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Josh Lord's status as celebrity tattooer isn't something that cropped up over night. The East Side Ink co-owner's years of dedication to the craft combined with his location in the heart of downtown New York City have led him to ink some of the most famous bodies in the world, including the likes of punk icon Dee Dee Ramone and actresses Susan Sarandon and Cate Blanchett, as well as the main stars of The Avengers.
"I think if you're tattooing for 20 years in New York, it's almost impossible to not meet some celebrities," he explained when asked why his clientele gleams with Hollywood and music industry legends. He maintains half his success lies "half in the shop" — a place memorable for its impeccable cleanliness and welcoming atmosphere.
Lord can't deny, though, that his reputation as a master of his craft precedes him. He says a lot of his popularity relies on "word of mouth, like a friend brings a friend in to get tattooed and whether you're a celebrity or a waiter, there's a 90 percent chance that a friend of their told them they had a good experience here."
YOU'VE BECOME KNOWN AS A CELEBRITY TATTOOER. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW TATTOOING CELEBRITIES IS DIFFERENT THAN TATTOOING REGULAR PEOPLE?
The celebrity thing is interesting to me because when I first started working at the first shop I worked at in New York, that guy, Jonathan Shaw, who owned the place was really good friends with Johnny Depp, and occasionally famous people would come by to visit him. So coming from western New York, I hadn't really met too many famous people, but this was like an interesting world of Jim Jarmusch, Iggy Pop, jus really interesting people that I idolized a little bit would come by. Eventually you're hanging around these people and they're just folks, you know, just normal people. Except Iggy Pop – he's actually remarkably cool.
You seem them in this situation here and they're in a painful place. They're not showing off or doing anything for the camera. I think it's kind of like a nice break, in a way, from celebrity when you're actually suffering. It humanizes everybody. There are some real weird ones for sure, but I'm not naming any names. The ones that I'm lucky enough to work with are just New Yorkers first and foremost.
DIDN'T YOU FAMOUSLY TATTOO RIHANNA?
I did not. She tattooed me. That was a really wild and interesting time for us because TMZ, according to stories I've heard, called the health department to report an unregistered, unlicensed tattooer, Rihanna, tattooing at our shop. We were raided by the health department immediately after that whole incident. Then, there was a huge media storm, "Rihanna Getting In Trouble, Being Fined ..."
None of that happened, she didn't get fined, and she wasn't here when they raided us anyway. It was a non-story they made into a huge story, but in a way it was really wild to watch the media storm unfold. I mean, it was probably publicity we could have never paid for otherwise. She was getting tattooed here by one of the artists at the time and just gave us all a novelty little tattoo. I didn't really know anything about her at the time, but I have a lot of bad tattoos from friends so it wasn't a big deal. She gave me an umbrella tattoo, which apparently that's one of her songs, and she did a pretty good job!
WE'VE TALKED ABOUT TATTOOING THE AVENGERS, BUT YOU'VE ALSO TATTOOED ACTRESS CATE BLANCHETT, ANOTHER MARVEL UNIVERSE STAPLE.
Yes, not to knock her incredibly amazing acting history but since we talked about The Avengers, it's interesting that she's a villain in that world, too. Amazing person. I tattooed her and her husband a couple times when they sought me out before the Avengers, so this was unconnected to that. I also got to go see their play, the one that her husband [Andrew Upton] was directing at the time. I want to give them a really good compliment and plug for it, but I can't remember the name of it now! But they were both so good.
AND HOW ABOUT SUSAN SURANDON?
I was lucky enough to meet her through a friend of mine, Clayton, who's a really brilliant photographer amongst other things. I don't want to cheapen his accomplishments, but they're very dear friends and have included me in a number of cool events, which is wonderful. I've always, always had a crush on her from the very first time I saw her in The Rock Horror Picture Show, and I was lucky enough to be taken to that film at a ridiculously young age, inappropriately probably, buy a family member. It was the old-fashioned way, where they would throw things and everybody would act it out. Anyway, she introduced me to her family and they're wonderful, too, and doing great things.
HOW IS SHE WHILE GETTING TATTOOED?
She's effortless to work with. She really seems like she feels no pain, and she has very set ideas. All of her tattoos are very meaningful and deeper than, say, mine. [laughs] I've even gotten to tattoo her whole family since then, just a really wonderful group of people. Obviously there's nothing bad you can say about Susan Sarandon. She's amazing.
DID YOU TATTOO A MEMBER OF AEROSMITH?
Joe Perry. I forgot, I should have started with him! He was the first real celebrity I got to tattoo. I went to his compound and tattooed him and his family and stayed with them for a little while. They showed me around, and this is a true story: When they showed me the house, he actually turned to me and said, "Walk this way," which still cracks me up to this day. I'm sure he's never used that joke before. But yeah, he was the first real celebrity I got to work with, or I guess maybe the Ramones.
WHEN DID YOU TATTOO THE RAMONES?
Dee Dee Ramone was, I want to say my bass teacher, but that would be exaggerating. He gave me a few lessons and, full disclosure, I'm a terrible, terrible musician, so it's not his fault but I just really suck. I tried my best!
But he used to come by the shop, too. That was another old New York connection that would just casually come and visit with then my then-boss. It seemed quite normal at the time, even though probably like most people here, I'm pretty obsessed with the Ramones.