Despite her ferocious adopted last name, TLC’s top tattoo maven Megan Massacre has the face (and hair color) of a rock ‘n’ roll Disney Princess and the sweetly lilting voice to match. But the star of the network’s back-to-back Thursday night hits America’s Worst Tattoos and NY Ink — born Megan Woznicki in Douglasville, PA — says she actually picked “Massacre” not in homage to her edgy profession, but long before, when she and some bowling buddies decided to mock the earnestness of heavy-metal obsessed MySpace scenesters.
Taken with all forms of art since she was a toddler, Massacre, 27, says she first approached a local tattoo shop for advice on how to learn the craft at age 14, but gave up when she was told she needed an apprenticeship that would set her back $4,000 — steep money for a kid too young to earn a paycheck. Four years later, languishing in general ed classes at a local community college and working in a furniture store (“the most boring job ever”), Massacre gave a coworker a lift to a job interview at another tattoo studio — and walked out with a new job herself.
“I guess she told the guys that I could draw very well, so the owner came out after her interview and said let’s see what you can do,” Massacre recalls. “They were like ‘draw a rose, draw some scrolls, draw a name’ — you name it — so I drew all this stuff and they were really impressed. And they said, ‘Have you ever thought about tattooing?’ I said, ‘Yeah, when I was younger, but you need an apprenticeship and I couldn’t afford one.’ And they said, ‘So you’ve never done a tattoo? Would you like to do one right now?’ I was like, ‘Are you serious?!’”
Recognizing an opportunity to make good on her childhood dream, Massacre took the challenge. The owner of the shop set up his station, tapped his apprentice to serve as her “skin” and watched as Massacre inked a name in respectable fashion. She landed an apprenticeship at the shop and has been tattooing ever since.
A few years into her career, Massacre was approached by TLC to take the place of a departing Kat Von D on its new reality hit Miami Ink.
“I went through the process and for me it was a little contrived and there were a lot of things that were asked of me that I didn’t want to do, and so I said, ‘You know what — I think I’m going to pass this experience up. I don’t think it’s a good idea,’” Massacre recalls. “Fast-forward years later, I got the same kind of reach-out — ‘Hey, we’re putting together this show and the other artists — Ami and Tim and all of them — they really like your work and would love to see you be a part of this.’ And I was like, ‘You know I went through this once with you guys and didn’t really want to do the stuff we talked about’ — and it wasn’t necessarily bad stuff. I just didn’t feel like I was ready back then. This time around, though, they were like, ‘Oh no, they love you and they want you for exactly who you are and what you do.’ And I was like, ‘Well, then, you know what? Sign me up!’ And a month later, we started shooting it.”
Quickly becoming a fan favorite on NY Ink, Massacre moonlighted on last summer’s three-part series America’s Worst Tattoos, which premiered its first full-run season April 4. The show allows her to show off the full range of her tattooing talents and educate people about how to choose tattoos they’ll love forever — and work from different studios, as well.
I talked with Megan Massacre about her international, entrepreneurial existence, the new season of NY Ink and more.
CGM: What’s it like balancing both shows and your modeling and your DJ enterprise Letz Massacre [with her boyfriend, Combichrist drummer Joe Letz] — exhilarating to have all this great stuff happening at once, or the reason you say you drink too much coffee? Both?
MM: It is hard to fit it all in, but I like to keep busy. So it’s enjoyable [laughs].
CGM: I just saw you do a cover-up at Deep Six Laboratory on America’s Worst Tattoos. Do you still tattoo there from time to time?
MM: I do! I do come back to Philadelphia often, and I worked at Deep Six for about four or five years before I moved to New York three years ago — I consider that my “home shop.” Those guys are like my best friends and whenever I come home to see my friends and family, I’ll stay for a week or two and tattoo there. I’m usually there once every couple months and it’s kind of like a little vacation for me even though I’m working, because it’s my hometown. And I did shoot a couple of the Worst Tattoo shows at Deep Six, so you’ll see it again!
And the other Worst Tattoo shows — the ones I didn’t do at Deep Six — I did at a shop in New York City called Sacred, which is only a couple blocks away from Wooster Street on Broadway.
