Jono Coote: The 'No Beer on a Dead Planet' interview

Jono Coote is enthusiasm incarnate. Regardless of whether he is attempting to tame some rugged 70s concrete, putting pen to paper to document anything related to skateboarding, or even turning his hand to filming (but not photography, as you’ll learn shortly), he very literally puts his all in, and the results are never anything less than exhilarating.

Back in 2018, Jono was a full time member of staff at Sidewalk Magazine, but not long after its publishing company disintegrated, he was boarding a flight to Australia for an extended exploration of the country’s skateable monoliths. Last week, Jono’s first published book, No Beer on a Dead Planet, was released through the independent publisher Red Fez Books, which covers his journey across Australia. The result is 120 energetic pages that take you on a tour of the country during a period of political uncertainty. Skateboarding is naturally discussed throughout, though Jono focuses more on the eccentric characters and bizarre places that you only seem to encounter when you embark on a mission that is driven by a lust for stand up grinds. And beer.

As the book is finally out in the wide world, we borrowed an hour of Jono’s time in order to discuss No Beer on a Dead Planet, and find out exactly how everyone’s favourite Bexhill native wound up writing 2021’s most unorthodox (and soon to be best selling) travelogue. Educate yourself below, then be sure to pick up a copy from any of the places stated towards the end of the interview.

Jono has smashed it here; support is mandatory!

In anticipation of Australian 'crete, Jono boosts a frontside boneless in North London. Photo: Chris Johnson.

I feel a bit out of my depth here, as I’ve never done an interview about a book before. If we were to compare talking about a book to talking about a video part, are we allowed to discuss about specific tricks?

There are no hammers in the book, so I think we’ll be alright (laughs).

Well, to start with, congratulations on releasing the book.

Thanks man.

I assume you’ve already made a down payment on a mansion on the outskirts of Leeds, and you’re now only drinking Holsten Pils out of a golden chalice as you contemplate your next literary masterpiece?

I’ve been walking around the hills of Calverley, looking at all the farmland, working out where my massive undercover bowl is going to go (laughs).

How would you personally describe No Beer on a Dead Planet?

It’s pretty much a travel book in the vein of Paul Theroux, or Bill Bryson, or Laurie Lee. But through the medium of hanging out in skateparks, and lurking at horrible, asbestos ridden warehouse spots for a year and a half.

Where did your journey take you?

Through Australia, New Zealand, and very briefly, Taipei.

So you’ve basically released a travel book at a point in history where travel has become pretty much forbidden?

Yeah, but I obviously had no idea about that when I started writing it. When I was out there I thought I could write a bunch and get other people hyped to travel, but now it just feels like I’m taking the piss out of everyone’s lives a bit.

Including your own, really. So I guess it doesn’t matter.

I guess not (laughs).

Where did the idea for this trip around Australia come from?

I kind of got hyped to go to there because Blinky (Sam Hutchinson), Adam Jefferson, and so many people that I knew from around the UK had fucked off to Australia for a few years, and it looked so, so good; just being in the sun and skating all of these gnarly parks that you see in videos.

Had you spent much time in Australia before going there on this trip?

I’d been twice before because Alyce (Jono’s partner) is Australian, and her family is mostly still out there. We’d been two times before, for three-week periods, kind of seeing what you can see in three weeks, which in Australia – because it’s so big – is not a lot. You kind of dot about, fly to different places, and very briefly get an idea of what’s there, but this trip was the first time we got to properly travel around and stop places for as long as we wanted.

We travelled from Brisbane to Melbourne; Australians don’t really care about driving long distances, people do that journey in two days, but we did it over three months. We hung out in Brisbane, on the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, drove down to Sydney, hung out there and in Newcastle, and then went through to Canberra for a couple days. After that, we spent a year in Melbourne pretty much, with a month in New Zealand in the middle. It was the first time I’d properly gone to Australia for long enough to get over the jet lag.

Bristolian vertical heelblock. Photo: Chris Johnson.

The title No Beer on a Dead Planet was fairly prophetic, in a way. What’s that famous travel book series called? Lonely Planet? You should probably approach them about rebranding the series as Dead Planet and taking you on as a staff writer.

