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Refreshing Authenticity: A Conversation with Levi Maestro of Maestro Knows

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Call it a merger of movements– the unstoppable takeover of the web as the revolutionary key media outlet and changes in consumption of entertainment fostering a proliferation of reality television. However, what skateboarder turned videographer prodigy, Levi Maestro, brings to the table is a fresh level of candor, sincerity and professionalism– qualities often lost in translation in the world where Youtube clips of turtles humping shoes and MTV’s trashy reality anthem Jersey Shore are easily the talks of town. In the current state of entertainment where consumers constantly beseech more– more drama, more episodes, faster, quicker, stronger– Maestro Knows treads the world at his own pace and wins the attention of many who appreciate “authentic reality”. It is also in this media landscape that Maestro Knows becomes kind of extraordinary with a stark, honest desire to stay true to what he knows best, showcasing inspiring friends when he is around them. There is no fancy footwork, nothing forcefully conceptualized and no connections deliberately forged for the sake of showing. This is in essence, a stripped, honest conversation between friends who are aware of each other’s talents, lives and intentions. Each episode translates a level of comfort only people who understand and trust each other can share. Maestro Knows is quite an exhilarating consummation of a return to basics, and media and entertainment landscape today.

While Maestro keeps a stellar portfolio of commercial work under his belt that even those in the industry for years would kill for (Nike, Belvedere Vodka, just to name drop a couple), the whiz kid’s current venture to the beginning and what his knows best (from the instant when he first picked up a camcorder to create a “sponsor me” video as a budding skateboarder), is the most fascinating, gripping and truly Maestro yet. Freshness is excited to have been able to share a conversation with Maestro and chat about everything from how Maestro Knows kick started, the board he is riding, what’s in store for him in the future and his take on the eternal cultural bipartisan controversy of Los Angeles versus New York City.


As we would like to start, congratulations on the success of Maestro Knows. It has come through a long year. Taking things back to the beginning though, let’s talk about skateboarding. When and how did you get into that?

Thank you very much, I appreciate it. Really funny, I actually started skateboarding after I attended the X-Games in 1997. It was just a few days after my birthday so I had money to buy my first complete (skateboard) at that time.

On a side note, what is your favorite deck of the moment? What are you skating on?

I’m riding the Flip David Gonzales model board with the P2 technology; it’s great. Girl/Chocolate boards will forever be my favorite.

You once said that skateboarding is the inspiration of your work, how did you go from perfecting that ollie to videography? They seem like such disparate things, is there any parallel between them for you?

Well, after I got decent at skateboarding, I really wanted to make it a career. So, I bought a camera to make a sponsor-me tape and essentially developed both of my skills from there, and that was probably when I was about 16. The parallel between the two is that there are no rules. They are both forms of creativity that have no right or wrong answers, just different ways of making things look great.

Other than skateboarding, could you name three more inspirations in your life?

God because He is my creator. Family because I’m here to win for them. Money because it’s the ultimate material possession to overcome.

Before Maestro Knows, there was Levi Maestro and you worked with numerous impressive names in the industry– Nike, Belvedere Vodka, and you even shot Anthony Hamilton on tour. How did you get involved in your first commercial project? Is there a particularly memorable collaboration?

The best way to answer is to say I moved to Los Angeles. I’ve always known how to move myself into the next situation I was interested in, and LA was the best place to cultivate my efforts.

How would you say your work has evolved from the commercial realm into Maestro Knows where you have complete creative reign?

Well, MAESTRO KNOWS is my style which originated from when I initially picked up a camera to shoot skateboarding, so there was no transitioning into it because that’s what I always had. I was just sitting be the wayside and decided I needed to bring it back into action. That’s what the title MAESTRO KNOWS means– that I’m utilizing the style I already KNOW how to execute.

Do you feel like your style has changed in anyway?

As a human being I feel that our style is forever changing, it just depends in what form. It could be your style of dress, style of speech, style of taste, so yes I’m sure it has.

