Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: When did you get your first tattoo and what was it? How long did it take you to decide to get it?
Matthias: Yes, I can tell you exactly what it was and when. Actually, it’s a nice story. My first tattoo was the one on my elbow. And these are just two fishes that are eating each other. And the thing is, I had a ring that my parents gave me when I was twelve or thirteen that depicted exactly that. There were two fishes that converged at their mouths and were fused at the fins, and the big fish was eating the little fish. And that became one of my many talismans. And I always thought: “Shit, someday I may lose this ring, or it will break or something like that will happen,” and so at one point it broke. My Zodiac sign is Pisces, which are fish, so I wanted to preserve this image. And then at some point when I was 21 and graduated from school I saw Moni at a party. She was a friend from school. And I saw that wow, she was completely covered in tattoos. Then I came up to her and said: “Hey Moni, what happened to you?” Then she said she became a tattoo artist. And I said: “I want a tattoo anyway”. And then I went to her studio. I think that had to be one of the first tattoos that she did. She has not been there for too long. I think I was 22 or 23 then. So the tattoo on my elbow was the first one.
RoD: That must have been a very painful spot for a tattoo.
Matthias: Yes, and it was a big one too. I remember when I came home and showed it to my mom. She said, “Oh, for some reason I thought it would be a small thing on your upper arm or something like that”. Then I said “No, no mom, if you do it, you have to do it right”.
RoD: How long did it take you to get this tattoo? Was it done in one session or more?
Matthias: The truth is, I can’t remember. I think I had to go there twice. I believe we had to do some filling in then... I think it took two sessions.
RoD: How many tattoos do you have?
Matthias: I have one, two, three, four, five, six tattoos.
RoD: Can you tell us the stories behind them?
Matthias: So, the last one I got was on my right arm. Unfortunately, I had to repeat the same image twice. I was sure about getting every tattoo that I have. And I got this tat in Dublin, it is a girl in handcuffs and with a bass, and another one again - here. But that was a rather spontaneous decision. I was there with my girlfriend at that time. And the tattoo is meaningful to me - this woman is actually from an Australian wine label, and the winery is called Catching Thieves. They always had this handcuffed redhead on their labels. Sometimes she sits on a bike, sometimes she climbs somewhere, and she always loses a shoe. And when I was in Australia I just liked the image and added my bass to it. So I added it to the picture and stole the rest. And I designed the sketch and had it etched in my last bass that was built by my bass maker Jens Ritter (https://ritter-instruments.com). I actually made this sketch specifically for this purpose, and then when it was done, I thought “shit, the tattoo on my foot was not it yet”. The new image turned out so cool, and I really wanted to have it on my arm. And what it means to me is, that I started playing the bass in 1993 and to me this girl with these handcuffs is the embodiment of a muse. Because art does not work without a muse, but sometimes you are also trapped in art, so you are a slave to it and cannot come out. And that’s what it connects - the bass that I play since I started in 1993 and the muse portrayed by this lady. And that’s it.
RoD: Very chic!
Matthias: Yes, I think it’s cool too. I am glad that it turned out so well.
RoD: Do you already have all the tattoos that you wanted, or do you plan on getting some new ones in the future?
Matthias: As some people say, once you’ve started, you don’t stop. I think my case isn’t that bad. I think I have one or two things left to go. But I generally allow myself to spread them over time. And sometimes I see people, who are very young and already have complete sleeves - beautiful Japanese pictures. I think that's very nice and they are clearly beautiful pictures. But tattoos are a different thing for me, because it is more like... Which image do I want? What is my motive? But then I will not go looking for the world's best tattoo artist for the next three years. For me it is more like a kind of diary entry associated with a period in time that you feel connected to. Which one do I want to have a reminder of on my skin, to preserve it? Of course, it is important to me that it is done well. Well, I certainly have some ideas, but of course I don’t want to overdo it. I am already quite colourful, and of course someday it will be enough for me.
RoD: Have all your tattoos been done by the same artist or by different ones? How do you choose a tattoo artist? And finally, who does your sketches?
Matthias: So there was that the first sketch of the fish image made by Moni and that was in a studio in Munich. It was called “By the Art”. And years later, I went there again, and a colleague of mine did the SCHANDMAUL-Joker tattoo on my calf. And then Moni was self-employed and opened her own studio a few years ago. Last time I was there, she was out because she just had a baby, and there was a guest tattoo artist. Among other things, she did this one here. Well, and that one was also well done by Nadja, but otherwise I always went to Moni. So basically, next time I want another tattoo, I clearly know where I’ll go. It is also important to me that the person that inks me is someone I know. And if it’s an old friend from school, it always feels great. That allows me to associate with this process. And then I won’t need to look for another tattoo artist if I like the result.
RoD: Getting tattooed hurts. How do you cope with the pain during the sessions?
Matthias: Well I remember getting the tattoo on my calf most vividly. I thought it was bad, and I couldn’t see the progress because I also had to lay on my stomach. I think it’s good to watch and see how much is already done. Then I can always extrapolate from that: “ok that should take another hour, maybe two or three” or something like that. I was thinking of that back then, as my calf was getting inked. Then I thought to myself: “Whoa! Why are you doing that?” Because it was already horribly painful, and on the other hand, it was just a matter of enduring for short time. A few hours that you just have to suffer through. Then there’s a couple of days where it still hurts a bit, then the pain subsides ever so slowly and at the thought of the beautiful picture makes you quickly forget the pain.
RoD: Have you ever had any regrets about getting any of your tattoos?
