Harvey Milk Merch Inspired by Alcohol and Inside Jokes
Merchandise is where bands make a good chunk of the change they need to keep the wheels moving — metaphorically and literally speaking — so it makes sense that bands put so much time and work to make their merch table look as classy and artistic as possible. But not Harvey Milk. Their shirts are punch lines to jokes you never heard. “It’s comedy first,” bassist Stephen Tanner told Noisecreep. “Everything is f—ing funny to us.”
Over the years, Harvey Milk have become known for bathroom drawings on shirts that really have no direct connection to the band’s music. Tanner, who is the mastermind of these designs, reveals the process it takes to make the designs. “When it comes time to think of new T-shirts, I try to think of the most ridiculous stuff I can think of, and I call Pat [of New York City’s Pollution]. We get f—ing smashed, and he laughs and draws it. He draws those things in six or seven minutes.”
One of the bands most famous designs is one of a Steven Spielberg alien drinking, smoking a joint and wearing a shirt reading ‘No Woman No Cry’ on it as the band’s name lauds over him. “That was always an inside joke,” Tanner says, explaining the root of the shirt as coming from a late night hanging out with former Melvins‘ bassist and previous Harvey Milk collaborator Joe Preston. “Joe’s got a bunch of tattoos, and he doesn’t party or anything. And we’re hanging out one night and I was f—- up, and he has some bulls— tattooed on his arm. And I was like, ‘What the f— does that mean?’ Is that ‘No Woman No Cry’ in some weird language [I] don’t know?'”
On the bands most recent tour, Tanner was shocked but is still enjoying a good laugh over the amount of fans that came to him displaying that shirt’s design tattooed on them. “The idea was to take something iconic like E.T. and apply how I hate reggae music and love Coors Light … so that’s how that goes.”
With a new album on the horizon and a summer tour being planned, Tanner has to begin thinking of new designs. “I haven’t put any thought into it,” he says. “Usually it just takes getting f—ed up and hanging out with Pat.”
Of course, not all of these drawings end up inked over top cotton, so he could always use an old one or one that most fans have never seen. “We made a small batch of these T-shirts a while back with Shaquille O’Neal holding a pizza with Ronnie James Dio in a track suit standing on the pizza,” smiled Tanner. “It’s really f—ing kick ass.”
But Tanner sometimes wonders if these designs stop them from selling more merch on the road “We’d probably do better if we didn’t do stuff that wasn’t as goofy,” he contemplated. “People look at them and think, ‘I can’t wear this bulls—.” The Harvey Milk way is not for everyone, and most of those folks aren’t really fans anyway.