Like all ridiculous things, the story starts with Twitter. Shira Knishkowy, publicist at Partisan Records, asked if anyone wanted to give her and Leeds, England, band Eagulls tattoos; they wanted something stupid and permanent. A friend recommended me, and I obliged.
I’ve never actually given a tattoo. With good reason: my drawing ability doesn’t extend past stick figures (even straight lines are out of the question.) Shira did not know this, nor did the band, so what the hell: might as well have fun with it.
Before heading to the Partisan Records office Tuesday evening, I was given two tidbits of information: these guys are fans of drunken debauchery, and they were playing Letterman Friday.
A quick internet search of the band is polarizing: skeptics will find their cynicism validated, fans will delve further into their admiration. You’ll find their Pitchfork feature, their CMJ successes, valiant and celebrated critics losing their shit over the few singles floating around the blogsophere. But you’ll also find an open letter posted on the band’s blog, one that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. Addressed “to all the bands sucking each others dicks and rubbing the press’ clits,” calling out rich kids with parent’s funding their art, ’90s nostalgia and perhaps the most biting “you become known to the music industry heads due to the fact that you are girls or have girls in your band.”
It was deleted minutes after posting, but the conversation lingers: the band effectively signed their own death certificate. Claims of hypocrisy aside, Eagulls did what they sought out to do: express their distaste with an industry they’re very much a part of, something that is frowned upon with most punk bands. You’re in or out, you can’t be both.
But Eagulls are both, which is probably why they’re the only band of this caliber to agree to having a total stranger tattoo their precious Loiner skin.
We sat down at the conference room in the back of the Partisan office. There were a series of couches aligned in a circle, all the young Brits sitting facing a table, listening to shoegaze. I introduce myself, they’re all very polite, quiet even.
I mention that my friend Sasha is coming later with a tattoo gun.
Guitarist Liam Matthews is the first to speak up: “If we’re going to do this, we need to get pissed.”
Within five minutes of being there it becomes apparent these guys weren’t in interview form: the question “so what’s with your band name?” ended with “It was a joke, but it’s not very good,” followed by “it came from a drunk guy singing ‘Hotel California’ at karaoke.”
An hour or so goes by. Conversation veers from nazism to drinking games to their miserable SXSW experience last year, staying with folks who came to see their band for the free alcohol, leaving halfway through the first song.
The first and therefore bravest to get a tattoo was publicist Shira. After locating a tutorial and a list of recommended finger tattoos (thank you Pinterest for your unending support), she settled on an Earth symbol. She walked into the room with a sharpie and two pieces of paper to practice with, later realizing she was doodling on the back of an Eagles cover band press sheet (you can’t make this shit up).
Mid-way through, a few six-packs, a couple bottles of Tito’s vodka and a homemade everclear concoction in, and Eagulls were making Daphne and Celeste jokes. This is the kind of band Eagulls are–and something non-believers will read as new to punk. There’s a lighthearted jokiness to what they do, a certain lack of entitlement that comes across in their music and in their personalities.
But they are still a punk band. Liam asks me about Static Shock Records, a vaguely obscure English hardcore label. I mention the London hardcore band Die, to which guitarist Mark “Goldy” Goldsworthy remarks, “Those are the bands we usually play with, it’s weird that we don’t here.” This is something I was genuinely intrigued by: bands like Eagulls play with other popular (I’ll kick myself later for saying this but “buzzy”) bands in America, when their hearts lie with heavier music.
Most of the band settled on getting “BLA” tattoos, in honor of “Bad Lads Army,” a short lived British reality program. Against my better judgment, and because Sasha was giving everyone real tattoos, I asked Liam to do the same to my arm. As in, four hours into this drunken mess and it was time to join the cult of Eagulls.
But the best tattoo of the evening goes to the most vivacious character of the bunch, bassist Tom Kelly, who opted to get “BILL MURRAY” under his Eagulls tattoo. The reason? The band were the musical guest on Letterman the same night Murray was on the show, and thought it would be a great way to commemorate the event. They were right. (See: Lead photo.)
The process went on for hours. Mix alcohol and ink, and you’re bound to get branded for life, but hopefully the result is a story for the ages. And for right now, I’m pretty OK with having “BLA” on my arm. Sorry, mom.
Eagulls and their brand new tattoos perform tonight at Baby’s All Right. 9 p.m. $10. There self-titled debut is out March 4, on Partisan. They’re on Letterman tonight, Jan. 31.