By Andrew Goodfellow
Reblogged by: swallowsndaggers.net
Read Part 1 here: http://wp.me/p14cQJ-5hf
Like the effect on the skin?
“Yeah, the way the work was going in. And, again, there was no internet. So I had to go the fucking library, go to the reference library, lookup needle manufacturing companies all over the world, write them a letter, by hand “Dear Sir or Maddam’ and hopefully get a sample. And sure enough, samples did come. Sometimes I would get a letter back that would come and say ‘You need to buy the samples. They cost this much’. And I would go and do that. And I would get the needles and solder them and tattoo with them. And I began to see, like, oh man this really makes a difference.”
“So I began to get excited about the potential. So I went and registered the company name, and I realized that I could probably make needles myself. Buying them was hit-and-miss. They would come and some of them would be measured in a weird way. I would get some that were big and short tapered. And I’d get some that were big and long tapered. And I’d get all different types. But if I could get stuff in between, it seemed reasonable that I could make a better needle. These are just sewing needles! They’re just getting thrown at me. I’m just doing what I can with them. So that’s when I started to believe that it was possible. I registered the name and started thinking about what potential there was there, and what it might cost and what it might not cost, and what that would mean.”
“So, before I left, I had said to people, I really wanna become a better tattooer technically and mechanically. I really want to understand what the fuck I’m doing. Cause I felt bad. The same way I felt like I was a jerk cause I never even had my grade 10, I felt like I’m a jerk cause I’m making a lot of money and people think I’m doing real good, and I am just flailing away. I got no fucking idea what I’m doing, you know? And I thought I really owed it to everything that came before me and I owed it to myself to try and master the craft, and that was part of it for me. For most people, there were other reasons. They were doing their best, or whatever. But for me, it wasn’t enough to be successful and have money – that stuff didn’t matter to me. I didn’t understand why certain needles were doing certain things. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it.”
“So going to the South Pacific was the other way that I figured like maybe I won’t have to come back and deal with this fucking crazy thing that I’m thinking about. And, you know, I thought and thought and thought, and drew the logo, and thought why are those needles doing that? And the other part of the thing about the South Pacific, is they had been tattooing there for thousands of years. And I kinda figured, well those tools must have developed the same way the imagery did. Like I’m sure they made them bigger and smaller and tried every fucking thing that they could come up with, and this was the best. Like there’s no way, in my mind, that I could believe that the way they made those tools was not the fucking best.”
“So when I got connected to the guy in Samoa, closely, I paid him to make tools so that I could watch how he did it. And I watched and took pictures and measured things with a measuring eye-loop and figured out, goddamn, the points on those tools were like twice the size of what we were using for needles, and blunt, like BLUNT. They called them a comb. We were using like a sewing needle or a beading needle. And the stuff he was using, he was just cutting little teeth into it. It was just like a little saw-tooth. The point was super short compared to a needle. Yet he was tattooing super solid, solid black into people. And that just blew my mind! And I was like, okay, fuck, whatever. That proves to me that a lot of what we’re doing has just been dragged along because – because we have sewing needles and because they work. Okay. So that was part of the thing for me with the South Pacific.”
So you came back with the idea that…
“Well I had also worked on a lot of crazy machine stuff before that, too. I had even gone through this weird thing where…I mean, really, when I got focused on this stuff, I just couldn’t stop. I remember even one Christmas where I was at home at my Mom and Dad’s and the lights were turning on and off. And I was thinking, yeah, that’s the deal man. The machine turns on and off, like it runs up and down. But if I could interrupt the power, I could control it better. Cause the machine was still a mystery. I couldn’t make it behave; I could only just get it to kinda work. I would hold onto it and do whatever it made me do. So I kinda laid out this little plan. And I had seen on some fucking crazy TV show that if you wrote your idea down and mailed it to yourself, because it had a postmark on it, and it had been sealed by special delivery marks over the back, so it had never been opened, so that would prove that that was your idea on that day (laughter).”
So you did this?
“(laughter) Oh fuck yeah and I carried that thing around with me man (lots of laughter)”.
