SEX IN PUBLIC
He’s a rock star with his latest musical endeavor Sex In Public, but you are probably more familiar with Mark August as the owner and creator of the sublime ink manufacturing company, SkinCandy. Since its inception SkinCandy has become one of the top three global tattoo ink manufacturers.
But August is a tried and true rocker, raised during the heyday of rock ‘n’ roll on the Sunset Strip. August got his big break in the music industry with his band Johnny Crash. Signed with major label CBS Records in 1990, Johnny Crash was on the fast track to fame—but even though their single “Hey Kid” became a hit and was regular rotation on MTV after opening for Motley Crue during their notorious Dr. Feelgood tour things seemed to fall apart. Now he’s back with a new band.
Today we chat with vocalist/guitarist August about Sex in Public—which includes Kato McKay on bass and Ryan Gio on drums—about his early years in L.A., opening for Motley Crue, DJ’ing, SkinCandy, Male Polish, and dirty words.
M&M: How did you get started with Johnny Crash?
August: Chris Stewart, the guitar player for Johnny Crash, and Eric Stacy from Faster Pussycat and I all went to boarding school together. I introduced them into rock and roll and taught Eric how to play. Chris and I had played in a bunch of different groups together from when we were fourteen until we were in our early twenties and we finally got a record deal. Fast forward to Johnny Crash and we had a bunch of different line-ups. Originally it was WWIII with Mandy Lion then Chris and I separated from Mandy. The original Johnny Crash was with Johnny B. Frank and Danny Stag from Kingdom Come. All the players in L.A. that kind of slut it around the different bands we just ended up playing with them at one time or another. Eventually we just got the Johnny Crash line up together and we got signed up within six months. Tracii Guns, who I’d been friendly with since I was sixteen, found our vocalist Vicki James Wright. Vicki had auditioned for L.A. Guns but it wasn’t a good fit for them. We did a tour with Jason Bonham and then did the Dr. Feelgood Tour—Motley Crue Tour in 1990 I believe.
M&M: What was it like opening for Motley Crue?
August: They were the number one selling band at the time. Dr. Feelgood was the number one record in the country. It was quite a tour. It’s a lot different than playing in front of 3,000 people or even a club. It’s less personal but it’s euphoria for sure. It’s a pretty amazing feeling. Now we go out and play, we’re lucky to get ten, fifteen people in the audience (laughs). Rock and Roll has not had such a great following in Los Angeles, as I’m sure you know.
M&M: Was the name of the first album inspired by Iggy Pop’s first song, “Neighborhood Threat?”
August: I don’t know and that’s an interesting question. It may have been because we didn’t come up with the name. We were actually called Neighborhood Threat before we were Johnny Crash. And I think that Johnny B. Frank came up with that name. So it may well have been. I don’t know. I don’t remember. I was in quite a haze of some illegal products at that time. I don’t really remember a lot.
M&M: Johnny Crash had a hit single and recorded a video for “Hey Kid,” which received rotation on MTV. Alice in Chains even opened for the band but “Neighborhood Threat” didn’t sell well. Was this due to friction in the band and drugs?
August: No. Locally we were really cool. Honestly it changed to a point where it wasn’t really original sounding. When we first started Johnny Crash, it had more of a Rolling Stones feel to it. Our first producer was Andy Johns, who produced “Exile on Main Street” and was one of the engineers on “Zeppelin IV,” so we had a lot more of a sleazier more Stonesier kind of sound in the beginning. Somebody had the bright idea that we should start sounding like AC/DC and wear combat boots. It really wasn’t my idea. I’m not going to say whose idea it was (laughs). I think people were like, well, there is an AC/DC already. But I was along for the ride. We came out at a time when Pearl Jam was coming to L.A. and selling out the Cathouse. Alice in Chains opened for us. We went and saw them play for like five people. We were hanging out with them because we were on the same record label. I remember we came back from the Bonham tour and we went to do a show with them. And I was like, “Why are these guys opening for us?” (laughs) I knew they were going to be huge. We were riding that last wave of L.A. rock. We weren’t really what you call Poodle Rock, I like to call it poodle rock, like that Bon Jovi/Poison kind of stuff, we weren’t mainstream kind of rock, and Hard Rock was on its way out.
