We talked with Mario Barth, tattoo art talent, Austrian by birth but with his heart set on Texas frequencies and frontman of a country band ready to rock you all night long.
Hi Mario, can you explain how “About Kings” was born?
“About Kings” was born out of a balance what I needed to get from tattoo ink daily life and all the business. I looked for something which could take my mind off it and really occupy all senses of my creativity.
So one night I started to use an acoustic guitar, started playing and it came from there. It was a natural progression that occupied my mind to learn something new and when I started singing with it really there was no other time! (laughs). It was really an escape for me and a little vacation resort in my own home where I could create music and have a different artistic outlet.
Why you chose that particular name?
The name “About Kings” was born for a reason in particular. Because I had the name ‘King Ink’ (IG: @kinginkfoxwoods) and people called me that and also we tried to see how we could stay in the brand. And it’s always the question “What’s About Kings like?”. What is it About Kings like Kings know things and what is it about them. There’s always this untold story about what’s going on so this is the name where it came from. It was more a question and it was like a statement. It’s about Kings and it’s about leading. It’s about being out there strong and be there for the people!
Did the fact that two talented artists both playing in About Kings – you and Bob Tyrrell, of course – ever tempt you to form a band of only tattoo artists?
That’s a good question! Yes, we actually started with Sean Hoskins, Chester from ‘Club Tattoo’ and we also had Bob Tyrrell. Then we played in Las Vegas by previous show – I believe it was in 2018 – and we called it Sin City Rats. And that’s actually where we started and to form the new version of About Kings which is all English version now.
I’m always happy to play with other tattoo artists which bring us together and enjoy moments in music.
We did it at ‘King Ink’ (IG: @kinginkfoxwoods) where we had a jam session where everybody could go up on the stage and just sing. It’s unbelievable how much incredible musical talent is existing in the tattoo industry as well and most people don’t even know about it…
Is forming About Kings like leading one team in a tattoo shop? Is interacting with musicians like Alen Brentini (lead guitar and vocals), Kevin Ogburn (bass), and Shane Hoskins (drums) like working in your many European and American tattoo studios or is it pure, simple fun?
For me a band is like crazy because each individual person has to be unique in itself. Often they are and you have to take everything into consideration what their uniqueness really is and I believe working with so many tattoo artists as an individual artist it is the fuel that brings the joy of the band and to perform live.
We have a lot of fun in the studio and a lot of fun in just rehearsing and just jamming and having those talented artists with you.
I’ve known Bob Tyrrell for close to 25 years. We really know each other and can feed off each other and Allen Bertini – which is an incredible guitar player, we call him the creation sensation – the sort of energy he brings to the band with his real rock riffs which are mutated into country rock of riffs, it’s just like simple simple fun and really exciting moments. We always sight the song ‘Beth’ from Kiss and when our girls call, we say it’s like ‘Beth, I hear you calling’ verse. That’s really how our band operates with each other. We always plan for a 2 hours rehearsal and 6 hours we’re still there, time flies by and we just enjoying who we are. So yeah it’s simple fun!
How did this passion for country music come into your life?
That’s another great question! I always loved country music and I’m super influenced by old country. When I lived in Austria still way back in the 90’s, I was listening to Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Alabama, Lonestar etc. So it’s like I always had that tendency of real country music. For me personally national country style is really interesting because it has so many variables going from really traditional peddle steel guitar to rock guitars. I believe that the modern Nashville country it’s the new rock’n’roll which we miss all so much! (smiles) It gives us an opportunity to really express our feelings, who we are and our lifestyle living always on the edge. Being on the line right and being too edgy for old country, that’s where About Kings is really finding itself more and more! Because we have this massive rock influence which we mix up with country music in a very natural way.
What were the artists that gave you a lot musically?
Well, I believe that ‘No Fences’ by Garth Brooks was one of the biggest record which influenced me the most and of course George Straight was bringing out one hit after another at that time during the 90’s. To be honest I think Garth Brooks was the biggest influence because he was more rock than country. He was doing the big stage shows with flames and pyros and he was flying over the audience. And that’s really what shaped us!
Is the fact that you used to sing in German and now in English some kind of evolution? Like those tattoo artists who go from one style to another excelling in both?
Thanks, another good question! (laughs) I believe our first album was sung in German because we were on tour in Germany and our producer Kent Wells – when he saw us performing on stage – said, “Guys, you should really do this in the United States and especially you should do this in English.” He said that he believed that there was a market for our band and our style which didn’t exist in the United States.
It could take national country to a different level and that’s also why we got the report afterwards when we released the first song in English.
We got a report in Nashville which said, “Nashville’s rising stars.” Because we were just stepping over the line to rock’n roll.
I had to count on Kent because he produced Dolly Parton, worked with Tim McGraw, worked with countless top country artists. I was really flattered by his comment and that’s the reason why we went back in the studio and changed everything over to English. So the market is way bigger and more people can enjoy our music and what we bring to the audience.
So you have just recorded your first album (‘Go Big Or Go Home’) entirely in English of which the first single ‘Heaven on Down the Highway’ is in circulation right now. When will the entire album arrive on Spotify and in stores?
