The Todfather: A night of gently touching tips with Tod Almighty
Tod Almighty is hands down one of the most magnetic personalities in piercing. Forthcoming, charming, hilarious – it’s easy to get lost in the seduction rather then realize that he’s been a force to be reckoned with for over two decades. Coming in under the tutelage of Allen Falkner, working his way through California, teaching with the Fakir intensives, being one of the mainstays at Anatometal -that’s some serious shit right there. So we got high and decided to talk about his roots in piercing, how multi-faceted our industry has become, and why one day we might all have to wear a suit and tie. Oh, and there’s a story in here that proves Tod’s balls are bigger then any of ours. Don’t believe me? Read it for yourself.
Ari – Alright Tod, give us a little introduction
Tod – I’m Tod Almighty, and I’ve been with Anatometal for 14 years now. I started piercing in 1992 after I apprenticed under Allen Falkner in Dallas, Texas. I’ve worked out of Santa Barbara, LA, San Jose, and Dallas, a lot of places I suppose. I’ve been an instructor with the Fakir Intensives since 1997, so twenty years now – I do both basic and advanced courses with them. I took them in 1992 as well. I like long walks on the beach, I’m a dog person not a cat person, I prefer length to girth, and I have no gag reflex!
Ari – How did you meet Allen Falkner?
Tod – I ran a restaurant in Texas, the most successful gay owned and operated restaurant in the state of Texas, mind you. I ran that for a while and he opened up a shop right directly behind the restaurant in our next door neighbors retail shop. The guy who owned the shop got a genital piercing (a frenum), and he came up and was like “Guess what I did?” and I’m like “What?” and he’s like “I got my dick pierced.” So I’m like “You did not!” I didn’t even know they had a piercer there yet! He said “I did!” I said “Show me!” So he showed me. I went “Take me!” He said “Take you where?” and I said “Wherever the hell did that to you! If you did that then so can I, and I want one!” He walked me over to the store and introduced me to Allen, and I basically shadowed Allen for two years while still working at the restaurant. When I was not at work I’d be there sitting in on every piercing that he did. It wasn’t just like I’m sitting outside; I would literally go in to the room with him, watch him, hang out, and talk with him – just as friends at the time. We were just hanging out with him a lot. Finally, this conversation took place:
Allen – “Would you come manage the studio?”
Tod – “No”
Allen – “Why not? I need a good manager.”
Tod – “Do you think I’m here because I want to be the manager at Obscurities? That would be stupid! I want to pierce!”
Allen “Oh, I didn’t really think about that. What could you do?”
Tod – “I can do anything you can do.”
Allen steps back and ponders this bold, bold statement.
Allen – “Really?”
Tod reiterates that he can anything Allen can do.
Allen – “Okay, well you’ll do the next piercing that comes through the door.”
Tod – “Deal!”
A girl walked in for a tongue piercing, and he asked if it was ok if I did her piercing, and she said “well, why not?” and he explained that I had never done a piercing before, that she would be my first, and that he would be there in the room with us, assuring her everything would be fine, and that there wouldn’t be a charge. She agreed to it. So I went in, literally said word for word what he says to every client, and pierced her tongue. She sat up, it was dead on, she was super happy and left. Afterwards, this conversation took place:
Allen – “Well goddamn”
Tod – “What?”
Allen – “You didn’t shake.”
Tod – “What do you mean shake?” (I had no idea what he was talking about)
Allen – “Well most people, when they’re a new piercer, they get nervous and they shake when they doing the piercing or putting in the jewelry, and you didn’t shake at all”
Tod – “Of course I didn’t, who have I watched pierce for the last two years? Do you shake?”
Allen – “You got a good point there, I guess I don’t.”
He hired me then and there. I went to the Fakir school the next month, and came back and went to work.
Ari – What was that clientele like in Texas in the early 90s?
