Interviews

Published on January 24th, 2020 | by Percy Crawford

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Celebrity Tattoo Artist, Romeo Lacoste Explains How He Built His Brand!

From Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Odell Beckham Jr., Kendrick Lamar, to Juice Wrld, Romeo Lacoste has inked them all.

Romeo Lacoste knows tattoos. He also understands the value in building your brand. His brand and skills have allowed him to build great relationships with some celebrity A-listers. He has inked NFL play-maker, Odell Beckham Jr. of the Cleveland Browns, pop stars, Arianda Grande and Justin Bieber and rapper, Kendrick Lamar. And not only did he ink, but also became great friends with the late, Juice Wrld who was well on his way to becoming a mega-star before his untimely passing. Understanding the business, Romeo’s work ascends well beyond just tatting these celebs, his brand building ability has set him apart from other artists. He’s amassed over 2 million Instagram followers and million YouTube subscribers to his page. He became the first celebrity tattoo artist to get verified on Instagram.

I caught up with the Montreal, Canada native to discuss his blossoming career, his North Hollywood based tattoo shop, “The California Dream,” and his celebrity interactions.

How are you, man? Business seems to be doing well.

Romeo Lacoste: Yeah, everything is good, man. I’ve been traveling a lot. It’s been crazy during the holidays. I’ve been traveling with, Drake and the OVO Boys both for New Year’s and a few weeks ago. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I’ve been out tattooing and partying, so things have been busy as always.

Did you ever imagine it would be this insane? Tattoo artists, now over 2 million Instagram followers and 1 million subscribers on YouTube. That’s crazy.

Romeo Lacoste: It’s kind of crazy, but I feel like I was kind of expecting it; foreseeing it.  I didn’t know that this was going to be happening the way it’s all happening right now, but I definitely like… almost like I manifested it. I remember when I was first starting out, I was like, “I’m going to do this, I’m going to be this celebrity tattoo artists. I’m going to make this happen. No matter what I gotta do. I’m going to hustle and grind.” So, I feel like I kind of manifested it and put it out there. Honestly, it’s still pretty crazy. My life feels like a movie. I feel like even if you kind of expected it and hoping it was going to happen, it still kind of feels like it’s not real sometimes to constantly be in this situation during that moment. It takes you by surprise sometimes for sure.

Would you say your popularity came from word of mouth, or just a particular tat that you did that took off?

Romeo Lacoste: I feel like… how do I put it, to really achieve fame and to really have a household brand name, you can’t just be famous for one thing. You have to be famous for multiple things. I feel like there is a difference between hype and clout over one thing that you do where it kind of pops you off, compared to being famous for a bunch of different achievements. That’s what I feel is the real key to success. Not only doing really good tattoos and having tattoos on different celebrities or different tattoos that went viral, but also having tattooed many different celebrities and having the names of all those celebrities to also being on TV. I feel like if you really want to achieve a brand, be famous and have longevity in your career, you can’t be a one-hit-wonder. You don’t want to be hyped up off one thing. You want to have success all across the board and have different achievements. That’s what I feel like I’m working on. It’s like, okay cool, I got the art, I got the celebrity name, I’ve been on TV, I got the press. Now it’s like, what other things can I achieve that will add more light to my name and make me last even longer. That’s basically what I feel is the real key to success.

What prompted you to create a YouTube channel because that has blown up as well?

Romeo Lacoste: I feel like, I’ve always been ahead of the curb, and I’ve always tried to be the first to do things. When I first started Instagram, there wasn’t a whole lot of tattooers that were branding themselves as a personality and their name, not just their art. So, I was kind of one of the first artists to do that. So, when that started catching on, and seeing how I was doing it and how I was doing it, I was like, “Cool, when no one is doing YouTube. Let me hop over on YouTube and be the first artists on YouTube.” I started early and now it’s like 5-years later and tattoos are just starting to get on YouTube and I already got a million subscribers. So, I just try to think, “What are people not doing instead of what are people doing.” I don’t want to copy other artists, I try to be the first to do something that no one else is doing, ya know.

Definitely! You’re from Canada and now live in California. Are tattoos viewed differently in Canada than in the States?

Romeo Lacoste: I feel like for the most part, tattoos are well accepted especially in this day and age because of how many celebrities all across the board are rocking tattoos. Whether it’s the Spanish community, they got tattoos, so the Spanish world accepts it as well. I do have to say from my experience, in Asian countries, it’s still really taboo, and considered gang related. When I got to Japan and other Asian countries, you rarely see people with tattoos. It’s still really underground there and not really accepted culturally. It’s pretty crazy, man. I go to Tokyo and I love Japan and there is rarely anyone with tattoos there and not really any tattoo shops. I think for the most part they are pretty much accepted all over the world, but there are some places where surprisingly it’s still underground and not really accepted.

Your celebrity list is endless of the people you have tatted. Is there anyone or any tat that sticks out in your mind or an encounter that sticks out more than others?