And onto 2009, Maestro Knows started last year and has garnered a large following of loyal fans and attention. How did the concept of Maestro Knows come about?

I had just gotten off the first tour I went on with Anthony Hamilton, and I realized, oh wow, I’m living my dreams. I’m very very proud of the fact that I live in Los Angeles and wanted to show people with preconceived notions of the city that it is an amazing place with amazing people; plus it’s helping my dreams come true. So I wanted to showcase all of this through my life and my talented friends. It just so happens that my work picked up, and I started to travel even more. So now, instead of just showing Los Angeles, I now am showing more of everywhere in the world.

I’m very curious as to how your select subjects to profile. What is the conceptualization process behind each episode?

There is no conceptualization. This is the definition of reality. But since reality television is now so far gone, my show is “authentic reality”. The people I profile are my friends and I showcase them when I’m around them. I don’t work with people I don’t know because I like to know people’s intentions and for them to know mine. I’ve worked with people in the past who used to give me cold shoulders or give me could shoulders now, and I learned my lesson. I only need to learn a lesson once. I like to embrace everyone but sometimes people make it very difficult.

How do you feel like the Maestro Knows has changed since the first episode to now? Is there any big learning point during this project?

It has just gotten more and more natural. You know in the beginning, I wasn’t used to really being on camera, and now I’m really just talking out loud to myself, not paying attention to anyone around. The biggest learning point was something I already knew, which was to trust my gut and make one decision at a time; so really, it was more of a re-conformation.

On a musical note, the opening theme for Season 3 by 9th Wonder is brilliantly catchy. What are your rocking on your iPod now?

I got a lot of instrumentals, the new Alicia Keys album, a lot of Marvin Gaye, young Michael Jackson.

You started 2010 with a bang, releasing MK-13 with 13th Witness. Is it safe to assume this is the new project you mentioned at the end of your NYC episodes?

Nope. What we were talking about is a new site that we are going to start which was slated for 1.1.10. But like anything that’s worth something, we realized it wasn’t worth rushing and we would put it out when the time is right. I am now traveling in Europe and he is on tour, so we’re just taking advantage of the opportunity and prioritizing them along the way.

The tee has received quite an overwhelming celebrated response! Was the turn out what you have expected?

I had no expectations, but I am very happy with how it’s being received and the stories I’m taking in from all the people I’m getting to interact with along the way.

A few words to describe Tim McGurr of 13th Witness and working with him?

An amazing visual artist of things that exist and a great friend, not just to me, but to many as well.

Any more projects like this to come? Or are you onto a new canvas?

There is a friend of mine that I’m with in Paris right now, an amazing artist named Yue aka Nyno. I’m about to work with him on a few things and begining to really work with him the same way me and 13th Witness have been working.

Going back on Maestro Knows. The show is pretty much about your life in Los Angeles. And you have taken your camera with you across America to numerous cities. I am sure many would be curious, what do you think the biggest difference is between Los Angeles and New York City?

To be honest, there are many more creative and authentic people in New York, which I don’t feel is an insult to Los Angeles, it just is what it is. However, Los Angeles caters to every type of person. You can do anything there and still there is all sorts of characters and culture in your surroundings; it’s a much more laid back way of life.

Would Maestro Knows leave Los Angeles and document your life in other cities in the future? If you had to pick, where would you go next?

Yes, it already has really but Los Angeles will stay my base. What I’ve been doing lately is kinda just living in other cities for about a month so I can really absorb them. Paris is pretty amazing at the moment.

As Freshness readers would want to know: what are you rocking on your feet right now? Favorite sneaker?

These amazing Adidas SLVR 114 boots. My favorite sneaker, Vans Authentic.

Back with a tad of seriousness, a sneak peek into something we can anticipate for 2010?

Do you like soccer?

And to sum it all up, could you put it in a few words what Maestro Knows means to you?

This interview just let me do that, so thank you!

*Photos by Scott Regan