BSTA: Kristian

Ari – How did you get started with your sheep?

Kristian – Well I grew up in Tahoe. I’m not really a city person. I spent years in San Francisco and then San Diego but I get severe depression if I’m living in a city – I just can’t deal. I’m fine living rural – I do much better. I’ve always wanted a piece of land. I traveled all over the world, seen a lot of stuff, and always wanted a mini-farm. To be self-sufficient and raise my own food. I’m a plant freak; it takes me an hour just to water everything in the summer. I’ve specifically always wanted Soay sheep. They’re a primitive breed from the neolithic time.

Ari – Did you encounter them on your travels? How did they make it onto your radar?

Kristian – No, I just read about them. There were a couple of people in Southern Oregon raising them and I just really loved them. I started with Icelandic sheep because I love them too but I didn’t realize how much they would stress in the heat here in the summers. I ended up giving them to a woman who lives west of Portland. I spent a lot of money on them but they were suffering so I just gave them to her. They were all super high A.I. – to improve your flock you can import semen from Iceland from the best rams to inseminate your ewes and build up a healthier, better, bigger flock. I’ve always wanted Soay but there was a woman on the coast with Icelandic’s, she’s a vet, and it just seemed convenient because she was so close. There are a few people in Southern Oregon with the Soay breed as well. I mean it gets hot there too but those sheep don’t have as long of a fleece, they’re a much smaller animal, so they can actually deal with the heat. What’s nice about them is you don’t have to sheer them. They’re small, the rams are about the size of a pitbull, so much easier to trim hooves and do what you need to do with them. They’re much lighter on the land than larger animals, much heartier too. Way heartier than domestic sheep – those can be tricky to keep. Most sheep don’t tolerate parasites very well and are prone to getting them so you’re always checking their eyes (lifting the eyelids to check the color of the eyes because that’s an indicator). That is why you have to rotate them on fresh pastures – if they stay in one area too long and they go to the bathroom and then continue to eat there they can pick up parasites easily. My sheep for example only eat orchard grass and no alfalfa because the alfalfa is so rich in calcium, particularly with rams. Sheep are tricker than people think. It can be quite involved in keeping them. If you have rams you get rutting season where they all want to kill each other, and then reintroducing those rams together after the rut. I’ve always been an animal person since I was a little kid, always had them in my life. I was the kid that had aquariums all over his room with reptiles and fish and whatever I could get my hands on. I actually raised a lot of birds when I was a kid – parakeets, cockatiels, and then bigger parrots. I met my partner in San Francisco during the time of Nomad. He used to come to the shop right after we opened it. He’s a retired sergeant with the San Francisco Sheriff’s department who was smart with his money, bought and sold like five houses when you could buy them cheap in the bay area. He fucking hated the Sheriff’s department. When he went in he assumed there were just a couple bad cops but the rest were hopefully good people – when he came out he knew it was the opposite. Before that, he was a paramedic. But he knew that lifting overweight people could only last so long with his body so he changed his career.

Ari – When did y’all find the property Gladsheim?

Kristian – It’s in Ukiah, which is just two hours north of San Francisco. The first big town is Santa Rosa an hour down the 101. Where we live you either grow pot or grow grapes. He just wanted to be fairly close to San Francisco so he could hang out with his friends but it didn’t really work out that way. I didn’t really do my research because I didn’t realize it would get in the triple digits here in the summer, and I hate the heat! It gets hot as fuck here. Who knew it would hit 115 degrees just two hours north of San Francisco? We’re most likely going to sell the property though and head back closer to where my parents are at in Tahoe.

Ari – Will it be hard to move the flock?

Kristian – No, I don’t have that many and I have an extended cargo van so I can just put the wire crate cages in there. They move pretty well and it’s only like a three-hour drive from here. Moving your farm would be a whole different deal!

Ari – Yeah, at this point us moving our sanctuary is virtually impossible! I’d love to hear about some of your travels – as far as it goes I usually think of you as one of the most extensive early travelers in the field – can I hear about some of your experiences and what those were like?

Kristian – What started my travels was when I was young reading National Geographic. I also hated school. I mean I got good grades but I just fucking hated it so I didn’t want to go to college. I wanted to see the world, particularly the rainforests. I would do two big trips a year – just work and save money and then take off. Did a lot of rainforest excursions and stayed with the indigenous people. I did that for many, many years.

