CHRISTINA AVINA: I was initially inspired to speak with you after learning you did some ink for the bassist of 30 seconds to mars, Matt Wachter.
MATT THRASH: Yeah, they were here years ago, three years ago I think.
CA: The piece you did for Matt was script stretching acrossthe top of his back/shoulders that read, “Rather be forgotten than remembered for giving in.” Do you remember what inspired Matt to have that piece done?
MT: I just remember him telling me about some of the behind the curtain stuff on what it was taking them to go out on the road and actually have concerts basically, how the whole project really….well if they didn’t sell shows basically that they were personally liable for a whole bunch of money. They had to pay for equipment and all kinds of stuff. I think it had him kind of freaked out at the time.
CA: I would imagine it would.
MT: I think he was still kinda like, “I’m gonna do it anyways, which I thought was kinda cool.”
CA: That’s definitely his personality. Aside from Matt, have you done other tattoos on other celebrities or musicians? Is there any other celebrity that you’ve done ink on that comes to mind?
MT: Well, I’m out here in South Dakota; we don’t get a whole lot of exposure out here. I don’t have a big list of people like that.
CA: How did Matt come to be out there? Were they playing a show in South Dakota?
MT: They just came to Rapid City, yeah, and I guess they had enough time to come get tattoos. They picked us out of the blue. They asked around town where the best place was to get a piece, came in and liked what they saw and went for it.
CA: How long have you been tattooing and where did you get your start?
MT: I started in this town over 10 years ago. I’m in my tenth year right now. I started getting tattoos at this store when I was 24, so I felt like I was a little late to start getting tattoos. Once I got my first one I kinda felt like they could probably have done it a little better. So I just asked the guys that were working on me if I could get a job. It took them a couple years for them to decide to hire me, but I was just relentless.
CA: So did you do a regular apprenticeship?
MT: Yeah, it was about as formal an apprenticeship as you can get. I don’t see a lot of the training people get these days as being as intense as the type I got.
CA: Were you into art growing up? Was that something you did a lot of on your own before you thought about tattooing?
MT: Yeah. I did anything I could to survive, so I did a lot of different things. I had always painted and painted airbrush. We have the Sturgis rally right out here too, so that always inspired me. The airbrush on biker’s jackets, bikes was something that really would plug me in to that whole bike scene, to be a part of that. I always thought the tattooers at Sturgis bike league as always being even cooler, and I thought at the time, “God, it would be really cool to be one of them.” Now that I do tattoo I don’t get to enjoy the rally at all. I’m totally stuck in my chair the whole time tattooing people, which is totally the opposite of what I was going for there when I was a kid.
CA: Were you a biker yourself? Were you out there riding?
MT: Yeah, we all ride here. We’ve got half a million people who come out here every year to ride in the Black Hills, it’s so beautiful. You pretty much have to ride a bike here….
CA: If you want to live here, right?
MT: Yeah. It’s pretty much a must have for any young dude to spend whatever time he’s got to get a Harley and ride it up in the hills. Then every year everybody brings theirs, parties and shows off the new stuff. Harley Davidson premieres their new stuff every year. It’s just a great time for motorcycling when you can be out here in August.
CA: It sounds like a great time. Would you consider your work to be more along the lines of old school style or modern?
MT: It’s not super modern. I would consider it well-rounded. Basically, something that’s clean. It’s gonna have a nice solid outline, shading in places it should be and a solid color that’s gonna be there in the years to come, and images that have enough room to breath. I’m not out to reinvent anything, other than customer service and being accountable to my clients.
CA: Which says a lot about you right there. You don’t find that everywhere. Certain artists gravitate toward, or maybe one type of tattoo might be their forte whether it’s tribal, or some do portraits really well. What kind of tattoos are you most excited about working on?
