by Nick Fierro
“You’ve got to be crazy to do this.”
That’s how the interview started when we sat down with Aaron Thompson, aka Small Hands. Thompson is a musician, model, entrepreneur, whiskey distiller, multiple AVN award-winning adult film star and husband to alt-porn queen Joanna Angel, so if he says you’ve got to be crazy to do this, he fucking means it.
This SoCal native grew up as the son of a preacher in a predictably strict household, but just beyond the walls of his childhood home lay an “entire world of possibilities,” which is code for “fun.” Which is code for “sex, booze and rock ’n’ roll.” All of this obviously leads to marrying a porn star.
“I grew up in church,” Thompson begins, reflecting on his humble beginnings. “So a lot of my early exposure to the scene was seeing bands willing to play in church basements, like MxPx. Bands like As I Lay Dying and P.O.D., those guys were all from San Diego. Also bands like the Locust and Rocket from the Crypt. Shit, I’d go out and see Blink-182 playing on a random Wednesday night.”
The thing that was meant to keep Thompson in line, the church, became the very thing that set him loose, opening his eyes to the limitless world the San Diego punk scene had to offer. To a kid that kept getting told “no,” the freedom of expression and chaos of the SoCal scene must’ve seemed an eternity away, until it landed in his backyard.
“My upbringing was so strict, so conservative,” he recalls. “I wasn’t really allowed to watch cable and we didn’t have MTV. I couldn’t see R-rated movies. The only thing I could do was see whatever bands would come play these church shows. It shaped me a lot. I’d see these guys and think, ‘Wow, maybe I can get up on stage and do this just like anyone else. I can do it in my style and people might respond to it.’”
His early inspirations in both style and music are easy to spot for any punk kid who came up in the ’90s: Rancid, Social Distortion, Brian Setzer. Basically, if you were tattooed knuckles-to-throat, played a beat-up hollow-body guitar and looked like you could take a punch, you were cool. Thompson dove into the scene with all of the passion and dedication he could muster, and as we all know, there is no greater display of passion and dedication than getting a massive tattoo and hiding it from your parents for months on end.
“Obviously things like tattoos and piercings were definitely not allowed,” he explains. “My dad just flat-out said, ‘If you ever come home with one, your ass is kicked out.’ So when I was 18 I got my whole chest tattooed. I got it done by Heather Sin, who was over at Avalon Tattoo at the time. Then I just hid it from my parents for, I don’t know, six or seven months. Once I was 18, graduated from high school and moved out of the house, I saw my dad mowing the lawn or something. I was like, ‘Oh, by the way, check this out.’ I flashed him my chest and that was it.”
“That was it” is a bit of an understatement, but Thompson is a bit of an understated guy. At least by porn star/musician standards. He spent the next decade touring with bands, playing around the world, partying and getting tattooed. “I’ve done everything from playing in the littlest tiny punk bands to touring in Switzerland, Germany and France. I’ve done the whole spectrum, you know, driving 15 hours to play for 15 people in some Podunk town to playing arenas,” he says with humility in his voice.
Thompson hit the road hard, year-after-year, but unlike other punk rockers and road dogs who crossed that terrifying threshold into their 30s, he seemed to keep himself together. “I’ve always loved to drink and I liked to get rowdy, but I always loved girls too,” he explains. “So I always wanted to be in good shape or, you know, somewhat put together, because I always wanted to talk to the girls at shows and get the girls. So even in my partying stage, I tried to take care of myself, at least a little.” Self-awareness and self-preservation eventually caught the eye of his wife, costar and business partner, Joanna Angel. His leap into the porn industry was sudden, uncalculated, terrifying and, ultimately, very successful. Aaron Thompson, or as he is known onscreen, Small Hands, became among the first, but without a doubt the most successful, crossover artists to enter the world of porn, a transition he sees as nothing but natural.
“If you think about it, most people are already infatuated with rock stars or pop stars to a degree,” he says. “They’re on stage and they’re projecting this charisma and they’re oozing sex... I’m sure people wonder if they could actually deliver it in bed. I have thousands of videos that you can watch. There’s no mystery to me.”
Once again, Thompson derives his motivation from his environment. Whereas before, he was staying in shape to look good on stage, his motivation is now the enormous physical feat required while under the spotlight in the adult film industry.
“You have to be so physically healthy to do porn,” he explains. “I’ve played shows while two bottles of whiskey deep, but this is just a different game. Doing porn is like being an MMA fighter. You train constantly—watching your diet, your sleep, what you’re putting in your body. As soon as the light goes on and that bell rings, you’d better be ready to go.
“Everybody’s staring at you and your partner in the ring,” he continues. “If you do well, like a fighter who wins the match, you’re standing on the ropes cheering. But if for some reason it doesn’t go well that day, you’ve got to go home with your tail between your legs.”
It’s difficult to imagine a porn actor crediting porn for keeping him humble, but it’s Aaron’s humility that keeps people interested. He’s not afraid to fail, he never stops moving, and he doesn’t take himself too seriously (c’mon, he named himself Small Hands). Thompson’s life has always been about balance in one way or another, about calculated risks. He dove head first into the adult film industry, much as he did with music, two fields that he treats with the utmost respect because he understands them inside and out. He’s shot thousands of scenes, toured all over the world, and he uses those experiences to propel himself forward, whether that means releasing a Custom Dick mold of his junk, or releasing two solo records during a pandemic. His life has always been about balance, as long as you keep reminding yourself, “You’ve got to be crazy to do this.”
Under the moniker Empty Streets, Thompson released his first solo album last summer, with another due sometime in early spring. “That first album, ‘Demons,’ it’s kind of a solo record,” he tells us. “I recorded it at my home studio and released it myself, DIY-style. From that I caught the attention of some of my more famous musician friends, and now I’m already working on a follow-up with some pretty cool collaborations. By the time the world goes back to playing live shows and touring I’m going to have tons of material, and I’ll be ready to hit the road again like I used to in my 20s.”
With all that’s on his plate, Thompson needs help keeping sane. Enter Joanna, who brings a bit of normality to his life, even if it’s not what most couples would consider normality.
“If anything it’s just keeping a balance of ‘normal’ versus the wildness that is our careers,” he explains. “For every gangbang or orgy, we try to do something like walk the dog or make dinner together and watch Netflix. We try to balance our crazy lives with our alone time. That’s us. I think that gives us a balanced marriage. It also allows us to have all the fun we want, but still have a solid home base. I mean, you’ve got to be crazy to do this.”