Gregg, in my opinion, has always been a piercer worth watching – and not just in a creepy, webcam sort of way, but in the way that an eighteen year titan with a metric fuckton of creativity can’t help but captivate anyone actually interested in piercing. Even if they can’t pronounce his last name, piercers across the board universally appreciate his ingenuity, which in my opinion has not only influenced modern piercers but also modern jewelry. Amidst a sea of black arms and olive debates, people who can stand out on a technical and innovative level, and continue to push the momentum of this industry are always worth paying attention to. So I called Gregg to talk about his industrial work, working with other piercers, and why we’re all fucked once we get older.
Ari – Hey Gregg, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Give us a little introduction.
Gregg – Hey, I’m Gregg Marchessault, been piercing since 1999/2000, currently piercing at Outer Limits in Costa Mesa, California – been there for twelve years currently, and I’m happy to be here today!
Ari – So there were a few different things I wanted to talk to you about; the first one is definitely your industrial work. I know that for me, you were the first person who flat out melted my face with that industrial work you were doing, which was at a time before you could buy an erector set from Industrial Strength and connect a bunch of piercings with ball joints and other various components. I’m curious where the inspiration to start really getting gnarly with multi-point piercings came from.
Gregg – The first studio I worked at I apprenticed under Joe Yglesias at Evolution in Providence, Rhode Island, and he was doing quite a bit of crazy multi point industrials. We tended to feed off one another in various technical works. At that time with every barbell you bought from industrial strength you would get a free acrylic ball. Since we had hundreds of them lying around, I took it upon myself to actually melt or break off the acrylic exposing just a single thread, and I thought to myself I could connect two barbells together to give it a flex point, which gave the jewelry mobility when slept on. This evolved into the ball joints, where I used a knife to pop out a bead from an industrial strength claw ball, put a threaded ball into it and you had a full 270 degree mobility, and it all kind of went crazy from there.
Ari – That’s fucking awesome. So would you then say that some of that came from a fairly competitive standpoint?
Gregg – No, I just did it because I was into it, we weren’t competing over it. Again, I mean at that time Yglesias was also doing some crazy industrial stuff as well, so I think we all in a sense pushed the boundaries a little bit, and our clients were into it and we never did anything that was too ridiculous to heal. In the past many years I’ve actually toned it down quite a bit, instead doing separate piercings and connecting them later on. But even with the crazy things we did back then we had a very high success rate of them healing.
Gregg – That was probably 2002 or 2003 when I started working with multiple points and connectivity and flex points.
Ari – In terms of material, were you working with annealed materials at this time or were you tinkering with regular barbell posts to manipulate them into shapes
Gregg – No, when I first started I was not using annealed materials, they were just I.S. or Anatometal steel, rarely titanium at that point. I’ve ordered up to 6” barbells all just standard, and later on I switched over to sealed jewelry. I would mainly hand bend them, sometimes using things like eyelets or brassjaws and then repolish them if necessary. I tried to avoid using tools as much as possible, mainly using my hands to get the bends.
Ari – How responsible do you feel for todays prevalence of multi-point piercings? Do you feel like you had a fairly big role influencing a lot of that, or getting the ball rolling in that direction?
Gregg – No, not really, some might say I had some influence, but I don’t care about credit towards that so much. I’m really glad that industry has evolved since and that we have the jewelry available to us to do so many fun projects.
Ari – I feel like what we’re talking about with where the ideas and methods start come to from is just a shitload of inventiveness – do you feel like with people now who have the access to pretty much anything you can think of in terms of jewelry components, do you think thats for the betterment or detriment of whats going on? Does that take away from people understanding how to set up a multi-angle project.
Gregg – I feel like it does hinder a little bit to where you’re not really thinking about angles because ‘hey, these balls move’ so we can do this on a fresh piercing, which obviously isn’t fine, ya know – you need to understand the rudimentary aspects of how piercings will sit and how they’ll swell and how it’ll be comfort-wise. Some newer piercers may see these ear projects and just jump into it, but they need to focus on why certain placements or jewelry combos may or may not work. Not only aesthetically, but also functionally.
Ari – Do you feel things like Earmaggedon, or the different platforms of social media showing everyone everything, tend to push people to run before they walk?
Gregg – Earmaggedon was a shitshow. It brought piercers out of the woodworks just doing things way above their heads and way above their skill levels just to win some money and recognition. I entered, I won, I had some fun, but I’m not a huge fan of what some piercers put their clients through just for that recognition. There were a lot of well done and creative projects that healed beautifully, people like Cale, A.J., Luis, Noah and a lot of other great piercers have put out some amazing pieces, but some people just need to hang up their needles.
