FRESH INK: Coming Home

In August 2018, Magazine by Genevieve Joëlle VillamizarLeave a Comment

Matt Hays views his ink as an art collection, not only commemorating his life but the relationships he shares with other tattoo artists. Photo, contributed.

Watching Main Street evolve as businesses rise and fall, fumble along, move along, come and go is fascinating in a small town. I think we get attached to the hopes and dreams of people who want to be a part of what we call ‘home’. Who’s the new guy on the block? Who’s gonna make it? B|AM was thrilled to see an ink shop open doors on Main Street this summer. The Defiance Social Club is bringing it back, the grit and roots of the ‘punk rockers and cowboys’ tattoo artist Matt Hays recalls from his own days of roaming the ‘hood.

As editor of B|AM and with Matt’s ink on my own limbs, I was thrilled to discover his return. I wanted to see what he’s been up to in the intervening seven years since our work together, so we met up to catch up.

Like any man on a mission, he’s explored, grown, and developed a hankering for home.

The Defiance Social Club celebrated its Grand Opening First Friday of July with a great line-up of artists. Matt arrives for a full-time October relocation to Carbondale in just a few weeks. Located in Dr. Ben’s former digs and next to Fatbelly, the DSC extends a genuine welcome to all. As for me? I’ll be there next week with a needle shocking the shit out of my forearm~~

What’s your next tattoo gonna be?

Tattoo artist Matt Hays is pretty stoked hanging his shingle on Carbondale’s Main Street.

B|AM: Let’s start at the beginning, Matt– nuts and bolts?

MH: Bonedale, born and raised. Graduated from RFHS, late 90s. Denver last seven years.

B|AM: Why’d you leave?

MH: I left for the opportunity to expand and grow a little bit more as a tattooer. Get out in the world a bit, little more experience under my belt. Travel around and meet people. Kind of ingrain myself in the tattoo community.

B|AM: Takeaways from that?

MH: Man! Just getting out there and meeting people in the craft was one of the biggest things. Being around other artists, getting a little more inspiration, different viewpoints- that was huge in letting me grow as an artist, for sure. The networking from traveling around and doing conventions has been huge. So cool. When you’ve got a couple hundred artists under the same roof and seeing what everybody’s doing is definitely inspiring, you can’t help but take something away every time you go there.

There are a lot of these guys who, before I started tattooing, I saw them in the magazines and I looked up to them. Now, we’re really good friends. It’s super cool, because once you get in and you meet all these people— I think it’s the same in any other craft— they’re people just like everybody else. It helps me think “Okay, I think I can get there.” I think I’ve made really good strides, too, to do that.

B|AM: Current excitement?

MH: I’m to that point where I’ve got the technical skills down, so now for me, it’s more about exploring the art and finding my path. What do I want to express? It’s such a tough thing to do because it’s such a service-based thing. I’m helping other people express their thoughts and feelings. But I think by me doing the ‘art’ [part] my way, it helps me express my creativity. And then it helps me express their feelings better than they could themselves. A lot of times people get blown away because they couldn’t visualize something, but they have this feeling or emotion or something they wanted to express– being able to help them visualize that, helping them come up with an image for that, it’s super satisfying.

B|AM: I can’t imagine what that’s like for you to see, time after time, when someone finally pulls their head up from being ‘vvvvvvrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, vvvvvrrrrrred’ for two or three hours, and then they see this thing that’s going to be on their skin forever…that’s like a ‘channel’.

MH: Oh it is, for sure, I think that’s such an empowering thing for a lot of people, for many different reasons. It could be for anything. It could be that somebody just wants to look tough and to them, for that, it’s empowering. Or it could be the complete opposite end of the spectrum, like someone working through a grieving process.  It can be very therapeutic for some people and empower them to get through whatever it is that they’re dealing with. And then to have a permanent reminder of the strength it took to overcome those obstacles, it’s a pretty powerful thing. 

B|AM Guys are honest about that?!

