The Nine Lives of Kat Von D

Talking with the renowned tattoo artist as she embarks on her first tour as a music act

The Incomparable Kat Von D (Image: Magnum PR)

Most people probably know Kat Von D from her work as a famed tattoo artist (especially as seen on her popular show L.A. Ink) or for her successful cosmetics line.

“But not everybody knows that music has always been my first and foremost biggest passion,” she says, calling from her L.A. home. “I’ve been playing the piano, classically trained, since I was five years old. So I think if you look back at my career, most everything that I do is inspired by music, in one form or another.”

Last year, Von D released her darkwave-influenced debut album, the synth-driven Love Made Me Do It. With COVID-related restrictions finally easing, she’ll finally be able to support that release with an extensive tour across the U.S. and Europe, starting on February 28 in Pittsburgh, Pa. Before she hits the road, though, she wants to get the word out about her latest single, a moving cover version of Selena’s “Fotos y Recuerdos” (just released on February 11).

 

AUDIO: Kat Von D “Fotos y Recuerdos”

“Selena plays such a huge, huge part of my music life, because when we first moved to America, her crossover album [1995’s Dreaming of You] was in constant rotation in our house,” Von D says, referring to her family’s immigration from Mexico when she was a child. “Myself and my sister and my mother, we didn’t speak any English when we moved here, so that was our introduction to the English language.”

When she was thinking about which Selena song to choose for herself, Von D looked up what covers had already been done. “Most of her big hits have been covered, but within the same style as Selena, and I really wanted to create something a little bit more sentimental and melancholy,” she says. “I love it when you listen to a song and it might, on the surface, feel like a love song, but could be translated into tons of other feelings. Especially like that song: to me, you could easily correlate it to losing a loved one, or just breaking up with somebody.”

The video for “Fotos y Recuerdos” is, Von D says, “quite special. I wanted to project imagery onto myself and my bandmates of people in our lives that have meant something to us that are no longer with us. To be honest, up until the moment that we actually filmed it, we didn’t realize how emotionally impactful it would be, seeing people that we love so much that are no longer around projected onto a huge wall. It was pretty emotional. I think it created a very beautiful landscape in the video. I hope people love it.”

 

VIDEO: Kat Von D “Fotos y Recuerdos” 

Video imagery will also play a big part in Von D’s upcoming concerts, thanks to filmed vignettes that were made for each song that will be projected onto huge LED screens.

“We’ve been working really hard at creating an experience and really storytelling the album through our performances,” she says. “I worked really closely with Linda Strawberry, who is the creative director of Smashing Pumpkins and a bunch of other cool bands. She really does just a great job of finding the beauty in the macabre.”

Adding to the spectacle, one of Von D’s official band members is a contortionist, Brynn Route, who will perform pole movements during the shows.

Creating this kind of spectacle is important to Von D because “I dislike very much going to see your favorite band and it’s just a guy in a cardigan standing at a microphone stand. I might as well have stayed home and listened to the record,” she says.

Although this will be Von D’s first-ever headlining tour, she’s feeling confident about it because she and her band did a few West Coast concerts last year that were very well received. “It was so amazing to see people respond to our live shows – I think they definitely weren’t expecting all of the art and creativity that we’ve put into it,” she says.

The show set lists draws heavily from the tracks on Love Made Me Do It. While that album features guest appearances from many of Von D’s celebrity musician friends – including Dave Grohl, Linda Perry, Dave Sitek (TV On The Radio), Peter Murphy (Bauhaus), Danny Lohner (Nine Inch Nails), Ladyhawke and the legendary Charo – she makes it clear that she has been the main songwriter and visionary driving her musical career.

Still, Von D admits that writing her own rock songs was initially quite difficult for her. “I was so used to reading sheet music and playing Bach and Beethoven that one of my biggest challenges was breaking away from the classical music structure,” she says. “That was what Linda [Perry] said would probably be my biggest challenge, is trying not to be perfect all the time. I think that was a really great, important lesson, because a lot of my favorite songs are imperfect and there’s that human fingerprint on it.”

Given how strongly Von D feels about music, she admits that waiting until now to release her own songs is “one of my biggest regrets. I wish I would have released music much sooner and not allowed life to get in the way of life. But at the same time, I feel like things happen in the time that they are supposed to.”

 

 

And, Von D adds, waiting until now to release her own music has also enabled her to get some important insight into how it overlaps with earlier aspects of her career.

“I think that music and tattoos are similar in that sense that they are landmarks in time,” she says. “Everything that I wrote on this album was about a specific person that I was in a relationship with so long ago that I don’t think about at all anymore. Things that I got tattooed when I was 18 years old don’t hold the same meaning to me anymore. And that’s okay.”

With all the experience she’s gaining, Von D is already looking ahead to the next step in her music career. She says she’s already writing the songs for her second album, with plans to start recording it as soon as this spring tour is over. 

“I really do want to make music my main focus,” Von D says. “This isn’t a phase. This isn’t just a product that I’m slapping my name onto. This is something that I want to dedicate my every waking moment to. I think you get what you put into any relationship. This is my relationship with music, and I want to give it everything I have.”

 

VIDEO: Kat Von D “FEAR YOU”

 

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Katherine Yeske Taylor

Katherine Yeske Taylor began her rock critic career in Atlanta in the late '80s, when she interviewed Georgia musical royalty such as the Indigo Girls, R.E.M. and the Black Crowes while she was still a teenager. Since then, she has done hundreds of interviews with a wide range of artists. She has written for dozens of magazines, including The Big Takeover, Aquarian Weekly, Stomp & Stammer, Creative Loafing, Jam Magazine, Color Red, Boston Rock, and many others. She contributed to two books (several entries for The Trouser Press Guide to the '90s, and a chapter for Rolling Stone's Alt-Rock-A-Rama). Additionally, she has written liner notes and artist bios for several major acts. She currently lives in New York City.  

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