2:24 - Annie talks about her journey to becoming a piercer
5:31 - Annie talks about her perspective on what it takes to become a piercing apprentice
8:40 - "I think my favorite aspect of piercing is being able to give someone that boost of self-confidence and being able to let them have control over their own body and just seeing the look on their face." - Annie
10:18 - Annie and Jessica discuss what is becoming a more common modification, tooth gems
14:11 - "Yes. It is good for people that have health problems....Where it wouldn't really be responsible for you to get piercing, like people that are in treatment for cancer, or serious autoimmune, or other things like that" - Annie
15:43 - Annie and Jessica discuss how the piercing world has changed over the past two decades
22:31 - Annie and Jessica talk about threadless Jewelry and how it's changed the piercing experience
23:58 - Annie gives advice for what she wished she knew when she started her career
30:38 - Annie and Jessica end the conversation with what Annie is looking forward most too when it is safe to resume work at her studio
“More I got stuff done, the more I liked it so I was like, I really want to learn how to pierce, you really need to teach me.” - Annie
Jessica: Hello friends, it's Jess from Avanti here with Annie.
Jessica: Hi, Annie. Annie is an amazing piercer with quite a lot of experience under her belt. I thought it would be amazing to hear about you, what brought you into this field and why you love what you do, but before we get to any of my questions, why don't you just tell me a little bit about yourself?
Annie: Okay, so my name is Annie Buechlein, and I live in Bloomington, Indiana. I started piercing---my apprenticeship was about '98 - '99. It's about when I started and I've been piercing on and off since then. I did take some time off when I had my kids. I have two boys: one, that's three and one that's 13 and then, as I was saying earlier, I have a husband that's a musician so I'm using his backdrop and video area for this interview, and I've just really been going crazy being quarantined, and I miss piercing so much, and I miss my clients, and I miss being able to touch people and so when I got asked to do this, I was so excited. I was like, Oh, please don't miss it. It's all about piercings, that sounds awesome so I'm really really thankful that you asked me.
Jessica: Yes, I'm excited to talk to you. My fiance is also a musician and I think he's tired of hearing me go, I really want to---like I miss piercing and I miss talking about jewelry and do you think this is a 5/16" or if I got this pierced, do you think it would be a 3/8". He's like, I don't know what you're talking about.
Annie: I understand.
Jessica: But when he talks about music stuff and I'm like, I don't know what you're saying.
Annie: Right, right. Yeah.
Jessica: So what is it about piercing? Is it what you always wanted to do or do you stumble upon it like what got you into it?
Annie talks about her journey to becoming a piercer
Annie: I wanted to do a lot of things throughout the years. I started piercing really early, you know, I was about 18-ish when I started my apprenticeship 19, about 19-20 when I started piercing, so as soon as I got my first piercing when I was 16, I got my belly button pierced, and I was really into it at that point in time. I had seen the Aerosmith video, and I tried to pierce my own belly button with Stacy Pen and an earring, a piercing stud, the Lockback and I had tried to pierce my friend's eyebrow in her living room and her mom walked in on us and so I had guess, I had just naturally wanted to do it. And then when I turned 18, and I actually got a piercing, which my first piercing was my labret piercing. I know it's labret but I can't make myself say labret because I've said "lab-ray", like in a pretty french way. For so many years. I just can't---I know it's not correct, but I'm from the Midwest and we're rednecks and we kind of say stuff wrong around here. So-
Photos by @annietheimpaler
Jessica: You're good.
Annie: Don't judge me.
Jessica: I also call it a "lab-ray," so you're like labret and like, oh, that's what it's called.
