King of the Hiller: A night reprocessing good memories with Warren Hiller.
Warren is undoubtedly one of the most positive people I’ve spoken with. His idealism is pretty refreshing in a field where most of us are grumpy as fuck. His insight into the community, not just in the early Toronto piercing scene but as well as the early information share boom occurring on BME, should sate any piercing geeks curiosity on the subjects. We spoke at length about what it was like to babysit 400+ piercers, the teachings of Tom Brazda, and why we all deserve our day in the sun.
Ari – Alright Warren, go ahead and give us an introduction.
Warren – My name is Warren Alexander Hiller. I started apprenticing in Toronto, Ontario Canada in 2001 after I moved back to Canada from Barbados. Basically I had a quick little apprenticeship that I paid for, it was at a shop called Stargazer Studios, and soon after that I met Tom Brazda at Stainless Studios. In a lot of ways he helped me and took me under his wing and trained me while I worked at Stargazer Studios, and then I transitioned into Alien Fine Arts in Niagara Falls, which was my Uncle’s studio. I kind of grew up in the industry because my uncle was a tattoo artist. I also bounced over to Australia to work at Vogue Body Piercing around 2006-2007, and that was kind of my last official job being a full time piercer; that ended about 2009. I returned to Canada in the later part of 2009 and worked some odd jobs: Walmart, tv/film extra work, while also helping Badur Ramji with BodyArtPro/Punkmedics. A few months after returning I got a job as a sterile tech at Adrenaline Tattoo & Body Piercing in downtown Toronto. While I was working at Adrenaline I enrolled in school for what at the time was called sterile supply processing specialist. In Canada we had to, at the time, take a college level course to work in hospitals and after so many hours worked you can challenge for the national title of: medical device reprocessing technician. After I finished my training I worked at the Hospital for Sick Children from about January 2011 to August 2012. I left the Hospital for Sick Children to my current employer since then at Kingsway Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Center. It’s the largest oral and maxillofacial surgical center on the west coast of Canada, and thats my work resume! Oh and I did a little guest spot last year at a shop called Triple J Body Piercing in White Horse, Yukon because I missed piercing so much!
Ari – Was that your first time back since leaving the industry?
Warren – Yeah, in 2009 I was burnt out – I was working seven days a week, putting in almost sixteen hours a day, and thats what caused me to leave. Over the years I’ve missed it, so I had the offer from a friend who was managing up there and she needed a bit of help; they had just bought a brand new Bravo and a Hydrim so I had to kinda help them understand and train them on it, and they said “While you’re up here, why don’t you pierce?” and I was like sure! I miss it so why not? On the last day of my training I think I did 30 piercing? I was blown away! My first piercing of the day was a daith with a daith heart. Of course daith hearts hadn’t really come to fruition when I left, it was just starting to come out; I was looking at all this stuff that you guys are doing and was like this is phenomenal! I love this stuff! I wish we had some of this stuff back when I was working full time! So the first one up was a daith heart and I was really happy with the result, I couldn’t believe it, it felt like old hat, like an old friend embracing you – it shows I really missed it.
Ari – It’s got to be an interesting experience going back to those roots but using more modern jewelry.
Warren – It’s pretty wild. In your article with Gregg 1, we were so blown away by what Gregg was doing, and of course we were always trying to pick his brain. It wasn’t until after 2009 that the jewelry companies were catching on to these multi-point multi-angle positions, so a lot of our stuff was custom bent, like he said, trying to get things lined up with all the right angles. Some of us were just not as innovative as Gregg was with those fun tips and tricks that he put out, I didn’t even think of any of that. But yeah, so much has changed in the last seven years, it just blew my mind with all the fancy jewelry designs. It was neat to get to do something a lot of the newer era of body piercers have been doing and ultimately realize that the knowledge and the training never leaves you.
Ari – When you’re that heavily enmeshed in something it doesn’t just go away, and it’s not like you haven’t been keeping tabs on the industry, it seems like you’re up to date with the current piercing field.
