Curt – Let me tell you a little bit about my start, I know all your interviews start with that. I grew up in Ogden, Utah, which is about forty miles outside Salt Lake City. I started having ear piercings around middle school – I got influenced by heavy metal so I thought, “fuck, I gotta have my ears pierced now!” After high school I moved to Maui, Hawaii, and while I was living over there a friend of mine got back after having spent the summer in New York. We were having coffee and she was eating soup, and I kept hearing this clank! I asked, “what the hell is that noise?” And she said, “oh, it’s my tongue piercing!” This was around 1993, and she showed it to me, and I’d never seen one, or even considered it for that matter! I became very fixated with it, fascinated by it, and decided I had to have one or else I couldn’t live anymore! The closest place for me to get one was in Honolulu on Oahu. This woman who called herself “The Piercing Elf” had a little piercing only studio there, so I flew out, rented a car, and failed to check her hours. I spent a lot of money to fly out there and hang out and fly back to Maui without a tongue piercing. So I saved up and a few months later I flew back out, made sure to check her hours first this time, and got it done. The experience for me – not being involved with the industry, not having any tattoos and only having some ear piercings – I was rather intimidated by her. She was sleeved and had a lot of piercings, but she had a great bedside manner, which made me feel comfortable. My first professional piercing experience was a piercing only studio with good jewelry and good bedside manner. Continue reading
Ari – Did you feel like going through a tattoo apprenticeship, and being so enmeshed in the tattoo industry, influenced you as a piercer?
Bethrah – Oh yeah, it influenced the entire piercing community in some really interesting ways that people don’t know. I think they’re really different sensibilities – I think there are some interesting up and down sides of both disciplines. The downside of tattooing is you’re judged exclusively for your capacity to make really beautiful art, or really interesting art, and how well you’re applying it to the skin. But you’re not necessarily critiqued on other aspects of what you do like health and safety and general sanitation; the burden of you as a professional isn’t placed on that. You can do amazing art and just be the most dirty, grimy tattoo artist and people aren’t going to worry about it very much. You won’t get blasted for it in the community. I see that in tattoo shops – I can’t even tell you how many times the owner has been super proud and their shop is really beautiful, but the biohazard is in a closet on the way to the bathroom where from a health and safety perspective it’s like, “Oh this place is horrible! I would never get tattooed here.” – but they’re famous! Granted these are sweeping generalizations, and not always the case. There are plenty of tattoo artists who are amazing who are super clean and conscientious and have well thought out studios in all aspects of what they’re doing. It’s just a pitfall based on what’s considered a value. It’s almost the opposite on the piercing end. People are so heavily critiqued on their method that the aesthetic of what they’re doing is almost completely under-addressed. Does it look straight or does it seem even can be addressed at times but whether or not it’s on the right place in the body falls by the wayside. I had this discussion with a guy from Russia – is it art or is it technique? – and I said it’s both. If you don’t know about art or understand color theory and don’t understand spacial perception and composition, it shows in your work. It’s clear in your work if you don’t have these things. Continue reading
Ari: I always like to kick these off with an introduction, so tell us a little about you, Mama.
Vidra: My introduction to the industry was 1978. I met a gentleman by the name of Linus Herrell and he owned a store in Cleveland called Body Language and that store, how do you explain it? It’s like one of the first alternative bookstores. We didn’t sell any porn, nothing like that, but it had a rubber room and a leather room, where there were all different types of books and little novelties and stuff like that. Also, he had a piercing room. He had magazines like PFIQ, the whole nine yards and I was like, “OK, this is fascinating.” I met him when he was a bartender at one of the little leather bars in Cleveland, in fact the oldest one in Ohio. He had a huge bull’s tether in his septum, and I was just staring at him, because number one it was very attractive and number two I was like, “hmm, how did you do that? How did he get something that thick into his septum?” I asked him a couple of questions. He explained it to me, explained the process of stretching and piercing. When I asked him where do you get something like that done he said he’d gotten work done at the Gauntlet in L.A. by a gentlemen called Jim Ward. That was my first introduction to Gauntlet, and even that was through Linus. He told me about PFIQ and the new shop he’d be opening, etc etc, and then in his psychotic manner he said, “So what are you doing tonight? I get off in two hours.” I said, “eh, probably just going home” and he said, “Well let’s go home and fuck”, and I’m like, “okay.” Now realize back then I was working for a Catholic Church. I was the rectory cook, as well as directing theatre for the deaf and blind and just about any other handicap you can imagine and normal people all on the same stage. It was a lot of work, it was a lot of fun, and I loved doing it. That’s what I did for a living back then. Cooking for a church rectory for the priests and the nuns who ran the Hunger Center in a pretty impoverished area of Cleveland, but it was also the deaf and the blind center for the Diocese of Cleveland. I had worked with almost all types of disabilities really from the time I was 13. Continue reading
Ari – Ken, where are you currently located?
