JOSH HOMME: Most of what I know of your work is Japanese-influenced. Are the origins of tattooing Eastern?
CLAY DECKER: Well, it’s a funny thing you mention that because a lot of people tend to feel that or think that, or think that it originated in the South Pacific. But the fact is that going back to the oldest remains of man found on the planet—
Tattooing existed then?
It’s sort of a mystery as to when and where. But going way back, it’s a fundamental artistic form of body expression in every culture.
You excel in the old Japanese style.
Do you have a lot of training in it? Or is that just where your passion is?
I think my intense curiosity for that facet of tattooing—that history—stems from the fact that I was raised in Hawaii and there was a lot of Japanese influence there. As a kid, my favorite superheroes were Japanese because we had an influx of that kind of stuff in Hawaii. So that initially got me very comfortable—
It was just present.
Yes—I was immersed in the culture. Then, for the first five or six years that I was tattooing, I never really lent much credibility to the Japanese stuff because I didn’t really know anything about it. I was pretty much learning as I went, on my own terms. After my apprenticeship and in my initial stages of being a journeyman, I was still sorting out all the different styles I could use in my journey.
You were finding your area of expertise.
Yeah. And up until 1996, I didn’t even have a passport and couldn’t leave the country, so all the invitations I had to go overseas—and I had a lot of ’em—were on hold until I was actually able to get a passport and go.
It seems that there’s a more rigid rule, a little bit more structured apprenticeship or teaching method in Japan.
Well, let’s just sum it all up with: There’s a way higher understanding of appreciation.
Did you have that same appreciation, that it needs to be taken seriously to develop that kind of skill?
Well, I can only speak for myself, and I feel that, yes, for me it took that personal understanding to really dig into my fundamental tattooing passion.
There’s plenty of daisies tattooed on ankles, but that doesn’t truly reflect the art form, right?
Well, let’s just say that it is of a grander scale of fascination of the same medium. Out of all the cultures on the planet, speaking of tattoo tradition, the Japanese one is the grandest for the most part. There are Polynesian bodysuits that go way back too, but as far as the grandest visual depictions of imagery and stuff that you can relate with—actual illustrations, not just decorative stuff—Japan and the Japanese history has it beat completely.