2000.12 - Australian Tattoo
Date: December 2000
Author: John West
Featuring: Travis Demsey
INTERVIEW WITH TRAVIS - THE LIVING END
John West talked to Travis Demsey, drummer from 'The Living End and mad keen tattoo fan, to find out where he's coming from.
The Living End's story is pure Australian rock'n'roll success. With their self-titled 1998 debut album they hit five times platinum, scored five hit songs (including the double platinum" Prisoner of Society/Second Solution"), three ARIA awards and a major international record deal. If you haven't heard The Living End it's because someone stole your ears… It wasn't as easy as the overnight success most people figured. Four years before, The Living End began proving their point the hard way, with hundreds of live gigs mixing rockabilly style with UK punk. The they cracked the radio market with "From Here On In" and from then on the radio kept playing their stuff. "Second Solution/Prisoner Of Society" kicked them into the mega category and singles like "Save The Day", "All Torn Down and "West End Riot" from their first album made sure they stayed heard.
Meanwhile the band was touring Europe playing at heaps of festivals, touring the States and even a couple of tours in Japan. People thought they' disappeared but they were playing louder than ever overseas.
Travis Demsey's - his family name used to be Dempsey but they dropped the P after gangster Squizzy Taylor shot one of the family - own background is Irish blood in an all Australian bottle. He's heavily into drumming, big motored hot rods and tattoos. Travis had been buying tattoo magazines since he was sixteen but remembers that whenever he fronted tattoo studios in the old days they basically intimidated the crap out of him with their attitude. Mostly they seem keen to take his money and stick something on this skin without thinking about it and Travis, who's a real thinker, wasn't impressed with that at all.
"I didn't want a collection of odd tattoos, one here, one there." Said Travis, "I knew right from the start that I wanted some big stuff."
His love for tattoos came from growing up around the Gippsland area of Victoria during the 1980's when the whole outlaw imagery thing of tattoos, wild Harleys and Jack Daniels was running real strong. However for most of his art he waited until the band had begun to make some serious money, as much as anything so he could indulge in the big pieces he had in mind. He saw plenty of mates rushing off to get a footy club emblem or whatever they could afford but that wasn't for Travis. He wanted art he could related to, art he could understand and he needed artists he could communicate with to achieve that.
That Japanese gang culture fascinated Travis and when a mate of his showed him a full leg done by Andrew from Chapel Graphics in Prahan, Melbourne, he had to go check out this studio.
Travis found Chapel Graphics to be a slick and clean operation and capable of taking the time out to talk about the art and the designs. Like he says, they didn't 'treat me like an idiot' like some other shops had.
So like everything else he does, Travis decided to research the art before going headlong into it. He loved the 17th Century Japanese style warrior art and with his own background in boxing and martial arts it's no wonder that appealed. He made his selection for a large piece on one arm and the only time he regretted any of it was that second day when the band had to play.
"After eight hours the day before getting the outline done, my art didn't feel like playing the drums. Next time I'll time it better!"
Next time? Yep, although his arm is only eighty percent finished he's already planning his next big piece, a Japanese style carp and some geisha girls done with the intensity of traditional work. Actually Travis had a few things to say about the Japanese. They are so entrenched in their Yakza outlaw imagery that Travis was not able to use the gym or swimming pool in the five star hotel the band stayed in in Japan recently.
"The hotel manager just said 'no way'. He explained that the other guests would see my tattoos and immediately think something illegal was happening in the hotel. The Japs love all things from our western culture but they never get into them too deeply. Tattooing is still something the bad guys get done over there."
All the same, apart from the style, Travis loves the artwork of Subato from Osaka in Japan, mentioning his clean lines and great colour and the way he mixes oriental and American themes. He also mentions Bugs from England and Guy Aitchison as other artist who's work has impressed. Over here fellow Victorian Trevor McStay was impressed Travis and when it comes to knowing who'll doing his next work, he doesn't know yet.
"One of the of the great things about Chapel Graphics is that when I asked Andrew if he'd been upset if I went somewhere else for a change - to get a different style - he encouraged me to go exploring. They're confident in their own work but also they've got that special ability to observe and learnt from what other artists are doing too."
Not a day goes past without Travis either meeting fellow tattoo enthusiasts, looking at other art or mentioning to his girlfriends that he's found another design he'd like to get tattooed.
"Tattoo is an addiction. I feel a lot better about myself with my tattoos than I ever did without them. Anyway, having tattoos is the best conversation starter ever. I can drop by the corner shop, have someone I've never met say 'where did you get that?' and before you know it it's nearly dawn and we're still partying hard! Tattoos and music are both art forms. I even like to see old art because it's part of our heritage too. Good tattoos grow old gracefully with you. You can never regret something you've put time and effort into choosing."
Right, well Travis and I chatted about a heap of other stuff including his cars, a '64 Galaxie, and a Ford XP (four doors, only yuppies bother with two door XP's these days…) and the mighty NX Kingswood V8 ute that's his favourite set of wheels. He'll be chasing a Norton motorcycle soon, they or maybe an old Triumph. No worries Travis, you've already got a ute…
But the bottom line is simple. No matter how successful The Living End are - and that's very successful right now - Travis wants people to know one thing. He loves talking about tattoos and if you see him out and about, don't be afraid to go up and say g'day and swap a few artwork yarns. The band might be flying, but Travis has his feet firmly set in working class Aussie traditions.
The Band's awe-inspiring live attack is front and center on ROLL ON, a furious blitzkrieg of styles and moods overseen by legendary English expat Nick Launay. "Nick had seen use live and he was adamant to get that sound down, warts'n'all," says Chris. " You can feel the difference."
"It's louder in the loud spots, faster in the fast spots and chunkier in the chunky spots. We've gone for some different ideas and I think overall we just nailed the whole thing a lot better." And that, you'll recall, is "a lot better" than the biggest rock debut in Australian history.
From the battering ram assault of the title track to the agitated radio pop of "Pictures In The Mirror" to the stomping rockabilly rhythm of "Riot On Broadway", Roll On covers The Living End's trademark bases early with all guns blazing.
"Look at all the greatest bands in history," says Trav, they're the ones that evolve on each album. If you're a boxer you're always looking to improve on your weak punch. We know our weak spots. There's always room to move ahead.