Recently ROCKwell UnScene Magazine & Tattoo.com had a chance to talk with the world renown ink maestro Southbay Mike about the insights and tattoo industry stories he’s accumulated over the past 30 years. We also talked about one of his most interesting tattooing gigs – being a featured artist on board the ShipRocked cruise January 16 – 20, 2017.
A CONVERSATION WITH SOUTHBAY MIKE: SHIPROCKED 2017
Mel: How long have you been tattooing?
Mike: Almost thirty years.
Mel: I saw that you started when you were only 16, how’d you get into it at that age?
Mike: I met a guy that did it, and I always liked tattoos since I was a kid. I got one from him and it came out really well, it wasn’t sloppy. I talked to him and asked him about his tattoos, and he told me. I pretty much figured it out myself. That’s pretty much it.
Mel: You’ve tattooed a lot of pretty awesome bands, like P.O.D. What was it like when you tattooed your first celebrity?
Mike: You know, I really don’t care. I’ve tattooed the guys from P.O.D., I’ve tattooed Aaron Lewis from Staind, but anyone who gets a tattoo from me is just as important as anyone else. Whether it’s an NFL player or whether it’s you, it really doesn’t matter to me. I’ve never had a starstruck attitude.
Mel: Tattooing on the boat (previously on the ‘Motorboat’ cruise and next on the ShipRocked cruise), what is it like to be in that environment?
Mike: It really depends on the people. When they see my work online, I also post my personal stuff. I build relationships with them. I think the work speaks for itself. I’m honored to be able to do it for people.
Rockwell: I’ve seen a lot of Iron Maiden tattoos… and yours (of the Killers album cover) is definitely the best.
Mike: Well thank you man. That was done on the Motorhead Cruise, ‘Motorboat’.
Mel: How did you get involved in getting on all of these cruises?
Mike: I knew somebody that’s a very big part of this cruise that’s known my work for sometime, and he’s a real personal friend of mine. And I think people see my work and they like it, but they also like my attitude.
Rockwell: I see online that you are taking appointments on the ship, is that correct?
Mike: I’m booked.
Rockwell: You’re totally booked already? That’s awesome. How many ShipRocked cruises have you been on?
Mike: This is my first one. My 20th (wedding) anniversary is on the 20th so my wife is coming with me this time.
Rockwell: It’s going to be ours too. This is going to me Melissa and I’s first cruise together.
Mel: I have a dumb question, does the ship ever get into rough waters when you’re in the middle of tattooing?
Mike: They thought there was going to be a hurricane one time, but I tattooed all the way back to the mainland. The ship is so big that it’s not going to be anything too bad.
Mel: There are a lot of great bands who are playing ShipRocked like Breaking Benjamin, Papa Roach, Crobot, Lacey Sturm, and many more. Do you tattoo a lot of bands while on a cruise.
Mike: If we set up the appointment in advance. I had a musician, who I won’t mention the name, ask me to tattoo them on Motorboat when I was in the middle of tattooing one of my clients. That was rude and I told them so. I love all my clients and give them all special treatment. Nobody is going to pull the celebrity card with me.
Mel: I like how you have more than one style. You seem to do everything, how does that work?
Mike: It’s funny that you mention that, because that’s what I tell everybody. I like to do everything. I have a passion for tattooing as a whole, not just for what I do. I think everything comes out okay. I’ve spent years and years on different styles. I told myself I wasn’t going to tackle it if I couldn’t do it. I just got back from Korea, I went there last year. I started practicing some new techniques from there, and I think it was a great learning experience. I invest a lot of time and a lot of money in what I do, and it comes from the heart. You can do this stuff and be half-assed happy with it. When somebody would ask me for a portrait, I wouldn’t say no but I knew it wasn’t my best style. I’m happy now that people can say, “Hey, if you want a portrait done go to Mike. If you want some Japanese work, go to Mike. It’s not going to look like he tried.” People don’t come to you because they want your product, they come to you because they like you and trust you. Who wants to be tattooed by somebody that treats you like trash?
Mel: I want to thank you for your time and I can’t wait to meet you in real life on the boat.