Leo Fitzpatrick is a familiar face to anyone who has spent time in the New York City creative scene over the last 25 years. An actor (famous for iconic roles in Kids and HBO's The Wire), DJ (with a weekly show on The Lot Radio), and co-director of the Marlborough Chelsea art gallery. Cell Vision co-founder Prince Terrence sat with him in his Alphabet City apartment for a conversation about music, his radio show, his acting career, and finding a place as a culture enthusiast in the modern age.
Photos by Lucas Walters
LEO: Yeah, for me, the subway is brutal, but I just listen to the most brutal music on it to heighten that experience. I also don’t want people to approach me, for whatever reason, so I’m just blasting Cannibal Corpse as loud as I can in my headphones, and my appearance, it’s just like “stay away from me.” I’ll start off listening to something mellow… I’m going to go see Spiritualized tonight so I was listening to some Spiritualized. And then the minute I get on the subway, it’s straight death metal or thrash.
CELL VISION: Because you try to get in that zen mode.
LEO: It’s also like, I need to get going, I need to get my day started, and that’s not gonna happen listening to smooth jazz.
CELL VISION: You have an internet radio show, how’s that?
LEO: You know, it’s such a difference doing the radio show on The Lot, compared to DJing in bars or clubs.
CELL VISION: You can kind of do whatever you want to do on The Lot.
LEO: Yeah, and I’m not trying to please anyone. And also when you have a kid, you can’t really jam records at home, so for those two hours it’s like freedom. And my wife is always like “why do you bring all your records to Brooklyn to DJ for free to an audience of who knows how many?”
CELL VISION: It’s like your golf.
LEO: Well yeah, it’s my me time. That’s why. It’s sort of like you’re clinging on to the past a little bit, and I’ve always been really good at buying records, but now that I don’t party or anything I can justify buying records because I’m not spending my money on dumb shit. It’s weird, it’s kind of like, when I was DJing at like Lit and bars like that, I had to be so drunk before I even showed up, because I hated the audience so much. I hated the music I was playing. So it’s like now, it’s almost as if I’m listening to music in a sober way for the first time in my life, because it’s not clouded with bar culture. And I’m by no means sober, but it’s a whole different approach to listening to music.
CELL VISION: Yeah, I feel like that’s the cool thing, being able to go back to records that you listened to with a new understanding, and without that cloud and have a different appreciation for it now than you did when you first got into it, as you look back and your like “wow, that record impacted me…”
LEO: Yeah, but the problem with record stores is you can never have everything.
CELL VISION: Are you more into the whole physical aspect?
LEO: Record stores, book stores, tattoo parlors, that’s my barber shop. That’s where I go to hang out with people. You know, … I don’t buy records online, because for me part of it is actually physically finding it, like “holy cow, I’ve been looking for this for 5 years.” Knowing the guys at your local shop, that’s like my favorite thing. And you know, the other thing is like, playing catch up. Now that you can afford to buy the records that you couldn’t when you were a kid and things like that, it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t realize how much I like This Heat when I was 20 years old, but now I really like it, so I have to buy the whole catalog.”
CELL VISION: Exactly
LEO: And there’s that as well, trying to build the catalog, like “Alright, what Cramps records don’t I have?” Or “I need every High On Fire record.” It’s just a weird excuse. I don’t buy clothes, I don’t buy anything … It’s weird cuz I’m so cheap with food, with clothing, with everything, except for records… And I’m pretty good. I’ll give myself a budget of like $100 per week… But sometimes that’s like one record. It’s kind of a ridiculous thing.
CELL VISION: That is a lot.
CELL VISION: Have you seen any good shows lately?
LEO: The other week I went to see Tommy Wright III, the rapper. He’s a Memphis legend, he’s like early Three Six Mafia, kind of that era. And.. He’s so old… Tommy Wright went to jail for a number of years for like, dealing coke or something, but he’s of such an old school tradition that he only had mixtapes. He didn’t even have records.
CELL VISION: Where did he play?
LEO: Brooklyn Bazaar. It was packed. Yeah, cuz he’s like a cult dude. And, the weird thing… It might have been one of those rap shows where 90% of the audience was white college kids, but yeah you know for me, when I was growing up it wasn’t cool to skateboard. It was all the misfits and the weirdos from every kind of area, and it was everything from rich kids from super dysfunctional families to like hood kids. At least in New Jersey and New York there were a lot of black skaters, even though it took a long time for it to become kind of popular. But when I grew up, my best friends were black skaters. There were also white skaters, but my best friend was this guy Hassan Woods, and he was from the hood and liked hip hop, so I liked hip hop and you know… Through the ‘90s you had Stretch and Bobbito, and that turned you on to EVERYTHING--
CELL VISION: I feel like there was a turning point in the ‘90s when skateboarding went more hip hop.
