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Conversation With: Don “Nuge” Nguyen On Volume 4, his band Arctic, and living heavy and traveling light

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Nuge shreds both on a board and on an axe. He also owns his own company, Volume 4, with Sammy Baca. “It’s the best thing ever. To get to do your own shit, and not have to ask somebody if it’s cool. Let’s fucking make a teepee. Whatever.” What Youth hung out with Nuge in his Silver Lake house one hot and sticky afternoon and talked about his new brand, fireworks, music, and some crazy shit he’s experienced. Crack a beer and enjoy. –Maya Eslami

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WHAT YOUTH: When did you start Volume 4? DON NGUYEN: I think it was almost three years ago. Me and Sammy (Baca), we were just fed up with what we were doing, you know? And then all this shit that we were involved with just kind of… well my situation is different than his. Anyway, so we were like, let’s start something. Now’s a good time to start something for us. Just for future shit. And we get to do whatever we want to do and make what we want to wear. It’s the best thing ever. To get to do your own shit, and not have to ask somebody if it’s cool. Let’s fucking make a teepee. Whatever. So we just started brainstorming and came up with a name.

How’d you pick the name? I was on the phone with Sammy in my car in Oceanside. I was pissed off at my clothing company I was skating for. And I was like, Fuck this, let’s start something. And we were both pissed, like, all right let’s do it. Right now. So I’m sitting in my car, flipping through the radio, just thinking of names and shit. And I just went to Sabbath, flipped through the albums. And I went through all the albums, Masters of Reality, whatever. And all of a sudden it was Volume 4. That sounds pretty sick. And then right then we were like, That’s it. That was it. And we just stuck with it.

I got hurt at the time, so I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t skate, so I was just going crazy. Just trying to do as much stuff as I could for Volume 4 to get it going, you know. And we sat down with another friend and started doing stuff like making line sheets and doing things. I was working on leather at the time, too, so I was making wallets and shit. That’s the first thing we made, wallets and shirts. Just out of our own house. And then the first person who bought it was Supreme. We got some shirts made up at the house and sold them to Supreme. That was pretty sick. I approached Baker with it, and all the dudes I skate with, all the bosses were like, yeah let’s do it. They were totally down and super helpful, and showed me the ropes a lot. And that was it. And here we are, two and half years later, still something.

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Where’d “Live Heavy Travel Light” come from? Every time we’d go on a trip, I don’t really need much. Socks, and that’s it. I’ll wear the same clothes for fucking two weeks, you know? I used to bring a lot of shit, and I wouldn’t even use any of it. So I was like, Fuck it. Just travelling light, always. Then that thing just came in my head. Live heavy travel light. I think it’s pretty cool. And I fucking hate checking in bags. That’s my worst enemy. So whatever you gotta do to not check in bags, unless you have to fucking do it, then there’s no choice. I like to just travel with the bare necessities. Just socks every day. And now, you just have people send stuff. They’re sending you socks to where your stops are, so you can bring less socks.

What’s your favorite song on Vol. 4? Fuck. Probably “Wheels of Confusion.” It has two good parts and sounds all sick. The second part. I like that part. If I had to go into battle, I’d have that on the fucking pod for sure.

[Don’s pit, Geezer, named after the original Sabbath bassist, interrupts our interview for a second.] She just turned 2. Her Hitler stash is insane.

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Tell me about the Converse tour you just went on. Yeah, the Converse One Star World Tour. They’re hyping up their new shoe, the One Star. They just made it skateable. They took the original One Star Converse from the ‘70s and made it skateable. The low top suede that has the star on the side. That’s it. They just padded it up a little bit, not too much so it’s still really thin and looks the same, but now you can go skate in it and not hurt your feet. And they’re doing a world tour. This was the first leg of it. And in two weeks they’re going to Europe. I’m gonna miss it because I’ll be on the Baker tour. But they’re going all around Europe. And then two weeks later do Asia, and then South America after that. But yeah, the trip was fun.

I kept seeing clips of you setting off fireworks. What was that about? I’m from Oklahoma. They’re legal, you know. You just get ‘em, and you go into the country and pop ‘em. Just twenty minutes out. I just grew up around fireworks a lot. And now every time I see them, I gotta stop. And on tour, it so happened to be my birthday, they all just pulled over and said fuck it, and just bought all kinds of shit. When we left to give the rental car back, there was a whole seat full of fireworks that we couldn’t even pop. So funny.

