Carolyn VanEseltine is a web QA tester at Harmonix. When not looking for ways to break the website, she enjoys hanging out with her housemates, all of whom have really cool tattoos. She also enjoys using words like "whom" in grammatically appropriate contexts, but that has nothing to do with this article.
I don't have a tattoo - yet. But I'm surrounded by people who do. It's no coincidence that Rock Band 2 has such a versatile tattoo system, considering how many people around our studios are sporting awesome ink. Having a tattoo isn't required, of course, but Harmonix is definitely tattoo-friendly.
(Artists in Rock Band with tattoos: AC/DC, Aerosmith, Ace Frehley, AFI, Aiden, Alanis Morissette, Alchemilla, Alice in Chains, Alien Ant Farm, All That Remains, All Time Low – I give up. This list is getting long already, and I haven't even finished off the A's.)
As I grew more interested in getting a tattoo of my own, I realized that I was surrounded by experts on the subject, so I sat down with some of my impressively-inked colleagues to chat about the histories, origins, and meanings of their tattoos. Check it out!
HMXThrasher, Community moderator
HMXThrasher's dagger tattoo
HMXThrasher's 02134 tattoo
HMXThrasher's flower tattoos
You only took pictures of my arm and my ear, but my torso’s done, my back’s done… one on my ankle.... It’s funny, because there’s all sorts of cool tie-ins and connections to different parts of my life, but some of them... there’s good memories attached to them, but they were silly, last-minute decisions. I should probably say my tattoo artists is one of my really close friends, whom I’ve known for a really long time, and he’s someone I just hang out with a lot. I go to him and his shop primarily because he’s vegan like me, and so he uses vegan ink that doesn’t have animal glycerin in it and so it’s cool to have that tied in.
Do you want to give a shout-out to him? Who is he and where does he do his work?
Sure. His name is Daniel James Bythewood, and he tattoos at Regeneration Tattoo in Allston. And he’s also tattooed quite a few people from Harmonix.
HMXThrasher's heart tattoo
Probably one of my favorite tattoos is this heart. This was a birthday present from him a couple years ago, and the joke is it’s a heart on your sleeve. I have lots of Irish themed tattoos – my family is Irish on both sides, and my Master’s degree is in Irish studies, so I’ve got the James Joyce quote with the triptych here and the little Ireland thing here, and then I have a claddagh and a Celtic cross on my back, and roses of Ireland was my first tattoo – which is now like a giant scar, because I got it when I was really young and didn’t know anything. But it’s fine. I don’t really care, it’s cool. People are always asking me if I want to cover it up, but it’s one of those things where it’s like – first of all, it’s by my bum, so no one sees it, and secondly – it’s mine, and it’s my memory, and I don’t care what it looks like because it was just about what was important to me then, and my mom helped me draw it and everything, so that was kind of cool.
My little brothers are both tattooed, which my parents blame me for. One of them has taken some of my designs and had them sort of made to fit his personality and style, so we have similar tattoos, matching tattoos in the same place, which is kind of cool. It's just sort of nice memories and things, with the exception of this [tattoo] and the one on my ankle… mostly, I think about them a really long time before I commit to putting them in my skin.
So the exception was the little shamrock....
HMXThrasher's shamrock tattoo
Yeah, and when Dan was learning to tattoo, I let him tattoo a Jolly Roger skull on my ankle. When I was a little kid, I wanted to grow up to be a pirate, so… I wanted to be a pirate or a magician or a fashion designer, or some combination of the three, so it was just like – I don’t know, it was fun. And you never see it unless I’m barefoot in the summer, so I don’t really care. So it’s a good memory to have, and it’s got a little snaggle in its teeth because I started laughing when he was tattooing, and my foot started [twitching]. But yeah, it’s funny because then the rest of his stuff is so intense and detailed, and it’s funny that the person who did that little thing on my ankle is now this pretty amazing artist.
It sounds like it’s been a long friendship between the two of you, too.
Yeah, it’s been a couple years. It’s really cool. And it’s nice to, like, have someone you’re really comfortable with. And another guy at his shop, Edwin, did the zombie prom queen on my arm, and it’s just nice to go in and have people you’re super comfortable with and you can socialize with – it’s like a nice afternoon outing instead of having someone drilling your skin with a needle six hours.
HMXThrasher's Brains Over Beauty tattoo
Did you have one of those experiences, or…?
My first couple tattoos were done by not-so-skilled people. It was like having someone lean on you with a needle for a few hours, because I was young and dumb.
I’m glad it worked out for you!
Yeah, I have pretty things, and those are the visible ones, which is very important.
Like Thrasher's ink? Check out her artists' websites:
The Hellion, Senior writer
The Hellion's Destroy All Monsters tattoo
What are you showing off for us today?
There’s the Destroy All Monsters half-sleeve that I think some people have seen already, and then my notorious Batman tattoo on this side. And the rest of mine are terrible, so… yeah. Oh, and this one, too, I forgot, sorry. This is my tour tattoo. Everyone I went on tour with got it. So Jeff Allen [another Harmonix employee], you might notice, has the same one as me. You might see him running around.
The Hellion's tour tattoo
When did you get your first tattoo?
