What does the name Gypsy Nation mean, and why did you choose it as your stage name?
When I was still young and cocky my peers would call me Gypsy, I guess because I moved around a lot, being a military brat and all, or for various reasons of their own! It seemed the more I complained the more they called me that so I gave up resisting it. Years later I was reading a book by a guy named John Sinclair who was at one point the manager of the MC5. I took the name Nation from that as a surname. Hence the name Gypsy Nation.
You have been a professional tattoo artist since the 90s when you were working at Andromeda, on St. Mark’s Place in NYC. How long were you employed there and were your regular customers generally satisfied with your work?
I actually learned to tattoo at 33 St. Mark's Place. I started working for Andromeda first, which if you remember was just piercing. Then Bob Zitrin from the tattoo studio next door came out one day and ask who wanted to sweep and mop the floor and the rest is history. I was there for about a year before going into the world with my newly learned craft. I was made to do fairly small tattoos at first so I never did any tattoos I couldn't handle. So I can say my customers were pretty satisfied with my work. You gotta remember it was illegal back then and we did tattoo the mob and cops for free sometimes, and I guess that was so we didn't get shut down. Then there was a committee for the legalization of tattoos which I was also on. In the end, Giuliani made tattooing legal without any consideration of the art, its history, or the already existing artists’ concerns, requests, or points of view. Which is why there are so many crappy artists in New York City now. They seem to outnumber the few really talented inkers!
Where were you living before moving to New York City? What do you remember about the local scene where you lived previously? What career opportunities so to speak were you looking for when you relocated to NY?
I was living in London before moving back to the States; I had been there for little over ten years. I lived all over the U.K. in that time; London, Gloucester, Wales, and Somerset; and have lived there again since. My daughter still lives there with her mother today. The scene in cities in the U.K. was much the same as in any city except for some of the cultural differences. It was a lot of fun but people there are definitely not a people to be trifled with, especially the Scots! I have been a musician since I was a young lad. Already having had various degrees of success in Europe, I had at one point made friends with the drummer and founder of Spitfire America. We had decided on some collaborations during one of my visits. I returned to the States mainly with music in mind.
How would you describe the music scene in London, going by the time you lived there?
I have lived in the UK at some point during every decade since 1965. The UK has always had its own scene regardless of what was going on with the rest of the world. That’s not to say that they are not caught up or up to date. It’s just a different vibe altogether, even with the musicians and their attitudes toward the music and work ethic. This of course is a slight generalization but even with my American band member lineup, I notice the difference. The approach to playing out there seems to be more disciplined with a regimented practice regime whilst still remaining free and expressive. Here I have noticed that there seems to be less concern as we are often (not all of us) under the impression that we are already the greatest (as a nation); we know it all and our shit doesn't stink, which clearly does not adhere to good song structure. We should probably take more LSD or mushrooms as that always tends to give unwanted ego a good kick in the arse! You know I love all music with a penchant for the heavy stuff, but it must be said that I really appreciate Europe’s pop culture too because it envelopes so many different genres of its own, then subgenres and then sub subgenres and so on. That can only be a healthy thing! Here in the U.S. we are so corporate now. The industry is somewhat lost up its own ass, therefore churning out a lot of the same shit over and over again, just to stay within the so-called safe parameters. That shit trickles down to the bands. As we all know shit rolls downhill and the young musicians and bands start to play what they think is expected of them as opposed to playing and writing from the heart!
The birth of punk happened as much in the UK as in New York. Were you there to see the early bands?
I wasn't really around for the early punk scene. Much of my younger life was fairly sheltered until I was about fourteen as I was a military brat. My father was in the Air Force so I spent a lot of my earlier life on military bases. Until my early teens, most of the music I heard was from my father’s record collection. It was a mixture of all kinds of great music and most styles, but void of much punk except for Ian Dury & The Blockheads who I loved. My father has always been a very musically inclined person and I am grateful for that. I did get to support The Damned and UK Subs at different points in the early part of my career. But that and maybe my early interest in Plasmatics was about all I knew until later in life.
What was it like for you to discover punk after knowing just a few bands? Which bands did you learn about first?
I was aware of punk from the get-go! I had heard of the Plasmatics at the age of thirteen. As my pa was in the service I was already in the U.K. where he was stationed when the Sex Pistols started their song and dance. It didn't exactly grab me the way rock had; it just sounded like a lot of noise to me until I was a bit older and got it!
