[PHOTO: Timmy Farmer]
Who is London Reese?
You may have read about him in our “Big Fail, Bigger Break” column in the AP 327. You might have seen him on Oxygen's show Best Ink, or perhaps you've picked up one of the many tattoo magazines that have showcased his portfolio over the last few years. What you might not know is that if you've been to a Memphis May Fire, Sleeping With Sirens or Motionless In White show recently, you've probably seen his work in person.
London Reese is a tattoo artist, but he's no run-of-the-mill ink slinger. His skilled talents across various media and vast range of tattoo styles earned him the winning spot on season one of Best Ink and a position as a resident artist at Franco Vescovi's renowned tattoo studio, Vatican Studios, in Lake Forest, California. Known mostly for his work in black-and-grey style as well as color-illustrative (think realistic Renaissance paintings meet cartoon animation), Reese has steadily become one of the most prominent and sought after tattoo artists in the industry.
It's a Wednesday afternoon and Reese has just finished a session on an in-progress sleeve combining images from the stop-motion pictures The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline with a few details inspired by Disney's Haunted Mansion attraction. While pieces of whimsical animation are some of Reese's favorite subject matters to tattoo, the conversation soon turns from Reese's love of art to his love of music.
“Most people come to me with vague ideas and just want me to create custom artwork for them, not so much band related stuff,” explains Reese who has tattooed everything from a greyscale Tibetan elephant back piece to an entire rib cage filled with characters from Disney's Hercules, “but I will say I listen to music religiously and my artwork is heavily influenced and inspired by the music I listen to.” If you pop into his studio today, you might find Reese designing his next masterpiece while listening to the likes of the Ongoing Concept, the latest From First To Last record or even the local Ohio post-hardcore outfit the New Age.
Reese got into heavier music around the same time he began designing custom tattoos. “Thrice is my all-time favorite band,” he says. “I think I first discovered them with [their album] Identity Crisis. They were like a fan favorite at my high school[…]I just feel like they've progressed into one of the best bands of my generation, and they just never cease to amaze me with how they can change and have progressed as artists. Not just like 'Oh, they're a hardcore band,' no, they're artists and their medium is music.”
His love of music and its influence on his work has even led to Reese's own band tattoos, including a cherub designed by Allan Forbes for the band AFI, an Alkaline Trio heart-skull logo, and of course, a piece for Thrice. “I have a tattoo inspired by lyrics from Thrice,” he explains. “It's like a light bulb with a little fetal skull in it, and it's based off the line 'We are children of a light' from an old Thrice song ['Music Box'] that I love.”
Nowadays, Reese has gone above and beyond just being an alt-rock and metal fan, as he has contributed to the work of some of his favorite artists. Back in early 2014, Reese agreed to tattoo the Miss May I lion logo on a lucky fan's back as a prize for an online competition. Not only did the band use the completed tattoo as the album artwork for their fourth studio record, Rise Of The Lion, but the footage from the session would eventually become part of the music video for the record's first single, “Gone.”
As his exposure grew, so did Reese's clientele. He soon found himself tattooing athletes, models, and a multitude of musicians. He was even invited behind the scenes of the Vans Warped Tour to do some ink work on the guys in Sleeping With Sirens. Eventually, Reese determined that his exclusive experiences with some of the biggest names in the alternative music scene could be put to both good and creative use.
Earlier this year, Reese launched Backstage Ink, a completely DIY project he designed and produced in order to showcase the behind the scenes footage of his famous clients getting tattooed. It's kind of like a YouTube version of LA Ink but with cooler clientele and no unnecessary drama added to it. “[Backstage Ink] probably came from the fact that I was on a reality TV competition show,” explains Reese. “Reality TV is a little silly once it goes into editing and gets on the air, and so after a couple years of the show being done, I came up with an idea that I thought might be cool for a possible show, and that was to tattoo some of my friends and clients that just so happen to be rock stars, talented athletes and musicians, people that have cool stories to tell. I thought how cool would it be to tattoo these dudes and film the conversations that I have with them normally when they're in my chair and allow potential fans to see what these guys are all about and why they get the tattoos they get.”
So far, fans have gotten a glimpse into the tattoo sessions of Memphis May Fire's Matty Mullins, Sleeping With Sirens' Gabe Barham, and Nick Petricca of Walk The Moon. Mullins' session with Reese was his first time in the tattooist's chair, but also one of the first filmed episodes of Backstage Ink. It gives fans insight on Memphis May Fire's deluxe reissue of Unconditional as Mullins undergoes a tattoo in a pretty painful, yet highly visible area—his neck. “I can't speak more highly of anyone,” says Reese reflecting on the session. “[Mullins] is just a gentleman and humble, kind-hearted dude. He really cares about what he does as much as I feel I care about what I do […] I feel like it's rare to find people like him, especially in the industry he's in. He was awesome, and he sat great. I mean he let me tattoo his neck! That's a huge deal!”
Reese has many more clients lined up as potential stars of Backstage Ink. He's currently looking to continue work on the sleeves of the Black Veil Bride's drummer Christian “CC” Coma and Motionless In White's ghoulish bass guru Devin “Ghost” Sola, as well as work on Korn bassist Fieldy, the Word Alive's Telle Smith, and even trade tattoo sessions with New Found Glory vocalist and aspiring tattooer Jordan Pundik.
Learning about your favorite rock stars' tattoos and the stories behind them is cool, but Reese didn't just create this project as an alternative interview platform. At the underlying core of it all, viewers get two major benefits from Backstage Ink. They get an inside look at some amazing musicians and talented individuals, including introductions to new bands and musical outlets, but also, Reese showcases the true craftsmanship and artistic talent that goes into creating a quality tattoo. “I want to educate the public,” says Reese. “It's not just about going to the guy down the street and just 'getting a tat.' You're collecting permanent artwork and you should find somebody whose artwork speaks to you and somebody who does really nice clean work and cares about what they do. They should care about it as much as you care about keeping that tattoo.”
Reese has dedicated his career to bringing top notch tattoos to art lovers and music enthusiasts alike, and Backstage Ink is just a continuum towards that goal. With several upcoming tattoo conventions and studio guest spots left in the year, Reese will be travelling the country bringing along with him his amazing skills behind the needle as well as rocking out to some of his favorite records while he works. So next time you're at your favorite band's show, pay attention to their ink. Some of it might be part of Reese's portfolio. alt