Yayo interview with Rebel Base Tattoo studio. Andy Hunter; Rebel with a cause.
by Matthew Haddon-Reichardt on Jul 01, 2022
When one of your oldest friends and a local legend (Benjamin Elton) tells you that you need to check out a tattoo studio you sit up and listen. The icing on the cake is the fact Rebel Base Tattoos are big fans of Yayo and recommend Yayo products to all their customers. So I hopped into my X Wing Fighter and set a course for Rebel Base.
I was meant to be driving to Tuxford to go and interview Andy Hunter in person, but a RTC at the weekend had left me without a car and stiff and sore. Instead I rang him up and interviewed him in my garden in an effort to get a good phone signal. I started by asking when did he open the studio and how it has progressed.
“I opened Rebel Base in 2016 it’s slowly snowballed from there. I’m really pleased with how the business has grown as it’s steadily got busier and busier at a manageable rate. I think what’s helped the shop grow is that I’m 100% behind the place; we want to make Rebel Base the best experience for the customer and also a great place to work. What I’ve found is that one good job leads to another. People are coming back to get tattooed and telling their friends about Rebel Base and they are coming in. It’s grown really organically and I couldn’t be happier.”
“Ten to twenty years ago going into a tattoo studio could be an intimidating experience."
Customer service is at the forefront of Andy’s business strategy.
“Ten to twenty years ago going into a tattoo studio could be an intimidating experience. It was a bit like a secret club with its own code of conduct. It could be daunting and you felt that you too had to match this hard man image. It’s a good business lesson to realise that being nice is important. You make your tattoo studio a friendly relaxed place and people will come back. It’s not rocket science, but it’s something I think the industry has been slow to learn.”
The big question is: why Rebel Base?
“Well, I’m a big Star Wars fan and a movie fan in general so I was looking for inspiration from the films I liked. I nearly called it Outpost after The Thing; but there is a shop in Whitby called that. My next choice was Rogue Squadron but Rogue One came out so we went for Rebel Base, which in hindsight is the best of the three.”
I ask how he’s enjoying the new Obi-Wan Kenobi TV series.
“Obi Won starts slow but picks up well and the ending is fantastic. It messes with established cannon a bit but I get sick of people winging about all that stuff. You see these guys in their forties and fifties arguing about who shot first and how come Princess Leia can remember her mum. People forget these are kid’s adventure stories. If you look at Star Wars through the eyes of a 12 year old, 8 year old or 4 year old all you see is wonder; not mistakes in continuity. Don’t whinge about Star Wars, just grab the popcorn and buckle up for the ride. Nerds have no authority; they don’t own the franchise and those who do owe them nothing. Who the hell are they to criticise? It’s for the kids and the kid in all of us.”
As we all learn to live with covid tattooing is taking on the new normal. I ask how Andy has managed through this unique period in history.
“Post covid we are relatively back to normal. I think it’s defiantly effected how people think about their work life balance and revise how much people put into work. For me when I’m working it’s still 100% but it’s helped me reflect on how important it is to balance that with family and home time. You have got to save some back otherwise work will suck it all out of you. For me it’s now not about doing less, but balancing it out more. Laser is the other tattooist alongside me and he managed to get some extra work to tide him over through covid. He gets his name from his time in the band Yes My Ninjas; they all had pseudonyms and his was Brown Laser. My wife works on the health side for the MOD so that helped and I’m pleased to say we survived covid and now business is doing well.”
"Tattooing is always one of those big moments in life and I think people have really missed going under the needle."
Just as covid starts to fade away with now have rampant inflation and a war in Europe. I ask if this has this had an effect business?
“I’m not sure, I think it’s a case of wait and see. I think what we saw during covid, or any time of social stress, was society as a whole having a fight or flight reaction. It’s like you getting into that car crash and you survived; that kind of stress either makes you go full tilt into life or pull back. I think events like pandemics, natural disasters and war are the sociological equivalent of that car crash. These events push people to either jump in with both feet and get a tattoo booked, or cancel an appointment and think twice about what they want. I think covid has prompted people to take the dive and get tattooed; partly because they have had so much time to reflect on what they want and partly because we all got starved of social contact and experiences. Tattooing is always one of those big moments in life and I think people have really missed going under the needle. As for the war and economic squeeze it’s causing, that will obviously mean less money in people’s pockets so less impulsive spending. I know for sure though that when money is tight those tattoos you do get mean that much more.”
