So as I mentioned in part 1 (if you missed it or haven’t read it yet – where have you been? lol! you can catch up by clicking here), I had to split my interview with Toma into 2 parts a/ because we talked too much lol! and b/ I thought it’d work better if we featured the ink Toma had himself first and then the 2nd feature would focus on how he got into tattooing as a profession and his first love – Music.
I found his story really interesting and inspiring and I’m sure you will too!
Read on for Part 2 with Toma Amosa the tattooist and musician ….
Me: So how old were you when you first started tattooing?
Toma: I didn’t get into the tattoo game too early, I think I might’ve been 21
Me: And how old are you now?
Toma: I’m 31 now. So yeah, I picked up a machine in 2004 I think it was. Ron (older brother) bought me one of those home kits you know just to practise and thats why I was saying you normally hear about people tattooing on pig skin and chickens & shit like that but it’s a bit different when you’re an islander cos you’ve got heaps of cousins, heaps of cousins and brothers and you just use them. You always get the live tribe you know?
We set up in his kitchen and my cousin stepped up to the plate first and I just did the worst tattoo ever right up his arm. I thought I had the design sussed but I just didn’t know how to use the machine so I basically just churned his arm up aye? It was like I put the lines in way too deep & everything blew out. You don’t really learn much trying to practise on your own. I’d say I learned more in my first 2 months of tattooing in the shop (Stained Skin) under Rod Dawson, than the 2 years I was just pissing round at home.
Me: So was it the art that got you into tattooing? Like were you hard out into art at school?
Toma: Nah actually it wasn’t the art that got me into tattooing but I guess the reason why I can actually tattoo now is because I’m into art, like I was always into art and drawing, painting & shit you know. I still do now, I just draw and yeah, it was Ron that got me into tattooing really cos he wanted tattoos. So he was like ‘I’ve been paying for tattoos at shops and I know you can draw so would you be interested in learning how to tattoo?’ and at the time I didn’t really take it too seriously much to his frustration, cos he was probably just like dude! you could actually crack this! But like I said I wasn’t really trying to be a tattooist cos I was always trying to be a musician. I always just wanted to do anything that was music related. Then it got to this point in my life where it was just like shit man I want to be a musician and I was doing music in church but I’m still having to go work a day job to pay for it and then it kinda dawned on me that if I could actually do the tattooing, I’m actually doing something cool that I like – it’s drawing – but it’s paid so I don’t have to do three things I just do music and the tattooing.
Then prayers were answered aye cos out of nowhere that Rod Dawson dude just happened to be looking for a new apprentice and Ron went into his shop and he was getting a tattoo and Rod happened to see the shit I’d done on his leg and it was pretty horrible – I had to fix it up in the end. Rod was like ‘Who did your leg?’ and Rons like ‘Oh my brother’ and Rod was like ‘Oh where does he work?’ and Ron said ‘Oh he just did this in my living room’ – Rod just cracked up and was like ‘What? Tell him to come see me I’m looking for someone’ so I went in and saw him and yeah, I was there for 5 years and then went out on my own.
Me: So how much older is Ron to you?
Toma: Ron’s 3 years older than me. Fasitua‘s in between us and all us brothers have been tattooed. Fasitua’s getting one this year then that’ll be everyone. I’ve tattooed all the brothers aye? except for Fasitua and he’s going to start getting them this year which is quite funny. Even my older brother, he’s actually coming up this Saturday and I’m doing a whole sleeve on that dude aye? Ron is obviously covered because he started me off you know so he’s got heaps on him. If there was anyone in the family that would start doing shit you weren’t allowed to do – it was Ron and my Mum had said no tattoos ever you know?
Me: Yeah I was going to ask you with your christian background did your parents have a fit that you took this up as a profession?