Warren – I try to be. I remember Shawn Porter recently told me somebody said my name and was inquiring if I’m “still involved, what am I still doing, they used to hold me in high regard, and that last thing they heard was that body modification ruined my life and I wanted to walk away from it all”. I believe Shannon Larratt said it best; I am passionate, my opinions are very passionate. They’re not always the most thought processed that I could bring forward, that burnt out process I was going through were like the stages of grief and loss. There were moments when I was in denial, moments where I had anger, and then more recently I’ve come to terms with it all. This is what it was in the past because I was burned out. I’m sure there was a time when I literally said body modification ruined my life because I couldn’t focus myself in all these other directions, but at the same time with doing so I realize there’s nothing I would’ve changed because that was my life. I lived that life, I can’t change it, there’s no point in changing it, trying to change it, just accept and appreciate the wild rides you rode, and I gotta say, I did live a wild ride, as did most of us in those early days.
Ari – I feel like anyone who’s passionate about it means they give a shit.
Warren – There’s a lot of people who are very passionate, and if they aren’t passionate they should wonder why they aren’t passionate about it. Because if they’re not passionate nothing will get innovated and nothing will get advanced. The unfortunate thing about a lot of us back in the day is we put so much out into it, we focused so much of their time, and very few people had alternative outlets. They burned out or had to walk away from it, as seen by a lot of us. There are so many people that are still left in the industry who have managed to figure it out, and find that happy balance so they can maintain and stay, like Gregg, Derek Lowe and Luis Garcia,etc. They’ve all managed to find ways to stay within the profession and they all sat there and went this is my life goal, this is my mission, this is who I am and what I am, but they also understand there are other things in life other then body piercing; they managed to find a harmonious level between it all and managed to succeed and I can’t be more proud of those people because so many other people, myself included, failed to do so. It’s great to see they’re not only still succeeding, but advancing and on the forefront, so I’m living vicariously through them. There was a time when I was a bit angry and a couple people pointing out shortcomings, basically alluding to the fact that I am no longer in the industry so therefore I no longer have a say, or I shouldn’t speak my mind because I’m no longer a piercer, but I try to stay in the pulse of it all.
Ari – Piercing is a field mainly composed of grown ass children. It’s unfortunate but it’s unsurprising when we start flinging our shit at each other, because a lot of us took this job because it appealed to us over corporate life. There aren’t a lot of ramifications when you fuck around, unless you really fuck around. You have to go pretty far to get the hammer dropped down, so it prevents a lot of people from showing respect to their elders, or being respectful to one another.
Warren – Everybody is allowed to have some form of ego. I know for a fact I have an ego – I try not to, I try to always check myself before I wreck myself. I went from high school to a community college in Barbados, where I was told because of my skin color I wouldn’t pass. I was going for computer science at the time, it was just “Meh, why am I gonna focus so much on math and databases, there’s five rum shacks surrounding my college, I’m just gonna get drunk every day”. So I ended up not graduating college at all. So here I am, fast forward in Toronto, I couldn’t live in Barbados anymore, I’m working for an adult website company and trying to pierce and trying to find my way. There were so many of us at the time with no educational background. You’re right, back then it was about fucking the system, defying the societal norms – the modern primitives. As it was progressing you were seeing the industry and the client base switch from that connection, that moment where you basically would hug everyone and feel a connection, to more like a fashion or a fad; the little girls wanting their navel pierced because other little girls have their navels pierced. The business and industry became a reality. It wasn’t so much that we were counter culture subgenre anymore – we were a juggernaut industry turning out amazing product, and because of that we had to be society friendly and allow all these people to come in. It frustrates me at times because with the fashion theres a lot of people failing to realize that you’re working on somebody, you’re playing with somebodies skin and preforming a procedure on somebodies skin; thats serious, thats a big thing. This person is lying themselves on a table and giving themselves to you to adorn them and put something into them for hopefully long term. Back in the day I felt a lot of us were big on that and focused more on that then what is trend and fashion.
Ari – You feel like the rite of passage has dwindled?
Warren – I feel for the people that are in the industry. There’s a lot of people that it’s clicked on, they’re dialed in, they understand the rite of passage is there. But there’s a lot of people that they either don’t care or it just isn’t a part of them, but they love piercing and body modification; they just aren’t into the whole rite of passage thing. It’s like the tattoo meme thats out, “Jesus Christ, it’s not about the story, I don’t care about your story, you can sometimes get a tattoo for a tattoo”. Same thing with piercing, I don’t need a story, I don’t need a rite of passage, I just want the damn piercing. And you know what? Sometimes that rite of passage isn’t for everyone, so you can’t push it on them, no matter how hard you try.
