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TV Blend recently had a chance to sit down and chat with ‘Shear Genius’ finalist Ben Mollin. He was candid, honest, and extremely funny. He was also kind enough to give me the best haircut of my life after we finished. Here’s a transcription of the majority of our interview. Questions are in bold; answers are in regular font.
So I figured we would just start with a few basic questions, and then get to the show itself and then talk about music.
Oh yeah, cool.
How long have you been cutting hair?
I’ve been cutting hair…it’ll be fifteen years in October. I’ll be 33 in November. I graduated Beauty School in 2000….wait No. 1993.
What made you choose styling or what do you prefer hair cutter?
Hair Bitch. Hair man. Mane Tamer. I had a friend of mine who taught me how to do it. I watched this guy, Mike, give himself his own haircut. I started out just mach-fading people. This was the year where Tony Hawk was really big. We were all skater brats. Bones Brigade - the whole skater thing. My friends would stop by and I would do the whole skater thing where you would shave the sides on a 2 guard and just cut around leave that bang. I got into it maybe like 15 years old. The first girl I ever dated taught me how to French braid her hair. And then I French braided someone’s hair in this Earth Science class I had sophomore year, this chick named Heather, and she was like, “Oh, thanks.” And I was like maybe I should do this for the rest of my life. I need to go to beauty school right after high school. And then pursue music. And possibly be a humanities teacher because I come from a family of educators. It was originally something to fall back on.
Have you seen any change in your business or clientele since it started airing?
Ohh yeah. The change in my business since the show has been new clientele. I’ve had stores be successful; stores shut down. I’ve been rich; I’ve been poor. I’ve run the gamut financially on everything. And I think that one of the main differences now is that I have to cater to a broader audience. The person at the bank who’s never said hi to me is now telling me that she’s glad Tyson went home. It’s sparking interest with other clientele. I kinda shot myself in the foot though. I was definitely doing it on the DL for a while. Shit, I was working out of my house for a year in a half. You’re not gonna get international recognition for your trade, and then run a shady business out of your house. I had to come up with something quick. I’ve been getting new clients constantly, about five or ten a week.
In your early days of haircutting, did you give a lot more punk haircuts or was your clientele always diverse?
It started out really punk because I didn’t know what I was doing. Then I got some tattoo equipment when I was 17 and 18 and I had a buddy of mine show me how to tattoo. So I would tattoo S.H.A.R.P.s…Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice. The thing that was cool about punks was you bought an ear-piercing gun and the next thing you know you’re piercing someone’s lip. My first job, job was at Supercuts. I would go from Supercuts to Funcoland after I got my paycheck. It was awesome. I realized that was kind of lame. So I applied at this ritzy hair place. The owner hired me on the spot and called me his little prodigy. My first run in with major clientele was with upper class white women… It ended up being the evolution of the indie rock hair movement. I was giving women who used to be huge Cure fans these stacked bobs. I don’t think that it was actually until I opened up a record store…I bought this existing business. I borrowed eight grand from my grandma and maxed out my credit cards for eight grand. I made 125,000. I was fucking 22. I bought recording equipment. I took my girlfriend to Amsterdam. I was fuckin’ balling. I gained 45 pounds.
Are you serious?
I got myself up to 235. My back hurt. My feet hurt. I was just a maniac. I would get drunk on my lunch break. I was just a maniac. Professional, but a maniac. I borrowed 8 grand to make 125 thousand. It was awesome. After that, I started hating it. The people who worked there got jealous that this tattooed guy came in and turned the place on its head. I had the flexibility to charge what I wanted. If I had nothing to do I would just find people and give them a free haircut if they would let me try things. Then me and my buddy Ryan, who was the originally drummer from Winepress, decided we wanted to open a record store. I had this money so I wanted a job where I could sit on my ass and fuckin’ chill out. Record Store! So I open a record store and the first year it was open we made a shit load. I was like Fuck! I have the touch. Maybe it’s because I’m half Jewish and half Italian. That was good for the first year and then 9/11 hit. It was like someone just unplugged it. I decided to try and quit cutting hair at this point and focus on music. Just something that involved kids, music, and fashion. The store started failing, so I decided “Fuck it.” Let’s turn a third of the store into a salon. Let’s go to Home Depot and do it real cheap. I let kids come in and barter me for CDs. Those three years was when I realized what I should do.
