Shaun White is very famous and his band is not. Not yet, anyway.
The events leading up to watching the band Bad Things, one-fifth of which is two-time Olympic gold medalist snowboarder/skateboarder Shaun White, reminded me that I have not fully grown up.
In a six-hour span, I returned to a Detroit casino to cash out a $5 chip, bought a new friend breakfast as a thank you for giving me an “Atlanta ’96 Olympics” snapback and T-shirt, left Detroit for Chicago in hopes of getting into Lollapalooza, secured a wristband for Lollapalooza halfway through the trip, obtained said wristband upon my arrival, and then spent 20 minutes in a bathroom with my right hand, wrist, and eventually forearm covered in soap and lotion, in an attempt to force a wristband suited for a 7-year-old girl’s wrist around my man hand.
And succeeding. Because I believe in myself. And didn’t mind potentially dislocating my opposable thumb.
Because of this sequence of events, when I entered the massive festival I was down for anything.
Ellie Goulding? Why of course. Foals? If you say so. Kendrick Lamar? I saw him 48 hours before, sounds great. HAIM? ALWAYS. Death Grips? Haven’t gotten a concussion in a while, let’s do it.
Everything went according to plan until a rumor that had been floating around all day finally made its way to me: Death Grips were not performing. They weren’t even in Chicago. Because, apparently, they’re jerks.
But someone had to replace them; their set was one of the four headlining Saturday night stage slots, along with The Postal Service, Steve Angello, and Mumford & Sons.
The band that Lollapalooza picked: Bad Things.
At the time, I didn’t know what a “bad things” was. And if you ask me, it sounded like a pretty bad thing to name a band.
Not apologizing for that.
I was set to head toward Mumford due to the last-minute replacement before overhearing someone describe Bad Things as “You know, Shaun White’s band.”
No, I did not “you know.” I did not know Shaun White had a band. Or was in a band. Or was of band.
Ever curious about side projects/mid-career crises, I stayed. I’d made up my mind to skip the holy revival that was a Mumford & Sons show to listen to White sing while a bunch of hired musicians backed him up.
As the members of Bad Things walked on stage to tune their instruments, however, White picked up a guitar. It appeared he was simply a member of a band. Like, somehow, this wasn’t fully about him.
Now I had to see this play out. There must have been a catch. Like they only covered songs from the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 soundtrack or something.
But for the next 45 minutes, none of that took place. A fair amount of my inherent hateration fell by the wayside as I watched a band put on a surprisingly great show, causing a crowd to go from embarrassingly sparse to filled but skeptical to convinced by the end.
I truly didn’t know what to do with what I’d just seen, because I’d yet to accept the reality that a band featuring White pulled a substitute teacher move for Death Grips and did not fall on its face. But I wanted to know more.
So I chatted with the band. Because I like weird, and what they were doing, on the surface, was undeniably weird. But between that Lollapalooza performance and an applauded set at Montreal’s Osheaga Festival, it seemed to be working.
“Oh man, it was aggressive” said lead singer Davis LeDuke. The band recently got stopped by border patrol and had its car and trailer searched, a reality I could identify with. “They pulled us out of the car and were asking us at length what we had in the trailer, but eventually they let us go.”
Initially, I wanted to talk about the music. But I became immediately infatuated with how our lives on the road were slightly mirroring one another.
“In my old band, we just did little one-offs here and there,” said bass player Jared Palomar, formerly of the band Augustana. “But this is the real deal, we’re traveling everywhere together, spending all of our time together. We’re in a 15-passenger van with a 7×14 trailer attached. We all switch off driving. It’s nice.
“In a weird way, it’s even more intimate than a marriage. You’re with these people 24/7. It’s impossible to try to describe that to any girlfriend I’ve had. But we’ve all gotten along for the past year and a half since the band really began, so this is just an extension of that. You know, going to Cracker Barrel together. It’s great. The first four days of touring we drove from Los Angeles to New York City, so if you can put up with people for that, you’re fine.”
I was curious about the dynamic of joining a band with someone famous — famous for something completely different, a typically frowned-upon move. And LeDuke and Palomar were both a little skeptical about the prospect of joining White’s band.
