For those of you that don’t know Jet, he owns and tattoos out of Love Hate Tattoo here in Rochester, NY. He also is the gentleman that has put together the Roc City Tattoo Expo, which is on it’s fourth year. Jet has tattooed me four times, all of which have been great. Each time he tattooed me, it was really cool just shooting the shit with him about tattoos, music, and some other random shit. He’s a pretty legit dude, so getting tattooed by him for a total of twelve hours combined was always cool. Here’s the four that he’s done on me right after they were finished, along with some of his other work:
I sat down with Jet on March 10th, while he was tattooing a customer, and picked his brain for about 35 minutes. I’m going to be breaking the interview into two parts, because it’s pretty long. It took me over four hours to freaking transcribe (closer to five than four). Thanks a bunch to Jet for allowing me to annoy him for a little bit. If you’re in Rochester, stop by Love Hate and get a tattoo by Jet, or one of the other tattooers in the shop. Also, if you’re within driving distance, head over to the Roc City Tattoo Expo, which is being held from May 4, 5, 6. There’s going to be some really awesome tattooers that will be in attendance. Here’s part one of the interview:
Jet: Don’t ask me any hard questions…
OED: Nah, I won’t. So, at what age were you when you realized you wanted to be a tattooer?
OED: So how did you first get into tattooing?
Jet: Well, I got tattooed. I was into getting tattooed before I was into doing tattoos. Doing tattoos was kinda scary to me because of the permanence of it, and I really didn’t have any other art background outside of like high school. So…Doing tattoos was presented to me by the woman who I was going to get tattooed from, who would be Angelina. And, you know, I just felt like there was this humungous responsibility that was attached to that that I didn’t know if I was ready to take on because I was young. You know?
OED: So were you super nervous about getting into it?
Jet: Horribly. I was terrified. Because, you know, it was new ground. This was back in 1992, and tattoos weren’t on every street corner like they are (now). It was real mysterious. There was a lot of mystery behind it, on a lot of levels.
OED: You said you were 21 when you first realized that you wanted to get into tattooing. Was that when you wound up first getting into tattooing?
OED: And the woman that tattooed you, was that who was your mentor?
Jet: Yeah, Angelina.
OED: What was the process like for you-learning how to tattoo?
Jet: Well, it was…I knew nothing. I came into it kind of blindly. You gotta remember, there was no internet. The only place you could really get any kind of information at all was going to a tattoo convention, or you were kinda at the mercy of who was at the tattoo shop, who was talking about what. So, you literally didn’t want to miss a day. You, like, begged to be there. I would go work construction, and then after work (I’d) hustle my ass at a tattoo shop and clean, and listen, and sit next to her and just try to be a sponge-soak up every bit of information that I possibly could. You know? Because, part of my apprenticeship was pretty much just sitting, watching her, and kind of knowing the right questions to ask. She was always busy. She wasn’t like, “Oh, okay, I’m doing this,” and, “I’m doing this because,” it wasn’t like that. It was more like, “you watch, you figure it out.” So, you didn’t wanna miss nothing.
OED: Now, do you remember your first tattooing experience and what that was like for you?
Jet: Getting a tattoo?
OED: Your first time tattooing someone.
Jet: Oh, I tattooed my best friend.
OED: Do you remember what it was of?
Jet: I think I lost five pounds sweating. Oh, yeah. I tattooed my best friend, Tommy. I tattooed a Native American sun on his calf, just in black. It was literally, like, I took an income tax check, I bought my tattoo gear, or Angelina bought my tattoo gear, and she was like, “Well, all right. You’ve been sitting next to me, watching me do everything for the last three months. Go home and tattoo all of you friends, and bring em’ in and let me check out what you’re doing.” So, it was literally like, “Okay, feed you to the dogs. Go!” There was no…I mean now, people that I’ve helped along in this business, I’ve coddled them. You know? It was different.
OED: So it was much more different from when you were first getting into tattooing from now?
