John “Harv” Harbinson is the lead singer of Belfast, Ireland’s Stormzone, a metal band that released their latest album, Lucifer’s Factory via Metal Nation Records. (Buy a copy now via eBay right here.) Being a cool metal dude, Harv is known for his wide array of tattoos, including two full arm sleeves! He is so into tattoos that he paints them and creates designs entirely on his own. Let’s see more of what Harv had to say about his lifelong accumulation of ink.
Sidenote: The band draw from a lot of mythical content when writing their music and the thirteen tracks that encompass Lucifer’s Factory are all based on old Irish myths and legends. Pretty cool stuff….
When, where and what was your first tattoo?
John Harv Harbinson:When I was still at school (a long time ago) I got my first experience of getting “inked,” and that was literal! During art class we had access to bottles of black Indian ink and a knowledge gained from older guys we knew as to how to tattoo yourself with this ink and a simple pin that your mum would use for dress-making or altering trousers etc. So, I sketched the Motorhead logo on my left shoulder, and one line of each letter at a time I applied the Indian ink to my skin using the pin by just repeatedly piercing the area so that the Indian ink would remain under the skin.
Most of the young guys I cruised with all had similar tattoos, although mine was fairly well done because I was good at art, some of the others ended up with black blotches which guaranteed a trip to the tattooist in later years for a cover-up! Plus, it was funny during the summer when we were all together and people noticed that with the majority of us being right handed we all had our home-made self inflicted tattoos on our left arms, haha!
Be sure to check out the spooky Stormzone video for “Another Rainy Night”.
Do any of your tattoos have a particularly special meaning behind them? If so, do share man!
Harbinson: Absolutely, both my full arm sleeves were designed in the “bio-mechanical” style and I got both done in a relatively short time after the death of my brother. My tattoos represent a symbiotic armour which, although organic in appearance, is a protection surrounding my arms in an attempt to ward off anything which would be wanting to harm me. I kept several small areas clear though to remind me that there are always chinks in any armor, an “Achilles Heel” or point of weakness which makes me aware to take special care of them because, as protected as you feel, there are always forces that can do you harm no matter how much you defend yourself against them!
Do you have a specific shop or artist that you frequent (insert shameless plug time!)?
Harbinson: All my tattoos were created and applied by the one guy, a fantastic Romanian artist called Josef Abranyi who has a shop in Belfast, Northern Ireland called Danse Macabre Tattoos. I already had several tattoos on each arm, none of which I was particularly proud of, so Josef didn’t have a black canvas to work with, and knowing that I wanted two full arm sleeves he really had to think hard about how to create wonderful designs but at the same time knowing that there were obstacles in his way in the shape of older tattoos.
When I first met Josef he was working in White Dragon Tattoo Studios and the chief tattooist there, who had originally been recommended to me, didn’t want the challenge of my cover-ups and he sent me to Josef. I was really glad when that decision was made because Josef and I clicked right away, we were going to be spending lots of time together and we shared a love of heavy metal and vintage horror movies, so those long sessions on the tattoo chair were made easier by having someone I could relate to!
Do you have any new tattoos planned or underway? Give us the dirt, dude!
Harbinson: I do indeed! Anyone who has tattoos knows that you can never stop, it becomes an addiction. At the moment, though, I am focusing on doing tattoos myself, or painting them. I am an artist as well as the singer in Stormzone and my latest series of paintings features men and women in various poses with me telling a story in tattoos on their arms.
It’s a really enjoyable experience because I can really experiment with different approaches and styles of tattoos and the best thing is, as opposed to permanently tattooing on an actual person, if something doesn’t look quite right in one of my paintings, I can remove or adjust the design or theme, although in most cases I approach the artwork as if it has to be there forever and most of the time I find myself getting it right first time, which is an attitude that any tattooist definitely needs! I’ve included photos of some of the paintings, I hope you like them.
As a tattooed artist, I think I have a better understanding of the different images that can be combined to make an interesting sleeve. Sometimes, as in the case of my own, that can be an unusual combination because the main theme of my sleeves is bio-mechanics, but within that framework are images of Lon Chaney, Nosferatu and an Eddie (Iron Maiden) skull.
Harv was kind enough to share a gallery of some of his tattoos. Check ‘em out!
Have you seen any fans with a band tattoo, anything crazy memorable?
Harbinson: Yes, there are some crazy people out there with Stormzone tattoos. Our logo is very bio-mechanic friendly so it looks really cool when integrated into that type of design. Our album covers are very detailed, so they would be difficult (and probably expensive) to spend time on, but I’ve been approached by quite a few people who have been affected by the lyrics I write for Stormzone songs and I have seen lots of tattoos with a line or two from certain songs that really mean something to them.
