Chad Koeplinger is a well-known tattoo artist with a taste for hardcore music, travel, and good food amongst a host of other stuff—a man after my own heart. I wanted to do something new and have a look at the relationship between the tattoo world and the hardcore scene.
Ed Crooks: Hi Chad. How are things? Where are you right now?
Chad Koeplinger: I am in Paris right now but off for a pretty crazy trip: we are going to Sweden, Italy, Greece, China, North Korea, Spain, and Norway this time around…
When did you first discover hardcore music? What were some of the first bands you heard?
I was 10. I was pen pals with Amery Smith, who was the first drummer from Suicidal Tendencies. I don’t even know how that happened! But anyway, he made me a mixtape with thrash songs on one side, and punk and hardcore songs on the other. I never even listened to the thrash side! I fell in love with Minor Threat, Bad Religion, and Black Flag especially. This was 28 years ago!
What was the first show you went to? Who was on the bill and where was it?
Flint, Michigan in 1991. Shows were hard to find out about back then; I lived far from Detroit, and even Flint seemed far; it was 30 miles away. My parents weren't supportive, and I had no way to get to either city...so finally by 1991 I got to go see Civil Disobedience in Flint. I have no idea who they played with, but it was amazing. I got my nose broken 30 seconds into the first song of the first band. I was hooked!
I love how on one of the Tattoo Age features with Smith Street Tattoo Parlour they have the Integrity skull up as flash. One of the guys from the shop said that people have just picked it off before not knowing what it is. Have you done many hardcore tattoos or hardcore-inspired tattoos over the years? What are some of the most memorable?
Yeah man, I love that. I have done a few, but not that many actually…
I remember seeing that you attended one of the COS reunion shows in the last couple of years—how was it? Have you seen many of the other crucial bands, like Bold, Instead, and so on?
That show was amazing. I’ve loved that band since I was a little kid, so seeing them was really great and kind of emotional for me—as was seeing the first Judge reunion show. Those bands meant so much to me my whole life, and to finally get the chance to see them was like a dream come true. I don’t care what the circumstances were; I’ve heard so many haters, but honestly I never thought about how anyone else felt about hardcore but myself. I don’t care if the people that sang the song 25 years ago still believe in it or live like that or not; it still meant something to me…even if I don’t still believe in it either!
Do you collect records now or have you in the past? What was some of the gold in your collection, if so?
I did have a small collection. I was always pretty poor, so whatever records I had when I was young…it was a small miracle that I had them at all. I just started collecting again last year. I was trying to resist at first—I’m such a collector of shit by nature and I went way overboard right away. But still, I don’t think I have anything too crazy. I have a Youth Of Today record that I bought at the Posi Numbers Fest which I think they only made a small amount of.
"My parents weren't supportive [of my passion for hardcore music], and I had no way to get to either city...so finally by 1991 I got to go see Civil Disobedience in Flint. I have no idea who they played with, but it was amazing. I got my nose broken 30 seconds into the first song of the first band. I was hooked."
What are your top five hardcore bands?
Judge, Chain of Strength, Gorilla Biscuits, Minor Threat, and Slapshot.
What was the last Hardcore show you went to?
This Is Hardcore 2015…took my kid and her boyfriend too—I wanted them to see the real thing.
I know you're big on good food, so what and where are some of your favorite places to eat worldwide?
Tokyo, Paris, Montreal, New York, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Who are your favorite chefs worldwide?
Chris Flint, Antonio Park, Aitor Zabala, and Hiroki Yoshitake.
What are your main inspirations behind your unique style of tattooing?
Traveling—all the weird shit you see out there man. And also Ed Hardy.
You travel tons; where are some of your favorite countries to go and tattoo?
Italy, as well as Colombia and Nepal.
What would you say the tattoo industry looks like today, with shops popping up all over the place?
What made you give up the travel/Hilton life to start your own shop?
Hah, I got a little tired of packing and unpacking constantly. Mu health was suffering a bit from being on the road constantly, and I needed to get that sorted out. Also man, I thought having a small space to tattoo out of would be fun, and having more prep time with drawings would be nice!
What about the location—did you know you wanted to settle in Nashville?
I always felt an affinity for Nashville and my brother, who also tattoos, recently moved here. It just seemed like the right place for me. I’ve met so many life-changing, amazing people here; it’s home now, and I haven’t had one of those for a long, long time.