Toma: It’s real funny cos my Mums just like Yeah, you’re doing something that you love but she hadn’t quite comprehended the occupational hazard that is tattooing. Getting tattooed cos you’re in a tattoo shop is an occupational hazard. We jokingly call it an occupational hazard cos you can’t be in a tattoo shop and not be tattooed you know? So my Mum was like yeah, you’re in a tattoo shop you’re doing what you like and the money was good but then when I started coming home with tattoos she was like whoa nah, nah, nah, nah! She liked the idea of me tattooing but she didn’t like the idea of me being tattooed and she still doesn’t you know? like I remember the day I actually came home with a tattoo – man she didn’t talk to me for like a week – it was that one on my leg. She literally just walked past me in the living room and then she’d finally be like ‘you know me, I don’t like tattoos they’re ugly’ and I’d be like yeah, cool and then I’d come home with another one and every time she’d just stop talking to me for at least a few days aye? Yeah, man far! it was crazy! It’s quite funny though cos when I think about it my Mum didn’t like tattoos based on some religious background she just didn’t like tattoos based on a traditional background. So it wasn’t even a christian thing. Thats the reason why my Dad just didn’t care. He even joked he was like ‘if you’re going to come to church, can you wear pants?’ (cos I used to wear ie faikaga) and he wasn’t saying it strictly he was just laughing about it like ‘Don’t wear an ie faikaga, wear pants cos you look like a prisoner or something’ He wasn’t like ‘Don’t get them’ he was just like ‘you look like a prisoner’ but yeah, he didn’t mind – he didn’t mind at all. I’m actually on this little secret mission to get my Dad tattooed aye? and get my aunties tattooed. So I’ve tattooed one of them, thats my Mums sister and my Mum was pretty pissed off about that.
Me: So you were at Stained Skin for 5 years?
Yeah, 5 years! When I started at Stained Skin he was like ‘I’m going to trial you for 3 months just to see if you click with the team and to see if you’re even good enough’ So I started and after about a month he was like ‘nah you’re the dude I want to keep you on’ so yeah, I really liked his style. I’ve heard heaps of other shops do their apprenticeships differently they’ll make you do pretty much fuck all for ages you know whereas Rod – he was a real kind of ‘You’re in my shop, you’re here to work, you’re gonna make money, you’re gonna work for me’ like straight away so man, it might’ve been only 3 months and he started booking me in with clients who were coming through the door and I was freaking out! He was a real ‘throw you in the deep end’ kind of guy. And for me it all pertains to this kind of philosophy that I had where you kind of ‘Fly or Die’ you know? I remember I was there for about 3 months just drawing …. draw and practise, draw and practise ….and then I overheard him go – at the door – ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, I think Chris is free today, Chris are you free today?’ (Chris is Tomas other name) I was like ‘yeeeup’ and he goes ‘Yeah, go have a yarn to Chris man he’ll book you in today’ and the dude comes over ‘oh hello mate’ and I was just like ‘WTF I’m gna be tattooing?’ and it was freaky man – he’s just one of those dudes – he’ll pass you the short ball and you just have to nail it. And I’m not saying you nail every single one of them. I’m not one of those tattooists that wouldn’t admit you’ve fucked up heaps of tattoos, of course you do, you know? It’s impossible to start off and make everything mean. He’ll throw you in the deep end and you’ll sink and you come out real gutted – but you’re just trying, it’s not like you’re not trying – you just don’t know what you’re doing or you don’t know everything that you’re doing. But thats just how you learn, thats how I feel you know? you gotta make mistakes to learn. It’s fun though I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it. Just like I said anything I approach, especially artistically, I try to go for excellence cos there’s no reason to do it if you’re not trying to do the best job you know …. in anything!
Me: So do you feel like you’ve got a specialty in terms of tattoos you design/do?
Toma: Yeah, I really like black and grey aye, I’m a real black and grey artist. Thats my medium you know? I like colour and all that but if someone gave me the choice I’d do black and grey, I’m a real black and grey …. either realism or stylised. I kinda like more of the darker arts you know like …. dark shit, skulls and random aliens, all that kinda shit you know? or create something right out of your brain. It’s real funny cos heaps of people DM me and ask me where I got my profile pic from on my facebook but thats me – I drew that you know? from pencil I just drew like some sort of entity/alien or a demon. I guess my preference is if someone came through and said ‘I want heaps of dark shit on my arm’ I’d be like yeah, man thats me. I’m more into that sort of stuff and I always have been – like as a kid, other kids would be drawing flowers and that and I’d be drawing like dead shit (laughs)
Me: So stylised stuff more so than cultural patterns?