Annie: I just can't make myself say it because that doesn't sound right to me. But, so when I got that piercing, I was 18. It was really cool experience and I really was intrigued by it and then the more I got stuff done, the more I liked it. So I got a tattoo when I was 18, and then I just kind of started hanging around that shop and pretty much never left. I just kept coming back and I was like, no, I really want to learn how to pierce, you really need to teach me and they were like, no, go home and I was like, no, you really need to teach me and they were like, no go home and you know, of course, there's a million people always coming in, oh, I want to be a piercer or be a tattoo artist because it's a cool job. Everybody wants to do it so, you know, they just kind of blew me off and I was like, I'm gonna just keep coming back until you get so annoyed with me that you let me because I won't stop. And so I just kept coming and people would recognize me in there so they would just start asking me questions and sometimes people would be busy and have gloves on so I just pick up the phone and answer the phone and finally the owner was like, I guess you can hang-out and you answer the phones and I'm like, dude, I've been answering your phones but okay. And so it just kind of went from there, they finally just let me have my way.
Jessica: That's awesome. Yeah, I mean, that's probably the best way to go about starting. A lot of studios can be kind of stubborn when it comes to trading to kind of like if you really want to do it, sometimes you do have to fight for it a little bit.
Annie: Yes, and that's what I've always told people when they asked me about apprenticing them is that I have a ton of people asked me, I have friends and family asked me, I have strangers asked me, people ask me all the time, so why are you more qualified than all these other people that have asked me? So if you---if it's something you really want to do, you need to make an impression as to why you're serious and why you really want to do it not just because like, Oh, you think it's cool or you heard they make a lot of money, you know, you need to have a better reason than that for someone to choose you.
Jessica: Yeah, no, it's true like, piercing is as fun as it is and as exciting as it is. It's very much a spiritual practice as well.
Jessica: Like those who hold the needle, hold grave responsibility, you know, like, it's-
Annie: It's not something just anybody can do. It's something most people can't do.
Jessica: Yeah, exactly and even if you think you can do it, you know, like, I'm not a piercer, I just manage the studio that we're at but I've considered you know, wanting, asking our piercer like, hey, would you train me? But it's something that before I make the decision to be serious about it, you know, there's a lot of things to think about like, if you hold the needle to someone's skin, can you actually go through and pierce through the whole procedure?
Jessica: Like that's something to really think about. Because I think a lot of people think, Oh, well you just pierce and put some jewelry in. Well, there's blood, there's bodily fluids, there's sterilization processes, there's, what are you going to do [inaudible 07:17] Pardon me?
Annie: There's a ton of factors.
Jessica: Yeah, there's a ton of factors and I think that a lot of people don't really consider all of them.
Jessica: But when you do and it is right, you know, I see the piercer smile and I like, you know, when I interview anyone who comes into the shop, I'm always asking them like, Okay, why do you do what you do? Why do you love it? You know, and that's what I'm looking for, you know, I want to know, if you truly love it, because if you truly love it, then it's going to be an amazing experience for anyone who walks through my studio's doors.
Jessica: That's so cool. I love that you just told the manager like, no, I'm wanna work here whether you pay me or not.
Annie: I mean, it was a different time. I don't---I think if people do that now, they might put a restraining order on you or like, call somebody to have you removed if you were just basically like doing a sit-in like, no, I'll see you tomorrow and yes, I will work here but it was a biker shop and it works for them, they were like, oh, okay, yeah, you could work here.
Jessica: That's awesome. So what is your absolutely favorite aspect of piercing?
"I think my favorite aspect of piercing is being able to give someone that boost of self-confidence and being able to let them have control over their own body and just seeing the look on their face." - Annie
Annie: I think my favorite aspect of piercing is being able to give someone that boost of self-confidence and being able to let them have control over their own body and just seeing the look on their face. When we're done with the piercing and I'm like, are you ready, and I grabbed my mirror and I hold the mirror up to them and they just light up and I love that feeling and I love being able to do that for them. Especially people that have body image issues, you know, I've done a lot of like nipple piercings or navel piercings on bigger ladies who really felt self-conscious about themselves and then once they did that, they just felt so beautiful and it gave them such a boost of confidence and it's just such a great feeling to be able to help somebody see how beautiful they are.