MH: I think the ‘tough’ aspect was more prevalent back in the ‘80s and ‘90s when it was predominantly run by bikers! When everyone that I thought was getting tattoos wanted to look like a tough guy.  It was kind of like, ‘hey, piss off and don’t talk to me’.  But I think that now that tattoos have become more widespread, and more acceptable, people that wouldn’t have gotten tattoos 20 years ago are a lot more apt to do so, because they find that there are additional ways to express themselves and to empower themselves, and it’s not all just bikers and tough guys anymore.

B|AM: Talk about some of your ink. What do your fingers say? [Every digit has ink.]

MH: “DARK SIDE.” I’m a Star Wars fan! I even have a little lightsaber on my finger! With my tattoos, some of them have meaning, some don’t, they’re just cool imagery that I wanted.

A lot of times, when I get tattoos, especially nowadays, I think of it more as an art collector.

I find someone whose work I really like, and then, I gotta like the artist too. I’m potentially going to be spending a lot of time with that person.  I had better like them!

B|AM: Talk about some of these tattoos.

MH:[Tattoo artist] William Thidemann has been a big impact for me. I’ve been working with him for about the last seven years. I started getting tattooed by him maybe nine or ten years ago and we built a relationship through that. When he was looking for someone, he asked if I wanted to move down to Denver— so that’s what got me down there. I’ve got tattoos from him that mean a lot to me. This little guy right there, [on the meat between his thumb and forefinger] that’s the first transistor radio ever invented, that my grandpa invented.

B|AM: No shit!

MH: [beaming.] Yep, my mom’s dad! Yeah! So that one’s super meaningful. It’s one of my smallest tattoos, but it’s one of my favorites.  But then he’s also working my whole back piece, from my neck to my knees.

This here is my first tattoo, my band’s logo from way back before I moved away; ‘Still Twitchin’ was the band. I still tinker around on my acoustic, half an hour a day or so to keep up the chops. Grab my coffee, get the kids around. My littlest guy, he loves it. Every time I pick up my guitar, he goes for the other one and wants me to lay it on the floor so he can bang on it. Music was always something for me that was a good escape, a good kind of…I dunno, just— way to explore life! It was something I could do that I could never do wrong because I didn’t play any covers. I just kinda picked stuff up by ear and played what I thought sounded good…could never do it wrong.

B|AM: Tell me about the Defiance Social Club.

MH: As far as the name goes, I’ve always liked the social club aspect of things, a place where people can gather, hang out, be comfortable. Like a clubhouse. Which I encourage people to do, even if they aren’t getting tattoos, just so long as they aren’t getting in the way of the work being done.

B|AM: That’s exactly what it looked like on your First Friday open house. Everyone was just kinda gathering, hanging out, people on the patio, like Louisiana or something—

MH: Totally. That’s what I want, you know? I want to create a little hub, even if you aren’t getting tattooed, you can hang out, enjoy the time, meet people, talk to people. You can watch and look back into the workspaces. We’ll be doing gallery showings, hosting other artists, and doing other various events.  I want it to have that familial sort of club feel.

As far as the name goes, I always wanted something that had a historical reference to the valley, ‘Defiance’ being the original name of Glenwood— it’s got that old Western kinda vibe to it. When Doc Holiday was here, Glenwood was ‘Defiance’. Tattooing itself has always had a defiant aspect to it; in fact, back in the earlier days, it was defiant.

B|AM: How’d you get into tattooing?

MH: I did animation and video production for roughly about ten years after college. I was working with a video production company here in Carbondale, for about eight years. Sitting behind the computer got to me though, ten, twelve hours a day in a dark room surrounded by computers. It got to where I had a headache by four o’clock every day. I really enjoyed it, I really enjoyed my [boss and coworkers]. We did a lot of really interesting and cool projects, but in the end, I wanted to get back to making art with my hands.

This is where that led me, affording me the opportunity to live a lifestyle in the way that I wanted to.