Maybe they’ll print some extra copies of the book (laugh). The name came about because when we were out there, the Liberal-National Coalition government that came into power is very pro coal, and very dismissive of environmental concerns. Similar to over here with the Brexit vote, and Trump getting into power in America, the Coalition party winning the election was a massive swing to the center-right for Australia. A lot of people didn’t think it would happen, but then they woke up to that government being in power, and realised that they were pretty fucked for a few years. We flew into Tasmania three days after the election; it was 6am, we were all knackered, we walked past a pub on the way to our hostel, and on the pub blackboard was just scrawled ‘No Beer on a Dead Planet’. I was already writing by then, but that was when I decided on the name. I was like, “oh, sick, there it is”.

(Jono produces a battered black bottle)

What are you drinking there? Not beer at this time, surely?

It’s water, out of a bottle I got from Vans Shop Riot 2017 (laughs). I think this is from the European finals; the one that took place in Amsterdam and it was freezing cold. Horse (Andy Horsley) had been made redundant the day before he was meant to fly, you and Ben (Powell) had just had kids, so I was the only person at Sidewalk who could go to cover it. I don’t mind going to Amsterdam when it’s minus two for three days.

Coincidentally, wasn’t it around the time of the Shop Riot finals in 2017 that you started to plan the trip to Australia?

We started planning it in late 2017 and early 2018, so it was around the time of Shop Riot. I think we’d all realised that Square Up Media didn’t really know what to do with us, and they probably weren’t going to be keeping us around for an extended period of time. That was the point where we all started asking, “right, what are going to do?” It was also coming up towards the end of me being the right age to get a working holiday visa for Australia, because you can only do that until you’re 30; after then, you struggle to get an extended visa. We ended up booking it so that I’d leave full time employment with Sidewalk in the middle of September 2018, and then fly out at the end of September to arrive just before I turned 31, so I would still be able to get a year. Then three weeks before I was actually meant to leave was when we all got made redundant. At that point, there was no plan to write a book. I’d spoken to Ben and we’d arranged for me to write a travelogue series for Sidewalk whilst I was in Australia, but obviously I wasn’t going to be doing that now, so I spoke to Guy (Jones) and Reece (Leung) to see if they wanted it for Vague. They were kind of hyped, but once I sent them the first 5000-word piece of block text with no images to back it up, I realised it wouldn’t make any sense to have it in a magazine (laughs). I went back to the drawing board. That was when I thought, “I’ve got all of this text already, so I might as well keep going”.

A bunch of people were asking me, “are you going to do a travel blog?” and by that point, I felt like the internet had killed our magazine, I hated the internet, I didn’t want anything to do with it, so I was like, “no! It’s going to be a series of print zines and I’m never going to put them online” (laughs). But then, by the end, it would have been too expensive to print a series of 12 zines, and I didn’t know what else to do with, so I thought, “fuck, I guess I’ve accidentally written a book”.

Obviously, what you have written here isn’t 12 standalone chapters to be digested individually; it’s one concise body of work. How did the writing process develop or change as the project grew?

As we were traveling down the coast I was scribbling notes in a little note pad. We were camping for most of it, but any time we were staying in a hostel for a couple of nights, to give our backs a rest, I’d spend an hour or so typing up what I already had, and turning the notes into longer sentences. We got into Melbourne and I didn’t have a job for the first month or so; I was just looking for work. Alyce got work straight away, so I was just killing time, and building what I was writing when I wasn’t applying for jobs. I started working in a bar and I’d get in at 1am, 2am, and still be really awake from speaking to people all evening and doing lots of shots of Patron. I didn’t just want to get in every night from work and watch skate videos, or watch films, so I started writing more and more. Somewhere in all of that, I realised that what I had was actually six book chapters, and we were still out there for another year or so. That’s when I started thinking, “yeah, this might be a book”.

From then on, I started writing notes with more focus, taking into account how I wanted the book to be. I had more of an idea of what I wanted to do with it, rather than just scribble things down with a thought that people might see them some time.

Once I realised I was writing a book, I had to go back and rewrite the first six chapters in a way that drew them together with the rest of the book, and that took longer than writing them in the first place (laughs).