LEO: Yeah, definitely around the ‘90s you know. But I think it was also just music in general--
CELL VISION: Was that a New York thing? I grew up in Louisville and I skated with my friends, but I was never part of the culture of it. But then I started hanging out with those kids that were a part of the culture and they were all hip hop kids and graffiti kids.
LEO: Yeah, when I first started skating, I didn’t know anything about music, but older kids were wearing Smiths shirts, Fugazi, all this stuff. But as those kids stopped skating and we got a little older, around 14 is when rave culture and skating collided. And ravers looked like skaters, skaters looked like ravers. Stores like X-Large is where everybody would hang out and buy the clothes, Liquid Sky… So now you have like all these skaters going to raves, you’d listen to hip hop all day, then you’d listen to The Orb all night. But you, know, it was weird because on the darker side of rave culture you had the goth side of things. So we’d be going to see My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. But on acid, cuz it was like going to a rave, but a different thing. And that was really great too, and that’s kind of where my musical taste ended up, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and stuff like that. I just like the energy, like Butthole Surfers. Just the energy that’s in those records. I mean, nothing can really beat Bad Brains and H.R.’s energy, but getting that level of energy is so sick to me.
CELL VISION: Yeah, going back to Louisville, when we were kids I saw that transformation happen, and after that point I was just really obsessed, because, hanging out with those kids I was like “Damn they’re the misfit kids, skating, breaking into crazy places, and I hung out with them. I skated, but they were so much better than me. And that was around the time that the movie Kids came out.. And we lived our life by that movie. That movie is what made me want to move to New York, from that point on I was like, “I have to move to New York.”
LEO: I kind of blame that movie for like ruining a lot of things. You know, like what’s special about being underground and a misfit and all that. The movie wasn’t too far off from reality except for the sex part. Everything else was pretty average day in the life. It was just sped up because it was supposed to happen in two days. But I was at that original fight that the fight was based off. There was something special in not caring what society thought, and you were just skating, and you knew everybody hated you and that was cool in a weird way because you were left alone--
CELL VISION: So you think that brought it into the mainstream eye, the movie Kids?
CELL VISION: Well I can say… I can say that I probably wouldn’t be in New York CIty if it weren’t for that movie, because it brought me to a point where I was like “Ok, that’s where I need to be.” I would have never been exposed to that otherwise as a black kid from Kentucky.
LEO: Yeah, for kids of a certain age… I’m curious if that movie still holds up, to a person watching it for the first time, if it still looks cool.
CELL VISION: Where did you grow up?
LEO: I’m from Jersey, and I’m stoked to be from Jersey. I never hid that fact, I never tried to be from New York. But, if you’re from Jersey, that’s already a strike against you, you know in most worlds. It’s like “Ooh, you’re from Jersey, I’m sorry to hear that” kind of a thing. And so, the New York skater kids are notoriously assholes. They’ll vibe you out, they’ll steal your board, whatever. And so, I kind of went from being this weird kid from Jersey that was always sitting on the sidelines, even though we had a good crew, to sort of representing New York, myself personally, because of this film. I didn’t have any game with girls before that movie, so now I really don’t have any game with girls because I’m this bad guy, and it was really fucked up, because I was like 16 when I made it. So it sort of--
CELL VISION: So you think people really thought that you were that character.
LEO: Oh yeah, 100 percent. You know, I mean, because everybody was a version of their characters. Justin was like Justin, who played Casper. Chloe’s pretty much like Chloe… So even though it was all scripted, they kind of wrote the characters for the people. Except for me and Chloe. Me and Chloe were like the last decisions, casting-wise. But Harold was always gonna play Harold. So when we’d be out, we’d go to a bar or something first thing Harold would do is be like “Yo, I’m in that movie Kids” that would bring attention to us. But they just thought, “Oh, those are the kids from Kids” and that movie it was sort of just an exaggerated version of our lives, even though I don’t have AIDS or whatever, he’s probably still trying to fuck girls and do that kind of thing. So yeah, it was pretty brutal. Cuz I was always kind of I don’t know if shy is the word, or something.
CELL VISION: Introvert?