Jessica: Yeah, speaking to someone who got my navel. I got my navel pierced because I had a lot of body image issues growing up and like different eating issues and things like that just to fall in love with my own body, but it didn't really matter, how skinny I got, or how curvy I got like I still didn't like, then I got the piercing and I was like okay, now I like my belly like now, I don't care you know, I can wear swimsuit or crop tops because I'm no longer looking at my problem areas. I'm looking at that sparkly something that now I like.
Annie and Jessica discuss what is becoming a more common modification, tooth gems
Annie: Definitely. I feel that way about my tooth gems. I also do tooth gems which are so awesome. I love them and I've done a whole bunch on myself and I really did not like my teeth. I had retainers and things growing up and then I didn't really follow through with wearing them as a teenager and so all my teeth went back and they're very, very crooked and I had a gap on the bottom and you know, my mom spent a lot of money on the dentist for no reason - cause I have to check up teeth, sorry, mom. And so I glued a bunch of gold stuff on my teeth and some opals and some Swarovski Crystals and now I love them and I just do big toothy smiles all the time and you know, like stand outside in the sun so like [inaudible 11:08], and it just made me feel so much better so I know a lot of people hate their teeth, so I love being able to help people do something to their teeth.
Jessica: That is so cool. I was actually just talking to my best friend the other day about teeth gems specifically and like how cool they are and-
Annie: They're great!
Jessica: They're so cool. It's so unique. What does that process look like? Because I'm assuming more of a pain-free way to go about modifying your body.
Annie: Yes. So, there's no pain involved, here's nothing to heal, you don't have that, you get something pierced, and then it hurts, and it's crusty, and you got to clean it, and it swells. You gotta have the long jewelry, then you gotta get the [inaudible 11:56] the whole process before it looks really really great, and the tooth gem just goes on, and then it looks great. Right then, you don't have to do anything. So there's a chemical that you put on first that kind of etches the tooth a little bit and just this kind of the same as acrylic nails with like a primer to rough the nail before you would apply the nail. It's very similar kind of process, and it's the same that they use for braces. So there's a several step adhesive process and then you cure it on with a light.
Annie: So the light gets really warm, but there's not anything that's painful at all. And then it just really just takes a few minutes. It's really fast and then there are tons of things you can choose from, I carry solid gold pieces in a lot of different shapes. I have a ghost and spiderweb, I have different colors of synthetic opals in every color of the rainbow, Swarovski Crystals, so you can just pick out whatever you want and then the other cool thing is that it's temporary and it doesn't do any damage so eventually it just pops off and then you can just change your mind to do different ones.
Jessica: That is so cool.
Annie: Yeah, it's great.
Jessica: I'm so excited. I definitely probably going to follow in your footsteps and get some teeth gems.
Annie: Oh do it. I recommend them to everyone.
Jessica: That is so cool. There's such an up and coming like fashion-forward kind of movement and the more I learned about it, I'm like, that is so cool.
Annie: Yeah, well and I'm really indecisive so I love something where I can pick it out, it looks cool and then, you know, maybe six months or more, I could just pop them off or they're gonna fall-off and I can just change my mind and do something totally different.
Jessica: Yeah, and it's a nice alternative to like more of a facial adornment that isn't going to leave a scar and it's not going to swell.
"Yes. It is good for people that have health problems....Where it wouldn't really be responsible for you to get piercing, like people that are in treatment for cancer, or serious autoimmune, or other things like that" - Annie
Annie: Yes. It is good for people that have health problems.
Annie: Where it wouldn't really be responsible for you to get piercing, like people that are in treatment for cancer, or serious autoimmune, or other things like that, where they really can't heal the wound very well or they're on a bunch of medications or it's kind of, they have a compromised immune system where they can't really have puncture wounds and things like that, then they can still get them or even, I put one on a pregnant woman because she just wanted to get something pierced and she was like, wait, can I get it tooth gem? And I was like, yeah, so or even kids, I put one on somebody that was maybe like nine.
