Sean Herman: Jason Reeder Interview
By Sean Herman
So I wanted to do something different with this TAM Blog. The past three tattooers I have featured on here had been tattooing for over 10 years. I think at that point, you are starting to hit your stride a bit. I wanted to feature a different tattooist, one who hadn’t been tattooing for a long time, to get a different perspective on why he was tattooing. With tattooing becoming so everyday, being saturated on television, in magazines, it’s created a different time in tattooing, and I wanted to see if people got into tattooing for different reasons now, as opposed to 10, even 20 years ago.
I first met Jason Reeder years ago when I was tattooing in Georgia. He called about setting up an appointment for me to tattoo his neck, and he and I ended up talking for quite a while. He was into the hardcore/punk rock, skateboarding and horror films, so we became quick friends.
The one thing that I remembered from that, and I feel is true about him to this day is his passion and sincerity. The guy doesn’t ever say something he doesn’t mean, good or bad. You will never get a fake response with him, even if it’s things you don’t want to hear. With Jason, you are going to get what he is thinking at that time, and in the end, I think it’s one of the best qualities about him.
One thing that I have always loved about Jason is his love of tattooing. When I started tattooing Jason, he was inching up on being close to a finished body suit, and he was only 25. Jason is one of the few people who I think truly has a love of the craft, even before he was tattooing, so much so that he didn’t think he would even be able to do it. Similar to Krooked Ken, who was featured in my last blog, Jason had an entire career and life before tattooing, a few of them really, but tattooing became the love of his life. Jason actually was there with me while Ken was tattooing me, and had some great things to say, which you can read in my last blog. So, without further ado, here’s Jason Reeder and how he got into tattooing…
Sean Herman: What was your first exposure to tattooing?
Jason Reeder: I know I was really young, it’s hard for me to pinpoint the exact time and place. I would say it came from my grandfather and aunt back when they use to babysit for my Mom. She was a hair dresser and was working really long hours, like six days a week so I spent a lot of time with my Aunt and Grandfather back then.
I would honestly have to say the first time I noticed tattoos was from movies and television, maybe even comics. I use to spend hours reading comics and watching cartoons at my Aunts. I remember Stormshadow, Gung Ho and Shipwreck from G.I. Joe being my favorites, all of which are tattooed.
Then I’d spend the weekends with my Grandfather watching movies and I always wanted to be like the rebel, bad ass villains (a lot of which had tattoos) when we would recreate movies scenes while playing. That would have to be my “first” exposure to tattooing. It wasn’t until a little later in my childhood that I actually started really wanting them.
I know It wasn’t until I started skateboarding and getting into my own music when I really knew I wanted to be tattooed. I remember back when I was like 12-14 years old, I’d skate on Sundays at this plaza behind my house and there was this dude Steve Pribble that use to skate there every weekend. He was like 17-18 and I was that nerdy little kid hanging around, “Hey guys, can I ride with you,” ha-ha, and they always let me.
I remember Steve having this fucking jester tattoo on his arm and I thought that was the shit! I remember wanting to be that dude. He was tattooed, awesome at skating, and listened to crazy metal and hardcore. I mean, what’s not to like? It’s actually crazy to think about, but he and I are still really tight after like 20 years now or something.
A couple of months ago he came to me and had me cover that jester for him. Honestly, it broke my heart a bit. That thing was legendary to me. But it was amazing to do it for him. It’s crazy to look back at those times and always remember that damn tattoo and then think at how after 2 decades, being able to not only tattoo a person that was such an impact on my life but to cover such a memorable image from my childhood and kinda close that chapter of our lives together. That was truly an awesome feeling.
SH: What was the first tattoo you got and where did it go from there?
Well, to anyone that doesn’t know me, I’m a pretty impatient, OCD dude. I remember dropping out of high school when I was 16 and moving into an apartment with another buddy that I use to skate with back in the Sunnyway plaza days.
I got a job at a pizza joint by the house and I met this dude at work who ‘tattooed on the side’, haha. So me being so impatient to get tattooed, I met dude at his house on our day off and got him to put a real skateboard logo on me. It was the silhouette of Huff ollieing that fire hydrant. So yeah, my first few tattoos were done in a dude’s kitchen. Pretty gross!
So, at this point I’m covered in crap at 18 years old. It wasn’t until then that I got a job at Pitcrew Skate Shop. My boss Tim introduced me to Eric Brooks and Gordon Staubb. These dudes were the guys to get tattooed by in our area at the time. I’m pretty sure I was introduced to them just because my boss was tired of looking at my doo-doo ass tattoos. But, it wasn’t long until I was getting sleeves from those guys. After I got my sleeves finished, I was over! That shit hurt. I didn’t get tattooed for a good 2-3 years I think.
