Ink Master interview: Winner Josh Payne talks finale, challenges, future

Josh PayneThroughout this season of Ink Master it was pretty clear that Josh Payne was a significant force to be reckoned with. He started from the very beginning as a target and following that, he withstood just about every challenge that was thrown at him to eventually become the winner. He now has the title of Ink Master and the grand prize, but there’s still a very good chance you haven’t seen the last of him in this franchise.

In our interview with him, Josh describes what it was like for him winning the season, working alongside his coach DJ Tambe, and also the perception of him as the sometimes-villain this season.

CarterMatt – How does it feel to be the winner of the season?

Josh Payne – I’m note sure it’s set in. It’s one of those surreal things where you put your ass out there for that long and you have a net goal that you’re trying to hit. It’s pretty wild still.

One of the things about this season was that you felt like the bad guy in professional wrestling who would go out there and mix things up, but then after the match would turn out to be a nice guy. Was that your plan to be like that going in?

I had a very strategic way to approaching every angle of the competition, from the way that I wanted my art to be to the way I wanted to be perceived to the behind-the-scenes and living. It’s more than just tattooing, and that’s something a lot of people watching don’t quite understand. There are other angles that need to be at play.

Didn’t you call it psychological warfare at one point?

(Laughs) Yeah. More than anything you’re trapped with these people; you gotta have a little bit of fun, right?

Hey, I definitely appreciate it. I wish more people would do it!

I kind of wanted to start as the villain and end as the hero. I still don’t know if that happened.

I think it kind of did! There was a point a few episodes from the end where you started to open up about your story and I think it gave people a better understanding about you. Did you get the sense on social media over time that people who may not have liked you at first were starting to root for you?

I don’t know. I’m still kind of curious. I read a lot of opinions where people were like ‘I really didn’t know what to think [about you], but I found myself rooting for you.’ The only thing that kind of sucks is that they film so much and they get to pick and choose what they want. The interaction with my clients was amazing, and I’m always laughing and joking and singing and smiling. But then, if you back me into a corner, I’m going to say my truth and what needs to be said.

But I think one thing that viewers maybe didn’t understand, and it may be true for this season more than any other I’ve seen, is how much your back was against the wall from the beginning. From the moment you got in there, did you get the sense everyone was targeting you?

I was the man; I was the target for sure, and I don’t have any hate towards anybody. The smartest play in that situation is to take the guy out who was your strongest competition. I got it! I had no problem being that guy — if you want someone to f—ing attack, come at me and I’ll try to back it up with my work. It definitely made it more difficult. I hated the team aspect of it, but at the end of the day the best thing that ever happened was my team. They were by my side and they were amazing. There were times where mentally it got tough and I always had someone to lean on, which was rad.

One of the things that made your win a little more impressive to me was how you would be able to convince your canvas to go with a slightly different design or not put it on a certain part of the body. You were able to give yourself something you could work with.

The crazy thing is that I read that over and over, that I changed so many designs. In reality it was three of eighteen tattoos that I changed. Only three. I ended up doing some really tough stuff on some tricky spots, but I’ve done this long enough that I get it. I know how to coerce people and say things like ‘hey man, your idea is cool, but if we can tweak here and here, it’ll give us an opportunity to do something a little bit bigger.’ My mom always told me that I can sell ice to an Eskimo; I’ve got that gift of gab where I can make you feel comfortable.

Was there ever a time this season that you were altogether worried about your future?

I want to say no, but there was that point where I finished that tiger piece where everyone was up in arms that the eye was crossed and I was going home. That was crazy. They showed a little bit of it, but I had to spend an hour and a half convincing DJ to let me go down. He did not want to send me down there, but I wasn’t going to let Deanna and Frank take the fall for my problems. But, that whole night I was sitting there thinking ‘I just put $100 grand on a 50-50 bet and that was really f—ing stupid’ (laughs). I was confident in that piece and I thought it was really great, but the more people kept [talking about the eye] I started feeling like ‘holy s–t, I may actually be going home right now. That’d be crazy.’

How did your relationship evolve with DJ throughout the show? You guys had friction here and there, but that happens when you’ve got two really skilled and passionate people.

We were super tight before. We’ve been lucky in that we’ve traveled together and worked together in the past. When he came around the corner that first day I lit up. It was awesome. Any animosity is like riding in a car for thirty hours with your best friend. You love them, but you want to strangle them once in a while. We had our tiffs, but having him there by my side was amazing.

One thing that I wish we could clear up is that everyone has been saying ‘oh, DJ spent all of his time trying to get Josh into the finale.’ The reality was that he knew my work and respected my work. He would come over, look at my work, say ‘all right, you’re good,’ and then I would be like ‘ok good, now go work with the rest of the team’ and he would. He was helping all of them more than he was helping me, because he had faith in my abilities. It sucks that they didn’t show that. DJ was an amazing coach and he had a hard run, but he did everything incredibly well, including helping people on the other teams.

Going into the finale, did you feel altogether confident that you were going to take home the title?

I felt really solid. I didn’t see the other pieces [from the other contestants] until we were on that stage and they put them up in front of us. When I saw the two, I was still confident.

It’s tough. I almost wish we had a different task because no matter how you drew that [battle], it was going to be clustered. There was no other way because you got two serpent-like bodies and then you’re mixing it with something like an eagle. There’s just no good way to make that happen. I probably drew my piece 25 different times before I settled on what I did and I’m super-stoked about it. I really am proud of what I delivered.

In the aftermath of all of this, has your business changed at all? Are you getting a lot more requests?

My life for the last six years has been way more than I could ever handle. I hired a lady to do all my emailing and booking for me. I have no idea what’s coming in, but I can only imagine it’s chaos. I’ve had so many people reaching out and sharing their love which is awesome. One of the things that I’m the proudest of is that I’m from a little tiny hole in the wall in upstate New York, and to show that you can make something of yourself if you work hard enough, that’s worth more than anything.

What’s the future like now for you on Ink Master? Could Josh Payne the mentor exist?

Mentor would be good. I’ve been throwing it out, I would love to have the Rumble in the Jungle rematch with Juan. I respect that dude wholeheartedly and he’s an amazing contender. I wish that I had gotten this on a landslide rather than a question mark, so I would love the opportunity to stand up there again with him and see how it plays out. That dude is one of the reasons I tattoo like I do; he inspired me from the beginning.

I don’t want him to feel like he lost unjustly and I don’t want him to feel like I won unjustly. I would love a good, final ruling.

As far as being a mentor, if they want me I’m in — I’ve already said ‘if you want to go find 20 more people for me to piss off, I’ll have some fun with it.’


If you want to see more of Josh’s work or learn how to book a tattoo appointment with him, check out his official Instagram. Meanwhile, like CarterMatt on Facebook for even more insight regarding the show, including other interviews, episode reviews, and much more. (Photo: Paramount Network.)


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