Ari – I think they both have their place. It’s tough to get away from that mindset, and stop me if i’m wrong, but when piercing was a smaller field, that feeling was easier to convey to people coming up and pass along. When piercing took the boom – shit, look at any industry in history that explodes, you see a dramatic drop in effectiveness in the people coming on board. Thats not to poo-poo all the newer piercers out there, but statistically they can’t all be winners. And when you have something that doubles or triples in size for a field, it waters everything down.
Warren – There’s been so many innovations and so many phenomenal piercers out there nowadays from the early 2000s. Sacred Debris, for years, has documented the rite of passage. Now it seems like if you want the rite of passage that’s cool, if not that’s cool too, the industry has come a long way with adapting to that. To a lot of us, we didn’t really click with that transition. But people were blown away when I said I’d have a thirty minute conversation with clients, from start to finish of a piercing – sometimes it took a bit longer. I remember when I was in Australia, my boss at the time basically was like “Warren, what were you in there doing for forty five minutes? It was just a nostril!” I’d be like well, she was a bit tense and stressed and I calmed that girl down and now she’s totally relaxed. She didn’t have to worry about anything, the piercing itself was over in seconds, but we were vibing so good and I was trying to give her an experience. Some people want the experience, some people don’t; it’s up to the piercer to flow like water so they can either give them that experience when it’s needed or not when they don’t. It’s good on them if they’re able to figure that out. As long as the customer leaves happy thats all that matters.
Ari – Let’s jump back for a bit because I’d love to talk about your time with Brazda and Stainless Studios. How did you first meet him?
Warren – This is very comical. Tom, to those of us who know Tom, has always been an open source, especially in the Toronto area. If you needed help Tom was always there. He would expect you to listen and on the other side of Tom your brain would become a melting sieve because so much knowledge was being thrown at you. You were just like “you’re going too fast Tom, just let me process this for a second”. There were a lot of people trained by Tom. My original piercer, who I was eventually trained by, was a former apprentice of Tom but she had some different opinions and went her own way. I felt my clients all wanted large gauge jewelry but the original instructor didn’t want to offer those types of things. Her studio was very much a Pagan/Wiccan type crowd, a lot of incense burning, so it wasn’t to the harder crowd, more to people who wanted basic procedures. We knew a guy named Rock Ass, a big muscular guy, I don’t remember his real name, but he was solid rock. He was helping Tom one night set up a performance display at a place called The Bat Cave in Toronto, and he wanted to know if I wanted to go because he might need a little bit of help setting up. I’d heard of Tom through the industry a little bit. An hour or two later when we met up he was like “One of Tom’s display models backed out, he needs an eyebrow piercing, would you be willing to sit in and get an eyebrow piercing by Tom?” and I was like yeah sure, I heard he’s a solid piercer, so I’ll do it. So he takes me to the Bat Cave, a dark goth nightclub, there’s a stage and a bright light and bunch of massage tables set up. We’re starting to set up, and Tom comes over to me and says “So you’re going to get an eyebrow piercing” and I’m like yeah yeah, I’m here to help. Needless to say, he does the eyebrow piercing flawlessly. We sat down later and got to talking, and Tom was asking me questions, “What type of gloves do you use? What type of disinfectant do you use? How do you think the clients feel when you do this? What happens when the client wants larger gauge, what do you do?” He started talking to me but he wasn’t talking down to me – he just threw questions at me to try and get me to find answers, just rapid fire questions, and I was like honestly, I know I need to advance my knowledge and I feel like I can’t if I can’t access the full array of what people want. Tom was basically like “Ok, if you want to start learning, do you have clients that want these things?” and I said yes, I have clients that want 6g lobes that I can’t provide them with. My work wants me to do them at a 14g and taper them up. He was like “Ok, you get this person, schedule with me, let me know when you want to come in and I’ll show you how to pierce if you really want to know how to pierce” and I said fuck yeah, this is all I want to know, I want to know everything, because I feel like I’m at a glass ceiling and I need to break out. Nothing against my mentor or anything but I hit that ceiling pretty quick. I started bringing clients to Tom, the only thing was I had to bring them after hours. So when the shop would close down I would meet up with Tom at the shop, we’d have jewelry picked out, everything that they wanted at that point, and it was there and then that I started working under his tutelage. Around that time Tom and I were heavily hanging out, getting into BME. Badur’s place was often the meeting spot where a lot of discussions occurred. There were times when Tom was doing various jewelry manufacturing, we were all just sitting down and talking, Tom and I would get into conversations and time kind of disappears when you talk to Tom. You end up in a void because no time or relativity exists. Tom is very full on; you look at him in his eyes and because of the conversation, you’re so into it you don’t look away. He doesn’t just talk at you, he brings forth dialogue and discussion and questions. You’re just focused on him and you don’t realize you’ve been talking to him for six hours about everything under the sun for body piercing. I think I did about a year into the apprenticeship at the studio and dabbling with Tom at Stainless Studios when I lost my job at the adult entertainment website, and I went ok, I’m gonna be a full time piercer. I found a place that I thought wanted to hire me but it turns out they wanted to re-apprentice me, and that was around 2002-2003. I was a bit frustrated, I was like hey I’ve already had training, let me kick the training wheels off, I’ve been learning from Tom, let me do my thing. Talking to Tom, Shannon and others about that, they were like do you feel like you want to retrain? and I went no, I need to be let loose, I need to advance, so they were like don’t hold back then, why go through a second round of training unless its going to provide you with something the other one couldn’t provide.
