sections, so, at the time, when Roces kind of dropped out, I didn’t understand why cause we had done so well.
Well, they existed at the same level as that you would say as Salomon did, producing these high quality skates, having a budget for R&D, having a budget for advertising, having a budget for a team. Like they’re not just an aggressive skate company, they make other products. So they have that cashflow to funnel into you guys. But obviously for them too, they’re looking at it from a business perspective. So it’s like, OK, well, Jon Julio is creating this brand, and it’s catered specifically to aggressive, and it’s not gonna be anything else, and it’s not under the Roces moniker, so it is this new business venture, but at the same time, it is coming out of their cash flow, producing the skates, etc. So I think for them, they were gonna compete with themselves in way if they stayed producing skates under Roces…
I think so too, I just thought that we were making such a huge impact, that I thought the companies would co-exist. But at the time too, I don’t know, but Roces probably wasn’t selling a ton of non aggressive skates, they were probably trying to cut cost and focus on things that may have promised more of a future?
It makes sense, I mean if you look at this way, when Jon first started Valo, it was not hugely popular, he started out with a good team, the branding was great, but it took a little bit of time. The love and support that Jon gets now was through the years of hard work that he did, and he definitely had to get through those first few years of Valo for it to take off. But he knew how to do it right, he engaged people with like, “send me your setups”, he got a team of fresh talent, Erik Bailey, Cossimo Tassone, the list goes on. A lot of talented people. He built that brand properly. But at the same time, Roces had a a great team going, and it was different from what you typical saw from what was going on in skating. What Oli was doing, Charles, yourself. It was this different type of skating; it was rock and roll dude. It was literally fucking rock and roll type of skating.
I think that was what might’ve been the thing about it that made them feel like was it too limited. Like when Valo’s team came about, there was a mix of different kind of skaters; it was for everyone. They weren’t catering specifically to dudes that wore tight pants and listened to 70s punk. Like, that kind of what it looked like we were doing, and that was what we were doing, so I can understand from a business point of view of how they would want to broaden their spectrum of potential customers. Like that makes total sense. I would’ve done the same exact thing. It just kind of cut the momentum we had, that just affected our lives personally. I mean, people still take inspiration from that time and what we did, and that whole crew, Sean… and Kaspa and Jeremy Beightol…
Fuck yeah especially Beightol.
So I think that people going through a specific phase in their life, they can draw inspiration from that. But I guarantee a majority of the people who were skating at the time, because I was also keeping up with skating at the time, didn’t draw inspiration from that and I think that’s why they made the choice to kind of cut their cost, cut their losses, you know…
Yet they still made, and still make skates though…
See, and at this point, I don’t know. I hadn’t sat down with Jon Julio in a conversation about any of this. I can only speculate from an outsiders point of view, and from a customer point of view at this point cause I am not in the industry, but I think Roces is trying to kind of make as much money as they can wherever they can because it’s cheap for them to produce those boots.
Alright let’s refocus. You get on Roces, you finish Road to Nowhere. Let me backtrack this a bit. You met Brandon Negrete how?
Okay, Sean told me that Negrete…well, we were aware of who he was, because we had seen Noir and his work. So, the, what is it, umm, fuck, like people come through Tallahassee on tours and things, and I know Chris Haffey had come for the Remz tour, and I guess Chris took a liking to, or maybe just noticed Sean’s style, cause it looked different, and and I think, Brandon had just finished Forever Now, so, I think as a friend, Haffey was like, “yo, there’s this guy, you’ll be into his shit because of what you’re doing” and Sean obviously has fucking amazing style, so that was when his style was really coming together and the tricks were too..
So you guys develop a relationship through filming through Sean meeting Brandon. What was it like working with him?
I was basing all my expectations of filming off of what he had done with Forever Now. So I was like, “holy shit, this guy is filming me in the way I feel like right now things should be filmed and I haven’t seen anyone else doing that”. And he was making the videos look and feel a certain way that…it just hadn’t been done in rollerblading yet.
Let’s talk about you, post-Roces. Did they say anything to you?
I probably at the time was getting emails, but I wasn’t checking that shit. If we didn’t have a thing we were planning doing, I wasn’t checking my emails, keeping up with that, I was just like, “I’ll talk to Charles, if Charles needs me to do something he’ll let me know”. And then, kind out out of nowhere, he calls me up and is just like, “Roces is done”. And I was like, “Yeah right”. But then after talking to him more, it was the real deal. I felt confused, definitely, and I felt dropped. And I started checking my emails and stuff, and I don’t remember noticing any kind of signs or warnings that that was gonna happen. But, I could’ve had all of the signs in front of me, I just wasn’t paying attention. Because at the time, all I was paying attention to was doing the type of skating we were doing and lifestyle stuff, which was reckless, fast rock and roll shit. So I wasn’t the best person for me.
So what time period is this? 2006?
I think it’s early 2006. It’s fuzzy.
When did Face the Music came out?
I think 2005.
So that happens, then a year later that happens. So you’re off from there, and you’re pissed. I would be pissed. So you’re skating different skates, what is Mike Lilly at that point in that time?