What’d you do with them? Just gave ‘em back to the rental place. Take ‘em, I guess. Yeah, after every demo, that’s how we’d close the demo. Fireworks display.

Fireworks are illegal here, but I bet you still get your hands on some. There’s a place in China Town that you can get them. It’s this crazy little weird mall through this tunnel and shit. Me and Thomas [Bonilla] went one year to get them. Some fucking ten-year-old Asian kid was like, “Hey you guys want fireworks? Follow me.” And we followed this little kid into the fucking creepiest tunnel through this mall. And talked to his dad, and he hustled us, and shows up with fucking fireworks. Real fireworks.

Where’d you set them off? We used to live on the East Side. Frogtown would just go off. Highland Park is the sickest place to be for fireworks. No one gives a shit. The fourth is coming up. I was at [Paul] Otvos’ house, and they were just popping off, ‘til midnight. Huge mortars and shit.

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What’s up with you and cliff diving? I mean, if there’s a cliff, you gotta jump off of it. One time, we went to Lake Powell with Lizard, and rented a boat, and rode out for a while and camped. It was a huge lake. And there was this cliff where we were pulling in, and Lizard’s like, “Let’s jump off that.” So we pull in, we’re setting up camp. And Lizard takes off for a while. He comes back and goes, “We gotta go jump off that cliff. I just did it. It’s the shit.” Me and Otvos were like, All right, sick. Follow him up there. He’s like, “Don’t even look at it, though, just fucking run and jump. Don’t look down. Don’t look at it first. Just run and jump. And I’ll go first, you guys follow me.” We’re standing back there, and Lizard runs and does a front flip off of it, and we’re like, damn that was sick. Must be kind of mellow. I ran right after him and jumped, and right after the jump, I’m over the edge, I was like, oh my shit. It was like 80 feet. It was huge dude. And then Otvos landed. And I almost died swimming to get back up. And the waves from all the boats, I swam to where we were getting out. I almost died. And then we get up, and I’m like, Fuck that was gnarly. And Lizard goes, “Yeah, I’ve never jumped off of it before.” He fucking lied to us. And then fucking did a front flip off of it without even looking at it, and then we all jumped it. That’s how crazy he is. He also dropped in on it on a skateboard.

Was that the highest thing you’ve ever jumped? No. There’s a bridge in Portland or something that’s higher than that. But yeah, I didn’t know that was that high. And that’s what freaked me out. And then we just kept jumping off of it over and over and over and over. I sky-dived with Figgy’s dumbass one time, because it was his birthday. And I didn’t wanna go, but we did it. That was insane. Yeah I’m not doing that ever again. Once is good.

We were in Costa Rica with Figgy [Justin Figueroa] and Slash [Brian Hansen] and we did the zip lines through the forest and shit, way up there. And there’s a part where they take your picture, and you don’t even know it, they’re just taking pictures of you. And in the pictures, everyone’s screaming, and my face was just like, not that cool. Just bored.

How many bones have you broken? I don’t know. I’ve had surgery four or five times. But there’s been times where I think I’ve gotten hurt worse, but didn’t go to the hospital, so I probably broke it then too and just let it be.

Tell me about your band Arctic. How long have you guys been doing that? Three years maybe? Me, Figgy, and Frecks [Sean Stewart]. Figgy lives down by the beach. That’s where we jam, at his house. Five bands practice there and have all their gear there. I have a Greco. A Japanese remake of the SG but it’s the full-scale one. It’s from ’76. I love that thing. It’s fucking heavy. I guess we’ve been doing it for three years, maybe a little longer. I’ve been playing bass for 10 years or something.

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What about the guitar? Probably 15 years. Ever since I moved here, like 15 years.

When did you move out to CA? 2001. I moved to Huntington. ‘Cause back in the day, that was the hot spot for fucking skating, that skate park there. That was the place to go. I lived on Talbert, right by the skate park. I lived there for six months with some friends, and they all got homesick and went home, and I was like, Fuck, I’m staying. And then I was homeless for a month. I lived in my car, right by the park at some church. For a month. And then I moved to Costa Mesa after that, and then was like, fuck this. And then moved up here to LA in 2003. It’s all a blur.

How old were you? I was going on 21. I remember my first trip, I was the only one that could buy booze. ‘Cause Richie [Belton] and J Roy [Justin Roy] were kids, and I was the one that could buy beer. That’s how I met all those guys. I was on Flow for Toy Machine and they were doing an AM trip, and one of the dudes got hurt, so they were like, You wanna go? And I was working at Jamba Juice in Tustin. Swear to god, for like six months or something. I always called from Jamba Juice to order my boards. And I called one day, and they were like, You wanna go? Yeah I wanna go. And I just walked out and left, and went on that trip. Met J Roy, Richie, Daniel [Shimizu], all my friends that are my friends now, on that first trip. And it was on ever since then.

What was the first team you were Pro for? Hollywood. And then that died out, and I was on Pig, Wood. And that died out, and I was on Foundation. And then I quit Foundation to ride for Baker, six years ago.

You love Baker. It’s the best. It’s not even a team, it’s a family situation. Everyone’s down for each other, got each other’s backs. It’s like I got a bunch of brothers.

Are you still collecting records? I had to stop. But every time I see something that I have to get, I’ll get. I was on eBay and shit, spent a lot of money on there. But I’m glad I did.

What’s your favorite record that you have? The best one I got is Steel Mill Green Eyed God. I payed a fucking lot for it. But it’s an original pressing, the first pressing of it. I gotta get another copy, like a repress, ‘cause I hate playing it. I don’t even wanna bring it out. But then again, that’s why I got it.

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Tell me about SXSW? How many times have you been? I’ve gone every year for the last eight years. Whenever the Flower Traveling Band one was, that was the first one we went to. I don’t even know what year. I think it was six or seven years ago. Eight. It was fucking insane. That first South By though, Figgy and Slash were on a trip and they were there too, and I met Figgy down in the streets. We went and saw Earthless.

Slash was living up here, so I was coming up back and forth, he would come stay with me for fucking months at a time. And we went on 20 trips together. We kept getting on these trips together, and just travelled the whole thing together.

How many times have you played SXSW? Four, five times. The Thrasher thing always, and then we’ll book other random ones through friends and shit, at other bars out there. [This year] was a heavy one. We were there for five days or something. We played that Thrasher thing three times, and played on some rooftop, and then a couple other random places. It was insane. It was fun though. Picture that seven years in a row. I’ve done it for like seven years. Just ‘cause the first time I went, I was like, Dude, I’m coming here every time. Because I’m from Oklahoma, which is not that far from there. I used to go to Austin a lot to skate, never to South By. Austin’s just sick anyway.

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3 beers later, and I ran out of questions, so Nuge told me some funny stories. When we lived at Hellrose – the name of their house on Melrose Ave. – we lived there for a year, a long time ago when I first moved to Hollywood. Thomas and Oliver lived in the kitchen. The kitchen wasn’t even a kitchen. The stove never turned on. It was just, cot – cot – cot. Three dudes crashed out in there at all times. It was funny. One day they were like, you can only live here for a year and we’re gonna tear it down afterwards, so you can do whatever you want. And we just destroyed it for 365 days. The house. We didn’t have windows, doors, and shit. The front door was it. The back door was just open. No windows. We were burning boards for firewood in the chimney, in the fireplace. It was insane. And then the last day, we had a “bring your own hammer” party, and everyone just brought their own shit and destroyed the house. That was the end of it. And now it’s a fucking parking lot.

I remember one time, I lived right above Gareth [Stehr] in the house, directly window to window, and I got wasted one night and had to puke. I went to the window and started puking. And fucking Gareth goes, “Hey! What the fuck!” I look down, and I’m just puking on the back of his head. He’s puking at the same time. Swear to fucking Christ. I was like, Oh shit! Sorry! I swear to God. I have so many funny Gareth stories.

And then he asked himself some questions. Have you been camping lately? I went camping right before we left. I’m trying to go once every month. I’ve never done the solo camping mission. I almost did it by myself. That’s when you can do whatever. Go left or right. Whatever you wanna do.

Live heavy travel light.

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