Tod – They were great. We were in the gay area of town, which always helps, so we had a huge gay clientele. We were really the only game in town; there was one other place and they were pretty good too to be honest. There may have been a couple of shit shops in town, but there was at least one other good shop but they were very small and they ended up closing. I’m still friends with the people that worked and ran it, but we were kinda the only game in town. It was a lot of word of mouth and it just took off. We opened a second location, then a location in Atlanta, then Santa Barbara, and then those gradually all dropped back off. Atlanta closed for some reason, they had to move the building or something, I don’t remember why. We sold the Santa Barbara shop to a friend of ours because Sean McManus wanted to continue to work there, so he bought that it from us. I would assume it’s still there but I don’t know if it’s still called Obscurities. The Dallas location today got sold to someone else and the name Obscurities no longer exists as a piercing establishment, sadly, because thats where I started.
Ari – Was having a location in Santa Barbara how you ended up in California?
Tod – That’s how it started, absolutely. Sean McManus, who owned Obscurities Santa Barbara, was going to Brooks university for film at the time. He was a great director, he directed The Marionette, Allen’s suspension film. He was going to school full time and needed someone to come out for three months while he finished finals. I went out for three months and never came home! A three month gig went on for over twenty years now! While I was in Santa Barbara, I also took a second job in San Jose. I would do a week in one city and then a week in the other, driving back and forth between the two. That studio in San Jose was called Pierce Ink, it was owned by Bear Thunderfire and Sharrin Spector, two piercing icons. I worked for them for about a year or so. Eventually, when we decided to sell Obscurities, I moved up to San Jose and worked for them and also at a place called Leathermasters. Leathermasters was the first studio to ever have piercing in San Jose – I worked there for a couple of years, and then went to LA. I hate LA, glad to say it – I’m not one to sugarcoat things. It’s a great place to visit but you don’t want to live there, the mindset of the people didn’t gel with me at all. I was at Punctured Body Piercing; it was the second location, right across from the Beverly Center Mall, we had quite a few people come in there. Rhea Perlman got really pissed off at me one time because I wouldn’t pierce her daughter. She was calling me all kinds of pretty names, it was hilarious. I was like, “I don’t care if you’re her mother if you don’t have the paperwork to prove it! I do know who you are, and no, I don’t care who you are!”
Ari – It’s tough to take insults seriously from a woman who’s fucked Danny Devito.
Tod – “I love ya girl, but I am not gonna do this for you!” She was very pissed, but shit happens. I got to put earrings in Steven Tyler one time. Shemar Moore, I pierced his ears back in the ‘90s, he’s a really handsome actor. I left LA and went to Fort Tutor, California, a little town near Eureka, where I opened a little shop there with a tattoo artist friend of mine. We rented a house and it was a very small town and the business just wasn’t there at the time, so we closed it after only a year. Then Barry Blanchard, the owner of Anatometal, contacted me to work as a piercer at Staircase Tattoo in Santa Cruz. I had a really good gig going at the time; I wasn’t doing anything besides the Fakir school but I didn’t have to pay rent, so I was only doing that and not really working and absolutely loving it. Eventually all good things come to an end though. Barry kept saying “Really, you need to come work for me, come work for me!?” and I kept saying “no no no!” They wouldn’t tell me why but it was because he was about to buy Staircase again, he had owned it previously and was about to take it over again and wanted me to be the piercer if he bought it. Finally I agreed, and then they explained it all to me. It was like “Alright well now it makes sense! Why didn’t you tell me that six fuckin months ago?” So I went to work there for two or three years and finally got fed up with it, with a lot of the artists there; it was always a big drama thing. So Barry said why don’t you just come work for me at Anatometal? and I took him up on it. I’ve been there ever since. So I guess I really started working for him around 2000-2001 at Staircase, so it’s been 17 years total.
Ari – Besides the Fakir School, do you pierce at all outside of that these days?
Tod – Well if someone requests it, sure, I’ll certainly do it if someone wants it. People are always asking where my shop is. I just ask them where they live and where do they want to get pierced? I pretty much know somebody everywhere. I just reach out to the studio and say “I’m gonna come into your shop and do a piercing and you’re gonna watch me and we’re gonna have fun. Will that be ok?” Most people say yes.