Basically all it was was a bitter young guy, pissed off at companies that I had no understanding of, like I didn’t know what was going on in the business aspect of it, so I was like, I was just mad, and basically like, “fuck everybody”…
Well, that’s understandable. You put in this work, you skate for a company, you show the dedication, you put out the content, putting in the effort, representing the brand, as a marketing tool, which is what you are for a company, that is what a sponsored skater is, you are a marketing tool. So you’re doing your job. So for a company to turn around and say to you, without really any notice, “that’s it boys, we’re closing up shop, thanks for the ride”. And so from that kind of perspective, you can’t not be pissed off.
I mean, I’m sure, at some point, I could’ve kept skating on that level and reached out to Jon and I could’ve had some conversations and then like, try and skate for Valo, I’m sure Jon would’ve made that happen had I shown some initiative. But at the time, I think he was so busy starting up Valo that like, that there was just no time for him to reach out to me personally, and to try to make things happen for me because I wasn’t obviously trying to make anything happen for myself further. I was just like mad and had a bad attitude. And that was part of what we were doing and why it was great at the time because we were young and it looked cool, but thinking back on it now, he had a lot of things to take care of and he was trying to doing something great, and he needed people to support him to help in realizing his dream, and I don’t think I was one of those people at that time.
I mean time and place for everybody, you know…
I mean my attitude wasn’t right, I was in the headspace to get taken care of, not the headspace of taking care of shit on the business end. Like, I thought,” if I am skating on this level, people should fucking reach out to me and like take care of me.” But that’s just not realistic when you’re a business person that is trying to do something that is difficult and you already have so many people involved; there’s a lot to think about and I wasn’t thinking about it at the time.
You know it’s stepping stones man. I mean I was stubborn as fuck when I was in my early 20s, like the world should be handed to me kind of shit, like why should I try? And fuck, that was such a stupid fucking mentality to have.
Yeah and I think it’s a mentality that a lot of people at that age have at that time had. Like, younger kids now are smarter. There more considerate of all these things.
Oh for sure, I definitely think the younger demographic is more observant and better at handling themselves. I mean, I just feel like they’re more well spoken and understanding of what’s going on. So, obviously, we touch off of you getting off of Roces, the shitty way in kind of how you were get let go. You start skating some USD’s, during this time you film with Jon Jenkins for Thrill. How was that?
At first he was mentioning it to me and I was like, “yeah yeah, that sounds cool, whatever”. Kind of like, this isn’t gonna happen cause I am not motivated right now. Like, I am kind of getting skates every once in a while but, kind of not skating because I was mad at skating at the time. But he was a Florida guy, so I was like, “you know, I ‘m gonna film with him”, because he was young, and he was stoked about me, and he wants to make a video, and he’s showcasing some good people, so I was like, “ I’ll do a section with him”, so he can have that notch on the belt sort of thing. That he got me to come out and film with me when I was not motivated. That was probably the most difficult time anyone has had filming with me, because I was not motivated, not super excited to be skating.
How long did you film that section?
It was probably a few trips, maybe like, over the course of like a few weekends. Maybe 6 weekends or something like that?
So you skate with Alex now, and I feel like, when I shot with him, like, you become better; his meticulousness, his vision, his approach, it makes you better…
Oh yeah, skating with Alex in the past year has helped my skating so much. He’s helped me get back to a level of skating that I feel like I should be producing. Like I wanna film a part really badly. I wanna film multiple things with a few people and I have things in life that are kind of slowing that process down a bit, but I am gonna film a part again. I know it. And I owe a lot of that restored confidence to Alex, and because of his encouragement and because of his skill and witnessing it, and in kind of reminding myself, “I do skate on that level”, and that I still can. I just use what I already know from my own skating and what I reminded through skating with people at his level, I kind of realized my self worth again as far a my skating goes, kind of, I don’t know, restore the confidence in myself that I lost a while back.
Would you say you lost that confidence with what happened with Roces?
That definitely kick started a lot of that . I felt pretty rejected for a while. But in retrospect, but I didnt really do anything to better my situation in that way. Like I didn’t take the necessary steps to keep working on things.
So, you’d say after the whole Roces thing, you obviously fell back a little, kind of like, “fuck rollerblading”. You obviously filmed Thrill, but after that, which was what? 2006, 2007?
I think it was around 2007.
So after that time, you kind of go a bit dark. Cause I feel like, during this time, I don’t know what you’re up to. But then, a few years later, you have KCMO, and 18+, and the Kansas City stuff. Which is around what time? When did you get into that area?
I moved to Kansas City June 1st of 2013 and moved in with KC and his girlfriend at the time and Sean Santamaria. And we basically hanging out with SK and Alex and everyone that lived at the compound at the house at the beginning of KCMO. It’s a duplex, and, all the guys lived there. All the Haitian guys were here. Chris Cheshire was here. So we basically started hanging out with them day one. And we got breakfast with them the next day and that kick started that. And SK was more than willing to film and skate, although he had a lot of people to cover, which is complicated when you’re trying to film with 20 different people and they want to go to different places and have different ideas. He got what he could with me and Sean and he was happy to put us in those videos and to get what he could. He’s easy to film with, he’s got a good eye and I trust him as well, and I never filmed with him before that. But I’ve known him for a long time, but I only really started getting close with him when we moved here. And we got along in every way, so it made easy it to film with him, even though I wasn’t confident in the way I was skating at the time.
