Lucero are hardly new kids on the roots-rock block. The band goes back over a decade, something frontman Ben Nichols and guitarist Brian Venable demonstrate with a handshake. “One night in Cleveland, after a show and a night of drinking, we went into a shop at about 5 a.m.,” Ben recalls. “The guy let us loose with a gun. I put an 8 on my hand, and Brian got a 9 on his thumb. When we shake hands, it forms a ’98, the year we started the band.”
At the moment, the band is happy to be back home in Memphis, recording their eighth alt-country album. Whoa, back that up. “When we first came out, we were lumped in with that ‘alt-country’ style,” says Nichols. “But I didn’t know anything about it. I’d never heard of Uncle Tupelo.” If inaccurate, the comparison is forgivable; from the start, Lucero has played a punky brand of roots-rock. “My idea was always to be The Pogues of the South,” Nichols says. “We loved The Replacements, and we loved Tom Waits. But now we’ve expanded to be a rock ‘n’ roll band. We’re influenced by Tom
Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and classic rock.”
While Nichols, who released a solo album earlier this year, promises plenty of “drunken, loud rock ‘n’ roll” on this new album (due in the fall), he acknowledges a welcome Memphis vibe. “We’re adding soul to our sound,” he says, citing Al Green, Willie Mitchell, and the Stax label as influences this time around. Long-term Lucero fans should brace themselves for backup singers and a horn section.
When it comes to ink, Nichols collects tattoos like souvenirs. “I’ve always been about small tattoos,” he says. “For me, it’s about where you were and who you were with when you got them.” His very first tattoo, however, was an exception. “I was 18,” he recalls. “I walked into a seedy biker tattoo place in Little Rock, AR, and picked one off the wall. It’s a Celtic armband—the kind of thing you get when you’re 18.” Contrast that with the Polynesian girl on his left forearm, which he took in trade for playing a show in Wichita, KS. “It’s one of my favorites,” he says. “I saw it hanging on the wall and was like, ‘Anyone ever get that one?’ The guy said no, so I said, ‘Well, I’ll get that, then.’ It’s kind of an honor to be the first person to get it.” There is also a tattoo of the band’s logo, which all four band members have: a Laverne & Shirley L inside a star. “And now the pedal steel player has it,” he adds. “Actually, a bunch of random people have it. Now folks show up at a show—people I’ve never met before—and they show us their Lucero tattoo.” Where do we sign up?
You can tell a lot about a person by what they have tattooed across the knuckles. So it makes perfect sense that Minneapolis rapper P.O.S. chose the word “Optimist.”
“As bad as things get, there’s always a positive way to look at your situation,” P.O.S. (a.k.a. Stefon Alexander) explains while on the road for his aptly titled Never Better Tour. And he knows firsthand that you create your own luck: While selling merch for Atmosphere on the 2004 Vans Warped Tour, he hustled his way onstage and signed with the legendary hip-hop label Rhymesayers Entertain- ment shortly afterward.
That said, P.O.S. initially cut his teeth as a teenager in the punk rock scene—despite the fact that, as a black kid going to punk shows in the ’90s, he wasn’t exactly embraced by everyone. “I remember I saw Pennywise and Quicksand and got jumped in the pit until my friends realized what was going on,” he explains. “Then we had to fight all these guys because apparently some of the Pennywise fans in Minneapolis did not want me there.” However, P.O.S. maintains that such situations were exceptions, not constants. “Usually, even if people had shit to say about me they kind of kept it to themselves.”
P.O.S.’s punk pedigree clearly shines through on his latest full-length, Never Better—and whether he’s quoting Fugazi lyrics or singing alongside None More Black’s Jason Shevchuk, the album is able to reconcile P.O.S.’s seemingly disparate influences in a unique brand of music that has endeared him to fans of everyone from Gym Class Heroes to Underoath. “I didn’t want to make a pop record this time around; I wanted to make something that was not only challenging to myself but also challenging to my fans,” he says. “If people are going to get into what I’m doing, I want them to get into it for real.”
That seems to be exactly what’s happening these days, regardless of potential listeners’ musical preferences or preconceptions. “I’ve noticed that every crowd I’ve gotten a chanceto play for opens up if you’re straight up with them,” he explains. “I’m going to break a sweat and have the best time ever live, so you’re gonnahave a better time if you fucking go with it than if you sit around acting like you’re too cool,” he summarizes. “People come around.”