It wasn’t until another close friend of mine, Thomas Kenney started tattooing and getting a pretty buzz around town about his tattoos that I decided to give getting tattooed another go. I was getting tattooed by Tom non stop every weekend for years. Resulting in my chest piece, ribs, feet, shoulders, a back piece, stomach, ass, hips, and a leg sleeve. I was getting tatted up!
Needless to say I was hooked spending a lot of time in the shop. Getting tattooed was consuming me, I was obsessed. I remember buying every tattoo magazine I could and just memorizing every tattoo in them. I remember seeing work from Filip Leu, Paul Booth, Guy Aitchison, Deano Cook, and Adrian Lee and just being like FUCK!?! I had no idea tattoos could look like that. I remember seeing one of Deano’s sleeve in particular that had all this crazy coral and stuff. I couldn’t believe that somebody could put that much information into something and it still look so crisp, clean, bright, and bold.
At this point, more time passes and I’m just fiendin’ for everything tattoo [related]. I started going to conventions, meeting new artists, feeling out who I wanted to get my next pieces from. Atlanta at the time was a hot spot for killer work and I landed on this super young and hungry little ball of sunshine Sean Herman.
Man, I remember the first time I walked into the shop and meeting you. I was so impressed with how you carried yourself, and I thought to myself, “This dude is way shorter than I thought,” but I instantly knew hat you were going to be a part of my life for a very long time. I was driving from PA to ATL like every three weeks or something crazy like that to get tattooed? I know I got a lot tattooed and we spent a lot of time together in a short period of time.
I had the desire to learn how to tattoo pretty early on. But I kind of felt out-of-place to ever say anything. I didn’t know how to go about it, I didn’t want to ask how to go about it either. The shop back home I spent a lot of time in, Classic, was pretty hard-nosed and when I heard people express interest in learning how to tattoo they got pretty cold. So, I guess I was afraid to lose my friends. I just waited it out. I figured if I got tattooed enough and spent enough time in a shop, someone might say fuck it and put me to work.
SH: When did you decide to start tattooing, and what was going on with your life at the time?
Well, like I said I wanted to tattoo early on. But I guess it was when Zeke Owens started working at Classic. At this point I’ve known Eric the owner for a long time and he’s a pretty intense dude. Basically, he just has this presence. But when Zeke started it was crazy to watch the balance of the shop shift. I mean don’t get me wrong, that’s Eric’s shop, his baby, but with Zeke there it was like, okay this guy gets respect because he’s fucking Zeke. It didn’t matter who was who or anything like that but there was definitely this unspoken thing and I liked that. I mean I’m not gonna lie and say at that point in my life I knew who Zeke was, or what he did for tattooing. But, I was impressed with everybody being treated as equals, and how they fed off each other artistically. But, there was still this kind of pecking order of respect. It reminded me of a family. Of course everyone is going to listen to their Grandfather over their little cousin but at the end of the day you are still family. And I really wanted that.
At the time I just got divorced, in and out of relationships, Not really talking to my birth family. I was spending more and more time with my “tattoo family”. I was also driving a tractor-trailer at the time and really hated it. I was lucky enough to meet my current wife Tasha. She had a lot of connections to tattooers from outside the area. And really started pushing that if I wanted to do this bad enough, together we could make it happen. And of course I was terrified, I didn’t want to ask my friends and risk loosing them. So that meant we would have to uproot and relocate.
Here I am 27 years old, in debt, still living in the town I was born in with a pretty stable job, and afraid to do anything. Tash got me an opportunity to learn how to build tattoo machines with the possibility of an apprenticeship at a shop in Indiana.
I really liked the dudes work and I thought it would be a great opportunity, but I was scared. It actually took me loosing my job and a house fire to say fuck it and go for it. I wasn’t necessarily scared of leaving my town, but I was more afraid of the responsibility I was about to take on. But yeah, we moved there regardless. Spent a few months there, and bottom line it wasn’t working out and I got asked to leave.
At this point I didn’t know what the hell to do. All I knew was I couldn’t go home with my tail between my legs. We set out to do this so it was getting done. We drove all day and night and eventually ended up in Florida where Tash was from. She introduced me to CJ Harper. CJ owned Brass Monkey Tattoo outside of Tampa which was a super busy street shop. After talking to him, he decided to take me in. I feel like it really helped me being there. I was so far out of my element and I was being exposed to new things. But there was still this weird sense of family.
