It's no secret that countless tattooers learned, or at least perfected, their craft while behind bars. But Jack Gribble — a tattoo artist who also plays drums in the punk outfit Arms Aloft — may be the only artist that did his apprenticeship while under house arrest.
“The only time I could leave was to go to a doctor’s appointment or work, so I had worked it out that I was at the tattoo shop eight hours a day doing my apprenticeship. The monitor watches you at home, but not when you’re out, so I’d be able to like, go get lunch other places. It really kept me sane. I also got some tattoos while on house arrest. I thought that was hilarious,” Jack Gribble says over the phone, standing on a wintry Minneapolis street corner. Gribble is a tattoo artist at Northeast Tattoo and plays drums in the punk band Arms Aloft, which comes as no surprise, as punk rock and tattoos have a long, storied history together.
“This year is our 10 year anniversary, I joined seven years ago,” Gribble recalls. “When they started, I was just a big fan, and I spent some time scheming my way into the band. We’ve all kinda been playing together in other bands since high school. It’s great — I get to sit in the back and watch my favorite band every night, I just have to be in it.”
Arms Aloft has toured relentlessly over the past few years, which has not only allowed Gribble to see the world beyond Minneapolis, but it has created some truly memorable situations. “Recently, we were on tour with The Falcon, and they told us ‘yeah, we’re gonna play New York City on this boat cruise thing.’ It was so awesome! I didn’t even have playing on a boat as a possible option for a dream to even have. If anyone’s reading this and wants us to play on a boat again, sign us up,” Gribble pleads enthusiastically.
When he's not on stage rocking faces, Gribble has been honing his skills as a tattooer since May of 2010, and is just now starting to hit his stride as an artist. “For a long time I didn’t really feel like I had a personal style at all, I was just trying to mimic traditional stuff that I thought was cool,” Gribble says. “I was really heavily influenced by a guy I started getting tattooed by when I was 18, Jonah Lemke, who tattoos out of Eau Claire at Wintership Tattoo. I looked up to him completely. His style blows my mind. It wasn’t until the last couple years I started to notice more subtle changes in my work that are stylistically minded.
Jack’s wife, the equally talented artist Kaily McKee, apprenticed under him (though, she was not on house arrest at the time), which predictably created a weird dynamic. “During her apprenticeship, it was weird because I’d talk to her like an apprentice, not my wife. I was like ‘Dude, you’re going to get a real fucking apprenticeship, I’m not going to go easy on you.’ And I guess I’d like be yelling at her, scrubbing tubes or some shit, and at some point she was just like ‘You can’t talk to me like that,’ and I’d be like ‘Ah, shit! You’re right.’”
Gribble finds his lives as a tattooer and a touring musician are perfectly complementary. “Touring keeps tattooing fresh, since I’m not tattooing 100% of the time, so I’m not bogged down by it. It doesn’t get stagnant,” he says. “It’s great to have another artistic outlet to express my feelings. Every time I’m out, I’m thinking about tattooing for a month, mulling over ideas and kind of critiquing my work and shit like that. So, when I come back to it, everything I’ve been considering to be my mistakes, I now have them worked out in my head. The fact that my break from it is just me somewhere weird with my best friends is just the icing on the cake.”
Seeing the world with Arms Aloft has really opened Gribble's eyes to tattoo styles and trends from all over the world. This has lead to a wealth of inspiration. “You’re at fucking punk shows every night, so you’re seeing all these different tattoos in all these different scenes in all these different places. You’ll see stuff like how in Paris it’s a lot of heavy, black work. You’ll see that kind of thing here, but in Paris all these kids are just covered in all this insane type of blackwork shit. And you see that, and you’re like ‘oh man, fuck, I gotta do some of that.’ I’m away from tattooing, but I’m still surrounded by people with tattoos. It’s awesome!”