At some point in your life it is possible that you have heard that the universe connects in many ways, on a spiritual level, in lieu with vibrations, or something more bizarre. Whether in a time of social media and heavily living through these digital platforms are these old sayings and theories valid or not. However, when you come across someone like Daniel ‘Gravy’ Thomas, and the magnetism that embodies him, it’s hard not to believe, if only for a second that he is an important part of the 1 million piece puzzle that is the universe.
People don’t realise the bands you listen to; these artists are the 1% that profoundly influence everything. Then there is the 98% that is the audience, and finally there’s people like us. That little, but extraordinarily strong 1% that makes those connections happen. It’s the never-ending fun of connecting cultures
“They call me the connector.” He laughs down the phone from his now hometown of Philadelphia. “People don’t realise the bands you listen to; these artists are the 1% that profoundly influence everything. Then there is the 98% that is the audience, and finally there’s people like us. That little, but extraordinarily strong 1% that makes those connections happen. It’s the never-ending fun of connecting cultures.”
Whilst Philadelphia is now where Gravy resides, a state so often seen as a cinema staged city for America’s novel play that is its ‘freedom and liberty’, his humbleness is inspired by his own roots. “I was born in Southern New Jersey and raised in the Philly lifestyle contributing to its party and event scene in the early 2000’s.” He reminisces. “Yes, Philly is known for its liberty, but I advise all to really read between the lines of that history as it wasn’t, and isn’t always sweet and “brotherly” for people of colour.”
When talking to cover artist, Jesus Piece, vocalist Aaron Heard, and close friend of Gravy’s , he consistently mentions the importance of opportunity, and grasping it with a ‘why not’ attitude, and as we converse with Gravy it’s hard not to view him as a mentor to the hardcore musician. “I met Aaron through his band Nothing when I was working in Glasgow with the brand. The second he introduced us it was just a vibe, and everything began to click.”
The brand in question today for Gravy Thomas is none other than tattoo icon gone global brand (it’s first development being a clothing line of which Gravy worked on in Philadelphia), Sailor Jerry. Its traditional style tattoo imagery laces the cups of many an after party through to art shows by the likes of Frank Carter. It is a backbone brand for counterculture, dawning festival posters, and even with Gravy himself serving non-alcoholic beverages to the straight edge artists that formed last year’s This Is Hardcore festival. “role. When you’d see me I didn’t want you to see a walking salesman of sorts but a conduit into a world where I would bring you different facts and ways of looking at rum and spirit and the world it relates to.” He says firmly. “I always mention its #beyondthebooze because to me it is. Especially in the music/art scenes of today where many straight edge communities that I highly respect thrive.”
This isn’t a puff piece about a brand, but much like how Sailor Jerry has been a connector with the ethos to put those often marginalised by mainstream culture onto the playing field, an ethos laced within Gravy’s own history.
If you think you know history then you would think a black man like me is a fool for representing Sailor Jerry, and isn’t supposed to relate to a pure bred Russian tattoo artist in his homeland with stories of oppression and similarities in socio-economic childhoods. Yet, the joke is on you. I needed to hear the conversations and build relationships to help move the needle forward. I now own a rad ACAB tattoo and a story about humanity to tell my son when he asks
A brand whose iconography lies its roots in the world of tattooing, it’s important that the brand has recognised its industry’s sometimes troublesome history, especially for people of colour. When asked about whether Gravy has found solidarity in the tattoo industry, it’s a mixed answer. “Yes and No! But for me I’ve always changed stigmas by walking into places or conversations that people felt I wasn’t supposed to be in.” He grins.
“If you think you know history then you would think a black man like me is a fool for representing Sailor Jerry, and isn’t supposed to relate to a pure bred Russian tattoo artist in his homeland with stories of oppression and similarities in socio-economic childhoods. Yet, the joke is on you. I needed to hear the conversations and build relationships to help move the needle forward. I now own a rad ACAB tattoo and a story about humanity to tell my son when he asks.”
In the early 80s both Gravy’s parents heavily contributed to underground parties that gave both those infringed upon the edges of society, and those even infringed within the bigger circles a safe space. “People always ask me what my favourite bar is around the world, and yes I have a few but nothing will ever compare to my pop’s basement bar.” He chuckles. Through his father’s underground bar with “lights that moved with the bassline,” and “plush wall carpet, ceiling mirrors and leather everywhere,” it was here that he cut his teeth in knowing how to create a safe space for creatives. This later stemmed from his cousins helping to support the South New Jersey scene that began to take hold of the 90s, leading to introductions to the likes of Prince.
In the years that would follow his own music career would begin to prosper, from being a venue intern to working in radio, before finally leading youth groups based around music and the art of poetry (which saw peaked interests from the likes of MTV). Gravy would also channel his own energy, and love for artists such as Bad Brains into his own band, Phil Moore Browne. With the lack of guitars, they made up with it for rhythm, bringing together positive vibes and a positive message. “We were strong with attitude…but we could have been stronger musically.” He laughs. “. We wanted people to actually ‘feel more energy’ from P.O.C and not just toast to it, bet on it, wear the jersey…we wanted you to try and understand people of colour in our different ways back then. I’d start the show with, “Welcome to Negro Nascar”, we are your driver Phil Moore Browne; you best buckle up … because the original punk rocker was the runaway slave !”
Recalling a story of seeing production staff at his local date of Warped Tour in Georgia, and seizing the opportunity to jump on the date, Gravy grins, “I walked in and you know how it is, production worried as someone like My Chemical Romance had cancelled, and I just politely told them my band would play as we were all in attendance.”
Whilst from the outside a quick overview of Gravy’s career, and stories you’d think it was a stroke of luck, a right time and a right place view, but it’s far from it. The attitude he was exposed to through punk and carrying through the pains of his experience from his father’s stroke, resulting in a loss voice, he sought after to take the ethos and make it a global connection. “When my father lost his voice, I was devastated.” He recalls. “I decided I was going to scream my lungs out for him and everyone else who didn’t have a voice.”
With his hands open to connect the world, and an ethos that connects and runs through counterculture it seems that someone like Gravy is a part of an unspeakable connection that drives so many of us to a centre
As our conversation concludes and we look back over his career, the iconic names and familiar faces behind it, all laced within tattoo conventions, lands far away, and tours with musicians of both past and present, there is a feeling that leaves you wanting more, with more being an option on the table.
“People like Frank Carter and Iggy Pop are the experience seekers! They are everywhere, their influence and intake of culture and knowledge is everywhere. This is what I saw and learned from Iggy why I was briefly in a room with him, and this is what I learned from Frank and his crew.” He beams. “You cannot judge them by their initial offerings or let’s say ‘punk rock’. They support so much other rad shit that people wouldn’t expect, that’s what makes them punk! Giving zero fucks!”
With his hands open to connect the world, and an ethos that connects and runs through counterculture it seems that someone like Gravy is a part of an unspeakable connection that drives so many of us to a centre. One where creativity and an unapologetic approach to be whoever you are takes centre stage, of which the right people will always find a way to help shift the ever-changing history of pop culture.
“I’m not a social media mogul, I’m a connector, a plug, a behind the scenes resource, an agitator, who knows a guy or girl…it’s what moves me. I’m not at the centre of the circle I’m on the outskirts I can see all sides and I like that. If anyone wants to get at me feel free…always feel free! Get at me @gravyontherocks!”