Jason McAfee Tattoo Artist Magazine Issue #29 Article Preview (Pre-Order Now Available)
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Interview by Scott Sylvia
Scott Sylvia: And then from New York you came to Oakland? How did you get the fuck to Oakland?
Jason McAfee: Well, when I was at Flyrite the phone rings. This was the most magical moment of my life. Chops answers. And he’s talking to someone. And he holds the phone like this, like totally tight and quiet and he says, “Dude, it’s Freddy Corbin for you.” I had met Freddy and we had talked a little about things because we just bonded and liked each other. Freddy called me out there and I think maybe Alison had sprinkled some things in his ears about… “Jason wants to get out of L.A.” I didn’t know where I was going. I just was in L.A. and I went to New York, “Do I go back to L.A. I don’t know?”
So Freddy called, Chops gives me the phone and I get on with Freddy. And he says, “Hey dude, it’s Freddy. And I just said, “Hey!” Like Jesus was calling me. I was flipping out. So he says, “Hey dude, I’m going to go do this Japanese convention… (The Japan convention, the first one.) Do you want to come here and cover because Alison said you’re kind of just floating around? So I thought maybe you’d want to come here and work for a couple weeks.”
And I thought, holy shit! And this was when Freddy was going to open 13. So he said “Why don’t you just come out here, or when you’re back in L.A. from New York give me a call and we’ll talk more about all of it.” So I remember leaving New York, going back home, and sitting on my couch one night calling Freddy Corbin, which for me was just insane. Because to go back to this really quick -the tattoo type things, just seeing his shit, I was like, “What the fuck is happening?” It’s kind of girly but I was obsessed with him -I though he was killer. Cool artsy tattoos, gold teeth, he had it all!
So I’m talking to him on the phone and he’s telling me I can come up for the two weeks but he might be opening this new shop and maybe it would work out if I wanted to start working there, and this and that. I was just like, fuck yeah. Anything. Yeah! So we talked for a while and I remember coming up here. It was like September 1999. So I came up in 1999 and I came to work here and Freddy was here for like a day. We hung out and he was painting that poster of the La Vida Loca girl and then he took off to Japan and it was me and Nate Sponsler (mainly me) for two weeks in Oakland. I had never been to Oakland; I didn’t know anyone up here but kind of… Freddy, Alison and Jef Whitehead -they were the three people I knew. Jef didn’t want to do anything, Alison was very sweet and cool, and let me stay with her when I first moved here and helped me out. I hung out with her a lot while Freddy was gone. So I just did that two weeks here and from there it turned into 12 years.
So you obviously feel like you found your home here.
So now that you’re home here do you think your tattooing has found its root here?
Now I know what your style is, but what sort of influences here have crafted that for you? Your influences and your inspiration? If you sit down and draw a tattoo and no one is telling you what to draw, how do you get there? What makes you like those things?
Being around you guys. I think a lot of it came from just being here after only tattooing two years. When I first came to work here I hadn’t been tattooing long at all. And Freddy just took the chance on hiring me because he liked me, which is amazing. Just being here and definitely when [Chris] Conn came -still to this day I don’t think anyone thinks they can do what he does, that’s his thing. Everyone’s trying but they can’t. And definitely when you came… It was like you being here, Conn, me, Freddy, Nate -it definitely gave me inspiration for things that I would see and like. And just also being in San Francisco -going to those shops and becoming friends with Jeff Rassier or all the other people around and seeing this amazing world of tattooing going on up here, and still so young and fresh to it, but actually getting to know you guys and being around it and watching you draw or Freddy draw or whoever -just seeing it was definitely my whole main influence on things, there’s no doubt about it. But that’s where it came from.
Do you find it hard to keep up the pace? Or is it pretty easy for you? I know you’re a family man now.
Yes, I’m a family man. I think it definitely was. There were times when it was tough being here somewhat. I would look at the calendar and see Scott Sylvia, Chris Conn, Freddy Corbin, in my book, and I’d think what the fuck? This shouldn’t be happening. It was crazy. And I think there definitely was a feeling like draw, draw, keep up! I had to become something as well, and make it happen. It was definitely tough. Because to be honest, a lot of the time I didn’t feel like I was even ready to keep up with that kind of level that you guys were all at. You guys had all been tattooing 15 years. Back then you were where I am now. You guys had already been doing it for a while and I’d be like, “Fuck, Scott’s fucking shading, and his colors and his lines…and Conn and Freddy and… Oh my god how the fuck can I do this?” So yeah, it was kind of trying at times. I was just trying to do a nice tattoo on people and make it happen.
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(Jason can be found at Temple Tattoo in Oakland, CA.)