Our latest shop feature puts a spotlight on Grim City Tattoo Club, the second largest tattoo studio in the world and the first largest in Canada. This tattoo studio is devoted to variety, progressivism, and offering a welcoming, professional environment for their clients. View the shop feature post for more details on Grim City Tattoo Club's mission and history. The following supplement is a transcript of the interview with Memphis and Travis Cadeau, owners of Grim City Tattoo Club.
Danny (PP): My first question is for Memphis. Memphis, you came from Africa when you were nine years old?
Memphis Cadeau: I was ten.
D: When and how were you initially exposed to tattoo and piercing culture?
Memphis: Ironically enough, my dad is actually super against tattoos and piercings. He’s really, really conservative. We ended up going to England when we were immigrating for him to take the pharmaceutical exams, because you have to retake those exams if you immigrate. So, we were in England, and there was this punk kid who had this bright green mohawk and bondage pants and tattoos and tons of piercings on his face; my dad was actually trying to take pictures of him on his old camera, because he thought he was so weird looking. All this did was draw this person to me and, like, instantly I fell in love. Since that moment on, I’ve been trying my whole life to find what that was. Then when I found it, I basically got into tattooing and never left. So, you can thank my dad for that.
D: [laughs] Is your dad still super conservative?
Memphis: Yes, he’s more supportive of the tattooing and stuff now. He’s pretty cool with it, but does he like it? No.
D: How did he respond to your first tattoo?
Memphis: They (my parents) actually signed for my first one because I was 15 years old. My mom’s always been super supportive. Whether she likes it or not, she’ll tolerate it, so they signed for it. They weren’t happy about it, but they liked it. I still have it. It wasn’t the end of the world, it’s just that they weren’t like yay, go get tattooed.
D: That’s similar to my parents as well. My mom signed for my first tattoo when I was eighteen. She was very angry, but she signed for it. [laughs] My second question is for Travis. What inspired you to become a tattoo artist?
Travis Cadeau: I’ve always really loved tattoos. I got my first tattoo the day I could, so the day I turned sixteen, but I never actually thought I would be a tattoo artist. I didn’t start tattooing until around 25, I believe it was. So I was already established — I used to do machining and welding. I was running a family business. I’d always thought tattooing was some magical thing that only certain people could do and there was no way I could ever do it. I actually used to do freestyle motocross as well; I was practicing for a show and I shattered my collarbone. I rebounded and got back on my motorcycle and it busted again! So, that was what I used to do for fun. I couldn’t do that anymore, and I had friends who tattooed and stuff, so I ended up hanging out with them more and playing around with it [tattooing]. The more I tattooed, the better I got, the more people wanted to get tattooed, and a shop actually asked me to come work for them, so I did that. After I left from there, there weren’t any shops where I liked the overall atmosphere, so that’s when I first started Grim City, and it turned into what it is today! So, it was just a series of… fortunate events, I would say—
D: How did Grim City come to fruition, and how did you both develop this partnership?
Memphis: [That starts with] the night of my first shop’s grand opening. So he [Travis] had his tattoo shop and I had just opened mine, and, basically we met. I was pretty drunk, so I don’t remember much. I’d been drinking champagne since about 10 AM that morning, and it was like 1:00 at night when this occurred. We [Travis and I] went our separate ways, but then about two weeks later, actually on Valentine’s Day believe it or not, we ended up hanging out again without realizing it was Valentine’s Day, and, basically, since then, we were kind of inseparable. We got married, I think a month and a half after that—
Memphis: And then after we got married, we thought we might as well merge the shops, because there was no point in having two separate shops. So, we ended up closing mine down and moving it over into his shop, and basically we took the [best things about my shop and the best things about his] and meshed them together. Within about six months of working together, we ended up having to buy a new building. We were renting before, so we bought our first building. We were there for about two years, outgrew that one, and then in October of last year, we bought the new building and moved in January of this year. So, we’ve gone through three buildings in four and a half years.
D: Damn. I didn’t realize it was that new!
Memphis: Yeah, but his [Travis’s] shop technically opened in 2007. So, the shop [Grim City] has been around since 2007, which is why we have the “established in 2007” thing. But, since we’ve been together, the shop’s really…
Memphis: Yeah, and gotten to the size that it has and that’s been in four and a half years.
