Interview with Syte, in Boston, by D. Sullivan. Reprinted by permission. All artwork is © copyright 2005 Syte.
This interview was previously published in Con.Sect magazine.
How long have you been writing, and what got you interested in it?
I've been writing since 98, so it's been about six years. I was always interested in graff since I was a little kid, but I didn't get a lot of exposure to it, growing up in the suburbs and shit. Then one day someone showed me a graffiti magazine. That was it. That's all I wanted to do. I was running around showing everyone I knew, amazed at what people could do with aerosol. I thought the medium was fresh. I started playing around with black books coming up and boom, started painting my ass off.
So you've been painting since '98?
'99 mostly. I was just tagging in '98. Then I went all out, bombing in '99/2000.
How did you get your name?
I think I was staying home from school one day or some shit, drawing. I was drawing some skateboard dudes standing around. All the sudden I was like "ah ya", started drawing some Trybe letters behind them ... I thought that was cool, so I started writing trybe. A year latter Tribal Gear came out and every one was on this tribe/tribal shit, I was like "fuck this'. Plus the name got real hot, so I changed it up. I started writing Hyste for a while and that was just kind of wak, so I changed up the letters and it eventually turned it into Syte.
Where are you from?
Uh, you know, around the way. Out west. Idaho, maybe. I was a nomad growing up, lived all over the place.
What brought you to Boston?
Graffiti. Just wanted to write in the city, go to art school. I really wanted to be urbanized. That's all I cared about really. Just to feed off of the vibe of the city.
Why not NYC?
I'd be there right now if I could afford it. Plus I have friends in Boston, so I like it here. I just went on a trip to Italy and seen all the cities over there. I like Boston a little bit more now. Got some European flavor, seen some history, but I missed it here. I'd probably just get eaten up in New York. Boston you can just kick it here easy.
Do you think this city gets the respect it deserves?
Boston doesn't get any respect as far as I know about. Maybe some old school writers like SPone and Alert get rep, but I think Boston is going to have to break out of the old school habits. It's good to do what you do, but from my perspective people need to innovate more, be more experimental and not be afraid to do a bad piece. Like Trial said, the worst piece you'll do you'll learn so much, and the next piece you'll burn even harder. If people keep it safe all the time to never fuck up, they'll never learn anything at all. You'll just slow yourself down.
You think that there is stagnation going on?
I think that there are too many writers out there that have been writing for so long that they're stuck in a rut. It happens, it can happen to all of us, but you have to try to keep innovating.
Who from Boston did you look up to back in the day?
There's a lot. Wombat, SPone, I used to like Ryze a lot. I looked up to Tease, Kode ... he clued me into some shit. That's pretty much who I thought Boston had to offer. Zone, also, to an extent.
Who do you roll with and what is the significance of having a crew?
I basically roll with EDA, I rep FAT crew and RUN crew. It's just fun to paint with kids. It's fun to rep and you've got to have some back. It doesn't hurt to have back in this game. To do productions, you're going to want everyone's name up on that wall. Put together your styles and see what comes out.
How deep are you?
Uh, not so deep. EDA is the fullest one I'd say. Right now that's what I push the most. We're building it up slowly. Not trying to be about being deep, just trying to be about burning like everyone.
What does it take to get down with a crew like EDA - what standards to you all have for people coming in?
You have to have something to bring to the crew, some different element that we're not doing. You've definitely got to have your shit clean, crispy. You have to be able to burn hard and at the same time bomb. For me, I'm all about the piecing and productions now, so I'd want some one who is willing to put some time in and not just fuck around like, sometimes they're down sometimes they're not. Basically me, Wet and Beyond, we got this crew started. They got it started and put me down, but it always seems like we're painting and pushing it. That's the core of the crew, I'd say.
How'd you meet those guys?