Ari – Did this other studio asking you to retrain have knowledge of you working with Tom, did they not feel like those credentials were enough?
Warren – Well that brings us to a lot of the old ways, the thought process and the negativity. Both shop owners, the one I trained under and the one who I applied to were both trained by Tom! Essentially they made me feel like this is a bigger shop, we deal with a lot more clientele, your little shop isn’t enough, you don’t have enough clients or expertise. They had me sign a contract that basically stated I couldn’t work anywhere else in southern Ontario other then their shop; I was like I don’t get this, but I signed it and said when do I start? I was gonna have to take a bus, like a two hour drive, and I needed to start to make money. They told me they couldn’t schedule me to work until the new year, and that was in October! I was like dude, WTF? I was so frustrated and confused, I was on unemployment insurance, and I thought is this gonna be the end of what I was so passionate about? Back peddle a bit here because just before I started my initial apprenticeship it just so happened my original instructor made an aftercare line for piercing and tattoos, and she sold to my uncles shop. One day she said she had to go deliver an order to them. I asked if I could go, I hadn’t seen my uncles shop at this time, so she said “sure!” This is around winter time, we showed up and I said hi and introduced Maribelle. My family asked if I would ever consider learning to pierce and maybe even come work for them? Maribelle and I looked at each other and chuckled and said there could be a possibility of learning. Fast-forward back to being unemployed and having issues with this shop in another city. I was frustrated beyond belief but a little bit later on I found out my uncle had to let his piercer/shop manager go, and they were transitioning from one location to another and they wanted me to come and work for them. I said ok, you do understand I’m fresh out of my apprenticeship, I’ve had a bit of training under Tom, I can provide adequate basic procedures but I’m willing to push the boundaries when I feel comfortable. I told them I always have access to Tom, his policy that if theres anything I want to learn I can bring them here to his shop and learn under his tutelage. I said I can start progressing and offering more services as they become apparent, and they said sure no problem! I basically packed everything up overnight and left and moved to Niagara Falls and got myself established. They didn’t know who Tom Brazda was – I was just lucky to have family get me in the door. So Tom inevitably didn’t help me get in the door to my full time position, but without Tom I never even would’ve have that chance and confidence to stand up and go I’m a body piercer, this is what I’m gonna be, screw the standard corporate life. I just got laid off from a porn company, I don’t really have anything going for me other then piercing, its what I’m passionate about, I’m gonna dive head first, I’m either gonna crash and burn and wash out, or I’m gonna succeed. I believe that’s around the time that the learning forum started. I was so frustrated because I had a teacher that taught me one way, a shop in another town basically saying I need to be retaught because she didn’t teach the right way, and neither of them are teaching the way that Tom was teaching me! I had to create it, I knew that there were so many people out there with different techniques, tips and tricks. If I was to create a forum where we could all discuss and be on the level field and mingle and network maybe this is what I need, because at the time there wasn’t Facebook or myspace, we literally only had BME. I have to do this because I have to try. Because I need to know more.
Ari – It does seem like Brazda mainly grandfathered the Toronto scene. Was there someone that preceded Tom, or did he just come out of nowhere as this virtuoso who then taught anyone and everyone?
