I first saw Rob onstage shooting a Zao show at Chain Reaction back in 2017 but didn't meet him until much later at a show at Programme. Since then I've come to know him as the go-to photographer and videographer for a number of big name bands, and the guy that has a super sick photo book out. He also works closely with Mike Vallely (founder of Street Plant and current singer of Black Flag) and was recently published in Thrasher Magazine. Rob usually has a pretty packed schedule, so I'm glad he was able to set some time aside for this interview. Read on to learn more about Rob Wallace.
1) Where are you from and where do you live now?
I grew up in “South County” aka South Orange County, California and now I live in Costa Mesa, California.
2) What are your top 5 favorite records?
Refused at 1720 Warehouse - Los Angeles, CA - 03/09/20
Refused - The Shape of Punk to Come -Being 15 and knowing basic skate punk and bands like Blink 182, and then all of a sudden you find these guys from Sweden that show you all the energy of Born Against and Nation of Ulysses, it’s gonna change your life in a huge way. I waited 14 years to see them and I’ve never missed a show of theirs since.
Unbroken - Life. Love. Regret. - I got to this around 17 after falling in love with the entire Indecision Records catalog. After watching live footage, I noticed that all my favorite bands were the kids in the front row losing their minds, and that everything I loved was just the next generation doing their best Unbroken impression. They present themselves with so much emotional intelligence and their lyrics will always connect to me on a spiritual level. Just the perfect balance of intellect, emotion, and intensity.
Trial - Are These Our Lives? -When a string quartet makes you want to combust with rage before a single word has been sung you know it’s something special. The balance of the thought-provoking lyrics presented at a breakneck speed will always floor me. The simple line, “The dollars I save aren't worth the days I spend, with images of freedom as lies in my head” is what helped motivate me to quit my desk job to chase the creative life I’d always wanted. I’m grateful to have been able to work with this band on some great projects as well (check out:onehundredforhaiti.org)
Descendents at The Palladium - Hollywood, CA - 10/27/18
Descendents - Milo Goes To College - Most of the time a band's first release is the result of a lifetime of built up emotions just waiting to get out; this record is the perfect example of that. Bill Stevenson is the king of love songs and Frank Navetta is the embodiment of teen angst. “I’m Not a Loser” and “Parents” were so huge for me as a kid because they showed you that it was okay to be a dork and to not have to act a certain way for other people. “You don't know shit about punk rock, You're just a bunch of fucking drug addicts, Screwing up what we call fun, I hate everything, that means you!” FUCK YES! Sign me up!! <333
Beastie Boys - Hello Nasty - "Name another band that sounds like a few different bands all on the same record." I think as a group the energy of laughter and fun that these guys have together is refreshing, and you don’t always get to hear it on record from bands to such an extent. I always loved the little moments after takes when you get to hear a band’s personality for a second, and the Beasties let that flow freely. I love “Song for the Man” and their evolution from jock rock into a more conscious group that looked to better the world. Perfectly balanced band in every way. Catch me on the freeway singing every word.
3) What Have you been listening to lately ?
4) What is your current gear setup for shooting shows?
Canon 5D Mark III and “the power couple” 24-70mm + 70-20mm most of the time. I use a 16-35mm or a 8-15mm (fisheye) when I feel like getting artsy to capture light trails. A couple 580EX II flashes with wireless triggers along with a Gary Fong diffuser to get in everyone's way, because that’s what we’re really here to do after all, right??
ZAO at Chain Reaction - Anaheim, CA - 06/24/17
5) What compelled you to start shooting concerts or bands?
I was designing records, t-shirts and websites for bands for years and I’d always have to ask friends to shoot photos for me, which sucked pretty bad. I’d been touring withDeath By Stereo selling the shirts I’d designed for them, and I got an offer to go on a tour to sell skateboards for Mike Vallely and Duane Peters at all these different skateparks. I connected with the tour photographer / videographer (Mark Choiniere ofThrowdown). I got to watch him make some really cool video edits. Because of that experience, I decided it was time for me to start saving to get a camera and start a new avenue of creativity.
6) Have you had any standout experiences from shooting shows or bands? Anything memorable you're stoked (or not stoked) about?
One of my greatest memories was showing up to a soundcheck in LA and suddenly being asked to join Dillinger Escape Plan’s last U.S. tour. I ran home, packed a bag and took off for a month at a moment's notice. The shows ranged from massive rooms to tiny little closets, and somehow every last one was explosive and memorable. I’m glad I was able to capture that moment in time for them.
The Dillinger Escape Plan - The Casbah - San Diego, CA - 08/14/16
Also I think I’ll probably always remember flying out to the Misfits reunion at Riotfest in Denver. I rented a car and snuck in my camera and pushed my way to the front of the crowd to get shots of the epic performance. It was really strange to finally be able to see them in real life after all the years injecting those songs into my soul as a teenager. After the show I spent the night stealing power from an ATM to edit and share the photos before I jumped on the next flight home. I remember being happy and tired and thinking I want to relive that experience forever.
