In your opinion, why do you think a book like this is necessary? What do you think is its cultural value?
I’ve always loved reading and discovering under-the-radar movements that have somehow escaped scrutiny and feel that this particular tome fits that category. As time progresses and subcultures get diluted or co-opted for the purpose of wider diffusion, knowing the origins is vital to understanding its overall place in the cultural pantheon. Art, music, identity... these are all aspects that give meaning to human existence and the popular perception of something like graffiti or hardcore music might not be seen as conductive to these basic needs, but I would argue that, yes, they do fulfill a much needed role in expression and a desire to connect with others. This all might sound a bit high-minded, I know, but the value is there and all you need is an interest in the arc of urban history to see the far-reaching ramifications of supposedly "low-brow" endeavors.
There is a good amount of books about graffiti out there; same with books about various hardcore scenes. What do you think sets Urban Styles apart; what makes it different?
That is true: the canon of graffiti books is vast and the hardcore one is growing on a daily basis. Urban Styles gives a different viewpoint on these subjects and I will venture to say that the book is ultimately a New York tale; reminiscing on our youth, our neighborhoods, and, ultimately, a way of life that has largely vanished due to the onslaught of gentrification, changing demographics, and the city becoming a victim of its own success. The times depicted in the book will never come again. I think this is at heart what makes my project different: it's simultaneously a celebration and eulogy to a bygone era
Along with the history of various subcultures, a lot of the stories in Urban Styles cover some unsavory subjects; there is mention of violence, drug use, even suicide. You did not shy away from letting your interview subjects talk about these topics pretty freely. How important to the overall narrative do you think these darker parts of the story are?
One can't sanitize the past in order to fit a particular narrative. I think that does a disservice to the reader, so I have to include people's recollections of some unsavory memories. To be honest, violence, drugs, and unlawful behavior was part of our upbringing, both in the hardcore and graffiti scenes. When you take a densely populated urban area and layer socio-economic hardships, the people growing up in these areas can’t help but internalize this plight and lash out in physical ways or through substance abuse; anything to relieve and dull the pain. Graffiti and its ethos of getting up as much as possible was bound to bring competition that progressed into outright conflict, either between individuals or rival crews. Drug use among writers ranged from recreational to functional, like taking uppers to be able to bomb all night. Angel Dust was preferred among them as it made one feel invincible and able to take on the world, traits that were needed to succeed in the graffiti world. I wanted the people interviewed to talk freely, warts and all, about the reality of those times. Things weren’t all so rosy and not everyone got along. Unfortunately, a good number of individuals from both scenes could not escape their demons and looked for a way out. The book is a tribute to them and their everlasting legacy, be it via the recorded sound or visual media.