Judging by the vintage crossover sound of The Gaslight Anthem, who deftly blend American E-Street flavored working-class rock with modern punk sensibilities, you might peg frontman Brian Fallon as a forward-thinking visionary who takes his cues from the musical rearview mirror—but that’s just not the case. “I don’t like to guess about the future,” says Fallon. “Talking about the future is like trying to talk about the past—you never see it clearly, you’re always trying to make assumptions.”
The quartet from down ’round the New Jersey Turnpike never assumed they would be touring nonstop in support of a bona fide breakout hit (2008’s The 59 Sound), especially not in places like Helsinki, where the tour kicked off in February. “We couldn’t have possibly imagined this. We’re in Canada now, then we go back to Europe. We’ll probably get ready to record later this year and put out a new album sometime in spring or summer of 2010. It’s all been awesome.”
One stop on the tour is an opening slot for Bruce Springsteen, who’s been an inspiration to Fallon. Springsteen invited the band to open for him at Hard Rock Calling in London June 28. It will be the band’s first performance sharing a bill with the Boss, which is ironic considering how far away from home they are. “It’s funny that two guys from the same place have to travel thousands of miles to play together.”
That place, New Jersey, is also where Fallon was first inked with a Bouncing Souls tattoo, at age 17. One of his favorite pieces, however, is “Stay Free”— after the title of the Clash song—which was tattooed in script across his knuckles by Hollywood Mark. “I didn’t want the standard sailor tattoo lettering, so he basically just wrote the words across my hands and it turned out great.”
These days, Fallon heads to Fat Cat Tattoo, Revolver Tattoo, and American Ink for his work. “Chuck Daly [at Jersey City Tattoo Co.] said that when you see someone with their legs covered or chest covered—stuff people can’t see— you can tell they really love tattoos. … I’m one of them.”
Were it not for her blonde hair and the large tattoo on her left arm, you’d hardly be able to tell the slender, petite Jess Origliasso from the other Veronica, her sister, Lisa. The identical twins have matching Australian accents and tattoos that read, “Without you, I grow pale.”
But below the surface there is much that’s different, including Jess’s impulsiveness and Lisa’s indecisiveness. These traits have impacted their tattoos (Jess got her first, “Love,” on her wrist, at 19, while Lisa waited three additional years to get “Fate” in the same place) and have led to some in-studio battles—though nothing as bad as Oasis’s Gallagher brothers, yet. Jess explains, “We say we’re somewhere between the Jonas Brothers and the Gallagher brothers. If the five of them had sex together, we would be their children.”
Originally known as the Origliasso Sisters, the duo renamed themselves The Veronicas, after Winona Ryder’s character in Heathers and Betty’s rival from the Archie comics. And they’ve come a long way from their first onstage performance at the tender age of 5. “We were singing ‘Do-Re-Mi,’ and it was hysterical,” Jess recalls. “We were wearing these tutu things. I pick my nose through most of it and Lisa forgets the dance move, which is pretty much just skipping around halfway through the song.”
he electro-pop duo captivated Australia with their debut record, The Secret Life of…, and these days they are breaking out in the U.S. with their most recent release, Hook Me Up, an album loaded with catchy pop songs built with a tinge of a rebel edge. On their next album, they plan to push that even further with a dirty-pop feel inspired by Hole, Babes in Toyland, and Fiona Apple.
And while Jess attributes her interest in tattoos to her infatuation with the lead singer of Aussie rock legends Rose Tattoo, rocker ladies have always been a part of her life. One of her most recent tattoos is a Richard Tate image of a girl with a guitar that represents her alter ego. It’s a piece within a larger body of work that includes a cupcake and a poison bottle, and it incorporates one of her earliest tattoos, a heart that now has the lettering blacked out. Unlike the homeward-bound swallows on her hips that she shares with her mother, or the sexy pinup girl on the back of her calf that turned out to be a lot larger than she had anticipated (causing her sister not to speak to her for days), she won’t fess up to the story behind the heart or what her “secret” tattoos are all about. After all, a little mystery is always sexy.
