"I've been invited to prom so many times."
Fame is weird. Just imagine a world in which you walk down the street and each person you see—from that stranger wearing a bizarre scarf to that other stranger smoking a cigarette to that other other stranger sitting on a sidewalk patio drinking a beer—knows who you are. But more than that, they know your personality, your personal style, your favorite color, and, probably, your skills in the bedroom.
Shaun White, the bazillion time gold winner for snowboarding and skateboarding and surfing and drinking Mountain Dew, has lived this type of life since he was six years old—and on a recent Friday morning in the lobby of the Bowery Hotel, it's more of the same. We sit down to talk about the next venture in his life—a rock band called Bad Things that, surprisingly, doesn't have anything to do with a board—and a few teenage girls walk by in the distance, subtly taking quick looks and giggling to themselves. He doesn't notice, but I do because, despite the fact that I've kissed a girl before, I'm not used to women blushing simply because I'm drinking coffee in the same room as them.
We're joined by his fellow band members Davis Leduke (vocals) and Jared Palomar (drums) as the waitress delivers a massive meal to Shaun—steak and eggs and pancakes—and as he eats every bite of it (probably because he's a fucking professional athlete), we begin to chat about Bad Things, who released their self-titled debut album back in January. I'm curious if this whole "music thing" is a stunt of some sort, but the record—a surprisingly enjoyable collection of synthrock—doesn't carry the inherent terribleness of other celebrity-crossover experiments. Will it shift music into a new realm? Probably not. Am I interviewing Bad Things because Shaun White is their guitar player? Probably. But regardless, we speak extensively about the music, about perceptions, and about how the hell anyone as famous and recognizable as Shaun White can live his daily life.
Noisey: You made a record. How do you feel about the record?
Shaun White: Yeah. Pretty excited about it. It’s one of those things that—well, I’ve never made one before, so. [Laughs.] The whole process was pretty out of hand. Just from how the band was going to work together and come up with the ideas for the songs, which songs we were going to end up recording, which producer to use, how much time will it take to be in the studio, you know. I went through all the phases with the music—I’d get hooked on the way some of the demos sounded, suggest it should go in a certain direction, and I’m just pretty happy with how it turned out. To be honest, everyone’s feedback has been pretty killer so far. You really put yourself out there when you do something like this, so I’ve just been bracing for what might come.
Putting yourself out there creatively is an ongoing challenge, because it’s so personal.
Shaun: The thing that’s been nice, though, is that it’s not just me. It’s great. These guys and the rest of the band, it’s something we’re doing and producing together, so I wasn’t really as nervous because it’s our sound. It’s not just me coming in and being like, oh, I love these three bands and I want to sound like them. It was more just us coming out with music we all believed in.
I’ll be real: I went into listening to your record not expecting much, because I received a press release that was like, “Shaun White’s band…”
Shaun: We tried so hard to have shit not say that. [Laughs.] But we couldn’t really escape it.
Right. And once I listened, I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t terrible and I felt a bit like an asshole for assuming such. How was the recording process?
Shaun: Well, we recorded at the half-pipe. [Laughs.] It was pretty tight.
How much Mountain Dew was consumed?
Shaun: Shit. We didn’t drink it. We only poured it into our mouths. It’s more extreme that way.
Davis Leduke: For me, the record as a whole is the most rewarding feeling. We worked very hard. And we all just jumped into it like, fuck it none of us have anything to lose. And for me specifically, I have nothing to lose, and I was like, well, it could go one of two ways. And when I heard some of the stuff they were playing, I was like, okay, it’s not exactly what I thought it was going to be. Because, yeah, my initial reaction was that I thought Shaun White and you see long hair and you think snowboarder and, I don’t know, I thought Guns ‘N’ Roses or something.
Which, hey, would’ve been kind of sick.