Most recently, a girl showed me a tattoo she had just got done with words from a song on our Death Dealer album called “The Legend Carries On”. The words on her shoulder read “Save the tears and memories, they’re things that you don’t need” and obviously that particular line was something that meant a lot to her, enough for her to have it permanently on her skim. Things like that are quite humbling and mean a lot to me!
We know you have one… tell us about that stoned/drunken joke-tattoo you once got….
Harbinson: My craziest and stupidest tattoo was again one of my earliest “home-made” Indian ink and pin disasters when I tattooed a girl’s name on my arm, and then of course the inevitable happened and we split up a couple of weeks later! Luckily for me, her name was Jenny and I was able to manipulate the first four letters to make my real first name John and I turned the Y into a lightning bolt!! Even that wasn’t ideal and I would, of course, advise anyone NOT to get a girlfriend’s name tattooed anywhere on their bodies!
Check out the video for the latest track “Dark Hedges” below.
Do you have any tattoos that you now hate, want to replace, or have covered up, and why?
Harbinson: As I think I’ve already answered both my full arm sleeves are covering around 9 or 10 existing tattoos and Josef at Danse Macabre Tattoo Studio did a brilliant job of creating a series of designs which completely annihilated all the previous images and made it appear as if they had never existed and miraculously seemed to have had two bare arms to work with. Josef also did everything free-hand and out of his head at the time, there was nothing initially planned, it was just a matter of letting him create the visions he had in his head and working out how to incorporate the previous tattoos into the sleeve, wiping them out but not being inhibited by their presence. I think he did a brilliant job.
Have you had anything covered up? If yes, what was it and why… we need details!
Harbinson: Please see the previous answer, haha! What I will just add is that I didn’t actually dislike all the previous tattoos, but they were more like those you would see on a sailor or someone not too worried about having a more modern look. They included typical designs suck as a dagger through a shark, leaping panther, theatre of pain masks type things. When I decided to get my arms fully sleeved I was really glad to see the old tattoos covered, but at the same time I know they are still there, and they remind me of good times even if they were a little dated.
I actually worked for the tattooist who was responsible for my first tattoos. he had acquired an older tattooist’s book of “flash” (all his designs) and wanted them varied a little to look like his own and put into a new book of flash. So he hired me along with a light box and I spent my days tracing the old tattoos and then modernizing them all a little with new shading and sharper lines etc. I got paid with, yes you’ve guessed it, tattoos. So, each Friday when I had finished for the weekend Victor (tattooist) would do a new tattoo on me. Nine tattoos so I worked for him for 9 weeks!
Have any tattoos that were painful? Like made you cry, see white light, and regret being born?
Harbinson: All tattoos can be somewhat irritating, especially in certain areas where maybe there is less muscle and only skin on bone such as the wrist, shoulder bone, elbows, etc. But you pretty much get used to it after a short while and I’ve been known to have fallen asleep for some minutes while the needle was being used on my arm.
I did involuntarily fall asleep on one occasion, or okay, I fainted, haha, but it wasn’t because of the pain! I had an appointment at 9:30 am with Josef but I had been drinking fairly heavily the night before and didn’t get to sleep until around 5:00 am. I thought I was up to it even though I did feel a little under the weather waking up. I endured the first hour or so of tattooing, but Josef said that I then turned pale and said to him “I’m going…” before passing out! All I remember is waking up with Josef gently slapping my face and forcing a chocolate bar into my mouth to get sugar into my system. I was only passed out for some seconds but it seemed like days had passed! I just shrugged it off, ate the chocolate and told Josef to carry on.
If you HAD to get someone’s face tattooed on you, whose would it be and why?
Harbinson: Haha, too late, I already have faces tattooed on me. I wanted a portrait on each arm incorporated into my sleeves of two very early horror movie actors who really meant a lot to me. My left arm features Max Schreck as Nosferatu from the 1922 silent version of the movie and my right arm features Lon Chaney in the 1927 movie London After Midnight. This movie was only seen at the time and then “lost” with all copies being destroyed in a fire at the MGM vaults in 1967.
Hopefully that is a little insight into the Stormzone world of tattoos. I’m really sorry that I had to answer all the questions, but I’m actually the only guy in the band who has tattoos. I hope you found the answers interesting though, and I’d like to leave you with a memory I have of a sign that the guy who did my original tattoos had in his studio, it simply stated “The difference between people who are tattooed and those who are not tattooed is that people who are tattooed do not give a fuck if you’re not tattooed!” That’s the truth right there!