Jet: Yeah, because, oh man, I just know what I lacked. I just know what I lacked, and now I know what questions I should’ve asked. You know? I was too caught up in the sensationalism of it to think about what to ask. You know? So, I pretty much just went home…
Customer: It probably was a good thing.
Jet: Yeah, I guess.
Customer: If you knew what you were getting into, you might not have done it.
Jet: It was…it’s true. It’s very true. A lot of people don’t understand what this job entails. You know? You don’t have a social life. You don’t fucking…You work, you go home, you draw for the next day. And that might sound very romantic to a lot of people, but you sacrifice a lot to be able to do this at a competitive level.
OED: and when you were first starting out, did tattooing completely engulf your life?
Jet: Well, a little bit, yes. And, the funny thing that I noticed was that it just kept getting harder. Nothing ever seemed to get easy. It just got harder, and harder, and harder. The longer I started doing it the more I started realizing, “Oh my god! This is fucking consuming everything. I can’t have a regular job. I have to do this 24 hours a day if I want to get good, Or, if I want to excel at anything.” You know? So yeah. At first, no, but then when I started getting more involved with the actual craft, understanding how (tattoo machines) run, and getting into the actual art of stuff, and figuring out why things look the way they do, why things hold up the way they do, then it was consuming.
OED: At what point did you wind up stop doing the construction and then focus solely on tattooing?
Jet: I wanna say probably a year into it. About a year into it. I quit construction because I needed to be there more. I needed to be at the shop 24 hours a day. I needed to be there. I needed to breathe it, live it, experience it. I needed to make that commitment.
OED: When you were learning how to tattoo, was there anything that you wished, “Crap, I would’ve done this differently, or I would’ve done that,” when you look back?
Jet: I think everything happens for a reason, man. I’m really happy about my path. I really wouldn’t change anything. No, because I think it put me where I am today. I needed to go through all that in order to appreciate where I am today. That was how I learned. Nothing came easy for me at all. Nothing was handed to me, nothing came easy. I feel like every choice that I made I made and stuck by it. You know? I knew of the consequences every stepped of the way.
OED: Early on, were there any tattooers that inspired you, or helped you hone in your style?
Jet: Oh yeah. Definitely. I have a list. Well, Angelina. She was the best. She was the best locally. She was the tattooer who put art into (tattooing), for me anyways. I just looked at her work and was in awe. You know what I mean? I just thought, “Wow, I gotta learn how to draw like that.” The first tattoo convention I went to in Schenectady in 1993 really opened a lot of doors for me. Because, for the first time, I got to see tattooing outside of Rochester, and I got tattooed from Little Vinny from Baltimore. That was a huge changing experience in a lot of things, in how I hold my machine, how I was stretching the skin, in how aggressively he tattooed. I was shocked, because I was always pussy-footing around people, and that motherfucking came at me like, “All right, It’s on.” I mean, He tattooed me like he hated me. It was an eye opening experience, because I was so used to Rochester, and doing Rochester. I got to watch Paul Booth work; I got to watch Guy Aitchison work…all those people, and I got my hands on better equipment. It was just amazing. That whole convention changed my whole outlook on a lot of stuff. And then I met , and me and my wife got tattooed by, Eddy Deutsche. That changed everything as well, and changed my whole approach.
OED: What year was that convention, and what year was it that you and your wife got tattooed by Eddy Deutsche?
Jet: I wanna say…fuck, man 94′ or 95′. It was the Cherry creek…no, Cherry Hill convention in New Jersey. It was the Dennis Dwyer Tattoo Tour. It was great. It was incredible. J. D. Crowe and Dennis Dwyer, it was the tattoo tour. That was the convention that inspired me to wanna do conventions that used to be like that. It was just the best of the best. Like all of these guys-Dave Gibson was there, Bill Loika was there-people that fucking changed the whole look of everything. Like, you couldn’t walk five feet without running into a tattooer that you read about in a magazine. Again, there was no internet back then, so the only outlet for all of these fantastic artists was magazines. You had to wait for all these magazines to come out to see who was doing what.
