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.
Ari – Do you remember what year that first suspension was?
Sean – I went off to college in 1993 in the spring so it had to have been winter of 1992, I would guess. Allen brought Fakir to town a couple of times and we did ball dances, which I still absolutely love, and Kavadi shows. In some ways I prefer Kavadi to suspension. I stopped using spears as much and started using more hooks with heavy chain, and man it’s just great, I love it. I went off to college, to film school in Santa Barbara, and I’d come back and forth. I started piercing in Santa Barbara because over in that area there wasn’t anyone piercing who was worth a darn. There was one guy who was kind of ok but he was doing it out of his house in his free time here and there, so no shop to go to that was clean, sober, and close to a standard. That was October 1993 I started piercing. After I opened the studio I went up to the Fakir school, which was great. Through those years I was on the phone with Allen all the time, with Brian Skellie, with Vaughn at Body Manipulations. I’d go up to San Francisco a lot to see friends, especially from 1993-1997 I spent a lot of time traveling up to that area. Blake or Kristian, I can’t remember who, pierced my lobes with a 4g needle and 2g jewelry, it was awesome. Vaughn did a punch, a 2g punch for my conch, that was fun. From the film aspect, early in 1995 I was like alright, we’re gonna do the suspension again, we got this. We’d messed around and done some stuff, so in the spring of 1995 Allen was like you’ve got to come down and shoot this. I was all for it. I went to my school and said, “hey, I want to do this for my project.” They said you can’t propose your final project yet but you can take all the equipment and do what you want to do, but just know we may not approve your project. I grabbed all the equipment I could, ran into a friend of mine in L.A. who knew a guy that was a producer, John Grant, who gave me a case of 16mm film, and drove to Dallas with 2 friends. I also got a DOP named Dean Lent, he was a real director of photography in LA doing that for a living; he did this as a favor to my producer. In Dallas I ran into a couple of guys for the actual shoot to help work the dolly and dolly grip and stuff. We ran around and shot Allen doing his day to day stuff and shot the suspension, and I went back to school and the next semester I was able to go, “here’s my proposal!” They approved it, and I kept editing!
That was The Marionette. About fifteen minutes long, shot on 16mm film. In Santa Barbara there was a record label here at the time, kind of a goth record label called Tess Records, Trance to the Sun was on them. I talked with Trance and they did a whole soundtrack for me; I gave them a rough cut on VHS and they took it home and we’d come back to it. It was a really cool experience because instead of giving them a finished product and saying write it, he was able to put together pieces he felt would build, especially during the suspension part because that was more of a music video anyway, not a whole lot of overtalking during that. I told him you build what you want to build and we can edit that part to you, it was a really cool way to work on that. Most of the time it doesn’t work out like that. That was my senior project for school, spent $10,000, and one day maybe I’ll make $1000. Around that same timeframe the state of California was trying to register body piercing under beauticians. We wanted none of that, so the Gauntlet people and Fakir people – oh my god, we had to go talk to each other, and become friends – at least not enemies! That was a big rift at the time, people may try to deny it but there was a lot of pride on both sides back then. I went up to San Fransisco, like twelve or thirteen of us from all over the state, met up at a house and started saying hey, we need to band together. Erik Dakota, Vaughn, Cross, everyone – I mean there weren’t that many of us who gave a shit at that time. Over the next couple months we met at different places, like down in Los Angeles. Allen and myself and two Gauntlet ladies, Michaela (Grey) and someone else who’s name I don’t remember, sat in a hotel room across the street from The Gauntlet and wrote what became the entrance exam or questionnaire for the APP for the next five-to-seven years, until whenever they changed it. Debates over how many pairs of gloves minimum to do a piercing – I wanted two, as a minimum, one to clean and prep, one to do the piercing with. Michaela and the other lady were adamant that no, we just want people to wear gloves, just one is good enough for now. Conversations like that – how high do we want to set the bar and what is the reality of some of the stuff that we’re facing. They were much more from the gay pleasure piercing scene, they lived in that world much more then I did, so to them just wearing gloves at all was a good thing. It was an interesting time. Throughout that time I started doing suspensions as well. My first one was Halloween 1995 in Austin at a show for an industrial band. I was up on stage wearing just a piece of fabric held up by a belt – I wore that a lot apparently! The hooks were in my legs, back, and arms to do a superman. There was a butchered pig hanging out on stage and I had a Katana and went to town, destroyed the hell out of that thing, then I laid down and they got me up and there ya go. Fun times with TSD.