And so what was the specific idea?
“The idea was to isolate the power so that the machine wasn’t interrupting the power, the power was being sent in a pulse. Like the rotor on the top of a distributer cap on a car. I knew a bunch of shit about cars, cause I had just been some hooligan in Saskatchewan, right? So anyways, that did come to pass, and I had fucked around with that shit, and I paid a kid to make me this crazy prototype, in Saskatchewan, before I moved to Toronto. I think I still have it somewhere around here. But it was sending pulse power. So I could adjust the voltage and I could adjust the speed that it was sending the pulse power.”
Was that done anywhere else at that time?
“No man, that was crazy shit! But, you know, Paul had told me when I asked him, how fast does that thing go? And he said ‘15 times a second’. And I go, dude that’s fast. I couldn’t believe how fast that was. So then when the kid made me the prototype, he asked how fast I needed the pulses. So I said 15 times per second. And he goes, ‘Well we’re gonna need a range cause you’re going to want to adjust it back and forth a bit’. And I said sure, yeah, whatever. Make it go from 10 to 20. Then we’ll be around 15 and that’ll be awesome cause that’s what it’s doing. So he built this prototype and I paid him. And he came over with it and I was so excited that I was just like stumbling around. And we hooked it all up.”
“And the goin up and down was going to come solely from the pulsing of the power. And the thing was just like ‘doot…doot…doot…doot’ And I looked at him and he was like ‘so…?’. And I was like NO DUDE that’s too slow! And he said ‘that’s 15 times a second’. And I was like, no that’s fucked up man because that’s how fast the machine runs. And so I hooked up my regular stuff to the power supply…”
And he told you that it must have been doing a hundred times a second?
“(laughter) Yeah, he said that’s going at least, at least, a hundred times a second! And I was like, no way! That’s not possible man! I could not believe it. I could not let that go. That was the hardest thing to accept in my life. I had believed that shit. I believed everything that dude [Paul Jeffries] ever taught me and told me. And he knew, well that’s what he thought. Cause that’s what he had been told, you know? And it didn’t matter to him how fast it ran. But for some reason it started to really matter to me. So that was really just like, okay then whatever. I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks, I’m gonna figure this motherfucker out. And I knew what old guys had said about machines and parts and what you could and couldn’t do. But I just sorta said, I don’t care about any of it man. Even at art school, one of my favourite Profs said, ‘You know you’re really in danger of just really spending most of your life reinventing the wheel’. And I thought, well that would be awesome! Imagine inventing the wheel (laughter). And he was like ‘It’s already been done!’ And I said, but if I don’t know that, it would be great! And he said to me, ‘Well, you’re hopeless. And I mostly am (laughter). So I really just thought, I don’t care what anyone says about the fucking machine, I’m gonna figure it out. And that was a real big motivator for me.”
“But then I got more involved in the needles. I sat down and wrote it out logically. Okay, the needle is the point of contact, so the needle was first. And then I had this list of things of how I was gonna approach trying to figure out how to be a better tattooer mechanically. I also wanted to be a better tattooer artistically. I wanted to be able to put work n that was identifiable as mine. Because I had been really just doing what customers wanted, you know? And they wanted all this fussy stuff. Too much detail, and too much of this and too much of that.”
“And I had been infatuated with that South Pacific style and the simplicity of it, you know? So I had notions about that, and that obviously never came to pass. I mean, you know, I’m a good tattooer. But ummmm…..yeaaaaah, I’m no better than anyone else when it comes right down to it. I know a lot about machines, that’s true, probably more than most. But how I tattoo, I try real hard. But I don’t have thing where it’s like ‘Goddamn, that’s a Bill Baker tattoo!”. People might say, ‘hey, that’s a pretty good tattoo, who did it?’ And you say ‘Bill Bake’. And they’d probably say ‘Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me’ (laughter).”
So what was the true focus for you at that point?
