As you all know I'm very fond of motorcycles...DUH! I could look at photos of motorcycles for hours. One day I found Swag's Rant on another blogger's favorite blog list and I was instantly in motorcycle photo heaven. I kept thinking to myself...damn, this guy takes great photos of motorcycles plus he writes interesting articles too. Well as time passed I started to follow Swag on Twitter and we became Twitter peeps, so I got up the nerve to ask Swag if he'd be interested in doing an interview. He agreed and also told me I'm the first person to interview him so I'm pretty darn stoked about that. Hope you enjoy getting to know Swag. He's a cool cat from down yonder in Tennessee.
First off I have to know how you got the name Swag...
Swag comes from the music industry... it's what they call the freebies you get from labels and artists, etc.... (tshirts, comp cd's and other junk) One of my riding buddies heard me talking about getting some swag from someone one day and thought it would be funny to call me Swag Boy. Swag stuck and although it really makes no sense whatsoever to the bike community and nobody gets it... that's who Ive become. haha!
Give me a bio about you.
I was born in Kansas City, Missouri but grew up in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago where sports, photography, music, hot rods and of course motorcycles were my obsessions. My college years found me back in the Kansas City area and that's when the arts (music, photography, design) moved to the forefront of my life. I supported myself (and not very well I might add) by playing music through the late 1980's with a bunch of bands you've never heard of (haha) which eventually landed me in Nashville, Tennessee where I had very brief stints as guitarist with a couple Contemporary Christian artists in the early 1990's. Long story short, I eventually landed a full-time photography/design gig with a prominent music industry company in late 1994 and have been in that field since. Of course all along my path there have been motorcycles and hot rods so naturally, I sort of fell into side gigs doing photography and design in the regional bike and hot rod cultures.
When were you first aware of your interest in motorcycles?
When I was about 3 years old my aunt came for a visit to our house with her new boyfriend. I remember the distinct sound I heard when they rode up on a Harley-Davidson touring bike and it made such an impact on me that I still vividly recall even some of the details of that bike... like the rail that ran around the back of the seat and the white grips. I also remember how most in my family looked down on the "hoodlum biker" that had stolen my aunt’s heart. It's funny how even at that age I was aware of peoples preconceived notions of bikers... and I’m glad that my parents were not like that. They welcomed this guy and as for me... I could barely contain my excitement over that bike and I thought the guy was cool. BTW... as it turns out, he was a good guy... and he started what was a lifelong love of motorcycles for me. I often think about that when kids approach me today and want to see my bike. I always make time for them just like my aunt’s boyfriend did for me.
What was the first bike that you owned? What do you currently ride?
When I was 6, and after a long time of pleading my case, my dad finally convinced my mother that I wasn’t going to kill myself on 2 wheels and she let him spring for a used Sears mini-bike for me. It was the one with the lawn mower engine on it with the rope pull. It wasn’t much but man I loved it!
I currently have four bikes. A 2006 Electra Glide Standard for when I’m feeling may age, a 2001 Suzuki SV650S for when I feel sporty, a 1993 Honda CR250R for when I feel like I’m young again, and a 1984 Kawasaki 550LTD that my dad and I bobbed just for the heck of it.
Tell us about Biker Swag Design and Photography Services.
BikerSwag is the calling card for my motorcycle related work. I do all kinds of biker-related photography as well as web and print design for motorcycle related companies and events.
How long have you been in this industry?
I started considering the motorcycle industry a viable source of work in 2005.
Do you have a favorite photo shoot?
That’s a tough one because they are all fun. One of the most memorable ones though was a few years back when a local company sent me to Las Vegas to shoot guitarist Ace Frehley of KISS. This was back during the bands reunion and when the WWF was still rockin’. KISS was playing a couple songs for Monday Nitro which was the WWF’s big televised event and the shoot was scheduled in the KISS dressing room backstage before the event. It was all so surreal… haha! Here I was in Las Vegas (whacky town), at the WWF’s Monday Nitro (walking around in the midst of larger than life wrestlers like Hulk Hogan) shooting Ace Frehley (of a band that performs in Goth Makeup)! Can’t get much more bizarre than that!
Of course, any time there are motorcycles involved its tons of fun for me too. Like when I shot local builder Browder Ledbetter’s custom Triumph in front of a Nashville landmark for one of our state magazines. A beautiful bike!
Do you work mainly in the Tennessee area or do you travel to other parts of the country?
Most of my photography work is this area but I have design clients across the country thanks to the digital age. There are some clients I have never met face to face. The whole process of concept to completed project is done via email and file transfer.