Davis: [Laughs.] Right. I mean, I have no issues with Guns ‘N’ Roses—it’s just not my thing. It literally took the entirety of two and a half years to make this record. We had been writing together since we first met, and didn’t stop until we started recording. That was rewarding, and for me, it was the opportunity to work with Rob Schnapf [Beck, Elliott Smith] who is one of my favorite producers of all time. It’s crazy, because this entire experience has been rewarding. There are a lot of bands who are just, like, one dude and they disguise it with a band name, which is great, but for us it’s just not that way.
Talk to me about Shaun’s presence in the band. In order to interview you, I had to go through publicists who’ve worked with Rick Ross, John Legend, and other premiere musicians. This probably gives you a certain amount of helpful clout, but some people might view it otherwise. If I were talking with another band on your level of fame, we’d probably meet in a quiet bar for some beers.
Shaun: From my side of things, that whole scenario is from years of doing it. I wouldn’t know any other way at this point. I wake up every day and it’s like okay, what are we doing today? There’s so much going on. This is a huge part of everything for me. I want to make it into something—or maybe not even make it, but I just want it to be what it’s going to be. And that’s the best part about it. As far as stepping out on stage, that’s where it really counts. I mean, I cut my hair. I don’t look the same. I can actually play guitar, which I’ve really tried to hold close. Because right when people learned I could play, they were like, “Oh, let’s get you a gig with Slash.” [Laughs.] And I’m like, man, he doesn’t want to hear me butcher his songs. I don’t want to do these things.
People wanted you to play with Slash, for real?
Shaun: Yeah. It’s crazy. There were scenarios where I’d have this big sports interview and they’d be like, “Oh, what if you came out with your guitar and did this?” And everybody wanted that. And before this band, you can try looking, but there’s maybe one thing of me holding a guitar. I was so particular about it, because I didn’t want it to come off as, like, this is who I am until we did something like this band.
What was it about this band?
Shaun: Because it wasn’t just me. That’s what the craziest part was. We played our first show in Echo Park in Los Angeles, and I remember sitting there like, okay, I’m finally going to do this. “I’m ready to do this. I gotta do this.” And everybody looked at me and were like, "No, we gotta do this." You know what I mean? It’s such a cool thing that I’m not alone in this. It’s really nice—and tough. It’s been one of the hardest processes of my life, working with others, because that’s not normally how I do things. Just taking in account that everyone has their own feelings, their own opinions of how things should be, and really finding the true message through that—and not being how I normally am, like, this is how it’s going to be because it’s me. In a weird way, it’d be a lot easier if it was just me. But that’s not what this is about. That’s what’s been nice. Even doing interviews with people, it’s bizarre to me, because I’m like, hey, have at it. [Laughs.] It’s such a good thing for me and for the band for us to come together.
The author and Bad Things, trying to recreate the Oscar selfie
How’s he doing?
Davis: He’s doing great. Shaun is a very adaptable person. I’ve seen him freaking out one second and then when it needs to happen, he turns on, and he’s on. That’s one of the may things about Shaun that’s extremely inspiring. We played The Tonight Show last night, and my whole thing with doing stuff like that is that it’s very quick. And I don’t work like that. I grew up playing live shows, and the adrenaline of those lasts for a long time, and so when you put me on stage for three minutes and 30 seconds and yank me off, I have no idea what to do with myself. My reaction out of nowhere was to be bummed and didn’t know what to do with my adrenaline so I shut everything out and got a call maybe 20 minutes out after we left and I got a call from Shaun and we had a conversation where he made me feel better about the situation because he’s done stuff like this a lot. He’s a pro snowboarder. How long does a run on a half-pipe last?
Shaun: Six seconds. [Laughs.]
Davis: Everyone in this band gives each other something, to say the least.
Shaun: It’s both ways, though. Me walking into the studio, playing guitars I’ve never played, I feel pretty uncomfortable about it because it’s all these different instruments, sounds, takes, and for me, it was such a learning experience. And if I can come through and be like, this is how you deal with the other side because I’ve been dealing with the other side since I was like six or seven years old, it’s great. In so many ways, it’s not my band—but then I feel like I’m looked at because of the way things are. And it’s like, oof. The craziest part about playing The Tonight Show is that we turned it down twice. Two times they came to us and were like, we want you to come on and talk to Leno and be a guest after the Olympics and then we want you to walk over and play the set. And it was like, eh, it felt so uncomfortable and that would’ve been our first look and, ugh. That’s not to say we couldn’t do something down the line like that, but—
That’d be so gimmicky.
