Inkerviews features the work of tattoo artists and collectors, as well as fine artists, in a series of interviews. With an exciting lineup already in place and endless more to come, I hope you will check back often to read about these incredible people and enjoy their visually stunning talents.
Some have a passion and talent for art. Some have a passion and talent for music.
Some are humble and kind. Some are grateful for their journey and to those who have helped them to travel the path. One who encompasses this all is Dan Smith.
This England-born, New Zealand-raised tattoo artist and musician now calls California home, where he adds beautiful ink to collectors' skin and keeps busy writing, recording, and performing music with his band, The Dear and Departed.
I have such admiration for artists who can nail the “old school” traditional designs and also excel in other genres of ink work; and Dan's portfolio is definitely full of excellent examples of both. His traditional work explodes with bold colors, crisp lines, and striking designs.
I had already spied his tattoo accomplishments online, but it was at a music venue, where I first made his acquaintance, after watching The Dear and Departed open for Cursive with a powerfully mesmerizing set, which caught my attention in an instant. Dan was gracious then, as he has been each time we have corresponded, and I found it easy to understand why he has earned such a loyal tattoo clientele.
If his charm and sincerity doesn't win you over, his impressive ink work certainly will. Tattooing at High Voltage Tattoo in Hollywood, CA, alongside Kat Von D, you might recognize Smith from the television show, LA Ink. A long-time friend of Kat's, the two previously tattooed together at Infliction Tattoo in Arcadia. In 2008, after returning from a tour, both the time and place were right, when he accepted an invitation to move to High Voltage, and has been keeping an incredibly busy schedule ever since.
As if tattooing and filming didn't keep Dan busy enough, his band, The Dear and Departed released their new album, "Chapters," earlier this year and have been busy touring the world: first with Cursive and Alkaline Trio, and most recently with AFI and Sick of It All in the UK. This guitar-driven band, offers powerful melodies and poetic lyrics, as Smith's appreciation for early punk and new wave music is clearly evidenced when enjoying their tunes.
It was such a pleasure to interview Dan and learn about his history as a tattooist and a musician; as well as find out what's up next on his agenda. I hope you dig reading about this multi-talented artist in this episode of Inkerviews.
Have you always been an artist? When you were a child, did you envision yourself in the arts or as a musician?
I guess it really depends on what you define an artist as, but as I child I always was drawn to music and art equally. I knew I had to do both, it was just a matter of how and when. I had an amazing musical upbringing from my Dad and all the music and culture he was into in England growing up, so I feel lucky that I was able to absorb all of it. It was only natural that I play.
I always loved drawing and painting, but barely finished high school, so no further art training other than making a conscious decision to learn as much as I could myself from observing; mostly from Dean Parkin from Sacred Tattoo in New Zealand, and the countless other artists that tortured and inspired me.
How long have you been a tattoo artist? Did you have a formal apprenticeship?
I’ve been tattooing for nearly nine years. I was the kid who hung around Sacred Tattoo in New Zealand from a young age and just watched with excitement and nervousness at everything that was happening. I was getting tattooed a lot, and I think it really helped with getting a good head start.
I never had a formal apprenticeship. Sacred was a custom shop, not a street shop. There can be a negative side to tattooing down there that I’m lucky I kept out of. I’ve heard horror stories about apprenticeships going wrong and other bad experiences, but I knew I was learning from the best so I didn’t feel I needed it.
I moved to Australia and started in a busy shop in late 2002. There I was able to get the best of both worlds. Busy with custom work that I wanted to do, and also steady walk-ins. I think its great to have someone who is willing to teach you what they know, but it’s tattooing, it’s very personal and some things you have to just learn for yourself.
How did your years growing up in England, and then New Zealand, influence the direction of your life?
I don’t remember too much of the English part really, other than having a very English upbringing in the way of music/culture/comedy/drinking tea (ha ha). New Zealand has a fairly similar way of life to England, I think. The main difference being the weather. It’s very multi-cultural, so with that comes maybe a little more emphasis on finding out who you are from an early age. You are encouraged to do what makes you happy, but to not take things too seriously. People always come first there, and you’re taught never to take anything for granted.
However, I think growing up in a small town makes you realize that there’s a lot more overseas. I think you either go down one of two roads. One is to be content with what you have and the other is to not, and to travel and try and find it. I chose to leave and explore.
How old were you when you got your first tattoo? What was it about tattoos and the tattoo world that grabbed your attention?
I think I was 16. It was the best. I remember it well, actually. People often have horror stories for their first tattoos, but again, I feel so lucky that I had the experiences with tattooing that I did. Very lucky.
Dean did my first one, in a house of some older guys in local bands that we used to hang around. Me and my friends were the younger kids, just eager to be around, playing music and getting tattooed. It was a great time in my life. Everything was exciting and there were no limits.
What was the first tattoo you ever inked on someone‘s skin?
Technically, was my own. Dan Andersen from Sacred also let me fill in a cobweb I was getting on my knee. This was in 1999, I think. Even though I didn’t really do much more until the following years, it made me so much more excited to start. I just had so much (and still do) respect for Dean and Dan, and tattooing as a whole, that I held myself back until I knew I should dive in. I never thought I’d be good enough and didn’t want to disappoint them.
