Ian Vanek, drummer of Japanther [Photos by K. Ching]

Despite our recent spat, Ian Vanek, the drummer of Japanther, was cool enough to sit down with me to discuss his ink. Although Ian admitted that “all tattoos are stupid” and that he sometimes regrets a few of his, he also insisted that tattoos are best appraised over time.


Horseshoe: “It’s for good luck, and then my friend who did it passed away, so now it’s kind of a memorial tattoo.”

Skulls: “This is a tattoo I got when I was 16. It was a drawing I made … Right before this happened, I saw my friend commit suicide and thought that you really have to embrace death to live. You have to be conscious of it, so this is a way of having mortality on my mind. Like, oh, right, we could all be in dust, all be skulls, all be skeletons, so take that time to just gamble with it, throw yourself into the wind and if you die that day, it’s fine.”


57: “Hot 57. It’s like Deathset/Ninjasonik-associated New York City crew that we have.”

Arrow: “This is a stick-and-poke I got from my friend Emily. We were just like hanging out, giving each other tattoos.”


Pitchfork-Looking Things: “This is like a big family that we carry, it’s ‘Illegal Trouble.’ It’s people from the East and West Coast, and it’s a way of saying that you’ll always have place to stay. East, West, Midwest, everywhere. If you see that marking that’s a way of like — through graffiti and through things like hobo markings and shit like that — taking those traditions and strengthening our traditions, using our history and things like that. You go and look at Jah-Jah’s wrist and he has this. Even if you didn’t know him, you’d say alright, come over to my house, I got food for you.”


George Washington: “I’m really trying to stay humble and remember where I’m from, Yakima, Washington. It’s a shithole in Washington state, and it’s like a ghetto with a lot of migrant farm workers. It’s really influenced by Spanish and Mexican culture, so we got a lot of graffiti and gang writing, drug dealers and stuff like that. I just try to remember I’m from Yakima and remember where I was born, from the Yakima Valley. I’m proud of that fact.”


Record Player: “I got into vinyl records when I was like 10 or 11 ’cause my brothers would buy 45s at the Goodwill.”

Flower: “The blue lotus is a thing from Europe where these guys were painting, and they were called the blue something — blue lotus or some shit. Blue flowers didn’t exist, and then you have that Kool Keith song “Blue Flowers,” all that shit. It’s kind of this special magical thing, I think, and to put that is to say it’s rare … a rare thing. I’m a rare one … I’m a rare flower. [laughs] That’s what that’s to say: to remind me of my femininity, and to remind me that I’m delicate and beautiful and that I’m unique, like a blue lotus.”

2: “This is my lucky number. That’s a drawing I made when I was 16. It was just something stupid, that I wanted my lucky number on my arm.”

Mummy, Cloaked Guy and Six-Fingered Hand: “They’re Dan Higgs drawings. It’s from this book called The Doomsday Bonnet. It’s just a book I liked a lot, and I was hanging out with my friend Marco Hernandez and he has the same drawing from Dan Higgs. Marco did the things.”



Vagabond: “Pretty much a commitment to that lifestyle. Sleep in a ditch in order to get the spot, you know. If I have to paint something, I’ll sleep in thorns. If I have to play a show, I’ll sleep in a train station.”


H: “My friend Beau Velasco, who just passed away, this is the first tattoo he ever did. It stands for Howardian, which is my band by myself on a four-track. I play the drums, I play the guitar and I sing. My brother plays in it, different people play in it live, but it’s my band since I was about 10 years old.”

Homer & UFO: “This is one I got in Australia. It was just like this before. [Blocks out spaceship beneath Homer’s head.] It was just Homer Simpson. My friend Thomas Jeppe did it. He put out a really good book about tattoos that’s called Homemade Tattoos Rule. So he did that one, and my friend UFO did this tattoo for me, and he wrote “UFDOH!” and then he put a spaceship on Homer.”


Tribal-Looking Thing That Actually Spells Out Ian’s Last Name: “My last name is Vanek. I got it when I was 16 and thought it was a good idea at the time, and now it’s kind of like, fuck.”

Cassette: “This is a record label that I started when I was 17 years old in 1997, and put out Black Dice, XBXRX, Japanther and a bunch of stuff. My record label is called Tapes Records.”

Bart Simpson: “My friend Aida was going to get her first tattoo, and she said [I] should get a tattoo as well. This was the poster I had silk-screened in my backpack for a show that I was promoting, and I just pulled out the poster and showed it to my friend. He was like, ‘I’ll do that.’”


Hairy Monster: “Have you ever heard of a band called Karp? They’re from the West Coast, and that’s the cover of their cassette tape. Their drummer heavily influenced me. … When he passed away, I got these two tattoos.”


GET NO TOYS WHEN YOU PAY THE MONEY: “That’s a song title of Karp’s. I said something just being funny and being silly, and they ended up naming a song after what I was saying, so I got it tattooed on my arm.”


Spike and Hammer: “My dad, he works with wood a lot, and he works with metal, so I got a ball-peen hammer that I remember he has. It’s my grandfather’s hammer, but my dad has it. And my granddad worked on the railroads, so I got a railroad spike. When you get hit with the right, you get the nail, and then you get the left, you get the hammer. That’s the power of my dad and the power of my granddad punching you in the fucking face.”


Pizza by the Slice: “It’s my friend again, Beau Velasco, who we just lost to his stupid behavior. He gave me this one too, it’s ‘Pizza by the Slice.’ As I get fatter, I get more tattoo for my money, I figure. I didn’t pay for it, but …”


Eat Your Own: “… Anyhow, those are both tattoos from my friend Beau Velasco. This is some typography I did for his art show, and it kind of made sense for me to get that instead of writing really obviously ‘Rest in Peace’ shit on my body.”


Octopus and Bird: “With Beau, before he died, we were going to make a whole sea scene. There’s a bird on the back of it. But those are just really kind of old and not good. Every tattoo is stupid, but they just come from being friends with Beau and from being friends with this guy Eli, sitting around talking and drawing, saying, ‘Fuck it, let’s do this.’”


To celebrate the release of Japanther’s latest album, Rock ‘n’ Roll Ice Cream, Ian decided to get yet another tattoo. After a hour or two of laying on the floor, his friend Felice pricking him with a needle wrapped in dental floss and covered in questionable ink, Ian’s latest masterpiece was complete:

Originally published on Street Carnage.