“Well those are the two things that I wanted to do when I went to the South Pacific. If I’m coming back, I wanna deal with both these things. And I never really got to the art end of it. I mean, I kept trying. But I couldn’t force customers to get shit they didn’t want. Like I could make a way, like this is what I think. And they’d go, ‘Ya, but I don’t want that’. And I would just say, okay then I’ll just do what you want (laughter). Because ultimately it’s their tattoo. It’s not mine. And I really believe that strongly. And even in the fact that I don’t have a photo album now. There are some photos of mine around, but everybody ran a photo album in those days. And I had a photo album stolen once and I felt so bad for all those customers, you know, like that was their stuff. They had talked to me about it. It was their ideas. And somebody else just took that album away. And then it was like, okay I better get a new album. But then I thought, you know what, fuck the new album! That’s only for me to show off, you know? Like I’ll do what customers want, and if they don’t believe that I’ll do what they want then they can get tattooed by somebody else. I don’t give a fuck. So I haven’t even had a photo album since…”
Like a portfolio, you mean?
“Yeah. I think that happened like happened in ’96, or something, I don’t know. That was when that one got stolen. And it was just like, whatever, I’m not doing another one. I don’t even take pictures of them. I know I probably should. And I say, oh I should take a picture of that. But I don’t. But these people that are around me now, like this crew whose around me, especially Daniel and Glennie, you know, a long time we all been together. It’s going on ten years as us three, me Dan and Glennie. And they really look out for me. And they photograph my work all the time and take care of it. So I get to act like I do [take pictures] but I really don’t (laughter). But if they weren’t, then maybe I would. But no, I probably wouldn’t”.
So the crew you’ve been with now, was it Daniel you met and started working with first?
“Daniel and Glennie”.
At the same time?
“Well, I met Daniel first and a couple of years later I met Glennie. But we have all been friends for a long time, around 10 years now”.
And so how did the shop come about?
“Well, this shop came about first as that (pointing to a banner in the hut that reads ‘The Alleged Imitation of Percy Waters Tattoo Club’).
This was something I wanted to ask you about.
“Yeah. This ‘Alleged Impersonation of Percy Waters Tattoo Club. The Ace of Clubs. The best club ever. And that’s why we built this place [the hut]. Because we had this thing, Glennie was at New Tribe, Daniel was at Sal’s and had his own studio in Parkdale, and I was kinda on my own, because I owned Eikon, but I was involved in the trouble. So I’ll just say it was the trouble. But whatever (laughter). I mean, we can talk a bit about the trouble. So I had my studio here. But we were going to conventions together. And it was a way of dealing with what was the takeover of Eikon from my business partners – who really, in a hostile takeover, with their lawyer, forced me out of the company and forced me into a legal battle that I couldn’t win, and they were using Eikon money. You know? And they didn’t care what it cost, they weren’t gonna give it up. And I was forced out.”
“So we started going to conventions together and we started this club thing. And there was some people that were totally, totally into this. And we were like…we’re gonna make a zine [magazine], we’re gonna fuckin say what we think, and we can bring in supplies. And I still had a hundred ideas for good products. And I had done that first meter work. You know, Dean and Monica, they’re not stupid people, but they’re not tattooers. They didn’t fucking figure out that meter. They didn’t do any of that stuff. I mean, that was my trip. You know? That had been my trip since the mid ‘80s. They took it away because they realized how profitable it was. And, you know, by my own admission, I wasn’t interested in making massive profits. I was interested in doing really massive, good, good stuff.”
“So anyways, the club was supposed to like, we’re not gonna fucking sell to everybody. We’re only gonna sell to people who we think are fucking awesome. We’re gonna sell to guys who we fucking like, and everybody else can fuck off. If I think you’re a jerk tattooer, I won’t sell to you. How do you like that? And you know what, it mostly fell on deaf ears. Jamer [James Lindsay] was SO into it! So fucking into it! He just loved it. Because that’s part of the problem as a tattoeer now, how can everybody be equal? We can’t all be equal. But, you know, everybody can get the same information off of the internet. Everybody can buy the same supplies. Where’s the fucking exclusivity of it? That’s what got list. And we were hoping to start that again with the club. So we were like okay, good, yeah. But we wanted a clubhouse, so we built this. So it’s kinda complicated, but this [the hut] is the clubhouse of that club”.
