Since 2003 the motorcycle industry as a whole has received a huge visibility boost courtesy of The Discovery Channel’s (and later TLC’s) reality based show American Chopper. The wildly popular show chronicles the day-to-day operations of Orange County Choppers, a custom motorcycle shop located in Newburgh, New York. Of course, unless you have been under a rock for the past few years you already know this… and you also know that besides manufacturing some of the most incredibly detailed theme bikes in the world, part of what has made the show so interesting is the often tumultuous relationship between father and son owners Paul Teutul and Paul Jr. Things have gotten so bad that Paul Jr has now left OCC to launched his own design company Paul Jr. Designs.
I recently caught up with him to discuss his past with OCC, his future with Paul Jr. Designs and a few other things.
SWAG: I’ve often wondered what you were like growing up. Were you a good kid or one of those troublemakers?
PAUL: I was a pretty good kid. I hated school but loved my friends.
SWAG: What were your interests back then and what was your family life like?
PAUL: I was always very curious about how things worked and I enjoyed sports and building things. I had a pretty dysfunctional upbringing due to the fact that my father was a heavy drinker. Only by the grace of God am I.
SWAG: At what point did you become interested in motorcycles?
PAUL: I didn’t become interested in motorcycles until about 18. I was always around them but not that interested. Growing up we always had quads instead of motorcycles but my first motorcycle was a Yamaha RZ 350… it was a 2 stroke. I eventually sold it, but bought another one just like it and still have it to this day.
SWAG: By the time we were all introduced to you on TV you had already developed a keen eye for design and the ability to make your visions reality. What were some key things in your life that brought you to that place and honed those skills and when did you know you had the gift of design or that it would be your life’s passion?
PAUL: I was exposed to motorcycles at such a young age, but again had little interest. I had worked in the steel business for 10 years prior to television and then had the opportunity to have creative freedom with building motorcycles. Only then did I realize my God given creative abilities and started really exploring what I was capable of.
SWAG: OCC got a huge shot in the arm when Discovery began broadcasting a behind the scenes look at your business. How did the relationship between OCC and Discovery begin? Did they approach you guys or did you take the show idea to them?
PAUL: Discovery was looking for a motorcycle reality show on the east coast. They asked the co-executive producer of Survivor to find the show and he looked online, found us and almost immediately we began filming. We had no intention of having a show and we had no idea the phenomenon it would become.
SWAG: In the past 10 years you have designed some of the most recognized custom bikes in the world. Is there one that you are particularly proud of?
PAUL: Always what comes to mind is the Black Widow. It was the first bike for the series and not only is it one of my favorites; it seems to be a huge fan favorite as well.
SWAG: You experienced a tremendous amount of fame at a relatively young age. How has that affected your personal life?
PAUL: The good part about fame is you gain some financial freedom, become a role model and have the ability to have a positive impact on people around the world. Fortunately for me, I’ve lived in the same town all my life so I think that adds to the normalcy. The down side is that you lose your privacy and anonymity.
SWAG: You have worked with your father for a couple of decades. How does it make you feel to be on your own and calling all the shots now?
PAUL: It feels really good to be on my own, in my own company. I still own a part of OCC, so technically I own two companies. With that said there are a tremendous amount of challenges as well as expenses in starting a company, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have some unbelievable clients.
SWAG: Your volatile relationship with your father has been laid out there for anyone with a TV and a cable connection to see. First, how much of the rough side we see on TV is reality and how much of it is edited for the sake of a good show? And second, do you see a time when you might work with your father again? Would you ever consider going back to OCC?
PAUL: In the past our arguments, though always intense, could seem more frequent then they really were due to the obvious desire in production to use every one of them in the show. I wish I could say the fights were staged, but unfortunately that’s not the case and that’s exactly why I can’t see us working together in the same capacity. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I have been forced out of the situation, in spite of my ownership interest. I think my brother Michael said it best when he said, “It would take an act of God to get us back together.”
SWAG: It appeared that you and Vinnie DiMartino had a close relationship. Just out of curiosity do you have contact with him now?
PAUL: Me and Vinnie were very close. We grew up in the same town and went to school together. I see him on occasion, but our relationship is not what it used to be.
SWAG: By the way… the new website www.pauljrdesings.com looks great. It also looks like a lot of work… it’s very intense!
PAUL: The new website was very time consuming and continues to be time consuming as it is always changing.
PAUL: It was important to me for the Paul Jr. Designs logo to be as good, if not better than the OCC logo I created many years ago. The idea behind the logo was to use my new company name, Paul Jr. Designs, and integrate it into the logo itself. I figured the “JR” that makes up the crown would be appropriate because that distinguishes me from my father, even though technically I’m not a junior. As far as integrating the “JR” into the crown, it took both me and Rachael (Ed Note: Paul’s better half) to figure out how to make that work. I am extremely excited about the new logo and feel like it is diverse enough to be used on a variety of things.
SWAG: The new Coleman 10 Year Anniversary Grill you created is a testament to your skills as an innovative designer and to the fact that those skills are not just limited to motorcycles. How did the Coleman relationship come about and was your approach different with a non-motorcycle project?
PAUL: Being that the idea behind Paul Jr. Designs was to expand my work into new products, the transition from bike to grill was a no brainer. We set out to find a company that had a vision for innovation, and Coleman was that company. With ten years of working with some of the top companies in the world, Coleman is up there with the best of the best and they have been phenomenal to work with. I look forward to future projects with them.
SWAG: For a lot of us, you were and will always be the true talent at OCC. I know you are expanding your horizons with other product and that is way cool… but many would be disappointed if you stay completely away from motorcycles. Will we see a Paul Jr. theme bike one day?
PAUL: First of all thank you. As for custom theme bikes, I can’t wait to build the first PJD blown out custom chopper. I think I will find a nice balance between inventing and innovating products that are both practical and affordable, including building tricked out custom bikes for individuals and corporations. The future is a very exciting thing!
SWAG: Paul, thanks for taking the time to chat. I look forward to seeing what Paul Jr. Designs creates in the future! Any parting words?
PAUL: Thanks so much to the people who have supported me and continue to support me! I hope everyone finds my new company and new direction as exciting as I do.
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