CGM: And the boss [NY Ink’s Wooster Street Social Club owner Ami James] is OK with that?
MM: Ohhhh, you know. When I first found out I was going to be doing that, there were gripes from a couple different people — but ultimately, it’s my life and my job. And Wooster Street is my home shop, meaning I live in New York City and when I’m home, that’s the shop that I mostly work out of. Ami’s a super-tough guy in real life and on the show, but I feel like I have a special relationship where he’s a little more lenient on me. And I kinda look up to him because he’s taught me a lot about art and tattooing since I got there, so he takes it easy on me [laughs].
CGM: You’ve said that most people who’ve gotten tattoos have at least one they no longer like, and I’m one of them. It was meaningful then. It’s embarrassing now. Since I’m trying to decide what to do about this, what percentage of people do you think opt for cover-ups and what percentage go, “Oh well, it’s part of my journey, so I’ll leave it”?
MM: Before the last couple years, people would just live with the tattoos, because there weren’t that many options — or they weren’t aware of the options. But over the last few years, there’s been a lot of advances not only in tattooing, but in laser tattoo removal as well. So you do see a lot more people these days trying to do something about it. And what I’m trying to convey with America’s Worst Tattoos is to show people that they do not have to live with bad tattoos forever — there’s always something you can do about it.
CGM: Like choosing wisely in the first place?
MM: Especially when it comes to names! I have a matching tattoo with my boyfriend — it’s not each other’s names, but it matches. And what we got is 11-11-11 in a triangle shape. What that means to us is, I don’t know if you read about numerology, but when you see 1-1-1 and 11-11, it’s supposed to remind you think positively and that positive things are going to happen.
Me and him both have that same mentality, and that’s why we decided to get the tattoo together. And even though I feel like Joey is the one for me, in the future if it weren’t to work out, it still has the positive meaning behind it. So it’s definitely a good idea to have a symbol, more than a name. Something that has a positive meaning behind it that isn’t necessarily associated with that person, but just that period in your life.
CGM: Is there a special skill set needed to do cover-ups — are there some great tattoo artists who simply cannot see their way through a cover-up?
MM: I’ll go ahead and say that when you’re learning to tattoo, it’s really important to learn all different aspects of tattooing, whether it be color, black and grey, lettering, portraits — all across the board. I believe that every artist should learn to do all of these things, cover-ups included. But unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. A lot of tattoo artists end up in their niche, where it’s like, “I’m really good at this, so I’m going to stick to this one thing.” And they don’t step outside the box. Although I will say that cover-ups are way harder than if you’re doing a fresh tattoo. You definitely have to have a talented, good tattoo artist to do it. But it’s not something that everybody can do.
I’ll be honest — there’s not a lot of artists that specialize in cover-ups, because they’re not as fun to do as fresh tattoos. Everyone wants to do their own artwork. On Worst Tattoos, Tim Pangburn — who I knew years before the shows because I used to work with him back at Deep Six — was always known as the cover-up expert. It’s not what he loved to do best, but he was so good at it that everybody came to him. So there definitely are artists out there who are more suited for it.
CGM: Are there tattoos that simply cannot be covered up well?
MM: There definitely are. Cover-ups depend on a couple different factors. One of the big factors is how old the tattoo is. Because if you get this big dark tattoo but it’s, like, 10 years old, even though it might look dark, it’s not nearly as dark as it once was and it’s way easier to cover. What makes tattoos really difficult to cover is if they’re brand new — people who get a tattoo and then a month later, they’re like, I don’t want this anymore. That’s really hard to cover, especially if the artist did it well and put the ink in there correctly.
CGM: People really change their minds that quickly?
MM: I just had a girl in the shop two weeks ago! She had a kanji symbol on her arm and was like, “I just don’t like where it is — can you cover it for me?” I was just like, “You have got to be kidding me, girl! You have to make better decisions than this!”
You don’t just walk into a tattoo shop and say, eh, I want this, eh, I want that. Do some research. Think about it. If you think you might want something, wait a couple months and if you still want it that bad, then go for it.