(Laughter) fucking randomly, got all waked out and went into some bathroom, left my black book in there with pictures of me with urbs and shit. Next thing I know Wet is giving me my black book like "yo, what's up ... you forgot this shit?" Then they hooked up some shit in the book that I thought was fresh. After that I would see them around and they would show me outlines. I always jocked them real heard because they were better at letters at than I was at the time, but I had a lot more ups than they did. So they showed me how to do the letter thing and I showed them where to go to bomb and how to get up real nice. Beyond showed me how to do the letter thing, that's who I got a lot of my flavor from, and wet showed me how to paint clean and crisp ... and Kode showed me how to bomb.
Funny you mention that name, Kode's from my city.
Oh ya, I was a mad toy and that kid was like, "oh you want to paint?" First time we went out painting we hit the orange line and that summer we just went crazy. We'd hit the orange line, then take a cab to the green line, then take a cab over to the red line, just hitting every line - every tunnel in the whole fucking transit system. Been up in that shit. Then shit got all hot, and now I have different priorities, but you've got to do that coming out. Let people know you're out there.
Do you find that there is a lot of drama and beef between crews and writers?
Obviously there's gossipy drama and all that bullshit ... I try to stick with people who are down for the art and not just in it for the rep or to be in the game. A lot of people get into it because they think its cool to be a writer; you've got to come at it from an artistic point of view. I think it's dope to be a writer, but I'm trying to do the art. I'm not trying to make a name so I can go out and get girls or front on the Internet. At this point, fuck; I don't really care what people think about my shit. I do it for myself and my crew. I've had beef galore over some toy shit. Kids are so into it for being a thug - they can't burn a wall but they want to beat you up because they're fucking jealous basically. That's what it comes down to. Lots of jealousy, the toy mentality. I try to let it roll off my back, but you spend all that money and time piecing just to get dissed, it's like "what the fuck?'
How do you handle that?
They get smacked down when it comes down to it. Every time we seem to run into each other that's what happens.
Is beef detrimental to the culture, or does it push writers to progress with their styles?
I think it definitely pushes writers to get better because you know heads are always checking your shit. Competition. But when it comes down to personal vendettas and toys not being put in there place ... you've got toy's out there who think that they're kings just because they fucking get up so much, but they really just suck. That is detrimental because toys will beef with everyone and dope pieces will get dissed. The other mentality is that pieces have to get painted over because there are not enough spaces to paint, so people have to paint the same walls over and over again. It doesn't have to be like that. That takes away from it. Real battles would be great. People should just stop running their mouths and fucking battle on the wall. Set a time and place and see who can burn the freshest. That's what the shits about, graffiti right? We need to keep it fucking graff. Fuck all the drama.
Would unity within the scene be important to you?
Graffiti has a lot of potential that's not realized because a lot of people have given it a bad name. There are only a handful of people out there who are just amazingly burning shit and being cleaver with the paint. They get this bad rep from all these toys out there. It's a fucked up cycle how you have to go from being a toy, doing all this damage, to eventually elevating ... most writers elevate to the point to where they just want to do pieces and burn and do something flavorful that the community can actually like. In that respect, I want graffiti to just blow up and have people embrace it. I just want people to do some positive shit so we can have a mural on every corner of every building, just cover the world in graff and art and letters. I want people to stop seeing it as some terrible vandalism and see the letters how we see them. With the flavor and the movement, the tilt, and what the letter expresses, you know what I'm saying?
That would be a nice thing.
For people who don't know about this movement, what is the difference between tags, bombing and piecing, and which is the most important?
They are all important, equally. When it comes down to it though, if you can't do a fucking piece what's the point? When you go out with friends or you go out to battle on a wall, you piece it. You have to bomb to get your name and rep up, and also it's fun to bomb, but it's a different kind of skill. You can have the illest bombers but they can't piece. If you can combine all three that's when you'll really be a king. You've got to have your street tags; you've got to have your throws/etches/and whatever else you want to do to get up, and you've got to piece. You have to paint trains also. You know, freights. Just do it all.