MT: What would that be? I don’t know, that’s like asking me what my perfect day would look like. I like tattooing, I look at the piece more like….I want it to kick ass no matter what type of piece it is. I’m more excited about like a biomechanical piece, like a bunch of skulls all piled up or something that looks real free. I get pinned down a lot to make things look just like they should, you know. If it’s supposed to be a bear it better look like a bear when I’m done. If anything goes it takes the pressure off and I can have some fun with it.
CA: Do you get clients that, every once in awhile, will come in and go, “I have a general idea of what I want but here, do what you want with it?” Do you have people who do that?
MT: Oh totally. I think that people can get in the way of their tattoo by trying to micromanage it I guess. If you want a tiger to go there, that’s all I need to know. Let me deal with the highlight placement. I’ll do the nails the way I like to do the nails, and the size and all that, and kind of go from there. I think people are open to that.
CA: Do specific artists inspire your work?
MT: Oh, Frank Frazetta is like a total natural at painting sci-fi, epic paintings for books and what not. I think it came easier for him than it does for me.
CA: Do you think rockers lean more toward ink than other music genres, or has that changed over the years?
MT: Gosh, I don’t know. I’m seeing probably even more tattoos, I don’t know…I suppose it would be equal I guess. To me it’s just part of their costume in a lot of ways. I’m sure there’s a lot of meaning to their tattoos and what not, but to be 50 cent and not have tattoos just wouldn’t fly. People that are coming up in that world are like, “I’ve gotta look the part.” There’s so much to that and just like, music in general, and even for tattooers or bikers you gotta get the costume and look more radded out I guess. You have to have more of the, what’s the word….
CA: The image?
MT: The street cred, I guess. You have to have the look down pat or some people can’t identify. I would think that’s what sells more records more than the beauty of any music, is if people can identify with you.
CA: That’s so true, and it actually goes right into my next question. Many years ago a rock star that sported a tattoo was considered to be a ‘serious rebel’ by mainstream society. Do you think now if people see a rock star without a tat they look at him as the outcast?
MT: It’s like how punk rock can you get? Everyone is trying to be more punk rock than the next guy. It’s evolved in the facial tattoos, branding, and implants. I can almost kind of see it with where my own tattooing is going, keeping it back to basics. You don’t have to be over-the-top to get noticed. I guess I wouldn’t think that it would be a total pull of gravity to get away from tattoos as a whole, but I just think a nicely, well-placed tattoo is all really you need to be accepted in the tattoo community in the future. I don’t think more is better. Piling it on thicker and deeper just doesn’t do it for me.
CA: Many of 30 seconds to mars fans have gotten ink to pay respects to the band in the form of their symbols, motto and even put the guys autographs on for the world to see. Is this something that has become more of a trend with not only fans of 30, but fans of other rock bands as well?
MT: Oh yeah, we see tons of that. Whether it’s the Metallica guys that get the whole Pushead thing going on their calf, or whatever, but the big thing I can think of was the Godsmack stuff. We did, no doubt every guy in the shop in the course of a year did over 200 of those things on belly buttons, or shoulders. Every time someone would bring that in you’d think, “Oh cool, a Godsmack sun,” and they’d be like, “you know what that is?” They thought they were the only one. That’s the weird part of that whole phenomenon. Out of the millions of people who got those they all thought they had an original idea.
CA: Of course.
MT: We always got the John Lennon guy, or obscure bands, but for the most part that was a huge one. We have 10 artists and you can ask every one they did it a bunch of times until it cut off at some point. I think we all kind of roll our eyes at it now. There’s so many of them. Something happened to me one time. I was with these guys in Florida. One of the guy’s buddies was telling me all about this Godsmack sun he wanted on his back. I was thinking to myself, great. It turned out it was the brother of their drummer or something. So before I opened my mouth I found that out and I was like, “cool.” Then I started thinking, what this guy was saying was everybody that likes this band should be a part of the army and shit. So I was like, right on, the more the better. I just get to be the guy that does them.
CA: That’s a very cool story to have. You’ll never forget that.
MT: As 30 Seconds to Mars gets even bigger and continues to blow up anything can happen.
