The glamorous gothic queen of art, tattoos, business and beauty now redirects her attention to her original passion – music.
Kat Von D has been a staple in alternative culture and pop culture as a whole ever since first exploding onto the scene in the reality television show ‘Miami Ink’ and then promptly securing her own series, ‘LA Ink’, at her home in Hollywood. Quick to prove herself as far more than just another bland reality TV star, Von D built an empire around her interests and established a unique brand of tattoo artistry, best-selling books, art galleries, clothing lines, and most notably, a massively successful and world-renowned beauty line.
But what most people don’t realize about Von D is that out of everything she’s sunken her teeth into and made business ventures out of, her first and most consistent passion has been music. She’s been a constant presence in the world of rock and metal for quite some time – and not just because she’s dated musicians like Nikki Sixx and Deadmau5 and is married to Rafael Reyes of Prayers. She’s been classically trained on the piano since she was a child, practicing every day and growing an appreciation for all different genres as she’s grown older.
Much like her dedication to veganism and animal rights, Von D has a significant place in her heart for music, adorning her body with tattoos of multiple acts like the Misfits, AC/DC, Slayer, Guns N’ Roses, ZZ Top, and appearing in numerous music videos for bands such as HIM, Alkaline Trio, and Gunship. In 2008, she founded the MusInk Tattoo Convention and Music Festival, which has featured artists like Suicidal Tendencies, Limp Bizkit, The Used, Hatebreed, NOFX, Bad Religion, Deftones and more. She’s even had an entire song written for her by Eagles of Death Metal. Needless to say, her street cred in the scene is well established.
She’s now set to release her debut album, entitled ‘Love Made Me Do It’, a project that has been nearly a decade in the making. Described as “a pastiche of shapeshifting analog synths, post-punk dreamscapes, gothic hues, and shy pop magnetism”, the record deals with heartbreak, disillusionment, and ultimately enlightenment. While some might be expecting a hard-hitting, in-your-face type of attitude, Von D opts for a moodier and more atmospheric feel to her music that rides on soaring synth waves and danceable beats. Joining her are bandmates Gregg Foreman, Sammi Doll, Dave Parley, and Brynn Route, as well as notable collaborators Dave Grohl, Linda Perry, Dave Sitek, Peter Murphy, Danny Lohner, Ladyhawke and Charo.
In a conversation with Knotfest, Kat Von D discusses the many inspirations behind her music and unique sound, the artistry that goes into crafting not only her songs but her music videos and live performances as well, and shares some personal stories like the time she and her husband hit up a Rage Room and a week-long horror movie marathon she undertook with a friend.
What made this the right time to finally release your debut album?
Kat Von D – Music has always been a big part of my life and although most people know me from tattooing, they actually don’t know that music has been kind of the most consistent thing in my life. I’ve been not only classically trained since the age of five, but I’ve been playing with my friends’ bands and singing on all my talented friends’ albums and stuff like that. So I’m not a stranger to it but I think that a lot of people are not familiar with me having some form of musicianship. They’re like, “What? She’s coming out with music?” So it could be a little confusing to some people but like everything else I’ve ever done, I’ve always said the proof is in the final product. I’m not here trying to be like a celebrity just slapping my name on something and you know, collecting a check and not really caring about it. I want music to be my main focus in life. I’m not sure if this is the right time, to be honest. I feel like I probably should have released this album ten years ago when I wrote it, but I think life just got in the way. I was filming the TV show and going on book tours and just allowing all these other other forms of expression to kind of get in the way of focusing on music. Basically like a year and a half ago I decided to sell my makeup line so that I could have the time to go on tour and really give the music the attention it needs. And then obviously last year everything kind of got turned upside down and everybody was put to a halt. So I’ve just been waiting within this last year for everything to open up again so that we can go on tour and finally release the album.
How do you go about mixing your unique brand of alternative style with the kind of synth pop sound you’ve got going on?
Kat Von D – I think a lot of my fans and followers were expecting me to come out with like, metal just because I’m a huge fan of metal and I think people kind of know me for liking that music. But I also love a lot of darkwave and I love analog synthesizers and I’m a huge fan of post-punk era music. I love Depeche Mode, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, that kind of stuff. I feel like when it comes to the music that I want to create it’s more along the lines of that. I love poetry, I love strong lyrics and soulful singing. I love Arch Enemy, but my voice does not lend itself to sing like Alissa [laughs] so I know where I belong.
It’s interesting also because like you were saying, you have your scene with metal and rock and all that stuff, but at the same time, you’ve also always been this kind of like, pop culture icon with LA Ink and everything.