CGM: You’ve also been the sort of calm voice of reason for your fellow tattoo artists at Wooster Street, as well — is that still the case throughout the new season?
MM: To be honest with you, I don’t even see the shows until they come out. So I kind of know what happens, but I don’t know how much they’re going to put in. But we didn’t really fight this season! And that had a lot to do with some of the old faces being gone and now there being some new faces — this is definitely a more fun-loving season. And I was really happy about that because everybody’s like “reality shows are all about the drama” and I think sometimes maybe it would nice to see people having fun and playing pranks on each other instead of fighting each other. That kind of drama — fun drama!
CGM: There are new faces this season — some of whom, like Yoji, are happily familiar to Miami Ink fans. What determined who was in and who was out?
MM: Ami determines who’s in and who’s out because he’s the boss. And after he said who was out, we needed some new people to come into the shop, because we were feeling a little thin. So he called back one of his old best buddies, and that was Yoji!
CGM: On the subject of who’s out, looks like last season’s shop manager Jessica opened her own tattoo studio and you’ve got a new Jes [Leppard] to help maintain the badly needed estrogen levels at Wooster Street.
MM: Jessica from last year did open up her own tattoo studio and I’ll just go ahead and say that I think she did that a little fast. It’s not really normal for people to decide they want to tattoo, learn how to tattoo in a few months, and then open a studio. We’ll go ahead and say that’s not the best way to go about things and to be the most quality artist.
But we’ll also go ahead and say that the new Jes is just as bubbly and just as fun as the old Jess. The only difference is that the new Jes is more rock ‘n’ roll. She’s a little more of a badass! [laughs]
CGM: Did you know her before she joined the cast?
MM: We’re pretty good buddies. The thing about me and Jes Leppard is that we’ve actually been friends for a couple of years now. I met her when I first moved to New York and she was in the same party scene as me. Every time I would go out and party and go to the clubs and stuff, she was there. So we became friends and eventually we started DJing together and so we’re really close. I was really happy to have her on the new season.
CGM: What percentage of people who walk into Wooster Street hoping to get tattooed by their favorite NY Ink artist can you guys actually accommodate?
MM: What I do for people is I try to set up appointments instead of walk-ins, because I don’t get to work at Wooster Street every day. And that’s mostly because I need two days off a week, at least. And I do a lot of traveling, be it for the other show, or DJing. I do a lot of tattoo conventions around the country and the world. So I try to schedule appointments for people to make sure that when they come there, I’m there.
As of late, I have been trying to come there more on the weekends. As long as I’m not at a tattoo convention, I’ll try to make sure I’m at Wooster Street on Friday or Saturday or Sunday and that way, if people are in town, they can at least come and say hi. And I will try to do walk-ins those days. So, I try to accommodate as many people as I can, but of course it’s first come, first served. I am only one person, so I can’t guarantee everything all the time. But I try to fit as many people in as I can.
A lot of the artists on the new season are full time. So if you want a tattoo from any of the artists on the third season, it’s going to be really easy because they’re there five days a week.
CGM: I’m guessing you also get people who just wander in to see you guys and the shop because they love the show?
MM: Of course! And the first thing people say when they walk in is the shop is way bigger in real life than it is on TV. Our shop is really, really big. We need a lot of room for all those people that work there! It’s also an art gallery — we always have art hanging up for people to see. And we have art shows.
Also, the tattoos that you see on the show weren’t necessarily scheduled or casted. We do have a filtering process for some tattoos because we’re looking for really significant stories — stories that people can really connect with — and you can’t always guarantee that those stories are going to walk through the door. So we will ask people to submit for the show.
But some of the tattoos that you see are just tattoos that we’re doing because the tattoo shop is open and we are tattooing like a normal studio while we’re filming. So a lot of times I’ll be doing a tattoo on a client off-camera and they’ll have a really cool tattoo idea and a real cool story and I’ll tell the producers and if they want to be on the show, we’ll just shoot them right there and then!
New episodes of America’s Worst Tattoos premiere Thursday nights at 9/8CT on TLC followed by new episodes of NY Ink at 10/9CT.