Your tattoo work is so diverse. You are outstanding in the traditional genre, with bold, clean and colorful designs; but also really excel at portraiture work. What is your favorite type of piece to work on?
Well, thank you very much. I love traditional tattoos so much, but hate to think that people would only consider me a traditional tattooed. I love tattooing period. And I think it’s important to branch out and always push yourself. To never think you’ve 'made it', be comfortable, or to be in any place to tell anyone else 'how it should be'.
I’ve been doing a lot more portraits lately. I held back on doing them for a long time, but do find them fun. I don’t get a lot of people asking for them, but I think that’s changing, so that’s nice. My favorite style? Hmmmm…I mean, traditional will always be my true love; but I love it all. Anything bold, that looks like a tattoo, I’m into it.
Do you have a preference when it comes to the tattoo machines you choose to work with?
I have my daily runners, just like every tattooer has. I’m lucky that my friend Marv Lerning makes machines and has been amazing and sent me machines here and there for the last couple of years. I think they’re great and use them daily. I also have a couple of machines made by Bucky from Gold Rush Tattoo that I use often, and a couple old faithful Micky Sharpz that I bring out every now and again. I bought a Swiss-made rotary machine a year or so ago, after I worked closely with Jack Mosher for a few months, and have definitely warmed up to it and use it often. I wish I was more machine-minded. I just think there’s a lot of great machine builders out there so I’d rather support their hard work first.
How old were you when you first began your musical journey? What was the first instrument you learned to play?
I was nine or ten, I thin. I was given my first guitar and then a couple of years later I got my first electric guitar. I remember thinking I could take over the world with it and wanted to start a band right away. I pretty much did and have never looked back. I’ve learned other instruments along the way, but the bass guitar was my main gig for a long time. I always loved singing, so when I decided to start The Dear & Departed it was an exciting but natural decision.
When was the Dear and Departed born? Can you tell us about the touring you have been embarking on this year? (and just HOW COOL is Cursive?)
We started about three or so years ago and were pretty lucky to jump on some great tours straight away. We did our first record, “Something Quite Peculiar,” and toured it extensively. Internally, things weren’t right and a couple of years ago we had some member changes. I think they were a long time coming, but everything really does happen for a reason. We met Jimmy and Courtney and started writing straight away. We loved the songs they were already working on and they really were a perfect match for the band. I was wrapped up in the TV show last year, so we weren’t really able to tour, just record; so we did.
Our new EP Chapters came out in January and we have been touring that since. We toured for seven weeks across America, with Alkaline Trio and Cursive (yes VERY cool!); and are now in the UK with AFI and Sick Of It All. We wrap this tour up in a week and head back home for the first time in three months.
What were the D&D's inspirations when writing and recording "Chapters?"
I think the perfect mix of new excitement and old memories. Knowing what we did, knowing what we wanted to do, and I think now finally being able to make it happen. The thing I love about the band now, is that everyone can really play well. It makes all the difference. Everyone is on the same page with what’s happening, so the music can be written with more passion and it shows.
The lyrics in your music are beautiful. I am assuming you might be a poet, in addition to your many creative endeavors. Does lyric writing come naturally to you? How do you go about this process?
Thank you again. I do love reading poetry and have a handful of favorites. I wish I was more excited to read though. I wish I had more time to, or could justify making more time to, but if I’m honest, I’d say my lyrics just come out naturally. I mean, of course there are singers who I really admire that I’m sure contribute to me maybe writing in a 'style', but I think that’s something you gain over a long time, that your real life experiences should set free. I think I’m just honest.
Your voice is incredible. Were you formally trained?
You think? Well, thank you. No, I wasn’t trained at all. I just did it one day. I always loved singing and a few people always said I should, so I jumped in. I still feel like I have a ways to go, but singing for me is a release that I couldn’t get from anything else. I’d rather that take over than planning a stage show, or routine of a perfectly practiced set.
Who were your musical inspirations growing up? And now?
Bands my Dad use to play to me have stuck with me in a big way on my own travels. New Order, The Beatles, The Cure, Madness, The Jam and the Buzzcocks were bands I grew up knowing well. I discovered a lot of bands myself, but I’d say English punk/new wave/gothic music is what I love the most. Of course, growing up, needing a certain amount of aggression, I discovered hardcore/punk and will always love that too. The passion and the community within that is something no other style has. I’m lucky to be inspired by a lot of my friends too. It’s always the best feeling.
How do those inspirations impact the music that you make with The Dear and Departed?
Well I think listening to such diverse music, and also having four other people doing the same, can lead to something pretty unique. We definitely don’t have a theory of how to write a Dear & Departed song, we just all “get it” and I think it makes songwriting a little easier.
What are your goals for the upcoming year?
Were headed back home in a week and then I film another season of the TV show I’ve been doing for the next few months.
What one word describes you? Akeeperofthefaith.
What one word describes your tattoo work? Onsomeendlessjourney.
What one word describes your music? Notforeveryone.
What is your favorite sweet treat?
Rhubarb and custard pie; and ice cream.
Last updated on April 16, 2010 by Jinxi Boo