Jessica: Nice. Yeah, I didn't even think of that. It definitely opens up a world to people who, you know, we would probably recommend them waiting or trying something different.
Jessica: That is so cool. Oh, that's so fun. I love it. So you said you've been piercing since like '98 that is, so I was born in '95 for everyone who's watching this. So that is almost as long as I've been alive and I'm 25.
Jessica: How has the industry changed over the years?
Annie: Well, I just had a quarantine birthday. I just turned 41 on the 16th.
Jessica: Happy birthday!
Annie and Jessica discuss how the piercing world has changed over the past two decades
Annie: Thank you. It's been weird, but I'm doing the best I can. I'm making the most of it. It has changed so much. It's astounding and I could definitely talk about that for a long time. I started piercing in an old school biker shop and it was, you know, kind of just what you would think about with a stereotypical Midwest Biker Tattoo Shop, what that might entail. It was pretty much like that and I've had some, a lot of different shops I've worked at, and they've all been different. And then before I started piercing this most recent time, I had a gap of about five years and so during that gap, I had just thought, okay, there's no really any more studios around here and I'm not going to move and I'm just not going to pierce anymore and I had thought I had retired, basically. I was just moving on and doing other things. I became a Yoga teacher and a Reiki teacher-
Annie: -and I did some other jobs that I didn't really like and I just found my way back into piercing. I had a friend that started working at a shop and he was like, Oh, well, as soon as you have your baby, you need to come here to this new shop, and I was like no man, I don't pierce anymore and they were like, Oh yeah, you gotta come pierce here. And so they just kept asking me and asking me and I was like, I don't think I probably want to do that again and I was in there getting a tattoo and some girl walked in and was like, Oh, hey, do you have a piercer, I want to get my nose pierced and they were like, there's some jewelry here if you want to go pierce her nose. We've got jewelry and needles, you could do it and I was like, oh, okay, that might be fun and I did it and I was like, you son of a bitch, you tricked me. And he was like, yeah, we knew that if you did one, we'd get you. So I was like, okay, I'm in. So after that I just unretired so I've been back piercing for, I think like two years, something like that now. And just in-
Jessica: That's awesome.
Annie: In that small amount of time, there's been a lot of things that have changed and I started by joining a lot of forums on Facebook and getting on a lot of websites and reading a lot of blogs and watching a lot of YouTube videos which were all tools that I didn't use to have as a piercer. You know, back when I started piercing, of course, we didn't have any of those things and it was also very much you only work at the shop that you are at and you hate everyone else. At every other shop, you don't speak to them, you don't go in there, maybe you fight with them, maybe you go stand in front of their shop and yell stuff at them when they go and have smoke breaks, or maybe you get drunk and go try to fist fight them on the sidewalk. And that was just things that we kind of did back then and that's why when they asked me to come back to piercing I was like, I'm a grown woman with kids, I'm not going to be living like that anymore. I don't do that stuff anymore. And they were like, no, it's cool, everyone in the industry is old now and we've all got to it and so now, it's not really like that. Now, it's pretty chill and I'm like, oh, okay, I can do that. And so it's been really neat seeing it as a young person and a party person, and as a grown-up, and a parent, and being there through all the different transitions. It's been really interesting. There's a lot of---the jewelry is so different now than it was when I first started. When I first started, we had some gold but not very much and you pretty much got steel and it was a plain ring with a ball or a plain barbell and that was pretty much what it was or you could get like a gemstone but there wasn't anything like crazy. And then over the years, it just progressed more and more and more to more ornamental things and it used to also be very big. You wanted the biggest gauge of everything. So you wanted your nose piercing to be like a 10 gauge, and lip rings, and ear piercing as big as you could have the jewelry, as big as the rings could be in your lip, that was where it was at and then it transformed into this, then you want to be very flat, and streamlined, and delicate, and gold, and looking like a jewelry store, and it's just really interesting to see all the different things and the threadless jewelry, I love that. When I learned about threadless jewelry, that was amazing to me, I'd never seen it before. And my cousin Linda, who has a shop as well taught me about it when I came back to piercing and I was like oh my god, this is amazing like no corkscrew hanging at the bottom of your nose, Oh my god and, the clickers are just so much easier so you don't have to fight with the stupid ball and I'm so thankful to whoever invented those because that's just been amazing for my clients. Just so much so many things.
