Stan Horaczek (writer),
Evan Klanfer (photographer)
How do you feel when you look back at your own stuff from back then?
It's really hard for me to draw on paper or paint because I'm never happy with the finished outcome. At least with a tattoo the customers are decent enough to leave so I don't have to torture myself looking at it, you know? But even if I wasn't totally happy with the outcome, at least I could tell I was trying. I never shortcut nothing or started worrying about the next job so I did this one really fast. I always try to pour my heart into it. I hate looking at it, but I try to get something positive out of it.
How did you get into designing for fashion?
I can't remember how Betsey Johnson got connected with me. I like to dress sharp. I must have met some people along the line, shopping for vintage clothes or whatever. But I was contacted by Betsey Johnson back in the '80s to do some design work for her, and it was probably one of the very first times fashion and tattooing came together. She made three styles and it sold really huge. I got paid nothing. Then she had a retrospective of her work last year, and when that stuff came down the runway people went crazy for it and she ended up redoing it. She called me up and was super-cool and she ended up paying me a little better this time. She probably didn't even have to do that.
Is it tough to adapt your style from tattooing to T-shirts?
I have a little thing of my own going now with Valhalla clothing. That's just a response to the brightly colored, garish tattoo T-shirts that we've been overexposed to. I just wanted to bring something for people who like black and gray tattoos. It's a little more understated aesthetic, you know? They got some of the greats of black and gray, like me and Freddy Negrete, to draw some stuff.
What goes through your head when you see some square walking around with a tattoo-themed jumpsuit on?
That's kind of symbolic of what's happened to tattooing in general. It has become this mass-produced, supersized, money-making monolith. I kind of liked it when it was small and underground. The person who came in to get tattooed probably had a rap sheet. At least they were willing to take some chances in life. They had some kind of outlaw mentality, which is really one of the things that drew me to it in the first place. It was underground and it was outlaw. And just the out-front-ness of that other stuff? I'd rather do my style of stuff—it's on the understated side.
That understated style has really attracted a list of celebrities, though. Can you name a few of the famous people you've worked on?
Mickey Rourke, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie—just about anybody with a tattoo that's in the public eye, at one point in time I probably tattooed them. Even Notorious B.I.G., Puffy.
Is the pressure worse when you're tattooing someone like Brad Pitt?
The pressure is always for me to do my best. That's unwavering. I want to make people feel comfortable. There are some tattooers who have the attitude that a customer is lucky to be around his artistic presence. But I look at it as your tattoo. You're coming to me. I'm a glorified plumber and I'm here to do the best I can for you, no matter who's in the chair. You're paying, so the customer is right. You gotta have fun at the Shamrock Social Club. That's why we call it that.
Your building has a history of good times. It was Bing Crosby's building.
Legend has it that he bought a building right there on the Strip and made himself a nice apartment in the penthouse, where he could overlook L.A. He liked to hang out with the black jazz guys, like Louis Armstrong, and he couldn't take them to the nightclubs during those times. So he'd take them up to the top floor and blow weed and look down at L.A. I try to continue on the atmosphere of the building.
Who was the first famous person ever to sit in your chair?
It was probably Johnny Thunders in New York. I tattooed Sid Vicious a few times before he got sidetracked. When I got out here, I tattooed Johnny Depp on one of his first nights in L.A., but at the time he wasn't famous. Mickey Rourke was instrumental. He started coming to the old Shamrock on Third Street. He was a fixture there. He brought a lot of people to me. That was really the beginning of the celebrity thing.
Do you still talk to Mickey now that he's back in the spotlight?
I hang out with him all the time. He's gotten three or four tattoos since the award season, as good luck charms. I'm so fucking proud and happy for him.