Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Actor Slash Model

In our current failing economy most people are trying make ends meet however they can. One group that knows financial struggle intimately is independent musicians. Most folks who play music work a day job in order to pay the rent, and in this series, I’ll interview several up-and-coming artists about what they do to maintain their music-making habit.

The band that gets to set the bar is Chicago-based Actor Slash Model, an indie folk duo (Madsen Minax and Simon Strikeback) whose lyrics explore gender and sexuality through the use of humor and universal themes like love and heartbreak. Their bluegrass style conjures images of front porch swings and catching fireflies at dusk, not slinging coffee or giving punk rock tattoos in a basement, but that’s just what you’ll find Madsen doing while Simon does the grad school thing.

Flavorwire: What exactly is your ‘day job’?

Madsen Minax: I work at Pause Café, a coffee shop in Edgewater (Chicago); contract as a video editor at Beyondmedia Education; and am an amateur tattooist. I do tattoos out of my basement.

FW: You’re certainly juggling quite a few things at once. How’d you end up with so many gigs?

MM: Everything runs pretty smoothly because, although it seems semi-glamorous, I am in fact severely under-employed. I probably only work 25-30 hours total a week — for pay that is. If we’re talking work in general (my band, film, curatorial series, etc.), I’m a workaholic.

FW: So tell me more about how you got into film.

MM: I went to school for film, so the fact that I’m able to work independently in my field from time to time is either hard work or just dumb luck. I’ve made tons of my own little shorts. I worked on the cult classic — uh, sort of — queer porn Dominatrix Waitrix and have done a short animation with stellar Chicago-based comic artist Becca Taylor. Recently I finished a 25-minute short called Queer Teen Romance that was co-directed by Jules Rosskam and Sam Feder, which will screen at Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco on June 23rd and as part of Northwestern University’s Queertopia! festival on May 1st. I’m currently directing a documentary called Riot Acts: Flaunting Gender Deviance in Music Performance, a film featuring 16 different transgender musicians. It’s been three years in the process, but we’re finally scheduled for completion in August!

FW: What about the coffee shop?

MM: I had friends that had worked there and was desperate for money. Though I work twice as much and get paid less than half of what I would if I were contracting for a film, I have to admit that having tips in my pocket at the end of the day is awfully nice. At Pause, which happens to be pleasantly nestled between Andersonville and Lake and around the corner from an adult assisted living facility, you mostly get the yuppies, the homos, and the damn nutters. So in customer service, we get our share of excitement.

FW: And tattooing?

MM: It’s something I’d like to be doing long term. It’s a nice combination of utilizing my skill set and making mad cash. Because the tattoos I do are super DIY, I’m dirt cheap, but I would like to develop this craft and hopefully be able to support myself more efficiently. There’s a certain craftsmanship that’s combined with the high that comes from being trusted with someone’s body and the skillful execution of your art that feels awesome. I love body art, and I also love the interesting dynamic that manifests when one experiences pain in exchange for beauty. I got my first tattoo when I was 19, and I knew then that I wanted to learn how to do it… so I’m learning.

FW: How long have you been a tattoo artist?

MM: I started learning about two years ago, but have only been consistently working (practicing) for, like, six months. At this point, I don’t do much creating; it’s lots of tracing and figuring out how to make a flat image — primarily text and symbols — fit onto a very not-flat surface: the body. I learned the basics from Idexa Stern at Black and Blue Tattoo in San Francisco.

FW: What is your favorite tattoo that you have given someone?

MM: I did a boot print on my friend’s butt.

FW: So when you say the tattoos are DIY, what do you mean exactly? How is getting a tattoo from you different from going to a studio?

MM: It’s my aesthetic and it’s also where I’m at in my training. I have a certain extent of professional training, but I am not apprenticing anywhere, which is the general route tattoo artists take to develop their skill and become employable. Apprenticeships are also purely nepotistic and exclusive and exponentially more difficult for female-bodied people to pursue solely based on the vibe of the trade. It’s very tough, very agro, and there aren’t many women or gender ambiguous people.

So I found someone that was able to help me learn the skill a bit, and I took it from there. If you get a tattoo from me, it will look “punk” — a line might be slightly wobbly or vary in thickness. It’s just clear that I’ve not developed my craft, and some folks find that appealing. I’ve practiced primarily on myself and my friends, which is just fine for me. I’ve been able to tattoo some trans people that may not have been comfortable having their bodies worked on by some dude bro jamming out to metal in an ego driven atmosphere, so that’s cool, and it feels good.

Visit Actor Slash Model’s MySpace page for a list of upcoming shows.