Ari – Was the destination more alluring than the indigenous peoples?

Kristian – No, I would say they went hand in hand. Growing up with National Geographic magazines I saw all these amazing people all over the world. I always wanted to go check them out. It wasn’t strictly environmental.

Ari – Obviously this is a time when it really predates the technology we take for granted now. What was it like just showing up somewhere and figuring out how to meet up with these people or where to stay or overcome language barriers?

Kristian – Most of the trips in the jungle you just fly where you want to go and hire guides. You buy a bunch of food beforehand. In New Guinea, we had to hire a police officer to go with us, and in many times you had to hire a translator as well. In a lot of rainforest countries you travel on the river systems so you’re buying the gas and oil (a three-stroke engine needs both), and slowly make your way. You have a tribe you want to visit in mind so you find out where the people are and try to get there to see them.

Ari – Were you modified at this point?

Kristian – Oh yeah, it was funny because often a lot of places I went had crazy Christian missionaries that were telling these people that all their traditional practices were evil and that they aren’t supposed to do that stuff. Along comes me with stretched lobes, septum, and labret and totally fuck up their missionary work. It was hilarious.

Ari – Were there any negative reactions from the places you visited over your aesthetic?

Kristian – Oh no, they loved it. The only people who didn’t like me were the Christian missionaries who said I was undoing all their hard work. Also, I read these books by Tobias Schneebaum- Where the Spirits Dwell and Keep the River on Your Right. He was an explorer in the Amazon and New Guinea way back, but reading his books really inspired me to go visit these people. That was a big inspiration when I was young.

Ari – Were you able to participate in any cultural practices during these travels?

Kristian – If I showed up at the right time I did. I didn’t really plan the trips around any festivals or to be there for certain events. I would just buy my plane ticket and figure it out as I went. I’m not a traveler where everything has to be completely planned out. Some people have to figure out every minute of their trips but I’ve never been a person like that. By accident sometimes I would be in places while festivals took place but I wasn’t trying for it. I’ve done Ayahuasca in the Amazon, and San Pedro in Peru, and Bolivia. More to get reconnected and grounded than for just a good time. It’s pretty trendy now to go to the Amazon to do Ayahuasca. I mostly just wanted to see stuff – I would pick a place or people I wanted to check out and made it happen, simple as that.

Ari – When you were first getting pierced was that also based on your National Geographic interest? Or was it later with the Modern Primitives movement?

Kristian – No, I was already getting stuff way before Modern Primitives. By the time that magazine came out, I already had stretched ears and labret and a big septum. I used to work at Gauntlet many many years ago with Elayne, Jim, and Drew. I worked with Fakir. I was living in San Francisco for a bit, and I’ve always worked with animals at pet stores or aquariums. Blake found out I was living up there and he was doing piercing out of a room in an apartment. He was trying to promote himself and get business. I was like you need a store! Do a piercing shop. Do it right. I told him I would rather do a piercing shop from a cultural ethic perspective than an S&M Gauntlet perspective. That was what we did.

Ari – Did you two know each other at all prior to this? You both are such stand out characters for the time period.

Kristian – Well stretched ears at this point in time were really uncommon. He just sought me out, started chatting me up. He was no longer working at Body Manipulations which is why he was working out of his apartment. I was working at a pet store in the Castro at the time. He was trying to figure out how to get more business and I basically explained that it doesn’t come across as too professional to be working from your home and that he would do much better with an actual store.

Ari – Were you already piercing when you got hired at Gauntlet?

Kristian – I was just piercing on my own, just for friends and stuff. Gauntlet was the first proper piercing studio I worked at. I was working on myself. We grew up in the late 70s early 80s punk rock what-have-you. I was making my own stretched jewelry – I used wood dowels. Nomad was the first shop to carry wood ear plugs. We were the first to do larger gauge piercings too. At Gauntlet we could only do small gauge piercings, at least in the beginning.

Ari – Did you butt heads at all during your time at Gauntlet for wanting to be more expressive or pierce a certain way when they had these set parameters?

Kristian – Well Gauntlet was basically the only place to work. They used forceps for everything while we were just piercing freehand. They looked down on that. Gauntlet would put out videos and teach people the right and wrong way. Since we were mostly doing them all freehand it raised a bunch of eyebrows for sure.

Ari – Did you and Fakir get on pretty well once you made it up to San Francisco?