What can you tell the readers about Andromeda, which was next to the tattoo parlor where you worked? Was there any other location in the city where you tattooed?
Andromeda was only a piercing studio, owned by Bianca and Nick. Almost Tattoos was run by Dr. Bob Zitrin, senior artist Tom Murphy who I know to be a big name now in the industry and Brian Martin of Mephiskapheles. They were as thorough as they could be in teaching me. I learned a lot about the industry from them and of course, went on to learn from other folks. I always did good work from the start, as they taught me to work within my ability and never take on more than I could handle! We never took chances on people’s skin. At that time I stayed loyal to the studio that taught me but in later years I tattooed in other parts of the states and Europe, and a handful of studios in New York. This included Dozer's Island Tattoos in Staten Island and a booth shared by the late Mike Bekaty at Fineline Tattoos N.Y.C. with his son Mehai and Angelo. Those two studios are probably the most memorable since my beginning days at Saint Mark's Place.
How much valuable information about tattooing did you pick up from Tom Murphy and Brian Martin?
I picked up a few small things from Tom and Brian but was shown the original mechanical process of tattooing by Bob Zitrin mostly! The rest is self-taught; you pick up tips here and there from cats that wanna be generous with the info. But as you know there is no better teacher than time and experience my brother!
How much of your own experience helped you to develop as a tattoo artist?
Apart from some of the basic mechanics, pointers on hygiene, and application that I learned at St. Marks Place I am mostly self-taught to be honest. You learn the most when you just get on with it sometimes.
How many people were on the committee to legalize tattoos with you? You said that Giuliani’s legalization of tattooing without any consideration for the art led to there being so many bad artists. Why do you believe he did that?
I don't remember exactly how many folks were on the committee, but it was more than ten at least. I think the legalization of tattooing in New York was handled the way it was because the city wanted to make money without any concern for the already existing artists or vested interest in the skill art and history of Tau (the art of the tap). Basically, all you had to do was go down to the health authorities at the bottom of Broadway, pay your buck twenty-five or whatever the fuck it was and they give you a book about tattoos and a date for your open book test. So now you have a bunch of really crappy artists inundating the field and that is a real shame I think!
On a more recent trip to the city, I noticed there were more tattoo shops, but for lack of a better explanation they didn’t seem to be underground but “bootleg shops” of a sort. Is this what you are referring to?
I think tattoo studios have always been doing their own thing regardless of the factions; rock, punk or otherwise facilitate, congregate or allude to them. So I believe the change seen in the chemistry and general street energy is due to a much larger problem, like the new gentrification and Sex In The City followers, haha.
Where are you tattooing these days? Would you consider opening your own shop if you had the means?
I still keep my tattooing hand busy out here in Washington State. I have and will open studios again but at the moment the band is taking precedence as we are sparking management and label interests. I will be concentrating on that for now whilst throwing a bit of ink here and there!
Where in Washington would you be able to open a new tattoo shop? Are you saving the funds needed to rent building space? How would you juggle running the place and fronting a band? Are there mainstream or independent tattoo magazines you would recommend?
I can open a shop pretty much anywhere, but I have no desire to do so at the moment as I am with the band Firestick and I have enough private clients and guest chairs in studios worldwide that I can tend to things pretty much at my own pace. As far as magazines about tattoos go I don't have any particular preferences or recommendations. Sometimes I will grab one if the cover catches my eye!
Since the 90s we lost several clubs and record stores. How do you feel about the gentrification the city has gone through?
I think the gentrification of NYC sucks, but let me tell ya something. This is happening everywhere in cities and I believe it is a result of our country becoming “ghetto fabulous”, meaning we think we have more to spend than we actually do and it is only a matter of time before people have to start pretending to still have money in the city! Hell, I think it is already happening. You don't have to look too far to see the look of "Holy shit how long can I hang on to this facade”. Eventually, they will only have the true New Yorkers to pull their sorry asses out of the muck and mire.
You brought up a good point about gentrification; I always thought it resulted from raising rents but I had a feeling most consumers also had something to do with it.
It’s everybody’s fault including our own! We should never have let it happen. We have allowed the dumbing down of a nation. We buy crap items and crap ideas. If I wanted to express myself about it with a so-called "Punk" sound it would be pretty interesting to hear and more than likely kinda pissed off. Sound kinda familiar? Maybe it's time for another wave of pissed-off folks bashing eardrums!