Jessica: Yeah, I mean, even in like the past, so I started getting piercings probably, like five years ago, or no longer than that, when I was 16, but like five years ago, I like started seriously like, Okay, this is like my thing and I remember discovering threadless jewelry, and I was actually at Avanti where I work. I used to be a customer, and I was like, this is life, like, my nose ring never fell out. It stayed exactly where I wanted if I wanted to change, I just had to top off.
Annie and Jessica talk about threadless Jewelry and how it's changed the piercing experience
Jessica: It was absolutely mind-blowing and when people come in, they're like, what's threadless jewelry, I am like, Oh, watch your life be changed.
Annie: Yeah, they're like [inaudible 22:43] because I don't want that hook hanging out the bottom of my nose. And I get to be like, Oh, no, let me show you, look in my nose. Do you see anything? So, I think it's great.
Jessica: Yeah, and then even with hoops like the different diameters are now so diverse that you can accommodate really anyone's anatomy. So-
Annie: Yeah, it doesn't have to be big.
Jessica: Yes, it's no longer a huge hoop. Like, I remember being like, I just want a dainty hoop that fits my nose and I'm like, they don't exist in the world and I'm like, well, I know exactly what size you are just by looking at your [inaudible 23:19], that snug fit hoop problem. It's awesome and if someone wants the chunky look that is super easy to achieve now too.
Jessica: Just with all the options. It's awesome. Yeah. Oh, that's so cool. So you said a little bit that your perspective has changed now that you're a mom. And you know, you've gone through all these different challenges so, what are some roadblocks that you faced? And then you know, now that you are wiser, how would you, you know, if someone were in your shoes or if you could give yourself advice back then what would you say?
Annie gives advice for what she wished she knew when she started her career
Annie: I think, advice that I would give myself back then would have been that if you're in a situation where your work environment is something that there's inappropriate stuff going on, or you feel like you're in danger or you're being abused, or treated in a way that you shouldn't be or treated badly because you're a woman or whatever, gender or non-gender or sexual preference, that you would have the courage to look elsewhere because there are many other options and you don't have to stay where people are treating you badly. And if you have the courage to do things like that, you could also have the opportunities to learn more from other places. But again, I don't, they don't treat people, they don't treat apprentices like that anymore in studios. So that's really not a thing that somebody coming up today is gonna have to deal with. They, it's gonna be hard for you to find a shop where they believe that you abuse the apprentice, and like basically haze them and torture them to make sure that they are worthy. People don't really do that anymore so I don't know that people are going to have to be as wary but that definitely would have been some advice that I would have given myself at the time. I think one of the biggest roadblocks was just being a woman.
Annie: I had a hard time, I was in a shop of all men and it was just very stereotypical, probably you would think like I was expected to do all the cleaning because I was a girl, and I was expected to answer the phone because I was a girl and you know, I had to do all these things for them and they just sort of expected me to do it and I wasn't treated equally and that just wasn't a thing. And that was hard and just being different than all of your co-workers, very different. Also in your like, spiritual beliefs or other things like that were definitely a problem, I had a lot of discrimination for a lot of different things that applied to me, that I dealt with through the years and some of the places that I worked and I think just going forward and continuing to look for other opportunities or standing up and saying hey, you know I don't have to work here because this is unacceptable and people get treated like that here, then I'm going to go find something else, and that's something that I'm really glad that I was able to stand up into for myself more recently. The shop that I work at now, my business is Annie the Impaler and the shop that I work at is Tattoo KAIJU in Bloomington and it is such an awesome place. The owners are a husband and wife team and I love them, they're some of my best friends, they are so cool and there are other three other female tattoo artists. I still include the one that just moved away so technically, Kay's not still there, but she's still there in spirit. So it's all ladies and one gentleman and so it's a totally different kind of vibe. And it is---it's kind of Godzilla, Twin Peaks, horror movies, nerd, geek-themed. And you really feel like you're hanging out watching movies in your friend's mom's basement and you know, there's collectible toys everywhere and VHS tapes and you know, a big couch where you can sit and watch movies and your horror movies playing at the background. And we have art shows every month and it's art classes all the time. I've taught yoga classes there, and there's just a lot of fun things going on and it's a whole group of creative people getting to work together and it's just really, really fun. I love it a lot.
