Franky Villani's "One Big Mess" Interview

Franky Villani Title
A pro career alongside P-Rod and Tiago was never guaranteed for a fat kid from the Santa Ana skatepark. Yet Franky endured through the hecklers, his rocky home and a few rugged Zero trips to get where he is. See how he let fate be his guide to the good life in this December ’20 mag feature.

Franky Villani photo 1Somewhere, over the rainbow… apparently there’s a bucket of paint with Franky’s name on it
Franky Villani pullquote 1
What made you get excited about skating? What was the spark?
Just finally learning how to do a trick, ‘cause it took so long. It took so long to learn any sort of trick that once I learned it I was just hyped and I kept doing it, you know? I think it took eight months of trying consistently to learn how to kickflip. Once I did it I think I learned varials that same day, too. Once I figured it out it was on.

Where did you grow up? What kind of area were you in?
Santa Ana. It’s not the nicest neighborhood but it’s definitely not the worst. It’s like a happy medium, I guess. Not a cul-de-sac, though. It’s funny because where I live it’s not too bad but then this neighborhood right next door, I wouldn’t really wanna be over there at night. Just a ten-minute walk completely changes everything.

What was your family like?
It was my dad, my mom, my younger brother, my older sister and my younger sister. So it’s kind of a big family. They’re alright. Not the best, not the worst.

Did you have a family where everyone was fighting all the time?
Yeah. Definitely.

Like serious? Did it get sketchy?
It definitely has gotten sketchy a couple times but over the years it’s gotten way better.

Over the years, Franky has also gotten way better. Watch his new part to see what we mean

I know a lot of really good skaters get good at skating because they don’t want to be home—they want to be outside away from the drama.
Yeah, exactly.

Were you kind of raised by the substitute parent, the Santa Ana skatepark?
Definitely. One-hundred percent. Once I was allowed to go to the skatepark on my own I did not want to be home. I hated it at home so much.

What was the Santa Ana skatepark like?
I liked it just ‘cause it wasn’t home. But thinking about it now, it got sketchy sometimes. But I was just a kid kind of new to everything so I was just hyped on everything.

Franky Villani Switch Bs Heelflip high res DZLeaving his block to hop down some others, Franky snaps a switch backside heelflip over the sign

What was an average amount of time you’d spend at the Santa Ana skatepark?
Seriously, 9 AM ’til past dark. I just did not want to be home. If we wanted to go skate a spot I couldn’t tell my parents. I’d just have to go or else they’d get mad.

What was some wild shit that popped off over the years at the Santa Ana park? Did you guys have any rivals?
Not really. I got in a fight there once but that was just because my little brother was kind of hectic and he would always get into trouble. I’d always have to step in big-brother style, I guess.

Did your brother stick with skating?
No, he kind of fell into the Santa Ana lifestyle pretty heavy. He was getting into heaps of trouble for a while. Actually, ’til recently. He kinda snapped out of it which I’m super hyped about. He just does music stuff. I’m not exactly sure what he’s doing fully but I know he helps film music videos, so I’m super hyped for him right now.

Franky Villani Bigflip Darwen 750pxStellar bigflips are kind of Franky's thing

What was the wildest thing you ever saw at the Santa Ana park?
I wasn’t there but the wildest thing—some guy got pretty much killed with a hammer at the park. It got filmed and stuff and everyone saw the video and it was really bad.

Jesus! Did you know the guy?
No, sometimes drunk people make their way to the park to try to start trouble. Then there’s the group of people outside that don’t really skate but they just hang out there. It was some of those guys. I don’t even know who they were.

Did you try to make sure your parents didn’t hear about that?
No, actually the cops came to my house just ’cause somehow they heard that I go to that park a lot and they’re like, “Did you happen to see anything?” I think my parents were like, “They weren’t even there. Leave us alone. We don’t know anything.” But yeah, luckily I wasn’t there. I wouldn’t want to see that.

Franky Villani photo 2From dodging hammers at the park to dropping ‘em under bridges. Kicky 50-50

How did the sponsorship stuff start stacking up? What was the first free thing you ever got?
Oh, my first sponsor was this company called Leftover hardware. I still ride for them, actually. I think one of my friends started getting stuff from them and he’s like, “Oh yeah, send them your footage. They’ll probably be down.” Then I sent my footage and they sent me a little—it wasn’t even a box. It was one of those plastic bags filled with hardware and a shirt or something. I remember getting it and being like, Oh my God, I got free stuff in the mail! Just super hyped. I still remember that. It’s crazy.

