I have known Dan Collins for years and have considered him a friend since the day we first met. Dan's looks and demeanor dictate that he is a ruffian and a hell raiser, but it couldn't be further from the truth. He's a talented guy that chooses his words wisely and he possesses one of the most intriguing laughs you will ever hear in your life.
All that aside, Dan's tattooing, artwork, and custom cars are all top-notch, but it's really his bikes that show off what the artist is truly capable of.
Starting off like most of us did by building bikes in our garage, Dan has evolved into an accomplished builder that pretty much was forced to open his own shop to build customers show-quality two and four-wheeled rides. In current times with the ebb and flow of money and customer's tastes, Dan is heading up the bike builds his way and there's no looking back now. We sat down with Mr. Collins at his Ventura, Ca, shop and grilled him while our pal Ed Fox shot some photos. Here's how it went.
How long have you been doing art?
I met Andy Warhol when I was about ten years old at some cocktail party my parent's dragged me to. When we were introduced, I told him I was an artist too. So I guess a couple years now.
Tell us about your music career?
Wow, that seems like another lifetime. I led a cowpunk/psychobilly band called Mr Badwrench for about seven years. It's been over 10 years since our CD "Up Jumped The Devil" was released. Crazy. I sang, I can't play any instruments well. But that's what the other guys were there for. I never sang in any other bands before or after. It was a blast for a while. LA was such a different place back then.
You are also a tattooist. How and when did that come about?
I started tattooing when I was 16, although, not well. It took me years to get to the point where I could call myself a tattoo artist. I did my first tattoo on my roommate with a homemade machine. It was his idea, not mine. I think it was a fish on his kneecap. That had to hurt. I owned my own shop for eight years. Now I'm working by appointment only due to my busy schedule at Old Gold.
What's the Deal with Old Gold Garage?
I have been building cars and bikes for myself since I was 15 out of my garage and was learning as went along trying to keep my daily rides on the road with a limited budget. I never had a "finished" car until I built the Limelight '38 Ford truck in my garage in North Hollywood. All of a sudden I was winning first place trophies at car shows and getting covers of magazines. I had been tinkering with a few bikes of my own during all of this, but they were all in various states of disrepair. Since I was working as a tattoo artist full time and building show cars when time alotted it didn't leave much time for me to concentrate on building bikes. That's how Old Gold Garage began. I would work on my customer's projects until their money ran out, and then I'd spend time working on my own shit. It was much more difficult to manage my time doing it as a business. As I worked with customers with shrinking budgets due to the changing economy, trying to keep each project on track was getting monotonous. As I finished each car and sent them home to their owners, I fought the urge to take on new car projects in order to pay the bills. I had to simplify and get back to what was important to me. That led to me to working almost exclusively on my own cars again, and taking on bike projects for friends and customers who shared my same vision.
Are you a builder or an artist first?
That's a tough question for me. My skills as an artist developed at an earlier age, but these days I'm too busy to spend much time painting, which is something I think about on an almost daily basis. I'm trying to find a way to change that. I still get asked to do album covers, T-shirt designs, magazine covers and stuff. I like it because it forces me to find the time and keeps me sharp.
We heard you were big in Japan? What's the deal with that?
I got lucky to be part of a very small but growing scene from the beginning. The Kustom Kulture movement was huge, but it didn't start that way. There was a real lull for a long time coming out of the "Boyd" era of the custom car stuff. I started by going to the old Bobs Big Boy in Reseda and selling my drawings and sculptures. Then Mooneyes started doing the Rat Fink Reunion show. It was tiny back then. It grew every year, and I kept getting invited back. Then a Japanese guy named Nash started working for a magazine called "Cal" and they wanted to do a feature on me. It was crazy, all of a sudden I was doing album covers for Japanese bands, and my T-shirts were selling in huge department stores over there. The economy was stronger back then, and I made a living just selling my art. Then I was invited to participate in an art show called Tokyo Groovy. That was my first trip there. It was a game changer for me. I've been going back for about 12 years now. These days my trips to Japan are almost exclusively to be a part of the Mooneyes Hot Rod and Custom show every year in Yokohama.
What is your philosophy on building bikes?
To me each bike, or style of build should have a different philosophy behind it. I will usually let the bike kind of tell me what it wants to be. That sounds kinda bat shit crazy, but it's true. Some bikes are for splitting lanes at 80 miles an hour, and some are for long hauls with forever winding roads. I try not to get caught up in what the current trends are. They will come and go, and you will never make a name for yourself doing your version of someone else's bike. Even though I build a lot of Sportsters and have done a few Dynas lately, I understand and respect the history and tradition of custom bikes and choppers. That knowledge will influence every build I do. I also feel that it's important to know when to stop. To step away and call it done. I've seen so many talented builders get caught up in outdoing the next guy that the overall design gets lost.
What is the future for Dan Collins?
Who knows man, I used to try to figure that stuff out, but it never ends up like you think it's going to. I'm trying to just roll with the punches these days and have fun while I'm at it. Life's too short to take this shit too seriously...
"You never make a name for yourself by doing a version of somebody else's bike."