Warren – It wasn’t just Tom, don’t forget we had Blair. Blair was still piercing when I started, he was piercing out of Passage. Stainless Studios was up and running before my time, it had been in another location, it predates my even being in Toronto. My first experience with piercing in Toronto was WayCool Tattoos, which used to be run by Ace Daniels. I was in high school and it was before I left for Barbados, I was young, I knew I was leaving, I was in a bad spot, my girlfriend broke up with me, just having a bad time overall. I wanted to commemorate all this madness by getting a piercing. The first piercing I got was by my uncle (not the tattooist) and I got him to pierce my nipple with a sewing needle in the basement and the jewelry I bought didn’t fit so he stuck a safety pin in it, and a couple days later it migrated and that was the end of that. I can’t even believe he/we did that! But then later on I said I want to do it again but I want it done right. So we went to downtown Toronto from the suburb and hit WayCool Young Street, and i was like I want my nipple pierced. They made sure I was eighteen and had me fill out paperwork. I’m sitting there waiting and this really attractive goth chick comes out and asks if I’m Warren and I say I am and she says come with me. She took me upstairs to this tiny room with a massage table, and I didn’t even care about the jewelry, I just wanted the piercing. She showed me a ring, pierced it, asked me how I was feeling, and I said “I’m in heaven!”, mostly because it was a really attractive goth chick, I was young, what can I say? I was so jazzed about the whole experience. I didn’t know any other piercing studios were around, and when I moved back in 2001 it had opened up quite a bit. A few more tattoo studios, different companies and different names, but in reality the two major players were Tom and Blair. Everybody knew who they were and everybody respected them because they brought the game. I know Tom went to school for fashion, I honestly forget how he said he even got started, like I said, so much info was poured into my brain. I believe it was mostly self learning, and then the drive and determination he decided to open a shop and quickly became the grandfather (along with blair) of body piercing in Toronto. Without them Toronto wouldn’t have been what it was, especially with Shannon coming in and getting worked on heavily by Tom and promoting it on BME. Once BME kicked in and Shannon showed everything off and Toms jewelry design, the surface bar and whatnot. People forget that Tom, alongside people like Steve Haworth, were on the forefront with the designing and creation of what is a surface bar. For example, I specifically remember going to APP with Tom and he had a prototype of a flat surface bar that he was presenting to a couple companies. Low and behold soon after that flat surface bars became the norm for many things. Without Tom the industry would’ve been vastly different. He was not just a localized thing; his word and portfolio and jewelry he made and provided echoed throughout North America. Back in the mid-90s and early 2000s Brazda was such an important name, inventing piercings and pushing boundaries,and without him I guarantee it would’ve been so different. I think we can all agree. If people don’t agree with that, it’s probably because they don’t know him.
Ari – Brazda not having a fucking Instagram page doesn’t discredit him from being a pillar of the modern industry.
Warren – People don’t realize he’s still piercing – he hasn’t stopped. He still does it impeccably. When I was in Toronto recently I stopped by to see my friend Six at Exotics Studios, and he was like I still see things coming in with a certain jewelry or design or procedure, and I ask where they got that, and people always go some guy in the suburbs. When he asks if it’s Tom, they all go yeah! He’s not on social media anymore, he’s just doing his thing, and he is still churning out perfection. So many people would go become a recluse and dwindle, dangling in a weird spot of not advancing, but Tom is still able to offer top quality work, and that just goes to show you how great he was and is. People now may not know him; when I was working on becoming a sterile tech, I asked three of the apprentice piercers around the area who is Tom Brazda and none of them knew. This was 2009/2010 – they didn’t know because they grew up in a totally different environment.
Ari – Are we talking about trainers who are failing their apprentices by not forcing them to learn the history, or the fault of the apprentices to not be hungry to learn about where they came from?
Warren – I think the industry has grown exponentially, so piercers who are training apprentices are more focused on the practical – getting this person to understand angles and placement and how to help someone and focusing on aftercare. These little nuances of history is a second thought. People take for granted that these people may not have come up the same, and I think a lot of people flat out don’t care. I hate to say it, it frustrates me to no end, but people should care. But a lot of them don’t feel they need to understand the past, and what happened and where they came from, and that without these people who tred the path before them, they wouldn’t have this industry. They wouldn’t make the money because this wasn’t a job before our ancestors made it one. These people in the past, without them there’s nothing. I feel the industry is very fluid in this aspect, like the indigenous tribes in north america, in that piercing history is an oral history. It’s why I love what Shawn is doing with Sacred Debris, it helps bring history to the forefront and show people that they may not know these people, but they should, and here’s why. I’m humbled and honored to be a part of this – I sit there and go I wasn’t doing anything outside the box. When I was piercing I just wanted to do consistent quality work with what I had. I wasn’t trying to do anything fancy or technical, I’d look at myself and I was my own worst critic. For years I’d watch Gregg and Luis and Tod and Decker and Tom and all these people all over the world churning out stuff and when I looked at my work it didn’t even compare – they were so much better then me in my eyes. But I’ve come to believe that all of us, even those who have left the game, deserve acceptance and recognition. When someones time comes, they all deserve appreciation and acknowledgement that what they did during their time mattered. Everybody provides something of merit, it took me a number of years to accept what I did had merit. At the time I didn’t think I was anything special, I was just geeking out over piercings, but people say “Warren, no one can take away what you did, you provided safe and quality piercings, you did your best and what you did mattered” Everybody matters because it’s such a small community, even with our growth. It’s still small in the grand scheme of things and everybody has something to bring to the table, it’s so different but unique and crazy.