OED: So, now you mentioned that the convention in NJ was one of the things that made you wanna start the Roc City Convention.
Jet: Well. that was my model. That was my model that I wanted to use, because that was a convention that was put on by tattooers and it was just tattooing. People went there to get badass tattoos. And it was like every tattooer that was worth their salt was there doing their thing. I wanted to have a show that was back to the basics like that. Just get rid of all the bullshit, strip it back, and just have tattooing. And I know that that’s a small crowd. The general public isn’t into that. They want the whole circus, but I feel like so many people got involved and it just became watered down, and everyone forgot what the conventions are all about, which is fucking tattooing.
OED: What has the process been like for you putting together the convention and putting it on for the passed couple of years?
Jet: It’s a lot of compiling information and keeping track of people. Just trying to make sure all of the tattooers are happy, the hotel’s happy. It’s a giant juggling act really. It’s something that I have to do every single day.
Customer: Do you have to have security at that?
Customer: How do you do that?
Jet: Hire a security company.
Customer: I thought you hired the Hell’s Angels or something. Sorry, buddy. Didn’t mean to interrupt your interview.
(I thought it was pretty funny this dude thought security at a convention would’ve been done by the Hell’s Angels. Just goes to show what most peoples’ perception of heavily tattooed folks is.)
OED: Haha no problem, man. When you were first putting on the convention, were there any tattooers that you specifically wanted to be there?
Jet: I had a list. Yeah, definitely, and I still have a list. Most of them have a name, and most have a life outside of tattooing. So, I’m asking them to take time out of their lives and their work schedules to come to Rochester and show the world here what they do. You know? That’s pretty much it. Our convention’s more focused on the world outside of Rochester than actual Rochester. You what I mean? That’s what we try to focus on. I was contemplating not having a booth for my shop there this year. Because, it’s not about me. It’s about all the outside talent that we’re bringing in.
OED: During the convention, what’s that like for you-juggling everything, and making sure everyone’s happy?
Jet: It’s hectic. It’s hectic. You know? I don’t have time to take a fucking piss. There’s always somebody that needs something, or a situation to iron out. It’s very hard for me to actually enjoy it, but that’s okay. I’m working it. That’s why I don’t tattoo at it, because I’m the host, and my job is to make sure everyone is comfortable. They all have tattoos to do, and I have to address every situation that comes up.
OED: Since the inception of the convention, has the experience or anything changed for you?
Jet: Yeah, I realized how much cry babies people are. It’s a lot of work, man. It’s not as much return as I thought it would be. I can tell you that. I don’t make any money off the tattooers. The only money I make is people coming through the door. And, if there’s not people coming through that door, than it’s a big party for me and my friends. That’s pretty much it, which was surprising to me. I was like, “I’m gonna make all this money, and I’m gonna do this.” If I wanted to fucking really make money, I’d do it a different way, but I don’t wanna take advantage of the tattooers who are taking their time coming and showing support for this event. I feel like everyone does that enough. I wanted to give back. That’s all.
OED: Do you have any ideas for future conventions? Do you wanna keep it the way it is? Do you wanna add anything?
Jet: Well, we change things a little bit every year. Not too dramatically. We’re doing it at a different time this year, which is in May.
OED: Yeah, I’m pretty excited about that since it’s my birthday.
Jet: Yeah. So, hopefully that will bring some more business through the doors. We’ve added a few more vendors than we’ve had. We’ve also changed hotels. We’re definitely changing things around a little bit…
OED: So it’s not downtown anymore?
Jet: Oh, it is. It’s still downtown. It’s at the Raddisson. It was at the Hyatt before. They didn’t have the dates available we wanted, so we went with the Raddisson.
I’ll be posting the remainder of the interview on Tuesday in place of Tattooer Tuesday, so keep a look out for that. Thanks for reading, and enjoy your night.