We all wish we could get up more. To risk a felony charge and put your life on the line for that shit every night, it takes a lot of dedication. But on that tip, if you're just out there piecing and you never go bombing, that's not good either. I love to piece but you could spend all week painting a fucking piece. I think to be a king you have to do all three, for sure.
I've seen it from all perspectives - from the point where people don't even find piecing relevant at all ...
I don't know, just my personal experience for what graff is to me, it's definitely changed a lot. I used to have this crazy yearning to write on everything and let everyone know I was up - get my name out there. After going to jail a couple times, going to court all these times, you get a little shook. You start to reevaluate all this shit like "do I really want to pay all these fines and community service and risk time just so I can get one marker tag up?" You start to try to take that energy and put it into something that is a little less hot. At that time it was piecing for me. It took getting arrested for me to start piecing.
Where do your artistic influences come from out side of graff?
Graffiti is obviously my passion, but other artists would be like Egon Sheil and that whole 5-10 movement - I think it's called the Vienna movement. Clempt. I like MC Escher a lot, as a kid growing up. All that graphic stuff. And I do graphic design as a profession so, that influenced me. My trip to Europe influenced me, seeing all of the old school art, the Sistine chapel and all of the classic shit. Basically I look at everything, from what is in front of me right now to the classic renaissance paintings and try to find elements within them, shapes that flow right etc, and incorporate it into my graff. I try to take it all in and keep changing to keep it interesting, so I don't continue doing the same thing.
How would you say that you have progressed over the years? When I first started noticing you, you weren't doing dimensionals, for example.
Ya, that's obviously what happens when I paint with this fucking Wet kid all the time (laughter). I wanted to be able to do what he was doing and to make sure that I could swing the 3D shit. Also, I think it has a lot of potential. I got board of the 2D thing so 3D keeps it changing up the stiles. Basically now I can paint a little cleaner than I could. I learned some tricks and techniques of how to paint better and I'm always trying to make my shit as hot and crispy and burnerific as I can. Just keep it wild but not have stupid bullshit floating in my piece. Not overboard with the wild style because you can get carried with that shit.
You think it can be too wild?
I think, sometimes, I've gone overboard with some effect to where it just starts to get cluttered. Right now I'm feeling like the ill straight letters, and throw some wild kicks on here and there - have it burn like that. That's where I'm at right now. I just want my shit to be clean so that it looks just as good in front of you as it does in the picture. Paint my piece for people who want to come and look up close on it. I want you to come up and bug on some little one-inch cut or something.
How important is style and originality in graffiti?
It's everything. The more original stiles you have the better you are. You have to either be born with it or have a drive to learn. It's hard to come up with a style, but also it's hard to break a style once you have it. I just do what comes naturally. Just the other day I was doing a piece, thing looked like a goddamn fucking Matallica logo (laughter). When I was a little kid I was all drawing Matallica logos on my shit. Maybe that influenced me somehow. The symmetrical letters that I always end up being drawn back to. But I hope it's not the fucking Matallica logo, man (mad laughter).
So what sets you apart from other writers that you see around?
Um ... It seems like a lot of writers are caught up in the game. I'm not anti-social but I just kind of do my own thing in my own little world. I'm not trying to be a graffiti superstar of the new millennium. Lately I've been in hiding, trying to burn. I like to think that I keep trying to elevate, though. There are a lot of writers out there doing that as well, but I like to think of myself as being innovative. A lot of people have told me that I get the most improved award or something. The way I came out was total toyism. Now I'm rocking EDA and trying to king shit. Many writers, it seems, have been writing a lot longer than me and they are stuck at this certain level. I'm trying to be on this next level shit all the time. That is probably the biggest difference with me, how I came out I was a total toy asshole. Bombed stupid shit everywhere. People were like "this kid sucks, get him away". All that hatred made me want to burn harder to prove something. I fed off that. I think that was different - where some people just come out fresh already and get better and better, I felt that I had to prove myself after I showed everyone how wak I was. I sort of went through a whole learning process in front of everyone. I think there are other writers who can relate that to there own experiences, and they can see how I've improved.