So it took you eight months to kickflip but then at the Santa Ana park was there a point where you were just learning tricks every single day?
Not really because I guess I was kind of impatient. There’s a two block there and I would try all my tricks down that before I could do them on flat. So I think that’s how I learned how to jump down stuff. Because I think my first tré flip I ever did was down the two block and not on flat. So that’s kind of how I learned.

Did being a little fat kid make it harder for you to skate?
I didn’t even think about it to be honest. We grew up where you have to finish all the food that is on your plate—you can’t waste anything. So I was used to eating passed being full, so I guess that kind of contributed to me being bigger or whatever. It wasn’t ’til I got older that I realized like, Oh, you can just stop when you’re full.
Franky Villani pullquote 2Did people talk shit to you about it?
Oh, of course. Yeah. Kids will talk shit on anything that’s wrong with you. If you have big ears that’s it, they’re going in on you.

You’re super into scary movies, right?

What are some of your all-time faves?
Right now I’m really hyped on Red Dragon, stuff like that. Silence of the Lambs. Just ’cause it’s more real. A couple years ago I think I was more into Friday the 13th. I’m more into realistic stuff right now.

And you like the artwork of it, too?
Yeah, I like the cover art. If the cover art catches my attention I’ll probably buy the DVD.

Franky Villani photo 3Fat switch heel from a former heavyweight

So then after Leftover hardware, what were the steps to becoming a pro skater?
It was weird. I guess I wasn’t traditional ’cause I think after that I got super hyped and I was like, Oh, I’m gonna try to be sponsored and stuff. I think I tried to go in, trying to send my tape out to everyone. ’Cause I was like, Oh, it worked once. Let me try it everywhere. Then I pretty much got shut down from everyone and I remember being super bummed. Eventually I just kinda gave up on it and I was like, Ah, I’m gonna skate just to skate, for myself or whatever. I didn’t care about it anymore. Then that’s when it kinda started working for some reason. I think people can just tell when you’re too thirsty. But I think the next sponsor was Ambiguous clothing. That was just because they had a warehouse super close to the skatepark so these guys would go skate there and I think they would see me and they would just give me—I wouldn’t even get boxes really at first. It would be a trash bag of the clothes they couldn’t sell, you know? But I was hyped. Just kind of the stuff they didn’t know what to do with, I think that’s what I would get. That was like my first actual sponsor, I guess. I can’t even tell you how that came to be, me going on a trip with them.

What about boards? Who’d you get boards from?
I started getting Black Label boards. My friend Lawrence, I guess he was friends with somebody over there and gave them my footage. At this time I was already over it.
I wasn’t really worried about getting sponsored or anything anymore. Then my friend told me, “Oh yeah, they’re down to hook you up with some boards.” I was like, “What? Really? Are you sure?” I was kind of confused but I started getting hooked up through them and then eventually getting put on. So that was my first taste of being sponsored, like for real.

Were you making homie videos, shop videos and stuff like that the whole time, too?
Definitely. My first homie video was Rolling Hard. There was no quality control—whatever you filmed went in there. It’s funny ’cause I skated to David Bowie at the time. I think they just put out the video and I didn’t have a say in anything. And at the time I was kind of bummed ’cause I was like, What the heck is the song you picked? That sounded like elevator music! But now I like David Bowie and I understand, but at the time it just completely went over
my head.
Franky Villani photo 4Fakie heel back lip on an almost forgotten J Wray spot

What would you have picked at the time?
Fuck, probably System of a Down or something crazy. So now I’m kinda glad he picked the music.