An undercover one foot invert whilst an intrigued Mr Glass watches on. Photo: Chris Johnson.

Is there any chapter in the book that stands out as being a favourite for you, or maybe holds the most personal significance?

The final chapter and epilogue, when I managed to draw everything together; that was a really satisfying process. Getting everything that I’d written and drawing it to a conclusion, I thought that would be the hardest thing to do, so I was really stoked when that worked out. I have a tendency to ramble and let my writing sprawl, so until that point, as far as I knew, the book might never end. I’d be writing it still, rather than doing this interview, and we’d be on to the chapter that laid out a literary map of the cracks in Hyde Park skatepark. But everything came around, and I was like, “yes, this doesn’t just peter out, it makes sense and serves as a viable end point”.

In hindsight, was there anything that happened on the road that you didn’t include, that you now wished you had?

There’s probably something that I’ve forgotten, that in a year I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and go, “oh fuck, that would have been good”. It helped when it was first written and Alyce read it over, and she reminded me of loads of little things that I hadn’t put in that were pretty funny. Like the bit about the brothers we stayed with on the Gold Coast, who were these two sketchy Trailer Park Boys style characters…

Zeus and Poseidon?

That’s them. They weren’t in the original draft. Alyce was like, “it’s really fun reading it back, but why aren’t those two dudes in there; that was the weirdest thing we saw during that period of traveling”. They definitely needed to be in the book.

Everything is covered extensively from when we were travelling down the coast, and when we were travelling through New Zealand and Tasmania. In Melbourne, there was a lot more focusing and cutting down on bits, just because we were there for so long. There are loads of things that we did in Melbourne that weren’t included. I didn’t really talk too much about The Tannery DIY, which was where I spent most of my time and met loads of people. It was in Preston in North Melbourne, and was about a half hour skate from my house. Courtney Barnett wrote the song Depreston about the suburb, but it was probably where I had the most fun in Melbourne, so she clearly doesn’t know shit about DIY spots. It was this wasteland that apparently used to be the site of an old tannery, and there were loads of these sick rumours about why it was abandoned but we were still allowed to build there. One popular explanation was that it was bought by some Buddhist monks and they were bummed when they found out it was a tannery, so they abandoned the land. Or all the arsenic from the leather making process leached into the soil so it’s illegal to build there for another 50 years. I held back on including those because a mate of mine was sort of planning to release a zine based around all of these unverified stories – he even dropped some acid and spent the night there to fully immerse himself in the spot - but that didn’t happen in the end. It would have been interesting to go into those rumours a bit more, if I’d have had the time and inclination.

For a while, there was a homeless person living at the spot, and he made a shack in the corner, away from where we were building stuff to skate. On a night, he’d go raid the bags sat outside the local charity shops for clothes; he’d bring the bags down to the spot and chuck out all the crap that wasn’t any use. There was always weird shit down there, like dolls heads, toys, old fucked up bike parts. You’d never know what you’d be sweeping out of the way on a morning, one day we went down and there was loads of condom packets ripped open and the contents strewn everywhere, including a used one on the platform of the beer can coping ramp. There was also the bong shelter, which was separate from the homeless dude’s shelter, where the local kids would lurk. They were pissing off the local businesses (and us) so we were going to rip it down and potentially start a turf war anyway, but then they accidentally burnt it down themselves, so that sorted that problem for us.

Worlds collide at The Tannery DIY. Photo: Jono Coote.

The way that the Australian election went in 2019, and the racism that you were witness to, is mentioned regularly in the book. Was racism more apparent during this trip than previous ones?

I think we saw and heard more racism because we were there for so much longer. It’s one of those; we’d seen and heard things on previous trips, but nothing can prepare you for it. We went to the Northern Territories on the first trip, we were on this tour and we went to a little swimming spot, somewhere north of Darwin. One of the people on the trip said, “I’m just going to move our belongings closer to us, because, you know…there’s some aboriginal kids over there, and…you know”. Things that like happen pretty regularly out there. You know it’s always there, but when you’re witness to something, it takes your brain a second to process. “Did someone just say that? Nah, they couldn’t…they definitely did just say that”.

