1 february, 2024
Shaun Ross is one of the heroes of 1980s LA skate-punk and a founding member of EXCEL, a band that was one of the first who mixed hardcore punk and thrash metal. From an early age, he has been fascinated by graffiti and crazy skate tricks, and all of this is directly reflected in his music. It may seem like Shaun has dedicated his whole life to EXCEL, but the band is only one side of his work. He worked for the FUCT brand in the first half of the 1990s, the heyday of streetwear culture, and then went on to draw graphics for many brands including Stussy and XLARGE.

In our conversation we talked about important parts of Shaun's life: from memories of his skater father and legendary Marina skatepark, to the creation of the graffiti crew Kings Stop At Nothing and everything about EXCEL. To make it easier for you to get into the atmosphere of those days, Shaun shared his archival photos.
You said, your dad skated at Marina Skate Park in 1978. Remember those good old times?
Around 1978 my father took up skateboarding, it was all about skating parks back then. I was 10 years old. When the Marina Del Rey Skatepark opened in 1979 that was the closest to our house and we quickly became locals there. Those are still some of my best memories, we were skating with a lot of legends of that era regularly. That was also where I was first witnessed and was exposed to punk rock.
Shaun and his father, Marina Del Rey Skatepark 1980
Describe the moment you discovered punk rock. What song / band was a trigger for you?
That was around the time a lot of the older local skaters (Z-Boys etc.) that I'd skate with at Marina went from having long hair, to shaving it and taking on a much more hardcore punk attitude/style. I remember it as if it was day and night. We saw The Adolescents at Marina in 1981, that was probably the first "hardcore" band that I saw live. The skatepark had speakers in the bowls and they'd play the Rodney On The Roq show on Saturday nights. Rodney would play a lot of the punk that I heard for the first time.
You are known as a member of Kings Stop at Nothing — one of the first graff crew in LA. Can you tell us about the roots of KSN?
I am a member of the Kings Stop at Nothing crew. Adam Siegel (our original guitarist) and I started doing graffiti after reading about it in one of my father's High Times magazines. He went to Fairfax High School where many of L.A.'s first generation graffiti writers went to school. He was a lot more active than I was, I specialized in Los Angeles style gang graffiti. Our crew was an extension of the band, it was a great time to grow up in Los Angeles.
Kings Stop at Nothing, late 80's
By talking about EXCEL roots, you said: "We were punk kids that were discovering Slayer and other metal bands. What path did you guys take as punk kids to start playing something new that would later be called crossover thrash?
By 1984, we'd discovered bands like Slayer, Trouble and Metallica. At the same time, we'd heard punk bands like English Dogs and Corrosion of Conformity adopt a more metallic, heavier approach to hardcore punk. On new years of 1985 the band changed its name from Chaotic Noise to EXCEL and it was just a natural progression to blend the styles and try to make our own.
EXCEL is known not only by music, but also by its visual language. We mean flyers, cover design, merch graphics and so on by Alexis Ross and Ric Clayton. In our opinion, these artists made a very big contribution to the development and representation of EXCEL. Well, how did you met Mr. Ross and Mr. Clayton? And how did you start to cooperate?
In around 1986 Dan and I started working in skateboarding / streetwear, that had a lot to do with approaching the bands imagery more like a brand than a brand. Dan has known Ric Clayton since junior high school. I've known Alexis Ross since the 80's, he was in a crew called Blue Crew from Venice which shared members with Kings Stop at Nothing.
In the 90s you started working for FUCT, you said that for some time you even lived in the FUCT warehouse. You said you met Mr. Brunetti on gig in 1986. How your friendship started, and next, transformed into cooperation?
I met Erik at a punk show in around '86-'87 and we instantly hit it off. He had just moved from the East Coast. Around '92, shortly after they'd started FUCT, I had heard that they were hiring. When they expanded to a standalone warehouse, they let me move in since I needed somewhere to stay. It was a crazy time and it was the beginning of the streetwear industry as we know it now. Erik would let me contribute ideas and we started a band to accompany the brand called Lucifer Wong. We wrote the 3rd EXCEL album, Seeking Refuge, during this time from the FUCT warehouse.
Shaun Ross in FUCT office
You also worked for Dogtown, did graphics for Stussy and XLARGE. What experience did these jobs give you?
I started working at Dogtown around 1986, then FUCT in the early 90's. After this, I went to World Industries to work with SLICK and Jef Hartsel and their new brand, Shaolin Wood Company. When that didn't work out, I stayed at World Industries through to about '99 (when they purchased DUB Brand and Droors). I ended my "career" in skateboarding/streetwear as the marketing manager/skate team manager at FRESHJIVE in the early 00's. Stussy and X-LARGE had used my gang writing in their graphics in the past. I've contributed ideas to FUCT, FRESHJIVE and other brands over the years.
Why do you (having this experience in graphic design) mostly don't represent yourself as a graphic designer/artist?
It was cool to contribute but it was never something that I'd make a full time job at. If Erik hits me up, I'd always be down to contribute what I can. I'm able to art direct EXCEL releases due to this experience though.
EXCEL did some unusual (for crossover band) things. For example, collaboration with the Bounty Hunter brand. How did it happen?
Hikaru (BxH founder) is a long time friend and Dan and I, he also supports EXCEL and has for years. We've collaborated quite a few times over the years with him.
When your band was reunited in 2014, how did it feel for you? Remember your emotions while first reunion show?
It was great. It had originally been since a big part of our life and then it went away, so to do be able to play these songs again has been a great experience for Dan and I.
In the 80s you were inspired by Black Sabbath, Black Flag, Slayer and Deep Purple. What bands inspire you now? What's your current playlist?
I basically listen to most of the same music as we did then. I listen to a lot of 70's roots reggae and dub, 60's psych rock. 80's punk/thrash.
What's your plans for EXCEL in 2024?
We have a new line-up for 2024 with the intension of recording a new LP to be released in 2025. And we have some European festivals (Copenhell, Pitfest) and other shows lined up.
Beside the world of music, skate and graffiti, what's your current hobbies and inspiration?
I just hang out with my family and working on EXCEL stuff Outside of the day job, there's not time to do much more these days.
About living in 80s LA you said: "Gangs were fist fighting and then they had automatic weapons. When cocaine was introduced, everything got way more militarized and crazy on the streets. You had to maneuver to get through it all. I think being into punk rock and skateboarding and being in a band kept us out of trouble". Are things changing now? Which positive and negative stuff in current LA life/culture do you see? Is the punk/metal/skate scene still alternative to urban madness?
I was describing the late 80's early 90's there, we're pretty far removed from that era. There's a lot more homelessness and drug abuse on the streets these days, throughout Los Angeles. Still need to maneuver around all of that. As far as all of the scenes that you mentioned, they seem to be all thriving. There's a lot of shows, different genres, etc. I don't really check for streetwear anymore or keep track of what's going on with that. It's cool to see how far skateboarding has progressed, I do check for that when I can.
1 February, 2024