Mike Rubendall - Tattoo Age - VICE - 1 of 3

Uploaded by vice on Oct 5, 2011


MIKE RUBENDALL: Keep these bugs away.
Show them how it pumps.
It's funny, because when I got into tattooing, it was at a
strange stage in my life.
Because I was 17, and growing up I
guess made good decisions.
I did well in school and was heavily into sports, and I
chose a different path, which was tattooing.
And everybody looked at me like, you've done so well up
until this point.
And now you're going to hang out with all these fuck-ups
and devil worshipping, drug dealing, motorcycle riding
type of guys-- so what are you doing with your life?
So at the time, nobody thought it was a really good idea.
Now I'm 33 years old, and they look at me like maybe it
wasn't such a bad idea.

FRANK ROMANO: There's a group of people leading the pack.
FRANK ROMANO: Oh, absolutely.
I mean, recently, talking to one of the guys at the shop
about this, he said, do you think Mike's
in the top 10 guys?
And I said, yeah.
Name nine guys that are better than him.
And I'm not looking to hurt anybody's feelings, but I
think it's closer to the top five.
And we agreed, yeah, maybe it's not even the top 10.
Maybe it's the top five.
MIKE RUBENDALL: You want a pillow?
MIKE RUBENDALL: You got to wait 'til noon 'til the shop
help gets in here though.
MALE SPEAKER: Nah, that's fine.
MIKE RUBENDALL: I've always described my tattooing as
Asian influenced.
I think I have a contemporary approach on traditional
Japanese tattoo style.
Overall look, I want my tattoos to be timeless.
I want it to be beautiful as the day I
did it 20 years later.
I don't want somebody to look at my tattoos and know what
year or whatever I did it in.
MATT BRECKERICH: It's exciting to look at-- detailed and
simple at the same time.
Exciting, action packed.
That's what I said the other day.

JUSTIN WEATHERHOLTZ: He has that extra little bit of
edginess to it that always kind of grabbed me.
Even the way he does his compositions and stuff, an
overall look I guess.
CHRIS O'DONNELL: He still does all kinds of subject matter.
It was pretty much centered around doing a good quality
job for the person that comes in the door.
He's not like, I'm going to try this crazy thing, and if
it doesn't work, it doesn't.
He's like, no, this person wants this, and this is what
they're going to get.
I'm going to add a lot to that, but it's going to be in
the nuances, in the progression
of my drawing ability.
And people respond to that.
The whole process is his personality.
It's very structured and very right.
He'll show up when he's supposed to show up.
He'll work really hard.
He'll do the research, he'll have the drawing, he'll have
it all thought out, takes it very seriously, and
he'll do a great job.
MIKE RUBENDALL: I'll even chase my clients, like, can
you come in for a consultation?
Can we talk about what you're getting?
I want to be prepared.
I don't want you to show up and me draw it on the spot.
I don't work well like that.
It's possible I could do a tattoo like that, but I don't
feel like they're getting my best.
When the time comes to do the tattoo, then I try to knock it
out of park.
Even little stuff, they'll come in, and I said, any of
the guys in the shop are more than capable of doing this.
You don't need to wait for me, they'll do an outstanding job.
And they're like, no, we've been watching you a long time,
and we just want a piece from you.
I was born and raised in Massapequa, New York.
It's a small town on Long Island.
I think I had an average upbringing.
I came from a middle-class family.
I think I stayed in Massapequa because I felt very
comfortable there.
I had this mentality that if you build it, they will come.
So I felt like why not be in a place that I grew up in, that
I feel most comfortable in, and I know the most people?
I felt like I could open up in my mother's basement and
people would still come and get tattooed by me-- luckily,
I was fortunate for that.

JOE PAPPALARDO JR.: I think there was a lot of hesitation
about putting a tattoo shop in that area because it's so
I think he had to meet with a lot of people and show them
his credentials.
And show them he wasn't going to have people pulling up on
their bikes at all hours of the night
and doing drugs outside--
that he has a respectable clientele.
I mean, he's tattooed celebrities.
His rates are weaning away people of
that element, I think.

MATT BRECKERICH: Kings Avenue in Massapequa, it's known as
kind of the classy tattoo shop.
You know, the shop that we're hardworking, we have our shit
together, and I would like to think we're known as the best
of the best around here.

GREZ: Working in Long Island, it was a shock of how things
were done compared to Boston.
In Long Island, they want to get tattooed, and
they want it done.
They come in and OK, I'll make 15 appointments to get my
sleeve, I'll do it every two weeks.
It's a dream.
MALE SPEAKER: The clientele here is actually pretty open
to bigger work.
You've got big, huge pieces on a lot of people running around
here, it's pretty crazy.
MIKE RUBENDALL: I remembered I tattooed a few guys that were
starting big projects like a sleeve, and
they lost their jobs.
So I would start the conversation by so, what do
you do for a living?
And the guy would be like, I just lost my job.
And I'm like, you sure you want to get into this?
It's a big commitment, a lot of time and money.
And they're like no, I need to do this.
They fucking want this, no matter what.
MATT BRECKERICH: My theory on that is that a lot of these
people around here, family guys, they don't go out to the
bar, they got kids.
So it's almost like that's their way of doing something
cool that makes them feel alive, I guess.
GREZ: One guy came in once, and he wanted Mike to do a
sleeve on him.
And he's like, oh, I don't know, I want some fucking
demon or something.
So he brings in a Lord of the Rings picture of-- you know
that guy that whips Gandalf, the guy made of fire and he
pulls him down into the pit or whatever?
He brings that in and Mike does a Fudo sleeve on the guy.
The guy, he sees the fire and he's like fuck yeah.
He was just kind of like joking around a little bit,
and I looked down at him and I go, you don't even know what
that is on your arm, do you?
And he goes, psh, yeah I do.
I go, OK, what is that?
He goes, it's fondue.
And Mike and I lost it.
They see your tattoos for what they in a quality sense.
But a lot of times it's your job to incorporate more
interesting aspects into the tattoo that tell a story for
other people that are viewing it.