When Richmond, VA, post-thrash quintet Lamb of God started writing songs for their new album, Wrath (which debuted at number two on the Billboard album chart), they had just one major goal: to shave away some of the production frills that graced 2006’s slick yet still storming Sacrament in order to recapture the unrefined aggression that originally drove the band.
“We wanted to make a very heavy record that would drop everyone’s jaw, and we were totally united on that,” explains guitarist Mark Morton, the only tattoo-free band member.
Mission accomplished. In a sonic climate that values melodic choruses and breakdowns, Wrath is a primal and bludgeoning blow to the solar plexus. Songs like “Set to Fail” and “Fake Messiah” feature gnashing rhythms, squealing guitars, and roaring vocals, while slower tracks such as “Contractor,” with its stomping chant-along refrain of “Guaran-fuckin-teed, someone will bleed,” impacts like a fist through a plate glass window.
“What’s interesting is that the aggression this time didn’t come from disagreements or throwing bottles and pretty healthy and fun.”
That wasn’t always the case. Over their 19 years together, the members of Lamb of God have had their differences and come to blows on numerous occasions—the most public of which, a skirmish between vocalist Randy Blythe and Mor- ton, was captured on the 2005 DVD Killadelphia. Much of Blythe’s past belligerence stemmed from excessive drinking. Take the Sacrament sessions. “Dude, Randy was a mess,” drummer Chris Adler says. “He was late to the project, we had to hold his hand the whole time, and he didn’t fucking care. But for Wrath, Randy was in a much better place and more respectful of the whole process.”
While the music of Lamb of God has always been hostile, the members are much more lighthearted when they’re off the clock, as evidenced by some of the ink they’ve accrued over time. Guitarist Willie Adler has a plate of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and cornbread on a red checkered tablecloth tattooed across his stomach. Even Chris Adler’s tattoos from macabre ink inflictor Paul Booth are far from horrific. “We’re doing an ongoing thing based around wind, water, and fire,” the drummer says. “Every time I sit down, he draws a new thing. My arm is covered now, but every time we get together there seems to be a little something more he wants to do.”
So what’s Morton’s excuse for bare skin? “I’ve got nothing against tattoos, and I have a gorgeous wife that has full sleeves,” he explains. “But if I think about every tattoo I ever thought about getting, I would have some pretty awful, awful tattoos.”
If it feels like The Sounds are always on tour, it’s because they practically are. Since these Swedes first came together in 1999 and started making fierce, fist-pumping rock, blond frontwoman Maja Ivarsson estimates they’ve played nearly 1,000 shows in 25 countries—500 alone for their last album, 2006’s Dying to Say This to You.
Now they’re preparing to tour for their latest album, Crossing the Rubicon. Though the band has always experimented with a wide range of sounds, this record swings possibly the farthest, stretching from the ’80s hip- hop-inspired track “Beatbox” to the melodic “Home Is Where the Heart Is,” which was recorded on a whim their last day in the studio.
All of this will be on display when Ivarsson and the rest of the band share the road this summer with No Doubt and their own high-energy golden-haired singer, Gwen Stefani.
The nonstop traveling was the inspiration for Ivarsson’s latest tattoo, three dots in the fleshy crook between her thumb and index finger. “My father passed away when I was a kid, and he was a sailor. If you’ve been to all seven seas you get a tattoo like that.” (It’s also a symbol of naval protection that sailors get before their first journey.)
A rebellious teenager—she credits her intense angst and anger, which nearly got her kicked out of school three months prior to graduation, with helping fuel her music career—Ivarsson had a tribal sun tattooed onto her forearm when she was 16. But she dodged the “tattoo bug” and didn’t sit down for her second tattoo until her 24th birthday. Inked by Los Angeles tattooer Small Paul Stottler, the large black-and-white image on her arm is of Modesty Blaise, a character from the comic series Agent X-9. “I wanted something no one else is going to have. … Then my tour manager did exactly the same one. But he has tattoos all over his body, so it doesn’t stand out as much.”
For Ivarsson, performing onstage has yielded three bro- ken ribs, accidental indecent exposure, and an audience member who attempted to bite a chunk out of her leg. Is there a tattoo for that?