Yeah, ‘Heaven on Down the Highway’ is already in the stores. It’s on Spotify, it’s on all platforms and it had over 1.3 million views on YouTube. It has incredible play everywhere, it’s on thousands of playlists and it’s currently number 44 on Billboard indicator chart for country music. Which is an incredible success considering that it’s a first single and we released it independently. I can’t wait to see what the next single does coming out soon. It’s called ‘3 Chords and the Truth’ and it will be released before we go on tour next summer in Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland.
Can ‘Heaven on down the highway’ be seen as your ‘Sweet home Alabama’? An anthem for all About Kings fans to sing in chorus?
I’m not so sure, I wish, that’s a trick question. (smiles) Everybody wants to have a ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. I think ‘Heaven on Down the Highway’ really is a… (Mario can’t find the right word. Ed) I came out from a brutal divorce, which unfortunately didn’t work great in the relationship with my son and it was really like to keep me positive. One line of this song goes “We don’t have a map and we don’t know where we’re going, but it’s so damn good with the windows and the road wide open”. It’s like a really positive outlook when sh*t doesn’t go right in your life.
There’s always another heaven, down the highway and keep going – now that’s the real positive message of that song and all the things which were important yesterday are really not that important tomorrow, right?
So just get a grip of life by its finest and move on and enjoy everything. And don’t hold grudges and hope that it all turns out to the best. Because hope is what we need the most! To cut a long story short there’s nothing nicer than getting into a convertible top car and drive down the road or go on a bike and ride down the road. Enjoy the freedom of going somewhere new and meeting new people and enjoying the next new day what comes towards you.
Have you been tempted to call on any special guests to participate in ‘Go Big or Go Home’? I mean – you’ve got Lenny Kravitz and Tommy Lee (Motley Crue) tattooed. Bob Tyrrell – among others – has Kid Rock tattooed if we’re talking classic rock or country influences. In short, your schedule is full of important phone numbers…
Yes, we actually have talked to other people and have very big interest in other people to be part of our band and sit in on a gig and play something. All the people you mentioned (or many of the people you mentioned in there) are very interested but I think at this time we are working on ourselves and really finding out who we are as a band, the strategies etc.
During Covid times, we didn’t really have a chance to play with each other in a room too much; so we had to play over the internet with zoom calls and we had to trade licks and trade ideas. And now it’s time for us to finally be in the room together! So I think we gonna see what the summer brings. Who knows you can get a big surprise somewhere in the summer tour and we see what happens…
Next summer you already have dates set in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Austria. Do you plan to add more dates between now and the start of the tour in July?
Yes, we are currently talking to several festivals to jump on and everything was a little bit delayed due to Covid issue and the travel bands. We couldn’t really add dates to it but we definitely have more dates coming up. We just added a date in Las Vegas too. We are currently talking also that after the European tour there’s an America tour planned. We’re going to start out in Texas and something in New York. I believe we’re going to be adding at least 4-5 dates in Germany what we have seen so far during that tour and everybody can check up on it if they follow us on Internet and they can get the updates on it (see below for all the About Kings contacts. Ed). We look forward to be there because Bob Tyrrell and I will be taking clients during that tour. So we’re going out, we’re going to play the gigs and we going to some people which we bring backstage during that tour and we’re going to be tattooing! (laughs)
Silly question but I have to ask it anyway: does it give you more satisfaction to finish a tattoo or to write a nice melody for About Kings?
(Mario laughs out loud. Ed) It’s like asking me which kid is your favorite and I got two daughters, beautiful daughters and I can’t choose one or the other! I mean deep in my heart, I’m a tattoo artist to my soul. I love to tattoo. I love to finish it. I love to create it. I love to do cover ups. It’s just like this is my safe haven, right? Like if I need really peace in my soul, I’m gonna sit down and tattoo and it gives it to me every single time I do that. But there’s also something really rewarding on writing a song and melody and – like I said before – I’ve written 90% of the songs in English on the new album. And it was really tricky as a foreigner to write them in English and find the right words but it also gives you an outlet to tell what you think.
Many people never understand that there’s different thought processes as well, right, like give me a tattoo artist and gives great tattoos every single day with their own opinion and their own challenges and their own troubles in life.
So I found that writing a great song, especially when it relates to a lot of people as well, it gives you a different satisfaction than a tattoo. Lately the outcome is the same when it’s completed and when you play it and it really chimes with all band members and the listeners. It’s equally as rewarding to have a finished song as a finished tattoo.
Just in closing can I tell you that you look a lot like both Willie Nelson and Gregg Allmann? Could it be that you were accidentally born in Austria instead of Texas or Tennessee?
Yeah, lot of people say that my voice sounds like Willie Nelson. It’s a huge compliment that I look like them, but I’m born in Austria. I’ll always be Austrian. And my soul is for sure located in Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma, so that’s it! (smiles)
And your last famous words are…?
Believe in your dreams and follow them. Write them down, take action and move towards them. Because all your dreams are road maps to your destination!