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I (heart) you, in tattoo

Bro-love inking sweeps through the local music scene.

THE MAN AND HIS MUSE: McElroy and Warr
  • THE MAN AND HIS MUSE: McElroy and Warr

A few weeks back, Travis McElroy, the 36-year-old owner and operator of Thick Syrup Records, lay flat on a fully-reclined black leather chair, his snap button shirt halfway open. “Me and Andy's got a bromance,” he said, letting loose a full body laugh. Which broke a central rule for sitting for a tattoo, according to Brooke Cook, of Anchor Tattoo and Piercing in Benton, who had to stop work on a large tattoo on McElroy's chest of Andy Warr, of local band Brother Andy & His Big Damn Mouth, to chastise: “Talk all you want, but no giggling!”

McElroy's tattoo of Warr shows the musician in profile, the best angle to capture his flowing Moses-style beard. Laurels grow out of a circular border that frames the face, while the words “In Warr We Trust” float above. It's McElroy's fourth tattoo of a local musician, and the largest. Warr's face takes up a large part of McElroy's chest (“He's a big dude,” McElroy offers).

When I ask how many tattoos he has all together, he asks “What's one tattoo? They all run together.”

McElroy lives for rock 'n' roll. He works as a computer tech to pay his bills and insurance. Everything else, he says, goes into Thick Syrup. In just a few years, he's grown the label from releases of local acts exclusively to material from Baltimore-based cult heroes David and Jad Fair. In the coming months, he hopes to release a compilation that'll feature contributions from members of Pearl Jam and Teenage Fanclub.

But his tattoos aren't merely an extension of Thick Syrup. Yes, he will co-release Brother Andy & His Big Damn Mouth's debut. And, yes, he's planning on re-releasing “Bars of Gold,” the debut EP from The See, whose eye-logo he has tattooed on his hand. But he has no business affiliation with American Princes' Matt Quin and David Slade, who're represented, as a zombie and in a heart, respectively, on his arm. They're just buds. In fact, the local musician tattoo trend, which predates McElroy, but continues largely because of him, seems to be rooted on just that — good old-fashioned heterosexual bro-love.

The love started to spread several years back (no one we interviewed for this story was very good with dates) with “BURF.” That's what ended up on Quin's arm on $20 name tattoo day at the Parlor instead of the intended “BURT TAGGART,” a tribute to Max Recordings' chief, who was instrumental in the Princes' rise. (David Slade got one too, but it was spelled correctly.) After the tattoo artist mistakenly inked “BURR” and tried to correct it with a Gaelic “T,” Quin had to live with “BURF TAGGART” for a time. He's since had it fixed. With arrows and a bass and treble clef around the name.

Taggart, Slade remembers, was not initially thrilled. “He could not have looked any more horrified. He didn't say anything, but there was this look of total fear in his eyes.”

“It just freaked me out,” Taggart says today. He never thought he'd see his name on another guy's arm. For a time, he says he thought seriously about reciprocating, but after several years passed and McElroy got his tattoos of Quin and Slade and both reciprocated, he says he figured the pressure was off.

Quin and Slade's tattoos of McElroy heated things up. Both got variations on one of Thick Syrup's logos — a representation of McElroy (who's long cultivated a Rick Rubin-esque look) that's a bushy beard and long hair, without a face. Quin placed the logo inside arrows shaped in a heart (all of his tattoos involve arrows). And Slade got the word “OBEY” written under his logo, a reference to Shepherd Fairey's famed “OBEY” Andre the Giant graffiti.

Then the floodgates opened. Tyler Nance, hirsute drummer for The See, got a plain McElroy logo. After it was often confused as a tattoo of himself, he added an eye patch. Joe Yoder, also of The See, got the logo with red sunglasses. Frown Pow'r's Marshall Dunn got it in red, with lightning bolts underneath. “Dirty” Sean Causey, of The Weisenheimers, stuck a halo on top of his and Chinese characters below. Last Thursday, Eric Morris, of The See and Magic Hassle, claimed that he was getting the McElroy tattoo as a “tramp stamp,” on the small of his back, later this week.

All those tattooed who I talked to offered an explanation much like Matt Quin's:

“When your brother dies, you get his name tattooed, RIP and that stuff. The way we're doing it celebrates your friends while they're alive. Like, ‘I love the shit out of you. I love you so much I'm going to get your name or face tattooed on my body.' ”

Go to Rock Candy (www.arktimes.com/blogs/rockcandy) for more pictures.

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