Outlaw motorcycle clubs, arson, gunrunning, murder, kidnapping, drugs, porn, and white separatists; not quite things you’d associate with a homely little town dubbed “Charming.” And these are definitely not elements that you would think would attract a lot of people to said town. But to an outlaw motorcycle club trying to preserve its stake in its quaint little territory known as Charming, it’s business as usual for the Sons of Anarchy (SOA). And that is what’s captured the attention of millions of television viewers around the globe.
Coming immediately off of his writing success on FX’s other hit series, The Shield, Sons of Anarchy Creator/Executive Producer/Writer/Director Kurt Sutter unloaded the Sons out of the smoking barrel of an M-16, immediately captivating the hearts of viewers. Enjoyed by motorcycle enthusiasts as well as non-riders, the show has gained fans and supporters across the globe. The popularity of the SOAMC has taken on a life of its own with Twitter and Facebook fan groups to a full line of SOA apparel—even offering an SOA Reaper and M-16/Sickle emblazed onesie for upcoming prospects.
Heading full-throttle into its fourth season on FX and on the heels of Kurt’s wife, Katey Sagal, winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Series Drama for her character on the show, the critically acclaimed hit series continues to allure audiences. Whether it’s the well-written scripts, intriguingly sculpted characters, on-point acting, or outsiders’ fascination with the tight-nit, yet guarded community of outlaw bikers, it seems people just can’t get enough of the Men of Mayhem.
In between writing, directing, and prepping for the series’ season premier this coming September, we caught up with Kurt to discuss the hit show as well as his new blacked-out Illusion Motorsports chopper.
HB: How did the idea for Sons of Anarchy come to fruition?
I was finishing up on The Shield and curious about doing my own show but wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I loved the genre and had a fascination with the outlaw subculture. My main agent, Nicole Clemens, knew that I was an avid rider, had ridden cross-country, and had a Harley. So when my other (future) executive producers father and son, Art and John Linson, were looking to do a project to push the outlaw community, it made sense for John and I to get together. Most times people come to you and they have a story, life rights, a book, or a property that they’ve optioned and they say, “Do you want to turn this into a feature or creation?” But rather than say here’s a book or here’s a property, John knew instinctively that it [outlaw bikers] was a great genre and that it really hadn’t been explored on TV. So they sort of came to me asking if I thought it would work. It was a lot more work on one hand because there was no foundation to build off of, but on the other hand, it allowed me to have complete freedom in terms of the world, story, characters, everything.
“It was a lot more work on one hand because there was no foundation to build off of, but on the other hand, it allowed me to have complete freedom in terms of the world, story, characters, everything. ”
I started doing some basic research on clubs and as most know, when these MCs began they didn’t begin necessarily as outlaw entities. For a lot of the bigger clubs, they were just these war veterans coming back from WWII and Korea getting together to try and recapture some of that sense of adventure and excitement they’d experienced while in service through their love of motorcycles. They really just started out as a pack of guys getting together to have a few beers and blow off some steam. And in a very short period of time, some of them sort of morphed into an organized crime component. And that’s really where I got the idea for the show in terms of what would that first guy who put on a jacket and said, “Lets go grab a few beers and have some fun,” what would that guy think looking back 15 years later at that same group of guys that are now ultimately perhaps involved in much more nefarious activities? What would his point of view be? Would he have regrets, remorse? And that’s where I came up with the idea for the character of John Teller. John Teller started the club for one reason and ultimately it turned into something else. What would his point of view be about that? And from that idea the Hamlet paradigm sort of became a natural fit; that ultimately that character would be gone and we would have his son, the mother, and stepfather that were perhaps responsible for the demise of the father. And that’s where the Hamlet paradigm fit very well, then spun a pilot from that paradigm, and then ultimately the series. But John and Art were very instrumental in making sure I had everything I needed to build the pilot and create the show.
The Illusion Motorsports crew cut up a Sportster gas tank and lowered the tunnel so that they could Frisco-mount the tank on the backbone.
The Illusion Motorsports crew cut up a Sportster gas tank and lowered the tunnel so that t
HB: With clubs being so guarded how were you able to get a closer look inside?
