Create to Destroy! Jen Millis
Jen Millis and I crossed paths through the mystical punk-femme network of tough East Coast broads who love punk. I first knew of her through RED THREAD, as they used to play ABC No Rio and the legendary Cuntry Club girl-punk boarding house in Boston (RIP). She continues to push boundaries and live her life in true DIY form. Here is a true punk and a visionary for all you readers out there…
What is your latest obsession?
A constant obsession in my life is girl gangs. I watch movies, read books, and model my life after roving gangs of women on motorcycles that run with wolves and brandish switchblades. It’s like a fetish that I use as a lifestyle guide. I love chains and tits and guns and witchcraft, I try and tie it all into my leather work.
Tell me more about your current leatherwork. Have you been commissioned for anything recently?
Right now, I am focusing on creating designs out of multiple layers of various colored leather. I am hand cutting out drawings made by myself, and my friends or the person commissioning the project. Often if I feel I cannot draw out the design I’ll have a friend help out in exchange for art. Three people who help me most often are Jen Mcmahon, Bill Crisafi and Jen Epstein. I’m doing a lot of skulls and Grim Reapers and devils at the moment. I am excited to branch out. I have a few new projects on the horizon one is custom motorcycle seats which I can’t wait to get into, I feel like every leather daddy wants to ride the devil’s face to work, you know?
Yeah, totally. More about lasers, can you really put my face on a piece of leather?
Yes! I can and I will. Haha, for real. I have access to this sweet laser that can etch a design of my choosing, like any design (with a few limitations) onto pretty much any surface as long as it is able to withstand the heat of the laser. So I’ve only just begun to use it but it’s very exciting. I wanted to be able to reach a higher level of detail with my work. The sewing machine and hand cutting leather I can only get so small, about the size of a peanut. I had a commission of a noose. The rope detail was so tiny I went with the laser and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it came out! I can’t wait to laser crazy, perfectly detailed images into leather jackets, motorcycle seats, banana hammocks, and chaps, or whatever else I can find.
How did you get involved with leatherwork?
I started out just sewing everything. I never liked clothes from stores — they never fit right. Ever since I hit puberty I’ve been at the machine fixing clothes to look the way I want. Then I started doing it for all my friends and even my dog. I’ve always been attracted to leather, just walking up and down every isle of the thrift store simply scanning for anything made of any color leather, and then, no matter what it was or what size, I’d take it home ,rip it apart and make something else out of it. I spent a few months on-and-off working with an NYC designer, Saira Huff, who was incredibly kind and inspiring. She taught me a lot about how to work with leather as a fabric, and sold me my first leather machine. She actually gifted me a lot of the scrap material I’ve been using on these patches. She makes amazing handmade/dyed leather jackets, among other things.
Saira is really talented, for sure. I was just in Boston and got to see your THIN LIZZY piece and was pretty blown away! Tell us about the materials you use like puff paint, leather needles, etc…how do you do what you do???
So, yeah, with the THIN LIZZY one, I had a woman commission me to make her a black rose patch. I went a little crazy with it and decided it should be the black rose of the album cover art, and then dedicated over eleven hours to hand cutting out each color piece and sewing line after line into it. I have an industrial leather sewing machine that allows me to sew through many layers of leather at a time, but usually I rely on my Singer with a leather-grade needle and a Teflon foot. I used recycled scrap leather of various colors, made a stencil with the album cover art, and first glued it then stitched it. I added extra stitching for detail work and then topped it off with red puff paint for the drops of blood. I love how the blood detail came out. In a photo it shines perfectly and you can barely tell it’s not the exact album cover.
Not to ask the obvious, but how has punk influenced your fashion and art?
Punk is everything to me. It saved my life. I’ve literally known no other way to live since I was twelve. I am more comfortable being a punk than I am being a woman or a human. It’s always been a source of inspiration for me. Obviously, the fashion of punk is superior to all other fashions, and leather itself is a staple of it. Punk is what first got me interested in sewing. I remember hand-stitching my bondage pants tighter in middle school, only to realize I’d sewn them to my underwear. The scene has always been supportive to me, my friends constantly urging me to do more with my fashion design and willing to wear whatever I made out in public, and even now with you offering to interview me and help me get my ass in gear I really have punk to thank for everything. I already quit my day job so it’s too late for me anyway.
Full-time punk! How has your creative streak contributed to your current band, ST. RIPPER? What about your past bands?
ST. RIPPER is so fun, the girls in the band are my closest friends and they are constant supports to me. We are all creative people who love being in your face and having no regrets. I am always thinking of ways to promote us and further our ability to play music and travel. We always all work as a group on art, which can be hard because there are five of us in the band and everyone’s very opinionated and creative. In the past I feel like I didn’t have a lot of creative input to RED THREAD and 40 WATTS. I had fun writing music but at that time in my life I was not feeling like any of my art was worth putting out there.
Can you tell us a little about ST. RIPPER and the party favors that came with the demo and recent 7″? I’m so happy I got my hands on that tape!
Oh yeah, knife combs? Hell yeah, I’m so glad you got one! We sold out of them immediately, people were buying like five at a time at the first show we had them at. It totally relates back to my girl gang obsession, and every girl gang has a weapon of choice. We like the knife comb because it’s so multifaceted — they are actually perfect for teasing your hair, stabbing fuckers, studding jackets, and snacking. We have a 7” that just came out, and we are printing a sick poster to go with it featuring most of our girl gang looking hard, so keep an eye out for that.
What else have you been creating recently?
I’ve been so busy not having a job and trying to figure out food and rent I have not been doing much besides music and leather. I am in another band, ANIMAL MOTHER, playing our first gig in Cambridge on Dec 21st at an all new-bands showcase with LEATHER DADDY, KNIVES, NEGATIVE IMPULSE, SPITTING EARTH, and SUNSHINE WARD. I’m singing in that band, as well as some recording with WHO KILLED SPIKEY JACKET?, so I’m at band practice three nights a week. The rest of the week I’m with my dog and roommates, sewing, drinking bag wine, and dance partying. I love it.
Any new bands in Boston we should keep an ear open for?
Aside from the bands I mentioned above, I am excited to hear SLAM PIG on the horizon, I’m really into CONTINGENT, FLACCID, ZIPPERHEAD, SAVAGE HEADS and 2X4, who all have new stuff coming out to look out for. Boston’s always pumping out music, everyone here is in five different bands, it’s crazy.
Any last words, punk?
Leather loves studs. Studs love leather.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.