I always thought tattooing would be cool. Ever since I was in high school, everyone was always like, “Oh, you should be a tattooer!” This and that, based on what I drew, the way that I drew, but again, back then, I thought everything was run by gangsters and bikers and I didn’t know any of those sorts of people. Plus I used to look at my brother’s tattoos, and thought “Why would you ever do that?!” So it wasn’t anything I was really ever inclined to do.

And then in 2005, I had some pretty big things happen in my life, which then drove me to go get a tattoo…my band’s logo, and the flames. At that particular time in my life, the band was the one consistently good thing. You know, life happens. We have our down times. It was a pretty down time for me and that was the one thing that kept me going, kept my mind positive. Regardless of how long we would end up playing together, I knew it was something I was going to keep in me forever, so I got a tattoo.


Otzi the Iceman has the oldest known tattoos extant. 

While I was there, talking to the artists, I got such a fascination for the process, the history, the culture— everything that tattooing was about. I started doing more research, just became really— the history really intrigued me. It’s one of the oldest arts in the world. The Iceman had tattoos. They were 5,000 years old. [MH’s imagination launches; contemplating its ancient roots, the motivations and techniques for ink–  we chat about this for a bit].

Anyway, after deciding that I really wanted to pursue tattooing, I ended up meeting Matt E. Hayes.  I had known of him since high school, we ran in some of the same circles, but I had never actually met him.  I knew he did nice tattoos, he had done some of my brother’s nicer ones as well as tattoos on a lot of my friends,  and I had heard that he was moving back to the valley from Hawaii. So I approached him about an apprenticeship.

I think he had some reservations about taking me on at first.  Partially due to a sour taste left in his mouth from his last apprentice, and partially due to the fact that we had the same name.

That could have gone either way!  I could have turned out good or I could have been horrible!  He had to make a gamble on his name.  Thankfully, he agreed to take me on and that’s when we opened the original Spyder Rose in Glenwood.  He put me through a pretty traditional apprenticeship for two years and laid down a really solid foundation for me to build on.  I still always hope that I’ve made good on his gamble!  But then after my apprenticeship, I ran the shop for him until I moved down to Denver.

B|AM: And bringing it back around– you’re moving here full time now.

MH: In October! I’ll be finishing my Denver clients, and then October first I’ll be here full time.

B|AM: Cool. You must be excited?

MH:  I am! I’m super excited. For the last few years, I’ve kinda not come back so much, and when I did, I’d try to keep a pretty low profile. I’d come back for Thanksgiving and Christmas and if I let everybody know I was there it’d be all, “Man! I wanna get tattooed! Bring all your stuff!” Man, it’s Christmas, I’m on vacation! I don’t wanna work! But I would anyway; I’m a workaholic, so I couldn’t say no. And that’s something I’ve been trying to learn the last couple of years, is how to say ‘no.’ You gotta be able to give yourself that time and not just constantly work.

This is something I don’t want to get burned out on and finding that balance is key.  I think that’s true no matter what you do.  But, that’s one of the things that excites me most about moving back here, getting to that balance point of being able to spend more time with my family doing all of the things that this valley has to offer, while still pushing my art and my tattooing to the next level.   

B|AM: What’s Bonedale feel like to you these days?

MH: It’s different but the same! There are a lot of things that haven’t changed a bit, and there are many things that have changed immensely. The people in town seem to have changed a bit. In the last several years that I’ve been gone, they all have the same mentality— a good creative community that they want to be a part of— I dunno, man. I just remember as a kid it was punk rockers and cowboys! And now it’s maybe a little more clean cut? That’s not a bad thing. But I think that creative vibe is still here. I think everybody still comes to this town for the same reasons they’ve always come to this town— which is the same reason I’m coming back, too. I love this place, it’s always been home to me. It’s such a good, creative community, people want to be part of the community, which is a lot of what I want to do, too.

Tattoo artist Matt Hays will be in full residence, October~

B|AM: What are you doing to dive back in, to engage as a business? I’m sure you’ve nailed the personal bits, but what about business-wise?