Toma: Yeah, I guess I can, I can do them (cultural patterns) and I did a few of them last year. I do lots of cultural like island patterns and stuff but I wouldn’t say I specialise in it you know? But I still think just on principle, that you can’t be a Pacific Island artist and not know how to do it. Thats another philosophy of mine – I’d never not do something because I didn’t know how to do it. I always think that if you’re not going to do something it should be just your choice not to do it. It doesn’t mean you can’t and that was the other cool thing about learning at Stained Skin – they weren’t just a specialty shop. They didn’t just do one style and if you came in and wanted island patterns then you got turned away – nah they did heaps of shit and they diversified. So if someone came in and I don’t like doing tribal – that doesn’t mean I can’t do it cos I can do it and it doesn’t matter what style it is you still have to go and do it mean you know? So if I have to do a tribal even though in my head I’m like ‘man, I can’t be fucked doing a tribal – it’s rude, it’s ugly’ but you’re still gonna go ‘Ooh shit make it look real cool’ I think thats how you should approach tattooing cos like I said you’ve only got one shot so you want to make sure everything you do is as mean as you can possibly do it.
Me: Yeah, cos I think at the time you started my piece you were still at Stained Skin and you were getting ready to leave cos you wanted to focus more on music.
Toma: Yeah, cos at the time we were in the middle of finishing that little EP we were doing aye and I was just burning the candle at both ends, I was trying to write and record and mix after hours, after work and then I’d work Stained Skin like from Wednesday to Friday I’d be there at like 10am until 9 at night and then I’d come home and I’d be mixing until 4 in the morning .. 5, just during that period and I was like man, this is an eye opener, I think I’m good with the tattooing so yeah, I bolted just to do some music but man that was last May and like a HUGE reality check you know? And thats the kind of thing I like – I jumped ship then after about 3 months I was completely broke and it wasn’t just that I was broke I couldn’t tattoo cos I didn’t have anywhere to tattoo. Before you came in here, you’ve probably seen photos of when we were jamming in here but there were holes in the ceiling, no painted walls, no work station, nothing! I didn’t have an auto clave, I didn’t have anything so it’s not like I could be OK I can work now that I’m broke, I just had nothing so I went another 4 months, just scraping coin together doing a few gigs and living off like $200 a month. Then I finally found my feet towards the end of the year. Cos yeah, even after 3 months I had a catch up over lunch with my old boss and he was like ‘Bro come back – your bench is still there and you’re broke so just come back and do some work’ but I don’t know, my pride and every time I looked at this (the ‘Fly or Die’ tattoo on his fingers) I’d be like nah man I jumped, I’m not gonna hit the ground like this (laughs) and I was just like ‘Nah I’m good, I’m sweet man’ and I just brave-faced it aye? and he was like ‘Are you sure man?’ and cos you know he’s like the man, he looks after me, but my pride just wouldn’t let me do it, like nah! I didn’t leave just to go back with my tail between my legs. Thats why I think now after a year of just being here, I can’t really just stay on this level and plus I’m not a spring chicken either.
So, 2015 I was like well, I’ve done this for a year and I’m doing alright here it’s cool but now it’s time to lift it and open my own shop. Then just do it from there and I want to release an album this year with the band. And yeah, I’m pretty excited about this year aye? It’s going to be cool!
Me: So, would you say you’re still tattooing so you can do what you’re passionate about (music) or would you say now that you’re equally as passionate about tattooing and music?
Toma: I guess I figured that out last year aye? I guess with everything it has it’s seasons and when I first started tattooing I was tattooing so much that music took a back seat and then it swung the other way and I’d got to the point where I was like ‘Man, fuck tattooing I do that all day’ and I don’t get to do what I really love and thats music. Then I got back to music and thats the reason why I left cos I got busy doing music and I love music, thats my first love but especially through last year I realised that I loved both of them. So with your music you can make some albums and stuff and push them and get successful and thats cool and to me that’ll always be there but I think starting a business with tattooing is really a natural progression. You can have that and that can tick over itself. Like if you get a few artists in there and you set it up and set the standard you know?