Meeseun (PP): Right. And you were saying that the building you guys are in now is one of the largest, if not the largest, in North America?
Memphis: It’s the largest in Canada by three thousand square feet. It’s the second largest in the world to our knowledge. The only shop that is bigger than us is, like, 100 feet bigger than us I think?
Travis: I think it’s a little more than that, but it’s damn close.
Memphis: Yeah, it’s Halo’s shop in Baltimore.
M: Oh, okay. Yeah, we did a feature on them. Black Lotus was actually the first shop feature that we did.
D: Yeah, that’s how we started this whole thing off.
Memphis: I think that Halo said you guys [at Painful Pleasures] are, what, an exit away from him?
M: Yeah, we’re very close.
D: We’ll have to come see Grim City some time.
Memphis: We’re actually going to be in Halo’s shop in October.
M: Oh, really? We’ll have to make sure to come by when you guys are in the area.
Travis: And you guys are welcome at our shop any time. There’s a place to crash and you can come check it out.
D: That’d be awesome! I’ve never been to Canada. You’ve been to Canada?
M: Yeah, I have family in Canada.
D: What? I’ve been working here for two years and I didn’t know this.
Travis: We’re only like 45 minutes over the border. [laughs]
D: [laughs] That’s great. We’ll have to check it out for sure. So, what do you both find are the challenges that come with managing your tattoo shop and raising a family?
Memphis: He [Travis] doesn’t really do any of the management stuff. He shows up and tattoos; that’s his role. He’s good at what he does; he’s terrible at management.
Travis: Yeah, I don’t touch computers. I don’t book anything. It would all get done wrong.
Memphis: I have two full-time managers and then four part-time managers at the shop, because we have a staff of 25, so with a staff of 25, we have to have enough people managing the shop. Otherwise, it would be complete and utter chaos. So, it’s very much a structure that I oversee, make sure works out and make sure everything is running smoothly; and then my two main managers actually run the shop. They’re really good at what they do, which allows me and Travis to kind of come and go as we please. We don’t really have to check in constantly. If we have to leave to pick up the kids or we have to do something with them, we basically just trust that they’re doing their jobs, and so far it’s been good, nothing’s exploded yet.
Travis: Before, it was definitely crazier. It’s one of those things where, you know, people don’t like to spend money, so [they’ll say things like] I can’t afford managers or I can’t afford a front desk, but the amount of time and energy and everything else that you see, you end up making [that time and energy] way back, because that leaves us open to do other things. So, we’re working on the convention and I’m still tattooing pretty frequently, so, if I was trying to run the shop, there is no time to do the other things.
D: Memphis, did you always know you wanted to take on the challenge of managing the shop and overseeing everything?
Memphis: No, actually, I got into the industry as a tattoo artist. Unfortunately, I ended up having a bunch of seizures when I was about sixteen, which ended up damaging a lot of nerves in my one arm. I had to find a way of being in the industry without actually getting to tattoo, and the most logical way for me to do that at that point was to manage a shop, so I started managing other people’s shops. Then when I was about nineteen, I opened my own when I moved to Hamilton.
D: Wow. That’s really admirable.
Memphis: Well, I was twenty.
Memphis: Okay, whatever. [laughs]
D: I can tell you I was much less productive at ages nineteen and twenty. [laughs] That’s really impressive. What do you think makes a great shop manager?
Memphis: Well, when I was doing it, I micromanaged every detail and I was super picky about everything. I had to read every single email even if I had someone helping and I had to make sure every single step was done correctly, because I’m crazy. Then, I hired Crystal; she’s very much like that. She has four kids of her own, and she’s super happy to be out of the house, because she was a stay-at-home mom for about eight years. So, now she’s just like, freedom! And it’s just so fun to have actual adult conversations. She takes her job very seriously, she tries really hard, she listens, she really loves what she’s doing, and she takes care of all the guys [artists] the same way she takes care of her kids; if you know any tattoo artists, you’ll know that they’re pretty much giant, overgrown children.