Kat Von D – Yeah, I love pop structure. I’m not a big fan of pop music per se, but I do love the structure of songwriting and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. For us, I feel like we do have pop elements in our music but there’s definitely a darkness to it. Even in a lot of synthwave bands that I love, they tend to sound a lot happier than what we’re producing. I like to live in the more melancholy world. I don’t know how to write a happy love song.
There’s a consistent sound throughout the songs but each one still distinctly feels like it takes inspiration from different genres and eras. There’s definitely that predominantly 80s kind of sound.
Kat Von D – Yeah, especially the drum sounds and not just the synthesizers. I think we only have one song that actually has guitar in it. I really love that era but I also think that when my bandmates and I write songs, we don’t sit there with like, a reference. Like, “Oh, I really like this song, let me try to do a version of it.” We actually just start from scratch and we do a lot of sound design, finding specific synth sounds that are not presets in any way. It doesn’t feel dated to me. I feel like there’s a bit of a modern take on the 1980s I guess, and I think that’s important. We’re not trying to be Depeche Mode or any of those other bands that I mentioned, although you might feel the sentiment of that era.
That instrumental breakdown in ‘Fear You’ is so good, that’s very much in my lane. And that part of the music video looks dangerous as hell!
Kat Von D – Thank you, I love that too. I wanted to do a violent video because I feel like all of our other videos were beautiful. I was thinking, how do we create violence without hurting a person, or violence towards somebody versus like, inanimate objects, you know? So I had taken my husband to this thing called a Rage Room. You can rent these rooms and you buy different packages and you can just break break shit. We obviously got bored after like the first 15 minutes [laughs] but I can see how that could be therapeutic. That was a really cool experience so why not take that experience and make that into a music video?
Did you guys have any protection while you were smashing stuff?
Kat Von D – What’s funny is everybody didn’t want to wear protection, they were like, “we’ll wear some sunglasses”. Dave Parley, our drummer, was the only one that didn’t wear sunglasses and for a minute we thought he got a piece of glass in his eye. Thankfully it was just like, a dust particle but I was like “Oh my god don’t do this, Dave!” [laughs] I think aside from that we might have gotten a few little nicks and cuts but nothing crazy. We did use real glass, there was only a few prop glasses, like the sugar glass. I actually posted a video of Sammi, one of my synth players, breaking a bottle over my head and people were like, “Oh my god, that’s so crazy.” It literally felt like a kitty cat just whispered into my ear. [laughs] Those things break if you just like, squeeze them. I got those red glass skulls made and those were made out of the sugar glass, but other than that we do all our own stunts.
In the music video for Exorcism, you wrote that the song was partially inspired by a week long exorcism-themed movie binge.
Kat Von D – With my friend, Kevvy. We actually ended up writing another song together called Lost At Sea that’s on the album. He’s a huge horror fan and I am too, we’ve seen like, every single one. There’s so many terrible ones. It’s crazy. But there’s a lot of really great ones too and I was fascinated by the concept of demonic possession because it seems like there’s a pattern within every culture and every era in history that calls to some form of possession and exorcism. I just find it so weird that in an era like today, where we have cell phone cameras and all this stuff, you never actually see any footage on YouTube. It’s never like in the movies, you know? I think it’s like this romanticized idea of surrendering control to an outside force. I feel like people write a lot of love songs about the correlation between love and death or love and drugs or addiction. I just wanted to take it one step further and do a song about love that was in correlation with a demonic possession because I think that’s how I felt in the past a lot. It’s like you’re no longer in control or you don’t feel in control and you’ve given this power to somebody that may not be the greatest thing for you.
From that movie binge, which ones were your favorite and which ones were the absolute worst?
Kat Von D – I feel like I’ve subconsciously blocked out the worst ones. I think the worst ones were always like a Blair Witch-style filming, you know? One of my favorites through that marathon was one with Anthony Hopkins called The Rite. I love Anthony Hopkins obviously, who doesn’t? It was shot beautifully and it was the most realistic possession scenes. I don’t want to spoil it but there’s a giant twist at the end which I think was really different than every other exorcism movie out there. I think all of it was shot in Italy, so it’s a very beautiful background. Anthony Hopkins plays an exorcist. I loved The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but I would consider that more like a court case movie. It was so compelling, I think I cried at one point. I didn’t know that there was a part two and three to the original The Exorcist, and I had read the reviews prior to watching and everybody was talking shit about these movies. I thought they were so great. I love part two especially, I love the kind of origin story of Egypt and when you think about that era, they had pretty good CGI effects in that movie. So I gave those a thumbs up.