Like I was saying before, comparing the Coalition win to the Brexit vote or Trump getting into power, it’s this big western swing to the right, which is happening all over in the post-colonial world. I guess it gets seen through the prism of different cultures; it’s the same here but Britain has a different way of saying and doing things. That racism is still there, it’s just embedded in institutions and things like that. But it was always shocking to see or hear, every time.

Backside boneless into the stray board pit of Mile End. Photo: Chris Johnson.

So when did your Australia journey finish?

We left at the end of January 2020, and that was when my visa fully expired, which seems like fucking years ago now. My visa ran out, and that was three weeks before Alyce’s visa started in the UK again. So we flew out from Melbourne to Bali, stayed in Bali for a few days, then caught trains up through Java, then we were going to fly from Jakarta to Malaysia but Alyce got really ill, so we flew to Malaysia early because they have a better medical system. From there we went to Singapore, then we got back to the UK at the end of February last year.

Great, just in time for lockdown.

We didn’t know where we were going to live, so we visited both Leeds and Bristol, went to London and Bexhill to see family, and then ended up moving to Leeds. We got back like, “yeah, let’s go to the pub!” But then no one could actually leave the house, let alone go to the pub (laughs).

The finished article. Photo: Red Fez Books.

How did you go about trying to publish your book? When did Josh (Sutton) and his publishing company Red Fez Books enter the No Beer picture?

So we got back and I’d kind of written a draft; again it took me a little while to find a job, so I was just working on edits and redrafting the text. I didn’t know what to do; I didn’t know how to approach publishers, so I was just typing into Google, “how to get your book published?” All of the websites I found basically say to spam every publisher you come across online until one of them doesn’t tell you to f*ck off. At the point I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it, it didn’t seem like it would work out.

Work was already happening on Horsforth skatepark, and I helped out on a few shifts there, just laboring and mixing concrete. I lurked there until Youngo (Iain Young) passed me a shovel and said, “stop just hanging out skating the bits we’ve built already”. Josh started working there too; I knew him from skating around Hyde Park. I was telling him about my book, and how I didn’t want to proofread it again because if I hadn’t seen a mistake by then, I wasn’t going to see it. Everyone else was really busy and didn’t have time, but he said, “do you want me to proofread it? I’ve written things before”. Then a few days later he messaged me saying, “I really like it, and I’m down to help you try to get it published somewhere else, but I’ve been starting up a publishing company to release some of my own books. Do you want to release it through that?” Obviously it’s nice to do it through someone who you’re already mates with, and has an understanding of skateboarding. Otherwise it would probably be going to some publisher who might not understand that was going on, I guess. Even though I’ve tried to write it so it makes sense to a non-skate audience, there are still definitely things that Josh grasped straight away that other publishers wouldn’t have done.

Once it was decided we were releasing it through Red Fez, the next few months we started really getting down to honing the text, and getting it into a place where it all made sense, and didn’t ramble on too much. Josh is really good mates with Boff Whalley from the band Chumbawamba, so the final proof was done by him, which is pretty dope!

That’s a claim!

Because Josh had so many zines and books printed before, he also knew who to hit up to get the good paper, the good print quality.

Can you tell us a bit about Red Fez Books; has Josh been putting out books for a while?

He’s been putting out books for a while, but through other publishers. No Beer on a Dead Planet is the first book to be released through Red Fez. It was set up to publish his newest book, but that wasn’t finished, so he said, “let’s concentrate on getting your book out there first, because it’s already written”.

How did the illustrator Lewis Brownlie enter the equation?

I’ve never met Lewis, but I know him through Guy and Garry G. They were like, “this guy Lewis lives in Geelong, near Melbourne. Hit him up when you’re near there and go skate with him”. Geelong is still a fair way from Melbourne, so I didn’t go down there too much. Lewis was working on this massive project, The Melbourne Map, which is dope; everyone should look it up on Instagram. It’s this massive detailed artwork of the whole of Melbourne. He’d just had a kid as well, so he wasn’t ready to go skate at the drop of a hat. Pretty much when I went down that way, I’d skate Corio, which was the old 70s bowls. They are these gnarly deathtraps that not many people want to skate, except me. I’d message him and be like, “hey, I’m heading to Corio for the day, to skate the Keyhole, do you want to come?”, and he’d get back to me, saying, “aah…not right now” (laughs). Through those attempts to go skateboarding that never came to anything, I saw his artwork, and thought it was sick.

