Trendsetters at Work: Bang Bang NYC

Meet the man (and the workspace) that gave so many celebs their Pinterest-worthy tattoos

By Jennifer Cooper, Raleigh Burgan Sep 26, 2016 1:00 PMTags
ESC: Trendsetters at Work, Bang BangJennifer Cooper/E!

He's "tattooed Rihanna in the tropics, Lebron James in his basement, Cara Delevingne on a roof, Katy Perry at Stockholm's Abba Museum and Justin Bieber on a plane at 30,000 feet."

If you can't already tell, Bang Bang NYC's owner and operator Keith "Bang Bang" McCurdy is one of the best in the tattoo biz. He's one of those super-inspiring artist types with a laundry list of celeb clients who love him for reasons you're about to read.

Enjoy getting to know him (and exploring his space)—we definitely did.

What was your first job?
When I was younger, I cleaned houses with my mom—that was the first time I was paid for something here and there—but my first real job was at Red Lobster as a busboy.

Trendsetters at Work: BUSCEMI
Jennifer Cooper/E!

How did you get into the industry?
I was working at Red Lobster and I really wanted to get more tattoos. Also, I wasn't doing well in high school and really wanted to drop out, so I looked up tattoo kits online and found out they were cheaper than actual tattoos were. So my stupid brain was like, "let me buy a tattoo kit and tattoo myself." I ended up doing a bunch of tattoos on myself and made many mistakes. Now I have a bunch of cover-ups. I wouldn't recommended going that route, but it's how I got my start.

What's a typical day like for you?
I wake up play with my kids, make them breakfast and then take them to school. After that I go and play basketball at the YMCA, school a bunch of kids then rest for an hour until I head to the shop around 3 p.m. I generally leave at 9 p.m., but I'm actually not tattooing at the moment. I'm just doing management stuff and looking to open up more shops.

Tell us about your shop's décor.
The shop is really designed for maximum use of minimal space ('cause we're in NYC and therefore have to maximize everything we do)—I designed the whole store with my designer Jesse McGowan. If you walk through the shop you'll notice it's got a S-curve to it, similar to the shape of a Yin-yang. That's why everything's black and white.

Trendsetters at Work: Mane Addicts
Courtesy Bang Bang

What's the most darling career risk you have ever taken?
I mean opening a store is probably the biggest risk I took not only financially, but your reputation is on the line. You're also betting on yourself and the people you hire—that's the biggest risk.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
If someone gives you gold, take it. And if nobody gives you gold, take it.

Who are some of the celebs you tattoo?
There have been so many, but some are Rihanna, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and Justin Bieber. The list is huge and it keeps growing.

Any cool celeb stories you can share? Let's talk about Rihanna.
Well Rihanna is my dear friend. We don't see each other much because we're both so busy, but she's one of those people you see and you're right back where you left off. I think my favorite thing about her isn't something we did together or experienced together, but it's being able to grow and watch your friend grow and become one of the most influential icons in the world. She's done so much for my career with her support and she continuously believes in me to tattoo her over and over again.

Trendsetters at Work: Rails
Jennifer Cooper/E!

What about the time you put temporary tattoos on Cara Delevingne for the Met Ball?
That was a nightmare. I got two days' notice to design a body wrap, temporary tattoo and I'd never made one in my life. I didn't sleep for those two days and actually slipped a disc in my neck from sleeping in the shop. It was tough for me, but it was very well worth it.

Have any advice for someone getting a tattoo for the first time?
Step one: Find a tattoo artist you feel super comfortable with. The tattoo you get isn't just about what you're getting, it's also about the experience you have while getting it done. It's worth investigating the person that's going tattoo you. If you vibe with somebody and love their work, yes get a tattoo with them, but if you love their work and they're an a--hole it's probably worth doing more research (a.k.a. going to someone else).

Any no-nos for when it comes to getting a tattoo?
Yeah, I think sometimes people art direct a little too much. Clients aren't tattoo artists, so when they try and design their tattoos, they sometimes don't do the best job.

Trendsetters at Work: Zoë Chicco Fine Jewelry
Jennifer Cooper/E!

Who are your career heroes?
Michael Jordan was my first hero growing up. He kind of fueled my competitive nature. It's weird being an artist and feeling competitive, but I feel competitive in a healthy way. I want to work really hard and be the best tattoo shop in the world, and the only real way to do that is to compare my business to the best tattoo shops around the world.

What's next for Bang Bang NYC?
I'm looking to open more shops—currently looking at LA and London.

Trendsetters at Work: Heretic Parfum
Courtesy Bang Bang

Finish the sentence below:

Today for lunch I had…well, I haven't eaten yet (its 7 p.m.), but I have a dinner at 9 p.m.

My usual Starbucks order is…the pink tea. I don't know the name of it because I usually send someone once a week to go get it for me—no sugar and no caffeine.

If I wasn't doing this job, I an astronaut.

My favorite place to visit is...the bank (that's the first thing that popped in my head).

List five things on your desk right toys, my computer , my HTC, puzzles and art supplies.

The book I'm reading right now is...I haven't even read my own book. I don't enjoy reading, but I read a lot of news about breakthroughs in technology and science—that's what I like to read about.

The biggest splurge you've ever made was…last week when I bought myself a Tesla model X car. It was the first real big purchase I've made for myself ‘cause I usually only put money into the shop.