It seems like you almost live a lifestyle more than a particular profession.
It’s an up/down kinda thing. I’ve noticed at the times I made money I would pay people’s traffic tickets, buy dinner. When I have money, I’m overly gracious to a fault. It’s like the reason I’m not rich is because I hate shitty beer. I just can’t figure out the medium. I’m not afraid to be poor. I actually kinda enjoy it. Anytime you have to figure something out and it’s a matter of do or die. That’s when I feel alive. I was actually going to file bankruptcy and move to Vegas with a Cirque de Soleil performer and a tumbler. I was going to work at this ritzy hundred-dollar hair place. Then I decided just to put a shampoo bowl in my living room. I was like, I’ll just do this for awhile. It’s kinda like Dolly Parton in Steel Magnolias. Kinda Hillbilly but OK. And then my phone started ringing off the hook. I had to start keeping set hours. Then long story short I ended up on TV. It almost felt like I was selling drugs, but I was selling haircuts.
Just real shady?
Real shady. But the people I was doing…lawyers wives, upscale clientele and then I would get a 15 year old playing in a death metal band who just bought an Alkaline Trio CD. I would do lots of upscale women and then little kids who I’d charge 10 bucks. I’ll probably charge them ten bucks for the rest of their lives because they let me do whatever the fuck I want. I can use color that would normally sit on the shelves for years.
Let’s get down to the show. What was your initial reaction walking in and seeing Sally Hershberger and all the mannequins?
I didn’t even know who Sally Hershberger was. Knowing a famous hairdresser is like knowing a famous gardener.
Well the other contestants make it seem like the other stylists….
Well if you’re into it. If you know who’s doing Meg Ryan’s hair or Frederick Fekkai. I’ve never been at a bar and said “Is that who does Madonna’s hair?” I just don’t know. I respect them to death. But basically to me a famous hairdresser does famous people. If you’re Mel Gibson’s gardener are you famous? No. A lot of the other people on the show are from major cities, which are just overpopulated with high glam. I saw Sally Hershberger and I thought she kinda looked like Steven Tyler with that shag. I saw the mannequin heads and they said show us your signature cuts and I thought for a second, that this is the gayest thing I could have ever done with my time. At that specific time, I was like I can’t believe I’m on TV about to do this bullshit. This is a clown show.
It was a nice contrast to see you on the show. You’re influences were 80s Rockers and the punk movement.
Yeah, Suicide Girls. I don’t really do a lot of Jennifer Aniston haircuts. A lot of my clients don’t really bring in a lot of pictures of famous people.
So the Celebrity challenge must have been hard.
I didn’t even know who Sienna Miller was. Was it David Beckham’s girlfriend?
Sienna Miller is a movie star and Victoria Beckham is David Beckham’s wife.
See I don’t even know. You understand.
Well, it’s also part of my job.
It seems like a lot of the challenges they made were ridiculous, taking people out of their comfort zone. Let’s give you this shit and try to do this? Did anything make you take a step back and say, “What the fuck am I doing?
Umm…running through that Michaels. The funny thing is…. they didn’t really play a lot of my interviews, but the people interviewing me where all my age. The first time I saw Rene Fris, you know the “Hi Hi” guy. I came to learn he was from ‘Queer Eye’ in Denmark. That was his thing. At first I was like who the fuck is this guy? I’m not even gay but shit. He’s like a mediteranean Ken Doll. After running through the Michaels with 75 dollars after doing the mannequin, I was like what the fuck did I get myself into? I found a bendable bird of paradise and you would have thought I found a million dollars. It was at that point that Tabatha and Anthony said to me, “Ohhh you’re ruined. You lost all your street credit, any coolness you have is on the floor. You lost your nuts.” I started real early in the game, making friends with people. Oh Mr. Cool guy…no more.
