Q+A: Lars Frederiksen

Punk rock has always flirted with mainstream success. Every couple of years a new batch of punk bands will explode onto the scene, and more often than not, within six months, they are never heard from again. Or they turn pop. Only a few stay the course and keep making great music. Rancid is one of them.

Driven by a deep love of music instead of dollar signs, Lars Frederiksen has been playing guitar for Rancid since its inception 20 years ago. “Rancid would be doing the same thing whether it were for 10 people or 1,000 people,” he says.

Only Frederiksen’s passion for the art of tattooing rivals his passion for punk rock. Since getting his first tattoo at the ripe old age of 11, he has embraced the culture wholeheartedly. Today he owns a stake in the legendary New York Hardcore Tattoo, and on occasion will pick up a machine to ink his buddies. “I figured that if I was going to be owner of a tattoo shop, I should be a tattooer too,” Frederiksen jokes. Whether it is in the tattoo shop, onstage, or at home raising his two sons, Frederiksen always holds dear what he has learned through the punk rock scene: “All I’ve ever done is try and make a better life for myself without stepping on anyone’s
toes. That’s what the music taught me—that’s what my culture taught me.”

INKED: Can you believe that Rancid has been around for 20 years?

LARS FREDERIKSEN: Actually, yeah. The whole deal with us is that we have always put the friendship before the band. When you have a strong, solid friendship as your foundation, that means that you’re going to have longevity. I also think that coming from our working-class backgrounds and not having a college education to fall back on has motivated us as well. I wouldn’t say that was the full driving force—the friendship is. There are so many factors in keeping a band together; it’s like being in a marriage with the other three members, and we get along.

You mentioned not having anything to fall back on if the band had been a failure. Do you think that lack of options helps hold the band together?

The success that we had was, mind you, 17 years ago with …And Out Come the Wolves. It’s not 1995 anymore; it’s not like we are millionaires with mansions and limousines. We’re just regular dudes. It’s nice to be able to make a living off of what we do, but at the same time that’s not the motivation behind it. I don’t make music for money. If I made music for money I wouldn’t have become a skinhead again and started an Oi! band. Rancid has always been a working-class punk rock band and will always be a working-class punk band.

What was it about the skinhead and punk culture that attracted you initially?

It was my brother. He brought home all of the music. The Oi! stuff, the Jamaican reggae, the Ramones, and the U.K. Subs. I owe all of my musical taste to my brother, who is no longer with us. As a younger brother you look up to your older brother, so if he drank beer then you drank beer. Back then there weren’t a lot of people into this type of music—I remember being chased home from school because I was different—so those who were gravitated toward each other. It was very tribal, in a way.

A lot of people tend to associate all skinheads with the racist element. What’s it like having to deal with that ignorance?

I dealt with that a lot back in the ’80s. This was the time when that whole racist thing was big and cops would pick you up off the street if you even resembled one. They would give you what we used to call the “Black Eye Elevator Ride.” You’d go in on the first floor and by the time you made it to the third floor you would have two black eyes. There’s always going to be a stigma. Anything that’s rebellious is going to have one. The media will never report that skinheads came from Jamaican reggae in the ’60s.

Would you consider your Oi! band, The Old Firm Casuals, a new band or a side project?

I definitely wouldn’t call it a side project because it is definitely a full-time band. It means as much to me as Rancid does. This is the band that I always thought the Bastards would be. That first Bastards record, I wanted to make a street punk record, which we did. That first record was definitely what I envisioned it to be, but then the band took on a life of its own and became something else. That’s the thing with music—it has its own legs and sometimes you just got to roll with it. The Old Firm Casuals is what I wanted the Bastards to be in a way. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.

What are your plans with it going forward?

We have so much stuff scheduled to come out. We just released a seven-inch split with a great band from Italy called Klasse Kriminale. There’s so much stuff coming out and we have been doing all seven-inch releases because I’m a record nerd.

The digital age has really changed the way people take in music. When everything is coming in through a computer it takes away a lot of the visual aspect that goes along with picking out records.

I’m a dad now. I’ve got two kids and my oldest loves listening to music. I try to re-create that whole experience. I’ll put three or four records out and let him choose which one he wants to listen to. He’s 4 and he’ll tell you what bands he wants to listen to. He was really into Sham 69 for a while.

That’s fantastic. What are you going to do if he decides that he doesn’t like Rancid?

That’s his choice, man. He would be missing out, though. We were driving in the car and I put on Sham because he wanted the song with the drums. All of a sudden he says, “Hey, Dad, I don’t want to listen to Sham
anymore.” I go, “Oh shit, what do you want to listen to?” And he goes, “Cockney Rejects.” Inside I’m totally celebrating.

Were you afraid he was going to say The Wiggles?

Nah, that’s all good too. He listens to Yo Gabba Gabba! and loves it. All I really care about is that he is responding to music. He likes all the music that I like, so that’s great—although he also likes his mom’s music, which is Cyndi Lauper and shit like that.

When did you start to become interested in tattooing?