“(laughter). But that’s why this place exists. It also exists on another level, a bigger art project level as well. And instead of trying to do that and be out in the whole trade, we were just gonna close it back up and just have the most awesome shop. And we figured it would do more good and be more possible to make a living. You know? Because everybody, each of us, were working in other places that we didn’t like being in while trying to work for this common good that everybody wanted to be a part of. Well…not everybody. Jamer was the exception though. But a lot of people started thinking, fuck man, we’re gonna make big money, we’re gonna make Eikon money and make a big corporation, and I wanna get in on this. I wanna be rich. And were just like, you guys are fucked! That’s not what this is about. That’s not what any of it was about, you know? So we just decided, well, fuck it. We’ll just open the best shop that we can imagine. And then we’ve all got an awesome place to work. Right?”
So what happened to the club?
“The club still exists on a kind of a theoretical level (laughter). And definitely the clubhouse still exists. And I work on this clubhouse every year as kind of an art project of a controlled environment, of what a shop can be like, and what it can be like to have a shop, you know? Like I’ve got this book here about how it [the hut] got made. And everything that gets put in here goes into this clubhouse book. Like everything. Like, you see that thing (pointing to a sign on the wall while also pointing to its corresponding page in the scrapbook). So everything in here gets drawn. And we have all these location codes figured out. You know, like everything that’s in here. So this will end up being like a huge big book. So everything gets drawn and everything gets described – how big it is, and where I got it. And then there’s this back wall, like A,B,C,D, 1,2,3,4, (showing me how the location code works for documenting the clubhouses myriad contents and adornments). And so we know exactly where it all is. And we’ve been photographing it as it gets more and more decorated to the point of complete and total saturation. And then this will be just a big document about, you know, (laughter). But I mean this is super exclusive, you know. Not very many people are allowed up here in the clubhouse.”
I feel honoured, right now.
“Well, I mean, because we’re talking about this stuff. And because there’s a Jamer attachment. He tattooed in this hut. I tattooed in this hut. That’s a pretty rare deal, right?”
Yeah. That’s very cool.
“So it’s a fun project for me. And like this project, a lot of the wind came out of its sails when we opened downstairs. What happened was, this unit was coming up for rent. And we had all been doing this Percy Waters Club. And it was like, well, okay, will you come over? And they were like, ‘Yeah, totally, we’re there. We’re with you. So once we got the space, that was a big reno. And Jamer came out and was here man, swingin a hammer, doing it. We had so much good help. And that was such an awesome time. We took possession January 15 and we were open May 1 – three years ago. So that’s why all those flowers are downstairs right now, cause we just had our three year anniversary.”
“So that’s it. I wanted to introduce you to it. This is like a small part of that. But a lot of this stuff has specific meaning. But it’s more like an art project about tattoo shops and about tattooing and about compulsive collecting. Where basically stuff starts to look pretty good, but then it’s like, yeah but lets put a whole other layer on! And it’s like what guy’s arms end up looking like.”
I was just gonna say, it’s just like tattooing. I can see that it’s a reflection of that.
Alright well that’s interesting. Because I had heard of this place and the club, and I had tried to look it up, but there’s not a lot of stuff out there that can actually tell you what it’s all about.
“No. And the thing was, we had been buying supplies from China that were needed, like certain needles. And I had been buying loose needles from Japan that I was using to make tattoo needles for a long time. You gotta understand, too, Eikon really was my thing. It was my company. And the needles that we had made, that was the first product we had made. But when this thing went down, like what they did, I mean basically I’ll tell you two or three things that most people don’t know. And then I don’t want to into it because they’ll sue people and threaten people. And they wouldn’t bat an eye to do it to me again.”
“But, basically, they phoned me up on a morning in January and started reading me a script. It was just like ‘Our working relationship with you is finished. Blah, blah, blah. You’ve got this much time to turn in this and that. Your phone will be cut off. No more lease for you. No more money for you. Your paycheques are over. You’re fired. And I was just like, fuck you. You can’t fucking fire me. It’s my company. But, after a long, drawn out legal battle, finally my lawyers even said to me ‘This is killing you. You’ve got to give it up. You’ve got to give up. They’ll just keep moving it around. They’ve got all the money’.”