I ask if the name Rebel Base results in requests for lots of Star Wars tattoos.
“More so a few years ago; when Star wars was back as a real pop phenomenon. Fashions come and go and I think we are moving away from the big Sci-Fi sleeves and back pieces. I used to do a lot of Hello Kitty tattoos, but you don’t see so many these days. I did Hello Kitty as Spiderman, or Superman or Batman. I didn’t know anyone else doing that sort of thing then all of a suddenly my designs are getting copied by other tattooists then they appearing on T-shirts. So I stopped doing them and moved onto other work.”
Getting copied and ripped off is an occupational hazard for tattooists and artists.
“The same thing happened to me when I worked in design. I did a load of cool illustrations of VW Camper Vans as superheroes; Batvan, Spider Van, Super Van and the like. We got in the VW Camper magazine and got a load of cool press. It was all legit and above board with VW. Then low and behold I start to see people sticking my designs on canvases and T-shirts.; people making money off my creativity and the VW name. But you can’t stop people copying; it’s too much time and stress trying to fight it. Even if you shut these companies down they will just start up again in a different name. The internet has made ripping stuff off global. It’s hard enough fighting those ripping you off in the UK; let alone America, China or Russia. You just have to realise that if you are being copied you must be doing something right. It’s kind of a crass, back handed compliment.”
In terms of tattoo supplies Andy is a big fan of Yayo.
“We use quite a few Yayo products and I have the say the butters are just brilliant; I wouldn’t use anything else. We aren’t sponsored by Yayo, I just find them some of the best products on the market for both tattooists and those getting tattooed. I started tattooing in my mid 30’s and nearly twenty years later its fantastic to have really good quality aftercare available. Long gone are the days of being told to put Savlon on your new tattoo.”
Andy is clearly really passionate about his work and feels very lucky to be doing what he does.
“People will come to me and ask how they can become a tattooist and I always tell them that an apprenticeship will not fall in their lap, even though that’s exactly what happened to me. I was working in design and I did some work for a tattoo studio and we did an exchange of every hour of design I did for them, they’d give me an hour of tattoo time. I came to realise that a lot of what I was drawing up was tattooable and I built up quite a portfolio. This resulted in another shop seeing my work and asking me to come onboard as an apprentice. I was in my mid thirties so it was a big move to give up a well paid job in design to start from scratch in a new industry. But it paid off and I’ve never looked back.”
I ask how Laser came to join the Rebel Base team.
“Laser is my one and only apprentice and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He was coming into get tattooed and I saw his band and bought a T-Shirt off him that he’d designed. I looked at his work and I could see straight away these would make brilliant tattoos. So I told him that when he was ready he should come to me and I’d train him up. People say we are like Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, but I think he sees it more as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader!”
“Lasers own tattoos have a very trippy, American acid vibe. I keep telling him to keep pushing in that direction as when the trend breaks he will be at the forefront of it. Tattooing moves in peaks and troughs. Look back fifteen years and it was a boom time, in the post Miami Ink world. Now we are in a bit of a lull; full sleeves are out and rough little prison style tattoos are in. I think tattooing thrives off these peaks and troughs and it’s really exciting to see what will come next.”
"It’s inbuilt into us to go out and bleed and suffer then come back to our cave after the kill, to the adulation of our tribe."
Its nearly school pick up time so I round off by asking why tattooing is so appealing.
“I know a psychologist who comes to get tattooed at Rebel Base. They explained to me that tattooing taps into something primeval that the modern world has stripped away from so many. Part of our brains is still wired up to be living in caves and hunting woolly mammoth. It’s inbuilt into us to go out and bleed and suffer then come back to our cave after the kill, to the adulation of our tribe. That sense of suffering for an end result, of sacrifice, blood and pain for a greater payoff is inherent in tattooing. It’s why something that hurts so much, feels so good. Tattooing is hardwired into our DNA.”
A final thought from the author: "What I love about writing for Yayo is the freedom it gives me. It's really great to meet people like Andy who use Yayo and promote the products to their customers. No kick backs, no sponsorship deal; just good old fashioned honesty and belief in the quality of the products. if you want the best then use the best; use Yayo."