What has been your greatest accomplishment or are there many?
I’m still working on that one… ha!
Could you tell me about your websites and what people can find there?
The one that would be of most interest to your readers would be Biker Swag which showcases some of my recent work in the motorcycle industry, both photography and design. And there is a blog related to it which I call Swag’s Rant. It’s sort of my personal outlet for all things two-wheel related and includes my thoughts as well as product reviews and interviews.
Do you have any mentors or people that you look up to?
I have been blessed to have more than a few people in the photography/design fields that have been very unselfish with me… especially in the beginning when I was real green… that helped get me pointed in the right direction.
Someone more famous whose photo work I admire is Jeff Cochran of Speed King Photo. His images are just fantastic and capture the emotion of the moment… the kind of images I look at and say, “man, I wish I had shot that!”
What cameras do you use to shoot your amazing photos?
Well, I’m definitely a Canon snob… haha. I’m currently using a Canon 7D DSLR with a variety of lenses for the critical stuff but most of the images you see on my RANT are shot with a very small Canon SD1000 point-and-shoot. I love that camera because it fits in my pocket and does a great job for the web stuff. I process all images with Adobe Photoshop as well.
Do you have any big projects in the works for the future?
Yes, I recently became the Art Director for an upstart Hot Rod magazine called Grease Monkey. It caters to the Rat Rod and Rat Bike crowd and is really cool.
What is your favorite rally or do you have more then one favorite?
Honestly, I’ve never been much of a rally kind of guy. Large crowds usually just piss me off so I tend to avoid them… haha!
Where is the best place in the country to ride?
One day I want to ride the west coast line but last year a couple friends and I rode the Blueridge Parkway to Blowing Rock, NC and it was awesome. Of course most people in and around Tennessee would probably say the Tail of the Dragon, which I’ve ridden a few times.
Do you have any mottos that you live by?
No real mottos but having integrity is a biggie for me. I try to treat everyone from clients to friends with respect and total honesty. I despise people whose word I can’t trust.
What are your other passions beyond motorcycles and photography?
I kind of alluded to it earlier but music is a big deal in my life. I started playing guitar at the age of 8 and have never stopped. For a while it was my source of income.
How does riding enrich your life?
Oh man... beyond words. Its such a soul cleansing thing for me and definitely contributes to my sanity!
What do you think makes a "Biker"?
I know a lot of people are funny about the word biker but to me, anybody who rides and has a passion for two wheels is a biker on some level. And I’m for sure not a brand snob. (Note what’s in my garage.) The old saying that “I don’t care what you ride, if you ride you are my friend” would apply to me.
Are there any motorcycle publications that you would recommend?
I have subscribed to a bunch of mags in the past but the only one that has survived my subscription list is Cycle World. Honestly I mostly just read great blogs on-line like yours. There is a list on my RANT of my favorites.
What have you been published in?
I write a monthly column for Thunder Roads Tennessee and have been published in several of their sister publications including Kentucky, Alabama, Florida… I’ve also been published in The Horse Backstreet Choppers and Road Bike and on the music side of things everything from Guitar Player to Guitar World to Revolver to SPIN and even USA Today.
Where does the design aspect come into your business?
There is always some design aspect when framing a photo but beyond that I’ve been blessed to create several websites for clients in the motorcycle world as well as print design for others. Print Ad Services
What is the wildest thing that has happened to you out on the road?
Nothing all that wild but I did ride through a hail storm with little visibility in the mountains of East Tennessee one time… not interested in doing that again.
What is the most important lesson you've learned out on the road?
Riding is almost a spiritual thing for me… so I often learn a lot about myself when riding. Introspection comes easy when it’s just God, my motorcycle and me.
What is your favorite swear word?
Haha… I usually don’t use them but cut me off on my bike and all bets are off!
What music are you currently listening to?
Anything guitar-oriented is cool for me… but I just got the new Slash self titled CD and it is the best thing he has ever done. There are a bunch of guest vocalists including the great Lemmy Kilmeister, Myles Kennedy, Ozzy, Iggy Pop, Chris Cornell and even Fergie. It’s fantastic. Also on the iPod right now is the new Scorpions, The Dixie Dregs and Joe Satriani Live.
What are you currently reading?
I just picked up a copy of a great book called “Inbound Marketing” by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. Always trying to gain the marketing edge!
Thanks for the great interview, Swag! Looking forward to many more of Swag's Rants and those amazing Biker Swag photos!!