That was my first suspension, just a shit-ton of fun, continued to do shows here and there, more private suspensions in southern California. I was usually able to find my own space and tried to walk a line between preforming and the ritual, involving the audience. For me suspension was about conquering fears and it was fun, the endorphins and all of that, but for me it was more people just got to do what they wanted to do. They didn’t have to hang from hooks, I don’t care, hang from hooks or don’t hang from hooks – it’s just about going for it, and hopefully inspiring others to do whatever they want to do as well. I was in California for seven years, doing suspensions for five, 1995-2000. Around 1999 I did the FX industry official Halloween party put on by Steve Johnson, he’s the guy behind Ghostbusters, and it was his year to host. We met up with this guy Christian Ristow, who’s an amazing robotics artist. He made this monstrous cross, a huge hydraulic cross, so we hooked up to that suicide and the from the base it raised up into the air – it was awesome to have a budget like that! Did shows all around LA, worked in the film industry on and off during that time, feast and famine, and I got tired of the famine eventually. Went back to computers full time as a job, got a paycheck every week, had a bad break up, and I ended up through work moving to New Jersey. Did some shows in small clubs in NY. Somewhere around then Chris Angel had reached out Allen because he’d seen the suspension stuff and really liked the photography and lighting we’d done for the Marionette, and he was interested in doing something like that. In Dallas, this must have been right before 9/11 because I’d moved back to Dallas temporarily, Chris Angel flew out and we hung him out and did some photo stuff with him. Six months later in NY he wanted to hang in the WWE building in Times Square. We flew out there, strung him up, and he hung for hours in the window – it was a prelude to a show he was doing later, a good publicity stunt for him and fun for us. Oh shit, I totally forgot, in 2000 1, I held a suspension convention in New York, Brooklyn.
That’s where I met Emrys (Yetz) for the first time. God, he was a baby, he was maybe 18 and angry – people think he’s angry now, but he’s so calm! Back then he was a ball of energy. This was in the winter time, it was fun, people were walking around the snow with hooks. I went from Jersey to Dallas to take care of some family stuff, then moved back to Jersey right after 9/11. I was going to work for Chris Angel but because of 9/11 the shows got all screwed up, so it didn’t really work out. I moved to Atlanta to start a business with my friend. I worked with Brian Skellie at his shop there, he did everything freehand, it was rad. The Statim God. It was really fun. That’s when I bought kavadi.org and put up How To Make A Kavadi at Home Depot, kept that site for a couple years and then let it go. The business I was going to open with my friend didn’t really work out, and piercing was fine but it doesn’t pay the student loans, so I moved back to Texas and worked in IT. I got married, had a kid, all those things, drifted away from the scene. I’ve been to a few Suscons over the years and helped Allen out with setting up and lighting and whatnot, but then I bought a boat and left Texas. We made it as far as Florida – too much motion for the wife. She liked the traveling and meeting people, but confined spaced and sea sickness aren’t super fun, so I looked around and applied for a job in Tampa. I started a nine month contract, they offered me a full time job after three months, after seven they offered management, and I said yes. Gen (Vincent) is out here so every now and then I’ll do some work with her. I’ve got a thirteen year old daughter who plays soccer and does her homework – my focus now tends to be with my family. I’ll come out of the woodworks every now and then and go to a show.
Ari – That’s a fucking insane resume.
Sean – Erik Dakota actually asked me to take over running the Fakir school after I graduated college and was trying to move to Los Angeles. I was like do I focus on my career or do I go do that? It was a tough decision, but eventually Tod (Almighty) took it over so it worked out great. Tod had moved out from Dallas to work for me in Santa Barbara because I was going to school full time and trying to run a shop. It was a lot of work so Tod came out to California and he never left.
Ari – When you started your shop in Santa Barbara, was it Obscurities immediately or did you work that out later on?
Sean – When I first opened the shop it was just Body Piercing by Sean, and then after a while I was like, “hey Allen, can I be Obscurities too?” Santa Barbara was busy; I’m sure if I spent more energy on the shop I could’ve gotten it busier but I was going to school so it was a tough balance. But we were friends so I figured if I jumped in on the name it would help me out with a better discount from Barry, promote Allen’s stuff, yay! It’s fun to say, “we have three locations!”, two in Texas and one here – oh shit and one in Atlanta briefly too! It was a franchise deal, sort of.
