Mike PYRO x SOULSIDERZ
1. I can still remember the 1st day we met at Motor Yard. I believe it was 1991 & we got rolled up together. I will never forget being in the holding cell with you & you pulling a scribe out of the sole of your winos and getting up.
You were a product of LA's iconic 80's having been involved in several aspects of legendary movements such as the punk scene, gang life & the pioneering graffiti scene, what was it like coming up in those days & how did you juggle it all?
That day sucked ass! Haha. I wasn’t even painting when the cops rolled up and they still threw me in jail. Fuck the Police! Anyways, growing up we didn’t think anything of it…I mean we weren’t looking to the future or even thinking that we were doing something that would turn out to be so historical. We were just a bunch of rebellious kids trying to survive in Los Angeles gangland of the 1980’s…we hated the system, we hated the police, we hated society, we hated the government. Most of my friends were gang banging and most of them didn’t like the fact that I was writing my name and not the neighborhood. In the early 80’s punk rock was still in its infancy, gang life ruled the streets and graffiti art was unheard of except for a handful of us that were into it from either going to NYC, seeing pictures or knowing someone back east, this was before Subway Art came out. There was no internet and no social media to show us what was going on in New York…if we were lucky we had a friend who would snail mail us hard copy photographs…that was the beginning of photo trading as well. We wanted something different. We didn’t fit into what society accepted, or what the television and popular culture of the time represented. We truly just lived for the moment, doing ‘our’ thing and not giving a fuck about anything else. Good times! I miss those days, it will never be that way ever again, such a magical time period in Los Angeles.
2. Who or what inspired you at that time? did you have a favorite writer or were you more inspired by the hood placasos that were so on point in those days? I've always noticed a strong So. Cal style in your work. You seemed to morph the cholo style into the graff style and put a stamp on the Pyro style.
At the time I was inspired by the gang writing and block letters that graced every wall in Los Angeles. I was heavily influenced by WS Playboys hood (Pico and Fedora) with the massive solid filled spellouts they had rocking their hood. I was also influenced by Diamond Street and the stylized spellout blocks that they had rocking their hood. I started going to jail in the mid 1980’s and hung out with a lot of OG veteranos from old time cliques (both east and west side) and learned various penitentiary hand styles early on…so yeah, I was heavily influenced by gang writing. This was before graffiti art hit LA. I started doing block letters, filling them in with cracks, spiderwebs, gunshot holes etc. I went to NYC in 1981 and got to the witness the classic trains firsthand and I was hooked. I didn’t know anything about “writing” at the time, but subconsciously it grabbed me and never let go. After that I slowly started experimenting with colors and different letter structures. From that point on I continuously evolved and changed my style with influences from daily life.
3. How did you acquire the name Pyro ?
Prior to me writing Pyro, I had the name of “El Lighter”… I was that kid that didn’t smoke but always had matches or a lighter in his pocket, always setting leaves on fire or blowing up firecrackers, melting army men etc. Since I was influenced by the gang culture that encompassed LA, and since I always lit everything on fire…El Lighter fit well. One day while hanging out with my sister and a neighborhood friend up at Wattles park in the Hollywood Hills, drinking and smoking…I was pretty faded and looked at the cheap lighter in my hand and -boom- the name of the lighter was PYRO brand lighters. That was that, name changed instantly. The only thing was I started writing it PIRO…instead of PYRO with a Y. Why?…to be different.
4. How & when did you click up with WCA?
WCA was formed in 1985 by Rival, Miner and PJay. At the time I had seen them around, saw their tags and pieces in the neighborhood, saw them at the Pan Pacific (Los Angeles’ first legal yard and first wall of fame), but I didn’t know them personally. The night before the first day of high school (Fairfax HS) I broke in and bombed the main courtyard where everyone hung out for recess and lunch. I sat there during break, a few yards from my piece, just watching everyones expression when they looked at it. From the corner of my eye I saw Rival, Miner and PJay walking up towards me. Rival immediately asked if i had done the piece (knowing full well i had)…when I said I did, he instantly asked if i wanted to join their brand new crew called ‘West Coast Artists”…I said yes. At that point it was me, Rival, Miner, PJay, Design9, Risky, Cooz, Rak, Sed and Sel. These guys instantly became my family and still are to this day.