The other thing I want to do is, even though this facility is all good, I still have to shake the stigma of tattooing at home you know? cos at the end of the day people are going to ask ‘Oh where does he work?’ and you’re like ‘oh he works out of his house’ – as soon as you say that it drops half the clients confidence you know? cos it’s like oh is he just a scratch it? and then you almost have to cover this ground that you don’t have to cover if you were just in a shop. Like if you’re in a shop people don’t have to go ‘Oh he might be a pro’ whereas because I’m at home I have to sit here and first explain that I was in a shop so they don’t think that I started here and I’ve just been here. At the same time I think that people should really look at work. Like a shop these days doesn’t qualify you to be an artist. People might go ‘Oh does he work in a shop? He must be good if he works in a shop’ But nah you gotta look at his work, like look at pictures and go ‘fuck thats mean!’ and if you think thats mean then you should go see him. Like if I saw someone and he’d done 100 tattoos and I thought fuck thats so sick and I turn up and he’s working out of a shipping container – I wouldn’t care, I’d be like ‘If you did that in a shipping container and it’s still clean then let’s do it but if you had the mean shop and you’d spent like 40k on the shop and then I looked at his work and it was average, I wouldn’t go there just cos he’s in a cool shop. Like heaps of people do that aye? They’re like ‘he’s in a cool shop and it’s in town he must be mean!’ and I’m like dude! Work! Just look at the work!’ But yeah, keen to get in the shop to shake that cos heaps of people still freak out and I’ve had clients where I’m sitting at the door waiting for them and they turn up and I can see them peering round the house – especially girls, like if a girl books in and then has to come down here, it’s not like it’s the nicest neighbourhood and it’s dark, a long driveway and they probably had to ride past all the G’s parked up on the street (laughs) so yeah, I’d rather get in a shop.
Me: So on the music side of things – you’ve done it since you were little?
Toma: Yeah, through church – I started playing piano maybe when I was about 7yrs old, yeah, just cos my Dad was real musical aye? He played piano, he played guitar, he sang, and yeah, I’ve just done it since then. I’ve always loved playing the piano aye? I play a bit of guitar, cos like if you can play piano you can pretty much play a bit of everything but its almost like I just concentrate so much on piano that that’s my instrument. I can play guitar and if you can play guitar you can find your way round a bass and I can play the drums – not amazingly – but I can play. All my family have played musical instruments growing up. But then as I got older, I really just wanted to be a pianist when I was a kid and then I got to about 17 and I veered off more into a background role. So I started writing and got into more of the production, so writing music, directing bands. I started directing like little singing groups at church. Got the opportunity to do a big choir. And yeah, I just liked writing arrangements and vocal arrangements. So it was less piano performance and more just going through and writing. So yeah, thats what I do now I guess I’m more of a producer/writer than a performer.
Me: How did the collaboration with David Dallas come about?
Toma: It was through Jordan – so Jordan and Aaron (Iusitini – production duo Fire & Ice who are also brothers) had just started working with Dave and I don’t know if you remember the song ‘I got the feelin?’ and yeah Dave was like ‘man I really need a singer for this hook but I don’t want to use a singer who’s out now, I just want to use an unknown cat’ and he asked Jordan if he knew anyone so Jordan gave me a call and I hooked him up with Niko . I took Nik up to the North Shore I think it was to FortyOnes (Nick Mclaren – producer) house and thats when I met Dave, I was like ‘This is Nik’ and we ran over the demo he’d given us and then he sung it. So that was a brief meeting.
Then the first piece of work I did for Dave was actually no, the first song was ‘The First Time’ with Sid (Sid Diamond) and Jordan but that one and ‘I got the feelin’ were happening at the same time so then he asked Jordan if he knew anyone that could write BV’s and arrange them so Jordan was like yeah, thats Toma so he sent that through and that was like the first kinda work I did for him. So I arranged like little voice pops and little BVs in there and I sent the demo back to him and he was like yeah, man thats cool. Then after that I’d keep playing stuff on Fire & Ices beats if they needed like a violin or piano or something so he’d turn up and I’d be there.
Then he’d gone up to the States after he’d been signed to do ‘The Rose Tint‘ and he buzzed me out cos then he rang me when he was in New York one evening just randomly and he was like ‘Yeah I’ve got this idea man, I’d really like to perform with a band aye?’ and I was just like ‘Oh True?’ and he was kinda just like ‘Wadya reckon do you think you’d play?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, man I’d play, who’s in the band?’ and he’d kinda just put together the bones of ‘The Daylight Robbery’ in the beginning and it was me, Ron and Alex (20man who played bass before Sale) and yeah, we just went from there.