Ari – They would be stupid not to.
Tod– So if I’m on a trip or in a different town and someone says “Hey I’d really like to get pierced” I can run over and we get it done. You’ll buy the jewelry through that shop so they can make a little bit of money. Everybody wins! I’ll do it for friends or certain requests. I’ve got a guy that wants to get some branding – That I’ll always do. If they want that, I’ll make the time. It’s one of my favorite things to do, I just love the smell of burning flesh.
Ari – Do you prefer strike or cautery?
Tod – I like cautery. Strike has its own appeal, but you can be more artful with cautery.
Ari – Do you find the same amount of spreading with the styles?
Tod – Yes. Actually I’ve gotten even better spread with a cautery before. I’m not nice with it. I tend to do it deeper then most people that do it so it definitely spreads. This guy got one for his son when he was just born, it went from his shoulder down past his elbow, huge piece, very tribal abstract swirly thing, it raised a good quarter inch. He now has a daughter and wants me to do the other side and I’m like hell yeah!
Ari – How has the Fakir program changed over the years? I’m sure 1997 to 2017 has to be pretty different.
Tod – Night and day! We joke about the old days though. We’ve come so far, its crazy and it has grown so much, especially over the last few years. For many years we didn’t offer the advanced classes that often, there wasn’t a lot of demand for it. 1997 was the first year we offered it and we’d do it every other year or so, and five basic classes a year. Recently we started the hybrid class, I think we’ve only had one of them – if we’ve had two then I’ve missed the second one! We’ve got another one coming up soon, essentially it’s for people who’ve been in the industry but its not a requirement to have already taken the basic course. The basic course used to be a requirement if you wanted to take the advanced course, so that you had the basic knowledge of the way we do things before you come into the class, just to make sure you aren’t coming in dry and we’re talking about shit thats above your head. Now we’ve got the hybrid class, I’m not sure what they ended up calling it, I just know thats what we call it. It combines elements of both courses, you have to have been in the industry verifiably for at least a couple of years to take it so you have the experience of what we’re talking about.
Ari – Curriculum wise, how does it change?
Tod – We do google chat, we even had a message board for a while, we video calls or all meet up somewhere if we happen to be in the same area. With having instructors from so far away it’s a little hard to do, but video conferencing is how we do the majority of it. We discuss what we feel should be in the class or what shouldn’t be in the class, what goes here and there. It’s a group effort definitely for all of it, and whenever we redo the workbook, which we do every year or so (it depends on how much new information there is to put into it, because a lot of the stuff is basic and remains the same), that’s a group effort as well. I will be completely honest here because I know my fellow instructors will be looking at this, and say that they have all, every single one of them, done far more work then myself with the workbooks. I am the lazy instructor when it comes to doing that, and I’ll give the credit to Jef Saunders and Cody Vaughn and Ken Coyote and BettyAnn Peed, because they have all worked their butts off to make sure that thats there. Fakir has his input too for sections of the book, but I can’t take anywhere near the credit those four people can for the workbooks.
Ari – But you make up for it by being so handsome.
Tod – One of us has to be pretty, right?
Ari – Let’s talk about Bud Larsen’s feelings that piercing should have stayed gay only – is it good we broke away from that? 1
Tod – It’s good that it broke away from that, but it’s a very good thing that that’s where it started. It gave piercing most of its character. We were willing to do things a lot of other people weren’t (in case theres anyone who’s listening that isn’t aware that I’m gay – I’m gay). Because it came from that community we were much more open sexually, so that tended to lend itself towards decorating your nether bits and the sexual pleasure that comes from that. It was a lot more of a focus for the small group of people that actually started it and got it going. We’re still a big portion of that community but I think it’s accepting for everyone and I wouldn’t want to hold it back. I think everyone should adorn whatever they want to adorn. I can’t imagine not having navel piercings and nostril piercings everywhere on a daily basis. I think it’s good that it did branch out. I think we’re truly going through a renaissance right now as far as piercing itself and the jewelry people are putting in. Theres a renewed interest over the last 2-3 years, it’s an incredible thing, and I think it’s going to keep us in business for as long as we need to be. Look at any fashion magazine right now – pick it up, there’s people that we know that made jewelry that are on the models and now they’re crediting these people that we know that made that jewelry! A lot of people don’t know or weren’t there to see how it started, how underground or small scale these things were at the start, so to see it come that far is a truly amazing thing to me.