Kristian – Yeah, Fakir was super nice, no issues there. I mean truth be told I don’t think he was a very good piercer. It was funny, he had this piercing school and he’d want to do a demonstration and after he left they’d be like, “ok we gotta fix this!”

Ari – But did it feel a bit more kindred to be around a person not pushing the fetish standpoint?

Kristian – Definitely, I mean he had his own way of doing stuff, his own style. I worked at Gauntlet but was never trained by Jim so I never really saw it as the way I had to do it. Shops used to talk a lot of shit on us for piercing freehand or doing large gauge piercing – for example, the whole 4g needle and stretch for initial earlobes.

Ari – Was that something you had experimented with by yourself or did that come into play once you met up with Blake?

Kristian – I mean traditionally we just sold jewelry like plugs that slowly increased in size and we had tapers – we had tapers made. But then we were like we could just pierce it, stretch it, and that was how we started doing stuff if that’s the way people wanted us to do it. Blake and I just kinda figured it out.

Ari – Did you have much of a relationship with the other San Francisco piercers at the time?

Kristian – We knew who each other were but we didn’t really hang out of anything. We were friendly though, no ill will or negativity. When the APP started the first meeting was in our shop. That facilitated everyone getting to know each other better.

Ari – I’m just curious because now both you and Blake have said similar things in the sense that there was no bad blood or anything, but also that people talked a lot of shit when you two were doing the large gauge initial work and freehand style. I just wonder if anything changed when the two of you started breaking the mold, so to speak.

Kristian – I know they talked shit because in a sense Gauntlet’s way was the only way so anything different will have people talking – whenever you do anything different people freak out, right? Just doing a piercing shop from a cultural ethnic aspect was a huge deal back then. Body Manipulations was more punk rock body modification feel, Gauntlet was more fetish-y, a lot of those clients were fetish gay guys into leather and S&M.

Ari – Were you also doing any of the performance stuff around San Francisco?

Kristian – No. Sometimes I would help throw hooks but it was never really my scene.

Ari – Were you still traveling a lot at this time, or were you tied up most of the time at Nomad?

Kristian – No, I mean that was mostly Blake. Blake controlled everything including the books. He gave me like $20 a day to live on from working and for years that was the way it was. He paid my rent and gave me $20 a day. A lot of people got upset by that but it was what it was. Blake met Maria and decided to move to New York. I lived on a sailboat in San Francisco for several years, I just kinda wanted to sail around at that point. He decided he was going to sell the shop. The person he sold it to was taking a lot of LSD and abandoned the shop. I was just working on the weekends in Santa Rosa at this place called Monkey Wrench with a guy named Eric. When we found out the guy abandoned the shop we went back in and restarted it. You probably better know Eric as Norm. He just passed away but he was a well-known tattooer. It was him and I restarting the shop, we were in there getting things going again. Originally he was just a Nomad customer who invited me to come work at the tattoo shop he was at. Back then it was still frowned upon to do piercing at a tattoo shop. He was a young kid, he wanted help, and I was trying to help him out and teach him some stuff. There was a lot of drama around the shop. I met a guy named David at Harbin Hot Springs. He didn’t have a job at the time, so he came to check us out and we gave him a job at the counter. This would be David of Braindrops. At this time basically I helped two women have kids and one of them came after me for child support. David said I should put the business in his name so it won’t affect the business and when all that was done with he wouldn’t give me the shop back or put it back in my name. This was Nomad before it became Braindrops. Eric and I just went and opened the shop in a different location while he was gone at Burning Man. David restarted it all as Braindrops. Eric was unfortunately really getting into heroin – I didn’t know at first, I thought he just smoked a lot of pot. It got really bad so I just left, I didn’t want to find him dead on the couch or something, that’s when I checked out. He actually got better and moved the shop again south of Market adjacent to Grime’s tattoo shop. That’s when he got Grime to give him an apprenticeship for tattooing, and also when he discovered graffiti art. He sold the shop and took off with his tattoo career.

Ari – What happened next for you?

Kristian – I was in LA for a little bit, I worked at Puncture – fuck, I worked at so many shops. I’m losing track now. Eventually, I worked at a tattoo shop in San Diego at the counter, taking appointments for people. I had worked for Didier at his shop down there too. I’ve been out of the scene for a while, I’ve forgotten so much – when I move to a new city I leave the stuff behind.