Ari – I remember looking at your work, and on top of it being so rad it was also healed, which was one of the reasons is resonated so much with me personally. A lot of the things I see now going up are fresh-oriented, so many people don’t have the folder to show their projects that are healed rather then day-of.
Gregg – That’s always been a big thing with me, occasionally i post fresh material but the majority of what I try to show is healed. Anyone can do a piercing, I’m gonna quote a certain jewelry supplier, “a monkey can do a piercing”, but if you can do it well and make sure it heals properly using anatomy and angles and technique thats a whole different ballgame. I really focus more on showing the finished product rather then a fresh red and bloody “look i did this 18 point industrial through both ears and their nipples”. that photo was taken 5 seconds after you pierced it. That’s not gonna work out.
Ari – From a creative persons standpoint, where does shit go from here in this facet of piercing? As far as pushing boundaries while keeping it in a safe format, has this multi-piercing stuff climaxed?
Gregg– I think it’s plateaued a bit, I think there a limit to how far you can go. I do some ear projects still, but I don’t really do any of that nearly as much as I used to. I’ve kind of taken it down to multiple pieces on an ear with the proper aesthetic for the anatomy with a color scheme that works well together. I still do some industrials, not as crazy as I used to, but I would rather have 3-4 piercings that compliment each other and look natural to the anatomy now, kind of back-stepping a little bit for me at least. Every piercer is different, the industry is ever evolving. Noah Babcock is pushing boundaries with his industrials and they look great, but I don’t feel like we’re seeing the momentum we were 5-10 years ago on the multi-point industrials.
Ari – When you go to the Outer Limits website and look at your portfolio, there are no industrials on there. Is that intentional?
Gregg – Not necessarily, that’s probably just a lack of me putting any up there. As much as I love still doing them, it’s a time issue, I don’t tend to have a lot of time at the studio for that long with somebody, to spend a half hour or more working on that piece unless we try and plan ahead for them.
Ari – Kari Barba is such a notable figure and you’ve been with her at Outer Limits for a long tenure. When you first started there, with the tattoo end being so recognized, did that make it easier to already have clientele or did it make it harder, make it so you had to kind of claw your way for an equal space in the studio?
Gregg – So I’ve been there twelve years now and they’ve been in business for 34, so Kari already had established herself. I was hired initially by Ron Garza and Kent Fazekas. Kent was one of the original board members of the APP and founders of the APP and Ron Garza is motherfucking Ron Garza, so there were some big shoes to fill and work alongside. Kari is a lovely human being, she runs a wonderful studio, but I was the young one compared to a longstanding run of amazing piercers. At one point there were four studios with 8 different piercers and we were all a team, but as the new guy I had to put myself out there and I had to put my name out there as well.
Ari – So do you feel that relationship between tattooing and piercing is healthy? We’re seeing more piercing only studios pop up, there’s always been a large quantity of tattoo only shops – is this a relationship that should continue side by side?
Gregg – I do think it’s healthy, yes. I think society tends to, and has for quite a long time now, see them together. I can’t tell you how many piercing only studios get phone calls about tattoos and tattoo studios get called about piercings, I think people think of them as one in the same and that for a long time they had and have a harmonious relationship, its two potentially different business that work together.
Ari – I do see that occasionally it looks like you bounce around, cover at other places and guest spots. As far as that kind of interaction goes, whether you’re meeting up with other piercers or working at other peoples’ studios, how critical do you think that is to remain a constantly developing piercer?
Gregg – I think its extremely important. There’s nothing like going to another studio, hanging out and watching another piercer work and bouncing ideas off one another. When I lived in Providence, and I can’t think Luis enough for this, I would drive six hours from Providence to Philly to get pierced by Luis and hang out with him and pick his brain to help me in my early years, got so many ideas. Unfortunately some of the new generation doesn’t realize what a lot of people went through. We didn’t have social media, there was no Facebook – if you wanted information you had to do some work. I used to call Pat Tidwell, he has helped me out drastically, talking to him on the phone and picking his brain, and if you ask a new piercer in this age to drive six hours to watch somebody work and not get paid for it, they’d say “fuck you”. But thats what we had to do, thats all we could do; its critical to expand your horizons and see different methods and learn different techniques and see it in person hands-on, so I tend to occasionally help out where I can or just go somewhere to watch and bullshit. It’s good fun. You never stop learning. On the other hand, I hired a new piercer six months ago, Denna, she’s amazing, she’s been piercing five or six years. I’ve been helping her, which has helped me in return, not only watching someone with more experience can help you out, working with someone with less years of experience can make you take a step back and examine your ways and your methods and push you. Having that team member rather then working against one another makes a world of difference.
Ari – Have you ever formally apprenticed anybody?
Gregg – No, I’ve never been interested in it.
Ari – As we see the industry bloat and numbers of piercers growing so rapidly, it’s tough to believe that if it continues there’s enough business the sustain the growth. Do you think this bubble is going to pop? Are we going to see an over saturation to the point that everyone who’s in here to make a quick buck or get their cool points bails and have it come down to a smaller, more intimate group again?
Gregg – Yes, thats a good question, this year they had a class at conference called “do piercers get to retire?”, and unless you’re a studio owner, I mean how many 50+ year old piercers do you know? I see so many piercers who quit, like Chris Glunt, who is now a surgical tech, or Brian Oviatt, who’s an MRI technician – piercers are branching out. Piercers hit their 30s and go “hey, this may not work for the rest of my life”, and the medical field is a natural progression from what we do. A lot of people are finding different outlets and still maybe take appointments here and there to keep their fingers wet, but I feel like you’re right in that the bubble may eventually pop and the seasoned veterans are eventually going to realize its time to pursue a different career.
Ari – Does it seem like the movement of becoming radically visibly altered is moving far faster then the acceptance of it in society, things you can’t step back from? Seeing piercers in the first few years with half their faces cut off, do you feel like thats generally true that people are rushing in earlier to that stage then previously?
Gregg – If you are not in a career for life, don’t tattoo your fucking eyeballs.
Ari – (TRIGGER WARNING) or maybe at all?
Gregg – Society is moving forward, but we’’re no where near to that point. Adam Richins is one of my better friends, I love him to death, he has most of his face tattooed, and when I’m with him in public I am normal, no one is looking at me, and in ten years thats going be a thing, and in twenty years thats probably still going be a thing. I think with those heavy heavy modifications, who knows if thats ever going to be an acceptable thing? So I’d agree with a lot of that.
Ari – I also just like to complain a lot, it’s one of my favorite things to do.
Gregg – That’s because you’re an old man.
Ari – Don’t forget cranky, too. Someone is almost certainly going to bring up that I was an asshole that jumped the gun and did neck and hands at 19, tattooed my face at 20.
Gregg – I remember.
Ari – And I acknowledge that was truly stupid at the time, but luckily it’s panned out well for me.
Gregg – But if you tried to get a job, not in the modification industry, it wouldn’t be ok, and for the next two decades, that probably won’t change. Would you at this time be able to get a job at a bank?
Ari – I’m Jewish so I think they’d take me right away. But seriously, no, fuck no.
Gregg – And who knows when that would be socially acceptable. That’s the point.
Ari – I haven’t been to conference in like a decade, but I remember my first APPs being manageable in the sense that everyone who I was watching on IAM or looked up to or talked to, I was able to go interact with them and talk to everyone, even if only briefly. With the online mediums moving away from actual interaction to liking pictures on Instagram, or being in an enormous Facebook group with thousands of people, is it changing how newer piercers are connecting with the veterans in a face-to-face environment?
Gregg – I feel like people walk into their first conference and go “oh my god, thats Luis Garcia” and just choke up and walk away, where back in my first conference when there was half or less the attendance there was now, there wasn’t the aspect of someone having 50,000 followers, it was like, “hey thats Pat Tidwell, he’s really cool, he knows his shit, I’m gonna buy him a drink!” It was a lot more relaxed back in the day, theres a lot more intimidation now with social medias presence. The original learning forum that Warren Hiller started on IAM, I think there were a couple hundred people and everyone was active and people got shit on and got their assholes ripped open but then afterwards they realized hey I think I learned something, now we have thousands and thousands of people and its a whole different world.
Ari – Overall though, are you fairly happy with the current state of piercing?
Gregg – I think the industry is currently in a great spot, it’s still changing, it’s not pushing boundaries drastically, it’s just a slowly evolving masterpiece and I am happy with where its going. We have a lot of great up and coming piercers doing wonderful things with jewelry and projects, the jewelry companies are killing it and kicking ass, and I’m excited for the future of the industry.
Main photo ©2006 Rachel Larratt/Shawn Porter. All other photos ©2017 Gregg Marchessault.