Review by Rhiannon Marley
Interivew & Photos by Sabrina Dersel
Missy Le Pink is mighty hungover…and has been for three days! “The bar was fantastic on Friday night; all the bands were on, so we were there until 2 am, forgetting that we had to work for the weekend! I went to the loo and realised I had an eyelash hanging off, and had a video interview coming up… I’m too rock n’ roll for this job!” But when you’re the heavily-inked love-child of Jessica Rabbit, Penelope Pitstop and a strawberry shortcake, how could you be described as anything BUT rock n’ roll…?!
The eponymous Missy is not only a delicious human candyfloss; she’s a multi-talented businesswoman, musician and artist. Her latest creation is ‘Missy Le Pink’s Tattoo Tonic’, a handcrafted, conscience-laced and natural alternative to ink after-care, free from animal testing and man-made chemicals. What’s more, she’s set to release a debut EP, ‘London Crawlin’’, with rose-tinted rockabillies Viva Le Pink. Today, she’s promoting her wares at the London Tattoo Convention 2012. I caught up with Missy to probe her fuchsia layers and see just how much partying has been going on at Tobacco Docks this time around…
Rhiannon Marley (RM): Missy, you’re here promoting your new Tattoo Tonic, which is totally organic and chemical-free. How did you go about doing the research for the ingredients?
Missy Le Pink (MLP): Well, I’ve made my own products for the last 8 years. I’m quite sensitive; I have quite dry, red skin. I don’t like putting chemicals on my skin, especially petrochemicals and things that block your pores, without letting them breathe. I started making my own hair products: shampoos, conditioners, etc., and it sort of evolved from there. I already knew quite a lot of background, but I researched it even further, and found that a lot of companies are using parabens. They say they do so because they have to, to make the products last, but that’s not true; you can find alternative ways of prolonging them, such as using wheat germ and vitamin E oil, which gives you an 18-month shelf-life. I think they just use parabens because they’re cheaper, and it’s easier for them to use chemicals. But the more you find out about chemicals, the more you realise that they’re actually bad for you, and it’s not a good idea.
RM: Your Tonic also supports a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. How long have you been a vegetarian, and what made you decide to become one?
MLP: I’ve been a vegetarian since I was a little girl. I never enjoyed eating meat; I always felt as though I was eating flesh. When I was young, I’d eat all the vegetables on the plate, but never any of the meat. I was the other way around compared to most kids! There were lots of kids in the family, and my mum would say to me, “Why haven’t you eaten any meat?!” But I couldn’t; I used to slip it to the dog! [Laughs] I haven’t eaten meat for years, since I was a tiny girl.
RM: In light of that, how important do you think it is to promote organic ingredients as opposed to man-made chemicals?
MLP: These days, it’s essential. I can’t believe people are still using anything else. It’s like the idea of buying a pill for everything when something’s wrong with you, when often, it’s because you’re not drinking enough water, or something as simple as that. For instance, mouth problems: you can buy a £6 pot of expensive stuff, when you could just use bicarbonate of soda or rinse your mouth out with salt. It does the same thing, but people seem to have this obsession with having something to cure everything, when the answers are quite often in the garden, or closer to home. I grow all my own herbs, and I don’t really use any chemicals on my skin or hair, apart from gentle dyes. [Points at her fluorescent pink hair] This is so natural! [Laughs]
RM: I love the original artwork for the Tonic. What influenced your designs for it with Pennychoo?
MLP: I wanted something really bright that would grab people’s attention. I get a bit bored of dowdy vegan packaging; people associate it with people who don’t brush their hair or have hairy armpits! They just have this vision of, ‘Oh, they’re vegans! Urgh!’ [Laughs] I just wanted to keep as far away from that imagery as possible: to keep it bright and fun. The amount of little kids we’ve had walking past the stall, coming up and staring at my hair and the colours. Then they go away with badges and big smiles on their faces, and that’s what it’s all about: keeping it happy and fun. If I had a pound for everyone who’s come past me singing ‘I’m a Barbie girl’… It’s been quite funny! [Laughs] I might be wearing plastic, but I’m not made of it!
RM: What was your first tattoo, Missy? What are your reasons for getting them?
MLP: My first tattoo – and I told him off for this earlier – was by Bugs, who’s now a renowned, mainstream, very popular artist. I was only 13! It’s a really old one; it’s one of those Celtic bands, I don’t know if you can see it… [Pulls puff-sleeve of her dress up to show me a woven pattern around her right bicep] But I went up to him earlier, and said, “You did my first tattoo!” and he said, “How old were you?” I replied, “You don’t wanna know, because you could probably get into quite a lot of trouble for that!” That was my first one. I’ve always had an obsession with the sound of the guns, and obviously the ink is a piece of artwork for life on your body. It doesn’t get much better than that.
RM: Congratulations on your debut EP with Viva Le Pink, London Crawlin’! What made you want to revive psychobilly and rock n’ roll in today’s day and age?
MLP: I get a bit bored a bit easily! I really like the rockabilly scene; if you go back into music history, to the rootsy, ballsy rock n’ roll, that’s where it all started. It gets people moving and dancing, and I like that kind of thing. I’m a bit of a natural performer, too. These days, I’ve more confidence, and I feel like rockabilly’s where I want to be at. The last stuff I did, I wrote when I was very young. Most of those lyrics I penned when I was 13/14/15, and I was terrified by the prospect of getting onstage and singing. So I was really timid, and the music didn’t quite fit. I did it all by myself, in my bedroom, and now, I can walk into a room full of musicians and it’s much easier. I’m getting a bit of a tougher sound out of it.