Travis: She just really loves her job, and what really makes someone good at [any position at our shop] is when they really love it and they’re really trying — not necessarily go above and beyond, but always making something better or always trying to improve. We’ve been lucky enough with everyone at the shop having that. When we hire people, we hire [based on] potential and attitude. It’s that attitude of it not being just a job; it’s a family, it’s a lifestyle, and that’s basically how we run it. When you do that, everyone’s always pushing everybody to be better and, you know, be happy and enjoy themselves and make it a fun atmosphere. It’s awesome when all the guys… they work on their day off quite often. And they’re like I think this is the only job [I’ve had] that I actually love going into work on my day off. It’s not like, oh, crap, I’ve gotta go in today. It’s like, today I’m going in and doing something really cool, and it doesn’t really matter what day it is, whether you’re in or off. Or a lot of times when people are off, they’ll stop in at the shop to say hi or drop off coffees and hang out for an hour or two and then take off. That’s what makes it — whether it’s a really good manager or piercer or tattoo artist, it’s having that love for what we actually do.
D: Right. That’s super important to be passionate about your work and your livelihood, so you actually look forward to what you spend most of your week doing, you know?
D: [Memphis], I really enjoyed your blog about professionalism and preparing for an interview to work at a tattoo shop. When did you start blogging and creating original content?
Memphis: I’ve kind of always written since I can really remember. It was one of those things where most people don’t care about reading short stories or poetry. As much as I’d love to write short stories or poetry or creative stuff, it just doesn’t work like that; so it made sense for me to start writing about what I loved and what I knew, and I love the tattoo industry. It made sense to mesh the two things together, so there was actual content being written that people would read. When I started writing it, there wasn’t actually a lot of people talking about the industry and the tattoo industry is still, right now, relatively undercovered as far as the size of it versus how many people are talking about it in the news or in the media.
Travis: We also found that a lot of the blog posts and stuff that were out there weren’t [written by] people who were necessarily in the industry. So, it’s still very much about opinions, but she tries to get the different opinions and the different sides of, okay, so this person thinks this because of this; it’s not just someone going, oh, the tattoo industry is this or is that because I feel this way—
Memphis: —[It’s not like] I got, like, four tattoos so I know exactly what I’m talking about.
D: Yeah, we really appreciate the content you give us, because we’re both writers, but we’re not artists or shop managers. There’s only so much we can actually talk about without doing extensive research.
M: Right. Before you were regularly blogging with us, it was your very first article that Dan Lorenzo sent over about getting your foot in the door. And when I read that, I thought this is what we need. We need someone who knows the ins and outs of the industry and someone who can really talk about the experience from the inside, as opposed to us trying to look up things and ask people questions. [Your writing] goes very far, I think.
Travis: The stuff that we talk about is not really common knowledge—
Memphis: —Well, the one that I just wrote about hyperrealism is something that’s becoming so common that you see on Instagram; so many artists are doing it, but what they’re not showing you is what it actually looks like down the road. It’s one of those things where I would’ve liked to say things about it that do come off harsh, but you’re walking a very fine line of pissing somebody off. And we’re now doing the tattoo convention, so I’ve gotta play this nice political game of sticking to the truth and staying true to my [persona] of being a massive bitch and being extremely opinionated, which I’m known for; but [I don’t want to] alienate an entire part of the industry. But if you look at how tattoos heal, and we see how tattoos heal every single day, you know that even the most basic stuff can come out completely screwed up, because someone didn’t heal perfectly, or they got cold and their body just decided I don’t want this, and it made the tattoo go from wow that’s amazing to what the hell is that? The more detail you put in, the [higher your chances are] of pissing the body off enough that it just starts rejecting it on its own.
So, it’s something that I don’t think a lot of people who are in this industry necessarily want to talk about, because there’s a lot of money to be made in adding all those little tiny details. You know, you’re spending 500 to 600 dollars minimum just to get all those little tiny micro-details that may not last—
Travis: —5 to 600? [laughs]
Memphis: Well, if the tattoo is, like, a thousand dollars, you’re adding another 500 in JUST detail, you know what I mean?
Memphis: And those are the details that are probably not going to last. So, it’s something that is important for clients to know, but I don’t think a lot of people want to say those things because of the fact that it can hurt them.
D: Well, it was a particularly eye-opening read for me because I’d been considering getting a hyperrealistic tattoo and now I’m kind of second guessing it. [laughs]
Travis: To be fair, there are some that do heal up really nice—
Travis: —What the longevity is for them [is unknown]. This hyperrealism thing is a little tricky; you can’t say 100% one way or the other.