But yeah, it was buzzy when we first started cos I’d done heaps of arrangements in my time but just with different dynamics and I didn’t really know Dave, so I guess it’s an island thing too where you just fa’aaloalo – you know? you respect, you know you come in and whatever he says goes even if he says something that you don’t agree with you just do it you know – it’s real Samoan shit (laughs) cos he’s the boss and I didn’t know him and we didn’t come in level you know?
But thats just how it starts, when you start off you don’t say anything but once you get a working relationship then you’re like oh maybe don’t do this and I guess cos it’s his music you know? so you have to work it to a point where there’s a mutual trust. So you have to trust that if I’m directing the band that I’m not gonna do some rude shit – I’m not gonna come over and say ‘yo man I think we should do ‘Til tomorrow’ reggae you know?’ So obviously after a few years he’s just like ‘Oh you do it’ you know? and ‘I’ll come in with this bit and you tell me where I should come in’ and shit like that and I find that cool and plus I work better if I’m working with the artist. I don’t go make it over here in the dark and then go ‘This is what you’re doing Dave’ I’ll be like ‘yo this is what we’ve come up with, what have you got?’ and then we’ll make it work together and we’ve got a cool dynamic.
Me: When you did that first gig for the VNZMAs in 2010 is that when you came up with the name ‘The Daylight Robbery?’
Toma: Nah, we weren’t even anything there – he’d just pieced this band together to play live and sorry, it was after that, that he rang from the States and I was like well me and Ron are always playing together anyways, then we used Alex cos Alex was here doing the engineering and he could play bass so we chucked him in. And then do you remember the opening gig at 1885? The Rose Tint album release? Yeah, well that was our first proper ‘band’ gig which was all good and then we went down to Wellington the following night and played that gig then after the 3rd one Callum (Daves manager) was like ‘Dude we need a name – we need a name for this band’
It was quite funny cos we went through a few, emailing each other, heaps of us just with lists of ideas and there were heaps of different names. So in the top 5 names was ‘The Daylight Robbery’ and a few others and then another name was ‘The Exception’ and we chose ‘The Exception’ and we were like yeah, man thats us! So me, Ron and 20man were like yeah, ‘The Exception’ cool man – David Dallas and The Exception’ and we sent it to Dave but we’d already cc’d Dave in to the final 5. Then he rang me at work and I was at ‘Stained Skin’ and he’s like ‘Sup Toma? yo I just got you guys email’ and he’s like ‘Do you guys like The Exception?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, man it sounds pretty cool – David Dallas & The Exception’ and he’s like …… ‘Nah I like The Daylight Robbery aye? and I was just like ‘Honest’ and he said ‘yeah, I don’t know it just flows better – David Dallas & The Daylight Robbery’ so I was like ahhhh shit! We’d kinda jumped the gun cos what had happened was we’d had to start a company so we could invoice Dave …. cos we were just like firing it through the pipeline’ so as soon as Ron sent that email and was like ‘Are we all good? The Exception?’ he went and registered the company that day as ‘The Exception’ so I was like shit we’ve already registered the company as ‘The Exception’ and he was like oh true yeah, I just thought ‘The Daylight Robbery’ sounds better. I had to do a tattoo so as soon as I was finished I rang the boys and they were like oh ok! Yeah, we can go with ‘The Daylight Robbery’ so in the end Dave basically called that name, I mean like we narrowed it down and out of the 5 we chose ‘The Exception’ and he chose ‘The Daylight Robbery’ and you know thats us now.
So we call ourselves ‘TDR’ but so many people now call us ‘DLR’ for Day Light Robbery – it’s quite funny, heaps of people still say that. And they’ll be like ‘So whats up with DLR’ and I’m just like ‘DLR sounds like a fucken appliance store to me – DTR/DLR’ but yeah, TDR thats where we are now.
Me: So as a band are you guys signed to Frequency as well?
Toma: Nah we’re not actually signed which is cool. I mean I guess when you’ve actually got a project then it’s worth signing but I like where we are now cos we’re obviously like really close to the label and Callum always looks after us. He almost looks after us like we’re signed you know? We actually get all the benefits of their facilities and their contacts and all that without being tied to it and to me thats a blessing too. Like for instance he’s given us 24 hour access to the studio there and we can rehearse up at the office and that. We’ve got access to their engineer – Cam – and we’re friends with him now so he’s real keen to record us and no charge or if they do they hook us up. Yeah, it’s cool man.