5. I know you were hitting the west coast tracks, Motor & Fairfax pretty hard, what other yards did you frequent and which was your favorite?
West Coast Tracks, Motor, Sunset / Fairfax, Ohrbachs, Pan Pacific, Melrose alleys, Belmont Tunnel, the underground pedestrian tunnels by the Hollywood Bowl, Venice, Jefferson yard…these were the yards that we hit and hit hard. It started with the Pan, that was the first yard. I was painting there in 1984 and 1985. Also in ’84 and ’85 I rocked many early pieces in the underground pedestrian tunnels by the Hollywood Bowl and it turned into a mini yard for a little while. Sunset and Fairfax was my personal yard, I grew up blocks away and was the first person to hit it back in 1984 ( thats why I felt like it was my personal yard - because i found it and I rocked it…first). I would go there and paint by myself all the time. I brought Miner and Mist there in early 1986 and from then on it turned into a full fledged yard. Venice was hit frequently, unfortunately my neighborhood gang ties made it a little more difficult for me to paint there in the early 80’s, back then there was a heated rivalry between Hollywood and Venice, especially within the punk rock scene. Ohrbachs (which is now the Peterson Museum on Wilshire) was so much fun. That yard ran from 1986-1987 before it got deaded. Motor was the spot in the late 80’s (87, 88, 89). Melrose being my neighborhood was always fun and easy to paint back then, long before Melrose became the “hip” spot to shop. Belmont tunnel had been going and continued to get hit…I first painted there in February of 1986 (the WCA - K2S battle)…there was still bare wall at that point. After the battle we painted there regularly for years. All in all, I loved every one of Los Angeles’ early yards. Every one was special in its own way, but my favorite was the West Coast Tracks (Pico and Sepulveda). We owned that spot (hence it being nicknamed West Coast Tracks) Every weekend you could find heads from the crew painting there and we did some of the illest burners and productions on that long ass wall. That is where we experimented with new styles, tried to outdo each other and everyone else in the entire city. Good fucking times.
6. I've heard many stories about the bus days and the "bench" any memories you care to share?
Ahhh the bus mobbing, writers bench days…that time period was a trip. The whole scene began change from small and blow up around that time. The writers bench really exploded underneath us. The whole history of the writers bench is this: In 1986 me, Rival, Miner, PJay, and Sed went to Fairfax High. Every day after school we would all take the 217 (Fairfax Ave bus line) to get home. On Fridays we all decided to hang out after school before we went home to get ready to go out that night. Since we all took the Fairfax bus, but got off at different stops, we all decided to go to the Carls Jr. on Olympic and Fairfax because thats where PJay and Miner would transfer to the Olympic line to go home. We started hanging out there and drawing in black books, getting outlines and color schemes ready for the weekend missions. After a month or so, a few writers that went to Fairfax as well found out that “WCA” hung out at the Carls Jr after school on Fridays, they would come down and we would all draw, hit each others books etc. The word quickly spread to other writers in other schools all across the city. As time went on more and more people began showing up every Friday, hitting every bus that drove by. The amount of people that were there on Fridays was crazy…easily in the 100’s. Undercover police tried to infiltrate the spot and bust people tagging. Dozens of people would bum rush every bus that would roll by, hitting front windows, drivers side, passenger sides. Newspapers ran articles on vandalism with photos of kids hitting busses at that corner, news stations ran stories of ‘Youth Gone Wild’. I kept a low profile because thats always been my style..you know ‘Get in and get out without being seen, except for the work”. Now that infamous spot is talked about in hip-hop songs and someone even made a sign a put it on that corner (its already been stolen - so don’t bother looking)…and it all started because we liked to draw after school. Many people have heard of the writers bench, a few people actually were at the writers bench, but only a couple of people actually know how it really started.