So then what happened after Black Label? Did you do anything with them?
Actually, with Black Label I stuck it out with them for a while. They were supposed to have a video called Black Blood or something. I think Lucero was just like, “Yeah, keep filming. We’re gonna put out this video,” and I remember pretty much filming a whole part and then no one else had anything. So the video wasn’t gonna come out and I just started feeling a little stagnant. The way I went about quitting or whatever was totally not how you’re supposed to, but I never had anyone to show me anything. I think I just stopped talking to them. I think Chris Troy texted me. He was like, “Yo, if you’re over it, it’s okay but you can’t just not say anything. You gotta call Lucero and tell him or something.” I think I ended up writing him a note or something ’cause I was too terrified to call him. But that’s pretty much how I quit, I guess.
Franky Villani pullquote 3What happened with enjoi? ’Cause about a year and a half ago Louie said, “Tell me who should be on enjoi,” and I’m like, “Frankie Villani.” He replied, “I think we bummed him out too much back in the day.”
Oh yeah, I think—well, you know James Craig, right? He’s always pretty much been looking out for me in some kind of way since I’ve known him. And I think he had texted me like, “Hey, man, I think you’d be a really good fit at enjoi. I’m gonna talk to Louie for you.” Then I think I told him, “Just tell him I would be super stoked to get boards, that’s it. I’m not even looking to get on the team or anything like that.” I forgot what happened but they pretty much said no. Then after that I was pretty heartbroken ’cause I was just looking to get boards from a team I liked. And then after that I was kind of lost as to what I wanted to do. I kind of completely gave up on that idea. Then I think later on they wanted me on and I was like, What the heck? I just wanted two boards a month before and you guys weren’t down. What happened? I think I pretty much gave up trying to make moves after that. I decided if it’s meant to happen, it will, and if it’s not it’s not going to. So I try not to force things now. For instance, this interview is happening and it kind of happened on its own. I prefer that rather than me trying to knock on your door and be like, “Hey, can I have an interview?”
Franky Villani photo 5For sure. So how’d you get on Zero?
Dane Burman. I was actually super intimidated to meet him because I heard he was a dick.

So how’d you connect with Dane? Is he as bad as people say?
No. It’s just like if you’re a dumbass he’s gonna tell you you’re a dumbass. He’s not gonna hold it back. But most of the time he’s gonna tell you what you need to hear. And a lot of people don’t like hearing that.

Tough-love Burman.
But no, if he cares about you he really cares about you, you know?

Franky Villani Bs 5050 high res DZAlways on his own path, Franky swims a backside 50-50 upstream

So how was Zero?
I feel like I was always doing stuff but maybe the companies I was riding for weren’t doing anything really. I had to end up on something that was trying to put stuff out, you know? That’s what I liked about Zero—they never stop what they’re doing. They’re always working on a video or something like that. That’s all I really wanted from skating at the time. I guess I just don’t like being stagnant.

So what was it like riding for Jamie Thomas? Were there any surprises?
Skating for Zero is definitely not what I thought it would be, you know? I don’t want to say anything bad, but they’re definitely kinda—not budget, but you would go camping and be on a trip doing demos. It was like non-stop demos on the trips. I was not on for that long but I have so many stories.

Franky Villani Kickflip Crooks high res DZ DZKickflip crooks to earn the New Balance beach day

Was there a moment where you were like, Hey, I don’t think this is for me?
Yeah, definitely.

What was one of those moments?
I think I was on a New Balance trip to Italy and it was the best trip I’d ever been on—like, amazing, nice hotels. You would go skate but then they would have a day where you would go to this beautiful beach, stuff like that. And I remember just looking around and being like, Wow, this is so nice. I love this. Then straight from there I had to fly into a Zero trip and it was the exact opposite of that trip. I remember sleeping in the airport that night and just being like, Fuck, man, I don’t think I like this. I missed my flight so I had to pretty much find my own way to where they were at. I ended up flying there and then having to take a train to a whole other state on my own and then going to a skateshop and they picked me up at the shop. I think this was a trip where we were in the van and there was no AC. I was sitting on a cooler and just to breathe you had to have the back doors open, tied with a shoelace. It was super sketchy. I definitely knew I didn’t like that.

Franky Villani gif 1New moves in P-Rod’s backyard—fakie Smith to forwards, wow!

I’ve seen Jamie eat cereal with a wrench.
Really? No way. That’s super funny.

So did you quit or get kicked off?
I quit but the weird thing is when they had their thing announcing I didn’t ride for them anymore, the way they worded it kinda made it look like I got kicked off. And I remember my friends telling me that and I was like, Yeah, I don’t know. He told me not to say anything ’til they put it out. So I don’t know.

Did you turn pro for Zero?
That’s another story. I think a big part of why I quit was because they were kind of pushing me to be pro and I really didn’t feel ready or comfortable to be pro yet. I just didn’t feel good enough. I didn’t feel like I did anything to deserve that, you know? I remember having nightmares about it, too. For some reason I didn’t want to be pro if I didn’t feel like I did enough to deserve it, I guess. Another part is I didn’t want to be pro if I didn’t feel like I had a say in things. And I kinda didn’t feel like I had a say over there. I honestly don’t even care if I was pro or if I ever turned pro really. The only thing I cared about was being able to pick my graphics. And I didn’t want to ride for a company where I didn’t feel like I could do that.