Do you think punk could still experience a rebirth like you mentioned it could?
I think as long as you have folks willing to speak out loudly and as colorful as you like, with music, art, and voices to turn heads, there is always a chance of maybe the kind of rebirth that you speak of. But you would have to start with getting some of the venues back.
Either getting some of the old venues back or opening new venues. The venues would have to be independent and run within the scene.
As far as claiming back the scene and venues I don't know, really. It's gonna take some team effort from private venue owners, bands and "street sources". We will be happy to come to New York for a spell to fight the good fight, haha.
I saw the movie about CBGB; it was Hollywood schlock and not an accurate picture of the club. Hollywood has also gained from misrepresenting skinhead culture as being exclusively racist. In most mainstream movies there is no mention of mods and rude boys or the Spirit of ’69.
I have not seen the film about CBGB as of yet but will have to check it out for sure. It’s a shame my old friend Lee Black Childers died a little while back. He was a big part of that whole scene down there! As far as noninformation and misinterpretation of rude boys and true skins (redskins) and such, it definitely seems to be rampant amongst so-called representatives and pundits of music culture and cult art media.
In the 90s you were frontman for Martha Dumptruck, who released a full length and played around in the city. Describe your experiences working and performing with them?
Martha Dumptruck was a great experience, though I will say it is most likely the least control I have ever had over my own musical situation. That band was mob related you know? We recorded that whole CD at Sony Studios on 54th Street I believe it was, and did not pay a single penny. We had great shows and a short tour down the country. It was good fun. As far as I know, those guys are still together under a different name now but Martha Dumptruck became no more as I think the guitarist and bass player were having some issues at that time! I could be wrong but I believe that was it. I do miss playing the Pyramid, CBGB, Coney Island High, and The Continental; those clubs were certainly the HAZE haha.
In what states did Martha Dumptruck tour to support their CD? Which appearances do you remember the most?
As fun as it was Martha Dumptruck was mismanaged and in some aspects a little dysfunctional due to a lack of communication. We only supported the CD in a few states on the east coast and Illinois in the Midwest. Why we stopped at that, I do not know. Great guys, but it all kinda fell apart for reasons I am not aware of. I had no control or access to that band.
I would have to say that my fondest memories of being with Martha Dumptruck were playing CBGB, recording, and being on the road. They beat up on each other quite a bit at the time and I kinda dug on that! The first CD was a great opus, but it lacked promotion and management as did the band in general. Great band, great songs, bad business choices. Lovely bunch of lads though. I still love them and miss them from time to time.
One of my most memorable moments apart from the CBGB days would be when we played the Cutting Edge Festival in New Orleans. The band had broken into a fight literally less than a minute before having to be on stage. So the band takes the stage covered in blood and still kicking and punching each other! What's really crazy is out of the hundreds of bands doing that showcase festival only 22 were picked for the event’s CD release and we were one of them strangely enough! They must have thought the blood was part of the act! HA!
What is the story behind you auditioning to be the frontman of Judas Priest in the 90s? Describe what you remember about auditioning.
I went through the audition process to join Judas Priest for about two years. Somewhere near the end of that I got a letter from Jayne Andrews letting me know I was one of the last ten, but not long after that Ripper Owens stepped in to fill those shoes! I did not audition in person as I was miles away in the Cotswolds of England working under the watchful eye of the late great John Entwistle (the Ox) of The Who on another project. Then the time window of the auditions carried on for about three years when I had already in fact moved to New York. Eventually, I got a letter from their personnel manager Jayne Andrews informing me I was of the last ten auditioning but famed singer Ripper Gore was to step into the position as the new singer which was fine with me. Rob's back singing with Judas Priest where he belongs now anyways!
How did the project you and John Entwistle worked on in the Cotswolds ultimately pan out?
The project that The Ox was kind enough to oversee was great and had a lot of promise. The only problem with that little situation was that we seemed to be spending a lot of time after the songs were all done and recorded shoving coke up our noses in John’s mansion while he lorded it up behind his bar! This was all a once in a lifetime experience without a doubt, but I saw the need for an exit and took it.
Does your new band Firestick have material out or plan to release any in the near future?
We have major plans for the near future and beyond, and I would be willing to do a whole thing about it with you.