7. Who are some unsung 80's writers that you remember seeing up & that made a lasting impression on you?
There are so many writers own the 80s that were so OG…because in the 80’s, especially the early 80s everything was original. There was no internet to bite from, you had to develop your own style. You had to invent the tools because there was no graffiti stores or companies like there is now. Triax was a bus king. He used to take a 12 inch high school chalk board eraser and a quart of marsh ink and do huge single name tags on the entire side of a bus. My crew mate Rival (RIP) was an all around king…burned the wild style , crazy main street throwups all over the hood and roll on drippers on all the buses. ( Back then we had to make our own markers, so we took Roll On antiperspirant, popped the ball out, filled it with Marsh or Flo-Master ink, and a strip of a chalk board eraser ..and.. boom:King size dripper). Old School. Early piecers (84-85) like Eaz and Stylie3 had super stylish pieces. When Seen, Blade and Zephyr came here from New York in the early 80’s and painted…yeah…big inspiration. The first Los Angeles ‘street artist’ was Miner (doing stencils, stickers, wheat pastes and abstract art in public space in the mid 80s, long before the current trend)…and he was the first person to go all city as well. Wisk and Ser with their numbered throwups all across the city are legendary. Dream SMD (RIP) and his silver and blue burners. these are just a few. There are so many forgotten people because there is very little record of it, just what those of us who were there can remember.
8. What do you see as some of the major contrasts from yesterday to today ?
Major contrasts from days of old to now? Damn, there are so many. The first and foremost is money. Graffiti is a multi million dollar industry now. With the influx of money which is directly tied to the popularity of graff in mainstream society, we now have people from all walks of life trying to cash in on the foundations we laid. There are people getting paid to paint the same walls that I was arrested, chased or shot at for painting. The initial raw energy of the subculture and movement is long gone and has been watered down with fame, money, sponsorships, street art, stickers, galleries, museums, tv shows, commercials and money…lots of money. Don’t get me wrong, its great to be able to support yourself by doing what you love, and the world has become a much more creative and free thinking place as a result of the art revolution that graffiti has spawned…but it is hugely different from how it was in the beginning. Popularity is another major difference. When I first started writing there were maybe, a big maybe, 100 people in LA that wrote. It wasn’t popular or accepted in any way at all, as a matter of fact my own homies didn’t like that I had a ‘tag’ name and wrote that instead of the neighborhood. It was an extremely small closed subculture that the public had absolutely no idea of, now you can’t walk a block without running into a piece, or someone tagging. What we were doing was vastly different from the norm of society and looked down on, as opposed to it being wildly popular, and socially accepted now. Im not saying one is better than the other, just different. If you didn’t experience the ’golden days’ of Los Angeles graffiti, its almost impossible to truly understand and feel the differences.
9. What's the most memorable mission you can share?
There are so many memorable missions…the ones that really stick out in my head were the early (1985-1986) missions inside RTD bust yards to paint pieces on buses…and back then they would run! One mission in particular that stands out is a late night mission to the Blue Bus yard in Santa Monica. I was with Miner and Mist. If you know that bus yard, you know you can just walk in thru the main gate (back then there was no security booth or cameras)…well, we just rolled in and got lost in the maze of parked busses (also back then they didn’t park the buses in rows like they do now, making it easier to spot someone in the yard, back then the buses were parked all haphazardly in no real order, thus creating areas where no one could see you). We had been in the yard for about 30 minutes when a work bum came around the corner and spotted either Miner or Mist and screamed for us to stop…BOOM…we jet. All 3 of us split up and scatter in the yard snaking our way back toward the gate. Back then, across from the entrance was a huge empty field with weeds and trash…Me and Miner bolt across the street into the field with 2 or 3 work bums chasing us with flashlights. Once we hit the field (which had weeds about 4 feet tall) we split and go different directions, still with flashlights and screaming close behind us. As I am running I tripped on a rock or brick or something and fell flat on my stomach…instead of getting back up (because I knew the dudes chasing us would be right on me by then) I just lay flat and silent hoping they didn’t see me fall…3 seconds later the work bums run right over me, dudes boot landing about a foot from my head…they kept going in the same direction…I slowly get up and check for anyone else and -boom- I get up and run back the other way, not knowing where anyone is or if anyone got busted. I walked down Main Street towards Santa Monica to catch the bus home, paranoid that the cops were looking for me. No cops sighted, the bus comes (after a long 30 minute, middle of the night wait)…exhausted, I take my seat, passenger side rear…and go home.
10. A question we like to ask old school writers is, If you could bring back 2 paint colors what brand & color would it be?
Krylon Hot Raspberry and Krylon Icy Grape. Those two colors are made by a multitude of paint companies now, but they were my favorites back then…and now in terms of can collecting.
11. I've had the pleasure of seeing lots your tattoo work, the one you just busted on Besk(LOD) was straight fire. How & when did you start tattooing? Did you apprentice or were you self taught?