RM: As a musician, who are your main influences? Do you feel you bring them to bear in the work of Viva Le Pink?
MLP: I listen to everything, really; I’m not ‘stuck’ in a genre. I’ve got quite an eclectic record collection, but I do like the old classics – the ones I always go back to. I love Gene Vincent, and Elvis’ guitarist, musicians from that era. You can’t really top that; that’s playing at its absolute best. But I listen to everything; I’ve got a lot of punk records, anything that’s got a bit of bite and sting to it, like “RAARGH!” [Laughs]
RM: What made you choose Camden Arch Recording Studios to cut the discs in? How did you find working there?
MLP: Basically, a lot of friends of mine who are in psychobilly and rockabilly bands talked about it, and I actually couldn’t find it in Camden for some time! [Laughs] But I eventually found the shop, and went and met Phil Doyle, who runs it – he was in the Cling-Ons, and the Guitar-Slingers, who I love. He was really friendly and open-minded, and is actually good at what he does; he’s not an old bossy-boots, but listened to what I wanted, and helped me develop the sound a bit more than me just having to do it all. Normally, he’s a fantastic guitarist, but he came and played double-bass on the record, as I didn’t have a double-bassist. He’s been fantastic in aiding my confidence and getting my band together, while going above and beyond to help me. I really like his shop too; it’s one-of-a-kind. I never buy records in stores like HMV or shit like that; I always support independent. And I collect vinyl, so that shop’s a little treasure trove! I love it in there.
RM: How long have you collected vinyl for?
MLP: It’s funny actually, I lost a lot of it, but I’ve been buying vinyl since I was 13. I lived in Camden, so I always ruffled through the market looking for weird, cheap stuff, because I never had any money! [Laughs] So I’ve got some very rare records that at the time weren’t particularly exciting, but now I’m really happy to have found.
RM: I love your White Falcon Gretsch signature guitar! Do you use a Gretsch because you feel it lends itself best to the rockabilly style, or because you’ve always liked them?
MLP: I’ve always wanted a Gretsch Falcon; that’s been my ultimate dream guitar. It’s the sexiest of all guitars! I’d always had Les Pauls, but I’d never really played a Gretsch; they were more like fantasy guitars to me. They look absolutely beautiful. It took me years to get the money together to buy one, and when I finally did, I didn’t play it for about a month! I just put her on a stand and was like, ‘Wow!’ It was like an angel, this white vision of a guitar! Now, I’m getting into it, and leaning into my sound. I needed something semi-acoustic, without big, loud plug-in jobs. I want to do a bit of busking with the band. I really like singing outside, and getting random people you find in the street involved! That’s my passion; it’s really nice. My Gretsch is a lot lighter to carry around than my Les Paul as well. Standing with a Les Paul in high heels for six hours, you’re gonna know about it! [Laughs]
RM: I’ve been admiring your sailor, pin-up and 50s-style photo-shoots online. What is it about vintage and tattoos that you think goes so well together?
MLP: I just think the classic look always comes back, because it was so good. It was when women learned how to work shapes into their costumes and hair, and it was really feminine. And when you contrast that with the fierceness of having ink, I think the two go together fantastically well. I got a bit tired a few years ago when everyone was having these layered, bleached-blonde haircuts and fake tans. It was actually a really awful look, and I’m so relieved to see a lot of the models trying to go for the vintage style now. It’s a lot more attractive, I think.
RM: You’re also set to perform a release party for London Crawlin’. Can we have any clues as to how big a party it’s going to be?!
MLP: Woo! It’s gonna be crazy in that we’re doing it in the Camden Arches, and bringing our mascot, the pink elephant, out! [Laughs] It’s not every day that you see a giant pink elephant in Camden Market, so it should be a crack!
RM: How did you choose your pink elephant for your mascot, then?!
MLP: We had to have it made. It was another save-up job; I always thought it was every little girl’s dream to ride on the back of a pink elephant! So I thought, I’m gonna have that!
RM: What advice would you give to tattoo virgins who are considering getting ink for the first time?
MLP: Think about it, don’t just go and get one because you want a tattoo. I made that mistake a couple of times when I was young, and those tattoos, while I liked them, didn’t really say anything about me particularly. I think it should be personal to you. I’ve noticed people at the Convention just going through books, picking a design and having it done. And some of them are still really beautiful, but for me, it’s personal. You’re going to have it for the rest of your life, so if you’re going through a phase or a trend, or haven’t really thought about it or found something for you, then wait. It comes with a little bit of age, too. You might go through tattoo ideas that you don’t come back to, but if you do return to them and still want them, you know they’ve got longevity. It’s gonna be there forever. Having said that, some of my mistakes I treat as battle scars; I think, ‘Well, at the time, I was into that,’ so it depends how you look at it.
RM: Last question, Missy – How would you sum up your Tonic in 5 words?
MLP: It’s fucking great, buy it! [Laughs]
Even without any ink myself, I want a pot! Find Missy’s Le Pink’s Tattoo Tonic at www.rocknrouge.com, and catch Viva Le Pink’s “London Crawlin’” via Diablo Records from 29th October. For now, I’m off to check out Vince Ray and the Boneshakers in Voodoo Crypt; someone up there wants to seriously bludgeon me with the rockabilly stick and one thing’s for sure: I’m not complaining…