Do you have themes inside your pieces; I noticed one with the illuminati eye ...
Oh ya. I try to throw a theme in there now and again, some times with the letters sometimes trying to incorporate some tricky kind of thing. I like the whole illuminati, third eye, site, vision, you know - foresight. That's really what I was trying to come up with when I was first writing Syte. I was going to throw a "4" in front of it. The whole inner site, know thyself ... knowledge of self and the whole site beyond site thing. All that shit.
I talk to a lot of other artists, cats who don't even know anything about graffiti. When the see it they bring up some good points, many artists I talk to say that it seems very stylized and repetitive, which it can be. So what does it take to keep it fresh and original, and what is the next step for this art form?
I think right now graffiti is at a place where people are starting to realize - and maybe the next generation, our kids will see this - that graffiti is not such a heinous evil thing, which only little fucking punks do. They'll realize it for the art form that it is and see the capabilities that it has to be amazing. How it lends itself to so many different fades, lines, 3D to 2D shit, etc. But right now what it needs to do to grasp public attention, the kids who are out bombing bubbly throw ups and tagging shit everywhere need to start piecing. The public is never going to embrace tagging as a valid art form. It's the pieces that people look at and not realize that aerosol did it. That's what is going to impress them. If you do a piece that doesn't look at all like it was done with spray paint, it just looks like some big sticker you put on there or something, clean and crisp with no fuck ups, people will look at that and be amazed that it came from some kid with a spray can. Maybe that's when they'll start to think, "Maybe that shit is pretty cool, not just some vandalism that people should be getting arrested for all the time". It could really do some thing for the community if we had more legal walls. There'd be a lot less stupid vandilism shit because kids would have somewhere to go to flex. You close the walls, communities are just asking for it. I've lived in this aria for a minute and I only know about this spot and a few others. You'd think that there would be more hidden little spots but the more cameras they put up and the more old buildings they knock down, the harder it gets. I've lost so many places. I hope my kids can do graff; there will be no places. The whole world will be covered in video cameras by then, probably.
So what does it take to be a great writer in the new millennium?
Just to stay innovative. To be the best you have to be on some Kem 3A type shit. You have to be traveling around the world, setting people off in different countries ...
It's not enough to be all city any more, you have to be all world?
It seems like it. To be the best you have to have your shit in magazines and on the Internet, and not just impress one city. It's cool - I'm content just trying to be king of Boston, but to be all out mac daddy you have to take trips and bomb trains in Europe and shit. I bombed a lot when I went over there, but I didn't have anybody to go paint trains with. I wish I did.
Ok, so what is a KING and what does it take to be a king in 2004?
If you're a king, people either want to write with you or fight with you. That's what it comes down to. Once people get to a style that can be bitten, or said to be original, people will jock that style and you'll be a king. The people who came here today, we king it. We came up with some styles and we rock it. After that, it becomes a matter of taste. Some people like coffee, some people like fucking coffee with sugar. Whatever. It becomes a matter of opinion, once you have a style that can really be said to be fresh, that's when you have it. I might think one is better than the other but that's just my opinion. Once you get to that level, you're a king. You have to be all city also, of course. You have to have your tags running so people know your name. You have to be ready to burn. You know, it takes a lot of nights running down train tracks and shit like that. Jumping over the third rail.
Are you still doing yards and shit?
Right now I'm hiding. My boy got knocked and I'm shook. I'm in all his flicks and I'm scared, I'm buggin'.
Is it worth the risk?