Ari– In this boom, or renaissance, of piercing, it appears that the sexually charged aspect has fallen behind the more ornate-oriented work thats taking place right now. Is that sad to see?
Tod – I think that’s true, but I think the people who are interested in genital piercings still have them or get them. The rest of it is certainly fashionable or fashion-oriented, but all of us people don’t see what someone has below the waist, the ones designed to give pleasure to the person wearing it or the person they are with. Those people still tend to be very open, even thought they aren’t as talked about. I mean who walks around talking about genital piercings besides piercers? It’s a different breed of client, it’s a different world. The fact that we can sell something and take care of opposite ends of a spectrum, to a girl wanting a navel piercing and a girl wanting a vaginal piercing, it says a lot about us as an industry.
Ari – When we look at some of the original modern primitives, we see some of the struggles they want through while still having the bravery and passion to express themselves, like Bud Viking Navaro not being able to show his face initially because of his career path. With younger piercers now living in a fairly charmed era, is that to their detriment to not understand those struggles?
Tod – I think they’re missing out on some of it. There were times when it was hateful but it was still super fun thinking back on it. When I tattooed my face I knew I was crossing a line. Knuckles are one thing, those are on the line, and I did that a long time ago. But you got facial/upper neck and they’re called job stoppers for a reason. But these days that’s changing as well! Here in Santa Cruz it’s actually illegal to discriminate against someone because of their body art when they’re being hired and fired. It is also illegal to do so in San Francisco, if I’m correct, they’re only two cities that have that in effect. Thats part of why I like to live here. The bumper stickers here say keep Santa Cruz weird – well we aim to do that, that what we’re all here for! I walk down the street here and no one bats an eye. 3” earlobes and tattoos on my face and the only thing someone will say is “Hi Tod!”
Ari – Do you feel like the desire for our history has somewhat diminished with people because they’re finding it hard to relate to? Because it took place in an era that resembles nothing like 2017?
Tod – You’re going to get that with everything in life though. Equal rights, etc, it was an experience of a lifetime; the ones who come later they experience the benefit. I don’t know that they’re hurting from not having been there or not being able to have that experience because it’s a very hurtful experience depending on who you are and where. I mean c’mon, I was a faggot in Texas, it wasn’t easy. There were times when I was like “Fuck, what am I doing here?” but thats part of the reason I left!
Ari – That’s true, but we’re not in a typical industry though where there’s going to be a history textbook for people to read about. If we don’t ask and talk to people who were there, which we’re luckily enough still at a time when a lot of people are still around to talk to, it’s going to be gone.
Tod – I like the fact that many people are starting to document. Theres a few things out there that will always have a cult like status because they were actually out there, and you can usually still find a copy or a friends got a copy. People are documenting, like Sacred Debris, and now you’ve got the APP history archives going too which is taking in stuff to keep on permanent display. A lot of people are beginning to focus on our history because we want to ensure its not lost, and I think the bulk of the people who are going to be doing that will actually be the APP. They’ve done so much to gather that stuff together and even I’m helping a little bit. I’ve got a set of pictures for them, a bunch of other stuff I’m going to donate as well, and if anybody else has got anything I say “Hey, lets put it in!” Anything to contribute to the record of what we went through to get to what we are. It’s great, they had a booth this year at APP, this was the first year they had it. They had a sign up from Blanchard Manufacturing from way back in the day before it was even called Anatometal. They had Pruitt pieces in the case, it was really cool. I can see it starting to come together, people are taking an active interest in documenting things while some of the people are still here to document from. You’ve got people like Paul King, Brian Skellie, and Matte Erickson behind it. Matte has just herculean work in that particular department, he’s done a great job. We are becoming an industry, that in itself has pluses and minuses. Theres going to be a time where a piercer is gonna have to wear a button down shirt and khakis to work at a corporate place. It’s going to happen. It’s sad and terrifying.