M&M: Why did you decide to leave the band and move to San Francisco?
August: I really wasn’t into that kind of music anymore. You know, go back a little bit. I was really into a lot of early Prince stuff. I was into a lot of jazz. When I heard what was happening with the Seattle scene, I was like God that sounds a lot better. I’d rather be venturing into that. I moved to San Francisco and I ended up putting music down completely. I was broke and I became a bicycle messenger and shaved my head. That’s when I started my ink company, SkinCandy.
M&M: How did living near Ed Hardy’s Tattoo City shop inspire you to manufacture your own ink, and start Skincandy?
August: I was living up the street, next to Coit Tower and Tattoo City is on Columbus. Being a bike messenger, I saw these riders, who had these crazy looking calf tattoos with these tribal designs, crazy color designs and Japanese work and I was like, “I want to get a tattoo.” I started getting tattooed over at his place. I made friends with Ed and one of his artists. Originally the idea was to start a piercing business but the artist I was friendly with said we should start making some color for tattoo art.
M&M: How did Miami Ink get involved with SkinCandy?August: I started SkinCandy in ‘96. I had been friendly with Chris Garver for a couple years. One day I got this call from this guy, Chris Nuñez. Keep in mind I’ve gotten many of these phone calls before from tattoo artists that want free shit, nothing new. He goes, “Yeah we’re going to have a tattoo show.” And there were no tattoo shows on, and he says, “We’re going to be on TV.” I’m like, “Yeah sure, whatever.” He mentions Chris’ [Garver] name and I go, “You’re friends with Chris?” He goes, “No, Chris is going to be on the show.” So I sent him about forty or fifty bottles of ink. Three weeks later I see all the billboards for Miami Ink and I turn on the TV and I see my ink bottles everywhere. I’m like, “That was a pretty good choice.” (laughs) That’s how I got involved with that. They’re not called Miami Ink anymore.
M&M: What are they called?
August: Love Hate Tattoo.
M&M: What was it like being featured on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and on KTLA Morning News?
August: It was a little bit cheesy. You get people who come in, who don’t know anything about tattooing. It all came by chance. It was through tattoo artists though. Out of respect to the community, I don’t call it an industry I call it “The Community.” And I didn’t really give up a lot of information. If you watch the shows, they ask me, “How do you make it?” and I say, “Well, it starts with this powder. I throw it in that machine and it comes out like this,” which is not the process at all. If I were to start giving out the process, it would piss a lot of people off. Now you’ve got “tattoo school” and all that and it’s a big mess. I’m glad I did the shows, but at the same time Discovery I kind of regret doing because this idiot was injecting ink into people’s eyes. And if you watch the first episode when it shows that, I had to do a bunch of damage control like re-edit that video of him, saying, “Don’t do this! Don’t put it in your eyes.” It was completely irresponsible. I don’t know anybody, and I know thousands of artists, I don’t know any tattoo artist who injects ink into somebody’s eye. Regardless of how silly it makes one look, it’s very dangerous.
M&M: Why did you decide to make “Male Polish?”
August: I wanted to make more money (laughs). Think about it this way, how many guys do you see wearing nail polish?
M&M : A lot.
August: And how many of those guys do you think either steal if from their girlfriend or when they do buy it don’t feel really comfortable?
M&M : A lot.
August: Well, if they had their own stuff that they could buy, wouldn’t that be pretty cool?
M&M : Yeah, I mean I feel men in bands do it more than mainstream guys.
August: You’d be surprised.
August: A lot of guys in sports, skateboarders, actors, wrestlers wear polish. I’m starting out with four products: a flat primer grey, a gloss black, a flat black, and a clear. I’ll eventually get into a few other shades but for right now I’m just sticking with that.
M&M: Will you get into crazy, bright colors?
August: Oh, yeah. I’ll match them with my ink colors. I’ve got 130 ink colors. I’ll go into the bright pinks, fluorescent pink. I may even do stains, like dark blood reds, which might be kind of cool. I’ve got a bright green called “Grasshole.”
