I had the privilege this past week to expand InkedBiographies past Nashville, Tennessee and instead interviewed my sister’s friend, a graduate of Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Matt had too many tattoos for him to talk about each one, so I told him, “Just start talking.”
“Ok, so a lot of my tattoos do have meaning, while others not so much. It all started when I was 18, well actually since I was a kid in first grade using markers to draw tattoos all over myself. That’s when I knew I really wanted tattoos.
“But anyway, the one on the inside of my arm is based off the Bioshock Franchise which is a book and video games series. The author wanted to tell a story about the people who survived World War II and how, when they came out of the concentration camps, they weren’t better people for it, they were actually worse. It was about how the camps had warped their minds and turned them into evil dictators themselves. So that’s the premise of the game and that struck me. People always say, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ But honestly it’s more like, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you want to die.’ So that was the reason for me to get this tattoo, it’s actually pretty morbid.
“I look at the glass as half empty, while a lot of people see it as half full. Most of my tattoos are going to be depressing and you’re not going to have a lot to write about,” he joked.
He paused to look over all his tattoos to decide which one he wanted to talk about next. “This wolf head is my most recent one, I got it last spring break.
“I wanted to pay a tribute to the old sailors by getting an American Traditional style tattoo. In old pictures, you see all of these World War II sailors coming back covered in tattoos, and I love that style. When I got this one, I was in a depressed phase. I felt all this pressure from going to school and having a job and running a student agency and being an intern. The mindset was just full of depression and struggling. So I got this one because I heard this one song.”
He pulled up the lyrics to the song Thrown by Bring Me the Horizon.
So you can throw me to the wolves
Tomorrow I will come back
Leader of the whole pack
Beat me black and blue
Every wound will shape me
Every scar will build my throne.
“That passage struck me because I want to be a leader one day. I felt like I was being thrown to the wolves and I was fighting to get back to the top.”
He shrugged. “All the weird stuff, nothing normal. I can’t just say I have a tattoo because I like the color.”
I asked him to talk about the tattoo that covered his right forearm depicting an octopus in the ocean. “I got this entire tattoo done in one day. It was a nine hour day. I got it done in Atlanta from a friend in the parlor All or Nothing.
“When we sat down I told him I wanted something about an anchor that was tying me down while I was fighting to get out. So we have the waves enclosing it all. The anchor has the city of Atlanta in it which reminds me of where I’m from. I got it when I was nineteen and feeling tied down and chained up. Very angsty stuff. This was right after I dropped out of college. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life.”
I asked him how he ended up at Liberty University since he dropped out of college to move back to Atlanta.
“I originally took a year off of school because I didn’t want to go. Finally, everyone talked me into going, but when I got to Liberty, I wasn’t happy. I didn’t like being there and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew I wanted to be creative and be an artist. I went home for a year and sat around and finally I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to end up poor and homeless if I don’t get a job or degree.’ So I went back to Liberty and just stumbled into a major and stuck with it. If you had heard the phone conversation with admissions you would realize I really just stumbled into it. I called the registrar office and said, ‘Hey, I think I want to be a student again.’ She said, ‘Ok we still have your file, but what’s your major, you’ll technically be a junior.’ I asked them to hold on and googled Liberty’s majors and said, ‘Well Advertising and Public Relations sounds fine, let’s do that one.'”
My sister told me that Matt was just being humble about his major and he is, in fact, incredible at Communications. She told me he was asked to come back to Liberty after he graduated to head up an Ad Team, he is a marketing grad assistant, and has interns who work under him.
“You give me too much credit,” Matt said. “A job title doesn’t matter. But it’s been a wild ride. And I’ve been happy with my tattoos.”
I asked him to explain more about the American Traditional style and why he was drawn to it.
“It’s probably because I spent so much time as a teenager in tattoo parlors. Plus I’m not a huge fan of the tattoos these days. If you’re going to get a tattoo, you need to get one that will wear well through the years. If you don’t outline it at all, you’ll have to get it touched up ten years from now! But also it’s a little bit about paying respect to the older generations that had to go through the Great Depression and World War II. And it also reminds me of all the art styles I used to look up to as a kid that I would try to mimic.”
I asked him if he felt like he was able to satisfy his artistic side in his current job. “I mean I’m that far in,” he held up his forefinger and thumb to show a measurement no bigger than an inch. “You’re always growing and learning something new. You’re never fully there, you’re never completely a master.”
Thanks to Matt Voss for sharing his story.
Thanks to Katherine Burklin for photographing.
Thanks to Bean Tree Cafe for good coffee.