Shaun: Exactly. Like, me standing with a guitar, saying, “Check it out, bro!” And then Leno would drop his one-liner.
So we turned it down. And I had to look at these guys and tell them we had an offer to do The Tonight Show, and they’re excited and the label’s freaking out and I’m like, well, I said no, because it just didn’t feel right. And then the Tonight people came back again and were like, Leno is retiring, we really want you on the show. They wanted me to do the same thing, just on a different date, and so we passed. And to turn something down like that once is hard, and then you have to go through it all again. But then once Fallon took the show, they were okay with us taking a different approach—I came on as a guest, and then went back out in the band—and we did it. It was tough to hold out, but I’m glad that we did. That’s how we’ve been making decisions because there are things we turn down all the time, because we’re always wondering if it’s because whether I’m in the band, or not.
When things like this typically happen—a celebrity dips into another creative area, like for example, Kanye West stepping into fashion—those who are in the worlds often get upset because it’s like, “Fuck off, this is my thing, and just because you’re famous doesn’t give you the right to do whatever you what.” It’s often insulting, so I appreciate hearing you turned down The Tonight Show twice.
Shaun: Yeah. I mean, people are like, “Oh, you signed to Warner Brothers.” And I’m like, what, you don’t think I could’ve just walked into any label and been like, “Hey, I’m so and so, check me out!” Probably. But the way everything came together was so natural. And the label guys came to my garage to listen to us play before they signed us.
You guys practice in a garage?
Shaun: Yeah man. At my house in Hollywood. Fucking Christmas lights everywhere. It’s sweet.
And that’s how it all came to be. People ask if the band would stand alone if I wasn’t in it, and of course it would. These two have been in great bands before, long before I came along.
Since the record released, what’s that experience been like?
Jared Palomar:It’s been rewarding so far, but we’re just starting to get into it now. We’re heading to SXSW where we’ll play six showcases, and we’re just at a stage where we’re like, just give us more and more and more.
Shaun: It was really interesting when the record came out because it was finally like, okay, this is not in our hands anymore. That’s the best part about it. Now, it’s like, what’s next and what can we do next? But even so, we’ve been playing shows—like we played at Mercury Lounge this past weekend—and people are singing along, it’s pretty heavy. I didn’t expect that. It was packed out.
It always feels good when someone says they appreciate something you do creatively because you’re personally so invested in it. I’m always like, “Thank you, because that’s my soul, and if you said it wasn’t good, you would’ve crushed me.”
What do you feel misunderstood about?
Davis: It’s hard to say at this point, because it’s early on. I mean, yeah, that initial surface reaction where it’s like, oh, Shaun’s in the band—so that’s a misunderstanding. That can be frustrating, but at the same time, I’ve spent a good portion of my life playing music that I want to please every type of person, and that’s the most tormenting thing I can do to myself because there’s always going to be someone who has something negative to say. I don’t know. It’s interesting, because the only things I’ve heard have been random, stupid things from people in Buttfuck, Nowhere who don’t know how to snowboard who are calling Shaun all sorts of names because he’s in a band.
Shaun: And they do that anyways.
Davis: I was on Instagram the other day and because I’m a nerd, I checked out #badthings, and there was this kid who called our music “emo-core,” which I’d never heard of, and just talking shit. And sometimes on Shaun’s Instagram people will leave so many comments like, “Fuck you, you douchebag.” And then there will be thousands upon thousands of girls commenting how much they love him. [Laughs.]
Shaun: I’ve been invited to prom so many times.
Davis: Some dude called him a “faggot” or something, and it’s like, bro, you are the one guy among thousands—literally thousands—of girls, and you call him gay because your girlfriend probably commented on it or something.