Memphis: Yeah, basically, saying something along the lines of “it may not heal” is going to piss people off. And you don’t want to piss them off.
Travis: These two different guys, they’re coming out and they think that it’s going to hold better over time and things like that, and I have seen some [hyperrealistic tattoos] that look totally awesome. But [the tattoos] are only a few years old, so I don’t know how long it’s going to go through that, because all tattoos are gonna fade. But, quite possibly with the machines and the needles and the techniques that are being come up with, [hyperrealistic tattoos] do have the chance to last as long as a regular tattoo, but there are so many things going against it [such as] who’s tattooing it. They are so new and they’re such a difficult thing to pull off. It’s going to be really interesting to see where it goes. They could last, they’ve got the potential for them, but from what we’ve seen, 90 percent of them don’t have the longevity.
Memphis: There are certain artists that don’t go super hyperrealistic, so guys like Nikko Hurtado, they do have a ton of detail, but it’s not to the point of, like, those microscopic pores and the microscopic hairs, and that actually heals perfectly. If you look at his work, you will know what I am talking about, portraits are totally fine. It’s just the ones that take it beyond what some of the other guys have been doing in the past.
Danny: Right. I think that’s really important to bear in mind, consider, and to know before going to get a hyperrealistic tattoo, for sure. I also really enjoyed your blog about vegan-friendly tattoo supplies and stocking your shop with vegan-friendly equipment. So, Grim City Tattoo Club is all about vegan-friendly products, progressivism, you’re very welcoming; what are some issues in the tattoo industry that you would like to see resolved that you’re trying to work at with your shop [bearing in mind your values]?
Memphis: The tattoo industry, overall, is actually a very vegan-friendly industry, which is great. One of the only industries that is very friendly for, you know, animal rights and the environment. It’d be fantastic for us to get more products that are recyclable plastics or biodegradable plastics and things like that, because we do throw out an excessive amount of plastic. So, that’s something we’re looking into. Unfortunately, the price difference between regular cups and biodegradable plastic is a significant markup, so I’m waiting for that to drop a bit, so we can start phasing out the plastic and change to something more environmentally friendly. And the other things are… a lot of these old-school guys are still so stuck in their ways with who they hire and apprentice, you know a certain type of tattoo artists: for the most part, straight white men. I’m sure you’re aware of this. Girls [in the industry] are starting to become more prevalent. But people of color or not straight people have definitely been left out of this industry for a long time. It’s starting to change and there’s a lot of shops that are starting to hire people of—
Travis: —That just aren’t straight white men.
D: [Speaking] as a gay man and [gestures to Meeseun] a Korean woman, thank you very much for saying that.
M: Representation is very important, and that other blog you wrote about tattoos on darker skin tones, that was a really good topic as well. Those are topics and ideas that we really should be paying attention to, especially in this day and age, and we are now, thanks to people like you and other people who are talking about it. But it is still a tough nut to crack in a sense, especially to do it in a way where you’re not offending people left and right.
Memphis: It’s a very fine line. What I’ve learned is on my personal Facebook, I’m very aggressive with my political views because it’s my personal page; so, it’s like no holds barred, I’ll say whatever the hell I want to say. On my public social medias, I’ll lightly suggest things, but the minute I drop a Black Lives Matter post on my Instagram where I have my modeling posts, I lose, like, a thousand followers overnight. And I’m like, wow, really? What a crazy statement, how dare I?
D: It’s the consequence of having an opinion. [laughs]
Memphis: I do try to bring up conversations that I think are important without being like, this is the way this is or forcing my opinion, because what I have learned is — and Travis is a perfect example of this — a lot of times, people don’t think about the things that are going on around them.
Travis: It’s also more an ignorance of what’s going on around you—
Memphis: —That’s what I mean.
Travis: You’re hearing all this stuff, which is, once again, just opinions. But a lot of the opinions being told are—
Memphis: —Skewed by the media.
Travis: Exactly. So, when you dig a little more in depth, it’s like, oh, okay, well that makes sense! I’m totally cool with that. Whereas, if you’re one way and the media says something and you’re like Ah, dammit, I hate that!
