James has spent the last few months putting together a new crew and setting up an expansive, sprawling tattoo shop in downtown Manhattan that he's dubbed the Wooster Street Social Club. AOL TV spent a day hanging out at the shop, taking pictures and talking with James about the new cast, what's in store this season and New York's vibrant tattoo culture.
James said he's extremely excited about opening a new shop in New York. "The tattoo culture is way bigger in New York than Miami; there's no comparison at all. New York has always been a tattoo capital. You walk down a New York street in the summer and literally every third person has a sleeve. That's something that just doesn't exist in Miami. The really cool part is that you have a lot more customers who want to get serious work, really cool tattoos, which inspires you as an artist everyday."
He's stocked his new crew with artists Tim Hendricks, Tommy Montoya, Megan Massacre, Chris Torres and Miami holdover Billy DeCola, who can cater to a wide variety of tastes and styles. "A couple guys in there do really amazing art, but they do separate things: one guys does color portraits, another does kind of Tim Burton, another cast member does this crazy color photo realism. It's really cool to have the diversity of a bunch of guys at a really high level tattooing at one spot, and everyone does something completely different."
But beyond the serious art of tattooing, Ami James is also a showman who knows how to assemble a highly addictive, highly-rated reality show. He's upped the ante this time around. "We picked the cast differently than the previous shows. It's cast to have such a crazy dynamic of everybody offering something else into the business. We have every kind of person in there, which makes for interesting TV."
Life at the Wooster Street Social Club plays out a lot like life on MTV's 'The Real World' -- the co-ed cast of characters take turns loving and hating each other, working together, fighting with each other and getting into all types of shenanigans both in the shop and out in the New York nightlife. They decided to call the space a social club because it's more than just a tattoo shop: it also has a gallery space, coffee shop area and a boxing gym downstairs.
The crew's two tattooed bombshells, Megan Massacre and Jessica Gahring, stir things up, and are likely to make viewers quickly forget about Kat Von D. Jessica, the shop's tall, leggy vixen of a floor manager, is constantly causing trouble and creating the type of entertaining drama we now demand from our reality TV.
"It's just funny because we've got a girl [Jessica] that's really outgoing, talks way too much, and it just becomes really, really hard to be able to work sometimes," James said. "There's fights all the time between Jessica and everybody, really. She is the epicenter of everybody getting pissed off to date."
Then there are the celebrity guests, who flock to James' shop to get tattooed by one of the best in the business, and provide the show with an extra dose of star power. Supermodel Jessica White and 'Jersey Shore's' Angelina Pivarnick recently visited the shop for tattoos, as did Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, one of the NFL's most feared pass-rushers, who was there to get work done the day AOL TV hit the shop.
James and Woodley brainstormed a design for a forearm tattoo that was highly personal to Woodley: it featured two wolves looking over a wolf-cub, surrounded by a dreamcatcher. Woodley, who has a three-year-old daughter, explained what the tattoo meant to him. "Me being the leader of my pack of my family now. Once upon a time my dad was the leader of the pack and I was a great follower. When I look at that tattoo every day, it's gonna remind me of my family history, of you being that follower and now being the leader of that pack. And how the decisions you make affect your family, and how your family's only as strong as everyone working together."
It's unlikely that many NFL quarterbacks will be interested in the deep, family-oriented inspiration for the design as Woodley is using his gigantic, tattooed arm to bludgeon them into the ground behind the line of scrimmage. It's also unlikely that any NFL offensive lineman will make Woodley look as uncomfortable as he did while sitting waiting in James' chair, eyeing his massive tattoo needle, dubbed the 'Hebrew Hammer.'
Between bringing a high level of tattoo artistry to a tattoo mecca, unveiling a new diverse, entertaining cast and incorporating a bevy of celebrity guests, we won't be surprised if this New York spin-off blows up to be even bigger than James' previous endeavors.
'NY Ink' premieres Thurs., June 2 at 10PM on TLC.
Gallery: NY INK Set Visit