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Dave Navarro Talks Openly About His Demons With Oliver Pec

Watch Our Talk With Dave Navarro and Oliver Peck

In between takes on season 11, we had the chance to sit down with judges Dave Navarro and Oliver Peck to discuss addiction, mental health, music and of course Ink Master.


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In 1986, Dave Navarro joined alternative rock band Jane’s Addiction, and the group quickly became one of the most successful acts of the early 1990s. Navarro went on to release four studio albums under Jane’s Addiction, following a stint as a guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers from 1993 until 1998. Aside from being regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, his impressive acting chops on the small screen hasn’t gone unnoticed; nailing roles in television hits such as Sons of Anarchy and Odd Mom Out. Unfortunately, his path to stardom didn’t come without tragedy. Just three years before joining Jane’s Addiction, Navarro’s mother was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. At 19 years old, he suppressed the trauma of losing his mother by thrusting himself into a world of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Soon, Jane wasn’t the only addiction in Navarro’s life, as he spent years battling with substance abuse and mental illness. Luckily, Navarro was able to turn his life around and has since become an advocate for addiction recovery with MusiCares.

Navarro may have some recurring roles on tv, but these days, his creative vitality shines as the current host of Paramount Network’s Ink Master. We caught up with Navarro and tattooer Oliver Peck between takes to learn what it took for the guitarist to go from darkness to light -- and how he’s leading others down the same path.

OLIVER PECK: Let’s start with the recurring question people ask me about Dave, and that is, ‘Why the fuck is Dave Navarro a judge on a tattoo show?’
I get that a lot too. The answer is, I have a history of getting lots of tattoos. Some are really good, some are really terrible. I know the difference. I’ve been a big part of the community and just a fan of the art for many, many years. However, I don’t think the show stresses the point enough that I’m supposed to be the guy that goes into the shop and gets a tattoo. I'm the customer. I'm the client. So, there needs to be a judging voice from someone who's not coming at it from an artistic standpoint, not from a technical application standpoint, but just an overall, ‘If I was a canvas and walked into the shop, would I be stoked with that tattoo?’

Another thing I tell people is that Dave has been getting tattooed longer than some of the people that are on this show have been alive. You've got tattoos from some groundbreaking artists.

Yeah. My first tattoo was at Spotlight with Bob Roberts when I was like, 17 years old. I have work by Mark Mahoney, Hanky Panky, a lot of the second generation ‘old timers.’ Ironically, out of the three of us, I'm probably the one that knows best what it's like most to be judged by people, not of my profession, you know what I mean? So, every review I've ever had was written by a non-musician. Every critic we've ever had has been a non-musician. Every fan that talks shit online is usually a non-musician. So, in certain sense, I identify with the artists because they're putting it out there -- putting their work and what they love out on the line for everyone to see and to judge and to critique. I can relate to what it feels like to be in their shoes, and I can also relate to being a canvas and being a customer and a client. So, I kind of come at it from both ends.

‘Hey, you’re that Ink Master guy,’ and they have no idea that I play music. It’s just the weirdest thing that there’s a whole new generation of people who only know me from the show. This thing is really, really become something I don't think any of us expected.

I love doing the show. It's nothing but inspirational for me. Whether it's somebody who goes home first, whether it's somebody [who] wins, whether it's anybody in between -- just watching people with a passion who believe in their work and want to step into the arena like that. I think victory goes to them no matter what because there's a lot of people who sit back on the couch and say, ‘I could do that,’ but they're not doing it.

That’s another thing people don’t realize, just how long the judging process is.

You’re right. People are not aware that the critiquing process is about five or six hours long. They just see little snippets and hear sound bites like, ‘This is great, this sucks, this is fucked,’ but we're there all day, and those artists have to stand there for the entire time.

Yeah, sometimes there has been a few times where after the votes were made, we're like, ‘Man, it could've gone a different way. It really could've gone either way.’ Sometimes it's so close. It's one little thing for sure, and then you look back at it the next week and say, ‘If I concentrated on a different element, this could have gone a different way.

That brings me to another burning issue and that’s the haters.