So getting on New Balance, was that the first time you had some money?
That was definitely the first time. I was so surprised when they put me on. I completely did not see that coming at all.
Franky Villani pullquote 4A while ago I wouldn’t have thought of you on Primitive but now it totally makes sense. You seem like a more interesting dude than they typically would have. It seems like they like really straight-laced fresh dudes.
I don’t know about that, but I like a lot of them. They’re just my friends. It’s super weird how it worked out, but I guess when Shane O’Neill was on the team at that time, he was in Heath’s ear like, You gotta put this guy Frankie on. I think Rothmeyer had told me like, “Shane O’Neill wants you to skate for Primitive,” and then I was like, “You’re lying; that’s not true. Where’d you hear that?” Just ’cause that’s so random. I was on Zero, you know? Then eventually someone else told me that, too, and I was like, What do you mean? This is the second person telling me this. Then eventually Trent McClung reached out to me and was like, “Hey, what do you think about riding for Primitive?” ’Cause it was super weird and I knew it was weird. It was weird to even think about going over there. It’s still weird to me now that they even thought about me being on. I don’t know, it just kind of worked out almost perfect ’cause when they hit me up I had already made up my mind that I was gonna quit Zero. I was like, This opportunity just presented itself at this crossroads for me, you know? Then I started talking to them a little bit. I felt super shady talking to someone else. I felt like I was cheating on a girlfriend. But I knew I was over it. Anyways, I know that it was kinda weird ’cause they weren’t offering me a spot on the team yet, they were more like we could just see how it goes, go from there sort of thing, and I was kinda worried. But then eventually we had this whole meeting with them, like I had to drive up there and meet them and that was super intimidating, too. But I think once I talked to them it kind of eased my mind a little bit. It was completely different. It was pretty welcoming, too, you know? It was just refreshing, I guess. Like they have their whole office with all the boards on the wall. Everything’s super nice. I don’t even know how it happened where I got fully on. But the weird thing is Shane is kind of the one who got me on and then he quit. So that’s happened to me twice now. ’Cause when I got on Zero I think Brass and Dane were the ones who liked me and then I got on and Brass left. Then I get on Primitive and Shane left. A lot of the way things happen for me, I don’t even know how they happened to be honest with you. It’s just chance. I kinda get lost in my stories.

Franky Villani photo 6He quit Zero, but not Zero Sundays. Fakie frontside flip a thick stack

So you turned pro for Primitive?
Yeah. I think they offered me, like—I could have had a board right when I got on but I just didn’t feel like I had done enough. I would have preferred it be a surprise, but at the same time we didn’t really know each other well enough where that could be a thing. So I think right when I got on they had this plan like, Alright, so you can film a part. You have a year. I think one thing I said was like, “I want Fos to do my first graphic,” and they were like, “Okay, sweet, we can do that.” Then Fos did my graphic; I was hyped on that. I had a year to film for my part. But that was so much pressure and I feel like I kinda cracked filming for that part. It’s weird how pressure can kinda break you.

So how did it change your life? Is this the first point in your life where you had enough money to do stuff?
I mean, a big thing about riding for Primitive was that the way they talked to me was just like, “You just keep skating and as long as we can see that you’re trying, that’s all we ask for.” And that’s a whole change of pace from being on Zero where I felt like I had to perform to this Zero level. But there’s a same sort of thing at Primitive ’cause they’re all really amazing skaters. There’s still pressure there, but that pressure was put on by myself. I didn’t really feel pressure from an outside source so I was more comfortable with that. I like that Primitive is unexpected but at the same time they’re very understanding with me and the way I think and my demands with me riding for them.
Franky Villani pullquote 5What kind of demands do you have?
My only demands were that I get to pick all of my graphics. I don’t ever wanna be surprised with a graphic. My greatest fear is seeing a graphic online and it’s terrible and you’re just like, Fuck, my name’s on that. Honestly, I don’t even want a board sponsor if I can’t pick my graphic.

Why are graphics so important to you?
’Cause I don’t see the point of being pro really besides picking your own graphic or getting to draw your own graphic. It’s like it doesn’t mean anything anymore. I would just feel used if they were just using my name on their ideas without running it by me.

What’s P-Rod like one on one?
Oh, P-Rod’s such a nice person. You’ll hang out with him for ten minutes and you forget it’s P-Rod. You just think you’re hanging out with one of your friends, you know? But also at the same time, if I don’t see him for a while and then I see him again it’s like I can’t talk to him. I’m like, That’s fucking P-Rod. I start stuttering and shit.

