Reader Profile: The Band

Published: 25 June, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 213, June, 2012

DRAG are a sleazy-punk band with outrageous songs and a live show to match. Addressing themes most bands are afraid to – such as eating disorders, gender issues and self-harm without apology – they’ve also got a killer ink habit…

The story of DRAG and their seemingly inseparable music and tattoos, started six years ago. Heather and Velma met and started their musical and personal relationship in April 2006, and just four weeks later asked Helen to tattoo them a matching design of their guitars: “We bonded over the crazy story of how we met as a couple, and Helen was surprised – and maybe a little wary – that we were demonstrating a ‘lifetime commitment’ so early on!

“We were pleased to have met a good female tattooist, but we had no idea that Helen would have such a massive influence on us as a couple and as a band! When Helen made the move to Gung Ho! in Moseley, we became regulars at the shop, and have had bi-monthly appointments for the last five years.”

Helen also hand-painted a guitar for the band with original artwork, a one-of-a-kind piece and we are really proud to play it. “We also used the microphone tattoo she did on Heather as inspiration for our T-shirt logo – again, the tattoo style of the artwork reflects our love of music and tattoo art.”

A lot of DRAG’s songs discuss the idea of body image – their latest music video, ‘Hollywood Waist’ explores this in detail and deals with the lengths people will go to in order to achieve perfection. “We have predominantly discussed things like self-harm and eating disorders, both of which are featured to their extreme in the video. Tattoos are another way of achieving ‘perfection’, as many of the readers will associate with.

“Si joined us on drums in February and it was amazing to finally find someone who shared our vision and not only understood, but embraced the messages behind the songs. Si loves his ink as well, which bonds us even more, and helps create a fantastic image. Si’s newest work comes from Birmingham Ink, and we feel proud to represent the local tattoo scene onstage.”

“I feel like my tattoos represent me as a person – you can see the things that drive and inspire me on my skin, before you even talk to me. I would say that music and surfing are two of my biggest passions, so it’s no surprise that I have a sleeve dedicated to each.

“I am a bright, outgoing person, and I love colour. The inspiration for my surfing sleeve was the artwork of surf-artist Drew Brophy – I took Helen a load of his posters and surfboard designs, and she took my ideas on board to create a new spin that suited her as an artist and would work as a tattoo. So many people stop me and comment on the vividness of the colours.

“My black and grey sleeve represents all that I am as a musician, including my experiences and influences over my life. They range from a portrait of my Grandfather, a professional musician – who I never met – but my family tell me there are uncanny musical resemblances between us, as well as references to my classical background of playing the French Horn; to some of the musicians who inspire my on-stage performances like P!nk, The Dresden Dolls, and Freddie Mercury.

“I have two pieces that directly reference DRAG: ‘Trust me, this is what I need’ are lyrics from one of our songs, which refers to needing music, the band and needing the tattoos to complete me; and my microphone that I perform with. The biggest talking point of my sleeve has to be the portrait of Velma on my forearm; Helen did acknowledge that it was weird to be tattooing a portrait of someone she knows well, but I think Velma is potentially my biggest musical influence because without meeting her and getting involved with DRAG, I wouldn’t have found the confidence to realise my musical dreams of performing onstage like I do now.

“One of the main things that makes me so loyal to Helen, apart from her being a fantastic tattoo artist, is that I trust her 100 percent. When planning a big piece, I send her loads of reference material, but leave it completely up to her what she chooses to do with it. There have been many times that I will arrive not knowing what section we’ll be working on – I’m a firm believer that the artist will give you their best work when given creative control, and I feel so fortunate to have the relationship where I can give her that freedom.”

“Both my sleeves are influenced by my love of all things dark and fantastical. My interests in art, music and culture have often been based around the macabre as well as the surreal. I’ve had a passion for the horror genre of film from a young age, watching a multitude of films with my father who introduced me to the classics of film-making very early on.