Let’s talk about the Ninja costume, did you plan to wear it, was it impulsive?
It was very impulsive. When I got there, I didn’t really bring a lot of clothes and Bravo confiscated a lot of it. I had this homemade Larry Bird T-Shirt.
Gotta Represent Indiana.
Ohh absolutely. But I had all these band t-shirts from my friend’s bands. I was just gonna represent all crazy. Where I get my tattoos. Walking advertisement. They left me with three t-shirts, a few jeans, some dress pants, some dress shirts, and a hoodie. So I was like I’m gonna run out of clothes. So after Paul-Jean got eliminated I borrowed his Ralph Lauren suit. And Anthony wore the same shoe size. I think it was episode 4, I was getting in cool with the producers and this woman named Kate came up to me and she said that she had friends who owned a clothing line, and they dressed Gilby Clarke from ‘Rock Star’. I said “Fuck Yeah” These two guys show up looking like Motely Crue and let me borrow some of Gilby Clarke’s clothes. I would joke with all my clients; they called me a hair ninja. So I got to the final 6, and I asked them if I could get a Ninja suit. And they said that it was Sunday and they didn’t know. I was like, “Motherfuckers. It’s Hollywood. You can reenact the Civil War and you can’t find a Ninja Suit.” So this guy named Brett, super cool guy, comes in one day with a shit-eating grin on his face. He hands me a Samurai sword and a Ninja Suit. I looked in the mirror and said that I would do it once and never talk about it. I just wanted to get on Talk Soup as Mall Ninja. This has to be Talk Soup worthy.
It seemed like during the last challenge your relationship with Dr. Boogie was a little strange.
Well, editing had a lot to do with it. I saw that show, and I was like, “That motherfucker!”
Drive to West Hollywood with a baseball bat?
Totally. What a fuckin’ queen. When he did that short cut challenge with that mullet. He asked me if it was an elimination challenge. And I go, “Why? Getting nervous?” I started laughing and said she looked like Reba McEntire. That night we kinda had a talk in the trailer and I said, “If you’re gonna bust me out, you gotta take it. Otherwise we’ll look like assholes.” So he agreed. He’s actually a cool guy. He’s funny as shit. I saw him last week at the reunion, and he was totally cool.
The show did a lot to isolate Tyson and make him seem like an outsider. Was he that much of an outcast?
Tyson. I spent my days off…he was cool with going to Venice Beach, skateboarding, and drinking Chardoney at like 12:30 in the afternoon. For me that’s alright. He kinda had that I’m homeschooled til I’m 15 kinda thing going. He’s from Utah which is kinda a state of its own. It has to do with his upbringing. He had weird professional skills, but he’s a great…that man can cut hair. He can’t do an updo, but who am I to talk?
Top Chef really shows a lot more behind the scenes at the house. What went on? Did you guys drink and party a lot at the loft?
The only thing you would have seen if the camera was back was me and Tabatha playing scrabble and drinking wine. A lot of, “What the hell is a wanker? You can’t use that in scrabble.” You know, the whole European to American dialect change. Beyond that, we really couldn’t go out. We didn’t have TV, cell phones, internet. We were secluded for a month so the novelty wears off. It’s like the witness protection program, but you did nothing wrong. I would drink a bottle of wine. If I was feeling it a shot of Padron. 6:30 was our call time, so you have cameras in your face.
No time for hangovers?
Well every once in awhile you get the bug where you get drunk and stay up talking til like 3 in the morning, but that only happened maybe once.
Let’s talk about music a little bit. I’ve heard you were in the band ‘Wolcott.’ Is that true?
Yeah, I played bass.
How was that?
It was nuts. So much fun.
How long did you do that for?
About two…two and a half years.
What happened with that?
The singer who was also my partner in the record store. We actually formed Wolcott. He was in Winepress so I asked him if I could learn the bass tunes. So we ended up starting Wolcott and growing our hair out, listening to Journey, and day drinking. It just seemed like something to do. We did pretty good. We did a little touring, put our record out, got to hear our music on the radio. Then we had almost like a falling out. We were just around each other to much. We played a show, and it was embarrassing. I started to feel like Bad News Bears; so I just quit.
What is the best concert you have ever been to?
Rage Against the Machine at the Metro the year they did Lollapalooza. Rage at the Metro. Spiritualized at the Metro was amazing, and I saw Blind Melon at the Metro.
I love Blind Melon.
It was good. I get goosebumps. I’m not really a huge fan, but it was right when “No Rain” was coming out and my buddy Rob had tickets.
What are a few bands that epitomize your taste in music?
Guns N Roses, definitely.
Early era, when did you stick with them to?
They lost me after Use Your Illusion and even that wasn’t very good. I liked ‘November Rain’ and ‘Civil War’…but thirty some songs. Come’on guys. Umm…one of the most influence bands is Fugazi. Especially their 13 Songs album. Also Dr. Dre during his chronic period.
That’s very eclectic. Did you buy into the whole straight edge movement with Fugazi?
No I drank in high school. I just like the whole do it yourself thing with Ian. It was very ground up. You almost had to know about them. The people who knew about Fugazi…it was there band. Any band strong enough to make me shave my head, buy combat boots and question why I eat meat has to be amazing. The whole Guns N’ Roses thing. That came out when I was in like eighth grade, and I was just like “Fuck Yes. We needed that.” That Welcome to the Junge video. We needed that. I always went back to the whole Minor Threat and Fugazi thing. That’s where it started the whole punk rock thing. I’ve always played saxophone. So I’ve liked other styles. Steve Wonder. Love The Temptations. Motown Soul. Rock. 80s. Well, there’s some 80s I don’t’ like. I don’t really like Poison.
Well, there was that point in the 80s were metal went from edgy to over-the-top.
I’ve always liked the bands that you’re afraid of. The ones that take pictures with cigareetes and spilled whiskey bottles. Motley Crue, Guns N Roses, Cinderella. I don’t usually say that out loud. I also liked Metallica and Megadeth. I started getting a little metal off that. Hip Hop and soul music. The older I got, after Paul Boutqieue came out, I developed a strong love for Curtis Mayfield, Grover Washington, Bill Withers, Otis Redding, the kind of stuff that is timeless.
Bill Withers’ voice is perfect.
You can’t fuck with Bill. Just can’t fuck with him, man.
If there’s one thing you learn from this interview, it’s don’t fuck with Bill Withers.
Bill Withers will kill you.
You mentioned Metallica and Megadeth…are you talking about early period or did you leave after The Black Album?
I phase out of bands real quick. The only band I’ve gone four or five records deep with is Radiohead. Whenever bands start making concept records, I’m gone. I listened to ‘And Justice For All’ a lot in high school and got the tablatures. That was my Metallica record. “So far so good…so what” for Megadeth. I remember thinking how cool it was while trying to emulate it with Guitar World. I would lock myself in my room and try to figure them out. Never learned any, though.
If you could convince readers to buy one album right now, what would you pick?
One record. Drop everything and buy. The Sword “Age Of Winters”. They’re from Texas. I geeked out so hard on this band. I purposely found out where they were going to play and loaded up my one hitter to get them stoned to try and be friends with them. I still get an email to this day whenever they’re in town and we hang out. They are awesome.
Thank you so much man.
Make sure and tune in to Bravo tonight to watch Ben compete in the ‘Shear Genius’ finale!
Click over to TV Blend to see the accompanying article with before and after haircut pictures and musings about Ben’s general demeanor and badass salon.