CA: Yeah, I know hundreds of people with 30 tattoos already. Usually you can’t go to a show and see too many people without them. That’s exactly what inspired me to do this article.
CA: As an artist do you ever find yourself wanting to caution a client against getting something permanent, like the name of a
boyfriend or girlfriend, that they might regret later?
MT: I don’t spend a lot of time doing that. We don’t tattoo minors. If you’re already 18 and you want to do all that, I don’t really regulate what you want to get. It can be extensive and all that. I don’t think it hurts tattooing if you do what the client wants. Also, covering up tattoos is a big part of our business too. So when you’re doing a name you could be paying for somebody else’s light bill when they cover it up, or even yourself.
CA: That’s a good way to look at it.
MT: We had this guy once, he wanted to get the name of a girl on him that he was just trying to get a date with.
CA: You’re kidding.
MT: He didn’t even have her as a girlfriend or anything. He wasn’t sure how much he was into her. We did it, and we were all laughing, you know. Then a few days later he came in with her.
MT: You never can tell.
CA: It had the chance of either completely freaking her out or her going out with him. So that’s pretty funny.
MT: (laughs) I know. They came in together shopping for tattoos, looking at us over her shoulder winking at us.
CA: That might actually be the answer to my next question. What is the craziest tattoo you ever did on a client?
MT: (laughing) I guess that’s the craziest we did, without being vulgar and all that stuff.
CA: I can clean it up if you can dish it out.
MT: Well, I don’t know. There are some things that you tattoo and it’s just between you and the client. They are the one walking around with their secret.
CA: Good answer.
MT: I think that’s probably pretty crazy. I might tattoo somebody’s face for like a joke or something. But like you said, I think that’s probably as good as any, where the guy was like I just want to let this girl know how much I’m interested in her and I don’t think she knows yet.
CA: That is crazy, but imagine if they get married someday and they can tell their kids.
MT: Yeah, who knows? I put a full portrait on this guy of his girlfriend so that he could have it on him when he proposed to her.
MT: So he proposed to her and they got married.
CA: That’s very cool.
MT: That’s pretty crazy. You can get a sissy skull with maggots crawling out of it and that’s not even crazy anymore. When you put it together with some kind of activity like that then it’s something to think about.
CA: If you had never become a tattoo artist, what other profession could you see yourself doing?
MT: I don’t know, I think about that a lot. I think a lot about, even now, if I didn’t want to tattoo what would I be doing? But I think that tattoo, you know, if I wasn’t tattooing I would probably be doing construction. That’s what I was doing before, but tattoo has been able to pull me out of that. It’s opened up a lot of doors for me. I’ll never have to do that again. It’s put me on the map now where everything in my house, including my house, everything we have and everything we own can be directly related back to a tattoo. I tattooed my way into all this stuff. Tattoo has been so gracious to me and I could probably set it down and do something else, whether it was a bake shop or a photography studio, and it would all be possible because of tattooing, whereas with me being a concrete guy it wouldn’t have been possible to get where I wanted to be. I want to say tattoo is a stepping stone. I’ll never plan on leaving it totally. It’s blessed me; I’ll put it that way.
CA: That’s great because most people in this world can’t say they are doing something that they like to do, or that what they do makes them happy to the point of getting them what they want in life.
MT: When I start feeling like I gotta hate other tattoo artists I gotta think, well all the stuff that tattoo has done for me in my life, why would I want to keep that from happening to anyone else? If somebody wants to go to work and tattoo all day and have all that stuff happen to them, that’s great. I would want that for you or somebody else. As long as I keep that attitude, you know, I want to be accountable for the tattoo industry and be there for it and bring something to it, not set it back into the stone age.
CA: It’s nice to talk with someone that isn’t so full of himself that he doesn’t want to give anyone else a chance.
MT: Right on.
CA: That’s all I have for now. Thanks for your time Matt. It was great to talk to you.
MT: Thank you for making this happen. Take care.