It gets to a point where it is such a habit that you can't even help yourself. Why would I want to go out there and burn? You just get that itch. You want to get up so bad, walking down the street seeing all these tags; you start bugging out like "they're getting up and I'm not". Next thing you know, you're bombing the whole fucking street up. I fiend for it. Getting arrested helps slow you down a little bit, but every time I'm in the city I just want to bust. It's just like crack or something. I just think about the shit all day when I'm at work. When I wake up and go to sleep, I just want to burn. I try to take that energy and put it towards piecing, just do a better and better piece every time. I think I'll be painting for as long as I know, I'll probably be painting until I'm dead.
In your own mind what is the biggest problem with graffiti today. Either between writers themselves or writers and government, and what would be your solution?
That's a good question. I think that beef here and there is healthy for the movement. I think the real problem is the city and its view on it. It shouldn't be such a harsh punishment with felony charges of malicious destruction, just for trying to be artsy. Granted, it should be a crime with a punishment, but let the punishment fit the crime. Having to paint over your shit or do some kind of a community service if you get caught. Right now, they're just trying to enslave you. They view it as such a horrible crime, putting kids in fucking jail for doing art. It doesn't seem like society has it's priorities straight. Society is not embracing the artists at all. Especially this movement, it's so unknown and underground. It's the only real art movement going on right now in America. And people are really missing out because they are so closed-minded. They just want to stop it and squash it. Nancy (Boston's vandal squad) crushes kids art talent left and right. Who knows how many writers she's fucking taken out. Those are all kids who could have elevated and brought their stiles better. It's an art form, you can't deny that. It's always going to be around. They should just embrace it instead of trying to fight it all the time. Buffing trains.
Here's a solution, give a couple of legal trains for people to paint on the regular. It sounds crazy, but just give us a fucking out let. Don't make me sit in the shit like some bum trying to paint my art. I don't mind being grimy, but ... and of course writers have to take it upon themselves to go out there and make things happen. You have to ask people if they want a mural or get yourself to level where you can paint murals and try to get jobs and make money of that shit. Me and my boy are doing a skate shop in Rockland, going to get some money and have fun. That's what I like to do. I like to do my art and have people watch. Festivals or concerts where they set up walls where you can paint and people are walking by and shit.
The thing I've always liked about graff is that it's such a guerilla art form. It formed in the same way as punk and other such movements. I don't think the state likes anything that is not under their control or that they can't tax, so they make it as difficult as they can.
It's true; they don't know how to make money off of it so they're afraid of it. I know where you're coming from. It's the same thing with skateboarding ... I have a lot of qualms with society. And when graffiti came along I embraced it because it's emphatically denying authority. That's what EDA stood for in the beginning.
So those are the biggest problems, what are the biggest pluses?
Just beautifying the city when it's all run down and gross. You got a nice beautiful burner right there for people to look at every day instead of some shitty peeling wall or some crappy throw-ups. It might make some peoples day instead of it being all dreary and gray. They buff the whole highway, you know? It seems like it would look a lot cooler to me if it had some interesting shapes and colors instead of gray buff the whole way down. And for me personally, the memories I'm going to have. Me and my boys coming off and making people happy through the artwork. That's all I'm trying to do.
Who are your favorite writers now, and what makes them great?
I love EDA of course. We have a lot to learn, but we're one of the freshest crews in the area. The people I look up to most would have to be 3A, Kem and Ges. They're on that next level that I'm trying to get up to. Just burn insanely hard and travel around the world and meet amazing people at festivals and shit. I also look up to Ewok and Sew from Philly. I like Bates and Sick. I like a lot of different styles. I like old Dream, rest in peace. Spone.
What's in store for the future?
Well, I'm just trying to finish this piece today and who knows what is next (laughter). I'm torn right now between bombing and ... Syte is either going to go all the way legal or all the way crazy. Who knows, I just want to start doing more productions and shit that people will see. Legal walls. I also want to bomb freights and keep my freight numbers up, but right now I'm really trying to rock in the public eye.
Ok, that's it. I wish you the best, thanks.
Thank you Dave.
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