Interview: Steve Olson

Talented, charming, and just plain crazy. When you’re a little different, it can go a long way.

Yaniv’s craftsmanship is superior. Not just getting it done for the sake of getting it done, but making it the best it can be. That’s what separates Yaniv from any competitors.

Where were you born?
I was born in Israel. I came to America when I was eight.

What do you do now?
Now, I’m building motorcycles, painting, doing leatherwork. I got a clothing line, too. It’s a full-time job running the shop because there are so many branches to Powerplant. It’s corporate, bitch.

Tell me more about Israel?
It was amazing. There were no bills, no responsibilities. As soon as I came to the United States, it was over. It was a lot to handle out here. It’s a different lifestyle. But here I get more freedom because of any country besides the United States, it’s a bitch to build custom bikes without having to deal with crazy laws. The States is the most lenient about that kind of stuff, like running a bike with no front brake, suicide shift, no smog check, doing whatever we want.

How did you get into building bikes in LA?
I built my own bike in the garage at home.

Did you build cars before?
When I was 14, I think I got my first car. My dad bought it for me. It was a Chevelle piece of shit. I fixed it up, I did everything I could do myself. What- ever I couldn’t do, I had to pay people an arm and a leg to do,butatleastI learned every time I made a mistake. I dropped out of high school. My dad was like, “If you’re gonna work on anything, work on airplanes,” because there’s more money in it. My dad’s buddy used to work on planes here at Santa Monica Airport. He was like, “Go to this class.” I took the class at LAX airport but eight months later I dropped out. It was too strict. There’s no freedom to do what you want. After that, I apprenticed at a shop and started learning how to do bodywork.

So you learned about all kinds of welding from the aerospace world?
No, welding came after. The only time I actually learned something was when people were showing me their little tricks of the trade.

It takes the time to figure out how to get a good bead.
If you don’t do it every day, you won’t learn anything. I had to go buy my own tools and break ’em and fix ’em to learn how to do half the shit I do right now. I was just doing old cars, and then I got really old, like 1920s cars that I built, Fords.

Why did you go from that to building bikes?
Because you can’t do the same thing over and over. I could’ve just built Chevelles and now I’d be a master at building Chevelles and El Caminos. But after I do something once I want to do something different. I always have my eye on different cars and bikes.

What is it that makes you think, That works with my aesthetic?
If someone says, “It can’t be done,” I wanna do it. If I see it’s done already, I don’t wanna do it. Right now I’m getting over motorcycles ’cause everyone’s building good bikes. It’s like when my friend Tim climbed Mount Everest. Somebody else did that. Why do you want to do it? Go climb a different mountain.

Does anyone else in your family do something similar to this?
In their own world, yeah. Every- one in my family is self-employed.

Your father’s a chef, right?
Right. But he creates. He builds restaurants. He knows how to do menus. He’s never worked for anybody. We have that in our blood. We’re not the richest people, we’re not the poorest people, but we do our thing and we’re happy doing it. I never have to fucking float into work late or have to deal with anybody telling me I’m doing something wrong, and that’s the best part about it.

What is it that inspires you to do the old stuff? The bikes, the vintage clothing and all of that?
People motivate me. If I do some- thing and I get a good reaction, I’m like, Fuck. Why am I sitting here struggling with things? People like this. Keep doing this, and then always modify it a little bit and do a better job at it, but keep the same lines. In the beginning of me building bikes, no one got this whole “bobber” thing. I could come into a show full of finished bikes, beautiful paint jobs, everything chrome, with a piece-of-shit rusty bike in bare metal—or rust—and take first place. Now, ten years later, people understand it’s more of a sculpture.

Are we finally going to get to that point where you’re an artist?
…Maybe.

How many bikes have you built?
Thirty bikes.

Thirty bikes, in seven years?
I’m lying. Twenty. Fuck it…30 sounds better.

How long does it take you to do a bike from start to finish?
Three to four months to do it right. We’re talking, there’s nothing in my way, one thing at a time…four months. The idea here, Olson, is the bikes are organic, the shapes are organic, there’s no need for paint, there’s no need for a finish. Some of these bikes with the raw and unfinished look, I think guys feel tougher on them.

There’s beauty in unfinished.
No one wants to be a pretty-boy anymore. Those days are gone.

They’ll be back.Tell me about the clothing. Would it be safe to say you’re the next Von Dutch?
A very, very bad question to ask. The clothing is amazing.

Why?
I never thought I’d be doing clothing. It just happened. The demand is there, therefore I’m gonna take advantage. If you see a good wave, you’re gonna ride it, right? Well, right now the wave of the future is—fuck, I shouldn’t say this—“The scumbag is the new yuppie.” So it’s perfect. Those fucked-up jeans? They want ’em. Those fucked up t-shirts? They want ’em. I feel bad for the razor companies; no one shaves anymore. It’s trendy to have facial hair and be a biker-looking guy. So it’s good for us. Ten years ago if you had a beard you looked like a fuck- ing redneck biker. But they want that style right now, so I’m gonna go with it. I’m spending way too much time doing it, but I believe that we have something good here.

We go from the garage to next door and we sell a t-shirt and we pack- age it with our dirty hands. It doesn’t even cross our mind that we have to be careful, because it’s like, they want that shit. They want your greasy hands on it. It’s crazy! I can’t believe it. I’ve blown away. I’m amazed.

What’s the future of Powerplant?
The future of Powerplant is, I want to be in every mall in the United States.

You’ve lost your mind completely.
I want to sell a million t-shirts, make ten dollars profit on each one. That’s ten million dollars. We can go to Mexico whenever you want, Olson. I’ll build you a pool over there to skate.

That’s OK.
God, I’m so arrogant right now.