Ari – Were you into piercing and tattoo and ritual before you met Allen?
Sean – Before I met Allen I was going to a sweat lodge at least once a month, it was an hour outside of town, with a bunch of guys. We formed a sort of, I dunno – it was part of that late 80s men’s movement, this men’s primal movement geared towards adults, not 18-20 year olds. A friend of mine just found a paper I wrote about the sweat lodge in junior college at University of North Texas, before I went out to California. I was nineteen when I got my first tattoo and that was before I met Allen. The very first tattoo I got, I mean almost everything I have is Celtic, so it was a tiny round Celtic piece that I got in Dublin. I grew up racing bicycles. I blew up my lungs training in the winter, but the summer I turned nineteen I spent a couple months in Dublin racing bikes. If I’d still had any lung capacity it would’ve been great! I just never recovered, never got proper treatment for it. I grew up racing with Lance Armstrong, I’m only a few months older than him, we grew up on the same team, known him since I was sixteen. He was an asshole then, he’s an asshole now. Cycling in Texas in the 80s was some of the best in the country for sure. The stuff we were doing at Sadistic Sundays was a bit ritualistic, it wasn’t just whips and chains. We were doing play needle stuff. There was another piercer in Dallas that Allen had been friends with, they hooked back up when Allen came back to town, Stace Maples. When I moved back to town Stace introduced Allen us by saying, “That’s Sean, he’s an asshole”, and Allen came right up to me and was like, “Hey, I’m Allen, I hear you’re an asshole!” and we became best friends right then and there. It was meant to be.
Ari – Was Sadistic Sundays just a Fetish event?
Sean – Yeah, it was a Fetish event every sunday at the Video Bar. When I describe it it doesn’t sound unique, but they had two huge projectors, tvs all over the place, and they played music videos. This was in 1989 so it was totally unheard of – I mean today everyones got them, but back then TVs were really expensive! How did you even get videos? They had 1/2” decks and 3/4” decks and Beta and reel to reel video, a really cool little place.
Ari – Would it be fair to say you apprenticed under Allen?
Sean – I never officially apprenticed under Allen, but was I the shop rat for a long time? Sure. I was in pre-med high school for a year and a half in Dallas, so I had done a bunch of studies including blood draws, fingerprint analysis, etc. I wanted to be a doctor but when they asked me to do some program at fourteen I said no, I just want to be a fourteen year old and study this leisurely, I don’t want to be an adult right now. I left that school and went to another one where they let me ride my bicycle. When I was thirteen I would spend a couple hours every week with my pediatrician, in his office, and if the patients allowed it he’d let me come in while he was working, so I’d always been interested in medicine and health and healthcare. I didn’t have a degree or anything but a small foundation to build on, so when I got into piercing I knew it was serious in a lot of ways. Serious emotionally in that someones allowing you to do something very private and personal. I wanted to make sure it was clean and professional because there was so little of that. I bought sterile gloves in 1993 because if the needle has to be sterile and the jewelry has to be sterile, why am I picking it up with something that isn’t sterile? That defeats the purpose. We all agree the first two things have to be sterile. If you ever see rubber gloves being made they’re not clean – they’re made to protect the wearer, not the person being touched by them. It’s your PPE, not to protect other people. Sterile gloves are made to protect both parties.
Ari – Coming from a non-traditional route, what point did it transition from hanging around the shop to actually piercing people?
Sean – It was nervewracking of course. I kept going around and people kept asking me to pierce them, and I’d turn them down and say no, and finally I caved. There wasn’t much choice. There was a tattoo shop in town at the time and the owner was sober and had his shit together. I needed to work part time; I had to pay rent and buy food while I was going to school. I figured if I can set my hours and poke people within those hours I can probably make this work! I had seven clients my first day – my first piercing was a frenum in that shop. I stayed up with play needles most of the night before just practicing, just to tell myself I got this! That client actually became a great friend. Three years ago I flew out to San Francisco to celebrate his fourtieth birthday and we mountain biked for three days. This was Piercing by Sean, inside of Wildside Tattoo at Mission and State in Santa Barbara.
Ari – How long was this going on before Tod came out?