Ari – Was it tough being so culturally-oriented in a field where that wasn’t the prevailing mindset?

Kristian – No, I mean ethnic jewelry got so popular. We were the first to have ear plugs, we had several people making custom ear plugs, more people started to stretch their ears, and that put the foot in the door. Eventually other shops all started carrying it and different jewelry seemed to follow. I was just me doing my thing, working as a piercer. Blake was really into “who’s who” and the politics of it – I just can’t be bothered with that shit. I had no interest in it. I went to the first and second APP they had in San Francisco and after that decided I wasn’t into going back. Blake was the business person; I just wanted to travel and pierce. But piercing wasn’t my main focus in life. It was a job for me but still, I enjoyed it and looking the way I did it allowed me to have a job. My goal wasn’t to create an empire of piercing shops and become rich though.

Ari – You got rid of your big lobes sort of early on – what was the catalyst for that?

Kristian – One was super thin. Back then you didn’t know you should pierce higher on the lobe before stretching. I had my ears pierced back in high school, which was pretty outrageous for a guy to have his ears pierced back then. One got really thin so I cut them off myself. I didn’t have money to have them surgically fixed. That was pretty crazy. When I cut them off they started spraying blood out from the front of my head so I used direct pressure from gauze to get them to stop. Then I couldn’t get the gauze off, I tried soaking them, everything, but the gauze wouldn’t come off. So I had to rip them off and they started spraying blood again. I remember back in the day I cut this guy’s lip in LA, put a big plate in his lip – that was pretty unheard of. I cut a lot of earlobes and whatnot.

Ari – Do you still have any ties to the piercing world?

Kristian – Anna Paula and Russo are my best friends. Other than my Facebook friends I don’t really have any other contact though – Paul King is one of my partner’s best friends, but other than those few not really. One time Anna was short on help at APP and I’ve lent a hand but that’s been about the only things I’ve done over the years. I mean I like people but in small doses. I’d rather be working in the yard or with my animals. It’s a lot less stressful.

The content of oral history interviews is personal, experiential, and interpretive because, by its nature, it relies on the memories, perceptions, and opinions of individuals. While all reasonable attempts are made to avoid inaccuracy, the interviews are presented in good faith to be accurate and should not be understood as statements of fact or opinion endorsed by Ari Pimsler, Shawn Porter, or Sacred Debris. We welcome opposing viewpoints from individuals with first-hand knowledge of the people, places, and situations contained herein as well as corrections on spelling, timelines, or names. Email attn Shawn.

Ari has been a professional jerk since 1987, a professional piercer since 2003, and currently works at High Priestess Piercing.


  1. WOW! Out of the blue today, 4/20/20, on a whim, I typed “Kristian White” into Google, as I’ve done several times over the years, hoping for an update on this wonderful, fascinating person.
    And to find a brand new article, published TODAY, 4/20/20, is pretty mindblowing.
    I moved to San Francisco in 1997 and used to go to the Nomad shop on Hayes St; it was an amazing place. Packed with plants, humid, as ‘organic’ as it gets, it was light years away from the aesthetic, artsy sterility of Gauntlet. I have always been an admirer of Kristian and Ron Athey’s Maori-inspired “mokos”, even wanting one myself 20 years ago. I LOVE Kristian’s “new” tattoos, so beautiful and complementary. Thanks so much for this interview, it was an absolute pleasure to learn more of Kristian’s backstory, and I’m so happy that he seems to not only surviving, but thriving. <3

  2. A wonderful interview from the other half of the original Nomad, though I’d add this minor historic footnote: while it’s true we lived on 20 bucks a day and a big burrito from The Mission, it was necessary for Nomad’s survival. Kristian should remember his ex-boyfriend who I had to pay 2,000 a month for two years; it was a major expense (I still have the paperwork) for a brand new studio to incur, and while the reason for this massive payoff is of a person nature, it very nearly broke us. Kristian will also remember the Flicka sailboat Nomad got him: it cost 25,000. My penny-pinching and management early on kept us afloat and able to do these things for him, but ultimately led us to go our different ways after three years. Kristian was an excellent piercer, but he was not a “cheap date”. That said, we were the perfect team to revolutionize the entire piercing industry during our time together. The fact that we both shared the tribal vision, both wanted the same obscure sailboat, and are both “goat farmers” in Oregon almost 30 years later: most curious🐏🤔

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