Time Out: What brought you to LA? Craig Jackman:I moved up to LA in '97. I fell in love with the Silver Lake area back then. The area was a lot different than what it is now. There's this old saying, "When the white man moves in, he ruins the neighborhood." And it's true. In Silver Lake, they came in and got rid of the old Latino and the old gay community. We had the street scene, which was so much better before it got all corrupted and ruined. My customers back then were just a little bit of everything. And now it's just a little bit different. I still enjoy my job very much. I love my business. But I sometimes yearn for the old days.
Time Out: What were your early experiences with tattooing like? CJ: The first tattoo I ever did was on my foot. I was about eighteen or nineteen when I did it. I got my first tattoo when I was fifteen, back in England. I just got really obsessed with the mechanics of the job, the machines. Back in England, it was a super secretive trade. I would go get tattooed and spy on the guy doing it, then go home and try to make a tattoo machine myself. It was very much this cool and secretive industry that I really wanted to get into. I was very interested in the idea of drawing something that stays on a person until they die. The tattoo ages, it blurs, and it fades, and that's the part that makes it amazing. It seemed very organic to me, and that's why I loved it.
Time Out: How would you describe your style? CJ: My whole life, I've always wanted my business to be a street shop. That means, anyone can come in and get whatever the fuck they want. I'm not really into saying "I only do this" or "I only do that," and I think that mentality has helped me over the years, because it allows me to do everything. A lot of people know me for black and gray and portraits, fine line stuff, single needle work, but I do everything. I guess I'm just a regular Joe tattooist.
Time Out: What's American Electric Tattoo like? CJ: If you're walking into our shop, it's like you're walking into your living room. Up on the walls, there's every type of artwork except tattoo artwork. There's stupid pictures of monkeys with hamburgers on their heads, stuff like that. It's a place where people can be comfortable. I just want people to come in and have a good experience, be relaxed and happy.
Time Out: What's one of the most memorable tattoos you've ever done? CJ: I remember the people more than the tattoos. One of my dear clients passed away about two years ago, and I did a whole body suit on him. This beautiful body suit. He had HIV for 26 years, got really sick and finally died of pneumonia. But those are the memories I have. I mean, I tattooed that guy for four years. I've had other people I've tattooed since 1995. I don't remember half the shit I've done on them, but I remember the people. They keep coming back. They have fun.
Time Out: What's the strangest situation you've ever been in while tattooing? CJ: Many years ago, I had a client come in with a set of Polaroids of all these bite marks that he wanted me to tattoo all over his wife's body. We were halfway through the job, and she was sitting in the chair. He was up there talking with her, when I realized this guy had a hard on. He started touching it, trying to get himself off, and I just stood up and said, "Get the fuck out of my shop." That's one of the only times I've ever had to ask someone to leave.
Time Out: Do you have a favorite tattoo of your own? CJ: My favorite tattoo is the very first one I got. It's a dagger on my arm. It's ridiculous, but you always remember your first tattoo. I remember this one well, and it was a good experience, so that's why it's my favorite.
Time Out: What's your favorite music to tattoo to? CJ: We always listen to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Or any early '80s Madonna. Can't go wrong with that.