I remember when American Idol first came on the scene and people that never played a live concert before were instantly famous. So, a lot of old-school musicians fought against that premise and said, ‘Hey, this is bullshit. I fucking paid my dues, driving in a van from city-to-city for shit gig money.’ But now, American Idol and these other shows, that's the norm. That's the way it is, people. And so, the same thing happened when Ink Master started. People were like, ‘Well, I've been tattooing for 20 years, and I had to travel the country and travel the world and the build my name up, and now there's some kid that’s only been tattooing for a few years and now he’s on Ink Master and showing off to the world.’

Let’s get into your music side. You’ve been a part of so many great bands, most notably Jane’s Addiction, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and you are heavily involved in the music industry and the music community, but now focusing a lot of your energy toward raising awareness and to help with the struggles other musicians are dealing with.

You’re referring to the MusiCares Foundation. Well, there's a number of things about MusiCares. It’s been around for a long time and was founded years ago, and is now part of the Grammy Association. MusiCares has always been there for musicians and struggling addicts in the music industry, whether it's the lead singer, or the monitor guy, or the lighting guy, a guitar tech, or whomever. Anybody who's struggling with drug addiction, substance abuse, which you know I certainly have. I'm an ex-junkie. I mean, one of the worst most of my friends said they had ever seen. When I got clean years ago, I wrote a book with Neil Strauss [Don’t Try This at Home: A Year in the Life of Dave Navarro, HarperCollins] all about my ups and downs with drug addiction.

Before the book came out, I began to feel it wasn’t right to [be] making money off the stories revolving around the darkest times in my life -- and other people’s misery. So, the one solution I had was all the proceeds from that book went to a greater good, and that was MusiCares. This was around 2001, and that's when I got involved with them, and since then, I've had the opportunity to reach out to musicians who are struggling, or addicts that are, you know, close to death or need treatment and can't pay for it. MusiCares steps in and provides that care, puts people right into treatment, [and] gets them on the road to recovery. But, they've also really branched out into the world of mental health awareness, which is really something that I'm passionate about because, you know, I’m also a survivor of violent crime.

What we want to do is pull the covers off the whole stigma around mental health and say it's ok because lots of people suffer from this, and there is help available and you're not alone. They have worked with a lot of friends of mine -- some that have done really well, and some who ultimately haven't done well. But, over the past year, I lost a couple of really dear friends that were successful and had everything and they ultimately decided to leave. They chose the path out and left everybody with a huge hole in our hearts and their fan base. We’ve lost a lot of tattooers to drug addiction too. We even saw it with one of our own winners -- Scott Marshall died of a drug overdose. I mean, he was one of the most talented dudes we've ever had.

I think whether people are famous or not, whether people are successful or not, the one thing a lot of people who take their own life have in common is that most people think that those people were doing great. Now, people are okay with discussing their drug problem, but when somebody has a mental health issue, people are less reluctant to tell admit it. They'll say they’re just depressed, don't feel well, and that leads them down a road of secrecy, and then by the time they're gone, people were like, surprised.

I think there's a tremendous amount of shame attached to asking for help. Whereas, my messages are telling people that it's a great strength to share your vulnerability. You know, it's a great strength to reach out and say, ‘Hey, I'm suffering. I don't know what to do.’ I'll tell you man -- and you know this better than anybody -- that I personally have gone through that, and I was very, very close. I know what that emptiness and loneliness and hopelessness feels like. If I didn't have the people around me, and I didn't reach out, and I didn't make what I was going through known, I may not be here. I think that the real strength is knowing that reaching out for help -- whether it's therapy, whether it's a best friend, whether it's a wife, whether it's a program of some kind, whether it's treatment, whether it's psychiatry -- who gives a fuck as long as you're breathing.

My point is, is that over the last 30 years, it's become normal for people to seek help for drug addiction. So, for people that want to get off drugs, they'll go to their friends, they'll say, ‘Hey, I need...I'm on..I'm on heroin or Oxycodone, and I need help. It’s become a normal thing to ask for help. Yeah. What we need to tell people is that no matter what your problem is, whether it's alcohol, drugs, depression, or just drinking, just straight up feeling fucking insane. Yep. It's okay to ask for help.