It was a pretty flash heavy shop, I mean there was custom work going on but for the most part it was a “give’um what they want” kind of shop. CJ was real big on that, and I’m glad I was exposed to that right out the gate because it helped me realize that you need to listen to your clients and try to express your sense of style and personality in your work within the clients needs and limitations. So yeah, thanks CJ for being so damn hard on me.
SH: What was the first tattoo you did and what was it like?
Alright, so I get into work and CJ was waiting for me outside. Of course I’ve been there for a bit. It was like October 2008, but yeah CJ was waiting outside when I rolled up. And I was like shit, what did I do now? He asked me, “How ya doing?” I replied with “Am I fired.” He laughed and asked, “Should you be?” I said, “I hope not,” and we both laughed.
Anyway, I said what’s up and he looked at me and said “You’re doing your first tattoo today” and of course I panicked. I gave him a 100 reasons why I wasn’t ready. He told me not to worry, he was there to help me. He flagged down this kid driving a yellow moped down the street. The kid pulls up and CJ was like, “hey man you 18?” Kid says, “yes”, CJ asked, “do you want a free tattoo?” Kid says, “Yes, hell yeah!”
CJ told him to come in and had me do paperwork and had me talk to my client. He told the kid that he could pick anything off of this sheet of Malone flash. The kid was not feeling it’ and said he didn’t want anything off that sheet. So, CJ told him to flip through the rack and pick something out and we’ll talk about it. So, the kid finds this crazy dragon/monster face off of a Dave Fox sheet and asked me for that. At this point I’m going to puke. I show CJ what the kid wanted. And he asked what I thought. Well, me being dumb I replied, “I know I can trace it, I’m pretty sure I could draw it. I think I can do it!” He looked me in the eyes and said “Dude, you got this.”
Well, apparently I didn’t have this. Ha-ha! That tattoo was so bad! I even remember them stopping me at one point because I looked like I was going to puke. Apparently I was all white and shit. Man, I had A&D everywhere. This poor kid was getting his calf tattooed and his whole leg was covered in that shit. Man, that tattoo was the size of a tennis ball and I think I had 5 machines set up. I think I had a 14R, 23M, 7R, 5R, and a 9M… Stupid!!! That tattoo was so bad But that kid was stoked. So despite how bad I thought it was it was rewarding to see how happy this kid was.
I think I ended up doing my first 3 or 4 tattoos on he and his wife. Afterwards CJ asked me how it felt and I told him I felt like I fucked that guy up. He said, “good!” He let me fail that first time so I’d always remember that feeling. He said from now on you only tattoo what you know you can do. No more of “I think so”. You better know so! Because this isn’t a painting or a piece of paper. This is forever and every tattoo you put on somebody is a reflection of you. And you need to make sure that each ones your personal best. And wouldn’t you know it, I passed that kid on his yellow moped every day on my way to work! And every time a new client approaches me with an idea I’m unsure of, I still hear that old man saying “You got this”.
SH: What was the hardest thing about tattooing for you?
I’m built like a sponge, I retain everything. I feel like I got too much information too fast. I was getting info from all different styles of imagery and application. It was really a mental overload. I mean I feel like I play it pretty safe, I try not to bite off more than I can chew. I still haven’t tattooed a neck or face. I just tattooed my first hand less than a year ago. I try to be mindful of those kind of things. But I do catch myself trying to put too much info into stuff.
Maybe more so when I first started, but every once in a while I step back from a drawing I’m working on and I look at it and I’m like “goddamn what are you doing to yourself.” So then I got to start over and try to come up with something that will wear well and age better as a tattoo. Other than that I just try my best to listen to my client, give them what they want. But still be able to capture me in the image. Some days are harder than others. But I would like to believe that I make my clients happy.
SH: And that’s where we end it, I think it’s a good spot, about keeping your clients happy. I am excited to see where Jason Reeder goes from here. His honesty, passion, and overall love for tattooing is a pretty awesome thing. His OCD and dedication will also help to keep him on the right track, one that will be great to watch.
I’m also excited about the next coming up blogs I am currently working on. I’ve got some great tattooers lined up, along with some awesome collectors, all to show a love of why we are involved in the tattoo community, and how we got lucky enough to be there. Stay tuned…
(Jason Reeder can be found at his website: http://www.jasonreedertattoos.com/.)
(Sean Herman is a tattooer and contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine.)
Sean can be found at:
Mobile, AL 36601
251 432 4772