Matthias: No. The only thing that I can think of is that one on my arm, but that’s cool, because I’ve designed it myself. I just wanted that convergence of this girl and the bass. I wanted it. I had planned it years before it has been done. But maybe I could have saved myself the trouble. But it’s just so small. I think it’s good, but now I basically have the same tattoo twice, if you wish. But that’s okay. I’m glad that I found the right one. That’s the way it is now. But I don’t have any regrets. Not at all, because I don’t just walk into a studio and say “oh that picture is beautiful. I want that!” But because luckily, I think it’s very, very personal and it’s kind of, well like an entry in my diary describing a point in time or my whole life, something that belongs to me only. Then I want to have a reminder of it and I just don’t care about the rest. Nah, so I do not regret anything!
RoD: Do you think there are any taboos when it comes to tattoos? What image would you never get yourself and what don’t you like seeing on others?
Matthias: What I don’t like personally, are simple tribal tattoos or anything of that sort. They can be very nice and if they mean anything to somebody, it’s totally alright, but it wouldn’t be something that I would want. I want the exact image that has been fine-tuned to me. It doesn’t always have to reveal its meaning to the person looking at it, but I would never get a tribal tattoo.
RoD: Some people say that the drive to acquire new body art is addictive while others say that it fails to meet the true definition of addiction, simply calling it passion. Is it really impossible to stop?
Matthias: Yes, that may be the case. I think there is an inhibiting factor for getting the first tattoo because you don’t yet know how it will go and how badly it will hurt. Our drummer has a SCHANDMAUL Jonny tattoo on his neck and that’s it. Every one of my bandmates has only one tattoo. I’m the only one who took it further. I cannot speak of addiction. It’s not like that for me. And when it’s time for me to get inked again, we’ll see what happens and what I think or what period of my life I would have left behind me. It may be something that I’ll want to commemorate with a tattoo.
RoD: Tattoos have become a fashion trend; many people do not care about the meaning behind them, they just want to have something colourful on their skin, to be trendy. Those people often just go to a tattoo salon and ask them to show which sketches they have. Tattoo artists are not artists any more, they are kind of like production line workers now. Not all of them, of course. How do you feel about this?
Matthias: Yes! I think everyone can do as they please - be my guest. But that’s absolutely a no-go for me. I would never go to a tattoo studio, pick picture number 57 from their sketch folder and say “oh, that’s nice”. Then I would get it inked, and someone else would come the next day and say: “I think that picture number 57 looks nice” and would get it inked too, so then him and I would end up with identical tattoos. That doesn’t work for me. I mean, well, the SCHANDMAUL-Joker is a completely different story – that’s what several people got tattooed on purpose, of course that’s clear to me. Except for that one, every single tattoo that I have was designed only once, specifically for me, and I think it should always be like that. A tattoo is a personal thing, because what can be more personal than wearing something on your skin? And if that is such a popular image that everybody wants, I wouldn’t want to have it. I would definitely regret it if I got it. No, I don’t want to choose an image from a catalogue.
RoD: I would also like to talk about the social aspect of tattoos. Back in the day, many people believed that if you had a tattoo, you would never be successful and would not find a “good” job. Has this mind-set and people’s perception changed or do these prejudices still exist?
Matthias: Well, I think that change is starting to happen, since many young people are already tattooed these days. That’s how we are getting away from sayings like “Only sailors and criminals have tattoos!” But I think it’s still a problem, depending on what type of job you have. If you have large tattoos, you may have to have to hide them at work. With my job, I am lucky that I can enjoy my freedom to the fullest extent and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to see a guy that likes Rock’n’Roll working in a bank. I wouldn’t pick that type of a job, but in the end, it’s about doing one’s job well, no matter what it is. And if it’s a surgeon who is performing a surgery on my heart because there’s an issue, if he does an awesome job and has piercings and tattoos, that’s really good. And no one can say that he does a better job because he looks “good”. So I think people still have the potential to be more tolerant. And they will also learn to accept that when someone gets a tattoo or dresses in an unconventional manner that is his personal way of expressing himself, his way of feeling more comfortable. But it is very wrong any to draw any conclusions about his job, his abilities or his competence based on those factors! Completely wrong!
RoD: Agreed. I also think so, that was one of the reasons why I started this project. I wanted to teach people that tattoos have nothing to do with people’s skills. You cannot judge them! What advice would you give those who are going to get their first tattoo? How should they choose a tattoo artist? Should they get it done in colour or in black and white? Can you give any practical advice?
Matthias: My first advice is: if you are still unsure, wait! Advice number two is to know yourself. I think it’s awesome when a tattoo is personal, even when you use it to express something about yourself or about life. Then I also think it’s stupid if you just need seven years to find the best tattoo artist out there, because then you did not understand it. Of course, the tattoo should be nice. But it’s about wanting to preserve something. Of course, it should be well done. You should not get tattooed by some drunk at a festival or you should not just walk into a tattoo shop next door because it suits your mood or if you’re drunk. Nope! Give yourself some time! Because, when it’s done, it’s done. If you regret it later and want to get it removed with a laser, that process is very painful. And if you want to get it cut out, it is even more painful. And not every tattoo can be removed. So really, take your time, and then, if you’re sure you want it, then don’t waste time talking about it. Find a tattoo artist you trust and then you’re ready to get a tattoo.
Project by Daria Tessa and Daniela Vorndran, Interview by Daria Tessa
Pictures by Daria Tessa (https://www.facebook.com/tessaswelten)