Herchell L Carrasco is far from your average tattoo artist. From personal experience, anyone who’s met him can vouch that his heart is as big as his sleeve – literally. For having tattooed some of the industry’s biggest names – Kyle Kuzma, Zo, YBN Nahmir, Trippie Redd, to name a few – the Mexican-American, O.C.-bred all-around creative remains incredibly humble and soft-spoken, as if he didn’t just tattoo hip-hop’s most sought-after artist (6ix9ine) earlier that week.
On top of a decade of tattooing for a wide variety of people from all walks of life, Herchell’s headquarters can be found at Pachuco Tattoo, 1620 E Mayfair Ave., in his hometown of Orange. Conveniently located next to Disneyland, the tattoo shop stands as a reminder every day that dreams really do come true, as long as you work hard, work smart and stay true to yourself.
With 59,000 followers on Instagram alone, @rockrollg comes from a song called “Rock n’ Roll” by Aalon, showcasing his love for music, and the funk and oldies he grew up on. One look at his feed, and the beautiful crossover between tattoos, music, sports and art is immediately apparent, bridging the gap across all genres and cultures alike.
Irvine Weekly caught up with Herchell on the Saturday of DesignerCon down the street, discussing everything from his greatest sessions to the one time he snuck into Disneyland to tattoo.
You were actually born at UCI. How does being from the O.C. play into your life and your career?
Orange County has so many different types of people. I’ve learned to adapt to my environment, based on moving around so much in O.C. I’ve lived in all cities in O.C. I can go and hang out with my friends at the beach, and also go to the Swap Meet on the weekend, listening to lowrider oldies. [laughs]
When did you fall in love with hip-hop?
With hip hop, it’s funny because I always listen to oldies, doo-wops and old school music. It wasn’t until after high school … I was late. I started listening to West Coast hip-hop, and I basically went from ’90s West Coast, all the way up to everything that was recent at the time. Around that time in 2005, I was up to date with a lot of the Lil Jon, Three 6 Mafia, everything up to date at that point. Since then on and forward, I’ve been up to date with everything. All I do is tattoo and listen to anything new that comes out.
Bring us back to the moment you fell in love with tattooing.
As soon as I picked up a tattoo machine, I knew it was something that I wanted to pursue. It was just something that gave me a lot of freedom. I knew that I was going to be able to be my own boss and control my own schedule. Just the freedom of being a tattoo artist, I loved it.
I know tattooing is your income, but it’s also your outlet. What are you feeling as you tattoo and how has it been a form of therapy for you?
The therapy itself isn’t me actually doing the work, I feel like it’s the communication with my clients. I love listening to all walks of life, everybody’s story. That’s what I enjoy the most about tattooing, building the relationships. Most of my clients are friends now. People do see me and it does feel like a therapy type session, and I love that. I love sharing my stories with people, I love hearing their stories, it’s part of the experience. I love meeting new people.
Talk about the grind behind being an entrepreneur and starting your own business.
It’s hard having your own business, the headaches never stop. There’s always something that comes up. I used to stress a lot and I’ve learned that you can’t stress on things. You just have to keep moving forward, take it day by day, and keep working. That alone will take care of everything, but it is a lot of work.
Can you talk about choosing this location for your shop and why?
Because this is the center point of Orange County. I’m right up the street from Disneyland, which is a big tourist attraction. You get people visiting from all parts of the world. We have Angels Stadium, the Honda Center – we’re just dead center at the midpoint. This is where I live as well, so I work and live in the city of Orange.
From Instagram alone, people can tell that you’ve tattooed everyone from Tekashi 6ix9ine to Zo and Kyle Kuzma from the Lakers. Talk about the process you go through with each artist or athlete.
Every experience is different. Every environment is different. I hated moving around so much when I was young, but it taught me to adapt to everywhere I moved. I take that and apply it to every individual tattoo experience, because everyone is different. Every session is going to be different. Some people know what they want, some people don’t. Sometimes it does take work to communicate. It’s like a haircut: you need to communicate and tell me what you want so I can give you what you want. Sometimes they come to me, sometimes I go out to them. I just go with the vibe and feel it out on every individual session.
How are you gauging their mindset when they don’t know what they want?
Communication. It’s a lot of process of elimination. Some people are visual, some people like to explain things. What I like to do is give examples. I might draw something, I might Photoshop something, I might draw directly on the skin. Every experience is different.
Do you feel any pressure at all doing such big names?
Of course, there’s a lot of pressure. For the tattoo experience, I’ve been doing this so long that it’s second nature. I don’t stress the tattoo part, that’s the easy part. It’s more stressful on giving somebody what they want. I want to give my best, and those are the things I stress on more that the technical tattoo part of it.
Have you had any fuck-up moments that you’ve learned from since?