JOE PAPPALARDO JR.: People he knows and that he does a lot
of work on, he pushes it.
Because I think--
I'll use myself as an example.
For my back, I told him I wanted
a hani with a spiderweb.
I mean, my hani doesn't look like a typical hani I think he
just went for it.
In my mind, he'd the artist, he's doing what he's doing.
I think he has the most fun when people kind of approach
it that way.
I'm sure a lot of these tattoo artists do, they don't want to
be told what to do, they're artists.
They want to push it, they want to go.

I don't know if he has a favorite piece.
I know whenever I see him, I'm always kind of blown away.
Like, the other day he was doing a Phoenix that
I thought was cool.
Like it was just deep purples and stuff.
I always like-- he does great stuff with heads.
Someone he was doing a leg sleeve on, it was like seven
severed heads.
It was just gory and raw, and I think he was just
having fun with it.
I grew up with Mike, I know Mike, I know he's an awesome
tattoo artist.
To see it in a different setting, really kind of go,
holy cow, this guy's a name.
And I'm great friends with him.
He's like almost a celebrity in this little circle.
GREZ: One thing I've observed about Mike is that he always
continues to have
relationships with these people.
Because he's got the mayor feel.
He knows everyone's name, shaking everyone's hands.
I was working one day at the shop, the door opens and I
hear, Mikey!
And I look up, I'm like, that's Steve Guttenberg.
I remember him from Police Academy, and he's walking
around looking for Mike.
MIKE RUBENDALL: Him and his dad came into the shop to get
matching tattoos, and his mother found out--
oh, look at this.
There they are!
Holy shit.
Speak of the devil.
MIKE RUBENDALL: Look at this.
JOE PAPPALARDO, SR.: Are you filming for your
documentary right now?
MIKE RUBENDALL: Yeah, right now, baby.
JOE PAPPALARDO, SR.: All right, you want to go to the
pizza shop?
MIKE RUBENDALL: How you doing, buddy?
JOE PAPPALARDO, SR.: Steve, you got five minutes?
MIKE RUBENDALL: You got a minute?
JOE PAPPALARDO, SR.: They're doing a tattoo documentary.
STEVE GUTTENBERG: Tattoo on you?
MIKE RUBENDALL: Say a couple of kind words?
JOE PAPPALARDO, SR.: Yeah, you're the guy, Massapequa.
Oh, no.
MIKE RUBENDALL: You got to lie?
STEVE GUTTENBERG: Mikey, you look great man.
You look terriffic.
MIKE RUBENDALL: You, too, man.
How's everything?
I'll see you at the shop.
JOE PAPPALARDO, SR.: This is the first place
that Michael worked.
Came in a young man, what, 15 years old, Mike?
Mike Rubendall.
MIKE RUBENDALL: What's up, Frank?
How are you man?
Good to see you.
JOE PAPPALARDO, SR.: Larry's our manager here, he told me
not to hire Michael Rubendall.
I don't know why.
Why is that, Larry?
LARRY: I don't know.
GREZ: It's like he hasn't burned any bridges.
All the people he grew up with, they all still live in
Long Island.
He remembers everyone, he takes care of everybody.
ED: Mike!
ED: Welcome to New York.
MIKE RUBENDALL: You're back?
GREZ: You know, some of the characters that he hangs out
with are so entertaining.
MIKE RUBENDALL: This guy's a legend.
Say something to the camera.
ED: Next time I get a tattoo, it's going to be a pizza pie
right on my arm, Mikey Rubendall style.
GREZ: It's incredible how much he brings from the world to

It's special, because we have the train there
and all these people--
the taxi cab drivers.
Every time our clients would come in, it's like oh my God,
this taxi cab driver is chewing my ear off about how
he brought three people from Europe last week and two
people from California.
None of them can believe that so many people
travel just for a tattoo.
MALE SPEAKER: You said that you've taken some people to
the tattoo parlor before?
JUAN SUAREZ: I take a lot of people there.
When they come in, I usually ask them
where do you come from?
Oh, from the city, one guy Pennsylvania, another guy from
some different places.
Yeah, we do, we do--
we drop them off, pick them up, I know the place by heart.
MIKE RUBENDALL: It's flattering because people come
all over the world.
And people live down the block from the shop, and they're
just happy to get tattooed.
Some of them don't even know how successful the shop is, or
that the job is world renowned, or that people come
in from all over the world.
They're just like, oh, he's local, he does a good job,
he's a nice guy.
That's all we need, the simple life.