They had all the resources.
“Yeah. They had all the money. And what they did was immoral, but I couldn’t undo it. I’m just one guy. And, I mean, there was just nothing I could do. It happens all the time. In my case, I guess I was lucky cause I can tattoo, and I’m a good tattooer, and I had enough money to pay a lawyer. But Eikon was paying their lawyers. And I was here putting on tattoos in this studio to pay my lawyers, you know? And try and fight it out. But it was hopeless. So they took the whole company.”
Do you have regrets from that time? Or do you feel like you’re now where you are for a reason?
“Yeah, I have regrets. I’m mad. I’m mad. I did not have a shop from 1992 to 2010 – that’s a long time man. That’s almost 20 years that I didn’t have a shop, or however fucking long that is that I didn’t have a shop because I was working on those Eikon projects. And that was supposed to be my retirement. I had dedicated everything to that company, you know? Like all that money, and there was a lot of money, all that money was supposed to be for my retirement.”
Something most tattooers don’t really have planned, right?
“Yeah. And I had worked really hard and made some really awesome stuff. And I changed SO much stuff. You know? And we put out this little magazine ‘Machinegun’ – one issue a year from 2001. And got 8 issues out before they fired me. And I worked all year on each issue. And there was all kinds of technical stuff in there. It’s a fun magazine. It was setup a little bit like ‘Hot Rod’. How to customize stuff, or how to tune up stuff, or how do your coils work. And I still meet people, to this day, who are tattooing and started at that time, and they just sat down with ‘Machinegun’ magazine and they learned everything they know about how a machine works. And, I mean, it’s not just tattooers. It’s guys who are important machine builders now in tattooing, learned a lot from the work I did at Eikon. And I’ve got nothing for it, you know? And that’s the truth.
“Do I care? Yeah, I care. And I trusted those people. And that’s the thing that really, really fucked me up. Like they didn’t have no investment in tattooing. I had already been tattooing a long time. I was really well regarded as a professional tattooer when I started Eikon. A lot of people were excited about Eikon. They didn’t have anything going on. They had just finished university. Shit man, I lent them money to pay their rent when we first started. We just had a garage and we were doing it. But, you know, by the time that company was big, that didn’t matter nothing to them. Whatever. I guess when the number is big enough you just say ‘fuck it’. You know?”
Yeah. Everybody’s got a price, I guess you could say, on their morality.
“But whatever. You know…people always ask me like ‘Isn’t this better?’ And I’m like, fuck off! Get real! This isn’t fucking better! This is a job!”
Well I think maybe people want to hear you say that.
They want to think that you’re happy, and believe that everything happens for a reason.
“(lots of laughter) I’m happy. But I’ve always been hung up on what’s fair. And that wasn’t fair”.
Well there’s not much that is.
“But that really…that hurts man. That hurts. And even when we were in the middle of it, I just said to my lawyer, why don’t we just close the fucking company? If I’m out, why don’t we just close the whole thing down? Close the fucking thing and sell the assets. And he was like ‘It doesn’t work that way. That’s not how it’s going to be’. And I said, but that would be fair! And he goes ‘Well this isn’t about fair man. If we were talking about fair, you wouldn’t be here’.”
“But what can I say? I mean, you know, thanks to Dan and Glennie. Those two just fucking were right there. There were a lot of people who were right there. That’s true. And, I mean, this is a hard thing for me to talk about because I can’t name every single person who was really supportive. And by the same token, I can’t name every single person who was at Eikon, doing what I used to do, thinking they were gonna get rich and famous. There’s a handful of these creeps already in Canada. And I know them. And they will walk up to me and say hello, like, as if what they did was okay. And it’s shocking to me just shocking (laughter). But, I mean, what can I say? I mean, obviously it’s a big deal to me. It’s not a big deal to everybody. Whatever.”