Memphis: So, what I have learned is shoving your opinion very aggressively down someone’s throat doesn’t typically work… even if you’re clearly right. I don’t know how we’re still debating the words “Black Lives Matter.” There’s no “only” in there; it’s not saying “fuck white people.” You know, it’s just a generic statement, and we’re still fighting over this. So, what I basically have to do is sugarcoat everything.
D: It is very frustrating.
Travis: [It helps to] not tell people their opinion is wrong, [but rather, trying to] educate them. And most people, once they hear the reason for it and everything else, they would come to the same conclusion. She [Memphis] explains to me about why people do this or why that’s important or whatever else, and I’m like ok, I agree. When I first heard “Black Lives Matter”, I [thought too] well, yeah, you know, all lives matter; that just sounds more inclusive. And she was like it’s not about that. When she broke it down, saying this is where the problem is and basically went through all the steps of it, then I was like okay, I totally understand why that’s going on. So, I think it’s people’s lack of knowledge; they’re just taking [a small part of] a topic and not knowing all the surrounding stuff on why that’s important. They just focus on that one little thing, right?
M: Well, it’s like everyone jumping on the bandwagon. It’s so much easier now to do that with social media. No one wants to do their actual research. No one wants to have actual dialogue about what’s going on. It’s just seeing things, and you know, what you [Travis] were saying, they’re just reacting. Reacting all over the place. [laughs]
D: No one’s thinking about the issue comprehensively.
Travis: Yeah, and the only person that explained that to me was my wife. I’d never heard an explanation for why the statement [Black Lives Matter] was so controversial. I just knew it was controversial and it’s either really good or really bad, you know? Pick one or the other.
D: Well, Memphis, I think you do a really good job of expressing your opinion and being honest without sounding like you’re forcing your opinion. I’ve never gotten that vibe from any of your content.
Memphis: I try hard to keep it—
Travis: —When you guys come down to visit, you can have all those conversations. [laughs]
D: Yes, you don’t have to be diplomatic with us. You can just let it all out. [laughs] When you’re writing for a tattoo artist or an industry professional versus a tattoo or piercing collector, do you bear in mind your “voice” and the ideas you want to convey? [Basically speaking], is your writing a little different [depending on your audience]?
Memphis: Very, very different. I think you can tell when I’m writing to the general public with my cute posts, like “The Top Ten Tattoos from 2018” or whatever year it was. It’s dumbed down to the point of, “Look it’s pretty! Shiny colors!” That [kind of writing] is for the general public as opposed to tattoo artists, industry professionals, and the tattoo and piercing collectors who really love this industry. There are so many people who write for the general public who gets tattoos, and you don’t have to really know the ins and outs of the industry and you don’t really have to experience things to be able to have an honest opinion or to be able to have a reliable opinion! You can still say, I have a tattoo, this is how I heal things… you can still have a really important opinion, but there’s so many more people writing that than there are people who actually have seen the other side of it, which is, you know, the more in-depth conversations and the things that tattoo artists specifically want to talk about. If you put a bunch of tattoo artists in a room, the conversation immediately goes to something like coils versus rotaries, or why this cream is better than that cream, or how this thing caused an infection. You’ll immediately start having these conversations that only the industry professionals know, because it’s something you’ve experienced working in a shop 24/7: sleeping, eating, breathing tattoos. And that is pretty much what we do.
D: For sure. One thing we haven’t talked about — I just wanna shift gears a little bit — is your modeling. So, you guys have created some really iconic imagery; I’m a little bit jealous because I’m in no way photogenic.
Travis: It doesn’t matter whether you’re photogenic or not [laughs]
Memphis: Photographers are definitely the key to success.
D: [laughs] So when you’re modeling, is this more of your own personal expression, or is this more of a showcase of your body art? Or both?
Memphis: It’s really, really good free promotion.
Travis: Yeah. [laughs] It’s fun to do — it was free promotion... we got to do it together, we enjoyed working together; we got to work with a lot of wicked photographers, we got to do a bunch of traveling — it was just a lot of fun in general. I never thought I was going to model either. That was just a stupid joke I made. Then, we were doing like two or three shoots a week.