So if you don’t mind me asking, I want to fill in the gaps. You leave off with Thrill in 2007, and then reappear 2013 in Kansas. So that’s 6 years of time. So what happens with Mike Lilly in that time period? Before moving to KCMO, were you in Florida still?
In 2008, my mom passed away. And I always had a weird relationship with her because she was an addict and stuff, I always kind of resented her. So after she died in 2008, I didn’t really skate at all. I just worked a bunch and partied with people. And that was how I chose to mourn and deal with it. Which is never the best way to deal with it. Like drinking and being reckless is not a good way to deal with any of your problems; it’s not a good way to confront your issues. But yeah, I pretty much worked and partied a bunch, and was social as possible completely outside of skating.
So you went through this grieving period, you lost your mother, it’s definitely a tough time, this is a couple of years of this, what influences you to go from where you were at at that point, to Kansas City, and skating with everyone and all of that?
Well you also had gotten involved with Adapt, so when did that happen?
Well I had talked to Jon Jenkins after years, like we talked every once in a while on the internet, but James Johnson flew me out to Arizona for the 90 second piece for revolution. He got me an old pair of skates from Shima, an old pair of Nimhs, like the orange and black ones, and I went out and filmed that, and that took a week. Then shortly after that, I think people were reminded that I existed in skating (laughs). And then I got in contact with Adapt, but I don’t remember exactly how, I was kind of half invested in skating anyways. But they gave some skates, and they sent Sean a pair of skates too, which I thought was huge, because they were starting out and I knew they weren’t making any money, so I was like, “ alright, I will skate for these guys”. And then I think, after a couple of years maybe of, realizing that I wasn’t gonna put anything out, they were kind of like, “well, we can’t really do this anymore”. And I was like, “ I understand, you’re making $500 pair of skates that you’re sending me multiple times and I’m not skating. That’s dumb. I wouldn’t do that either.” He was pretty persistent too about content. But I kept putting it off. I wanted to be receiving free skates because I think in my own way, it made me valid? I didn’’t hold up my end of the bargain.
So how long did that relationship last?
About a year or two.
So you then move to Kansas City because…
Me and Sean had been talking to KC for a while on the phone. He had been trying to convince us to move up here, because they were filming the second fish guys. And, literally the deciding factor for me to move to Kansas City was Fishguys II.
Yeah, me and Sean had been watching it a lot and it just looked like the guys were having a bunch of fun and that there were tons of parks here. So we were like, “fuck it, lets get out of Florida”. I didn’t want to be there anymore and I knew Sean didn’t want to be there for years, so, we just packed up all of shit and left and came here.
Ok so, you come to KCMO, you film, you are obviously at your situation now. What is in store for Mike Lilly for 2018?
Well, there a few things that are a possibility for me. One is definitely to go to Philly to film with SK at some point. Not too sure for what yet. But I am a big supporter of Bacemint and everything they’re doing. Everything they film is beautiful and it should be appreciated by everyone, whether or not it’s for you. They have been in skating for a long time, they’ve been supporting the industry for a long time, and putting out amazing content, and I’m gonna continue to skate ThemSkates and continue to buy their skates, and continue to buy them from Oak City because Long is the fucking man. He does so much for skating and skaters, and everybody should, whatever the company it is that you chose to support, buy skates from shops. Shops buy skates from companies, and that’s why these companies can afford to make the skates that we all love. Because without all of them, we wouldn’t have anything. But whatever shop people are buying from, make sure you to chose your brands and buy new products. I mean I’m all about people collecting old things, Salomons, old senate shit, but like, people have to stop making this their primary purchases. You have to support these companies that exist today, you have to support these shops that exist today….
All the shops, all the companies that are making things currently, all the shops that are buying those things, support them. If you have a pair of skates in mind, and you’re gonna buy them, purchase them from a fucking shop. Blade Trade is great because it gets people in touch, there are lots of collectors on there, and people want to find things for their collections, which is great, but, if people don’t consistently buy products that are made, then people are gonna stop making them. And that is gonna limit what we are capable of. And ultimately look at what the general public, if they decide to purchase, they need to have options, cause these potential bladers that are out there have their personal taste and they don’t even know it yet. So if they come in to something that’s super limited, it’s not gonna make rollerblading that appealing.
So, let me end this with one last question, who’s your favorite rollerblader of all time?
Oh my god, favorite rollerblader of all time? Umm. Fuck. Alright. As far as that’s been consistent for the time I’ve been skating, it’s been Josh Petty. But I am not gonna answer this with a person that doesn’t blade anymore. If it’s somebody that I am always super fucking stoked to watch, it’s gotta be Jon Julio. Like he’s got this amazing style, it just like, he always has the most consistent, amazing style, and he’s gonna continue skating until he can’t anymore. And it’s obvious he does so much for rollerblading and I have the utmost respect for him in every way possible, especially when it comes to making skating look fucking amazing.