Were there any other kind of movie inspirations that helped guide the direction of the album?
Kat Von D – So Gregg Foreman AKA Mr. Pharmacist, he’s my other synth player and we’re both huge fans of John Carpenter, especially all the scores for most of his movies. I feel like there is inspiration behind some of those sounds that you find on the album, but as far as inspiration from movies, it was more for the music videos. For the Exorcism video, that one was really inspired by one of my favorite directors, Alejandro Jodorowsky. He did The Holy Mountain and El Topo and Santa Sangre. El Topo was my favorite just because the aesthetic way you would see these like, black silhouettes. The opening scene, for example, is this man in black on a black horse with a black umbrella just cruising through the desert. It was like putting together two things that didn’t belong together and I love that. For the music video for Enough there were definitely some Fellini inspirations with the props of the ocean where we’re kind of like, rowing through the storm and it’s a little bit campy, but in a good way. I don’t feel like the Fear You music video was inspired by any movie in particular, I just had a really clear idea of what I wanted the storyline to be. I love movies, or good movies at least. [laughs]
Do you feel like music videos kind of went away and then steadily came back with stuff like YouTube?
Kat Von D – I don’t know, I think that there are a lot of videos but the filming process for us has been pretty brutal because I don’t tend to do like, the lip syncing videos. I think that’s what the majority of people do, whether it’s hip hop or even metal. It’s like, okay, cool, you’re gonna do a fake performance and then we’re gonna lip sync and we’re gonna have some smoke and stroke. I don’t have any interest in doing that. For me, I’ve always loved music videos that have a narrative. Those just take a lot of time and energy and I can understand why bands don’t do them, but I like these little mini films. It kind of helps storytell the music more than just doing a performance piece. I think there’s creative ways of doing the performance pieces as well, I’m not gonna knock that, but to me, I’m not interested in just shooting a bunch of lip syncing all the time.
It helps show the artistry behind it. I like when artists go the extra mile.
Kat Von D – Me too. It’s funny because I really like our band, we get along so great and we love each other. We always laugh because we’re like The Munsters because we have a contortionist in our band and she looks like Marilyn Munster and then Gregg’s like Herman and so we’re this really weird little kooky family and stuff. I feel like everybody’s so extremely attractive in their own way. When I think of music videos, I always think about different parts that I want to create for each band member. Like, “Oh, this would be a really good scene for Sammi or for Dave.” In the music video for Exorcism, we actually got a stunt crew to come out and put us into those harnesses to make the bandmates fly into the air for those jumping scenes. Then we had to remove the little wires and stuff in post. My drummer always wears this leather fringe fanny pack and then he’s got this long beard and hair and I just want to see that flowing in the wind. It was my favorite jump scene out of all of them.
I just wanted to add that your work concerning animal rights is commendable. Dominion, in particular, that’s an incredibly affecting movie. If everyone was able to view that, you know, maybe things could change faster. I don’t know how you learn and see these things and not be changed by it.
Kat Von D – For sure, there’s definitely some trauma behind all that, I mean you could only imagine. But I always just commend Shaun Monson, because he’s dedicated his life to making those movies. He worked on Earthlings as well and those are just so, so brutal. But thank you, that’s very sweet.
And just so we don’t end on a bummer note, what kind of show can audiences expect to see on your upcoming concert dates?
Kat Von D – I’m a huge fan of going to see bands play and my biggest pet peeve is when you really love a band and you go and see them and it’s just like, a guy standing at a mic. So I definitely want to create an experience, especially with visuals. Like I said, I have a contortionist in my band who’s amazing and she’s part of our group. She is actually going to be playing some sounds but she’ll be moving her body in a crazy way that you won’t even be able to understand. We’ve been shooting all of our live visuals with Linda Strawberry, who does all the art directing for Smashing Pumpkins and a bunch of other bands. Her and I really see eye to eye on finding the beauty in the dark stuff. So we’ve actually been filming and prepping all of the light works and for the LED panels and everything else that we’re doing.I think people are gonna be in for a visual treat. I like that that’s just one other way of storytelling for music and I think that’s how you should be able to present your music to the world. To go back to my bandmates, it’s like they’re all superstars in their own way. I feel like they already have their own fans as well. I’m not interested in just shining a spotlight on myself, we’re all going to be doing some crazy things onstage. We’re like the goth Power Rangers.
‘Love Made Me Do It’, the debut album from the one and only Kat Von D, is out August 27th KVD/Kartel Music Group. Pre-order the album – HERE
Tour dates and tickets links are: