Jim Sens is one of the genuinely sweetest guys you’ll ever meet. Like almost too sweet. Suspiciously sweet. Like, “Who the fuck is this guy? Why is he so nice? Who told him he could be so nice?” Jim has been a notable figure on the scene for quite some time now, being a big proponent of the early surface bar movement, and also for his breakneck speed with a needle. Jim has essentially taken the High Priestess Campus location to one of the most high volume shops in the country with his personality and skills. We recently sat down to talk about the midwest, the surface bar, and picking glue out of his penis.Ari- Ok bud, so give ahead, give it a whirl, do the introduction.
Jim Sens- Hi, I’m Jim, I’ve been piercing for a bit over 18 years, and I’ve been working at High Priestess for the last 10. I’ve worked at a variety of big name studios before that. I started out piercing at a studio in St Cloud, Minnesota, called Cloud 9 Tattoo. Before that I worked counter at a studio that isn’t around anymore called The Dark Side in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Ari- Ok, so we started out in Minnesota in 1999, what was going on in that piercing scene at that point?
Jim Sens- Well it was like that late 90s industrial looking work, a lot of bending barbells and putting captive bead rings in two holes and in-and-out surface piercings. Surface barbells were just coming onto the scene in general. When I first started doing surface piercings we had to bend them ourselves, and it was pretty crazy, I used this company MDM, fucking shit jewelry, but back then it was awesome because I could bend them and didn’t have to worry about them breaking. It was right before Body Circle started making surface barbells. When they started making them I hopped on that shit right away because it made things so much easier.
Ari- Are we talking about bending them at 90 degree angles, 45 degrees angles, everything? Was it just experimenting with what was going to work the best?
Jim Sens- When I first started doing surface bars I did them at a 45 degree because they seemed to work better, but they were really short bends. A lot of the ones you would see back then would have a quarter inch post or more. Shane Post, who now owns Wingnut, was the one that showed me the surface thing, him and I kinda bounced around ideas, playing around with it a lot. He’d been out on the East Coast working at a shop called The Pin Cushion, and ended up moving back shortly after I started at Cloud 9. Him and I used to brainstorm together over video games and root beer.
Ari- What year did you start fucking around with the surface piercing stuff?
Jim Sens- About 1999, shortly after I started working in the piercing industry. I walked into Cloud 9 when the owner was working and I told him I knew how to pierce, but I had absolutely no fucking clue. I had done a couple pokes at The Dark Side but I didn’t have a good apprenticeship, the piercers there were terrible. I just walked in and said I knew what I was doing and it was a sink or swim situation. I just had to figure it out real fuckin quick.
Ari- So you started fucking around with surface piercing in ’99, what year was it you taught the first surface workshop at APP?
Jim Sens- Fuck, that must’ve been 2001?
Ari- That’s a pretty fast segue from fucking around to teaching the class.
Jim Sens- I was working at Cloud 9 when Derek Lowe had just taken over the management at Saint Sabrina’s, like a year and a half after I started working, and they needed another piercer. I interviewed for it and for some fuckin reason he decided it was a good idea to give me a job – I don’t know why, I was an egotistical little shit, but he did. I’m very thankful for that. Derek knows everybody in the industry so I got hooked up to it all through him. Derek thought it was amazing that I could put in surface barbells with no threaded taper, even the internally threaded ones. We were using 12g ones from Body Circle and I would put them in without any tools. Now I’m old and lazy and use a threaded taper. It was cool working at Cloud 9 because Mark, the owner, was a rad guy and he was all about letting me run with it and explore and branch out and encouraged a lot of that free thinking to see what could be done. I owe a lot to him for sure for letting me do what I wanted to do, and it was awesome that Derek gave me a chance because he took my rock star mentality and squished it, made me a humble normal human. I feel like those people were huge influences in my daily life.
Ari- So do you remember what the structure of that class was like?
Jim Sens- If I remember correctly it was a comparative class. The internally threaded surface bars had just come out so a lot of people were still using tygon. It was centered around using surface barbells versus using tygon, and the success rate of each one and how much better the surface bar success rate seemed over the tygon. Lisa Blue, who used to work at High Priestess at the time, was also in the class teaching, she was on the tygon side and talking about how the success rate was, but after that class it seemed the whole industry seemed to shift to primarily using surface barbells. It also helped that Body Circle started pumping out the 90 degree bend surface barbells with shorter rises, they could do them in 3/32″ rises, which is the main length everybody uses, once in a while you use an 1/8” rise, but 3/32″ were the thing you needed. It all kinda took off from the there. Luis Garcia was also a teacher in that class.
Ari- With the rise of surface anchors, from a ratio standpoint, would you say you’re doing more anchor work now, or are you still doing a lot of surface bars?
Jim Sens- The only place I still do surface bars anymore is the nape – even with the single points I feel like they’ve steadily declined in popularity. The problem with surface bars is when they fail, they fail really badly, leaving a pretty good scar. A lot of my clientele are young 20-something women very concerned with walking around with a scar that big forever. With the surface anchor, at least the scar is much more minimal – even if it goes horribly wrong it’s a more isolated spot as opposed to the surface bar. The surface barbell can handle more abuse and has more longevity, but when it does eventually fail it’ll leave a bigger scar for the person to deal with. That’s a big reason I lean more towards using anchors, even though it’s definitely more temporary.
Ari- I want to talk about the Midwest, because the west and east coast in piercing history is well known, Gauntlet and Silver Anchor and the Chelsea scene in NY, etc, but no one ever talks about the Midwest. Is that because nothing that notable happened, or are we neglecting a big piece of history here and it’s just getting swept under the rug?
Jim Sens- I think the Midwest just kind of absorbed what the east and west coast were doing on the piercing end of things. I think the Midwest has always been a sponge for everything else that happens in the country; it starts on the coasts and moves inward, so we kind of just incorporated a lot of what everybody else was doing. Watching videos at APP conference used to blow my mind back in the day, that was some of the best information we got to take home and play with. Sometimes Shane and I would try to evolve those concepts, but we didn’t push the boundaries on too many things. Like when Steve Haworth’s implant work started poking up Shane put some 6g polished curved barbells in my arm to see how those would heal. They did heal, but they were stupid and they’d spin all around my forearm. Mainly really dumb things we’d do to each other just to see what would happen – some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Those in and out surface bars that Samppa came up with, Shane and I saw that on BME and thought, “there are fun things we could do with this!” We ordered some fuckin 6” MDM straight barbells and bent them into whatever shapes we could do and figured out how to put them in people. They were kind of a pain in the butt but we did it. There was a dude named Scott that used to work at Captive Elements, him and I practiced freehand tongue piercings on each other, that was really cool.
Ari- Even though there was a connective-ness online, a lot of this was trial and error from witnessing what was talking place elsewhere?
Jim Sens- Yeah, we were a lot more isolated, we only had dial up internet during this time. We played around a lot, we didn’t have access to a lot of the people trying to push those boundaries. Saint Sabrinas was around and there were a couple other good studios around Minneapolis, but they were all mainly doing safe piercings. They weren’t trying to do anything different, at least in my perspective from that time. The Midwest was pretty sprawled out, so we couldn’t just go visit other people as easily as you could on the coasts, it wasn’t the same concentration of quality piercers when I was coming up, which I suppose played to my favor in why I was able to get my foot in the door when I didn’t have a fucking clue.
Ari- Are there any figures that people should know from the old Midwest piercing scene that maybe don’t get recognition?
Jim Sens- I really think Shane Post deserves a huge shoutout. I think when Derek took over Saint Sabrinas it was a big step forward, and there was another studio called Bionic Laboratory, and it was not far from Saint Sabrinas, but the woman, Jamie, who ran the studio was really rad and she used to have guest artists come through the studio from the west coast. I used to love seeing the work they would do. I remember she was the one who did my pearls; she actually nodded off while inserting them (she was a heroin addict). She decided superglueing them was a good idea, so I had to dig the glue out of the wound a few weeks later because it wasn’t healing. The dumb things we used to do to our bodies. How many people can say they had to dig superglue out of the skin of their penis?
Ari- I think most people that know you know the quantity that you tend to produce during the sale, numbers that are vastly higher then most piercers are capable of. Just recently you hit 204 in a single shift – how did this speed develop over time? Were you always a fast worker, or did it develop as the Campus location got busier and busier?
Jim Sens- It’s really funny, when I took the job at Saint Sabrinas, in the interview Derek asked me what was the most piercings I had done in a day. I’ll never forget the number; I said 38 was the most and it was such a busy day and I rocked it and it was awesome! He was like, “You’re gonna be doing that a lot, are you ok with that?” and I was like “Sure! That sounds fun!” I got the job and I used to joke around about it like “Hi, welcome to McDonalds! How may I help you?”, that wham-bam type deal from how busy it felt. Back then I questioned if it was wrong of me to be doing the piercings that fast, but as my studio has swelled in the average number of sessions we do, to be able to give each person the experience and the piercing they want in a timely manner has become more important. The other night when we counted 204 it caught me off guard. It didn’t feel that busy of a day! I don’t try to push people out the door, my counter staff is so good that I can do my job well and it all just occurs so fluidly. They take care of everything, all I have to do is make sure the client is happy and comfortable and gets the piercing they want when they’re in my room. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the slower days here where I can take more time with clients, but on the days it happens it happens, where now 100+ piercing days just aren’t a big deal anymore.
Ari- Obviously when it’s crazy at the studio those counter people are critical to moving everything along, do you ever miss the start to finish, where you take someone once they get in the door to showing them the jewelry, doing the salesman thing, schmoozing, do you miss that sometimes?
Jim Sens- I get to do a little of that during the summertime when that the students are gone. I get to walk out and help people more, be a part of that aspect, but when the students are here I just don’t have time for that. I get a little bit of both worlds, I have 9 months of not being able to do that and three months of being able to, and its nice when I can. It gives it a different experience when the piercer can take someone from when they walk in the door – you get to help them pick out jewelry, do their paperwork, take them into the room and do the piercing and aftercare, tell them to have a great day and all the counter person has to do is ring them up. I take advantage of that when I can.
Ari- After all these years, what’s helped keep this job so exciting for you?
Jim Sens- I just always kinda felt like I made things up on the fly; even when I teach people I still feel like I’m kinda winging it. I do everything different ways, constantly changing up the technique, doing a tragus piercing from the inside out and then front to back next time, with a pin taper and then without a taper next time, whatever I chose to do at that moment, use tools or not use tools. I’m a hodgepodge of everything I’ve absorbed over the years and I don’t have a set technique. That’s one of the things thats kept me so entertained all these years, not doing something the same way every time.
He currently pierces at High Priestess in Eugene, OR. http://www.highpriestess.com
Fun fact – immediately concluding our interview, my creepy neighbor approached us on my porch to offer us both some free LSD (we declined), and then to announce he was on his way to the strip club with his sister. I can’t make this shit up, folks. ~Ari