It's the 20th year of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater franchise, and as part of the celebrations an Australian band was there at a special anniversary charity event. Small thing about the band: they only play covers from the Tony Hawk Pro Skater official soundtrack.
I spoke to the two Australian founders of Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of a Tony Hawk Pro Skater Cover Band, Josh Newman and Sim Bartholomew. Based in Sydney, they were flown over to San Diego where they opened for Bad Religion in a commemorative gig, and how they ended up performing on stage with the skater himself.
This all came about by some fortunate interactions with Tony Hawk on Twitter, correct?
Josh Newman: Pretty much! We were basically social media pests and would just tag him in our posts, whether that be gig photos or a meme we made ... just consistent tagging.
It was a very gradual build up. We got our first "like" on some post ... I can't even remember the post now! But then he followed us on Twitter and we lost it ... we were ready to call it there. The pinnacle of the band was that moment for us.
Sim Bartholomew: "Social media pests” definitely had something to do with it. His first like on our Instagram was a gig poster for a charity gig for Skateworks we were hosting in Sydney, and we were pretty proud of that as the first official engagement.
Funnily enough, when we were in SD hanging out with Tony (still can’t believe this happened) he mentioned that he’d be wanting to do something with us for a while, but never found the right opportunity to bring us over to the US.
He’d clearly done his research on us for a while; it was super clear he knew what he was in for when he invited us.
For a band who exclusively plays tracks from the Tony Hawk Pro Skater Soundtrack this must have been huge to be included in such a momentous occasion, can you tell us about the moment the band found out about the offer to fly to San Diego for the event?
Newman: Well, for the longest time we just assumed it would all disappear, it was too good to be true right?
So a few days after he followed us on Twitter we got a DM from him. It was around 0800 I think. I was away having a bit of break, away for a long weekend maybe and, truth be told, I was sitting on the toilet ... luckily because it was a very shit-myself kind of moment!
Anyway, there I am, phone in hand as you do on the loo, and up pops the notification ... he asked for a typical setlist from us in the same breath as talking about the charity event. Obviously we heard about the charity event already, we'd seen him post about it, and to have him DM us and hint at us being there ... I couldn't contain my excitement. I messaged Sim straight away something like "TWITTER. DMs. NOW. CHECK. !!!!”
Bartholomew: Josh is being legit — he couldn’t contain his excitement, so much so that I had to do the replying to Tony’s messages. And even then, I still had to sit and breathe and just “stay cool stay cool stay cool just be cool don’t fanboy out”. I didn’t want to get to emotionally invested, and I didn’t want to get the hopes of the rest of the band up as I knew it was a charity gig in the US, and it’d cost a lot to get us over there for a non-profit gig.
But the moment he dropped the “I will make it happen” — he wasn’t lying. The date was locked. I’m on the phone with the US working out flight details. And then there was the frantic message in the group thread of “GUYS GUYS GUYS. JUNE 9. SAN DIEGO. WE ARE ACTUALLY PLAYING A GIG FOR TONY HAWK. BE AVAILABLE NON-NEGOTIABLE.”
The response from every member was basically "Holy shit that’s wild. I’ll make it work whether I’m available or not."
You must be used to crowds filled with THPS fans, how did the crowd in San Diego compare?
Newman: We've had some amazing gigs here in Australia. Our very first gig at Secret Garden festival was incredible the crowd just went insane for 45 minutes straight. We had a very similar experience with our second Vivid show (after the first one got shut down). The San Diego gig was easily the largest crowd we'd played to. We definitely had some die hard THPS fans up front going nuts.
Bartholomew: I was a smidge concerned because a lot of people in the crowd were clearly Bad Religion fans wearing Bad Religion shirts. And even though we’re punk as fuck — when you put a covers band of THPS on a lineup with a legendary “real" band from the THPS soundtrack, you can definitely feel a shift in expectation.
But we always deliver — and from the first song (Superman, of course) — people were in and busting a move (even though the venue had signs explicitly saying NO DANCING and I’m like, WTF are we in Sydney?!) — they could see we are clearly dedicated to the cause. And then when Officer Dick comes out to shimmy with us in our second song, it was a giant party for the entire set.
What are some of the highlights of your trip that you'll most treasure?
Newman: I mean...where to start! Tony Hawk coming to our rehearsal and just hanging out watching us play a few tunes, and then actually rehearsing WITH US. He then posted some rehearsal footage on Instagram and took the time to get all of our personal Instagram handles and follow us ... it's a small gesture but one he didn't have to make. He is the loveliest person.
Obviously the gig itself, and Tony singing Amoeba with us. That is something I'll be dining out on for the rest of my life. But I absolutely loved hanging out at Tony Hawk HQ the day after the gig.
He invited us all to his place where he has his massive vert ramp, and his offices, general cool stuff and the rest of the staff, and put on lunch for us. He hung out with us for hours and put together a crew to come and skate for us, AND he padded up and skated for us too ... it was proper once in a life time stuff.
Bartholomew: The one thing I didn’t expect was how much time Tony gave us with him. I thought he was gonna be busy as hell considering the size of the event, but he proper hung out with us for most of the time we had in San Diego. It was truly humbling. For me, the other highlight was weirdly at the start of our rehearsal just before Tony Hawk was about to jump into singing Amoeba.
I think we actually got to experience him outside his comfort zone. Everyone experiences him as the ultimate pro skater, pro speaker, pro meme-content generator, and for a brief 10 minutes, we got to experience him as an amateur singer. But the moment he got comfortable with who we are and what was happening, he basically became a pro singer by the end of that hour.
Any hot insider tips on potential future THPS games or re-releases from the Birdman himself?
J: What I said above about a "future THPS", we have no insight to that. In fact we know he isn't in contract with Activision at the moment (take this opportunity to shout out Activision for supporting the 20th anniversary gig!) so it does seem unlikely we'll get THPS 6. Tony did say that all he ever gets asked about is re-masters of the original games ... so hopefully that will happen in the future!
Bartholomew: Yeah he was saying that’s all he ever gets asked, that and “is he really Tony Hawk”.