Old Habits (Die Hard)

Gemma Lacey
Matt Robinson

After travelling the world inking his bold designs, including the now famous cat tattoo, Liam Sparkes has returned to roost in East London and set up his own shop. We caught up with him to chat tigers, Turkish Psyche and why he misses playing drums.

You’ve finally got your own shop, can you tell us a bit more about it?
Old Habits has come about after a lot of travelling and crazy living for the last few years. It’s a logical step for me now, the wanderlust emptiness takes its toll. Throughout the travels I’ve seen how various shops operate and tried to apply the best elements of that to Old Habits. I wanted to keep the feel of a traditional tattoo shop with its aesthetic and ethos, it’s important to remember what has come before.
One of the most important elements for me is a positive environment, it should be a fun place to work at and be worked on. I think the power of a shop comes from the sum of its parts, and the people make it what it is – like the fingers on a hand. There’s a good team of people, all of whom I’ve known previously: Ryan Jessiman, Will Dozer, Clare Frances, Caleb Kilby and Joe Chatt.

You’ve been on the road for a while, what made you want to settle down a bit more?
At first, my travelling was a need to continue the touring life which I had done for a long time while playing music (drumming in Trencher). I was very inspired by Chad Koeplinger and his travels to far away places to tattoo and the dream of a nomadic lifestyle. At that time, I began to fall out of love with London and I had no more reasons to stay so I began to roam, spreading the black ink around the world. More or less spreading the gospel of Duncan X (I have always seen myself as a continuation of what Mr X and Thomas Hooper were doing when I began). The tattoo touring continued for a few years and it was like a dream, then in the last few years, the dream has become a reality and I think I want a new dream now – or a change of reality.
It dawned on me on a day off in New York while listening to Alan Watts and I started to realise what are some of the things that were important in life – friends, a sense of home and purpose, and generally trying to be content in myself. I feel like I did what I needed to do for that time, there was a sense of urgency – to travel and experience life to the fullest (while it’s still on your terms.) The memories and stories are all you have to take to the grave so they better be good ones! I suppose this way of living can become a death wish but thats why its in the past now.

How did you choose the name, Old Habits?
I had different ideas for names but a friend of mine mentioned it to me and it seemed to encompass all my ideals and beliefs at the time. Our lives revolve around and are influenced by our habits .

When we spoke before you were moving on from your cat design but we’ve seen some tigers and other wild cats creeping in, can you tell us about that?
In the last few years I have been evolving my tastes and also what I end up tattooing. I used to make a lot more ‘cuter’ and ‘safer’ imagery and subject matter, but as I get more into personal obsessions and life experiences I find myself wanting to express these thinking processes and things can turn out ugly. I like to think that I’m exploring the beauty in ugliness (or the ugliness in beauty). I still like to make a tiger or cats sometimes but now with a different tone and execution.

You travel a lot, what are your favourite places to visit and why?
In USA I would say New York & New Orleans are my favourites, otherwise I enjoy Berlin and Russia as well. The only problem is when I’m exposed to temptation (in the Dionysian sense), I can get carried away so it’s not good for my mental & physical health to be in those cities for too long.

What’s your favourite tattoo you’ve done lately?
All of them and none of them.

Which other artists do you admire?
Holly Ellis who owns Idle Hand in San Francisco is an admirable person and artist to me. She manages to run a busy shop, paint really well and often and her tattoos are versatile, but also have her touch in each one. An inspiration to me and many others.

Do you miss playing in a band? If so, which parts?
I do sometimes miss playing drums but the whole rest of playing in a band – apart from the actual playing – is way too stressful and tiring for me nowadays. I had a dream and I led that dream to its end and it was nice. I believe people live various lives in their lifetime and that was an old life, it’s no use reminiscing for no reason.

What’s on the studio stereo?
We go in all styles, there’s a lot of hip-hop and also a lot of Turkish psyche. Personally, I like Post-Rock type stuff to work to – Russian Circles, Year of No Light, Wolves in the Throne Room, God is an Astronaut. But we have different personalities in the shop so its always a mish-mash that we try to compromise on somehow.