Alright. Well I’ve got a bit of a lighter note question.
To move on. Although, I appreciate that we got to talk about that. So when was the last time you got tattooed? Are you still getting tattooed these days?
“I was the first person to get tattooed in this shop”.
So, to this day, are you still getting work done?
“Yeah. I get tattooed occasionally. Very rarely, though, nowadays. It’s not like it’s gonna make me more popular or more beautiful or more awesome (lots of laughter).”
Well see that’s why I’m asking. Do you still have that desire to get tattooed, cause you still love it?
“Absolutely. Usually for important reasons – to mark time or to mark a certain occasion. Like, who gets tattooed first in a shop. Like when I built Tat-A-Rama…who got tattooed first in that shop and who got tattooed last when I sold that shop. Those things really are a big deal to me. To be the first in this shop, that was a big deal to me. I was the first to get tattooed in this shop. I was the first customer of Pearl Harbour Gift Shop. For real man, I fuckin mean it. And I got a Pearl Harbor tattoo”.
Well there are lots of people that have been tattooed in this shop now that are pretty happy about it.
“And it’s a great shop, it really is”.
Do you still find passion in tattooing, when you’re tattooing people?
“I still find it’s really hard. I really try hard. Tattooing never was easy for me.”
I speak to people in various walks of life that say when you do something you love for a living, you kind of stop loving it as much. Now I don’t know if that’s exclusively true, but I’d like to hear impression with regards to tattooing.
“(lots of laughter). Nah, that’s not true.”
That didn’t happen for you?
Because it does…I hear people say that.
“I guess…yeah…I don’t know. I think people get mixed up. And when they get successful, other things come along with it. Right? And they starting getting money and they start doing stuff with money. And they start getting distracted from what they thought was awesome in the first place.”
So you start to lose sight of your compass, I guess you could say.
“Well I’ve never really been confused by money. That doesn’t measure anything for me. Because I’ve seen people make lots of money who didn’t deserve it. So, whether I deserve money or not doesn’t matter. I really love tattooing. I love the room and the sound and I love the people being so fucking hopeful. And they’re like, ‘Man…I’m gonna get a tattoo!”
“Like today, I was late because I was tattooing three people. They were three family members all getting their first tattoo. And I had promised them I would do them all together on the same fucking day – the mom the dad and their son. That’s a big deal to those people. That is! You can’t put a dollar value on it. I’m a fucking degenerate with no shoes, in rehab when I’m a teenager. Why am I allowed to do that for those people? That’s really a high calling!”
So it’s important to you?
“Yeah. That’s a high calling. I mean, the truth is, me and Jamer would talk about this. We knew that this is so much better than we deserved. And we just didn’t want anyone to ever figure that much out. We’re just gonna stay happy and stay moving forward and keep doing it. Cause we sure don’t fucking deserve this – no one does. Nobody fucking deserves what it is that’s good about tattooing.”
“I mean, if you’re crazy and think you’re a big shot and think that it’s art and think that you’re something you’re not, then you’re not even fucking tattooing. But you are affecting somebody’s life! Like a guy who has a shit job and a girlfriend who drives him fucking crazy, but he can come and get a goddamn tattoo and he’s STOKED! It’s like, yeah! Fuck yeah! That’s the best!”
So how do you choose the work that you do? Because I know that this isn’t a 9-5 for you anymore.
“Ummm…well…sometimes I get busy with projects and I don’t have a lot of time. Like, I’m always doing something. Like I’m either making screen prints, those posters for the historical tattoo machines that we do. Or I’m making stuff for the shop. Or I’m fixing something or building a different sign or working in the hut. So…sometimes it’s subject matter. Like when Jimmy across the street wanted to get his back done, and he wanted to get like a traditional battle royal, like a snake, eagle and dragon fighting. And he had nothing on his back. And it’s such a clean traditional image. And Jimmy’s a good guy, so I was totally stoked to do it.”