Ken – I just moved to Seattle Tattoo Emporium. All these dudes have been there thirty fucking years, like Jimmy the Saint, it’s crazy. It’s also a tattoo museum so they’ve got all this really old shit. Lyle Tuttle will just stop by like, “hey whats up guys?” Old school legendary shit. I don’t really make a lot of money there, but for the experience alone it’s fuckin worth it. I’m not having that bad of a time. I can come and go as I please, I only have a small set schedule. No drama. So many times it’s just stupid shit, but you know how the business is, it’s a constant barrage of bullshit that I would rather not deal with on any level. That’s why I love where I’m working now, because there’s none. These dudes are my fuckin age, they don’t wanna do anything besides go to work, be happy, and come home, and I love this! No drama, no shit, no nothing, I’m good with it. I talk to friends who are really young in the business and it’s all he did this, she did that, blah blah blah, I just don’t fucking care, I couldn’t care less to hear about piercing/tattoo shop drama, it’s just endless. I can’t even go out to a bar without someone coming up and going “Are you a tattoo artist? Let me tell you what I want!” Continue reading
Ari – Sean, I always have everyone do a standard introduction to kick these off, so give us a brief bio.
Sean – I’m old, I’ve been everywhere. Ok, so brief history of Sean in bod-mod. Started with Sadistic Sundays at the video bar in 1990, roughly. I think it was right after high school – I was eighteen. Was doing that for a little bit, was just a Sunday night show type thing, and then left town for a while doing the hippie soul searching whatever, did Ren Fairs for a summer just to get away. When I came back Allen Falkner had moved back to Dallas and he and I became friends. I was hanging out with Allen, helping him paint his first room in his first studio when he was just renting space from a furniture store. He rented a room from them which soon turned into a piercing empire. We hung out for another couple years there in Dallas where I helped him attempt his first suspension, which was fishing line and just a ton of piercings. It was absolutely horrible. It lasted like three seconds – the fishing line started to snag and pull through because it was so thin. We look at it now like what the hell were we thinking? But you experiment, you figure shit out. At that time Fakir wasn’t as willing to share the suspension information with Allen; he did later, so until then there was a lot of us just looking at videos and guessing. Continue reading
Scott Shatsky may not be the most recognizable names in piercing, but his roots run deep – from being a young man hanging around the original Gauntlet, to apprenticing under Jim Ward and being part of the original Gauntlet San Fransisco crew, Scott offers some wonderful insight into that early pivotal time. Scott remains part of that quiet faction who was more enamored with piercing as an intimate movement, and gives us some new perspective on those Gauntlet years as a client, manager, and Master Piercer.
Ari – Where does piercing start for you, Scott?
Scott – I grew up in Los Angeles, and I always had a fascination with anything other than just being white, so tattoos and piercings fell into that. I was just always very interested, so in high school and even before I was a punk rock kid I was always sticking needles in me for piercings. I don’t even remember how I found Gauntlet, but it was in West Hollywood. I walked in and I became friends with Jim (Ward) and became pretty good friends with Cross, who I share a birthday with. I was a young kid. I wasn’t even in a place where I could get pierced there, age-wise. Cross was only a couple of years older than I was at the time. I have this picture of me sitting there with Jim and his beautiful silver and purple peacock wallpaper in the piercing studio when he was piercing my cartilage. So my identity in that world started years before I was piercing. Continue reading
Tom – My name is Tom Brazda, I started piercing in an amateur way around 1989. I went professional in 1991, so 28 years of experience of watching things happen.
Ari – I would love to start earlier with some of the first experiences you had with piercing before you were a piercer. Were you getting pierced before you got into the business? Continue reading
Mic Rawls is like a portal into one of the greatest times in history. Coming in through with extraordinary beginnings, he’s a shining example that you can enjoy a hearty tenure in piercing while still radiating positivity. Mic took time away from holding down the fort at one of the best shops in the country to talk about his time with Jon Cobb, what it takes to keep your love of piercing strong, and to reminisce on the early stages of the APP conference.
Ari – I always have everyone do an introduction. Can you give us your name ,how long you’ve been working in the industry and where you’re currently piercing at.
Mic – My name is Mic Rawls. I am currently at Cold Steel America in San Francisco. I’ve happily been here as manager for the last ten and senior piercer for the last eighteen years at this shop. I’ve been piercing twenty-three years this last month, which is rad. Still loving it. (most days of it!)
Ari – Where does piercing start for you?
Mic – Gauntlet had started doing the weeklong seminars that Fakir had been doing and I had taken one of those, which is where I got hired from. Before that, I’m originally from a small town in Louisiana called Plaquemines. The closest town to me was Baton Rouge, and that’s where I started. I was becoming interested in piercing and a friend of mine had a shop called Mystic Gem Craft. She sold candles and crystals and she actually helped me get started in piercing. We had met and become friends and both shared interest in piercing, this was in 1993-94, and when she moved shops she invited me to come pierce at her shop. I’d never done it before but I’d done a bunch of research, and she was able to buy an autoclave and some supplies and stuff like that, and of course supply me with a group of her friends to practice on. Technically I owned the first professional piercing shop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I did that for almost a year before I took the Gauntlet seminar and from the seminar I got hired through there. I owe most of that to Michaela Grey. She and Sharrin and Sky were my teachers for the seminar.
Ari – How did you hear about the Gauntlet Seminars?
Mic – I was really lucky to be in Louisiana at this time. I was getting interested in piercing at the same time as Elayne opened up her shop in New Orleans. Because it was such a small community back then, there was a tattoo shop called Electric Expressions and they had a piercer who had done my first professional piercing, this kid named Skippy who was super rad, the coolest guy. And his buddy Brian who took his place when he left. When Elayne moved into New Orleans she hired Brian, who had done my tongue piercing at the time, to be her apprentice. Through that kind of network of being at the shop and going, “Oh, who is this person?” and learning about Gauntlet (I bought my first PFIQs from her), I was gaining knowledge through hanging out as much as I could. ddly enough, this is the first place I met Paul. Before he became my trainer I actually met him, or at least seen him, almost exactly a year before he became my trainer at Gauntlet, which was crazy. Do you remember The Genitorturers?
Ari – I sure do. I was close with Gen when I lived in Tampa. She’s a sweetheart!
Mic – Paul was in town with a friend of his, Molly, she had this really cool forehead ring piercing years before anybody else had done it. hey just happened to be in town at the same time The Genitorturers were playing, and the day they were in town I’d gotten my tongue, my septum, and my apadravya done! I saw them at the shop getting pierced and later that night we went to the show and so did they and while I was there I got asked to go on stage and get pierced on stage. A year later, when I got hired, they moved me to San Francisco first and Paul’s friend Molly, the girl with the forehead piercing, she let me stay with her when I came to town. We actually found out just through a random conversation, like, “Oh, I’m from Baton Rouge”, and they’re like “Oh we went to New Orleans to see The Genitorturers, they pulled this poor kid on stage and pierced him and all this stuff” and I’m like, “Yeah, that was me!” Then I realized I’d seen him before! At the time anybody with full sleeves was pretty rare, so when you saw it it really stuck in your head. I’m sure you’re familiar with Paul’s arms- he’s got pretty unique tattoos and back in the early 1990s it was super unique to see something like that. So when I saw him again I definitely remembered that later on realizing it was the same person. Life works in weird ways. When I went to the Gauntlet seminar I’d actually been fired from my job. I was in college at the time for nursing and had used my student loan money to take the Gauntlet seminar. So when I went I didn’t have a job to go back to and I didn’t have any money to go back to school, so it kinda spurred me to be like I need to find something to do! I was definitely looking to see if I could get hired while I was there. Michaela and Sharrin and Sky were my teachers, and that’s where I met Irwin Cain, who was then the CEO of Gauntlet, and it also just happened to be in that seminar was Dave Vidra and Al D – it was pretty incredible, man. There’s a couple other people fro the seminar that are still piercing, still in the industry. It was a magical experience coming from a place where I didn’t know anybody from piercing. It was still so new to me. Everything I’d seen was just from a magazine. I was the first person I ever knew to get an apadravya, to get a lip piercing. All of this was so new, and then to see all these people who I’d only seen in magazines, it was crazy, like being in another world.
Ari – How hands on was that Gauntlet seminar?
Mic – Oh, very hands on! The Gauntlet and Fakir seminars were similar – there’s only so many different ways to teach this stuff. The Fakir manual was more doodles and hand drawing where the Gauntlet seminar, the manual it had was more done on the computer. It really contained the same information. They each had their own differences; the Fakir side was more straight barbells in hoods where Gauntlet was more curved barbells in hoods, whichever side of that you want to stand on, but it was that type of differences. Of course Michaela-she helped formulate and get all the information in line, but I mean Elayne had her own ways of doing stuff and Fakir had his own ways as well. It was small differences. You go in, they talk about cross contamination and anatomy, you do marking, we would mark each other, practice board stuff, and the last two or three days are all hands on piercing ourselves and clients that we had come in. It was super awesome. I haven’t taken the Fakir one, but from the manual it really looked about the same. Fakir had more of the spiritual side tied to it but it also made the difference in who taught the seminars. Within the Gauntlet community different piercers that we had all had their own take on it. If you take ten random piercers they all have their own ways of doing something. It was the same thing. Where Gauntlet had some really basic stuff that everyone started with, but there was freehand stuff people were doing. My first real experiences with energy work came from Sky. Little routines that we did.I’d already been working with it but these guys gave it a name; it was amazing to hear them all acknowledge something I’d already been in contact with.
Ari – It’s got to be fascinating to step into that world and have it be vocalized, have the concepts find some structure.
Mic – It just spurred me on even more, like, “oh, all these things make sense!” I would feel these things before and after a piercing, or if someone came in who was having a bad day, I would be like, “somethings going on” and interact and it was really great to experience that. That was definitely a part of the training when they were doing the seminars.
Ari – Once your training finished, when did they asked you to take on the more accelerated apprenticeship program?
Mic – Part of the reason they were doing the seminars was to start searching out new people. They were trying to expand. I think around that time or right after they opened up a Seattle Gauntlet. They were looking to franchise more, so they were seeing who they could bring in to start hiring. While I was there, I saw Irwin Cain, I was like, “oh he looks important! I’ll go talk to him! “ Me being my 23 year old self and trying to talk to everybody going, “hey, you aren’t hiring are you? “ And they were like, “actually, we are!” Of course I wanted to move to San Francisco. The second my plane landed there I was like, “oh there’s something magical about this city, I don’t know what it is but it’s awesome” and I’ve always kind of felt it. I really wanted to move here and being more familiar with the guys who were working in San Francisco, I really wanted to be in that studio, but they didn’t really have space – at that time they were about to make some big shifts in New York City and that’s what they were looking for in terms of positions. They were going to start shipping people around and letting people go, so by hiring me on it helped allow them to let some people go.
Ari – At this time, was Mark Seitchik still running the San Francisco store?
Mic -He was the manager of the New York store. Mark then became my primary instructor when I moved to New York. I worked really closely with Mark. He did a lot of my training right after Paul did shortly before he left. I think Mark may have been there maybe 6 months and then they let him go after I got there, about 6 months after.
Ari – When they approached you with the program under Paul, did you know Jon Cobb already?
Mic – Nope, I didn’t know who Cobb was at all. They kind of just told me they were going to hire this guy. There may have been a tattoo magazine that did an article on Jon at the first shop he worked at in New York City that I may have read up on, but I didn’t really know him. So when I first met him I was like, “woah!” I had no idea he had all these piercings, he still had his transscrotal. It was something totally different meeting up with Jon and him having this totally different view then the Gauntlet side.
Ari – Did that create a pretty interesting dynamic within that small program?
Mic – I was coming from a side where I had no idea what I was doing. I had just been hired by the worlds largest piercing company, coming from a town of 7000 people. I was just floating for the first couple months while I was there, just going, “yes, yes whatever you say!” There weren’t really a lot of disagreements.Jon was pretty open to what was going on; he had kind of signed on to see the other side. He had been using his hands for so long and not using forceps, I think he was just looking to expand. He and Paul had become pretty good friends and I was welcomed in with open arms by both of them for sure but I didn’t really have a say much, I was just like, “cool, lets try that!” It was a whole new world for me.
Ari – It sounds like the program was designed to skip the typical grunt work that comes with an apprenticeship and just focus a constant stream of energy on learning and technique.
Mic – Absolutely. Gauntlet already had a different take on apprenticeships – what Jim had experienced with the tattoo community with his almost twenty years of being around, he had a really different viewpoint of what an apprenticeship should be. The grunt work was kind of taken out of it- most of the time people would get hired to work the counter, work their time behind there, assess their abilities to see if they were ready to get apprenticed or not. We were treated really well, we were paid well, had dental insurance, and paid time off. What they had done is just taken a room and dedicated that room to us for five days a week where we would just go in and do apprenticeship stuff and talk about piercing and pierce each other if we didn’t have appointments. Paul’s job within that was to assess where we both were and build on what we already had. Paul was one of my favorite trainers just beyond him being a good friend, he always had three or four ways to do everything. He had had enough experience with Elayne and Jim, which were a little different. He had all of those because he had spent time in all the stores, so it was really great to have him as a teacher and then Jon come in with his unique way of doing things, and I was just an open book and wanting to learn everything. Every time I got to do a piercing I was like, “I can do this three, four, five different ways depending on the way its going or the person or the experience, whatever’s going on.” Also, I got to travel around and work at all the different stores while I worked for Gauntlet. So between them I got trained between something like 25 different people, so it brought in all these different viewpoints on everything. That was one of the grand things about Gauntlet, having so many different piercers where each piercer has his own way of doing things and you built up an immense toolbox.
Ari – A wealth of information is the best thing you can have at your disposal! Was the apprenticeship program all encompassing? Was it basics only or did it take you through advanced ones as well?
Mic – We did anything that walked in that day. I think one of my first six piercings as an apprentice piercer at Gauntlet was an apadravya. It’s like, “oh, you want to get that done? Awesome!” When we worked the front counter we were allowed to pull in people to get different piercings. So it’d be like, “oh, I need one more eyebrow to get finished with them”, and I’d have someone come in and I could be like, “hey, you want to get an eyebrow piercing for $25?” So there was definitely a lot of hustle between the two of us, and going out to clubs and bars and meeting people and being like, “hey, lemme do this piercing on you” or, “hey Jon, let me do this nostril on you so I can work on this new technique.” We were pretty active and the ability to focus and hone on each skill made a huge difference. Sometimes when you’re doing an apprenticeship you might go two or three months without doing the same piercing more then twice. At the time there were a lot of genitals going on and we had a lot of friends. When I got qualified on fourchettes I got to do four of five fourchettes in one week. When I did triangles I got to do like six triangles in one week to get qualified. It was a great time to be training because of that.
Ari – What was the standard gauge for an apadravya at that time?
Mic – 12g and 10g. My apadravya that was done by Elayne was done at a 14g, which wasn’t totally uncommon, but with Jon and I together we were like, “oh, big stuff!” We’d always do it a little bit bigger if we could, there was an occasional 8g or 6g barbell laying around. The larger sizes were less common then.
Ari – It’s interesting to think of Jon coming into that situation with a freehand background. Would you say for you to experience a lot of tool-less styles alongside the traditional way was that a bit more unique to your circumstance?
Mic – I think Gauntlet definitely embraced the whole tool side more, but we still did a couple free hand piercings like dydoes and apadravyas .I mean it was not uncommon to do eyebrows freehand, some of the guys were still doing most cartilage sort of freehand, so even at the height of using the tools we still did a lot of things freehand. I mean, apadravyas, amapallangs, dydoes- we did all those freehand. I mean, most of the piercers I’ve known have all gone through different periods of changing up techniques-what shop you’re at, what piercing is trending, it happens more now then it did back then. The navel was all the rage, but when I moved to New York I was doing such a broad range of piercings, especially genital piercings, on a really regular basis. Later on, it wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco where I was like, “ok, I did twenty nostrils today and two other piercings” where that trend got so heavy. Even now, I do ear cartilages and earlobes- thats like 90% of what I do! Last year was septums, before that a navel craze; social media and internet knowledge definitely changed how quickly everything moves along.
Ari – I know for me, one of the biggest things for why I end up changing techniques, or have changed techniques, is that jewelry has evolved so much. Initially it felt like in my first biker shop I was trying not to break my hand on a huge captive bead ring, and now it feels like I’m trying to not break my eyes threading a 1.5mm cz on a nostril piercing. I don’t think I touched a hemostat my first six or seven years piercing, and now I can’t live without them.
Mic – Of course with Neometal, that completely changed the game. We started carrying Neometal in 2005-2006, now Neometal is literally the bulk of my sales.
Ari – A lot of people have gripes that Neometal hinders people’s ability to still use the more traditional jewelry. Is that valid or are some people just being fuckin’ cranky?
Mic – I don’t know, but if I don’t ever have to thread on another 16g bead, it will be too soon! Whatever you all want to do is fine, but I’m plenty happy with pushpin all day long. My eyes aren’t getting any better than anybody else’s! I remember watching the Gauntlet videos, and Jim did a labret and he put the bead on with hemostats, and I didn’t understand it until the last couple of years! I think the only thing we have left in threaded are 16g circular barbells but only because there isn’t a pushpin version of them yet! But the new nipple barbells are so good, I love them. I pierced my first one of the day with that fits right in the back of the needle, it’s brilliant! I really love that company. So sad about Mark passing. Even in the beginning I remember talking to Mark and John on the phone in 1995-96 because they were making jewelry for Gauntlet – I don’t know if a lot of people know that. There were a lot of companies that made jewelry for Gauntlet, but Neometal may have gotten their start from making jewelry for Gauntlet. When John came to see me a couple months ago he had ten pounds of old Gauntlet stock. They made large gauge barbells, balls, all kinds of stuff; he’s just like, “I’m still trying to get rid of it!”
Ari – I know Gauntlet had a gold manufacturing department. How much of the jewelry came from in-house besides that?
Mic – I don’t know all the history from the manufacturing side. I know Clayton had made stuff for us, and worked for us, and then started his own thing. They may have had a falling out somewhere along the line but I remember Clayton’s stuff, it was super nice. You could totally see the difference between the Gauntlet gold and his stuff. He was making gem pieces that were really really beautiful. I actually just had some pieces a couple years ago melted down that I had from him. Especially towards the end there were a lot of manufacturing ordeals and tribulations. I don’t know if you ever hunted down Josh from Good Art but I’m sure he has a bunch of entertaining stories. In L.A. he had a garage sale where he sold everything from the L.A. Gauntlet for pennies on the dollar trying to liquidate everything. It was pretty crazy, but at the end of Gauntlet there were massive firings, jewelry being bought but not paid for, people getting hired that should’ve never been hired to work in this industry. It was a literal shitshow. It was insanity.
Ari – Where were you at during that? I mean you’ve been with Cold Steel America since it opened, right?