Yes. I mean, I could name so many different things. I remember a while back, I tattooed an artist named René Dif, who was one of the lead singers of Aqua. Remember the song “Barbie Girl”? This was from years ago. I had already done tattoo work on him. He came to visit my shop and to be honest, we messed up and misspelled “Hakuna Matata”. That was one of the worst experiences. I learned a lot from it. Thankfully, I was able to fix it, but that was one of the moments where I never forgot to double, triple check things.
One of the biggest artists you’ve tattooed is Tekashi 6ix9ine. Can you talk about how that came about?
6ix9ine was at the very top of my hitlist. Just being Mexican-American, I’m Mexican-American. He’s doing such big numbers, so he was somebody I was trying to pursue for a long time. It took a lot of work. I did work with some of his crew about six months ago. I gave him a gift, he loved my gift. I felt like I gained his trust because at that time, there was a lot of tension. There were a lot of problems in L.A. Many did not want him in the city. I feel like that definitely helped me out. I came, and they felt me out. Fast forward to now, he was in town, he sent me a DM, we linked up in L.A. Hills, and we did work.
Talk about doing his head, that’s so intense to me.
I go and see him, and I didn’t know exactly what he wanted. When we got there, he just told me, “I want to fill up my face.” He didn’t know what he wanted. We went through endless images. I had my printer, I printed out tons of references and showed him. Finally, we agreed to doing “Brooklyn.” We did that one first, so he got “Brooklyn” on his forehead. He also wanted to fill up his sideburn. I suggested doing the rays, and we ended up doing rays on the side of his head. Then we also finished his cover up, which was a remainder of a partly covered “69”.
How often are you traveling and going to people, as opposed to staying at the shop?
I stay busy, thankfully. I’ve been tattooing professionally for a little over 10 years now, the magic number. On average, I would say I tattoo artists/celebrities about once or twice a week. I could be doing a lot more, but Orange County is my home. I stay busy at home. I’m trying to take care of all my existing clients, and stay balanced. I’m trying to take care of my people as well as new clients. That’s one of the hardest things, is juggling old clients with new clients.
How many clients do you have?
I can’t even put a number on it. I tattoo every day. When I take a day off, it’s because I want to take a day off, it’s not because I’m out of work. I’ve been busy for a lot of years, thankfully.
You recently did Snow Tha Product, who I think is such a strong role model for Latinas, females and the LGBT community. Talk about that experience.
Snow is another artist that I wanted to work with. Same thing with her, she’s just cool vibes. I meet a lot of people, and she is definitely real, just like 6ix9ine. Snow is so underrated, and I think her best is yet to come. We had a good time. She came in and we did work on her neck, and she took it very well. We had a little bit of alcohol too, so that was pretty fun. She’s cool peoples. The best is yet to come for her, and I think the world is going to see a lot more of her. She’s super talented.
Do you feel like you want to put on for the Mexican community as well?
Of course! I see the things that 6ix9ine did. He went back home and gave to his family, that’s actually one of my dreams. So yes, I’m representing. I feel like a lot of people that are mixed with Hispanic, Mexican-American, whatever it is – a lot of times, people hide it. For me, I’m proud. I’m definitely putting on for the Mexican-American people, and just Orange County overall.
I love that Phora is one of the first artists that you tattooed. Can you talk about what you did for him?
Phora, I met early on. I did a lot of his recent work. I did his knuckles and the California piece. A lot people don’t know, but Phora used to tattoo. I met him through a mutual friend and tattooing kind of brought us together. He’s another real one. He definitely deserves all the success he’s had.
He’s actually from Anaheim. Was there an automatic connection being from relatively the same area?
Oh definitely. We know a lot of the same people. He’s from Anaheim/Buena Park area. He has a strong presence here.
What was it like seeing his career blossom?
I knew from the start he was somebody special. I always knew he was going to be big. Same thing with him, the best is yet to come for him. It’s been amazing. It’s been inspiring to see that because I’ve seen a lot of my friends become millionaires or become very successful. What it did for me, it shows me that anything is possible and that I can do it also.
Were you around when he was shot? It was around here right?
Yeah, I was around him. It happened in L.A. I actually saw him a day or two after he got shot. Believe or not, this guy performed, with a bandage around his head. I went to one of his shows – I believe in Long Beach or Industrial zone. Yeah, he went back to work.
What are some of your favorite pieces that you’ve done?
I’ve never done as many face tattoos as I have in the last two years. [laughs] I definitely enjoy doing the face tattoos because they’re so visible, you can’t get away from seeing them. They’re always visible. You see photos, you see them. I did MadeinTYO’s throat, you always see that. The Lakers, I love just because I’ve always been a Laker supporter. But lately, I’m seeing my tattoos on the games. That’s probably some of my recent favorite work.
Talk about this wall behind you. You got everyone on there!
Yeah, it’s coming together. You know what, it started really small. Now I joke it’s going to start all the way around. I gotta update it, I got some more I have to throw up there.
Who do you hope to see up there?
The number one on my hitlist is and has always been Drake. They say you have to shoot for the stars, that’s who I’m shooting for.
I interview a lot of artists, and Drake is always their dream collab.
Yeah, that’s my number one.
I love your slogan “quality over quantity.” Talk about at what point in your career that shifted and you realized your worth.
At first, I felt like I was just trying to get a lot of pieces in, then I started being more selective on the type of work that I was doing. Now, all the work that I do is the type of style that I want to do, and that took time. It is quality over quantity. It’s like a portfolio, you don’t want to show a million pieces, you want to show your very best of the best. Not only with my work, even clientele-wise. Now I’m definitely being more selective on who I work with as far as artists. I’ve been in demand for my work for a long time, but now I can finally do things on my terms.
What would turn away an artist for you?
I’m loyal. Let’s say I have good relationship with somebody, and they’re having problem with another artist or another name, I’m loyal to my person. I’m loyal to my people. Reasons like that, I’m staying loyal to my friends.
Going on year 7 of Pachuco Tattoo, what are some goals for yourself at this point in your career?
I love O.C., this is home. But I’ve been doing so much work in L.A., that I’m starting to shift into possibly opening a shop in Hollywood.
I know a big part of your passion is animation and horror. How inspired are you by Disneyland being that it’s so nearby?
Disneyland is my childhood. I grew up drawing Mickey Mouse. Now I have kids, and my kids love Disney. I’m just inspired by Walt and his vision, how you can turn something into something amazing. I’m a tattoo artist but before that, I’m an artist. I’m going to take on all mediums. I’m going to do everything possible where I can be creative and express myself, and show who I really am. I don’t want to be forgotten, I want to leave an impact in this world.
Can you talk about the time you snuck into Disneyland to tattoo?
Of course, I get a lot of questions on how I did it. It took a lot of planning, is what I can tell you. I used a portable watch. I did a small tattoo of a Mickey silhouette on my cousin in front of the castle. I got a lot of good feedback on it. [laughs] A lot of people don’t know how I did it.
That’s epic. Disneyland is so strict, how the hell did you pull that off?
Basically, I split my equipment up into three parts. My machines break apart, so it was 3 different bags, 3 different people, everything was split. It wasn’t all in one bag, so there were no red flags. I walked in with my portable power supply, which is my watch. Took it off, dropped it in the basket like I would a regular watch, and that was half the challenge. The second part was actually doing the tattoo. Thankfully, it was a short 10-minute tattoo.
How do you balance fatherhood and running a shop?
I have two kids, a 9-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. It’s hard balancing, that’s my number one challenge/problem.
Do your kids understand what you do?
They understand what I’m doing. I think they’re going to understand more in the near future, because I do work a lot. I’m at a point now where I try to take time off when I can, but they’re going to see in the near future why I did what I did. Ultimately, it’s for my family. I want to make my family proud. I’m doing it for them.
You and your girlfriend got tattoos of each other’s names early on. What are your thoughts on people tattooing their lover’s name?
I actually just tattooed on a good friend of mine, they’re married. They got a lot of negativity for that, but everybody’s different. You can’t judge somebody if they do that, it’s all on them. At that very point in time, it’s their instinct.
How important is social media for your career?
Social media is everything. I learned early on how important it was. I started getting a lot of attention on YouTube because one of the very first videos I put out was Lil Wayne’s tattoo artist showcasing my work. I got a lot of views on it, but I took it down already.
Why’d you take it down?
Just because it’s not real. I had not tattooed anybody at that point. I was brand new in the game. I put that up on YouTube and it got a lot of views. Once I opened up the shop, I knew how important it was in just keeping up to date with all the changes.
3 things you need while you tattoo?
Music, for sure. I try not to but caffeine. [laughs] I work long hours. I’m trying to keep an eye on my caffeine intake. And good vibes.
Are there any other O.C. artists you have on your hitlist?
Yung Pinch. He’s from Orange County, I haven’t worked with him. Just because he’s from Orange County. I want to work with anybody making noise in O.C.
How many tattoos do you have and what are the most sentimental?
I can’t even tell you how many tattoos I have, just because I’ve lost track. Of course, the ones that are most important to me are the ones with my family, my wife, my kids. Anything inspiring. I have “si se puede” that I got done early on, when I first started tattooing. That’s a constant reminder to never give up. It means “you can do it,” anything is possible.
Anything else you want to let us know?
Shout out to Ashton Kingg, we’ve done a lot of work together. That’s my boy. He’s played a big part in everything I’ve done too.