LeDuke: “I got a call from my buddy, and he said this band is looking for a singer, the only catch is that Shaun White is in the band. Mind you, this guy knows me as ‘Snobby Music Davis’ that wants to do his own thing, so I was skeptical. But then, I was like, ‘I’m not fucking doing anything else, it doesn’t hurt to see what these guys are about.’ And then once we met it was undeniable. But when I first started telling people, ‘Hey I’m in a band with Shaun,’ they were like, ‘What do you do in the band?’ And I was like, ‘What the fuck, you’ve known me for 10 years, you know what I do. What, you think I’m playing the triangle?’ But people occasionally think, ‘Oh it’s Shaun, it’s his project, this is some sort of premeditated thing,’ and it’s not like that. He just loves music, it’s another one of his passions like snowboarding is, like skateboarding is.”
Palomar: “At first, I was definitely hesitant. But then I met up with him in Los Angeles. I ended up staying at his house for three days, kicked it, got along really well. Actually cut down a tree the first day and threw it in his neighbor’s pool. That kind of stuff. So yeah, I’m glad it translated into working together musically. It’s never been his intention for it to be his band. It just publicly comes off that way, because he’s Shaun.”
I was pleased I didn’t take the route of just talking to White, because it got me even more interested in hearing his side of the story. Because, while being Shaun White will definitely help his band get its feet through many doors, it also makes it difficult to be taken seriously. At all.
We’re typically happy when people decide to stay in their lane. Being an Olympic athlete and then wanting to be in a real band is, on the surface, the opposite of that notion. It sounds cocky, a slap in the face to the newfound profession, and typically is rooted against.
Because of all this, I was excited to talk to White. At the end of the day, we’re the same age, and I wanted to eventually take this conversation down that road. Because I’m selfish and always looking for answers.
How does this tour compare to what you’ve done in sports?
I was approached with a budget for the tour and it was a very large budget. Which I was very taken aback by. Why is this going to cost us so much money? And they were like, “We’re gonna fly you here, fly you there.” And my thought was, What’s the tour paying us? You guys need to treat this differently. In a different fashion. And slug it out. We’re going on the road.
So we bought a 15-passenger van. I’m used to the van life. When I first started snowboarding, the family really couldn’t afford to get to the mountains, so we’d camp out. It wasn’t a motor home, but it wasn’t a van. It was an Econoline. My mom and dad would cook the dinners on the propane stoves and we’d make burritos and that’s how we did it. Just making it happen. So that’s what the tour’s been like. It’s fun to be back in that place. You know, getting excited over rest stops. Finding miscellaneous stuff in the middle of nowhere.
Yes. I get that.
I really felt like it was important, because it makes the band a tighter group. When you’re stuck together with nothing to do for so much time. I know Jared has done a lot of touring, but poor Lena [Zawaideh, the drummer], the only girl with all these dudes. Poor Lena. She’s just always like “stoppp farting.” I’ve never seen someone get so mad at farts before.
What was the moment like for you and the band when you found out you were replacing Death Grips and suddenly getting a headlining spot?
For me, we’ve been making our way to cities, sometimes playing for only 15 people and other times sold-out shows, all aspects. So I was like, we’re playing the small stages at Lolla with Perry [Farrell]. So then to find out we were playing one of the big stages, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was just thrilled. Excited for the challenge. It wasn’t what we planned on doing, which made it more surreal. And because of that show, a lot of things happened that day because of that. The album was rushed a bit, they released a single that day because of that. And all of a sudden, there we were. Even playing with Perry was surreal, sharing the stage with him at his festival and getting his stamp of approval. I was just proud of the group.
So this is less about the band and more about you, if you don’t mind. How do you feel about being 26? Hard question to answer, I know, but how are you feeling about where you are right now? I’m the same age and like hearing people struggle with this question as much as I do.
Being 26. That’s like an amazingly great question. It’s slightly difficult to describe, but it’s an interesting time in my life. I have things I’d like to do and now I can actually make them happen. You know, I took a stand and told a lot of my skateboard and snowboard sponsors that I wanted to play music. And they were like, “Can we hear it?” and I was like, “Nope, you can’t hear it yet. But I want your support.” It’s just a standing on my own feet type of thing. I got in a room and told them this is something I like to do. And it’s not only me, but all these other people that have their lives wrapped up in it.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had a greater longing for deeper relationships or friends that I can rely on. The sporting world isn’t really like that. You have coaches and people that are there for you, but when I stand up there at the competition, it’s just me. The band is awesome, because it’s a team effort. There’s no real winning. It’s just doing. And it’s great that I can go do that.
