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A Rite of Passage: Building a Cult-like Following through Music, Tattoos, and Iconic Album Art

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Bayside is a cult. The New York punk band has emblazoned this declaration across t-shirts and hoodies, and they even named their 2014 album Cult. The album artwork for Cult depicts a bird sitting atop the word "cult" in large capital letters against a black background with references to the band’s earlier releases.

The slogan is ironic of course, but the dedication of Bayside fans is certainly cult-like. As a dedicated Bayside fan myself, I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen the band perform live; I believe it’s somewhere around 15 times since I was 14 years old. At every single Bayside show I have attended, I encounter multiple Bayside themed tattoos. Because Bayside has maintained the same logo throughout much of the band’s duration, these tattoos are typically very easy to spot—a large, often black bird perched atop a leafy branch. The bird appears on the covers for six of the band’s seven full-length albums. Fans have embraced the bird as a clear symbol of their loyalty to Bayside.

The band’s lead singer and guitarist, Anthony Raneri, has the iconic bird tattooed on his neck, and in addition to his own band’s signature album artwork, he also has tattoos memorializing the artists and albums he loves. One such tattoo is an homage to the band Alkaline Trio who not only serve as a clear inspiration to Raneri’s songwriting but also influenced Bayside’s decision to pick one enduring logo. When I spot someone with Bayside’s signature bird or Alkaline Trio’s skull, I know immediately that we have something in common. Their logos serve as a clear symbol to others in the know.

Other artists, like Circa Survive, maintain a recognizable aesthetic with each new album while still introducing original artwork. Working with the same artist for multiple albums allows bands like Circa Survive to cultivate a unique image that is just as easily discernible for their fans as the Bayside bird. 

circa survive tattoo, album art tattoo, esao andrews tattoo, thebakery tattoos, Jordan Baker tattoo artistEsao Andrews has produced the artwork for each of Circa Survive’s six albums. Whereas the Bayside bird is a straightforward image that fans can easily make their own through additions of other elements, Circa Survive’s album artwork is much more likely to be tattooed as is due to the surreal quality of Andrews’s work. The Bayside bird and the Alkaline Trio skull act more as a recognizable symbol of the band, so as tattoos they’re perfect candidates for small homages or as one component of a larger piece. Andrews’s artwork however, stands alone acting as not just a representation of the band itself but also a work of abstract art.

With an unknown number of music fans inked with birds, skulls, and surreal images of hot air balloons around the world, these bands have created a cult-like following. Bayside has shared numerous tattoos on their official Instagram account, and the ‘baysidetattoo’ hashtag has nearly 800 posts, most of which are the famous bird. Bands like Bayside, Alkaline Trio, and Circa Survive may not be cults after all, but they have certainly grown dedicated fandoms due in part to their iconic imagery.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of PainfulPleasures.