When ELLE met Bang Bang

Rihanna and Cara’s tattooist

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‘Wherever you see a tattoo you see a loser,’ my dad said to me over the dinner table in 2002. I was 17 at the time and the subject had just come up. Little did my father know, coincidentally, I was perched gingerly on one bum cheek because the other had been freshly tattooed with a small heart the size of a two pence piece; I was the human embodiment of a My Little Pony.

Fast forward over a decade and while I agree with my Dad on many things, his generalising of tattoo wearers is not one of them; I’m sitting in the waiting area of the surprisingly sleek Bang Bang, a tattoo studio named after its owner Keith ‘Bang Bang’ McCurdy. Bang Bang is the go-to tattooist for young A-listers including Rihanna, Cara, Rita, Justin and Selena.

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Bang Bang is very much in demand, so I booked in for some stars and a heart on my wrists with El-e Mags, the man who gave Cara her lion tattoo. Funnily enough the next night Rita and Cara popped in – Cara had her mother’s name ‘Pandora’ inked on her inner arm, while Rita had a pin-up girl on her torso. While Bang Bang is very much the man, or should that be tattooist, of the moment, he took some time out to talk tattoos, charity auctions and celebrity clients with ELLE…

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Did you always want to be a tattooist?
‘I didn’t always want to be a tattoo artist but as soon as I started I knew I only wanted to tattoo, it happened organically.'
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How did you get into it?
‘When I was 18 I was still in high school and I bought a tattoo kit online - which is not what you’re supposed to do, by the way - and I just taught myself. Eventually I got a job with someone in a real tattoo shop who taught me how to do it correctly and a year later, when I was 19, I moved to New York and have been here ever since.'
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Did you train to be an artist?
‘I didn’t. I always had the ability to draw but never the training to draw. I was a little lazy about it until I started tattooing. I would draw something until I had it figured out then I’d stop drawing, whereas with tattooing I have to finish the entire piece - I have no choice. So it was good for my ability I got to grow because of that.'
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What do you think is the secret to your success?
‘Just a good support system. I have great clients and friends and it really all comes from that. Everyone's heard my name because someone’s said it. I can’t stand on a mountain and tell everyone who I am, so it’s just friends, family, the whole circle’.

And why do you think you have such a celebrity following?
‘I think just because I’ve become friends with celebrities throughout the years and they tell their friends. Back to the earlier question it’s the word of mouth that helps.'
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This is an odd question but, if an alien came down to earth how would you explain your job?
‘That is an odd question! It’s like making something beautiful forever. I would assume this alien spoke English of course so we could get that across.'

Who was your first celebrity client?
‘Rihanna.'
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Were you nervous?
'No, I don’t get nervous, nah! People don’t make me nervous.'
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What was the first tattoo you gave her?
‘I did a transcript on her hip when she was 18.'

What’s the best tattoo you’ve ever created?
‘I always say the next one is my favourite. I get to do these tattoos and I love them but then they walk away so it’s always the next one I get excited for. I am really eager to try and apply new things for the next one.’
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What’s your own favourite tattoo?
‘I have a portrait of my daughter on my arm’.

What would you say to someone thinking about having their first tattoo?
‘Go for it! Just do it! It’s only a tattoo.'
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What inspires you?
‘Nature inspires me. You know, a lot of times we forget how amazing things are in the world we live in. We try and create amazing things but if you just look up it’s amazing, just look around it’s amazing. The world amazes me.'
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Is there a book or film that’s changed your life?
‘I would hope that I’m not so influenced by other people’s ideas, but inspired, yes. I really love movies -they inspire me a lot. I can’t pin down any single one, but the art behind movies, the team of hundreds of people that it takes to make a perfect movie... It's my second favourite art form’.

What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?
‘Do exactly what you think you should do and don’t worry about anything else. Trust in yourself.'
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And if you weren’t a tattooist what would you be?
‘An astronaut!’

What would the title of your autobiography be?
‘Marked For Life.'
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Who, living or dead, would you like to give a tattoo to?
‘Maybe Abe Lincoln. I have no idea why!’
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Do you have a Twitter guilty pleasure?
‘I follow some politicians just to laugh at them.'

If you had your own hash tag what would it be?
‘Fuck yeah!’
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Tell me a bit about your charity auction?
'So my charity is to benefit empty cages in Animal Haven, a local animal rescue group. What we are doing is auctioning off kisses by celebrities that are on archival paper and signed. And whoever wins those has the option of me to tattoo on them. All the proceeds go to charity and people get tattoos and everyone gets involved. It's fun!’

Why animals?
‘Because animals need some money! And they are people too, it’s a good cause.'

Find out more about Bang Bang’s charity auction for Animal Haven here…

Follow Bang Bang on Twitter here...

See our gallery of celebrity tattoos here…

Read the beauty team's guide to New York, including one of Bang Bang's favourite restaurants...

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