Ari – I think it’s safe to say most people look at the Learning Forum as having a shit ton of merit, and that’s thanks to you.
Warren – With the learning forum I honestly didn’t think it would take off. One of Tom’s apprentices, Dustin, who’s retired now, I asked him and all these other piercers, “will you come be a part of this?” and they would all sit there and go “I don’t feel comfortable sharing information, I don’t think I can provide anything.” I would say “I just want to add you, if you feel like you can take part in this I would greatly appreciate it. There are many of us not getting the full scope. What I’d like everyone to do is bounce ideas back and forth and network for the betterment for all of us, even if its a way to not feel burnt out because you can ask questions and geek out and be one.” It just took off, I couldn’t believe it, at one point there was quite a large number in the forum, somewhere between 400-500 internationally.
Ari – What kind of time frame would you say that amassed over?
Warren – I started the forum around 2002, and by 2006-2007 is when it was around that 400ish range. It went on even further after I eventually left BME, but I know piercers were still coming in. It grew pretty fast, very quickly piercers realized that this was a good place to be. I would go to BME events and ask people if they were part of the learning forum or have you heard about the learning forum, and they would say no, and I’d explain it and next thing you know i’d go home and we’d have more requests to join, or I’d have them message me on BME or give me their handle and I’d message them, and it just started snowballing. It quickly grew into this entity of it’s own – I was blown away. I didn’t get it, people would try and give me praise and I’d say I don’t deserve it, it’s all of us, this weird socialist concept I have, I think we can all come together and do good things together. Everyone deserves to have their voice, everyone deserves to have their opinions, so we can all come together and discuss and debate, and everyone can take aspects they like and disregard ones they don’t. Like most groups of this type, there are always some people who will shoot some negativity at people. There was baptism by fire for a lot of people, myself included, I was certainly told a few things from time to time. Lexci got torn apart quite a few times and I always look at her as the epitome of what that forum was designed for, because she basically excelled and put herself head above shoulders. She said ok, I’m gonna do better after every critique or harsh comment directed at her. A lot of people did that, even though there were negatives there were people who pushed positivity, it wasn’t always kill or be killed, although that was present. I tried very hard to squash a lot of it. I was the only moderator/admin. When I first started it you could only have one admin, it was directly dedicated to your page, so I would work tirelessly seeing if someone was a piercer or not, adding them, deleting them if I found out something else, messaging someone to say “hey, you shoved a pole too hard up someones ass, maybe you should take a step back, come at it from a different angle” or times when people wanted to leave after being attacked too harshly and I’d have to convince them to stay the course and take it as constructive criticism, like water off a duck’s back, let it flow off and just say I’m gonna do better, I’m gonna make these guys shut up. And a lot of them did it. It’s just the way the world works, theres gonna be people out there who are positive and people out there who are negative; its about directing the flow. I was so busy and taking part in the forum that I got slapped with a brush of “you’re always on the internet! you’re not working” while I was at work! It was true, I worked in a border town and during winter there weren’t many clients. I’d be on the internet all the time. I’d be going to the events and I’d be marketing the learning forum. Now with Facebook there are so many group, some of them higher quality, some of them have had negativity but some of them have succeeded in providing a safe place to group. Back then it was just the learning forum. I look at it favorably and with love. I still wish I could print off everything from that forum, I think at one time I had a digital file of everything, but I agree with a lot of opinions that BME was a safe haven. Privacy was very much protocol and the key. We were allowed to be ourselves and didn’t let it spill out unless it was consensual. There are procedural tips and tricks that have been lost and unfortunately we don’t have access to them, but I agree that to disclose them I would have to ask every member at the time is it ok if I publish or put forth a document with your situation, your words and persona, even if its only a BME name, which we all know mostly wasn’t our real name, otherwise it’s not fair to them. Unfortunately theres stuff that might be lost in history because of one reason or another that they just didn’t take off. People in the group would say it wasn’t viable and now that “BME is gone” or people aren’t taking part in it as much anymore, although apparently it still exists, things died in their tracks. The words aren’t really there, the names aren’t really there. I left the group feeling burnt out, and I can’t even rejoin to be a part of it, but I wish we had access to it, just as some type of educational guide to provide info for that time as a historical document. It provides some insight into our community. I wouldn’t say it should be something every apprentice should learn, but they could hold it in the ways other piercing books of a historical nature are held.