But how do I feel being 26? I don’t know, I’d almost ask you the same. I figured out what I wanted to be [when I was] really young. I knew I wanted to be a professional snowboarder and skateboarder. And I worked really hard at that. But I’ve had so many other passions outside of sports. But I’m at this point, at 26, where I’m like “I know I have an Olympics coming up, but I want to go on tour with my buddies and play music all summer because that’s what I really want to do.” That’s a fulfilling thing for me.
So there’s also a social aspect to it that the band and music fulfills.
I’m a strange guy. Don’t know if the other guys told you this, but I don’t really hang out with a lot of athletes, I don’t know why. It’s been a struggle for a long time, just finding my way. I won the Olympics when I was 19. And at the time, you’re just trying to figure out who you are. There’s this weird pressure. And now that I’m 26, I can say I’ve really got a grasp of who I am and what I want to do and what I’d like to be associated with. It’s that time in our lives to try stuff. It’s a very funny coincidence that we’re both like, “ROAD TRIP. LET’S DRIVE AROUND.” People are tripping on me for staying in the Holiday Inn Express. I tell them that’s where the band’s staying and they’re like, “But where are you staying?” IN THE EXPRESS WITH THE BAND.
THEY HAVE BREAKFAST FROM SIX TO NINE.
The continental spread, oh man.
Biscuits and gravy.
Quite honestly, I was relieved when you asked to interview the other members of the band. A lot of people just want to talk to me. But it’s not about me. It’s about doing stuff like playing the kids’ stage at Lolla. It’s humbling. Earning respect by just playing any show, even the kids’ show, as a chain of e-mails says don’t do it. People thought it might be a bad look for the band, but I was like, “It’s a great look. It shows we’re down to play wherever. We’re ready to play.” So that was cool. And then we lucked out, obviously, with the main stage.
How long has music been something serious in your life?
It’s funny, how intertwined the sports I do are intertwined with music. I won my first guitar at X Games. It was bright yellow and I was ashamed to let my friends see me play it in public. Because it was bumblebee yellow. But eventually I was like, “I just got a really nice guitar, so I feel weird buying one, I’ll just play this at the house.” So I would look up guitar tabs on the Internet. And then got really into it. And immediately, as does anyone that picks up a guitar, the first thought is, “I should start a band. I should be on a stage. This would be awesome.” Playing “Smoke on the Water” in the mirror. Learning that E chord, and a power chord, and you’re like, “I can play everything.” And while this was happening, I was starting to meet people that were really into music, so that’s how it began.
How have you balanced all of this with the fact you’re still an Olympic athlete? Are you balancing it?
There are two parts to it. One part is that the thing that has given me a leg up is that my time on a board has been as important as my time off. These sports are really fun and you have to be inspired. It’s almost like you getting writer’s block, when you’re at the ramp too long. You’re not motivated anymore and you need to do something else. For the longest period of time, it’s been by the time I’m done with the winter and snowboarding, I switch to skateboarding. It’s awesome, I’m back at home, I’m by the beach, with my friends. And then when that’s done, I’m ready to go back to the mountain. So the music is also filling that necessity, taking my mind off those sports, so by the time I come back to it I’m very excited to be there.
It’s filling that need, but on the other end it’s been tough. I have an ice machine that I have a portable battery for that I ice my knees in the back of the van. I have all these things I have to do to be physically fit. I leave for New Zealand on Saturday to really train for the Olympics.
Might as well do it now while you can get away with it.
Yeah, man. I have had to improvise on the training side. Make due with what I got. So I try to skateboard at the parks in the cities that we’re touring. Motivate certain band members to come to the gym with me. Help me out. It’s a process, but still fun. It’s a great distraction, needing to step away from the sport, to be reinvigorated to come back. To stay inspired. But it’s cool. What a ride to be on.