I got my first tattoo when I was 11 years old. On the street where I grew up there were a lot of bikers, a motorcycle club who pretty much ran the street. Those were the guys that were always really nice to me and my brother. A lot of these guys had tattoos, so that was my introduction to the world of tattooing. I thought it looked cool and when I got a chance to get my first tattoo it was with a homemade machine with one of those slot car motors. I got it on my leg because I figured I better hide it from my mom. I got “Oi!” tattooed on my shin, but it’s now on my ankle. When you’re 11 you’re still growing so it moved a bit.

You’ve definitely spent a lot of time getting tattooed, but we heard you’ve also done a little tattooing of your own. Tell us how that ended up happening.

In about ’96 we had just gotten home from all of our touring for …And Out Come the Wolves, and I was pretty bored. There used to be a shop here in San Francisco called 222 Tattoo run by Eddy Deutsche. Scott Sylvia, Jeff Rassier, and Gary Kosmala all worked there. Scott and I were pretty good friends. A month or so after 222 opened Scott called me and said that their shop girl had quit. I ended up becoming the shop boy for about three or four months. I don’t even remember how it came about—they thought it would be funny if I tattooed them. So that’s how it started.

In addition to moonlighting as a shop boy, you’ve also had a stake in a few tattoo shops, right?

Tokyo Hiro used to work in L.A. I met him for the first time when he worked with Eric Maaske at Classic Tattoo in Fullerton before Hiro could really speak any English. He was apprenticing under Bob Roberts are the time. A few years later we got another partner named Shaw Tanaka and we ended up starting Skunx Tattoo in Tokyo. The last time I was in Japan I got home a week before the tsunami hit. Shortly after, our lease was coming up at the shop and we made a conscious decision to close it for now. I just didn’t feel right keeping a shop open at that moment. In a way I had taken a lot from Japan and at the point all I wanted was to give something back.

You also own part of New York Hardcore Tattoo.

In New York we have our crew, our little family called DMS. Jimmy Gestapo from Murphy’s Law and Vinny Stigma had the shop on the Lower East Side. Basically they wanted some new blood in there as far as partnership goes, so me and a few guys from upstate, Mike Valente and Tragedy, got in on the shop and became partners. It’s a Bowery tattoo shop. Some tattoo shops I don’t even want to walk in because they look like Walmart. I wanted to be part of New York Hardcore because if I was in New York looking for a tattoo that’s where I would go. It’s part of my culture of hardcore punk music.

Tell us a little bit about the ink that you have and which tattoos mean the most to you.

I have so many old tattoos. I like to refer to them as hamburgers because they’re all blown out now. I got tattooed by Pinky Yun, for Christ’s sake. Tim Lehi is another guy that I’ve been tattooed a lot by. He’s an amazing tattoo artist—one of the best, in my opinion. I’ve got a tattoo from Jimmy Gestapo, and it’s just a Murphy’s Law tattoo. He did it in three minutes and it hurt like a motherfucker. To me that’s what it’s all about, the experience. I’ve been tattooed by Peter Wells, before he passed away. Wells was a big influence to me as a guitar player, so having a tattoo by him, one of the best slide guitar players ever—that means the world to me. Those are the types of tattoos that mean the world to me. They might not be the best tattoos, but I don’t really want to have the best tattoos in the world either. I have my sons’ names on my hands and that’s really important to me.

If you are close friends with the person tattooing you, it elevates the experience beyond just a simple picture on your skin.

I’ve got tattoos by both Eric Hogan and Maaske, who have both passed away, and they were my good friends. So having their tattoos still on my body, I can look at them every day and remember them. These guys are all my friends, my homeboys, and that’s what means much more to me than the actual tattoos. That’s the thing with tattooing: It’s a very vulnerable situation. It’s almost like you have to trust the guy. So for me it’s one of those things where it’s a personal thing. I’ve always shied away from doing any sort of tattoo magazine interviews or photo stuff because the tattoos are so personal to me. I don’t want people taking pictures of my tattoos. The thought of having photos of my tattoos taken makes me cringe. I don’t know why; it’s just a reaction.

Do you feel that it is judgmental?

No, that’s not it. I mean, I have tattoos on my fucking face—it’s not like I give a shit. Believe it or not I have a hard time with the “look at me” shit. I’m not comfortable in that environment. So when it’s focused on my tattoos the focus is on the real me since they are so personal. I don’t really like the attention.

Do you think that the current mainstream acceptance of tattoos has changed tattoo culture in a negative way?
In one way, tattoos have become so popular that people don’t even really see them anymore. You’ll see these kids who are barely 21 years old with full neck pieces and you just think, Wow! That’s how far it has come. I don’t have a jaded look on it. I’m not trying to sound like the old guy, but I remember back when if you had a tattoo that was basically saying, “Come and fight me.” A lot of fights I got into as a kid were started by tattoos. Now everybody can get a tattoo, which is rad. You see soccer moms with fucking tattoos now. It’s cool that it’s been accepted in that sense, but at the same time it used to be a way to separate yourself from society.

One last thing: After 20 successful years, what does the future have in store for Rancid?

It’s been 20 years for us, and that is definitely a big deal; it’s a big milestone. Rancid will keep going for a while. While it is a special year for us, we are spreading it out. Yeah, there is some touring and recording scheduled. We’re not going to go kill ourselves for nine months to get it all done this year. We’re going to continue to do our thing and do it on our own time schedule.

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