John had experience in the world, he had friends that were in clubs in Oakland, and he was really the guy that facilitated and said, “Why don’t you get together with these guys.” So I was able to hang out with these guys up north. I got inside to a certain extent. Obviously not sitting in on church or anything like that, but I think they had a good relationship with John, and I was very respectful of that, and they knew what my deal was. So I came in and they let me hang out with them and they walked me through the clubhouse—that’s not unusual, guests are allowed into the clubhouses. So I got that experience, and I think I got a really good sense of who these guys were. They were really irreverent and funny and there was just a great sense of camaraderie and brotherhood, it’s really part of the culture. My other research in terms of the mechanics of the club, I didn’t get from those guys because I knew better than to ask those questions. So a lot of that research was just academic, going through other people’s research. Not bullshit books from an ex-biker’s point of view; it was literally academic, thesis, dissertations, and law enforcement stuff that people wrote up on how clubs work. So that research was very dry, academic, and factual. And that factual stuff was massaged a little bit so it had some dramatic weight, and then I incorporated my sense of the world and characters that I got from spending time with the club guys.
HB: Where do you get story ideas? Do they come from club members or do you just work them up?
My writers and I come up with the stories. Very rarely do I do any ripped-from-the-headline kind of thing. Cinematically, a lot of times I’ll guide it in terms of whether it’s emotional or has something to do with the family, Jax [Charlie Hunnan], or Gemma [Katey Sagal] and this sort of emotional arc we are playing out, then it will help shape my story. I have technical advisors (TA) on the show but I don’t go to them and say, “Hey, tell me a great story.” I just don’t want to do that. If there’s something in the script and I need to know whether or not it would happen in the framework of the club, I’ll go to my TAs and say, “Hey if this were to go down, what would it look like?” And then they can sort of shape things, but I just never want to feel like I am exploiting these guys. We’ll bounce the framework of some stuff off our TAs and make sure that it’s a framework of reality and be authentic as to what would that look like, how would that go down, how would members react to that if a member did this, how would the club react and what would the consequences be? And that’s where my TAs are very useful.
Mounted between the 12-inch Illusion risers is a Yankee Enginuity dual-gauge mount with Drag Specialties tach and speedo gauges. The risers sit in 3-degree raked triple trees, which help provide smooth handling.
Mounted between the 12-inch Illusion risers is a Yankee Enginuity dual-gauge mount with Dr
HB: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the clubs about the show?
For the most part it’s been pretty good. I’ve become good friends with a lot of these guys; Sonny Barger is a good friend of mine now. There are guys out there I’m sure that think it’s bullshit, but for the most part I think these guys know it is what it is, that it’s a TV show, and that it’s heightened drama. Sonny’s guys always give me shit because it is heightened drama, and in their mind it’s a soap opera, but it’s a soap opera that’s about them. So I think there’s a sense of them embracing it. It’s a show that’s written with a pulp quality, which means it’s bigger than life, it’s extreme. But I think it’s that pulp quality that allows the biker community to take a step back and say, “OK it’s about us but it’s not really about us.” It’s not so close to where people are going, “F#@k, that makes us look bad.” That bigness gives it some distance so that people can take a step back and go, “Wow this is really fun, let’s watch this.” And for me, that’s what I want the show to always have, I want the show to have a pulp quality so that there’s a sense of that iconic bigger-than-life subculture component that makes it fun, not just compelling and interesting. I just really want people to get a rise out of it, to get a rush, to laugh, and say, “Holy f#@k, I can’t wait for next week.” And to me that’s my job as a writer, entertainer, and storyteller: to entertain you, to impact you, and to keep you wanting more week after week.
Illusion dressed up the lower legs by adding some milled accents and then they had the legs covered in Diamond-Like Carbon coating (DLC). DLC is a very hard and durable finish, that also looks cool.
Illusion dressed up the lower legs by adding some milled accents and then they had the leg
Through their associate, Billy at Spyke, Illusion procured 10 special order de-stroked 124ci S&S engines with Illusion’s cam and stroke specifications. According to Illusion its 4.125-inch bore x 4.250-inch stroke, 114ci configuration provides longevity of the engine, less vibration, and the engine comes on strong at low rpm without having to downshift. The 114s are Illusion’s largest engines that are EPA/CARB certified.
Through their associate, Billy at Spyke, Illusion procured 10 special order de-stroked 124
HB: You’re pretty active on social media with your blog, YouTube, and Twitter. Does it blow you away how strong the SOA fan base is on Twitter?
