The stickers are on the back windshields of monster trucks, low-rider Neons and SUVs with chrome rims.
Some drivers have earned the right to advertise their membership; they’ve sat in a chair at Club Tattoo.
For others, it’s a way to affiliate with a counterculture — one that has a growing mainstream following.
"Everybody wants to be part of the family," said Club Tattoo artist Terry "Wookie" Hoffman, who’s worked there for nine years. "So even something as small as putting a sticker on your car, it’s a big deal."
Club Tattoo has two shops in Tempe, with a third opening Wednesday in Mesa. The original is in a strip mall on Apache Boulevard in Tempe, sandwiched between a Mediterranean restaurant and a bar. It opened 10 years ago when Tempe resident Sean Dowdell and his bandmate, Mace Beyers, needed money to supplement their income from touring with now-defunct band Grey Daze.
"I thought it would pay my bills," Dowdell said.
Six months later, Beyers bowed out of ownership. Until last month, Dowdell was Club Tattoo, or "Johnny-on-thespot," as one employee called him. Now he’s found new business partners in good friends Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park, and Bennington’s wife, Samantha. Chester Bennington, who holds 50 percent stake in the business, wears the shop’s clothing while on tour. Already, several Club Tattoo artists are behind current and future tattoos on Bennington’s body.
The walls of Club Tattoo are covered with photos of well-knowns who have been inked by a resident artist, such as football player J.R. Redmond, hip-hop group De La Soul and punk band Less Than Jake. Club Tattoo made its celebrity connections through its former neighbor, the Electric Ballroom, a concert venue. Dowdell would offer free tattoos to performers — permanent advertising, in other words.
Now, Dowdell, 30, and his clan — his wife, Thora, 13 tattoo artists, and 5 piercers — have become celebrities in their own right. The younger employees (still in their "rock star" stage, according to Dowdell) know their status, using their jobs to get ahead of lines at local clubs. People seem to jump at the chance to tell you they know someone who works at Club Tattoo.
Even though they have connections and even groupies, the artists are also polite, sincere and tight-knit.
"Sean hires people of like mind," said artist Brandon Sehmann, 32.
While tattooing a king cobra on the upper left arm of Avondale resident Shane Price, Sehmann is encouraging, soothing. He tells Price the pain is like scratching a sunburn.
"It doesn’t linger. It hurts, doesn’t hurt," Sehmann says.
Even so, Price, who came to Club Tattoo because his sister raved about it, put on a WWE grimace once the needle started into his bicep. Over the next two hours, Sehmann would keep saying, "You’re doing great," sounding more like a dentist than a tattoo artist.
"Most artists I know have their own way of calming a person down beforehand," he said. "It’s this great give-andtake, this great energy."
Sehmann learned the trade from an "old, rough biker guy. I saw him scare people off and I saw people not leave because they thought that was the way it was supposed to be."
It used to be, tattoo shops were cold, the process intimidating. But now that tattoos have become mainstream, leading shops in Arizona to rely on word of mouth because, here, no agency regulates sanitation.
"I heard that place is clean," said Scottsdale resident Jessica Immell — a typical reaction to the mention of Club Tattoo’s name.
A good reputation, celebrity connections, groupies — they all help fuel the phenomenon of Club Tattoo. But, in the end, the stickers continue to be the shop’s most successful advertising tool. More than 1,000 are given out each month.
Recently, three teenage girls — suburban anarchists in mall-purchased punk gear — accepted the free stickers with excitement at the shop on Apache Boulevard. Whether they had tattoos is unclear, but judging by their ages and awkwardness, probably not. They just wanted to be part of the scene.
Dowdell said it is "lucky" the name implies something bigger. The No Fear store in Chandler Fashion Mall recently began stocking Club Tattoo shirts, sweatshirts, and hats, and, said store manager Jason Stebbins, the clothing has been doing "beyond well."
"You can’t even drive down the street without seeing a Club Tattoo sticker," said Stebbins, who has five piercings and four tattoos from Club Tattoo. "Pretty soon, I think it will become a fashion statement, too."