I apprenticed back in 1997 and worked with many who are now considered ‘legends’ in the tattoo industry. I learned all the basics such as making my own needles, mixing my own ink etc. Shortly after getting my first job in a tattoo shop, I was given the opportunity to travel the world tour managing rock bands…so I jumped at the opportunity to get paid to travel the world. I still tattooed, but it was only part time, on the tour bus, at hotels or guest spotting in shops…I didn’t take it seriously as a career back then because I was having so much fun bouncing across the planet.. (all the while I was still tagging clubs, alleys, gas stations and truck stops across the nation) I did the part time here and there thing for the next decade or so, until I found myself burnt out on constant touring and living in Las Vegas. I started to take tattooing seriously as a full time carrier, that was around 2005 or so. That is my primary focus now, its what I love doing. I am glad I learned correctly from the old school and was taught about tradition, to respect history and to honor the magic of tattooing.
12. How would you describe your tattoo style?
I enjoy doing lettering the most, but I don’t just lock myself into that little bubble only. I grew up with graffiti, was taught traditional and fine line tattooing in the 90’s, so I guess my style is a mesh of all three. I love fine line black and gray and traditional as well. I have worked in street shops most of my tattoo career and that is why I try to be able to handle a multitude of styles. One thing I feel a lot of newer tattooers forget is that we are altering someones life and body permanently. I try to be an all around artist and provide solid quality tattoos that will last a lifetime. But if I had to say one, freehand (drawn on with a pen) lettering is by far the most fun for me…and anything graffiti related.
13. Who are some of the other people you have worked on? Is the a piece you've done that you consider your favorite?
Ive tattooed many ‘famous’ people including members of Blink 182, fashion models and many others. To me I don’t really care how popular anyone is…I’ve always been the anti-hero type of person. I enjoy the one on one with people, getting to know people from all walks of life and hear their personal stories. It gives you an appreciation of the diversity of this planet. Ive tattooed rock stars, artists, junkies, gangsters, skaters, porn stars, murderers, models, combat infantrymen who have been blown up multiple times…everyone has a story and to me every story is just as interesting as the other. It is what makes up this thing called life. There is a saying that the only person a rock star looks up to is a tattooer. I have a lot of favorites, some of which i have included pictures of, some are favorites because of the tattoo itself, some are favorites because of the time spent with the client and memories it produced…it seems every new large piece I do becomes a new favorite. I just love tattooing, its the best job in the world. Where else can you get paid to draw on scantly clad beautiful women? haha. To me, the biggest honor any artist can have is to have your art permanently on someones body.
14. What shop are you currently at & how can people get a hold of you?
Currently I work at Union Electric Tattoo with my crew mate and fellow writer Big5. I also have a private studio in mid city Los Angeles for long time clients, or for people that want a more private setting. I primarily work by appointment, but you can catch me at the shop on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays doing walk-ins. We are located in Gardena @ 849 w. Gardena Blvd, Gardena CA. 90247. Phone number is 310 522 5003. To get a hold of me one can call the shop or email me (mikepyro13 at yahoo dot com) My website mikepyro.com is another way to view some work and set up appointments, the website is a constant work in progress so be sure to check back often.
15. Any upcoming projects in the mix you wanna let people know about?
In my life there are always upcoming projects. I am always creating something somewhere. I plan on doing some murals and tattooing in Budapest, Hungary later this year. Two projects which I intend to start this year (start, who knows how long it will take to finish) are books. I have a huge hard copy photograph collection of 1980’s Los Angeles graffiti. I want to do a coffee table book of 80s Los Angeles graffiti. No politics, no drama…just showcasing some long lost history in the form of photographs. I also want to start an auto biography of my life…having lived thru influential cultural movements and experiencing everything from punk rock, the streets, to gangs, jails, from graffiti to galleries, jet setting around the world and having a piece of mine in the Getty Museum permanent collection…my life has not been boring. Hopefully I can translate what my eyes have seen into something that will capture the reader and instill the feelings I have felt while doing what I did.
16. Any last words, advice for youngsters or shout outs?
My advice to everyone is this: Live life to the extreme. Find what you enjoy and rock the shit out of it. Before you know it you are decades older, don’t waste time. Chase your dreams, follow your heart. Life is a journey not a destination, experience it to the fullest. Stay positive, humble and teachable.