GAITHERSBURG – Step into Raw Ink on a show night, and it’s hard to escape the aesthetic and the sound of art.
From skin to stage, tattoos and live music converge at the cornerstone of the business just a stone’s throw from the buzzing of small airplanes at a local airport beyond the chain-link fence.
Shop owner and artist Bobby Weschler embodies that melding of visual art and music.
It’s on his body, after all, not to mention the walls of his business.
Peeking out from under the right sleeve of his black National Bohemian hoodie, the bottom of Jimi Hendrix’s blazing Fender creeps up the 33-year-old’s arm, momentarily drawing attention away from the lined ink along his fingers.
On the wall behind the two-inch-high stage hangs a Gibson Les Paul guitar in a glass case, the product of Weschler’s love of playing live music.
Step away from the stage and portraits of tattoos are displayed along the sides of the labyrinthine hallway connecting the smaller offices used by six tattoo artists.
The studio itself is completely powered by windmills in Pennsylvania and the tattoo ink is vegan-friendly, making the studio Maryland’s first eco-green tattoo shop, according to Weschler.
After six years and two locations prior locations, he opened Raw Ink’s latest shop last year with shows soon to follow.
“He’s built something like this from the back of a chopper shop,” said general manager and Germantown resident Ethan Loney, referring to Raw Ink’s original location.
Giving live music a place to call home in the middle portion of Montgomery County is by design.
The southern part of the county includes both big-name and smaller venues between Bethesda, Silver Spring and Wheaton) while northern County residents live relatively close to a local live music hotbed in Frederick.
“We figured we could corner the market,” said Looney. “After Empire [a former music venue in Springfield] closed its doors [this year], we knew metal was still very much alive in the area; it was just without a home for it.”
Meanwhile, mid-County also is the home of Weschler, who grew up in Olney and attended Our Lady of Good Counsel when the school was located in Wheaton. He started tattooing in Silver Spring, developing his clientele before relocating to mid-County.
On Halloween, Raw Ink had its largest coming out party for its music venue, a $10 concert headlined by local heavy metal band Gloom.
According to Looney, more than 100 people attended the venue with a 200-person capacity, putting the show in the black financially for the night.
The model for bringing bands to play at Raw Ink includes ticket sales but without mandatory “pay-to-play,” which requires bands to sell tickets in order to perform or earn money for their performance.
“That shouldn’t be part of it. That shouldn’t be something to stress over,” said Looney.
He explained bands performing at Raw Ink are incentivized to sell tickets because 80 to 100 percent of the money collected from ticket sales return to the bands.
However, they’re not required to sell tickets.
Money not paid directly to the bands instead is put toward the music part of the studio, like upgrading sound equipment, the room’s infrastructure or paying out-of-town touring bands.
Plans include removing the ceiling above the stage so there is more headway for bands and fans can watch the show from above the floor.
Away from tattooing, Raw Ink makes its money at shows from merchandise, food and beverage sales at the shows, said Looney.
Looney, a long-time fixture in the local heavy metal scene, mentioned bands ranging from hip-hop to Americana performed at Raw Ink’s new location, with metal as the most natural fit for a tattoo studio.
Tattoos are a common sight among those in the crowd and musicians on stage at metal shows, with the ink often paying tribute to its bearers’ favorite bands, instruments, songs or albums.
Even Looney sports a likeness of King Diamond just below his shoulder, along with another tattoo of The Scorpions’ guitarist Rudolf Schenker.
“I’ve done maybe two banjos but how many Gibson Les Pauls have I tattooed?” said Weschler.
Raw Ink is located at 18630 Woodfield Road in Gaithersburg. More information is available online at www.rawinkstudio.com.