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benjspeight introI am always excited to find new great music for my playlist. DEADTHRONE, a Metal band from Manchester, was a big enrichment for my collection. And I am very happy that Benj, the drummer of this band, has found time for an interview with me. On 2 August 2019, the band has released their debut album, ‘Premonitions’, which I found very promising. But now we go back to our main topic - tattoos! Benj has such amazing coloured examples!

Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: When did you get your first tattoo and what was it? Did it take much time until you decided to get it done?
Benj: I was 18 when I got my first tattoo. I always wanted a swallow tattoo - I think it was because my grandfather had given himself one and that was the catalyst for that idea. I wanted to incorporate something musical into the piece because I was studying music at the time and kind of wanted to timestamp that period of my life on my skin, so I remember sketching up a drawing of a swallow intertwined with a treble clef and that’s what became my first. I booked in with a local artist but I didn’t know the artist or their work - at that age I didn’t really care or know anything about tattoos.

RoD: How many tattoos do you have? Could you please tell us their story?
Benj: At the moment I have two sleeves and a few pieces on my legs. One sleeve is an homage to my passion for music, featuring a few instruments and a rework of the swallow (first tattoo). The other sleeve has no story other than I loved the artist’s work and had wanted a sleeve from him, so I just gave him creative control to make a piece based on a couple of things I wanted featured (death moth & floral pieces). For the pieces on my legs they are kinda spur of the moment pieces that were either done at conventions because I liked an artist’s design or by apprentices who needed guinea pigs to work on. It tends to take ages for me to actually get pieces finished as well whether it’s due to the travelling to the artist or life itself just takes over.

RoD: Have you already got all the tattoos that you wanted or will you get some new ones in the future?
Benj: I definitely want more tattoos but I keep going in and out of phases of things I want next, at the minute I’m really interested in Japanese culture and would love to have a full back piece but who knows when and if I ever get round to that. I would like to be covered from head to toe but we’ll wait and see.

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RoD: Have all your tattoos been done by one tattoo artist or by different ones? How do you choose the tattoo artist? In addition, who draws your sketches?
Benj:Every piece has been done by a different artist, as mentioned above my first tattoo was done by an artist I hadn’t researched or met. When I knew I wanted a sleeve I started looking around and talking to friends about who they went to and that’s when I kind of expanded my knowledge of different styles and techniques that are out there. I normally pick an artist based on their portfolio, regardless of their price or location - if I love their work then I’m willing to travel to get it put on my body. When it comes to the designs it can go either way, I’d normally sketch up an idea and then send it over to the artist, allowing for their artistic licence. Alternatively, if they have a design readily available then I have no problem getting that done.

RoD: Getting tattooed hurts, how do you cope with the pain during the sessions?
Benj:I think I manage to fight off the pain pretty well during the session, I just like to make sure my blood sugar isn’t low before I start and I try to have a bite to eat every now and again or at least keep drinking fluids. I normally do full day sessions and by the last hour or so I’m clenching my fist but I just fight through the pain and think about the end product, I’m not someone who would like to make a big scene or scream out if it’s painful. The worst part for me is afterwards when I tend to suffer from “tattoo flu’” I always get aches and fever like symptoms after long sittings.

RoD: Do you regret getting tattooed sometimes?
Benj:No - I know it may sound cliché but I don’t have any regrets, I feel like everything can be used as a learning experience, for better or for worse. Every tattoo can take me back to a point in time and it’s a pretty cool way to self-reflect on where you’ve come from, if I have a tattoo I dislike I can still appreciate that period of my life.

RoD: What is your taboo in terms of tattoos? What kind of tattoo would you never get done and don’t like to see on other people?
Benj:Well I think I can speak for most people that I don’t want to see any hate speech or symbolisms tattooed on people, I don’t think that’s wise, but unfortunately I can’t stop people getting something dumb. I’d like to think people would seriously think about what they get put on their bodies especially if they’re gonna plaster something on their hands or face for everyone else to see. On a side note I hate tribal tattoos, it’s always something that I cringe at seeing so that’s a no go for me.

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RoD: Some people say that the drive to acquire body art is addictive while others say it fails to meet the true definition of an addiction, simply calling it a passion. Is it really impossible to stop?
Benj:It can be a vicious cycle that can never end. A cycle consisting of wanting a tattoo, getting tattooed, enjoying the new tattoo and then wanting another tattoo because you want something new to look at and I think that’s the cycle most people fall in. It can be an addiction that can never end until you’re entirely covered - and even then, people start layering. For me personally I wouldn’t say I’m addicted, I can go for years without getting anything new added and in fact it takes me years to finish existing tattoos. If I had to I could easily not get tattooed every again, but where’s the fun in that!?

RoD: Currently, tattoos are a new trend; many people do not care about the meaning, they just want to have something coloured on the skin, to be in trend. Those people often just go into a tattoo salon and ask which drafts they have. Tattoo artists are not artists any more, they produce consumer goods. Not all of them, of course. How do you feel about this situation?
Benj:There are definitely people out there that get a tattoo whether it’s to stand out, fit in or just set a trend. Growing up idolising musicians and playing in a metal band I think the scene itself pressurises individuals to get tattoos in order to fit in and look like you belong in the scene, which is sad to say, hopefully that stigma has changed and people don’t feel pressurised to get tattoos in order to fit in. Being a little bit older I’m not too concerned about it now, every person has their own agenda whether they just want it to be a fashion piece or have a deep connection to a tattoo I’m not here to judge. I actually think it can be a catalyst to bring change to society if it becomes the norm for everyone to have tattoos then hopefully there would be less judgement. With regards to artists not being artists anymore I still think they still bring their own artistic flare and individualism to their pieces of work, but then again you always see artists who are looking to make a quick buck with flash sheet designs at holiday hotspots and are there to entice drunk people to get something done.

RoD: I would like to talk about the social aspect of tattoos, too. Previously, many people believed that if you have a tattoo, you will be never be successful and will not find a “good” job. Have this state of mind and people’s perceptions changed or are these prejudices still alive?
Benj:I like to think the stigma of having tattoos is easing within society but there are definitely instances of prejudices being alive. Working for a corporate company I’m fortunate not to have been treated differently for having tattoos but if I had tattoos on my hand and face would that have an impact on my career and progressing within a business, maybe? I’d like to think not. In fact, my girlfriend works in a very creative industry and has found that she can often be favoured by clients for having tattoos - they can be illustrative of people’s personality or even just a talking point. In the UK I definitely think the stigma is easing as more and more younger people have tattoos so it’s becoming more the norm, so maybe in another 20-30 years having tattoos wouldn’t even be considered a thing to label someone with.

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RoD: Which advice would you give to people who are going to get their first tattoo? How to choose a tattoo artist? Colour or black and white? Any practical advice?
Benj:I’d definitely tell someone to research the artist first off instead of going to your nearest shop, actually spend time looking online at peoples work and seeing what appeals to you most. Book a consultation if you’re unsure. A good artist will meet with you before any kind of booking has been made, to discuss what you’re looking for and advise on placement. And trust the artist! They know what they’re talking about. The cost shouldn’t be something you take into consideration as your permanently marking your body so don’t skimp on price. The only other thing would be don’t drink or get fucked up the night before cause you’ll definitely be feeling it during your session & the artist probably won’t tattoo you if that’s the case.

Project by Daria Tessa and Daniela Vorndran, Interview by Daria Tessa
Pictures by Benj Speight

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