Ari – Let’s talk about some of the difficulties in moderating a fairly large group of people upwards of 400 or so who are strong personalities.
Warren – Strong personalities is putting it lightly, lets say unique! It was hard. There were times when all of a sudden I would get a message on BME basically going “hey you should check out the learning forum, somethings going on”, and if I wasn’t around the computer at the time I wouldn’t have access. There were times I would come by to my work in the morning, log on, and I would see some sort of “thing” unfold, its the best word I can reference it as, and I would basically have to say ok guys, this ends now, we need to move on, let’s stop it, anyone who is going to continue this way will get a 24 hour ban. I only had to do that a couple times, luckily everyone was mostly willing to take a step back and come back new. It was almost, unfortunately, like a dictatorship. I often used to say I was a moderator nazi. The person who created the group has a clear vision of what works for them, and unfortunately a lot of people may not see that vision or understand that vision or get that vision and deviate from it. There’s times where it can be allowed and other times when you have to step in and put on mommy or daddy pants and be like guys, lets focus on the task at hand here, so I’d put out another question, or ask someone else to put out another question, or does anyone have anything else to give, like check out this piercing hey! Kind of like what I did with the learning forums portfolio critiques. I’d be like ok let me throw up this picture and ask for a critique, everybody might still be upset but it’ll move us away from the discussion at hand thats getting so heated. It took someone strong enough to basically be turning to another person, regardless of who they were or what their name was in the industry, and basically go dude you need to relax, take a step back, focus, get into a better mindset and come back, and without that I can’t let you back into the group. Luckily the group was not like the Facebook groups of today, not everybody was consistently updating and talking. There were people all over the world like in the States, Europe, Australia, so the timeline kicked in a bit, certain people weren’t on the same time as others. During that time I actually compiled a text file of all the piercers in the group, the name of their shop, and their phone numbers if they wanted to give it. I gave my number up front, i actually got a few prank calls, but I’d say if anyone needs anything call or text, let me know if somethings going on, I may not be able to get to it right away. Pretty much my entire career I was broke, I didn’t have a computer at home, I was walking to work, I lived a very nomadic and non-expensive life. That was also why I spent 16 hours a day at work, not only did I pierce and run the shop and do the sterilization, I’d stay till 1 or 2 in the morning and be on BME while I was sterilizing. It was how I could get caught up and take part in everything. It takes a certain person to be able to just continually be able to direct the flow of information that is not counterproductive and can help everyone in the group. It takes the right people. I know the Facebook learning forum is going very strong for a number of years now, luckily we have them with multiple admins so they can monitor those larger groups of people, but it comes with its trials and tribulations, I’ll tell you that. It could be pretty stressful at times, especially when you’re trying to diffuse the situation, you’ve gotta choose your words precisely to allow the situation to actually resolve. I didn’t want to piss people off or upset them or make them hate me, I wanted people to like me almost to a fault, so maybe that helped in times when I had to break things up and when there was animosity amongst the group.
Ari – Do you feel like because you had to play the parental role in this group that it effected your relationship with other piercers, or did you feel like there was a solid understanding and it didn’t blow back on you for personal relationships?