Mic – I had gotten fired in 1998, I was working at the L.A. Gauntlet at the time, it was in the middle of the mass firings. Paul was already gone, most of my friends had already been fired. At the time Chris (Cross) had sold his shop to Gauntlet, Primevil Body, so when I moved to LA we actually had both shops and was working with most of his staff. I came in really to get away from New York, I was just done with that, and when I was in L.A. his whole shop walked out, we wound up closing down Primevil Body and it went down to just three people at the L.A. Gauntlet while we were there. Michaela had left so they hired this guy named Michael Mulcahy, who lives in Vermont now, to do the seminars. He was doing that and working with us. I went to work in Hawaii at the time, I was working for Gus at Paragon. My intention from there was to go work in London for Cold Steel. They were going to put my paperwork through and I was getting a visa so I could work over there legally. The original concept was I was going to come work in San Francisco first, Paul asked me to come help him out, get the paperwork done, and then move and work at Cold Steel London. I wasn’t trying to move to San Francisco. But some people left Cold Steel London and they needed help sooner so Taj Waggaman and I went and helped out for a couple months while Paul was working on the shop and getting it started. Then I moved to San Francisco to wait for the paperwork to come in, this was September, and the shop had just opened up in August.
Ari – Did you get a chance to work with Chris during your time at Gauntlet?
Mic – I did, yeah, he was manager when I first moved to L.A., and while I was there there were disputes with him and the guy that had bought Gauntlet, Russell. There was a massive walk out. I had just moved there to work at the Gauntlet and I couldn’t leave-this was the job I’d moved there for! The two women (Neema Enriquez and Nadjwa Elise) and I, who’d been hired from the seminars, ran that shop for a while.
Ari – When Cold Steel was opening, and there was this small dominance of studios in San Francisco, what was communication like between everybody? Was it a pretty amicable between the piercers?
Mic – Always. One of my favorite things about San Francisco is it’s always been a fairly close knit piercing community. When I first trained with Paul, we were all friends; I dated someone who worked at Body Manipulations. We all ran in the same circle. I mean, most of the Body Manpulations guys had worked for Gauntlet at some time. Some of the Nomad guys had worked for Gauntlet at some point in time, I’m pretty sure both Kristian and Blake had worked for them. The original owner Vaughn, he might be, besides Jim, the nicest and kindest person I’ve ever met in my life. That guy was absolutely incredible, had such a great energy about him. No matter what the question was or how many times he’d been asked he was always super genuine and kind with trying to explain it. It really showed with the people he had working for him. We were absolutely all friends for sure. That was fantastic. When I went to New York I tried to carry that over. I was coming in as an outsider and I wanted to be friends with everybody and learn from everybody, like, “oh do you do something different? Awesome, let’s do this, I want to check that out!” When I got hired at Gauntlet I made an effort to reach out to everybody. Erik Dakota and Cricket and Alan and all these guys that were supposedly opposite, meeting at Vegas for APP. Sky and I went to the first meeting that they had. It was great to bring everybody together. We had such common ground, even if there had been bad blood between certain people most of us just wanted to be friends.
Ari – You’ve gone to APP since Michaela started it?
Mic – There was a meeting at first they did on a Sunday, we spent the weekend there, it was my first trip to Vegas. Sky and I drove from L.A. to go check it out. They had it as like, “hey let’s all get together and see what happens!” It was all the guys from all over the country. We all came together, shops that had beef kind of dropped it, we all got together in one room and talked about what we wanted as a community. It was beautiful. It was the first time: there were 50-100 of us, people from all over the country. To be in the middle of that, it was history! Brian Skellie and Gus and a couple other Gauntlet guys were there, I met Falkner there, Joyner was there. This was where all of our bonds really started. I’m still friends with these people. They’re all family.
Ari – Do you remember what year that first meeting was?
Mic – It must’ve been 1996-1997, when I was in L.A., because the first big conference was at the Hard Rock in 1997-1998? That was the first big one to be had, but before that we just had a meeting.
Ari – It wasn’t necessarily structured towards learning but rather the shaping of the industry itself?
Mic – Yeah, more so, “what can we do and what do we want from it?” And this stems from the original meeting that took place in San Francisco. Michaela and the guys from Body Manipulations and Nomad, they all got together, although I was not there for that meeting, I think it was along the lines of the same thing: “what do we want to accomplish” and “who wants to do what, etc.”
Ari – Have you always gone to conference?
Mic – I went to my first one in seventeen years two or three years ago, the 20th anniversary was the last one I went to.
Ari – Was it fascinating to see the changes from when you’d previously gone to that 20th anniversary?
Mic – It was overwhelming- the amount of people there were and how organized everything was, how many more classes there were, how many faces I still recognized. It was people I literally hadn’t seen in almost twenty years. It was great, but it’s a bit much, being in Vegas and everyone at the bar smoking and drinking and all that stuff. I took all the classes I could, I wasn’t staying out late, I don’t drink anymore, I wasn’t partying. I just wanted to go and hang out. The last time I was there I was definitely partying and not sleeping and I remember getting really sick afterwards because I only slept like four hours the entire week. There were a bunch of us that all got our 20 year tattoo, the little dinosaur that we all got, it was super fun, great to connect with all these guys. We’re all family- we’ve been in this industry for so long we all kind of have similar goals and all done our best to keep our best foot forward and progressing as much as we can as we get older. It was just really nice and energizing. I met Georg one of the first years of APP, got to hang out with him, it was really amazing to catch him seventeen years later and him coming right up to me and going, “Hey Mic, how ya doin?” This is a guy who has no reason to remember who I am, having hundreds of employees throughout the year, all the studios y’all have. It was rad. Georg has always been one of my favorites. I never want to have a shop across the street from him, I don’t think anybody does, but I’ve always liked him as a person, he’s always got such nice people around him.
I do the campout every year now, this will be the third year, and it’s got some classes. The first year we had more classes but each year we’re doing less classes and more hang out time.It’s awesome to just have like 60-70 people who are in the same room all day and all night. We each go back to our bunks to sleep, but we eat all our meals together, hang out and watch movie. So much time to be like, “hey Brian, can I grab you for an hour and go talk about this thing?” Or someone will have a question and everyone will come around to listen to the answer. It’s just so much more of a intimate setting, less formal. Even with some of the classes, it’s more roundtable then just one person mainly talking. They’re planning one for the West Coast at some point.
Ari – I know you’ve managed the studio for ten years. hat are some keys to success for managing? What has aided you along?
Mic – It is definitely less about my manager skills and more about the people I have working with me. I work with Becky Dill and Danielle Greenwood and those two people are probably the top of the game in this industry. Becky’s skill and how she works at the front counter; Danielle working our social media and our displays and the way she works with people; how much those guys care. I don’t really have to do a lot, they already excel. Being a successful manager is having people who really care about what they do. Coming forward and striving to do your best every day, which is all I can do, and try to keep up with those guys – really it has more to do with that, at least for me that’s what it is. Paul has such great business sense, and throughout the years working with him, just absorbing everything he says and just repeating it most of the time. I can’t really claim too much skill with that, just taking what other people do around me and try to expand on it. As far as managing goes, it makes all the difference to have a crew that really knows what what they’re doing. I’m super thankful to have to people that I have working for me. Really caring about what you’re doing. I can’t imagine going to a job and not wanting to go to work everyday and not wanting to push yourself to be better. I can’t imagine going to a job where I didn’t love it. I’ve had the pleasure and luck to pick an industry I really really care about, I still wake up every day and go, “awesome, let’s do this!” The crew that I work with makes it that much easier, I’ve definitely had crews that made it horrible to go to work, I had to micromanage and all that stuff, but with these guys they take off and do their own thing. We still have meetings to make sure we’re all together and headed in the same direction. Becky has been with us 8 years and Danielle has been here for 9 years, so with everybody working together for that long we all know each other super well. Of course it’s kind of like family where sometimes you piss each other off, but at the end of the day we’re all shooting for the same thing as a team- it makes a huge difference. And working with Paul and having him come in to help out here and there, be a guiding light for us all, it’s really nice. This is why I’ve worked for Paul for so many years, I really appreciate him as a person and what he does and what he strives for in the industry, and what he’s done for the industry, both within the APP and outside of it, it’s really great to go to work everyday and support something that you really love.
Ari – You play drums – I know it’s easy to get sucked into piercing land 24/7, do you feel like having an outlet like that has been helpful in giving yourself a life outside of work?
Mic – It is the only reason I am still in this industry! I love my job, and I love going to work, but if I didn’t have music, I don’t even know! I also do a second job where I do bar backing and bar managing. I also work Coachella every year and help run one of the beer gardens with a buddy of mine, so I do that three weeks out of the year, hanging out with another group of absolutely wonderful and amazing people. There’s a small group of like 30 people and we do it every year. That definitely gets me away from the shop and reenergizes me.I got the traveling bug from Paul, so I usually spend 2-3 weeks out of the country-go to the other side of the world and experience someone else’s viewpoint, kind of see some of the places that the antique jewelry and older techniques from tattooing come from. I also do a fair amount of traveling within the country. I really love going to museums. I feel like such a huge key to longevity in this industry is to expand on the things that you love. I spent years just focusing on piercing, but sometimes I feel like that left me too one sided. You really need something else you can pour your love into as well. It all allows me to come back to piercing every time and be like, “man, I still love doing this!” One time I spent a whole year in Phoenix where I went to motorcycle school, I was a motorcycle mechanic for a while, that was great to get a different perspective, and at some point in time I want to become a yoga teacher, that’s another thing that will absolutely help my piercing, so making yourself a broader person definitely makes a huge difference.
Ari – I think it’s a tough thing to figure out early on. It’s so easy to get completely lost in piercing.