Franky Villani photo 7Nimble AF. Casper stall on the windowsill

What gets you fired up? What skaters are really catching your eye?
I think Jerry Hsu has always been the one that has stuck for me. His video parts, even before Bag of Suck were at such a high level. I remember watching that and the switch ollie on that long flat gap. As soon as I watched that it was embedded in my brain forever ’cause at the time it didn’t even look possible. I was like, How the fuck did he just do that? It just looked like the longest flat gap ever. I really like him and I really like the 917 videos. I like their music. A lot of it has to do with music.

What advice would you give to a 13-year-old little fat kid who wants to skate?
Don’t worry about being sponsored and just go skate with your friends while you can. No obligations, just go out and have fun ’cause you don’t get those years back. I guess that’s all I could say.
Franky Villani Fakie Noseblunt 2Fakie back noseblunt slide in a recycled world

Can you think of the scariest and the hardest trick you’ve ever done?
I could definitely think of the scariest trick I’ve ever done ’cause it was recent—the frontside flip I did in Australia, the alley-oop one. When I first went to Australia I had tried it and I just got fucked up—like bodied. I couldn’t fuckin’ walk properly for months and it just kinda scarred me. I couldn’t even jump down stuff for a long time. I had to regain my confidence slowly over time. It just kind of shattered my confidence. But I remember I got the opportunity to work on this New Balance part and I would finally get to go on trips to work on a project I wanted to do and not have to give my footage to other people. I think New Balance kind of put their foot down for me ’cause that was something I really wanted to do. So pretty much I got to pick where I wanted to go. And I was like, I wanna go back to Australia. I need to at least try it again, you now? I just remember being fuckin’ so scared, like terrified. I remember getting to Australia and they’re like, “You can only skate that thing on weekends.” I was like, Fuck, I just got here. I still have airplane legs. So nervous. I remember going there and it was super windy. I had to jump over the rail like 15 times without my board, just jumping over it to make sure that I’d be okay jumping. Eventually I tried a couple and they just didn’t feel right and we got kicked out. I had like a mental breakdown almost, just so scared. I think after that day I had time to think about it and I was just like, You know what? It doesn’t matter if you do it or not. If it’s meant to happen it’ll happen. I had to tell myself that. Then the next time I went I was so much more relaxed, all my friends were there and it wasn’t windy. It was just so much better than the first time. I think I went there twice already to look at it and try to jump down it. That thing’s fuckin’ intimidating. The ground sucks rolling up to it, you land into a road and I don’t know which ways the cars are coming. Everything’s just confusing, it’s just a fat drop and you can’t see anything. But the third time I went, I was actually sick that morning. Just feeling like shit. I don’t even know what happened. I think I had allergies or something but I remember feeling super awful and it was the last weekend to go there so I was like, Fuck, I gotta at least go try.
Franky Villani pullquote 6It seems like you’ve done that a few times where you decide what’s gonna happen will happen, then it happens.
Yeah, that’s the way things have worked out the best for me so far. So I try to just do that. I felt like shit when I first got there but eventually started rolling around doing some tricks, started sweating a little bit and then after I started sweating I was like, Okay, I kinda feel better. I think Levi was like, “Let’s go try it now; it’s now or never.”
I was still kind of nervous but I was like, Alright, fuck it. If it happens it happens. If not I’m not gonna beat myself up about it. But we just show up there and kinda did the same thing—threw myself over the rail to make sure I could handle the impact and then that day I just started trying it. I think I finally caught one that felt good.
It wasn’t quite good enough to stick it but I remember catching it good and I was like, Oh, I could maybe do this. I think I tried a few more then I remember feeling the board hit my feet. I hit the ground and then I had all this adrenaline and I was already riding away. I kinda didn’t know where I was, really. I just felt my arms go to noodles as I realized I was riding away. Seriously, my whole body felt like noodles. I hear my friends yelling and I’m just tripping, I can’t even believe I’m riding away.

Franky Villani photo 8All alone in the quarantine zone. Blasting switchflip

So that was the scariest trick you’ve ever done?
Most definitely. I had a lot of time to think about it beforehand which made it worse.
Franky Villani photo 10So what’s coming out in this Halloween video? Is this gonna be your best part ever?
I don’t know. I guess that’s for the people to decide. I couldn’t even tell you. I rewatch my clips over and over until they’re terrible to me, you know? It’s up to whoever is watching it to decide.

What do you got next?
I don’t even want to think about it. I just finished working on this video!

Franky Villani photo 9Alley-oop frontside flip the Aussie El Toro. If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen
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