Jessica: That is so cool.
Annie: It's really cool.
Jessica: Yeah, Oh, that's so fun. I can speak a little bit to your experience too. You know, I recently stood up for myself leaving a job where I'd worked for like, off and on for like three years and to leave that and go to a job where I was treated as a person, for some reason was such a mind-blowing concept to me.
Jessica: Right. It's so crazy. And I love that’s the advice that you gave because I think there's so many people out there who are sitting there like, either this is what working feels like, or this is what I deserve and it's not what working should feel like. Working should feel like work. You know, you should be doing what you love and you do deserve more, you know, like -
Annie: Yes, and sometimes it's not right away.
Annie: Like I said, I had a break for about five years because after I left the studio I was at, I didn't feel like there was any other place in the area that I would want to work for at. And so I just didn't pierce because there wasn't anything that was up to my standards and I'm glad I held out and did that because it really turned out to be wonderful and now I'm in a really good place.
Jessica: Yeah, no, that is absolutely awesome. So one more question before we go because our time is almost up. And that is, so I know you're in quarantine, you're going crazy. What-
Annie and Jessica end the conversation with what Annie is looking forward most too when it is safe to resume work at her studio
Jessica: What are you most looking forward to when you reopen? Like what piercing? What class? Like, you know, I know so much more about your studio and you now. So what are you most looking forward to?
Annie: Well, I am looking forward to getting back to teaching yoga. We had just come up with starting to do some yoga classes at the studio because we have, it's kind of divided in half. So one half is where the Art Gallery is, and all the enamel pins and stickers and art prints, and that part's are open. And so that was a half where I've been doing yoga and then the other half is where all the tattooing and the piercing are all over on the other side. So I'm looking forward to doing that, again, I'm looking forward to just having some kind of big welcome back event where I can see all of my clients because I developed such a close relationship with them like, I'm friends with them, they aren't really like clients like they text me on my phone and we talk and, you know, we're, they've been through some stuff with me and so, you know, I miss them and I care about them and I'm really looking forward to being able to see them again. I've got some ongoing people that I have ear projects going on where you know every so often we add another one and we let it feel for a couple months then we add a couple more and so those people, I'm looking forward to seeing them and all the people that I pierced before the quarantine that need their jewelry shortened, those people too, and just being able to see my clients and give them hugs, because I really, I didn't realize how much I miss hugging people and just standing around, just shooting the shit, just staying around just gossiping or just talking about nothing with people with random people. I just really missed that too.
Annie: Yes. Me too.
Jessica: Well, thank you so much for your time, Annie.
Annie: You're welcome. Thank you for asking me. It was great.
Jessica: Yes, I was so excited. I'm looking forward to when our paths cross in the future. I know we were talking, you know, far out in the future, maybe you can come down and visit Avanti.
Annie: Yes, I definitely want to come out whenever this virus settles down and travel is safe, we just got a van. Yes, and so during the quarantine, we're fixing up the van and that's going to be our family road trip vehicle and we're really looking forward to taking some road trips and heading west and I definitely plan on coming and seeing you guys during some of those trips, for sure.
Jessica: Yes. Oh, well, I hope you have a great rest to your day.
Annie: Awesome. Thank you, you too.
Jessica: Thank you. Talk soon.