When I was thirteen… I think I told that story at some point on the web . I got it done at this place in New Hope, PA. I used my sister’s ID, but she’s only 2 ½ years older than me, and I didn’t remember. My friend who went with me said, “Remember, your name’s Sue, you have to go by the name Sue,” but I didn’t remember that, but they didn’t care because I was under age anyway…. But I think it was because it was so small, they didn’t really care.
Can you tell us about a tattoo that you haven't talked about on the web yet?
The Batman one – it has many layers. My drummer drew it on me with Sharpie when we were in the recording studio, like, laughing hysterically, because I was like "Draw a cool tattoo on me with the Sharpie!" and she drew that, and was laughing a lot, and I was like, "I’m getting that. That’s awesome."
The Hellion's Batman tattoo
And it does have like actual secret meaning, which I rarely talk about, which is...I called my dad Batman when I was little, so… it is my RIP Old Man tattoo, but I like it because – like all my other ones, except for these three, were an attempt at Deep Meaning when you’re preteen, and they’re all really dumb to me now… like I have this one [indicating a rune symbol], and people are like “What does that mean?” and I’m like [groans]… it means I thought I was really deep when I was 16… so I’m glad to have the Batman one, because it’s pretty self-explanatory. I love Batman!
I’m just going to ask one more question about the skull. Why did you guys pick the skull?
Troy, who’s the singer from Razors of the Night, designed it. We all had agreed, let’s get some tour tattoo before we went, and so – this was what he came up with. It was one of those were a lot of us were like ‘I don’t know if I’m going to do it or not,’ but after you have the experience of tour, it was such a good, crazy bonding end moment…. We were supposed to get it on tour, but our van got broken into on the day we were supposed to get them, so we had to get them when we came back. And some of them say “Tour 2009”, and… um… yeah. I had called the tour “I Sold My Hole For Rock and Roll”, and so some of the people have that, but I was like “I don’t want any of those words tattooed on me forever!” so… yeah. That was a strange, like, last-minute decision… a lot of people in a room and you’re just sort of like “All right, I’m doing it too!” But that’s the one that pisses my mom off the most, I think.
How do you break it to your parents – “By the way, I just got a tattoo!”?
I think my parents were pretty broken in because I have a stupid Celtic knot on my back because I’m from Jersey, and so I needed – I just told Fish I have the Jersey trifecta of a Celtic knot, a fantasy tattoo, and kanji. You need all of them to be pure white trash. But I think – they had seen [the Batman tattoo], which I think initially I was like “No, it’s fake, I drew it there!” and then – so I think they had more time. With my mom recently, I was like “I’m just calling to let you know I got another tattoo. Don’t be surprised when you see me. I like it.” and stuff. But, you know, there’s not that much you can do. And when she saw [the Destroy All Monsters tattoo]… Matt made a really good effort to be like “It’s really well done!” and my mom was like… “Great, I’m really glad about that!” But, you know, I do think that doing it and giving them advance warning is the way to go, because it’s too late, they can’t talk you out of it, but they are aware before they see you. I know a lot of people who try to hide theirs, but they’re going to see it, and it’s better to tell them straight out. What are you going to get?
It is silly.
[CV: We're skipping over some discussion about my theoretical tattoo here. I promise to tell you about it if I get it, but until then, let's focus on The Hellion! Back to her....]
When I got this one, I thought my mom would flip, but she was sort of like… “Oh, that’s cool.” It’s hard to be pissed off if you know it’s about you. I mean, if my kid got a picture of my face, I’d be like “Oh… you… you little scamp….” My big advice on first tattoos is don’t get drunk – first, that’s the big one – and you may have a crash… this is like my warning… because the whole experience is very stressful, and I always get stressed out in tattoo parlors anyway because everyone’s so much cooler than me and I feel like I have to know things and be cool, but I get nervous and stay stupid stuff. So you’re like “oh, my god!” and then there’s this painful part, and then it’s all high emotions and adrenaline and stuff. And then – all of mine – initially, right after, I’m like “YES, I’m the best!” and then like suddenly I’m like “Oh my god! I have this on my arm FOREVER! I’m going to be a grandma with this scary stupid skull tattoo! Oh my god, what did I do?!?” and you just freak out. And then it passes, and you’re like “Eh, cool, I’m awesome again.” But don’t be scared of the potential crash. But you may not get it. I didn’t get it with this one.
I’m hoping to avoid it by sitting around and spending a lot of time thinking about it – like, this is something I’ve been musing over for six months or so. I think that’s partially the fault of Harmonix. Because this is such a friendly atmosphere to think about things like “What might I want etched into my skin for the rest of my life?!”
And then you get tattoo envy of other people. I’m like “Stupid Thrasher and her stupid awesome tattoos! I’ll get more too! I’ll have more than her!”
Like The Hellion's ink? Her artists are:
After this interview, both Thrasher and The Hellion got more ink! Check out the new pieces below.
TheHellion's new cherry blossoms
Thrasher's new skull art
So Thrasher and The Hellion gave me some great insight... but they weren't the only people I interviewed! We'll be back with more close-ups on Harmonix ink in not too long. Stay tuned!