Romeo Lacoste: At this point, I think just because I’ve worked with so many celebrities… I have gotten pretty used to having celebrities hit me up. Before, when I first started out it was like, “Yo, this is crazy.” Now, it’s so common. I get hit up by people left and right. But to me, I feel like more than the tattoo itself, I just value the experience and how I could connect with that celebrity over anything else. For me, I had a really really good experience with, Ariana Grande. She was super nice and treated me like family. I had a really good experience with her. The same thing with, Kendrick Lamar. I thought Kendrick was going to be… just kind of cocky Rockstar vibe, ya know. Just cause of how he is with his music. But when I met him, talked to him in person and tattooed him, he was honestly one of the most down to earth guys I ever met. He comes to the shop. He doesn’t make me go to his house. He’ll come to the shop even sometimes when the shops open and it’s honestly a really really dope experience. He’ll just come and chill and wait for me to finish up a tattoo. He just connects with me on a level where it’s like artist to artist. For me, I just really value that. When I’m working with celebrities, they are giving me the same respect that I give them. That’s what I’m looking for and those are the ones that stand out in my head, more than just what a tattoo is.

I speak with fighters and musicians and entertainers and they all have some kind of ritual before they do their thing. Do you have something that relaxes you or some sort of ritual prior to tattooing someone?

Romeo Lacoste: To me, it’s just about listening to the right music. I just have to be in that right head space. I try to really try to disconnect myself from anything that might be stressing me or in the back of my head or going on in my life. I really try to just get sucked into the tattoo and just have that music that really puts me in a good mood, so I can just relax and give the tattoo 150%. I just really want to give it my full creativity and my full skill level. That’s really the only thing that I can really say, I have to separate myself from whatever is going on in my life and put on some music that’s going to put me into good positive energy.

I understand this is a business, so I have to ask you, someone comes into your tattoo shop and they want a tattoo of something you don’t support or something you don’t like. Let’s say a Nazi swastika. Would you do that tattoo?

Romeo Lacoste: To be 100%, bro, I only take a very small percent of tattoos that really come to me. I have an assistant that basically handle all my emails and all the appointments that come to me. And I really only take on the ones that I feel are going to be a cool tattoo that’s going to look good. But I really try to connect with the idea and connect with the person. If the tattoos are non-offensive, I have other artists in my shop that I don’t want to personally want to take on myself to the other artists. They can still get tattooed at my shop by a quality artist, but it might not be with me. I try to take on only projects where I connect with the piece. I’m at the level now to where, what I put out, people are scrutinizing and really looking at the tattoo and judging it to make sure that that tattoo is perfect. It really has to connect with the fans too, so I try not to take on a piece… I have to connect with it on a level that it represents my brand. I’m putting my name on it. Of course, if it’s something that I don’t connect with or it might be offensive or crazy like that, I’ll definitely turn it down.

You were really close to, Juice Wrld. In fact, you done most of if not all of his tats. Unfortunately, most will only remember the way that he passed, but I wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about how he lived and who he was as a person.

Romeo Lacoste: Man… it’s so crazy talking about, Juice Wrld. It’s hard to describe how he lived because he had so much character to him. He wasn’t a shallow person to where there would only be a few things to say about him. He had a lot of depth and different levels. He actually was a very intellectual kind of person. You could talk about religion, politics… he had a lot to say about religion. And he was also someone you could have fun with. A lot of people know about this, but he was super into anime and video games and stuff like that. So, I would go over and trade Yugioh cards and play video games. He had so many different layers of depth to him when it comes to his personality. He was really really a great guy.

One thing that I can really say about him and I think a lot of people will say to, I really feel like, he never had a bad bone in his body in no type of way. I have always seen him as willing to help people. He never tried to take advantage of anybody. Sometimes when you work with celebrities, they see what they can get for free. That could make them kind of difficult to work with. With Juice it was like, “What do you need, and I got you.” It was never about what the price was with his tattoos. He just wanted everyone around him to be taken care of. That’s why I respected him so much. He was always looking out for everybody around him. He was such a good guy, man. I really don’t have anything bad to say about him in any kind of way.

Obviously, you put your all into all your work. But is there a certain amount of pressure that comes with tattooing a celebrity?

Romeo Lacoste: I remember when I first started tattoos for celebrities, I would get nervous, even if the tattoo was easy. Nowadays, sometimes these celebrities want super easy work. I’m not nervous at any time. I’m like, “Alright, cool. I got you. No problem.” But sometimes some of these celebrities will have a crazy idea or an idea that doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, but in their head, it makes sense. It’s hard to tell them like, “Hey, this might not come out that great.” You have to find that fine line where you gotta work with their idea, but also at the same time they can be a little bit difficult. And it’s like, “Man, I gotta put my name on this and millions of people are going to see it.” Whether I’m working on Kendrick, or I’m working on Ariana Grande or Justin Bieber, it doesn’t matter who it is, it’s like, “Damn, a lot of people are going to see this. I gotta make sure that whatever we kind of agree on, it’s 120%. I try to give my full quality of work, whether it’s somebody that nobody is going to see or a celebrity, I try not to give partial quality. I try to give the same quality of work to both, but I definitely feel like the pressure is a little bit harder with the celebrity because sometimes their idea could be difficult, a lot of people are going to see it, so I gotta make sure that we kind of come to an agreement of their idea.

Keep doing your thing, my man. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Is there anything else before I let you go?

Romeo Lacoste: I appreciate you so much. You’ve been awesome. Hopefully we do more. I’m ready to do more in the future with you, and you ever want a tattoo, you already know where to come.



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