Me: So this studio here – do you guys actually record in that?
Toma: We used to! I still record in it and thats like my project studio for my own personal music like I plan to release some of it this year and I just do it in there, I don’t go record it anywhere else. We call this whole facility ‘The Cave’ cos it used to look like a fucken cave – you’ve seen the old photos aye? But yeah I still record in there and this is like my tattooing work station and when I sit in there I’m doing work. My parents helped set it up – It used to be a garage so we knocked down the door and then my cousin and my friend came and built it to my specs. We knocked out the windows – it used to have heaps of windows there and yeah, I put in my gear in which I’d bought.
Coming up I’ve deadlined the new shop for the middle of the year – June/July at the latest so end of June I want to be in the shop and have an opening you know? and then I want to release ‘The Daylight Robbery’ album early in the 2nd half of the year and I’m quite excited about that cos we did the first EP but we were so limited in what we could do cos the intention was to do a real live album but we just didn’t have the means to so we were like ‘well we’ll put out what we can and do our best’ and so a lot of the drums weren’t even live you know? I just had to programme them in there but even recording in there – I’m not much of an engineer so I didn’t know how to mix live drums and shit but now we’re in a studio so I’m really excited about all the music that we’re making live you know – all 3 of us playing at the same time, cool ideas and we’re going to get someone to sing. So we’re going to do a singing album this year not a rap album cos we’re more into RnB/Soul or big beats and cos we’re still finding our sounds too like we all have different tastes. I’m a real RnB cat but at the same time I like big sounds you know? I want to fill out a stadium with big sounds, not necessarily beats but with sounds.
So yeah, those are the main things – the album and open my shop. I wanna grow those 2 – I don’t want to stretch myself too thin this year
Me: Have you got a name for your shop?
Toma: Nah I haven’t yet aye? Heaps of people have been asking me that aye? It’ll be a theme some sort of ancient theme. But yeah, I’m pretty excited about that cos when you get older it’s like you need to stake your claim. You gotta be like nah! I gotta do something now. So yeah, definitely start with the tattoo shop cos you know they say ‘Do what you know and do what you love’ which figures cos I wouldn’t go into business doing something random like a bakery or some shit but I know tattooing and just the natural progression is to end up opening a shop and whether or not you stay in there and bust your arse is a different story you know like my boss used to do – just jump in the deep end aye? Cos he was quite inspiring. It was cool to have a mentor like him cos he opened a shop when he was 26 and he’s like one of the longest opened tattoo shops cos heaps of tattoo shops come and go its just the main ones that stay open aye? But he’s been there since 1998 and he worked there for 2 or 3 years by himself just building it up and he’s still there now and I’m like thats mean cos they’re pumping.
And yeah, half of my clientele they were hitting me up when I left and I was like yeah, I’ll let you know partly cos I was like ‘I don’t want to bring you from a shop down to my house’ the only ones I would text back were some of my boys and I didn’t mind cos they were boys – they’d just roll up in their pickups and don’t care where it is but heaps of my female clientele aye I’d be like ummmm I’ll let you know when I’m ready and thats been 3 years now (laughs).
One positive from last year was that I was still able to expand my clientele. I got more clients & referrals – it wasn’t just the same clients. So for half of the year last year it was really rugged – I couldn’t tattoo a girl in here at night because there was no curtains and my neighbours are these dodgy fobs and I’d see them looking through the bushes (laughs) but yeah, we’re getting there – I’m excited about whats coming up.
Shot man! Thats awesome! I’m excited to see your new shop and hear the new album.
Lastly, Toma is actually looking for a couple of artists/apprentices to work with him in the new shop he’s about to open in a couple of months, so if you think you’re good enough or know of someone you’d like to recommend – send him your contact details and pictures of work you’ve done to: email@example.com
In case you haven’t heard the 1st TDR EP you can check them out here on Bandcamp
Did you catch Toma and ‘The Daylight Robbery’ opening the VNZMAs with David Dallas & Malcolm Lakatani? Peep the vid below ….