LEO: Yeah, I never wanted to be the center of attention, and this movie by default made me that. Not in a huge way, but in a weird way, like people watch that movie and think you’re that guy, so um, yeah… Oh also, we only made 5 grand off that movie, and we were able to take out advances throughout the making of it so, our final paychecks were like 3 grand for the whole thing.
CELL VISION: And that was it?
LEO: Yeah, no residuals, no nothing.
CELL VISION: Oh wow.
LEO: I bought a Honda CRX, and that’s where all my money went. But when the movie was finished, a few things DIDN’T happen actually. Nobody told us what to do next. Nobody told us to get agents, to go to LA, to do any of that stuff. And they never had the actors promote the movie in any fashion, so nobody got to see that we were real people, just acting. So, it was a lot easier for the girls like Chloe and Rosario to be actresses. But the guys, we had weird things going on, like my voice is super fucked and the way I talk… We weren’t cliche actors where it’s just like “Oh go to LA and get an agent because you’re good looking.” It was sort of “Wow I did this thing, but now what?” So, basically, I’m just like, in this movie, and I’m still sitting in Union Square on my board, with 20 bucks in my pocket like “So what do I do now?” I ended up moving to London for a year, because after the film I moved back to working at this skate shop in New Jersey, probably saved up like 300 bucks and I was like “alright, I’ve got enough to go to England--”
CELL VISION: After the movie?
LEO: After the movie, because I didn’t want to be in New York, I didn’t like being known or notorious in New York. And I think that the film wasn’t coming out in England for a year or something? But it was basically just to get away.I knew they would know the language. That was kind of the whole reason I went to England. But THAT was amazing. I was 18 maybe? And I just fucking moved to England and I didn’t know a single person. I just went to a skate shop, which was Slam City at the time, and I said “Hey you wanna go skate after work?” That first guy I talked to I ended up living with for a year. Going to Metalheadz, going to proper drum and bass parties and stuff, and skating at South Bank with Tom Penny and all that stuff… No money whatsoever. Probably the brokest I’ve ever been but the best times.
CELL VISION: So with Kids were you like “I want to be an actor” or did it happen because you were part of a certain thing that was going on?
LEO: No, weirdly, I’ve never really wanted to be an actor, and I’ve never thought I was any good at it, and I’ve never thought that I had the passion for it that other people do? The only reason that I continued to act was because I felt guilty that I didn’t care enough about it, and that I’d been given an opportunity,soI should at least pursue it, because there are other people that wait their whole lives for that opportunity. So I felt like kind of a dick for not acting, because I had something on my resumé. And then thankfully The Wire happened. Because like The Wire saved me from only... even though I’ve probably done like 15 movies at this point or something, the only things people know me from are The Wire and Kids. That’s it. Which is totally fine. At least I did like two decent things. The interesting thing about doing The Wire is I remember right before I did The Wire I remember watching the show Oz on VHS. And The Wire happened kind of in that transition between VHS and DVD, so the whole time The Wire was on television no one watched it, no one really cared. But when it had ended was right around the time streaming had started, so people could watch the whole thing. And that really changed the whole thing. Because now--
CELL VISION: Because people can just see it without having to wait for it to come on HBO--
LEO: Yeah, and this idea of like, you could follow the plot and ok, because there were so many different characters. I mean, my character was pretty small on The Wire, I’ve never seen it, but it’s not because I’m in it, I’ve just never seen it, but--
CELL VISION: You don’t watch the things that you’re in?
LEO: No, never. It’s pointless to. Just because, we’re our own worst critic. And I’m never gonna like it. I’m always gonna think I’m terrible, so what’s the point? You know, for me it’s just like, keep going. lso now that I have a kid it’s kind of like you’re leaving things behind for your kid. Like that’s some dad shit, where you’re like “well one day he’ll watch it, and then he’ll get like a sense of who I was.” As long as he doesn’t want to be an actor… Because that shit is not happening. But no, I’ve never felt the need to watch anything. I don’t even watch movies outside of documentaries, like, I’ve just never been a movie guy. I like some movies but it’s not something I’m passionate about, or “Oh I’ve gotta go see this movie.” I’ll see a movie like once every six months, maybe. I’m more a Kim’s Video kind of guy. I liked renting videos. But again, it was because of the community that evolved around the video store.
CELL VISION: Yeah you could go there and have the “barber shop” environment like you were saying earlier.