Late last year, I was chatting to Josh and we were trying to work out how to make it so that the book wasn’t just a block of text. He asked if I had any photos; I took loads of photos, but they’re all shit. I don’t take photos. But I said that I knew this dude who lived near Melbourne who is a really, really sick illustrator, and it would be rad if he wanted to be involved. I asked Lewis if he wanted to work on some illustrations, and luckily he did. He was like, “I’m really busy, but I might be able to get something to you after Christmas”, but he found time and managed to get everything sent to us by the middle of December. We were all stoked.

Jono teeters on the edge of a judo tailblock within spitting distance of Brixton's Baddest. Photo: Chris Johnson.

Did you encounter any setbacks along the way? I guess you were trying to get the books made as Brexit was going through; did that have any impact on you?

It pushed us back by about a month or so, from when we were meant to get the books to when they actually showed up at the door. Josh has more of an idea about that, because he was the one that had to fill out all the customs forms. I imagine it’s more complicated and expensive now, and harder to get things across from Europe. As far as I know, for about three weeks, the books were just languishing in a warehouse in Kent.

After a month of delays, No Beer on a Dead Planet went on sale last week; what has the reception been like so far?

Once they arrived, Josh basically holed himself up in his house, and spent three days straight posting out books. It’s been really nice though; everyone has been really hyped on it and positive about it so far, which I’m stoked on. I’m really glad people like it because I spent so long looking at this fucking text, and I thought I liked it, but I couldn’t know; the words had turned into abstract shapes because I’d been looking at them for so long. But everyone has been stoked on it. I didn’t want to bum people out with all these words about travel, when they can’t travel themselves, but people have been saying it’s really nice to read about Australia when they’ve been stuck in the house in northern England looking at the snow for weeks on end.

You talk about your old housemate Ben (Raemers) in the book, and it’s a nice touch that you’ve got 10% of the profits being donated to The Ben Raemers Foundation as well.

Obviously Ben died when we were away, and that was pretty fucked up and weird, being out there and obviously being in different time zones, so speaking to people about it back home was a bit hard. I had to miss the funeral, and the first Go Skateboarding Day at Raemers Park, where it looked like everyone was there. It looked so good; it was such a big celebration of his life. I’ve written about Ben in the book a bit, too. The day of the funeral was when we flew into Tasmania; it was really shit outside, it was snowing up on the top of the mountain, and the sun would come out for 20 minutes, then it would start raining sideways. I was like, “I want to fucking go skate West Hobart snake run for Ben, and get a few grinds in”. It took all day, but in the end it dried up just enough to have a little skate up there.

I hung out with Ben’s good friend Gorm (Tom Lillingstone) out there a bit as well. He was really busy but it was nice to be able to go skate with him, and talk about Ben. That helped.

That was another one where we’d got the book to a final point, and I was talking with Josh and said, “we should definitely put a link to the Foundation on the inside slip of the book”. Then it made sense that we should donate some of the profits as well.

Where is No Beer on a Dead Planet available from?

At the moment, you can buy it from the Red Fez Books website, and Nick (Sharratt) got a bunch in for The Palomino, which I’m stoked on because he’s the best dude and does fucking loads for skateboarding’s creative outlets. If it’s payday and I want to get a couple of different zines, or read something interesting, I’ll just go straight onto the publication section on his site and have a scroll through, and add more things to my basket than I could actually afford (laughs). It’s also on sale at an independent book shop in Otley, because that’s where Josh lives. Welcome are going to have some, and hopefully a couple of other skate shops too.

We were going to hold a bunch of book launches; we were going to do a skate at Wernside and then a launch at Welcome, then the same with Stockwell and Brixton’s Baddest, and Lewes DIY and The Beak BreweryDanny Tapper’s newest venture – but who knows when and if those will happen now. We had them all planned out, but maybe one day…when we can meet in groups again.

Buy No Beer on a Dead Planet now; no disappointment found on radar, obviously. Photo: Red Fez Books.