MH: Business-wise, it’s tough since we’re still in that full transition period. We don’t have the same person there every day. All of our artists work on a rotation. My partner Matt Jones owns a shop in Grand Junction called Voodoo Circus. All of our artists either work at his shop there or at the shop I work at in Denver, Mammoth American Tattoo. Matt will stay primarily based in Junction; he comes up on Saturdays, and any other time he feels like getting out of Junction for a minute.  Once I’m back full-time though, I’ll be a consistent face in the shop every day we’re open.

B|AM: Partner?

MH: Ha! Yeah, we got into my whole story and I guess we skipped right over how the shop actually came to be!  So, Matt Jones and I were both working at the convention in Richmond, Virginia, and we started talking over some drinks one night after the show had closed. He tells me he wants to do a ‘getaway’ shop, where he can get out of town occasionally, and he was thinking about Carbondale. And he was like “I can’t do anything in Carbondale without talking to you,” since it’s my hometown.

B|AM: Wow, that’s respectful—

MH: That’s a huge thing in a tattoo community. It’s always been a big thing about respect. There are a lot of traditions carried over from when tattooing was maybe not so nice and a certain level of etiquette and respect is definitely one of them. A lot of things have changed, but there are things that remain the way it was back when it was bikers running things: there are just things you don’t do! Or, at least, not without talking to someone or getting the go ahead. We kept talking about it but it remained kind of a pipe dream, something in the back of our heads.

In March, I went to the Salt Lake City convention. Came back and was doing a guest spot at White Lodge [Tattoo & Gallery]. Driving through Carbondale– I had always kept my eye out for something on Main Street. I wasn’t going to do anything off of Main Street, because I want to be part of First Fridays– tattoos are all about art, this is a gallery– and the art walk. I kept my eyes open and saw a For Rent sign on the old animal hospital and thought, “Oh, maybe I’ll give it a call and see what the deal is.”  It all sounded pretty good from my perspective, so I called up Matt and asked him, “hey, you still interested in a shop in Carbondale?”  By the end of the day, the lease agreements were in the works. [Big, contented chuckle.] It worked out great. I couldn’t be happier with the spot. Perfect little location for us.

B|AM: It’s nice to see that end of town waking up more–

MH: For sure. It’s always been the sleepier side of town. But with the Distillery down there. The Clay Center seems to be doing a lot more. Izakaya opening up there. Good stuff going on.

Bonedale born and raised, Matt Hays is thrilled to call Carbondale home again, this time around with his own family. Photo, contributed.

I think once I’m here full time, I’ll be able to make a lot more of a push to be involved in the community. It’s tough when I’m only here a week a month. I’m always super slammed when I’m here for those weeks and I don’t really get the time to go out and shake hands as much as I’d like, although once I’m here full time I’ll be working that into my schedule. I’ve already joined the Carbondale Business Coalition. I’m definitely planning on talking to Amy [Kimberly, Carbondale Arts]. Joining the Chamber, the Creative District. That’s something I’ve always wanted– I want to be a part of the creative growth of this town. Especially, since it’s my hometown.

B|AM: You are a part of it!

MH: I hope so! That’s my goal.

I like to maintain a higher standard tattoo shop, not just a dinghy street shop. But at the same time, part of me sort of longs for those days when it was punk rockers and cowboys, you know? I want to bring  a little of that back, but with a bit of class. I’ve been super happy with the response we’ve been getting. Especially on First Friday. People that I would never expect to walk into a tattoo shop came in and were like, “So amazing! So happy you’re here!”  It’s really been a warm welcome and I couldn’t be happier to be able to move back to my hometown, doing what I love to do, and be shown such an overwhelming amount of support.  That’s why I love this place.  That’s why it’s home. 

Artwork by Matt Hays, photo contributed

Artwork by Matt Hays, photo contributed

Artwork by Matt Hays, photo contributed