According to Detective Rust Cohle (portrayed by Matthew McConaughey) of HBO's True Detective, “life is barely long enough to get good at one thing.”
Ektor Alex Varkatzas, best known as the lead vocalist of Atreyu, is doing his best to prove that idiom incorrect.
First, the metalcore singer branched out into one of his other passions by opening up Costa Mesa's Hellenic Crossfit and Muay Thai in 2011. Now, he's moved into a whole new industry, tattooing.
“I collected tattoos for years, since I was 18,” Varkatzas says. “I started getting into art and painting first, and then I realized that I might be doing it to teach myself to tattoo. I knew it wasn't something you just went in and asked about though.”
Thankfully, Varkatzas met someone who understood his situation more than most would when he went into Renaissance Studios in San Clemente with his wife, who was getting tattooed by Rich Pineda.
Pineda, a long-time veteran of the music industry himself before switching to tattoos about five years ago, welcomed Varkatzas into his shop and allowed the musician to be his second-ever apprentice.
“I didn't know what to expect from him, but I saw immediately that he had love for it,” Pineda says. “This is something special. I think it's still kind of sacred, being a tattoo artist, and he understands that. He's here most of the week just putting his head down and working hard. He's putting in the time to get his tattooing where his artwork is, and his artwork is pretty incredible.”
Tattooing may seem like an odd path to go down after his successful music career became more of a part-time job, but it really made perfect sense for Varkatzas. The songwriter needed a creative outlet to go along with all of the physically demanding portions of his life.
“It's similar, but it's also very different,” Varkatzas says. “There came a time when everything I was doing was physical. Training clients at the gym, even the band was physical. Tattooing is still tough, but it lets me create something again. I love to create, to make something out of nothing. Making a tattoo design is the same for me as finishing a song, I want to do it, I need to do it.”
Varkatzas sees similarities far beyond the creative nature of tattooing and writing a song. According to the fledgling ink slinger, the process behind it is almost identical.
“It's the same in my head,” Varkatzas says. “When I'm drawing a design or modifying flash, I just see that same path through the darkness. It's the same as writing lyrics. I'll be sitting there listening to chords and see nothing, and then all of a sudden there's just a path. I'll lose hours drawing, and I'll forget to eat lunch and everything else.”
Pineda agrees that designing tattoos and making music come from similar parts of the brain (and heart), and believes that Varkatzas' desire to create is one of the main reasons the apprentice could launch himself into the ranks of OC's finest tattooers sooner rather than later.
“It's all creating,” Pineda says. “Music is an art just as much as anything, the passion is all the same. I don't know many musicians who don't do some kind of art, they're almost always doing something else artistic. That's why he's doing it with such an accelerated rate. He has that passion to create something artistic. That attitude is exactly the reason I chose to give him this gift I've only given one other person, because that's what an apprenticeship is, it's a gift.”
Ultimately, Varkatzas isn't getting into the tattoo industry to become famous or make tons of money, he's doing it as another medium for his art. Of course, his new passion means he gets to spend even less time with his family.
“I'm real grateful for the opportunity that Rich (Pineda) has gifted to me,” Varkatzas says. “I have no delusions about it, and I try to prove that I'm taking it serious every day. How do I do it? Well, I sleep less and drink more coffee. Also, my wife is so understanding. Having an understanding spouse is what makes this happen. I might only see her for 45 minutes to an hour each day, but she understands. If she didn't know I was doing it for the right reason, I'm sure she'd be pissed.”
Pineda nods and chuckles at Varkatzas thanking his wife. “Make sure to put that I'm really really grateful for my wife in there too,” Pineda says. “She puts up with so much bullshit, I don't even know how she does it. I mean, she let me judge a Sullen Angels competition the other week.”
“But make sure you put mine first,” Varkatzas adds with a smile. “She let me go with him to judge a Sullen Angels competition.”
Josh Chesler used to play baseball for some pretty cool teams, but now he just writes about awesome stuff like tattoos, music, MMA and sneakers. He enjoys injuring himself by skateboarding, training for fights, and playing musical instruments in his off time.