Warren – Some people gave praise, too much almost, and I’d say this isn’t about me, you’re just as much a part of this as I am, I’m not that important, I’m not that kind of guy. I know other people out there that were maybe just placating me because they were worried because I was THE “Warren Hiller” and I owned and moderated the learning forum, that I would “delete them” if I knew they didn’t like me or didn’t want to associate with me. That’s so far from the truth. If you don’t like me that’s fine, I respect that, but personal issues aside lets conduct business. There was one guy who was a part of the group, he was in Australia at the time, and he told me he didn’t want to network and discuss techniques because of people I was associated with. I was disappointed in that. Personalities certainly clash but let’s be professional. Just like in the medical world, one doctor may not like another doctor but they’ll still talk, and give their own opinion back. So I know some people out there refer to me as somewhat relevant within the community, other people will say I’m not relevant in the industry or even the community, At the end of the day when they reference me as somebody of significance, I appreciate that they’d think of me as having something to bring to the table that makes me stand out, but it was never about me. It was partially because I wanted to seek out information, but I really wanted to help and to provide help for other piercers who were in the same shoes as me. It was strange for someone fresh out of their apprenticeship to start a forum of this nature, because usually it was guys who had multiple years trying to do this. Everybody has something of merit to bring, if you want to focus and dwell on that and lift that up, thats cool. I’ll be awkward when I’m put on a pedestal, but I will graciously say thank you. I know a lot of people just attributed that I was a big part of BME because I was on it so much, or because of cliques and popularity contests. We were all just trying to ebb and flow with it. Everyone has their shortcomings, but everybody is a person, everybody does good; we make mistakes, we can learn from them and move forward. I think now and then everyone needs to be lifted and given their day in the sun.
Ari – With Canada, we tend to look at the titans like Brazda and Blair. Do you feel like there are other piercers from the Great White North who do not receive the credit they should?
Warren – I feel like everybody deserves some credit. Darren Rinaldi out in BC, Jesse Villemaire with the progress mentorships, Tye Titanium who’s now in the states, he’s from the Toronto area, same with Efix from Quebec, so many different names. Hell Ken Seyler just celebrated his 25th anniversary of being a body piercer! That’s so fucking cool! A lot of these people are still in the forefront of the community. Ace Daniels and WayCool, without him a lot of piercers would’ve never had the chance to hone their skills and break out, I’m a Southern Ontario guy, so a lot of the guys on the west coast weren’t well known to me, and now there’s a ton, they’re all out there and everybody needs to give everyone else a head nod and respect, don’t just overlook them. The three iconic people in my life, that I know of, because I was involved with them, were Tom and Blair and Shannon. Without Shannon a lot of us wouldn’t have the platform to springboard off of, BME in conjunction with SPC, it was interesting that because of Shannon, he made a mecca in Southern Ontario and had a place for all of us to gravitate to and come together at his house and mingle and let loose and associate with other people in this counter culture of body modification and take part in it and revel in it. This industry is like Newtons Cradle, people like Jim Ward and Fakir Musafar, they clacked and then all the other ones start clacking together as they go through the motion, and then ones in the new era at the end they clack too, and then it ripples back down the line, but that clacking is linear. It’s all connected.
Ari – I like that train of thought, because I remember when you spoke on The Modified World about how we have to find a way to get around the ego, and admittedly I think I scoffed at the time because it’s such an impossible concept that piercers could get out of the way of our own egos. I think it my head it was more like how do we circumvent the ego? Because the ego isn’t going anywhere. But I really like what you’re saying about if everyone gets some credit, it unifies everyone and you don’t have to deny anyone their part in the history books, we avoid destroying everything trying to humble to unhumblable.
Warren – And there are people who can’t be humbled. It’s maddening, like just reign it in for just one second, but thats who they are. As long as you accept them and give them courtesy, thats all you can do, and hope they return that respect and courtesy. People who’ve been in this for so long, they have a right to have a bit of an ego. It’s not a one on one game, it’s a team game, we’re just one big giant team showcasing what body modification and piercing entails, so you can be a bit smug or arrogant, thats fine. But you gotta realize there are other people out there and you just need to give them a little bit of respect and let them respect you. It’s not that hard of a task. It’s so weird because we have so much madness going on in our society, why would you want to bring that into your world? Don’t tear people down, help them, teach them. It’s why I wanted to be a sterile tech; I felt that there was a niche area that I could provide help in. It makes me so happy to see more other business related aspects coming into play, because they can all provide assistance within the industry, to better it, to bring it forward. I even think the people with egos are beneficial at times. When I met some of the guys I looked up to and admired and socialized with and networked with, I saw they had their ego but were no different then anyone else. They’re just people, not a juggernaut deity hiding in the clouds somewhere. We can’t advance and innovate if we’re at each others throats, only if we stand together.
Photos courtesy of Warren Hiller; ModCon IV photo courtesy of Sacreddebris.com