M&M: I love it. Brilliant.
August: That’s not really a dirty word, is it?
M&M: We can pretend.
August: Grasshole? Did he just—wait a second, that’s a… (laughter).
M&M: Actors get manicures and pedicures. In that business it makes sense. I always see guys getting their nails done.
August: Oh, man. I’ll tell you what. Wouldn’t you prefer a guy who’s at least got a mild, clear coat and his nails trimmed than a guy with dirty, nasty nails?
M&M: Oh, totally.
August: You know the implications of all that. “I don’t want those on me!”
M&M (Editor TVA): Or in me!
August: A well-groomed man, it’s important these days.
M&M: In 2009 you released your solo album, “Mindfuck.” Why did you decide to restart your music career with a solo album?
August: I got sick of going to work every day so I was like, “I’m going to go back into music.” I put this three piece together although I never sang in my life. Vocalists I knew were like, “You know what? You got a pretty good voice. You should try and do it.” My real challenge was to try and learn how to play guitar and sing at the same time. I still think it’s hilarious. I’m getting a write-up in “Vocals Magazine” and I’ve been singing for two years (laughs) and I’ve been playing guitar for like 30.
M&M: What was it like being a DJ?
August: Besides enjoying the Motley Crue tour, that was my favorite point in my whole music career. It was more of an exploration. I moved to San Francisco; stumbled upon this party in the park one day as I was riding my bicycle. I saw all these kids dressed really cool in these huge pants, fucking crazy hair. I was like, “That’s something I want to check out.” I was so attracted to the music and the whole vibe, it was so non-rock and roll and non-threatening. I just kind of became like a nomad and went to all of these outdoor parties that would last three, four, five days. Took a ton of ecstasy. It was just amazing. And then I got myself into the music end of it. I never viewed spinning records as an instrument but then I tried it and was like, “Man, this is hard.” There’s really no limit to what you can do with it. I would jam these rock guitars riffs to this electronica while I was spinning. I thought it a very cool art form. The whole culture of it I enjoyed greatly.
M&M : How did you come up with the name for your new band, Sex in Public?
August: I was at KCRW—which is like the only station I really listen too—and they were talking about some band called Kissing in Public. I’m like, “You might as well just call it Sex in Public.” So I brought it to my band members and they thought it was great. You know, it’s funny because KCRW is more of the music I really listen to, more like down-tempo and atmospheric music. Stuff like Zero 7, Thievery Corporation, Jose Gonzalez, Groove Armada is amazing. Mimi Page is amazing. I just love that kind of music. I love Mimi Page! I would love to meet her. She’s badass. It’s funny because I posted her on my Facebook. I was like, “Guys check this stuff out!” And you know, on my Facebook page are all these crusty old rockers but they totally dig her.
M&M: When did you form Sex in Public?
August: Well, it started out as being called King of the Ants in 2008. We had like four names. We were Furious Sunshine, Sex and Public after that I think we were maybe Old Sandwich for a second. Oh, we were Satan and Garfunkel. Had to settle on one name so, Sex and Public.
M&M: With your first band not being as successful, why did you choose to form a new one?
August: Because I was bored. I mean really, I had nothing else to do at night. I had to give myself something to do for a few days a week after work.
M&M: And you’re still doing SkinCandy?
August: I have to. We’re one of the top five ink manufacturers in the world. I introduced blacklight tattooing to the world. The band doesn’t happen unless I do SkinCandy. There’s not one penny in music right now.
M&M: Future plans for Sex in Public?
August: We’re going to venture into different styles of music because we have a different bass player, Kato, who’s actually a childhood friend of mine and his big brother is Al McKay from Earth, Wind, and Fire. We’re covering some pretty trippy songs; Hall & Oates “Sara Smile.” But it’s in that “Wichita Lineman” [Sex in Public’s cover by Glen Campbell] heavy, gothy kind of vibe. We’re also planning on covering “Strawberry Letter 23” by The Brothers Johnson. We’re gonna be venturing into some pretty different territories with that kind of stuff and take it from there.