Memphis: We’ve kind of stopped doing it now that the shop’s at a different level than it was in the beginning. Back then, it was definitely the best way for us to get our name out there. It was definitely the best way to get our foot in the door and make people know who we were and for our opinion to start gaining weight. Now that we’ve built the shop up based on things other than just [the fact that] Travis looks good with his shirt off, we’ve kind of stepped away from it and we’re doing more things that we’re actually passionate about, which is the writing for me and for him, the style of tattoo that he wants to do. And then, like I said, we now have the tattoo convention in Toronto that we’re putting on in September 2019, so that’s another massive project that’s gonna take up all of our time.
Travis: The modeling was fun. It was never a career. Some people like to knit in their spare time, some people paint, some people go for a run — we were doing [modeling] in our spare time because we enjoy it; shooting was a good hobby and we still do shoot once in a while. I did one just the other day, but it’s a lot more rare, only because we don’t have the time for it. It wasn’t anything that we took insanely serious, but it wasn’t like we made a joke of it.
Memphis: I think we take everything we do more seriously than the average person; but for us, it was the least serious thing out of the stuff that we did.
Travis: Yeah, if you saw us on an actual photoshoot, it was not the intense looks and stuff like the picture shows. It was like “okay, now do it,” and then it was poking and throwing shit and her jumping on my back or something, like, you know, nothing at all like the actual photo. [laughs]
D: Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun. Your beard looks great in modeling photos by the way. I’m so jealous of your beard. I’m trying to grow a mustache right now and I look like I’m 15. It’s only been three days, but it’s rough.
Memphis: It works for you.
D: Thank you so much. [laughs]
M: See, what did I tell ya?
D: That’s not what our other coworkers have been telling me. [laughs]
M: Everyone likes to give him a hard time. [laughs]
D: Yeah, I react to things very dramatically.
Memphis: Yeah, we have people in our shop that are the same way. There are a few guys who have learned that you just don’t show them weakness. The minute you react to anything, you’re a target for the rest of your life.
Travis: Yup. The minute someone makes fun of me for something, I go “Hell yea!” And then there’s nothin’ else to say.
Memphis: Case and point: Travis loves showtunes. LOVES them. We have very eclectic music taste. No one would ever believe this, but both of us have everything from Katy Perry all the way to Slayer, Johnny Cash, just everything and anything.
Travis: ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, right up to now.
Memphis: So, Travis will be sitting and tattooing somebody, and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” will come on. He will just be sitting there, probably dancing in his head, and the client will be like “Whose music is this?” And Travis will just break out… knowing the whole song. [laughs] So, like I said, the minute you show any weakness, they’ll take advantage of it. Just own your awesome mustache.
D: Well, I think I own it. I’m just very extra. So, I like to be very dramatic for the sake of being dramatic. So, I kind of set the precedent for myself when I started working here. So, it’s my fault. Now, it’s a thing. [Travis], what’s your favorite showtune?
Travis: It all depends on what comes on! I mean, I love musical movies. All the Disney movies, I’ll sing the shit out of those; and Labyrinth, I was doing a big Labyrinth tattoo the other day, so we put that on and I got to dance around and sing to that while doing the tattoo and that was a lot of fun. Oh, and Grease, we watched that just the other day. If my wife puts our daughter to bed, she gets a story. If I put her to bed, she gets a song. She loves Abbah. I love Abbah. I’m all over the place.
D: The latest thing everyone in the office is making fun of me for is the fact that I’m super excited for Ariana Grande’s new album.
Travis: I’m not sure who she is.
Memphis: I think you do [know who she is]. You do. I just don’t think you know who she is, but I know you know the songs. It was playing at the shop yesterday. We have Sirius XM, so it’s pretty much Octane or Faction all day.
D: That sounds like a really fun tattooing environment.
Memphis: Because we have so many artists, we have so many different styles; and because we have so many different styles, it means we have so many vastly different personalities. So, we’ve got gangster rap kids and 50-year-old men that listen to 50-year-old-men music. So, it’s this constant warfare of somebody putting on gangster rap and somebody trying to put on Bruce Springsteen. There are fights [over music] constantly. It’s very eclectic.
D: Yeah. That’s great, though. Plenty of variety!
Memphis: Till we start fighting. Then it’s just not fun anymore [laughs]
Keep up with Memphis and Travis Cadeau on Instagram at @memphiscadeau and @traviscadeau. You can also keep up with the Grim City Studio at @grimcityoriginal. If you haven't already, read the shop feature on Grim City Tattoo Club here!