Sean – Probably close to a year, maybe a year and a half. Tod came out when we were still in that location. At this time, I went from a tiny corner of the shop to taking over almost half the shop at this point, and the owner got mad because the phone rang more for me than for him. He was paying the phone bill. I told him I would take over the phone line as well as pay for the yellow pages ad – I’d take all those expenses and pay for a new line to get put in. We’ll have both numbers on the answer machine, etc, and we’ll still pass you the phone. He was cool with that. Right after that he started spiraling downhill though – he started smoking pot, which is fine, I don’t care, but I knew this was a guy who wouldn’t stop there. He had done harder drugs previously, and I knew he was heading back there, so I made preparations. I found a space down further on State, away from the bar section but still in that downtown-ish area, more by the movie theatre. I went down there, built another shop under the cloak of darkness, and I moved and took my stuff. One of the tattooists decided he’d rather work for me than for the owner, so he came too. The phone number came with me too which was really nice, but that wasn’t my original plan. I felt bad for the guy but I couldn’t risk everything I was building, and also Tod, who I now had the responsibility for since he’d flown out and moved here. I just couldn’t risk it. After a little while Jason Hill from Dallas, he’d been running the other Obscurities, he came out and I finished up school and sold him the shop and moved to Los Angeles. I pierced part time with Cross at Primeval Body, I worked with her for a while and then worked for Brian Raymond at Punctured right next to Ronnie Zulu. Tod came down there after a while and pierced there too before he went to the Bay Area. Originally the studio was an hour away in Upton, and then his second location was right in LA with Zulu next door, Zulu Tattoo. Every now and then a friend who worked at Purple Panther would call me up and say “Hey, come do this piercing, I don’t want to do it.”
Ari – With such an extensive piercing scene in California – early on, what was that dissemination of information like between everyone?
Sean – I would mostly talk with Allen – but in California there were factions. There were Fakir people, Gauntlet people, and all the other people. We both looked down at everyone in the third category, and then Fakir and Gauntlet had respect for each other but differences in opinions for areas, a lot of agree to disagree. It was a whole lot of Fakir fucked Jim over, Jim fucked Fakir over, my daddy is bigger then your daddy, my daddy is gonna beat up your daddy. At that time each faction thought they were better then the other. Before we formed the APP and had to start talking there was a lot of that.
Ari – The APP forming sounds like it really bridged the gap.
Sean – Absolutely. I mean it didn’t happen overnight, but there was a lot of ok, look, we may disagree on stuff but we all agree we want to have jobs, we want piercings done cleanly in general terms. We may vary off on the specifics but at least lets get the broad terms down – that way if the state tries to come down and regulate us it at least benefits us and piercing, and doesn’t destroy it. We had no choice. Vaughn I guess would be a unique person, him and Blake and Kristian were outside the fray of Fakir and Gauntlet folks but not judged as harshly. I was in the Fakir camp – I mean I would defend Erik Dakota to the death against any Gauntlet motherfucker. It’s not like we were fighting, but there was heresy and rumors and gossipy bullshit. Piercers are Type A prissy motherfuckers. It has not changed. Don’t beat up on my brother ya know? We were very much clanned.
Ari – Who around you at this time was blowing your mind with shit at this time, just above and beyond advanced?
Sean – Dakota, hands down. Best fuckin piercer I’ve ever met. Allen should’ve started the jewelry company and Erik should’ve started Obscurities. The world has been done an injustice by that. Allen is a brilliant businessman, and a damn fine piercer, I don’t mean anything by that. Erik though, on that hippie shit, is so in tune with people – he made people so comfortable and so relaxed instantly. His presence is so calming and he was a master with a needle. Phenomenal. Every now and then we hear of one another still being alive and say hey! He’s always been a recluse though, always been a shy quiet individual. He’s not a dominant Type A personality. He didn’t like being around all that crap and I don’t blame him. When I was still in Dallas, one of the two trips we bought Fakir out Erik came with him. I had my hafada, septum, and nipple all done simultaneously by Fakir, Allen, and Erik. One, two, three bam! People watching said I lifted right off that table, just raised right up off it. I was very very lucky to be where I was when I was, with the people I was with. When Erik and Fakir had their split, Erik asked me to take over the school but I just didn’t know what my schedule was going to be as far as driving up once a quarter. I didn’t know what I was going to do next week let alone three months from now, and I didn’t want to commit to that and not be able to follow through. After that I didn’t talk to Fakir again until he came to the Dallas Suscon a few years back. Too much tension in that situation; I didn’t like it, and I took Erik’s side in that situation.