LEO: And yeah, the older guys were like “here’s some fucked up shit.” And you always knew that something good was going to come out of it, because those dudes knew more about it than you did. But yeah,it’s interesting to see how Instagram will fuck some people up.
CELL VISION: Yeah, that’s what I was gonna get to, It seems as though you’ve figured out a way to break that Instagram mold and post content that is educational to the culture.
LEO: Well the thing that drives me the most nuts about Instagram is self promotion. Everybody is promoting themselves. So I think, as long as I can promote 90% more things than myself that’s an ok ratio. I don’t really ever post about myself unless it’s to promote an art show I’m doing or something. It’s just interesting that reading has kind of been fetishized and like, I’m known as a reader. And you’re kind of like “shouldn’t everyone read?”
CELL VISION: Yeah you’re this total weirdo who reads--
LEO: Yeah, and like, I think I spend way too much time on Instagram. Even though I do read and I listen to records and stuff, I do think it’s a big time killer. It’s a catch-22 because yeah you do get to see interesting things. The thing I probably follow the most are record shops because they go through their bins. For me, that’s like the equivalent of an unboxing video.. You’re like “Oh shit, I think I saw that Nuclear Assault record in there.” It’s like a preview. So yeah… It’s scary man. At the art gallery now, I kind of blame “Picasso Baby” the Jay Z song… But basically galleries are like free content. So people go to galleries just to take pictures for their Instagrams. Like you’ll see full on photo shoots with like styling. I’ve caught people making music videos in the gallery with like a little Bluetooth speaker and they’re rapping over their stuff. It’s like this free background and it’s content, and nobody is looking at the art at all, it’s just “hey this is a good background.” So it’s weird.
LEO:I don’t do anything that personal, my wife is like “you don’t put anything personal.” I would not put pictures of my kid on there. For me, Instagram’s like another character, that shouldn’t be your life. It can’t be too personal to me. Once I was DJing the radio show, and there’s a forum.t’s a lot of the people listening to the radio show. And usually they’re just talking about their lunch or some bullshit. And then one day some guy was like “Hey Leo do you want us to troll you?” And I was like, I don’t even know what that means so I didn’t write back. All of a sudden pictures of my wife, pictures of my kid, like birthdays, like weird shit.
T: Well it’s weird, having a kid you’re just looking at them every day, thinking “What is it gonna be like when he’s my age.” Does it ever have any hope for reeling in a little bit and going back to like, sincerity and just like real life--
LEO: Yeah, it sounds so weird but we try to make physical photo books of our son because people don’t have that anymore, it’s like “Oh here’s a picture of my kid” it’s all in the phone and if that disappears then you’ve just lost your kid’s whole childhood. So, every year we try to make a book of photos, because somehow books last longer… I think I am the last sort of generation to grow up from nothing, from landlines to pagers to cell phones to iPhones… I appreciate Spotify and all that stuff, Youtube because you can find stuff you can’t find on record, but for me, to find an actual record is like, I like listening to a whole album I like holding the record being like “look at these graphics are sick” or like “this band was this band before”--
CELL VISION: How has DJing changed for you since the advent of mp3s?
LEO: Well yeah,when I would DJ with Wildman it would get pretty messy. But I swear once somebody was annoying him to play something, he wouldn’t play it but he had his laptop out, and people once they see a laptop--
CELL VISION:They think you have access to anything.
LEO: Or they say “actually I have it on my phone, just plug in my phone.” That shit drives me nuts. But I swear, Wildman wouldn’t play something and a girl poured a beer on his laptop and destroyed his whole laptop. And that’s what drunk people do. I mean, I’ve got paid $100 to play Depeche Mode before, so it’s kind of the reverse of that. But you’re like “Holy cow, this person just destroyed my computer.” And so the records are like kind of a safety net against crazy people”
CELL VISION: Yeah I started using USBs, so--
LEO: Yeah USBs… I mean, I brought two… I probably brought two bags of 100 records each to Japan to DJ. Do you know what a pain in the ass that is? There’s no room for clothes. Carrying it is so heavy, and then… Customs now is up on it. Where they’re like “Oh you’re here to work.” Because who else would bring two bags of records to a different country. But now with USB all you need is the clothes on your back.
Leo Fitzpatrick made an exclusive playlist for Cell Vision on Spotify, you can listen here or on the embedded player below. You can also stream past and future episodes of Leo Fitzpatrick's radio show 'Lousy Leo' at thelotradio.com. We also highly recommend that you follow Leo on Instagram for great music, art, and culture recommendations.