Few things in life go together as well as rock and roll and tattoos, and as someone who enjoys both equally, I can understand why Jeremy Swan wouldn’t want to limit himself to just one or the other. In addition to being one of the Los Angeles area’s premiere tattoo artists, Swan is also a talented musician, who released a new EP titled Blessed Unrest this spring. I highly recommend you pick up a copy, load it into your iPod, and then head down to Broken Art Tattoo to get some ink from this talented artist. Music and tats…a beautiful combination.
Jeremy found some time between clients to talk to LA Music Blog about recording the new EP, tattooing songwriter/producer Linda Perry, and finding a balance between his dual passions.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got your start in music?
My mom played guitar, so I got the guitar from her and I was just totally consumed by it. I was just thinking like anybody who plays music, “Oh, this is what I’m gonna do. I wanna be a guitar player, a rock star.” The natural progression of that is you go and you get a tattoo, so I went and got a tattoo and met a guy there that was a musician. We started a band together, and that’s how the union of tattooing and music happened. I had always liked drawing and was artistic, and I was hanging out at the shop and playing music.
So tattooing is your “day job”?
I knew I wanted to be a tattoo artist, so I started down that road, but I didn’t realize the amount of dedication and total consumption of life it would take to get to where you need to be. I’ve always kind of put music on the back burner, just kind of waiting for the right opportunities. I’ve never stopped playing. I’ve always had my guitars. I’ve been playing music for 20 years and tattooing for coming up on 17 years, but it’s been an internal battle. It’s such a shitty thing to whine about, like, “Oh, I can’t play music because I have to tattoo.” [LAUGHS]
Playing music is a passion. It’s like you have to get this stuff out, and if you don’t, you’re depressed. You don’t eat, you’re mad at your girl, kicking the dog—something’s not being met inside of you on this really deep level. I tried having bands and tattooing, and I would quit the band because the other guys were like, “Well, you’re not dedicated enough,” so now I officially do not have a band. I just have guys that I call when I have to play a show, and it’s great. They’ve got their own things, and I like that. It’s on my own terms. I’m not trying to gig. I’m not trying to make a huge upset or splash on the scene. I’m just doing it 100 percent on my own terms, in my own time, when I can.
Do you ever see a convergence of the two art forms? Like when you’re tattooing someone, does the music you’re listening to influence the way or the pace that you work at?
That’s an insightful thought that you came up with because I recognize that, and it’s very rare that other people do. When I’m shading or coloring, I’ll move with the rhythm or the beat. I had this one musician I was tattooing say to me, “Man, you’re moving in like polyrhythmic movements into the beat while you’re shading me.” [LAUGHS] I’m like, “I know, I can’t help it!” I hear the music, and I start shading like it’s a tiny little drum set or something.
Considering you’ve been playing for 20 years, how long has this EP been a work in progress?
I was tattooing Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew, and he was getting ready to sell his movie. We were talking about similar bands that we liked, so I played him some recordings I had made in my basement, and he really loved them. He wanted them for his movie, so I needed to get in the studio and record them properly.
I’m located right next to this recording studio commonly known as “The Boat.” Adam Mosley overlooked a lot of the stuff in my building and at the Boat, and he knew I played music. I told him about the project, and he’s like, “Well, let’s go in. Let’s record it,” so I went into the Boat. Flea was just about to purchase it, so it was this really rushed process. I picked songs specifically because they evoked certain moods and feelings that I felt represented his film and recorded it in two days. I did all the instruments myself—drums, bass, guitar, keys, and vocals—and got six songs done.
At the end of those two days, I knew it wasn’t done, but I didn’t have access to the studio anymore. The movie was just kinda waiting, so I thought, “Well, when things start to pick up, I’ll go in and I’ll finish it.” Then he ended up losing his funding, as it so often goes. In my heart of hearts I wanted to finish the record, but I have a life and bills and things that I’m required to do, and taking weeks off to make music when no one’s paying you just isn’t a possibility.
Fast forward. Linda Perry is one of my great clients and friends. I’ve been tattooing her for the past 13, 14 years, so we have a great relationship. I was tattooing her and she asked, “What’s going on with your music?” I’m like, “Well, I started a record, but I just haven’t had a chance to finish it. I need to get into a studio.” She’s like, “Come over to Coventry Gardens and you can finish it up there for free.” “Okay.” [LAUGHS] So we finished it up in another two days. The whole thing was only four days of recording.
How often do you get a chance to play live?
I play about once or twice a year. [LAUGHS] I think the last show I played was in March. I love playing live. It costs me a lot of money because, like I said, I have to pay the string section. I don’t have a band. It’s just, “Okay guys, let’s go do this.”
It’s not like you make money at clubs, so it’s really something that you have to want to do. My band and the guys that play with me are all into the music and everybody gels really well and it’s amazing. Right now we have Eliza and Brittany on violin, Simon on cello, Dylan on upright bass, Aaron on drums, and myself on guitar and vocals.
Where can people find your music?
Their favorite digital retailer…Amazon, iTunes. It’s also on Spotify and on my Facebook and Reverb Nation pages. I have this little project that I like to do that I actually stole from Linda Perry. It’s called iPhone Sessions. Basically I just sit down and record a song right into my iPhone. No bells or whistles, no retakes, everything’s just go. I think it’s literally the rawest way to get something down. I like to put those out on my pages, rather than the stuff from the EP. It probably makes me look like I don’t know what I’m doing [LAUGHS] but I want people to get in touch with the emotion of what I can do
I definitely want to make sure we also give people the ability to not only find your music, but find your tattoo shop also, so how can they get in touch with you if they’re interested in having work done?
I’m in Silverlake, and the website is www.brokenarttattoo.com, but if you just Google “Swan” and “tattoos” or “Los Angeles”… if you can remember any of that, you’ll find me. [LAUGHS]