“So, I mean, it’s partially that I tattoo people I get along with, that are coming at it from the same perspective, and partially it’s the subject matter. I mean, I don’t know, it’s tough. Like when you’re swamping out a walk-in day and you’ve got 40 people lined up and they all want to get tattooed, I mean I just can’t pick and choose. (laughter). I can’t just say, you’re awesome but you’re a jerk. So I’ll tattoo you, but you can fuck off. (laughter). That’s not fair. So I just don’t do it.”
“Because that’s what I would do. I’d be like, you think I’m gonna tattoo you? Fuck, you’re dreaming, I’m not gonna tattoo you! Fuck that. That’s bullshit. So I just don’t do go there and I don’t do it.”
Okay, well let me just look back at my notes here, because we got a little off topic – which is good – but I want to make sure I ask you a couple more things.
“You see…I tried to warn you…(laughter).”
Any current projects you wanna talk about?
“Well I still fuck around with machines. These two machines here, these are a big deal to me. When I started, I used two machines. I used a liner and a shader and did the bulk of the work between 1981 and 1994 with two machines. I never had more machines. And then I started doing research and fucking around with stuff and built more machines. But then when we opened the shop, I said, you know what, fuck all this weird super machine bullshit. And I went back to using two machines. And Craig Driscoll, who used to be here but lives in California now, invited me down there a couple of winters ago and I went and hung out with him and we built these two machines in his garage.”
So are you still building machines?
“Yeah. Those two right there. I built those by hand with Craig”.
I mean, to this day.
“Uhhh….well I haven’t built a machine cause I’ve got two good ones. (lots of laughter). Like, do I build machines to sell? No. Because people always say to me ‘you’re Machinegun’ or ‘you’re Eikon’ or your whatever. And I’m like, no that’s just too heavy for me to deal with. I mean, sure, I could do like a lot of guys and get somebody else to build me thousands of machines and sell them with my name on them…………….. I don’t know man.”
“When I started Eikon, there was a lot of shit that was needed in tattooing. The needles were totally uncertain – like no one knew what the fuck was going on. There were no barriers, there were no clip-cord sleeves, there were no machine bags – we made those first ones, you know? We had them made in Mississauga. Nobody sold machine bags or clip-cord sleeves before we did that. We wrote cross contamination reports and made specific types of capacitors, and did test, and made coils and spring stocks and did tests. I mean, that was all needed. And people say to me now. ‘Start another company!’ And it’s like, why the fuck would I?”
Well I’ve your work at Eikon referred to as ‘the Scientific Revolution’ or the ‘Scientific Method’ of tattooing. And I’m curious to know how that sits with you.
Well that’s pretty high praise. How does that sit with you to hear that?
“I don’t know. That’s bunk. I got grade 10, how could I do something scientific. That’s not possible. I don’t know. I think it’s just an analytical approach to what’s happening. The truth of the matter is that guys misunderstood a lot of stuff I said about machine speed, and duty cycle, and all this technical stuff. And they thought that I was saying, you need to do this and you need to do that. And I really wasn’t.”
“I was saying, this is one way to measure machine function. And our ability to control it needs to have measurement. Like if I increase the speed by increasing the armature bar weight, I understand what changing the armature bar weight did. I didn’t say that you need to run that machine at 105 hertz, or whatever, I just said I can’t change the armature bar weight and say…well it changed it. It changed what? What fucking happened? How much did it change it?”
“So all that mechanic, technical, or scientific stuff had to be there. Because we had to know what was going on. And it was just a way to measure it. When it comes to tattooing, I don’t look at my meter when I’m working. I do when I’m setting up my machine or if something’s a little out-of-whack. But, like most guys, I tattoo very intuitively. And sometimes I may realize, months later, that my machine is doing something weir, but it’s like, whoa that’s awesome! You know?”
So there was a void in tattooing that you felt the need to fill?
“Yeah. That whole company was built because there was stuff that wasn’t there that needed to be built. Now people say that I could start another company and start a better one that Eikon and fucking put them out of business. And I’m like, why would I do that? I wouldn’t do that. I never would do that. I didn’t do that in the first place. I didn’t build Eikon to be better than Spalding, or some other supply company. It was because there was stuff that needed to be done and that was the best way to do it.”