Ari – When you were filming The Marionette how many days did the shoot go on for?
Sean – Allen called me up and said, “lets do this!” I said, “sounds fucking great!” I went down to Los Angeles to drop some film off, because in school we shot on film and not video. I drove down to Los Angeles to process the film and went over to a coffee shop my friend lived above, just a million miles a minute in my head. I started drawing on tiny pieces of paper the basic shot ideas. Quick storyboard stuff. I wrote out a list of twelve or fourteen questions. My intentions from the very beginning was not to make a horror show MTV style whatever, but a very 70s classic documentary, talking heads in action sort of thing. The subject matter was intense enough for people. If I wanted someone who wasn’t a piercer to watch it and gain some insight into how our minds are thinking, or at least Allen’s mind, I had to be very gentle. Storyboarded it all out, talked to the school, rented a van, got the equipment, drove to Texas, and sat in his apartment and rolled camera, rolled tape, started asking questions. The camera would run out of film but we’d keep going because the audio was more important. I didn’t want to lose stuff; the first time we ran out of film Dean went to cut and I told him next time let me know but let’s let him keep talking. I wanted it very natural. We shot all that, shot him running around in the park with the girl he was dating at the time and her kid, and then shot him piercing and the shop. A day in the life type stuff. We had this warehouse, got some HMIs, went in the warehouse, put one big center light above him, because I knew what I wanted. The shot thats on the cover of the DVD, that was the picture in my head when I was in that coffee shop. That was it – I knew I wanted one big pan over him, hard shadow, with a big spotlight that shadowed him – I wanted other stuff too, but that was my money shot. We went there, strung him up, shot the process, corks on all the needles! It became The Marionette because his idea for the suspension was a marionette. We had him in like a superman pose but each appendage went off to a person that was holding a bar, and his torso was being hoisted up, and so each person with a limb could play with him and do stuff, very kinetic for the time. Probably the most kinetic suspension at that time – well, no, because Stelarc had already done some shit, but since the 70s the most kinetic suspension! We canned up everything, went back to California, dropped off the film for dailies, had someone transcribe all the audio because we couldn’t do that. I sat down with a word processor and all my transcribed audio and cut and pasted. I would put time marks on it so I knew roughly where it was, so I could go back and search for it later. I really started editing in a word editor. All the stuff we had I started putting it together, then went back and listened, saw if there was a good enough pause where I needed it or not. The very first rough cut was in word. I was in school so I had edit days where we all worked on each others projects. I did a very loose cut to give it the shape and direction I wanted, handed it over to a friend of mine at school, who to this day is a professional editor in Los Angeles, and I let him go to town. I worked with Trance on the music and put it all together over many hours. The glove going on in the black – that’s actually my editors hand, because we really wanted that shot but didn’t have it! We shot in at speed so it was in slow motion, that was shot back in California in the studio in the school. All photography, video, whatever – it’s all a lie. It’s all a big lie. You’re showing a snapshot in time of a very specific location. You can’t see outside the frame, you don’t know what happened before or after, you don’t know what’s behind the camera. As truthful as you may want to be there’s always more to the story.
Ari – How did Allen react to the film?
Sean – He was quite pleased. I did an interview to do a second one years later, I had the audio for it but it just sat there. Money never materialized enough for it. You look at it now and it’s what we did in 1995. Are there things he wishes he didn’t say? Sure. But there’s always something you wish you could do differently. The way we ran the lines, the hooks, the corks on the hooks, all of that – I watch it today and parts of me cringe like on my god, what were we doing? We were figuring it out! Is now my time to plug The Marionette? It’s on sale on Ebay for $10. All of it. If you see it for more then that it’s not from me.
(you can purchase The Marionette via eBay: https://www.ebay.com/itm/The-Marionette/130508818763?hash=item1e62ee894b:m:mbijCRSOmGEroiSgt4f01qw)
Ari – You know what’s funny? Six people are watching it on Ebay as we speak. It’s $10 – who the fuck is unsure about this deal? What do they think is going to happen?
Sean – I made a thousand copies – sold twenty and gave thirty away. There’s plenty if anyones interested. We had brought up Stelarc earlier, let’s get back to that. Allen had discovered him, and by this time Stelarc had moved on from suspension and doing all kinds of crazy stuff – he’s always ahead of his time. Allen discovered the old suspension stuff and reached out to Stelarc and had an email conversation with him. Allen turned me onto Obsolete Body Suspensions. I went over to this little local book store (because we still had little local book stores at this time) and the girl who worked there said sure, I can look that up for you. I go back and she goes, “question – how many of these do you want?” I ask why, and she says “The original publisher lives in southern California, like thirty or forty miles away, and in his garage he has stacks of these books”. I said I’ll take every one he has! By the way, how many are there? I bought everything. We got boxes of them in and we’re drooling over them. Jason Hill had moved out by then. We open up another box and these are hard bound! We open another box up and go that looks autographed! I’d spent a couple grand on them, sold them off at cost to friends and family. I was selling them for $25, now they’re going for at least a few hundred bucks each for a soft copy. I got Stelarc’s email address from Allen and reached out to him. I told him I had all these books from you, thank you so much, and we corresponded on and off for a while. One of the issues he had was an issue I had, which was that people focus on the hooks. People are always like “Oh my god, there’s this big hook in your skin!”. They’re so focused on that they can’t stand back and see the whole thing. It makes it harder to see the art and beauty of it all. I went to Good Art and had them make me this double spiral, maybe two inches in diameter, and it came up and did a small spiral on top. The big spiral you could spin it through, and then there was no hook, it was just round in appearance. I loved those. I had them make me some more, but they were a pain in the ass to make so they went with a softer metal. That was not such a good thing; I didn’t realize they had done that at the time. We’re doing a show and I go up and all my hooks straighten. I didn’t fall out but came close so we just ended up doing a pull on stage.
Ari – You mentioned a suspension convention earlier, I really want to hear about that.
Sean – It was in New York, 2002. Probably still photos floating around BME. Because of IAM and BME we were able to do that convention. I don’t remember if it was before or after Modcon 2 or 3 – which was the one with the split penis on the t-shirt? Shawn 2 is better at the dates then I am. 3 I had moved to New York in October of 2000, so that winter we did it. We had a warehouse somewhere, three or four stations where we were hanging people up and going crazy. It wasn’t about education, it was just about giving people a chance to suspend. I initiated this, it was called Suscon NY. 4
Ari – Did you coin the term Suscon?
Sean – I don’t know, maybe Allen did. Details – I don’t know. Allen came out for the event though. We found a space, we all got out there, we shoved hooks in each other, let all these people hang – it was fun! It was a ton of people from BME, that was most definitely the scene. The crazy Canucks, the IWasCured group came out. After Gauntlet closed there was a short run for a company called Gotham, they had the rights to the G, I don’t know what else they bought from Gauntlet. I worked for them for a little bit, taught a couple schools for them, pierced in NY for them as well, this was like 2001-ish. I was in school for a bit in Canada and hung out with those IAM heads, they’re such good guys. This was before Clive’s one hook elbow suspension, because at that point I was living in Atlanta. I think he did that around 2003 5 ?
Ari – What were your feelings on pushing the limits of suspension around that time?
Sean – Shit, everything we did with suspension was pushing the limits. Everything we did was new and different. The spinning beam was just a happy accident. We went out and did Night of 1000 Scars in New York, and it was like a big carousel type thing. We were going to have people walk us around. Well it kind of weeble-wobbled, right? Someone hit the ground and then pushed off of it, kicked off, and we went on that was cool! And of course, one side went back up so the other side went down and they were like oh, this is cool! So they kick off and so on and so on. It was very organic, we didn’t even say anything, and the poor guys holding the ropes were like trying to control it until they realized we need to run! That was the very first spinning beam. It was supposed to be very mellow, but in true TSD fashion it did not remain so. Allen and I flew out to LA to do a rave, and Christian Ristow made this machine called The Subjugator. Most of his machines have three claws – it’s this small bobcat tractor that shoots out fifteen feet of flames, and has this twenty-something articulated arm with claws at the end. The day of the show Allen and Christian and I built this beam with a little space in the center for the claw to come through. We said ok, we need to do some testing. We’re crazy, but this is really crazy, so we should test this. Subjugator comes down and grabs the beam, we have a body bag hanging off one side and weights off the other, and the bar bends. We go oh shit, one bar is not enough! Luckily Christian lives in a metal shop, so we ripped it apart, welded two square beams together, tested it. The bar is good, we spin it around a few times. The eyebolts that we used weren’t solid, they were ones that curved around, and they straightened right out. These are big steel eyebolts – and we go huh, ok! We replaced them all with circular eyebolts, and didn’t have time to do another test because we were late for getting ready for the show! We had this big wheelbarrow thing with a bar in the center of it and we wheeled it out in the center in the middle of this rave. Allen and I climbed up and got hooked in and stepped off a box and hung out there, and all of a sudden the engine starts and this wall of empty boxes comes crashing down and this massive machine reaches down and picks us up and starts carrying us around. We were thrown around like rag dolls. That was a good time. We had done as much practice as we could. We took a calculated risk at that point. Certainly more risk then we were wanting to take because we wanted one more test, but all in all we felt good about it. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have done it. That fine line between crazy and stupid, we were walking more on the stupid side, but it worked out. Shortly after I moved to Los Angeles a friend of mine from college introduced me to Luis Fleischauer of Aesthetic Meat Front. He said, “you guys should talk!” Luis and I started hanging out, he introduced me to the band, and his leather work group as well. It was true industrial, not techno or dance, very ritualistic, totally up my alley. Every show we’d go through two cow heads, one or two cow livers, twenty sheep heads, three to five gallons of pigs blood. I totally understood it. It was this great opportunity to take hooks and noise and fuse them. It was a lot of sound instruments and created sound stuff. We’d put hooks in my back and connect them up to a spring and put a mic on the spring – I could be the instrument! Luis of course was like this is brilliant! He was already doing lots of needle play so it was a very natural progression for him, and we did that for a few years until he moved back to Germany, or until I moved away – actually, I think I moved away first. I did a show in San Francisco and this guy came up to us after the show, immediately after the show in the late 90s, he’s like, “I’m a hardcore vegan and I can’t believe I’m saying this but I need you to put blood on me.” To this day it’s one of the most profound moments of my life. We’re not asking him to not be a vegan – it was this passageway into this other energy that he saw and was scared of but had to go to, and watching people take that step is so fucking cool. He was nervous, you could see him fighting with himself over it. We did shows out in burning man, like 1998. There’s a famous picture that Gatewood took of Allen hanging off the back of a pick up truck driving around the plateau. Allen the whole time is yelling, “pick up your trash or this’ll happen to you!”
Ari – Is it nice to have stepped out of the industry and more watched from the sidelines, just coming in electively as opposed to being involved all the time?
Sean – I go back and forth on it. The connections I made as a piercer will live with me forever, and I miss that. Every now and then I get to go do a show, and thats fun for sure. Parts of me feel lost from time to time. The loss of ritual. My kingdom for a ball dance, ya know? I really miss the shows, I enjoy them and get off on them, etc. But a private event, or a ball dance, the energy pull we did in San Diego in the late 90s on the beach – that, I definitely miss. I don’t miss the day to day, and I don’t miss the drama. If I was in a position where I was wealthy and could just pierce for fun? Possibly. But the ritual, when it was no longer part of piercing, it had to go somewhere – so it went to the suspension community. But even that today is not the same as it was.
Ari – What do you think has changed about it?
Sean – More and more there are the hey come give me $150 and I’ll hang you type stuff, and more and more getting into an amusement ride, where in the beginning it was ,“look give me $100 because it costs $100 and I gotta throw all this shit away after”, no one was making money doing that. It was about giving someone, or allowing someone, to have an experience, and the act of facilitating that experience. That still happens, for sure, but the modern primitives movement of the 80s and 90s and early 2000s has changed and gone in a different direction, as life does. It’s just not the same. There’s still elements of it out there, but they’re few and far between. Half of the people seemed to go off and become monks or wanderers anyways, they’ve just been on a walkabout for the last fifteen years. I mean most of us never really thought things would last this way, like in 2000 we were worried we’d have to go get other jobs, then by 2005, etc etc. The fact that it’s so mainstream now, it’s pretty cool – I didn’t think I would be 46 and be surrounded by so many piercing shops. I’m sure there’s mediocrity and competition drives down prices and all the other aspects of business, but the fact that there’s still an industry at all is fucking awesome! Jesus, we were just a bunch of kids running around. If I didn’t have 50 grand in student loans maybe Id’ve been able to stick around longer, and I still love it, I’m never gonna turn my back on the industry.
This interview was edited for clarity and content. All photos courtesy of Séan McManus unless otherwise noted. For more information on the BSTA series, please click here.