Yeah I’m very impressed with the fan base, and I feel like my interaction is actually helping. Ultimately I don’t know if it ever makes the sort of impact where it impacts them (the fans) much less the show, but I definitely feel like the fan base is strong enough that it serves a purpose for me to stay plugged into them. And yeah, I am very impressed with the level of intensity, commitment, and how aware people are of the nuances. It was really impressive for me the first time I went down to Illusion Motorsports to meet T-Rod, Rusty, and their crew. All those guys, their wives, their families, no nuance was lost on them. No character nuance, no story turn, they were just plugged into everything. I think that for people that are fans of the show, none of that is wasted. So I really try to deliver that. I don’t alter anything, my vision never changes because of the feedback I get from fans, but sometimes what it does alter is the execution of that vision. Meaning if fans respond specifically to one type of thing or a quality of the show they enjoy, it doesn’t change what I want to do with the show or the stories I want to tell. But it will perhaps alter my execution in terms of if I see people really like the character nuances or they really like the scenes when the guys are sitting down talking heart-to-heart and talking about the club. So as I write, I stay aware of the things people respond to so I can continue to layer that stuff into scripts. So that’s sort of the give and take of it for me.
HB: How did you come to have T-Rod and Rusty at Illusion Motorsports build this bike for you?
I met Rusty and T-Rod through a TA on the show, and they were big fans of the show. I met them at a toy run and we got to talking. I had this Dyna that Harley had given me for a year and it was this thing where every year they were going to renew it, then Harley kind of bailed on us and pulled the bike. So I sat down with Rusty and T-Rod and told them I wanted to build a bike. They had built a Sons of Anarchy charity bike for the Wounded Warriors Foundation and they did a killer job on that bike, so I hired them to build mine. We just sat down and built it from the ground up (on paper). It took about three or four months to build and it was a fantastic experience because I had never been part of that creative process.
HB: So how much input did you have in the design and parts.
I didn’t really know much about building the bike, I just knew what I liked in terms of riding and that’s what I was able to communicate. I like a mid ride, I like being centered, I like being on top of the bike rather than reaching for the bike, so we sort of based it on that and then they were able to incorporate some of the designs Illusion has become known for. So my contribution was really just letting them know what I like and what I wanted. I wanted it to be really simple, black and chrome, badass, and low maintenance. And then I really just let them run with it. They did mockups and sketches and kept me plugged in the whole way and sent me pictures of the progress. I really dig Illusion’s 12-inch risers. They are like modern art to me. And the big 114 (engine) is just a monster. The fork tubes took the longest. They took about six weeks to do because they were sent out to get a Diamond-Like Carbon Coating finish. It’s so badass! It was really wild watching all those pieces come together and it’s a great ride. It’s super powerful but the bike never gets away from me. And the transmission and clutch are really smooth so I never feel like I am lurching into gear. It’s as smooth and easy to ride as the off-the-line Dyna was, but it’s just a lot more powerful and a lot more finessed. It’s a badass looking bike, but I wanted it to be a functional bike. I didn’t want it to be a bike I could only take out twice a year because to do more than 50 miles on it would be too uncomfortable. I really wanted it to be a bike I could just get on and ride everyday. And now that the bike is finished and I know more of what I like and what I don’t like, I can go back and say, “OK the reach is a little long, let’s move the pegs a little.” And Illusion is great about that stuff. They’ll say, “OK let’s get it right.” Rusty and T-Rod just have great vision with that shit.
“I sat down with Rusty and T-Rod and told them I wanted to build a bike. They had built a Sons of Anarchy charity bike for the Wounded Warriors Foundation and they did a killer job on that bike, so I hired them to build mine.”
HB: What can viewers look forward to in season four besides more bloodshed and mayhem?
We’re back in Charming, we’re out of jail, and it’s really about the club, the inner dynamics of the club. It’s sort of like be careful what you wish for, because they’re out of jail, the gun game has been upped, and they are making more money. But it’s all the complications that come with greed, power, personal conflicts, and history. All that stuff that starts to percolate and ultimately will come to a head. I don’t want to say specifically who will be bouncing off of whom, but it’s really about the inner working of the club and setting out some of the history we put out in season three. And I have a sense that as season four progresses, viewers will really get an understanding why it was imperative for us to go to Ireland and reveal some of that back story of John Teller. HB