Shaun: And I love the cock.
Jared: Sometimes, we view the whole “Shaun White’s band” thing as a chip on our shoulder.
Shaun: We didn’t play out in the beginning—like how a normal band would play certain shows to see how songs work with crowds and what not—but we didn’t get that because I didn’t want to be on the internet, some crappy phone video of us playing somewhere and that’s our first look. I was really trying to protect that.
The one thing I am constantly feeling misunderstood about is that the fact I do snowboarding well is that I live that type of lifestyle. And it’s just so not the same. I don’t know. I just don’t live that type of lifestyle. I’m not really into sports—I don’t follow sports the slightest. I’ll go to the ESPY’s and won’t know anyone.
Davis: John Wall will walk up to him, and he’ll have no idea who it is.
Shaun: It’s so funny. I was with some friends of mine—one was a surfer, the other guy was a fashion designer, the other a music producer—like an L.A. scene or something.
Yeah. That sounds awful.
Shaun: [Laughs.] It was. And we’re sitting there, having lunch and I’m sitting there cross-legged, buttoned up, having a quinoa salad or some shit, and I remember the surf guy was just staring at me and I was like, “What’s up?” And he’s just like, “You’re not really a mountain man, are you?” And I was like, “I’m a mountain man!” As I drank my tea.
Another funny thing is that people will come up to me and be like, “It’s snowing, man. It’s snowing.” [Laughs.]
Wait, really? Are you king of winter?
Shaun: Yeah, like I’m gonna be like, “Fucking, where? Bro, tell me.”
People are insane.
Shaun: It’s so funny. And that’s why the music is so fitting to me. It’s a lifestyle that I love. There’s a fashionable side to it. You’re with other people so it’s an enjoyable scenario. I haven’t done anything in a team setting since I played soccer when I was a little kid.
Is it weird being famous?
Davis: It’s weird to me. It’s weird to see it go down. We went to Disneyland and everyone is just randomly on one when they’re around him, and so he decided to carry a stuffed hippo around and he’s going up to people and giving them kisses with the hippo. And people will be like, “What the fuck?” And then they double take and they’re like, “Oh my god!” And they start following him around.
Jared: At one point, there was like 20 or 30 people surrounding us.
Shaun: They’re going home, like, “You’ll never believe who shoved a hippo in my face.”
Davis: Anyway, it’s not weird, it’s just like, how the fuck can anyone deal with that? He’s been doing it for so long, it’s almost a part of his life. Other than that, it’s just people hanging out.
Shaun: I have really great fans. They’re really sweet, and just want to tell you something nice. It really gives you perspective as what it’d be like to be famous for something not so great.
What do you mean?
Shaun: There’s a couple different examples but if you were someone in the media who did something bad, like swindling a bunch of people out of their money, people probably would call you out on it. It’s insane. People are amazing but they’re that way too—they don’t have a filter. Or if you’re known for saying something or a catch phrase or whatever. I mean, I really feel for Lil Jon.
Jared: What’d he do?
Shaun: I mean, he didn’t do anything, but everywhere that guy goes people yell at him, “Okay!” “Yeah!” Could you imagine? I’ve been with him when it happens and I’m like, “I feel for you, man.” And he’s like, “You just got a taste of what my life is like.” Nicest guy ever. But I felt for him—and it made me thankful that I grew with my success. It gives you appreciation for people who have overnight success, who suddenly have to deal with all of this. At least with me, when people approach me, they have a nice story or they’ll come talk to me about seeing something about my family on CNN or 60 Minutes or whatever. So I feel fortunate for that.
Now, what’s really enjoyable for me with this band is that it’s super grounding. Things that are the most fun for me is that we’re out on the road in this 15 passenger van, hauling a trailer, loading into a dive bar night-in and night-out. And people don’t even know it’s me—can’t believe it’s me, or don’t recognize me because I have a haircut.
Eric Sundermann prefers skis and often gets pissed at snowboarders for ruining the fresh powder. He's on Twitter — @ericsundy