Ari – That’s intimidating, it sounds like a real job!
Tod – It has become a real job in every sense of the word, and yes, thats scary. But when it becomes that much easier to have something as an occupation, it degrades the quality of the art being practiced. I’m like an APP chairwoman at this point, I haven’t been a member in a long time but I support to organization. I think that anything where you can further your education, like Luis Garcia offers seminars, there are several really good people that do that – I think any time one has the chance to do that one should take that chance because you’re going to learn something no matter what it is. Even if something you know about, you’re going to learn something. There’s not one class I’ve ever taught where I didn’t walk out of that class having learned something from one of the students, every time. It’s the smallest thing but you’re like “I would not have thought of that in that way” Anytime you get a chance to educate yourself, educate educate educate. I can’t possibly stress that enough, if we are going to grow into the industry we are becoming we have to make sure that the people practicing the art are educated.
Ari – Not to sidetrack but Paul King is so good looking it’s kind of unfair.
Tod – Yeah, it is. I got flogged by him the day I met him. No one’s hit me better then that.
Ari – I’m always fascinated by why certain people stay in the forefront of piercing history and why others who are certainly of equal, if not more important, don’t. When we look at someone like Kristian White, who brought a wealth of information back about cultures we were pulling from, why do you think in the history books almost everyone is familiar with Blake but Kristian in a lot of ways seems to slip through the cracks?
Tod – Kristian truly stands out for that in my mind, I haven’t seen him in years, he worked briefly with me at Punctured when I was in LA; he was there briefly towards the end of it. With Kristian, it always seemed to me that he didn’t care if anybody knew that he was doing it, that was just what he felt like he needed to do. He didn’t give a shit if you put his name in a book, he’d rather be focused on what he wanted to be doing. He’s a very intense, awesome guy – he seemed to me to be an artist. I think he was just out there doing his thing and not worried about the self promotion aspect. There should be a book about him, he’s a great guy, he’ll tell a story like how he cut his earlobes off and threw them at the ships that were paying the natives to cut off their earlobes. This man is an amazing human being, great stories that he has to tell. I don’t know where he’s at now, but – hey Kristian, if you ever come across this, I’d love to talk to you, and you should write a book!
Ari – When you were going through it, did you have any cultures you idolized growing up? Were you a nat geo nerd, or was it just aesthetically what you were around and what you found appealing?
Tod – I had always been fascinated by any other culture other then ours. Different Aboriginal cultures and American Indian cultures. My grandmother was an American Indian so I was always interested in that and learning about that. She told me members of her tribe used to stretch their ears, and she actually liked mine; my mom hated them but my grandmother loved them because her tribe used to do that. I was like “This is rad! I just got approval! My mom can’t do shit!” National geographic with scarification, the alligator skin style, I can still see the picture in my mind, it just stuck with me. I remember thinking how beautiful it was when I saw it. I don’t think anyone else was thinking that, most people were probably like “What the fuck did he do?”, but I was like “Oh my god, I’d love to run my fingers across that! That’s so cool looking!”
Ari – Do you have any favorite people that you think don’t get talked about that you feel like deserve to be talked about?
Tod – I don’t think enough people know BettyAnn Peed, she’s in Nashville, she’s one of our instructors. Dustin Allor, she’s in Austin, getting ready to move back to California, she does Phoenix Revival jewelry, I don’t think enough people know about her and they should, because she’s an incredibly talented woman. I love those two more then pretty much anybody, two of my favorite people on the planet, they’re both very good at what they do and they’re both intelligent and they’re both beautiful. I guess with Jef and Cody, people finally know who they are now.
Ari – Any closing thoughts?
Tod – Don’t give up, and talk to somebody if you’re having a problem