“My horror sleeve morphs many of my favourite films and their characters together, drawing from old to new. Portraits of Dracula, Aliens, Female Cenobite from Hellraiser and a Nurse from Silent Hill make up the main images which are to be intertwined with Geiger-style bio-mechanical parts. Other aspects have supported this horror theme with a portrait of Marilyn Manson and bizarrely, a Lady Gaga monster claw – but very in keeping with the horror theme because of their dark visual style as musicians – something that influences my music, and in turn a lot of DRAG’s dark imagery. The final aspect of this sleeve is my tribute to the late Alexander McQueen, representing his designs presented on a disfigured mannequin.

“My other sleeve draws together my other love of film and art, Tim Burton. This sleeve takes a huge number of early Burton sketches and designs of his characters and concepts that were either translated into film or remained as sketches. This arm is a blend of surreal landscapes and oddball characters that really sums up my interests, all tied together by classic Burton black and white pattern. The one piece on this arm that sticks out from this theme is my portrait of Charles I. This is in a 17th century lithograph-style depicting Charles after the execution, exposing his neck, drawing attention to the violent nature of his death. I love the way people are often confused by the way I look and my interests in history, its like ‘you cant look like that, be in a punk band and like history!’

“Helen and I have really enjoyed constructing these two pretty dark, horror themes, and researching all the aspects has been so interesting. We share a lot of interests, and often find ourselves getting really excited discussing the prospect of the next piece. I would take images and concepts to Helen, but she would be so fundamental in designing and working the images into workable tattoos that would work on me and support each other. I have a huge amount of respect and trust in Helen and am more than happy for her to have the freedom to work totally free of resource materials, which is where the tattoo on my foot emerged, a portrait of a delicate woman’s face, with tentacles and eyes in a Medusa style. The only instruction here was ‘do whatever you want’ and it’s amazing.”

“My tattoos are all about the things I’ve conquered in my life so far. A permanent reminder of what I’ve been through to get to where I am today, but more importantly to never look back at life in a negative way. My most noticeable piece is one that covers my front, showing how music has played such an important role in my life. This piece symbolises my ongoing fight against an eating disorder that I’ve had for my entire adult life. The initials are of somebody who, in the past, gave me the strength to seek help when I was struggling. They supported me through the biggest change of my life, so it was only right that they be included. The same goes for the cross – I wanted to show that religion also played such an important part. The three angels lifting the skeleton was taken from Avenged Sevenfold’s self-titled fourth album. I love music and I love dark sketch-like imagery used on that album. Being a massive fan of Avenged Sevenfold, it felt right that I used it especially when it symbolises salvation. Their track, ‘Afterlife’ was one that summed up my waking up to reality and asking for help. The line “Please Die Ana” right at the bottom is taken from Silverchair’s ‘Open Fire (Ana’s Song)’ which is a beautifully haunting song I really connected with.

“From my spinal column (by Frank at Blue Pearl, Manchester), which represents all the people who have stood up and supported me over the years, to my forearm muscles showing through ripped skin, I love the idea of playing around with interactivity and meaning to create something that is truly unique and individual to me. My current piece in progress (at Birmingham Ink) is a full sleeve which will represent all the amazing things that I have experienced in the last three years, such as reconnecting with those that I lost along the way and being reborn through music.”

Helen Brown: The Tattooist (Gung Ho! Tattoo, Birmingham)

“Tattooing Heather and Velma has always been different! When I started tattooing them they would have small, one-shot tattoos, now it’s always a big project. Velma’s horror themed designs were great fun to do and research. I will never tire of tattooing horrible creatures! Heather’s arms are a reflection of her, and a passion for music. We tried to keep images that meant something to Heather. I even squeezed a likeness of Velma in the mix! I always look forward to seeing these ladies, and I am still never sure what we will be tattooing next.”


Text: Drag; Photography: Manicks Productions


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