“But now, I don’t see very much that tattooing needs. When we sat down – me Dan and Glennie, and we thought about what tattooing needed, we thought, you know what it needs? It needs an awesome fucking street shop that’s got a lot of acknowledgement to our history and a lot of looking forward to the potential, where people get treated right and good. Just a super energetic, cool chop that’s owned by guys who tattoo. That’s what tattooing needs.”
“Do we need more shops owned by big companies? No. Do we need more crappy shops? No. Do we need more tattoo shops that look like hair salons? No! We also don’t need another supply company. That’s why we opened this. If I thought we needed another supply company, I would have done that.
And, I mean, a big nod to Jamer. That motherfucker….and by the way, I know my language is so bad. You can edit all that out…you should…I know that it reads so badly. People will think, is that guy a pirate? What’s his problem? (laughter). But Jamer, that guy built ‘Government Street’. That shop is awesome. I just copied ‘Government Street’ as best I could. And that guy was here with me. He was on the same wavelength as me and Glennie, there’s no question. He is such a big influence, and a big reason that this shop exists.”
And I will tell you this…a lot of people ask me for interviews or say they want to talk to me and I won’t do them. But when that call came in from you, and I was like I don’t know. So I talked to Glennie and she was like ‘Oh yeah, those are the guys that interviewed Jamer. Do it! Those guys are cool. And it was like okay, if Jamer said yeah then we say yeah. That’s true. He’s gone, but that still matters to us.”
“And that’s true. This shop wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for him. He showed us what tattooing needs. We weren’t smart enough to do it ourselves. He was. And he showed it to us. We all went out there and knew right away”.
Like, ‘this is what it can be’!
“Yeah. This is it! This feels like tattooing again. Let’s do this in Toronto, too. Like, Chris David, he’s a Toronto guy. And that was supposed to be the deal – we’d be switching all the time. Like somebody from here would go out there and someone from there would come here. That was all part of the Ace of Clubs. We were gonna make this circle.”
Like a community?
“Yeah. Like, fuck conventions! I don’t care nothing about conventions. There are companies like Eikon there and there bad companies doing bad things that are at conventions. And a lot of bad people who support these companies are there. So let’s just go to each other’s shops, and let’s do guest spots, and let’s make a way of doing tattooing on our terms. But, you know, we miss that guy. We do. A lot of people do. But we really fucking do.”
Well I think you probably feel him here [in the hut]?
“Oh yeah. In here? Yeah. This is a big deal. This place was a big deal to him.”
Okay, well I’ve got one last question.
What would you be doing if you weren’t tattooing? And I think this is one that we asked him.
(lots of laughter).
I don’t know if you remember his response.
“I don’t know man. What did he say?”
“(lots of laughter). I’m too lazy for that! Shit, I don’t know. You know what? I can’t even tell you that. I’m gonna be 54 years old. I’ve been tattooing since…you know, honestly, after rehab I just kinda woke up. So in my mind, I’ve been tattooing since I was a baby.”
So this is it.
“Well I’d have to go back there. And I’m not even that guy. And tattooing is not that either. I don’t know the answer to that. No one could answer that question. Tattooing ain’t the same. I ain’t the same. I can’t split those things apart.”
That’s a valid answer. Thanks so much for talking with me today.
Though I may not have known what to expect from Bill, I could have asked for nothing more. I found him humble, inquisitive, passionate, and honest. Our candid conversation – from the hallowed grounds of the hut – was an amazing experience, and one that I found truly inspiring. Bill is one of the rarerest individuals that find no value in the pursuit of wealth and status; though he justly calls the legends in tattooing his colleagues and has, himself, become one. What’s more, he has forever left his mark on tattooing by being an integral part of the bureaucratic processes that legislate and govern tattooing and, incredibly, by crafting much of the equipment with which we are all familiar today. The only thing left to do is for me to leave a personal thank you to the late James ‘Jamer’ Lindsay, without whom this interview may never have happened and, without whom, two of Canada’s greatest shops might not exist.