Kill the Engine

An Interview with Mike Aho

By Michael Sieben


A few months ago my editor for this column sent me an email and told me that it was totally cool to mix up the format of this blog occasionally. He suggested the idea of doing an interview with somebody. I think his suggestion was spurred by the fact that I was primarily blogging about old crap that was in my studio. My bad. So here's my first interview for Kill the Engine. I didn't know how well this would be received by my fan base (all nine of you), so I didn't want to go to too much trouble right off the bat. So basically I just turned to my left and asked the dude sitting next to me in my studio if I could interview him. He said yes.

Nahhhh… but for real dogs, this interview really is with the dude that sits next to me in my (our) studio space. But I didn't interview him out of convenience. I interviewed him because he's one of my favorite people and because he's always working on rad shit. His name is Mike Aho, and here's what I know about him. He makes videos, he makes great drawings, he writes excellent music, he has a terrific band, ((sounder)), he works full time as an art director for Volcom, and still manages to do all of the previously mentioned activities. Oh, and he's a dad. Two-fold.

I also wanted to interview him because he recently set up a Kickstarter for a film that he's trying to produce starring Will Oldham. So basically I wanted to use my column to promote one of my buddy's projects. And if that's wrong, then I don't know what's right. Here we go:

VICE: So, how did you meet Will Oldham?
Mike: I met Will through my friend Jennifer Herrema from Royal Trux. I did a weird little animated video for her band, RTX, now called Black Bananas, a few years ago and she introduced me to Will.

How did you end up making videos for Will? Did you just ask him if you could?
Yeah, I contacted him with an idea for "I called you back," which had just been released at the time. Originally he was supposed to appear in it, but ended up being too busy, so he asked me to animate the whole thing. I was just learning animation at the time, so it was kind of a scary project to stumble my way through, but he was happy with it in the end. The second one for "How About Thank You" came about from the idea of mixing a really slow, sentimental song with kids playing "Dance Dance Revolution." I’d ran across a YouTube video of people playing the game and I loved the way it made people look like they were doing a choreographed dance.

How did you learn how to make videos? Seems hard.
I started making skate videos when I was in college and that’s what really got the ball rolling with it. Making music videos seemed like the next natural thing to do, and I’ve been lucky enough to get to work with some people who I’ve always looked up to. I never went to school for any video stuff, so I just kind of stumble my way through it, but I think that has helped me to carve out an aesthetic. I learn more with every project, and that’s what I really like, working within very limited means, budgets, time, etc. is always frustrating, but the scarcity of resources really makes it more fun and free in the end.

What other bands have you made music videos for?
Mando Diao, Valient Thor, I'm working on something for Bill Callahan right now, and a project with Torche is in the works.


I already knew that. I just wanted you to inform the nine kids who read this blog. OK, so in addition to making music videos for other bands, you've also made a number of videos for your own band ((sounder)), including one that we worked on together. Can you explain the ((sounder)) videos that you previously made?
Yes Sir. For the last ((sounder)) full-length I worked with several friends who are visual artists on four different music videos. The idea was to get artists who normally paint or draw to concept and make a video with me. The process and outcome ended up being very different for each one. It worked out well because, even though I do a lot of video stuff, for some reason it’s always been hard for me to concept something for my own songs. I guess I’m too close to them. It’s nice to have some kind of diffusion through another artist to bring it to life in a different way.

And for your next album you want to make a short film starring Will Oldham that includes animations from several visual artists as well. What's the connection between visual art and your music? Or visual art and music in general? It seems like a lot of bands align themselves with visual artists or specific aesthetics. Thoughts?
Yeah, we’re trying to get the money together to make the film right now with a Kickstarter. I’m really excited to work with Will on it; we’re hoping we can get the funds to make it happen. As far as the visual art connection, I guess I’ve always been pretty immersed in visual art, so it’s always seemed like an important component of my music, whether it’s record covers or videos or whatever. When I write music I have specific production qualities and arrangements in mind—sometimes even before the song is complete—so the visual art kind of falls into that category. I guess I see it all as working together to enhance the music and create its own little world.


I've always wondered why you keep your personal visual art separate from ((sounder)). Is it a conscious decision to let other artists interpret the music? Or do you just not like your own art?
For some reason my visual art and music never seem right together to me. It might be because I primarily work as a commercial artist on the visual side, and perhaps I can see that in my work—whether it's really there or not. In any case, most of my friends are much better visual artists then I am, so it's nice to collaborate on album art, and get a different perspective on the music.

Mel Kadel



Travis Millard

Jay Howell

Technically you work within the skateboarding industry, correct? What advice would you give to kids out there who want to someday work in the skateboard (or snowboard or surf) industry? Any pointers?
Yeah, somewhat in the skateboard industry. I do a lot of video stuff, tee graphics, etc. for Volcom. As far as advice, the only thing I usually say is to be prepared to work for free. It takes a long time to build up enough momentum in your career to actually get paid to be creative. No one just hands you a job like that without a long track record. But most of all, enjoy the ride and keep trying to learn. Be open to everything, you never know where you’re going to find something interesting.

What's your favorite skateboard graphic of all time? Howcome?
Probably the Chris Miller Schmitt Stix board with the weird wolf on it. That was my first "real" skateboard. I saved from the middle of third grade all the way until the end of fourth to buy it. I was actually planning on buying a psycho stick, but the dude at the skate shop told me the Chris Miller board was cooler. I think we were both right.


Are you really quitting skating this year?
I figured with all of these musicians these days pretending to be skateboarders (you know who you are), I would pretend to not be a skateboarder. Just kidding. Kind of.


Are you surprised that you're not famous yet? Or are you famous? I'm kind of out of the loop. I just barely caught Bieber Fever a few weeks ago.
Haha. My daughter asked me if I was famous the other day, and I said "No honey, famous people are rich," and she said, "Not all of them," and I said, "touche," and she said, "What does that mean?" (because she’s six), and I said, "I don’t really know, honey" (because I’m dumb). I guess I’m not really looking to be "famous" anyway... It’s just important to me that I have an audience that’s into what I’m doing and interested in new projects.

What advice would you give to young kids who want to get band logos tattooed on them?
Do it! I did! And now I’ve got a fantastic memory from when I was 19 in the shape of a weird looking tribal onion on my ankle.

Who do you want me to interview next for this column?
Jason Lytle from Grandaddy.

Previously - I Pierced My Nose