The Misfits - Riotfest - Denver, CO + Chicago, IL - 09/04/16 + 09/18/20
7) Are there any photographers you look up to, admire, or draw inspiration from?
I’ve got 3 different photographers in very different stages of their careers that have been a huge inspiration to me for very different reasons.
Lisa Johnson (@ljrp) - The master of capturing personality in a portrait. Whether it’s on film, DSLR, or even on an iPhone, Lisa is able to make her subjects feel comfortable and you see it immediately in her iconic photos. We’ve all grown up surrounded by her work; I carried it with me on my binder and plastered it all over the walls of my room as a kid. Promo photos for Nirvana, RATM, Smashing Pumpkins, AFI, and Rancid. From the first days of me shooting she’s always been there to be supportive of my work and to give me pointers and I’ll always support her work and listen for new pointers, because she’s never wrong.
Glen E. Friedman (@glenefriendman) - Just kinda shocking the range Glen has as a photographer. If there’s been a photo of a legendary band like The Misfits, Minor Threat, Public Enemy, or the Beastie Boys then it was probably made by Glen. Yes the band photos are mind blowing but what inspires me most is just his range over his career; when you look through his books you’re not bored because it’s not all the same. Page by page you jump to skating, and even throughout music, you’re not just seeing the same type of artists. His catalog has helped me see what I’m working for, how it's possible to put together great collections of your work, and that I should be shooting diverse material to keep a viewer stimulated instead of just the same old show photos.
Becky DiGiglio(@yourethenight) - This woman fucking rips at taking photos and you can tell she loves every minute of it! She’s insanely creative, and if you locked her in a room for a month with a camera, she’d somehow be able to shoot hundreds of photos of her own face and it would be unique in every shot. I’m always thinking, “HOW THE FUCK!??” every time I see her new work, and it gets the wheels turning in my head. It makes me want to be a more creative person, because at the core of it, she’s able to create the best content with very little gear; it’s always been extremely impressive to me. Becky, please put out a book someday, or let’s do an art show together, please!!
[See Becky DiGiglio's Broken Glass interview here]
Ho99o9 - 1720 Warehouse - Los Angeles, CA - 04/27/18
8) If you could go back in time and give yourself any advice about shooting shows when you were first starting out, what would it be?
STOP HESITATING!! If you see a shot or a place to stand that you think would be optimal to get a shot: Fuck it! GO GO GO or someone else will or the show will end and you’ll regret not doing it. If there’s an epic show that’s gonna happen, stop at nothing to get yourself into that show. Climb into a fucking drum case if you have to, just don’t hesitate or you’ll just have excuses. Apologize later, but GET THE SHOT NOW!!!
9) What other styles of photography do you enjoy shooting?
I really love breaking off for solo missions while on tour to shoot long exposure cityscapes before we leave for the next town. I find myself wandering through "bad neighborhoods" shooting photos of graveyards like the weirdo that I am. I find that in California (especially Orange County) everything’s so new and other states have so much to offer, whether it’s Lake Tahoe, NV or Maui or Boston, it’s all like another planet and I’ll never get sick of capturing their landscapes.
Granary Burying Ground - Boston, MA - 11/16/16
Recently I’ve dusted off my underwater camera housing to capture ocean photography again, which is a unique struggle all its own. I know I’ve just gotta put in the hours because it has so many variables. I’ll never stop learning, and it’s pretty fun to shoot semi-blind and then get to see your shots when you get home. Imagine swimming around with one arm trying to get a wave to crash right on your head—it’s pretty exhausting.
Napili Kai Reef - Maui, HI - 04/28/16
I love shooting portraits and skateboarding, as well, but I think we can get to that in the next question...
10) What do you do for a day job?
I’m fortunate enough to get to collaborate with Mike Vallely on his family-owned skateboard company, Street Plant. The company represents 100% independent skateboarding with a personal touch to every board that leaves “Garageland.” The spirit of Dischord Records is alive and well in Long Beach, CA. There is no division between the customers that support the brand. It really is just a never ending opportunity to “Skate, Create, and Enjoy.” I like to think of myself as the art director that helps push things along and makes any adjustments on boards, in addition to shooting promo photos, making video edits, and maintaining the website and social media content. We’ve had some pretty fun collaborations with Lance Mountain, The Muska, Hosoi, and Dune, and we’ve got a Gonz board on the way, so maybe check out the site if you’re into that sorta thing.
Mike Vallely + Mark Gonzales - Brooklyn Banks - Brooklyn, NY - 11/05/17
Published in Thrasher Magazine (August 2020) - Buy the signed print HERE
It’s different every day and it never gets old because Mike works on such a variety of projects. That being said, I’ve been lucky enough to shoot content, create merch, and shape a lot of the design content for Black Flag since they started playing again in 2013. It’s been really cool to capture the evolution of that project as well as his other musical projects.
I also do a variety of freelance design work for bands that ranges from album layouts to t-shirt graphics and websites, which all ends up in different corners of the world, so that’s always really cool to see. I’m pretty sure there’s a good amount of it on this website.
Hopefully I’ll get to shoot some more when we’re all allowed to sweat on each other again. Miss you, friends. <3