Mic – Oh my god, when I first got hired at Gauntlet that’s all I did, all the time, I woke up thinking about piercing and went to bed thinking about piercing. All I wanted to do was talk about piercing. That was one of the great things about having Jon Cobb around. We could always sit down and go, “dude, what about this!” Get into crazy detail with the jewelry and how to put it in and skin and everything. I spent plenty of time with my nose to the grindstone, especially when I was an apprentice. All I did was read PFIQs and do the practice board and try to become to greatest piercer ever and try to take all this knowledge from all these people. I’ve gone through my bouts of burn out, and taking time off makes such a huge difference, some decompression. I have my periods where I focus more on piercing and going to the conventions; readjust what I’m doing, hear about new techniques. Same thing with camp, bringing stuff back and seeing if it works out better for me.
Ari – Mic, early on you were going to share a Michaela story with us, let’s hear it!
Mic – We were in class for the seminar, it was like the second day, and we had kind of done this exercise where you stand across from someone and you put your hands up to theirs but you don’t touch them. You had your hands really close to each other and took turns pushing energy and accepting energy from that person, which was awesome. My partner was Sky when we did that. It was my first time where I exchanged and moved energy with someone without touching them. It was incredible. Sky is such an amazing person. Michaela was trying to talk about boundaries and how if someone’s energy is red and yours is white, during the piercing the energy should turn orange. She was telling us about how she was at work and this guy had come in and requested an ear piercing and was very specific about the jewelry he wanted-it had to be a niobium ring but it had to be this certain color with a certain color bead. He was a little strange about it, and she couldn’t see where he was coming from with it, just that he really knew what he wanted to get. At this time, we may have had four piercing rooms with six piercers, so it was always quick movements in and out of the rooms, really busy shop, and somedays we’re just not as conscious of what the person is doing or how they’re doing, not really checking in. You’re just like, “ok, come in, ear piercing, super easy, let’s do this”. She takes him into the room, and he’s really specific about where he wants it, and she’s not trying to argue with him at all, she just is trying to get the piercing done. She gets everything ready and as the needle passes through his ear she starts to cry and so does the guy. She puts the earring in, and steps back sobbing, and asks him why is he getting this piercing. The guy tells her that his son had died the week before and had this same earring, and it was a way for him to get over the death of his son. Every time I tell that story I get chills. To me it’s a great reminder of how great an impact what we do has on people. Trying to keep that in mind each time because it can be a way bigger thing for someone else. That empathy preserves some of the ritual act of what we do. That’s always been one of my favorite stories.
All photos courtesy of Mic Rawls unless otherwise noted. For more information on the BSTA series click here.
Masterpierce Theatre: Mark Seitchik
Mark is one of those piercers who I’d heard about for so long, and had been so curious about, but information always seemed relatively scarce. His years at Gauntlet are some of the most interesting times in our history, and he sat at the helm of both San Fransisco and New York studios, helping train and work alongside some of the most notable piercers in history. One of only five people ever bestowed the title of Master Piercer, his passion and humility brought him to the top of the piercing world in the early and mid 90s. Mark is an incredible person with a rich history in our community, and even decades after he’s left he is someone we need to respect, to remember, and to admire. Reading about someone and talking to them is like night and day; talking with Mark was one of the most humbling experiences in my career. I am thrilled to be able to share this. Continue reading
Masterpierce Theatre: Paul King
Paul King is so handsome it takes a continued effort not to rip the skin off my own face.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s be frank; Paul is a motherfucking national treasure. I honestly don’t know if I can write a proper introduction without it slipping into something so masturbatory that becomes unreadable, so I’ll just say that he is one of the most revered and respected people in this industry, and deserving of every bit of that. We spoke about Paul’s introduction to body piercing, some of the Master Piercers, cultural appropriation, and the Body Piercing Archives. Don’t forget after all of this to reach out and thank Paul for being who he is, saying what he says, and doing what he does. Also, while you’re at it, thank him for being really, really hot.
Ari- I always have everyone do the standard introductions, so tell us your name and how long you’ve been piercing and where you’re currently at.
Paul- My name is Paul King and I’ve been a professional body piercer since 1991. I was inspired and trained at a company called the Gauntlet; it was the first piercing shop in the Western world. I served a one-and-a-half-year apprenticeship under Elayne Angel. I then went on to manage Gauntlet Los Angeles, worked in the San Francisco store, and also managed Gauntlet New York. Gauntlet closed in 1998. In 1999, Grant Dempsey and I (Dempsey of Cold Steel International in London), opened up two tattooing and piercing shops in San Francisco called Cold Steel America (www.coldsteelpiercing.com). One was in the old San Francisco Gauntlet location, the other was in the upper Haight. We briefly attempted to do wholesale and decided to open in 2001. You can imagine how well that went. Wholesale didn’t last so long. So after that we parted ways in 2008. He was moving to Australia with his family and I was heading back to school. We let go of the Market street location, and I now have one shop on Haight street in the old Haight-Ashbury district. Continue reading